Book suggestions for lockdown reading

Vuvu Vena.
Vuvu Vena.

Reading has moved front and centre as people enter week two of lockdown.

We asked a book blogger, Vuvu Vena, and City Press’ books editor, Rhodé Marshall, which books are special.

“One of the things I do when I cannot make sense of the world is read,” says book blogger and YouTuber Vena (34), who has been working, like many of us, from home for the past two weeks.

“I am working through three South African authors, one illustrated children’s novel, an Alice Walker classic and a debut novel by a Nigerian author,” she says.

The blogger is a third of the way into Margaret Atwood’s dystopian The Handmaid’s Tale.

Some of the South African books others might enjoy include Coconut Kelz’s Guide to Surviving this Shithole by Lesego Tlabi, Sing Down the Stars – which won gold in last year’s Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature – by Nerine Dorman and My Sister, and the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite.

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International titles she recommends are Max and the Midknights by Lincoln Peirce and The Color Purple by Alice Walker.

Vena recently started a podcast – titled Turning Pages – that focuses on literature from South Africa, the rest of Africa and the African diaspora. She says she has found the genre absorbing.

Although she describes herself as a “moody” reader, she recommends first-time readers look into books by South African authors, such as Zakes Mda, Mohale Mashigo, Nozizwe Cynthia Jele, Nthikeng Mohlele and JM Coetzee.

Although some other countries have kept their libraries and bookstores open during the lockdown, we are not that lucky.

And, so, Vena advises that this is the ideal time to read a book you bought and had forgotten about.

She enjoys nonfiction but also loves young adult books.

Vena’s goal this year is to try to incorporate more South African male authors in her reading spectrum as she normally finds herself reading mostly female authors.

The blogger is busy with her first lockdown-related piece for the podcast, but she’s trying to remain calm and show continuity and normalcy to people who are anxious about what’s happening. “I’m trying to do that by not diverting too much from the content I normally post on my blog, vuvuvenareads.com, Bookstagram or BookTube channel.

“Too much change can threaten our peace – already people are looking for content outside Covid-19 and all things aligned. I’m hoping, even if it’s just for one person, that this is achieving the desired effect.”

As a single mum of two children under the age of five, Vena has found that, after her kids and dealing with work demands, she has an urge to speak about fascinating reads. “I speak to my camera about the books I read, hoping that someone will find it interesting when they receive it on the other end.”

City Press’ books editor, Marshall, also spoke about the books she is reading.

She says Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday provides wisdom on beliefs, religions and philosophies, offering ways to remain calm in the chaotic world in which we live.

She is looking forward to reading Khamr: The Makings of a Waterslams by Jamil F Khan, which was recently released in e-book format. The book is about the writer’s experiences of living with an alcoholic father and the conflict of having to live a Muslim life, which taught him that almost everything he is and in which he believes is forbidden.

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Marshall reads a lot of nonfiction, but says her goal this year is to read more fiction.

“I grew up reading a lot of Steve Biko’s writings. I still find myself circling back to them quite often.”

Marshall recommends Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost for its life lessons and motivation.

She reads the book at least once a year, she says. Essays in the book include leaving the door open for the unknown and crossing boundaries into unknown territories.

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