28. Talking To My Daughter About The Economy

Yanis Varoufakis is notorious for being the Greek finance minister who eyeballed the EU during the austerity measures negotiation when Greece defaulted on its loan repayment plans. He refused to blink, the EU stood firm and just about when Greece was going to tumble over, the Greek government blinked and agreed to EU terms while Yanis Varoufakis resigned in disagreement and rode his bike into the sunset.

26. How to Listen to Jazz

A jazz performance can be confusing not just for the uninitiated but even a regular listener who has no extensive knowledge of the art form. To an untrained ear, it is often hard to identify a melody or even its structure. The whole premise of How to Listen to Jazz is to act as an introduction that explains the art form as more than a sequence of notes with an underlying structure that supports the burst of sustained or spontaneous artists’ creativity.

For a reader like myself with absolutely no musical knowledge of any sort, all I approached the book with was a boundless passion for the art form of jazz music and with that alone, I found How to Listen to Jazz to be very readable and informative. I may still struggle with counting the bars and beats that underline the structure of my favourite jazz tunes but at least now I know what to look for when trying to grasp the music maps of that sort.

Every year I try to pick out jazz literature to deepen my understanding of the art form. I feel this makes sense as over 95% of my listening pleasure is populated by jazz tunes and (before COVID-19) I spent a good portion of my travelling itinerary at jazz festivals and jazz clubs. The common theme that runs through these books is that they introduce me to new tunes, relate incredible anecdotes that make for richer listening pleasure as you are exposed to the background stories that birthed favourite tunes. While I found the Structure of Jazz chapter in How to Listen to Jazz most challenging and informative, the anecdotes that filled the book in chapters dealing with the evolution of jazz styles and the origin of jazz were highly entertaining and educative.  A favourite anecdote of mine is the story of the pistol that Jelly Roll Morton placed on the piano, which settled his quarrel with his trombonist. This story was a side attraction to the comparison/similarity between Morton’s Sidewalk Blues and Duke Ellington’s Sepia Panorama.

This is an enjoyable read. Ideal for passionate beginners on the jazz journey, highly informative and you are sure to end it with a bulging playlist of classics that you have either not heard before or not listened to in a long while.


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24. Disgrace

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee could be called different things. Savage, cynical, sober and complex, are some of the terms that could be used to describe this Booker Prize winner.  A very divisive book that is guaranteed to make readers on both sides uncomfortable.  This was the only book I intentionally picked for my 2020 TBR simply because I ordered Lacuna at the beginning of the year and I felt if I ended up reading it next year, I needed to reacquaint myself with Disgrace which I had read a few years back but could not remember the fine details.

David Lurie seems to have his life sorted. Divorced at 52, work and his sex life seem well arranged and compartmentalized; a teaching job at a Cape Town University and a Thursday weekly visit to a specific prostitute. The compartments come crumbling when his regular sex escort suddenly stops working and he ends up sleeping with a student of his in an uncontrollable rage of lust. The circumstances of the sexual interaction make for very grim but vivid reading. The clear abuse of power and reckless lust makes the book an uncomfortable reading but the writing is exceptional.

Disgrace is a light volume that is an excellent exhibit of sparse and economic use of language. No sentence seems out of place and none is an excessive adornment to the story. Soon after his sexual encounters with his student, David Lurie faces a panel and is subsequently fired. Consumed by his lust and desires, he refuses to confront his failures and runs to the Eastern Cape to be with his daughter Lucy in her farm. Here the shift of power in a newly post-apartheid South Africa lurks around every corner. Lucy is dependent on Petrus, her farmworker, for a sense of security. Even after she is gang-raped by three black men on her farm, she remains beholden to Petrus as the this is the new dispensation and the formerly oppressed are now in charge. From being the violator, David feels violated by his daughter’s violation. In his new environment, he seeks redemption but one wonders how much redemption you can seek without any retribution.

This is an awkward book. One that is hard to like but elegantly and concisely written. I did not find it enjoyable but found its content very provocative and troubling. Now I am eager to explore Lacuna. Hopefully, next year!


19. King Leopold’s Ghost

King Leopold of Belgium might have started his rapacious pillage of the area that is today known as the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1885 but was not until 1897/1898 that the central character in the resistance of Leopold’s evil regime had his eureka moment. Standing on the dock of the port at Antwerp in Belgium;