Kathy Munro

I always welcome books about books and book people. If people are interested in the making of a book they are extending their grasp and reach of all things bookish and book collectable. I was delighted to acquire this new book on a recent visit to Cape Town and found myself reading it from cover to cover in a couple of hours (it is just over 100 pages).

Heather Mason is an American who lives in Johannesburg, has embraced the city and blogs about her experiences on a website called 2Summers. She came to South Africa in 2010 and embraced a life as a migrant bohemian freelancer. She called her blog 2Summers as she experienced two summers in a row.

I fell upon this memoir by chance. It is old, out of date and a book passing into history as it was published over half a century ago (published by Howard Timmins in 1965). Jack Stodel does not feature in the standard encyclopedias or biographical dictionaries. Why bother with such a book? Memoirs give us a flavour and taste of the lives of a bygone generation and recall amusing experiences and anecdotes. We learn about the lives of others, how they lived and what the issues of the day were. Memoirs become building blocks in  the writing of history.

This book is a superb scholarly study of a little known aspect of the Mohandas Gandhi story in South Africa. It tackles the subject of running a printing press and spreading the message of Satyagraha or passive resistance through the medium of the printed word. This was the acorn that yielded a giant oak and bore fruit albeit with tragic costs and consequences with the achievement of Indian independence in 1947.

Johannesburg was always a much photographed place from its earliest days. It was a city that grew up with photographers and their cameras. As a town of migrants and immigrants, people wanted to send postcards and photographic souvenirs back home.

Review of Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail - Geosites and Viewpoints. First question – what is a geotrail? Let this book introduce you to the concept and the place. A geotrail is a route that takes us on a journey through remote time and space to geologically important sites and viewpoints (in this case in the Makhonjwa mountains). This is time travel at its best. Geology becomes the tool and the source of organized knowledge to find evidence of the earliest life forms on earth - a band of single cell organisms visible to the naked eye.

Phansi Art Museum is a Durban ubuntuArt Museum which collects to celebrate African art and beauty, as they describe on their website. Phansi holds a fine collection of art, crafts and artefacts (beadwork, traditional medicine containers, dolls, traditional domestic utensils etc.). They also have a publications department and are bringing out books and catalogues that immediately proclaim collectability.

Eric Rosenthal (1905-1983) was a prolific writer. The bibliography of his books in his Wikipedia entry runs to 50 books. I have collected most of them. He wrote non-fiction history about South Africa. His style was light and entertaining. He was a raconteur. He captured yarns and stories about the past and he loved drawing out the characters of early Johannesburg. Rosenthal was trained as a lawyer but chose journalism and writing for a living. His books were popular in their day with large print runs and are therefore readily available today.

Secret Johannesburg is a small book with a big punch. The intriguing title lures the city enthusiast to acquire it, pop it in a pocket or a handbag and take it on a journey to discover Joburg's little known treasures. Complete with nifty maps, this guidebook with a difference unearths Johannesburg’s amazing hidden objects, spaces, places, artworks, geology, water features, trees and museums.

 

1889 must have been a good year for visiting South Africa. I recently found and wrote about Frederick Young’s Winter Tour of South Africa in that year (click here to read). Stanley Leighton was another English visitor to South Africa in 1889 and here is another invaluable source of impressions and vignettes of places visited by a traveller of a certain class. He did not have a political agenda nor was he pushing a particular viewpoint.

Some people are determined and fortunate enough to live two lives in one lifetime. Laurence Chait is one of this special breed. He has lived a life in medicine and a life in art. He is a well-known Johannesburg medical specialist with a distinguished and long medical career as practitioner and professor of Wits University. His specialization is plastic and reconstructive surgery. His particular expertise has been the treatment of children born with cleft lip and palate deformities; he has changed the lives of thousands of children.

Harold Napier Devitt (he wrote under the name of Napier Devitt) was born in England in 1871 and came to South Africa in 1889 on board the Royal Mail Ship, the Spartan. He tells us he was only 17 years old at the time of his arrival. He explains in the opening chapter of the first volume of his memoirs that he was one of 10 men in a party sponsored by Sir Frederic Young of the Colonial Institute and Sir Henry Pasteur, a City of London man. F C Selous the great African hunter was also on the voyage and thrilled the young Devitt with tales of the African veld.

The date of this book is unknown but the internal evidence pinpoints the volume to the years 1896 to 1899. The size is 25x30cm. The cover is an eye catching gold printing on pebbled dark maroon cloth, gilt edges, scuffing to edges, each page specially attached. The book contains laid down newspaper cuttings of Johannesburg life in the late 19th century. The author of these Weekly Star contributions was Johnstone Sheldon who wrote under the pseudonym The Vagrant.

This is another of those books that is now a classic of early 20th century South Africa. Its age and rarity pushes up the price of the original book on the antiquarian auctions and hence expect to pay well over $200 for a first edition. Alternatively you may wish to settle for a reproduction from Amazon priced from $13.57 to $45. Or if you are a fan of online reading, take advantage of the free download available via UCLA or the Guttenberg project.

I recently added a new title to my library, an old book with the quaint title of "A Winter Tour of South Africa". This is a first edition, published in London in 1890. It is an account of travels through South Africa by the distinguished writer and traveller, Fredrick Young.

Celebrating Bosman is one of those perennial favourites. Published in 2004, it is still in print and available at Wits Press. Patrick Mynhardt who brought the Bosman character, Oom Schalk Lourens, to life in his one man show that became a South African institution, selected and introduced his favourite Bosman stories in this easy to handle single volume. Mynhardt passed away some ten years ago but he has not been forgotten.

This book is part of the well established series “Wake Up, This is Joburg”. It is slender, slight and instantly collectable with the look and feel of a quality art book. The book is a combination of photographic essay and a journalist’s essay on Johannesburg as shopping mecca. It is all about the people. The author, Tanya Zack and the photographer, Mark Lewis walk the city’s streets to interview and pin down fleeting images of the shoppers of the city.

With the change in the office of the President from Jacob Zuma to Cyril Ramaphosa, the subject of what the state can and cannot do is topical. This book is a serious academic study written by scholars and activists of note who have thought hard, debated among themselves through many seminars and conferences and connected to the international agendas about global development. It is all part of a wider debate about where the world is going in the 21st century and how best for South Africa to arrive at a developed status destination.

The Second Anglo Boer War (1899 to 1902) was a disaster for both victor and vanquished. For the British it was an excessively costly colonial adventure and a complete miscalculation of likely duration. Both Afrikaners and African people lost more than they gained in defeat, occupation, starvation, destruction of farms, exile and imprisonment. The two Boer republics were lost and with it Afrikaner independence. The British taxpayer footed a very expensive escapade where generals still thought about fighting set piece battles on the veld.

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