Friday, 14 December 2007


Just in time for summer in the southern hemisphere, Mr Splashy Pants now has his own web page.
Visit to save him, send him and wear him:

  • sign the Save Mr Splashy Pants petition

  • send a Mr Splashy Pants e-card (if your think the name's hysterical, wait 'til you see the Splash Dance!)

  • get Mr Splashy Pants gear and other merchandise

Hmmmnnn ... now all we need is a Mr Splashy Pants book, and we're sorted ...

Thursday, 13 December 2007


I absolutely promise I'll get to the book part soon, but there's something too funny not to tell you about first.
Greenpeace International, of which I'm a member, recently held a competition asking earth-loving friends to suggest names for a whale pod in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. The Japanese whaling fleet, in direct contravention of the International Whaling Commission's moratorium on whaling in the sanctuary, recently set sail for its annual "scientific" whale hunt there. The competition is part of Greenpeace's campaign to draw attention to this, and to stop the illegal hunting of endangered whale species.
Well, 11 000 people suggested names, and 150 000 voted for their favourite name on the shortlist. And I'm delighted to say that the name I voted for won hands down, with 78% of the vote: Mr Splashy Pants (I still fall about laughing every time I see it!).
Greenpeace has now developed a wonderful Save Mr Splashy Pants campaign and, if you'd like to find out more, click through to or sign the petition calling on the Japanese Fisheries Agency to promise not to kill Mister Splashy Pants and his friends at
Now for the book part ...
Greenpeace is also running a campaign to support green publishing, the publishing of books, magazines and newspapers on paper certified by the International Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC).

At present, many publishers all over the world are still using paper produced by clear cutting ancient forests. In Canada and Finland, for instance, much of the wood pulp used in papermaking is sourced from the irreplaceable Boreal forests in those countries.
Luckily, most paper used in book, magazine and newspaper publishing in South Africa is locally produced from renewable tree plantations that are FSC certified, so we have a lot to be proud of.
Nevertheless, as book lovers, it's important that we learn to be vigilant about the practices behind the making of the books we love so much, and vote with our bucks against publishers who use papers that are not FSC certified.
For more information, see: Greenpeace Book Campaign at

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Wednesday, 12 December 2007


We can all be forgiven for not knowing exactly (or even approximately) what a Kindle is, because it's another one of those whiz-bang technological devices that usually only kids under the age of twelve can operate. The thing about this device, though, is that it's being touted as the inevitable replacement for the beloved book, so when I heard about it, I had to find out more.
Launched at the end of November by, the Kindle is the latest version of the e-book - and the first that may well be commercially and technologically viable. According to Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, it's set to change the way books are written, published, distributed and read.
Hmmmnnn ... I'm open to most new technological developments, but I'm rather protective of my books, those friendly things one can curl up with on the couch, and which don't have to be powered by a battery or a mains connection. After all, they're more than just a way of finding out about the world or of being transported to another time or place, they connect us to the heritage of writers and readers that goes back to Egyptian times. And the power of heritage should never be underestimated, as any good marketer or politician will tell you.
However, even I have to admit that the Kindle has features and benefits that seem very appealing, not the least of which is the fact that it'll make books a whole lot more affordable. Also, the fact that Amazon has cleverly designed it to be less of a gizmo and more of an "austere vehicle of culture" doesn't hurt.
The new device, named to evoke the crackling ignition of knowledge, has the same dimensions as a paperback, and even bulges on one side to suggest a book's binding. It weighs very little and, unlike a laptop, doesn't run hot or emit intrusive beeps. And, as it uses E Ink, a breakthrough technology that mimics the clarity of print, it looks and feels more like a book than anything that's come before it.
Even this didn't have me convinced until I found out that, with a Kindle, Bizos hopes readers will eventually be able to download a copy of any book ever printed. Ah! Hah!
Not only that, but it allows the reader to change font sizes for ease of reading, and is able to store up to 200 volumes at a time - ideal for the inveterate traveller. One can even search a book's text for a specific word or phrase - no more paging through a whole Shakespeare play to find those few immortal lines.
The biggest drawcard, however, is twofold. Firstly, Bizos estimates it will cost between $1.99 (about R12.50) and $9.99 (about R70.00) to download a book, compared with current averages way in excess of R100.00 for the printed word. Secondly, it will minimise environmental impact by reducing the number of trees required for paper and eliminating all the other nasties associated with printing and distributing books.
I'd have to have an idea of the cost of the Kindle itself - and of the environmental impact of manufacturing and distributing the device - before I could comment on that here, but these are both important considerations.
Of course, on the downside is the huge concern that the Kindle may make books less rather than more accessible to those for whom this kind of technology is simply out of reach.
So, for this reason, and others like "leave-me-alone-with-my-book", I doubt the advent of the Kindle will see the demise of the book. What we're most likely to see, I believe, is the Kindle living quite comfortably beside the book, in much the same way that newspapers live alongside their online versions. Well, for a generation or so at least.

