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Books I won’t buy because I judge the cover

Not really, but what is going on with book cover design? It is regrettable that some book covers just do not accurately reflect the time and money spent on the contents. I won’t ask my brother, aunt, friend or my neighbour to design a book cover for me. It is a job best left to the professionals.

I come from an advertising background, before computers, and we had to letraset (use Letraset transfers) all the headlines of ads and logo names, making sure that the spacing between the letters was perfect. The rule is that the negative space between the letters should be equal.  Also, copy on the front or back covers in books, and the colophon, (normally located on the reverse of the title page) should read one long, one short line, or one short, one long, to guide the eye. Not like a pyramid, inverted or otherwise, or like a beachball.

These are basic graphic design principles that for some or other reason are being ignored. And the typefaces!  Designing book covers obviously isn’t a paying job because very few publishers seem to be employing trained graphic designers. I know how long it takes to experiment with different fonts to get the best results, but it is always worth it. Instead, I get the impression that type is sometimes just an afterthought. I can imagine the dialogue: “dit lyk nou oulik …” or “make it fun …” or “I want you to use the photo of Long Street I took over the weekend and use that typeface they use on the Coca-Cola can …” and “ … it just doesn’t look butch enough. Use a bold font.”

Fonts that look like handwriting, if that is the look the publisher and writer is looking for, should be balanced with the weight of the image. More often than not I see thin pencil-like letters that lack the same dramatic impact as the picture. Also, to have the title of the book, the writer’s name and the blurb in the same scratchy handwriting just makes it all more difficult to read. The eyes should have somewhere to focus as a starting point: lead from writer to the title to the blurb, for example, otherwise all the copy ends up on the same plane and it gets lost, as in the following examples:



With all due respect to the talented Trantraal Brothers and poet Ronelda Kamfer, these are truly ugly typefaces just moered together and it claims no kinship with the poems or the wonderful illustrations:



When book-covers make use of graphic art, but I can scarcely read the scratchy-arty ‘freehand’ title, I can’t take them seriously, especially if they are poetry books, and despite the fact that I know the reputation of the author:




With the amazing effects available in most photo-editing programs nowadays, I fail to understand the unimaginative photography on the front covers below. Surely a more arresting result would have been better:


Visums by Verstek deur Joan Hambidge



In the following examples the typefaces seem to be at war with one another:




The covers below need a complete make-over:





These are good places to start looking for excellent fonts:

For useful text-spacing principles, go here:

8 Simple and Useful Tips for Kerning Type

3 Text Spacing Principles Every Designer Needs to Know




My truth or yours?

The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is:

DAVID DUNNING: There have been many psychological studies that tell us what we see and what we hear is shaped by our preferences, our wishes, our fears, our desires and so forth. We literally see the world the way we want to see it. But the Dunning-Kruger effect suggests that there is a problem beyond that. Even if you are just the most honest, impartial person that you could be, you would still have a problem – namely, when your knowledge or expertise is imperfect, you really don’t know it. Left to your own devices, you just don’t know it. We’re not very good at knowing what we don’t know.

This is a fascinating article, and I was sent the URL just as I was contemplating the veracity of our personal truths after reading a memoir.

I believe most of us are unaware of the unknown that we should know about ourselves – our blind spots. The baggage on our backs we can’t see.

Maybe the “Dunning-Kruger Effect – our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence…” is a blessing, but it could also be a curse: as Dr Phil is so fond of saying “We cannot change what we do not acknowledge.” “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties of Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-assessments,” is certainly true of many in leadership positions the world over. And “…his stupidity protected him from an awareness of his own stupidity” certainly applies to many politicians who are capable of poisoning a whole nation with their particular brand of arrogant ignorance.

I’ve always been in awe of people who seem confident of their own opinions, because I know that I will feel certain of something today, but due to a new experience tomorrow I will unknow it. What I think I know changes constantly, so that in the end I am never sure of anything.

When academics find all kinds of proof that mankind started here and went there, I want to shout at them “you don’t know what’s under the Antarctic ice!”, for example. And the chemical-neurological workings of our brains are so complex that I’m becoming more and more aware of the possibility that many of mankind’s ills are due to the experiential and/or genetic causes of imbalances in the brain: aggression, depression, madness, sociopathology, inferiority complexes, superiority complexes, and so on. The right balance of the right amount of serotonin and other beneficial chemical soups seem to make some people perpetually rational, positive, energetic and happy. I have noticed, though, that they are the minority. The majority seems to be ‘troubled.’

