Books I Have Been Reading – April 2018

Bill Bryson book with beer in the background

Bill Bryson and a beer, while waiting for a flight at the airport. Picture: Renee Moodie

I have been banging on about the importance of reading for the last two weeks, and thought it might be useful to list the books that I have been reading myself, over the last month or so. I try to read as much as possible, but sometimes life gets in the way.

Still, here’s what’s been keeping me busy:

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain

Much-loved travel writer Bill Bryson revisits Great Britain, going to a variety of villages and cities as he reflects on how the nation has changed since he wrote Notes from a Small Island. He is funny as always, but older and crabbier. And some of the things he has to say about Britain made me feel a little sad.

Where did I lay my hands on it? My mother had it on six-week loan from her local library and loaned it to me because it was a Bryson that had somehow escaped my notice till now.

If there is only one thing a journalist does, it should be this

When I was growing up, there were clear divisions in the world. In apartheid South Africa there was the big divide between black and white. On the white side of that line, though, there was another division – between English-speakers and Afrikaans-speakers. And one of the consequences of that division was inevitable, at least on my side of the fence: school children hated learning the “other” language. Afrikaans lessons were dreaded and derided, exams and tests were got through as best we could.

And then came Mrs Visser, the high school teacher who made Afrikaans cool. She was thin, edgy and glamorously dressed (and given to smoking in the corridor whenever she could). She was passionate about Afrikaans and an inspired teacher. Suddenly I was reading stormy Afrikaans romances, and ploughing my way through Raka (an epic poem by NP Van Wyk Louw), newly in love with a beautiful language.

And that reading paid off – I managed an A in Afrikaans in my matric exams.

I often think of Mrs Visser when I am training young journalists. She understood one of the fundamental building blocks of learning another language: that you have to read as much as you can in that language. That of course goes hand in hand with hearing that language, and  immersing yourself in the spoken word.