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UPDATE, 13 December 2007: I've had a look at Amazon's media releases about the Kindle, and see that's it's available from their online store for $399 (about R2,600.00), excluding shipping costs. That's the price of about 26 books at an average price of R100.00 each.


The winner of the Citizen Book Prize, which is held in association with 30 Degrees South Publishing, has been announced in Johannesburg. The first-ever award for a book chosen by the reading public went to Bree O'Mara for her humerous novel, Home Affairs.
The village of Hillman in KZN - population 237 - is having an identity crisis. A debate is raging on whether or not to change the village's name in line with current political trends. The mayor and a motley array of citizens come up with names ranging from "Dingaan Berg" to "Dingiswayo" and "Jacobusville" (of all things!). Others lobby for the name to stay unchanged as a reminder of a kinder, gentler time. And so the stage is set for a true storm in a teacup, especially when a rumour does the rounds that wealthy developers have their eye on Hillman as the site for a luxury resort.
Not my kind of book, but then I don't read The Citizen either ...
To find out more about this title, or to order a copy, click here:
Winner of The 2007 Citizen Book Prize

Sunday, 9 December 2007


One of the wonderful things about SAbookworm being an independent site is that I get to choose the books I want to read and review. So, even though my desk and bookshelves are groaning with unread books, I chose one this week that caught my eye on the "Recommended" shelf at my local bookstore, Marley and Me by John Grogan.
It isn't a new book - it was first published in 2005 and this is a re-release - but I noticed it had sold three million copies worldwide, it looked like a good, gentle read (just what I needed this week!) and, best of all for a dog-lover, it was about a dog. I couldn't resist, and everything other readers might have considered more serious, more literary or more worthy lost out.
"Ho hum," you might say, "a book about a dog..."
But before you dismiss it, let me say that in Marley and Me lies something very special - the wonder, joy and sorrow of the ordinary, that which all the great spiritual masters throughout history have urged us to honour. There's no artifice here, no pretension; this is the story of a man and his wife, the advent of their children, and the dog that taught them all the important things about life - loyalty, unconditional love, an irrepressible sense of fun, and the value of simply being who you are.
Newly married and having just killed off their first house plant, John and Jenny Grogan decide to get a puppy, mainly because Jenny feels she needs to prove to herself that she can look after a living thing successfully before even considering a family.
Enter Marley, who's the only puppy in a litter of Labrador Retrievers that passes the Grogan family "scare test" - and who changes their lives forever.
Grogan's account of Marley's early years, and the births of the couple's three children, are a delight to read, not only because they're honest and real, but because they're sometimes so funny you can't help laughing out loud.
Here's his account of Marley's first obedience class, for instance, the class from which this free spirit would soon be unceremoniously expelled:
"All the other dogs were sitting placidly beside their masters at ten-foot intervals, awaiting further instructions. Jenny was fighting valiantly to plant her feet and bring Marley to a halt, but he lumbered on unimpeded, tugging her across the parking lot in pursuit of hot-poodle butt-sniffing action. My wife looked amazingly like a water-skier being towed by a powerboat. Everyone stared. Some snickered. I covered my eyes.
"Marley wasn't one for formal introductions. He crashed into the poodle and immediately crammed his nose between her legs. I imagined it was the canine male's way of asking, 'So, do you come here often?' "
And here's what happened when they brought their first baby home:
"As I held tight, she (Jenny) gradually came closer, allowing Marley to sniff first the baby's toes, then his feet and calves and thighs. The poor kid was only a day and a half old, and he was already under attack from a Shop-Vac. When Marley reached the diaper, he seemed to enter into an altered state of consciousness, a sort of Pampers-induced trance. He had reached the holy land. The dog looked positively euphoric."

