Sunday, May 15, 2011

Danila Botha

Danila Botha was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and moved to Toronto, Canada in her teens. She attended high school there, and then studied Creative Writing at York University, and at Humber College for Writers. She volunteered with Na-me-res and Ve’ahavta, organizations benefiting the homeless, which inspired many of the stories in Got No Secrets, her first book. It was published by Tightrope Books in Canada, and Modjaji Books in South Africa in May 2010. Botha now lives in Halifax, NS where she is finishing her second book, a novel, called Too Much on the Inside.

A couple of weeks ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I read a lot- sometimes up to two books a week, at least when I’m not writing every day. When I’m writing intensely, I find it harder to concentrate, so it might be one book over two weeks. I love reading. I read mostly literary fiction, but I also read some creative non- fiction (both for pleasure and research) and I love reading poetry. These are some books that I’ve loved that I’ve read recently:

The Raw Shark Texts- Steven Hall

The first time I went out on a date with my boyfriend, he brought me this book. Knowing that I love to read, and that I read a lot, he was excited to bring me something that I’d never heard of. The plot- a man who repeatedly loses all sense of his memory, his identity, and his relationships with it, is, believe it or not, less exciting than the incredibly compelling descriptions: “pushing on the walls, rattling the handles. Testing myself and passing- not the slightest of bumps registered in the world. No slight widening of eyes, no slight reddening of the cheeks, slight twitch of the mouth, slight pull of the scalp, not a single twist of blood in the water, nothing at all. Further than I can remember, I said, and nobody felt the pothole we’d travelled over.” This poetic gem is my favourite: “I imagined six billion people, slowly pin wheeling through space, all those little stars in the wake of an almost empty planet. A vapour trail full of ghosts.” Perfectly striking and beautiful; just like the guy who gave it to me.

The Heroin Diaries: a year in the shattered life of a rock star- Nikki Sixx , with Ian Gitting

I started reading this following an intense four months of teaching high school, expecting it to be a very quick read. This book traces the life of Motley Crue rocker Nikki Sixx from 1986-1987. In some ways, it was exactly what I expected: it was full of debauchery and hedonism, to an often shocking yet simultaneously delicious degree. (If you don’t believe me, check out the entries about his heroin delusions that include him believing that his house was being taken over by Mexican midgets.) It’s also surprisingly honest, sad and full of insights into his state of being. I read it slowly, and found that I couldn’t put it down. Like Jenna Jameson in her autobiography, Sixx comes across as hyper focused on his goals, out of control with his addictions, and woefully out of touch with his emotions and real desires. He always comes across as being flawed, is often unlikeable, but is always unapologetically himself- which may be his bravest move of all.

Liar- Lynn Crosbie

An entire novel written in poetic form, Crosbie’s Liar beautifully chronicles the dissolution of a romantic partnership. Crosbie, a well-established and respected poet in Canada, is precise enough with her word choices and frank enough with her emotional content to be devastating. Of her former lover, she writes: “I have always distrusted beauty, beauty without a rectifying deformity, raw skin, a limp, a fang, insufferable accessories… these lapses intimate love. Someone like you, I must have known, is not afraid of scrutiny. Your flaws are unseen and indecipherable. The mirror, it’s polished approbation, is enough.” The ability to be so literary, yet so emotionally direct and clear is an incredible feat. It broke my heart (I sobbed through certain sections of it) and it’ll break yours- in the best possible way.

Precordial Thump- Zoe Whittall

Inspired in part by Lynn Crosbie’s Liar, this collection of poetry is as immediate as if Whittall were a close friend sharing the horrifying details of serious romantic deception. In the poem "Dear Liary," she writes: “I press my back against the window, before noting that it is crawling with tiny insects. I cradle a mass killing field between shoulder blades and text: I hate you…lies exist only if someone is present to believe them… [I] realize only later the absence of taste, the things you get used to not having, the sensory organs.” She is also at moments, incredibly romantic. In fact, this collection has one of my favourite lines of all time in it, a line so authentically passionate and giddy, I would have killed to have written it myself: “You are a blunt force, a pounding in my blood. I picture us as only sparks now. Two tiny, hot beats.” Do yourself a favour, and buy all her books: her poetry and her fiction. I suspect she’ll inspire you too.

Jewels and Other Stories- Dawn Promislow

Set in Apartheid era South Africa in the 1970’s, Promislow candidly addresses the realities and extreme discomforts of the time- from growing up a white observer in a racist environment to being an African domestic worker or poorly educated child at the time who watched the system and social norms change. Told with extreme sensitivity and empathy, Promislow is able to authentically enter the heads of many, and to simultaneously tell multiple stories. My favourite stories are "Pool," "Billy" and "Just a Job." Exceptionally economical with language, she is at times able to tell an entire story that subtly addresses racism and classism in a mere four pages. Check this out- this skilled literary adaptation is the kind of multiple perspectives history that they should be teaching in schools.

Bang Crunch- Neil Smith

These nine stories are all wildly original, funny and in different ways, touching. In my favourite story, "Green Fluorescent Protein," a teenage boy called Max realizes he’s falling in love with his best friend Rene-Louis Robidoux, who he called Ruby Doo, a reference to the stoner cartoon Scooby Doo. Ruby Doo in turn calls him Hippie. Max has had a rough year; his father died, and his mother had him cremated and placed in a curling stone, which doubles as a doorstop. His mother, a recovering alcoholic, is a doctor whose job forced them to relocate in Max’s final year of high school. Max breaks up with his girlfriend Madison, and moves to a new city where he is befriended by Ruby Doo. Their developing feelings are seamless and natural enough to read as incredibly romantic. Max describes a day that he and Ruby Doo spend walking around the city as having “been one of those perfect days that have you believing that you are something special”. When the fullness of his feelings dawns on him after a confrontation and some time to reflect on it, Max realizes that what they have is: “very weird, and really scary. And kind of beautiful in an expected kind of way.” Just like this collection.
Visit Danila Botha's blog and learn more about her book Got No Secrets,.

--Marshal Zeringue