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Big books and thumping good reads for silly season

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There’s a playful version of a cheeky quip that says, “I like big books, and I cannot lie.”

In the book world, November/December is “book silly season” big time, with more titles being published than at any other time in the year. That means we’re spoilt for choice just in time for our summer holidays – whether it’s the beach, the bush, or the cosy couch at home.

Often, it’s a big name – a celebrity – that makes a book the perfect getaway. We love to live vicariously through a perfect someone who seems to lead a perfect life, or to believe in the fairytale princess who captures the prince, in spite of difficulties. But for all the dazzle, there’s often a dark side. Peep behind the glitter curtain, and just like you and me, no matter how famous or how rich, talented, or beautiful, there’s personal work to be done and real demons to be slain. That’s why we’ve seen, in an echo to the celebrity culture, a slew of publishing around the real life of celebrities – warts and all. Being authentic is very much in vogue.

Some real-life celebrity baring all this December:

Matthew Perry’s Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing, is the heartfelt, hilarious, and tell-all biography of Matthew Perry – the real man behind the character Chandler Bing on the TV sitcom Friends. The appeal of Friends crosses so many barriers – it tickles that retro funny bone for teens and young adults, but my 80-year-old father still laughs uproariously watching the reruns. Matthew’s real-life journey has been littered with decidedly unfunny experiences, from abuse to drug addiction, and this searingly honest book took great courage to write.

Last year, Michelle Obama was the lady who saved Xmas with her book, Becoming. Her new one, The Light we Carry, was such a tonic – a down-to-earth, vulnerable exploration of how this former First Lady, but more importantly, authentic human being, manages the constant anxiety we all feel as the world often feels like it spins out of control. She talks about self-worth and self-knowledge, and the power we have in becoming bolder and brighter. Reading this felt like I was sitting and chatting to a close friend, and in addition to some sensitive observation and profound insights, Michelle shares her secret stress-busting weapon – knitting!

Other celebrity names that may appeal to you or someone you know:

Patrice Motsepe’s biography is a long-awaited deep dive into the life of this glamorous African icon, but also a peek into the machinations of big-league soccer and his extensive philanthropy.

Whitey Basson’s biography is going to be a winner. The book reads like Whitey himself – down-to-earth and unpretentious, brainy, but mischievous. It’s the massive success story about the titan of South African retail. I loved the anecdote from his childhood where he recounts how he painted his old toys and sold them for pocket money – retail blood pumping through his veins from the get go!

Faf du Plessis’s Through Fire is an introspective and no-holds barred memoir from the mind and heart of one of South Africa’s charismatic national captains.

Terry Pratchett’s biography is a portrait of the beloved man, the beloved myth, the beloved legend. It’s his life story from early childhood to extraordinary literary career, and his wilful battle with Alzheimer’s. The subtitle is “A Life in Footnotes”, tipping the hat to Pratchett’s unforgettable writing style. This is a larger-than-life tribute to a larger-than-life man.

Big names in publishing – the luminaries in books – are big for different reasons. Some for prowess with the pen, some for multiple awards on the shelf, and some because their writing delivers without fail on the promise of a thumping good read.

Some of the big hitters include:

  • My favourite fiction title of the season, Kate Atkinson’s Shrines of Gaiety, is all jazz and speakeasies, gangster New York, and glitz and glamour. Nellie Coker is like a female Al Capone, and I simply loved the big family dynamics of her “gangsta” family.
  • Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead – reminiscent in so many ways of Charles Dicken’s David Copperfield, but now speaking to and for a whole new generation of lost boys.
  • You will know John Irving, one of the world’s greatest novelists, from The World According to Garp. Irving’s The Last Chairlift is the book I’m saving for the holidays – more than 600 pages – gasp! This is one to settle down with every evening with a glass of wine.
  • For his most gripping legal thriller yet, John Grisham returns to Mississippi in The Boys from Biloxi, a saga with a rich history, ever richer characters, and a twist you won’t see coming.
  • Locally, Rudie van Rensburg and Etienne van Heerden, and of course Dudu Basani Dube’s The (undeniably popular) Hlomu series has had readers hooked and devoted for eight years. This is The Hlomu The End, the sixth and final instalment, which ends one story, but begins another.
  • Stephen King’s new book, Fairy Tale, has been called the “best King book in over a decade” and has already been snapped up for film. The promise – Fairy Tale is only the title not the ending.
  • Wilbur Smith’s Titans of War, Patty Cornwell’s Livid, Colleen Hoover’s It Starts with Us, Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher No Plan B – all big names that will deliver.

These are some of December’s big names and big writers. Now for some really “big books”. You won’t find a category heading like this at Exclusive Books (although maybe we should, because you know which ones I mean).

When I say big, I’m talking about the “thumper”, a brick of a book not just in heft but in content, sweeping in scope, sumptuous, and ultimately satisfying. These titles may not be suitable to lug onto the beach, but are all an ultimate and often timeless gift for absolutely anyone – including yourself.

In Make the Most of your Time on Earth, there are literally 1 000 ideas for your next adventure in real life or in the armchair. Who hasn’t been bitten by the post-pandemic wanderlust? This book will have you planning, dreaming, and drooling.

And lastly, Bill Bryson has just published the illustrated version of his international bestseller The Body. We spend our whole lives in it, but most of us know little about its wondrous workings. There really is no story more amazing than the story of us, and with classic, wry Bryson style, this book is a “directory of wonders”.

Wherever your downtime takes you – physically, emotionally, or spiritually – I wish you safe travels and very happy reading!

  • Word-lover, avid reader, spiritual-seeker, Torah teacher, publisher-author, crazy crafter, mom of three – Batya Bricker also happens to be GM Books and Brand for Exclusive Books.

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