Of course, because this is a book about real life, laughter and tears are irrevocably intertwined, and the later stories of the ageing and frail Marley bring tears to the eyes. And Grogan's confession that he missed him more when he died than he missed many of the people who had passed from his life brings us to an unassailable truth: we are part of nature, and nature is part of us. To lose a dog is like losing a member of the family because that's exactly what it is.

Without a connection to the natural world, we are spiritually and emotionally set adrift. Without a love for the non-human manifestations of nature, we are diminished. The good news is that there's always a dog willing to teach us big-brained, know-it-all humans what it's really all about.
For more about this book, or to order a copy, click here:
Get down with Marley
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Friday, 7 December 2007


South Africa can be a tough place to live in. We have all sorts of serious challenges to face, not the least of which is what will happen here if Jacob Zuma is elected ANC president in Polokwane later this month (personally, I'm still hoping for an upset, as they say in tennis).
But sometimes, hell, we just have to have a laugh at ourselves - and no-one does it better than we do.
Five astute and downright hilarious new titles have just hit the shelves, and are well worth reading for a bit of light relief as we wind down for the summer holidays (if summer ever comes, that is!):

Screw It, Let's Do Lunch
David Bullard
A collection of David Bullard's Out to Lunch columns from The Sunday Times. Controversial, informative and entertaining, Bullard rouses us all from the stupor caused by too much insane news coverage - and gives the lunching crowd a whole lot to talk about this festive season.
For more about this title, or to order a copy, click here:
Do Lunch with David Bullard

More Spit 'n More Polish
Barry Ronge
This new collection by another popular Sunday Times columnist, Barry Ronge, represents the best of hundreds of his columns written over 19 years. It's grouped into some of Ronge's favourite categories: pets, the peculiarities of the English language, and, of course, Sandton kugels.
For more about this title, or to order a copy, click here:
Sandton kugels not invited

Bring Me My (New) Washing Machine
Stephen Francis and Rico
Hot off the ironing board comes this year's collection of Madam and Eve cartoons. Look out for the bright orange cover featuring South Africa's favourite cartoon characters, and don't miss the gem on the last page - it's a classic!
For more about this title, or to order a copy, click here:
Ja, no, well, fine...

Is It Just Me or is Everything KAK?
Grant Schreiber and Tim Richman
This sublimely-titled book follows in the successful footsteps of the British hit, Is It Just Me or Is Everything Shit? As every South African knows, we have our own pile of stuff to whinge about, but here we call it "kak".
Funny, acerbic and satirical, this book spares nothing and no-one: car guards, bank fees, ATM queues, quotas, floor crossing, crime, corruption, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, Telkom, Eskom, the Vodacom meerkat, Paris Hilton, and (need I say it?) Jacob Zuma.
For more about this title, or to order a copy, click here:
For everything KAK

Don't Stop Me Now
Jeremy Clarkson
Before motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson gets onto the topic of cars, he explores such grand subjects as the unfortunate collapse of the British empire, why Galapagos tortoises are all mental, why Jeremy Paxman and the bass guitarist of AC/DC aren’t so very different, the problems of being English, and God's most stupid creation.

Then there are the cars. No-one writes about cars like Clarkson, and what emerges from the ashes isn't always pretty - but it's invariably very, very funny.

For more about this title, or to order a copy, click here:
Laugh about absolutely everything

Don't forget to check out the Christmas delivery cut-off dates at if you'd like to order any of these books as gifts.

Monday, 3 December 2007


Now here's a good idea for Christmas!
Instead of maxing out your credit cards on all sorts if useless stuff, why not reclaim the true spirit of giving this holiday season?
At home, for instance, you could think of limiting gifts to one per person, and of keeping them below a certain value. Then, rather than blowing a fortune on presents that'll lose their lustre before New Year, you can sit back and enjoy Christmas Day without worrying about debt - and even have some cash to spare for those in our community who are truly in need.
Greater Good SA has developed two web-based social capital initiatives, Make Christmas Matter and Gifts 4 Good, which enable South Africans to give gifts that are really worth giving.
All you have to do is click through to one or both sites, choose a gift in a category of your choice, and make a real difference this Christmas.
SAbookworm readers will be glad to know that, in the education categories on both sites, you can choose to sponsor books for those who don't have the same access to the written word that you do. For instance:

Sponsor a children's gift book for R100 or a family literacy pack for R250.
Give the gift of story to families who would otherwise not be able to afford it.

