Best reads 2007: Stephen Coan

2007-12-05 00:00

My best read of the year was Gore Vidal’s first volume of memoirs, Palimpsest, a rollercoaster ride through 20th century politics and the arts. Vidal seems to have been involved in everything and known everybody, plus is related to the Kennedys. Vidal has never been shy and Palimpsest is heroically irreverent and indiscreet, so it was all the more surprising to find at its core a poignant story of lost love.

By way of contrast, Alec Guinness’s My Name Escapes Me is a model of reticence. Subtitled Diary of a Retiring Actor, it is the diary Guinness kept during the mid-1990s and in which he skillfully weaves together theatrical reminiscences with thoughts on religion, books, art and music, as well as precise observations of the natural world.

Another uncluttered piece of writing is of little consequence — Capetonian Steve Shapiro’s second collection of haiku (the first, in a borrowed tent, won the Ingrid Jonker prize in 1996). Although a Japanese poetic form, Shapiro’s work is unmistakeably South African in flavour (there are even a few in Afrikaans). Here’s an English one: “having counted/only half the stars/the cricket sleeps”.

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