Jo Shapcott in her poem On Tour: The Alps (Phrase Book, Oxford Poets, 1992), wonders about love and its ability to encompass so much, …

even the cloud sitting on the mountain top,

the awfulness of the stars we can’t see,
the animals, walkers, cars rolling
across the pass, the very dark itself…

Maybe it is our self-love that preserves us and blinds us to the “awfulness” in the stars and ourselves that we cannot see.

I think that in between my truth and your truth there is a mutable truth that occasionally passes through the membrane of ultimate truth, which we glimpse only rarely in our peripheral vision. Maybe mankind cannot look at the truth, that awfulness, directly, because it will destroy us or we will destroy ourselves out of compassion, or horror, or both.


Cultural regression and the vuvuzela

People have been frightened and annoyed by the blare of a vuvuzela since at least 1660, but I find it has an antediluvian feel to it.


The Vuvuzela is a Chinese Tradition of Mass Production

I object to vuvuzelas because I prefer the more entertaining drunken patriotic songs to a mindless and ear-damaging monotone. And I am irritated with supporters of the vuvuzela at South African soccer matches for this reason: You can’t call blowing a plastic trumpet a South African ‘tradition’ when people the world over have been blowing into horns, made of various materials, since Pan ran around seducing sheep. Also, from what I can gather, in South Africa it only became popular at soccer matches around 2001, but a similar plastic trumpet was already used by Mexican soccer fans in 1986.

Most importantly, 90 percent of South Africa’s vuvuzelas are produced in China, according to China’s state-run Global Times, so it should be called a Chinese Tradition of Mass Production, NOT a South African tradition. I’m sure China thanks you all for your support.


See also:

Vuvuzela Redemption by Mike Freedman

The Vuvuzela Made in China

Vuvuzela deal for Shembe Church

Down with gods and destructive traditions

I find it hard to believe that it is the year 2010. In terms of fundamentalist, traditionalist, sexist and patriarchal behaviour we seem to be going backward: several African countries are passing laws that would enable them to lock up or execute gay people – obviously science hasn’t caught on here; the President of South Africa is exploiting citizens’ superstition and ignorance by threatening that their ancestors will make them sick or kill them if they give up their membership of the ruling ANC, while members of the AWB revert to giving Nazi salutes at their leader’s funeral; a member of parliament in an African country talks about witches as if they are real, navies are deploying warships to curb attacks by Somalia’s pirates and an ox is killed to bless Soccer City in Soweto while 300 sangomas invoke the spirits of their African ancestors.

We are constantly told to respect other cultures and beliefs.

I would rather not become more African, or a little bit more Muslim, or a touch more Christian, or a smidgen more Xhosa, or a mite more Afrikaans or Chinese. Do not expect me to respect any barbaric cultural or religious practices that fly in the face of civilized behaviour. That is simply not sane.  As a species we have to advance, not indulge each other’s misery and religious fundamentalism and perpetual victimhood and cultural hellholes and our ancestor’s tribal wars.

There is just so much wrong with the sentimental and hysterical support of behaviour that amplifies tribal difference, or dehumanizes women, or strips land of all that is green without a thought for sustainability because some or other god will provide. We should not be expected to kowtow to harmful practices masquerading as someone’s “cultural inheritance”. We should not have to tolerate those who slaughter albinos for muti, stone witches, murder daughters in the name of “family honour”, rape girls as a patriarchal right or weapon of war, or those who think they have a right to mutilate young girls’ and boys’ genitals. There is no sense in growing our populations according to some or other scripture while my ten children for whom I can’t provide, have a thousand goats they can’t feed because my forefathers and I have stripped the land of all nourishment – we didn’t plant anything and we didn’t dam any water – we just multiplied according to our god’s will or because we’ve done things that way for 300 years.

I would rather not become more like any of “us” or “them” – I’d prefer to be part of a new people: not reliant on what went before, but learning from past mistakes and hoping for a new, truly collective consciousness, maybe by the year 3010. But that might be too soon for us to realize how toxic we are to one another and our environment for as long as we cling to our prideful traditions and destructive social behaviour.


The lack of interwebbedness in the RSA

Yesterday my niece gave birth to a beautiful girl who elicited equal adoration and awe from her Indian family and her white Afrikaans relatives alike. And I thought “This is what the new South Africa is all about. Fok Mal Emma, Stiff Hoofnaaier, die Arme Weerstands Beweging (seriously, mostly poor Afrikaans-speaking whites) en al die ander kaksoekers.”

Rustum Kozain wrote a moving article about the sad state of our nation, and he asks necessary questions:

Dit is inderdaad asof selfs die kranse nie antwoord gee nie. Sekerlik is dit hartverskeurend?