And more good news ... you can give gifts in all sorts of other categories, including community development, animal welfare and health. You can even sponsor the education of a young eco warrior!
Click through to any of these sites to re-discover the magic of giving this Christmas:

Sunday, 2 December 2007


Many years ago, a much wiser person than I cautioned me to pay attention to my initial feelings whenever I walked into a place, especially when going for a job interview. The message was that if I felt unsettled or subdued - even if this appeared to be irrational - I should take note, as this would say something about the place, the people and the company.
Well, try as I might, I can't finish reading The Secret, the new, much-vaunted spiritual and motivational title by Rhonda Byrne - something about it simply doesn't feel right. For one thing, as regular SAbookworm readers will know, my eyes glaze over at the very mention of a motivational speaker or book. Not that this is strictly a motivational title, because it lays claim to much loftier spiritual territory. And that's perhaps why it makes me feel downright scared, let alone unsettled, every time I pick it up.
The blurb on the cover tells us: "It has been passed down through the ages, highly coveted, hidden, stolen, and bought for vast sums of money. This centuries-old Secret has been understood by some of the most prominent people in history ... (n)ow the Secret is being revealed to the world ... (a)s you learn The Secret, you will come to know how you can have, be, or do anything you want. You will come to know who you really are. You will come to know the true magnificence that awaits you in life."
Heady stuff!
First off, let's get the dragon out of the closet. Exactly what is this secret?? Well, it's nothing other than the fact that we have the power to influence events and our environment with the power of thought or, as I prefer to put it, intention; that "thoughts become things", and that we attract into our lives what we think about. And there's the rub, as The Bard would say. Some of the world's most prominent theoretical physicists and scientific researchers have proven the validity of this spiritual teaching; we can indeed manifest whatever we believe in or, to use more religious terminology, whatever we have faith in.
Quantum physics proves, for instance, that the concept of objectivity is a myth; that there is no physical matter or phenomenon that is not influenced in some way by the observer. And a Japanese researcher has, in the last decade, stunned the world with photographs proving how water reacts to the power of thought. In fact, yoga masters have taught for millennia that even the so-called "laws" of physics can be overcome or bypassed by the power of a clear mind.
So, to use a scientific term, the fundamental postulation of the book is sound. Where the fatal flaw lies is in how the author uses it and "packages" it.
In the first instance, to lay claim to an ancient teaching that pre-dates history, and to take on the mantle of the pathfinder who is revealing its essential nature to the world, is nothing short of hubris and, in my opinion, offensive. I mean, where do people like this get off?
More importantly - and more insidious - is the way in which Byrne has colonised this universal truth with the values of western capitalism. This, of course, is the subject for another whole debate, but there are two things, I feel, that are worth noting here.
Firstly, as far as I can make out, everyone who endorses the book (or whose posthumous endorsement the author claims by proxy) is a westerner, and most live in north America, which pretty much speaks for itself. This is not to mention the heavy weighting of endorsements from people who are "successful" in business; whose success is measured primarily in commercial and financial terms.
Secondly, Byrne devotes an inordinate number of words to the manner in which people have used The Secret (written with capital letters!) to "draw wealth into their lives". This emphasis on material wealth as the default setting for the concept of abundance is anathema to every established spiritual tradition I can think of. So let's not beat about the bush here, at heart The Secret is a sermon at the altar of personal wish fulfilment and consumption.
And then there's that prickly little matter of the fact that no-one is an island; that the thoughts and actions of others influence the environment as much as our own. How much of our reality, then, are we responsible for creating? If everything that happens in our lives is something we've attracted (as the author suggests), where does that leave us when we consider the gang rape of a nine-month old baby, or the gratuitous murder of woman who has stopped to use her cell 'phone on a highway offramp?
My take on this book is that, at very best, it's a gross over-simplification, not only of quantum concepts, but of their spiritual dimension. Luckily, the ancient traditions have suffered many similar colonisation attempts over the centuries, and they're infinitely stronger than the coloniser ...
If you absolutely insist on finding out more about this title or, even worse, on ordering a copy, click here:
You're not seriously going to use this button, are you?
Editors and Webmasters: Interested in using this review in one of your publications or on your web site? Mail with any queries.