One of the most important things I need to decide on before I take a trip anywhere is what to read while on my travels. Reading is an adventure in itself so combining books and real-life wanderlust is fool-proof for a great time.
Even when taking the one hour and fifteen minute flight from Durban to Port Elizabeth to get back to University, if I don’t have something to page through and distract myself with, I reach ridiculous levels of restlessness that not even 100 drops of rescue remedy can help with.
Here , I plan on sharing reviews of some of the books I’m currently reading, books I’ve read previously on trips and some that I would like to pick up and get stuck into on future adventures. I’ll rate them on enjoyment and usefulness for travel reading
October 2015: Best White and Other Anxious Delusions- Rebecca Davis
When I first saw Best White and Other Anxious Delusions it stopped me dead in my tracks.
I had been perusing the Exclusive Books display at the 2015 Franschhoek Literary Festival when I saw a bright purple book with the words “BEST WHITE” emblazoned across the cover. Confused, I looked around wondering why on earth someone had decided it was a good idea to publish a book by a white supremacist and then wondered who on earth would by it.
After making sure no one was watching me loitering around an supposed bigots 101 guidebook, I grabbed it to get a closer look. After reading the full title and blurb and realised it wasn’t actually racist propaganda. Best White and Other Anxious Delusions is in fact a memoir in the form of a collection of humourous non-fiction essays penned by well-known South African political journalist Rebecca Davis.
Davis specialises in social and political commentary. She works for the Daily Maverick, with her `opinionista’ columns being some of her most popular, and regularly contributes to a variety of other South African publications.
According to Davis, the publishing company that approached her initially wanted a book of politically centered essays similar to her already existing work. But she felt that her life is already so saturated with political analysis so she was looking for a break from the heavy topics. She wanted to write something a little funnier and lighter, thus Best White was born.
Best White is Davis’ first book and the 32 essays are full of tidbits of her real-life observations, experiences and opinions. Anyone who has read any of Davis’ opinion pieces will recognize her sharp, sassy, and satirical style of writing, which translates flawlessly onto the pages of Best White.
Davis covers topics ranging from Doomsday Preppers and covering the Oscar Pistorious trial, to Internet Dating, meeting the Queen, and what exactly ‘mansplaining’ is.
She uses personal narrative and humour to explore deeper issues such as misogyny and racism. It’s a book about issues but Davis writes them in a way that doesn’t leave the reader feeling as if they have been inundated with heaving social and political commentary. It’s writing that gets the reader thinking about and negotiating important issues without preaching about them. Instead of providing guidance or instructions, she is creating a potential conversation— something she does in much of her journalistic work too.
For all those still wondering and/or worrying about what exactly a ‘Best White’ is, worry no longer; that was the first essay I jumped to.
According to Davis, the eponymous ‘Best White’ is a stereotypical anti-racist white person who will go out of their way to let everyone know how not-racist they are. They are not bad people- in fact they are great especially in comparison to the racists who still troll this country- but they can become quite annoying and Davis plays on this fact. She even counts herself as being somewhat guilty of being a Best White, and after reading the essay, to my slight chagrin, I recognised some Best White tendencies in my own behaviour too.
‘Women, Fire and Dangerous Things’ is one of my favourite chapters in the book. Davis discusses the how Dyirbal- an Australian indigenous language- separates nouns into classes based on cultural associations and has classes women, fore and dangerous things together:
“The reason I love that Dyirbal groups women with fire and dangerous things is because it flies in the face of prevailing social assumptions about women: that they are weak, docile and essentially non-threatening.”
Davis waves her feminist flag in the air and goes on to navigate the social complexities of gender relations.
I enjoyed it because it made me want to high-five all the fiery women in the world, but moreover because it highlighted an important factor in her writing that I had not picked up on before. I realised that Davis’ use of humour comes mostly out of necessity.
She is a funny woman, but when she is angry about something, she has to coat this anger in humour in order to stand a better chance at being heard. As she explains in this chapter, this is because angry women are brushed off as being too emotional or are laughed at while angry men are taken seriously.
In Best White, Davis uses her fiery woman wit to get her readers laughing and, more importantly, thinking about the stories she tells long after reading the last page.
Content- 8/10 I wish there had been even more essays and that some- such as the one about working for the dating website- had been longer.
Enjoyment- 9.5/10 I laughed out loud while reading 90% of the essays
Brilliant overall. Perfect for reading on short trips as the essays are short and can be read through quickly (such as on short, turbulent flights, which bounce onto Port Elizabeth’s airport’s tarmac).
Warning: try and keep the cackling to a minimum as you may receive some weird stares due to your guffawing/snort-laughing/super cringe-worthy girly giggles.