9/10/09

REVIEW

The Best Place to Hide Anything From a Black Person

Often when I’m having a chat with my intellectual artist friends we like to reflect on our earlier literary influences – which are as diverse as the universe. Recently we have been wondering why on City Press Pulse’s Back Page whenever our plastic celebrities (people who work for TV and radio) are asked what books are they reading they always say, Long Walk to Freedom, Re-discovering the Kingdom, Threshing Floor, Some of my Best Friends are White, Colour, Once in a Lifetime, Women Thou Art, I Write What I Like, Capitalist Nigger, Rich Dad Poor Dad, The Scramble for Africa, Da Vinci Code, Anatomy of South Africa, Stupid White Men, Walter & Albertina Sisulu: In Our Lifetime, Staying in Touch With your Fertility, Run Your Own Business and Make Lots of Money, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Hardy Boys, Petals Of Blood, A Child Called It, Losing My Virginity and Bible.
The only people who confess to not reading are DJs like Clock and Tira and it’s fine, the probably listen to more overseas music to make sure that what they do is not plagiarism or vice versa.
We wondered because the way most of the so-called celebrities conduct their public lives and affairs defies the content of some of those books they claim to have read to the back cover. Imagine someone telling you that they read Capitalist Nigger but still believing in welfare and voting based on which political party can give them free stuff instead of which one will give them more opportunities to work the system.

Also imagine someone who claims to have read I Write What I like still treating his kind with disdain by exhibiting the material that s/he has to them and personalizing his German model’s numberplates to stand out like a horny penis. Where’s the consciousness?

So, this is just a precursor to most of our discussions. We end up agreeing that actually these folks don’t read any book but are afraid to just tell Pulse that they ain’t reading none because it will mean a manifestation of the claim that ‘the best place to hide anything from a black person is to write it in a book’. But I mean there’s nothing wrong with not reading a book, if you are not because we can’t all be reading books – we ain’t a homogenous species.

It’s like someone claiming that they are reading the Bible because they know you won’t ask them a question about a collection that is 66 books thick with two equally important Testaments. To me it’s like being asked who my favourite painter is and I just rush to say Vincent Van Gogh or Pablo Picasso without intimately knowing their pieces. Just knowing that Van Gogh cut off his ear and that Picasso sold only one painting before he died is not enough.
if you asked me what was the last film I watched I will be brutally honest and tell you that my viewing is not even captured on Box Office because I wait for the film to be released on DVD or be flighted on DsTV, I don’t watch them in the cinema. If that makes me less sophisticated, it’s fine but that’s the truth. There are no cinemas where I live, same way there are no libraries or bookstores where others live.

So, why am I telling you this? It’s because when me and my friends discuss our influences and which author did we lose our virginity to most are quick to tell me about Bessie Head, Doris Lessing, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Chinua Achebe etc. they look at me with disdain when I tell them I was seduced by James Hadley Chase (real name Rene Brabazon Raymond – b. 24 December 1906 d. 6 February 1985) after just being platonic with nameless Scottish novels dealing with horse-breeding – before George Orwell’s Animal Farm. I mean my first novel was given to me when I was around 12-years-old by my parent. When I grew up everybody was reading Chase novels which were circulating amongst us like a bulbous blunt at a street corner.

We were all a bunch of oppressed Bantu-educated darkie kids reading Chase novels. At least 70% of boys I grew up with were religiously reading those novels and aspiring to be thugs. We knew the storylines and characters by title, Safer Dead, Come Easy Go Easy, Just Another Sucker, Rollo, The Dead Stay Dumb, He Won’t Need it Now, Twelve Chinks and a Woman, The Doll’s Bad News, Lady, Here’s Your Wreath, Miss Callaghan Comes to Grief, Miss Shumway Waves A Wand, Just the Way it is, Eve, More Deadly Than the Male, I’ll Get you for This, Make the Corpse Walk, Blonde’s Requiem, No Business of Mine, The Flesh of the Orchid, Trusted Like the Fox, You Never Know with Women, You’re Lonely When you are Dead, The Paw in the Bottle, Lay Her Among the Lillies, Figure it Out for Yourself, The Marijuana Mob, Strictly for Cash, Why Pick on Me?, But A Short time to Live etc.

It’s only later that I started reading Afrikan literature and that from the Diaspora. I started reading Molefi Kete Asante, Alice Walker, Oonya Kempadoo, Maya Angelou, Terry McMillan etc.
Then I mixed with brilliant Caucasian authors of note like Sydney Sheldon, Robert Ludlum, John Le Carre, Jack Higgins etc. and when I came back home trying to find an author I can fiend I found that everybody was writing about politics from one side of the spectrum. Everybody was trying to sell to me the allegation that only one political party liberated this country while some of us only knew about it during the State of Emergency, together with five others.

I then read old classics by E'skia Mphahlele and Miriam Tlali. I tell my literati friends that I can confess that I have never read Long Walk to Freedom and any motivational book written by dodgy charismatic born-again fundamentalists.
I needed inspiration in 1989 when I was locked in a jail cell and those clergy were blessing Boer weapons before their township rendezvous, not in 2009 when the sheepskin has been removed. So, while today I am an adjudicator for the South Afrikan Literary Award (Literary Oscars) which means I read tens of books a year I still feel I need to read more – not for the culture of reading but because once you stop reading you stop learning. I need to be exposed to Chinese, Indian and South American literature.

Today’s voices are equally brilliant as long as they shy away from politicizing their literature. Writers like Kgebetli Moele, Niq Mhlongo, Zukiswa Wanner, Fred Khumalo, Kopano Matlwa, Siphiwo Mahala etc.

So, I want my Chase novels back. I have started with a collection and am paying good money for these classics. If you have a Chase (which I rather raise my daughter on than Long Walk to Freedom) contact me at goodynuff@hotmail.com

1 comment:

  1. I also grew up on a literary diet of James Hadley Chase - my first being KNOCK, KNOCK : WHO IS THERE. Your serious literary stuff came later in life, more especially because the then government prescribed what could be read.

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