That is why I called the first bit of my stories about “Die Hel in Helmien” on my blog “Uit die Blou van ons Gewrewel“: Die Stem het nie meer ‘n stem nie, en hemel op apartheids aarde is ook nie meer daar nie. When I heard that E.T. had been murdered I felt a raw sadness for all of South Africa: we have reached a new low if we celebrate the murder of a decrepit, delusional, kak poor and terrified old man by kak poor, poorly educated and desperate young men. Shame on us. And what is even more heartbreaking is the nazi salutes at E.T.’s funeral. E.T. seems to be more powerful dead than alive: previously there were a handful of nut jobs, now there seem to be more. And when Mal Emma went to Zim to have a tea party with the Mad Hatter, I felt another kind of grief: die mensdom wil nou eenmaal nie leer nie.

Apart from some wine farmers, I’ve never seen a rich farmer. While I was on a photography shoot near Graaff Reinet, many years ago, we asked a sheep farmer if he’d be willing to let a donkey-cart driver and his grandson stay overnight. Of course he said yes, and being stupid advertising people from Gauteng, we gave him an expensive bottle of whiskey in appreciation, unfortunately before we entered the house. Bare bones. Bare furniture, but polished to a dull gleam, no trimmings, no mooi lappies, no alcohol. Nothing. Kak arm. Just their god and their dry land and their sheep.

It is greed that paints pictures of harsh farmland as something to be coveted. Very few people have the guts to farm, and fewer make a success of it. Years ago a friend’s dad, after a lifetime of struggle, lost his dairy farm because the cost of running it far outstripped the profit. By then his parents were old and his mom looked twenty years older than she really was. And also, a friend reminded me of “the exploitative relationship between big corporations and farmers”: farmers receive a pittance for their produce while corporations make huge profits from the high prices they ask of us, the end-users, and we blame the supposedly rich farmers.

Rustum asks in his column:

Maar ek wil weet, hoe begin ons om mekaar te herken?

But I want to know, how do we start recognising each other?

We can make a start by recognising in one another that need for a stukkie grond we can call home. A longing for belonging equally in a place of safety, security and progress. Apartheid negated that belonging for the majority of South Africans in too many ways: taking the land, causing mothers and fathers to be removed from their families, taking away the right to quality education, and the list goes on. And now it is the white man’s turn for this kind of misery: I am surrounded by elderly couples whose children had to go and find jobs overseas. There seems to be no end to the cycle of discontent and anger. I’ve never felt that I belong, and I envy those who talk proudly of their ancestors and their roots, no matter how bloody the trail often is. Apparently all my forefathers were a bunch of colonial, racist bastards, and I have nowhere to call home.

Rustum also touched on our inability to read within ourselves the tags we attach to others:

’n Verkalking in verskille soos ons aanhou weier om onsself in mekaar te herken en om te erken dat ons eintlik ’n gemene hartseer deel.

A hardening of differences as we refuse to recognise ourselves in each other and recognise that we actually share a common heartbreak.

Too few South Africans seem to realise that we have to take individual responsibility for breaking the chain of racism, hate, anger, intimidation, abuse and finger-pointing, exactly because of this mirror-image of each other. In my mind that was exactly what the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State, Prof. Jansen, tried to do. Instead he became the target of racism and hate speech, as if two wrongs could make a right. Few of us appear willing to step forward and say, “It stops with me.”

I feel we need stronger leaders who do not shirk individual responsibility and who do not justify their own bad behaviour as their cultural/traditional/previously disadvantaged right.

There are no innocents here. Years ago, after twice being attacked while living in Woodstock, I described the events to several people without defining the colour of my attackers’ skin. But here’s the rub: black people immediately presumed that they were coloured gangsters from the Cape Flats, and coloured and white people immediately decided that they must have been black and from Khayelitsha.

We fear each other because we can hurt each other, and now that the tables are turned on the white population, lunatic fringes like the AWB get a lot more attention than they deserve. I despise the media for making so much of this pitiful group, and by extension painting such a racist picture of all white Afrikaans-speaking South Africans. I find the British press to be the biggest hypocrites: they never acknowledge English citizens’ passive enjoyment of the apartheid years, or that those with dual-citizenship are standing with the left foot in False Bay and the right foot in Brighton, ready to flee. An English liberal lefty friend of mine, who recently adopted a beautiful black baby, has a wealthy friend in Canada who will help her to emigrate if South Africa implodes. Her father, who suffers from dementia and who lives in a care facility, keeps shouting “Fucking kaffirs!” at the top of his voice when he is upset … the majority of his care-givers are black. As I drove out of our gate the other day, I noticed a black woman walking, with obvious discomfort, towards Durban Road to catch a taxi. I gave her a lift to Belville station because I was on my way to see my Doc in the area. Her legs hurt. She was fifty three, worked as a part-time domestic somewhere in our area and spoke Afrikaans even though I addressed her in English. She was of the opinion that Somalis and other immigrants are to blame for a lot of misery in our country. She said their children have no manners and they steal from South Africans. And she was angry with the government for not doing anything about it. Due to the economic downturn she could also not afford to continue her son’s tertiary education, so he was just sitting at home grumbling.

I also despise the press for making so much of Mal Emma and his toxic rantings. Rustum wrote:

As ’n mens na aanlyn-kommentaar op Suid-Afrikaanse webwerwe kyk, sien ’n mens hoe Suid-Afrikaners almal laer trek, terug in hul nou meer verharde groepe: ras, taal, kultuur, geloof.

… and if one looks at comments threads online in South Africa, most represent people withdrawing into their respective laagers, whether it is race, language, culture or religion. A hardening of differences as we refuse to recognise ourselves in each other and recognise that we actually share a common heartbreak.

So sad. It is all too sad. Somehow the lunacy of the past weeks made me hyper-aware of my surroundings when I had to go to several shops yesterday. What I saw was people getting along. Polite, friendly, spontaneous, at ease. A lot of people in South Africa just want to get on with living, but because certain politicians and newspapers keep the focus on ugly reminders of an uglier past, I tend to become fearful and wary. When I don’t go out often enough — when I only absorb headlines online — I think, “Oh fuck, we’d better get out of here” and then inevitably “Oh shit, we don’t have the money and we have nowhere to go”. We have inherited a culture of fear and intimidation that is happily being extended into our future by the Mal Emmas and the Terror Blanches. Again, shame on them, and shame on those who are encouraging and supporting their particular brand of insanity.

See also:

As selfs die kranse nie antwoord gee nie… by Rustum Kozain

Strange Days Indeed by Mike Freedman

How many black intellectuals would it take to change the light bulb in Steve’s head? by Koos Kombuis

It’s not so black and white: Terre Blanche and Malema both destructive aberrations by Justice Malala

The ramifications of the killing of Eugène Terre’Blanche by the South African Institute of Race Relations

Die vraag en antwoord met ‘n k*k aksent

I find the ongoing debate between Rustum Kozain and The Talented Mr. Poplak fascinating, because since knee-high to a grasshopper, and growing up in Mayfair, Johannesburg, I always thought the word zef only applied to the poor white (Afrikaans and English) trash: Car mechanics with their mullets from Langlaagte or Danville in Pretoria who wore their combs in their socks, women wearing slippers with curlers in their hair dangling cigarettes over garden gates, plastic flowers in plastic vases fixed to the wall in the gang of a house, bead curtains in the passage, plastic gnomes or flamingoes in the garden, picnics in die riete langs die Bloudam (just about any body of water next to a mine dump), Zephyrs with fur on the dashboard and a plastic orange on the aerial — my dad had a Zephyr, sans fur and plastic orange. Not that we were zef. Ons was natuurlik veels te ordentlik daarvoor en my ma het seker gemaak dat ons nie skurwe hakskene het nie … alhoewel ons gereeld gebraaide polony en bully beef met tamatie en uie moes eet. Ons was darem nie so arm dat aandete net pap en tik was nie.

So Mr. Poplak’s statement: “As far as I’m concerned, what Die Antwoord are ultimately parodying is that need for the suburban soul, white, black, or otherwise, to put a hand up to the dangerous face of the ghetto…” is as surprising as a sudden snot klap to me. Which is why, as a 51-year old who does not understand hip-hop music, but who knows a little about zef and a lot of vuil taal (I can say binne-poes pienk without blushing), I wouldn’t dare “put a hand up to the dangerous face of the ghetto…”, in parody or otherwise, in case I get bitch-slapped for such derring-do. I obviously lack street-cred or the rainbow soul, but I assure you that I’m very much in touch with my zef side. My kitsch fish tureens, made in old Czechoslovakia nogal, is proof of that.

Jokes aside, before Die Antwoord surfaced and before I became more intrigued by the comments following the articles than by the group itself, I had no idea that zef had also been relevant to (gangsta) people from the Cape Flats. Up to now I understood it to be a manifestation of ignorant and poor dop-en-dam (brandy and coke) or dooswyn drinking whites and something to be ashamed of, so even while I find what Die Antwoord is representing too ugly to behold (ye gods, the hairstyles!), and seriously suf, I applaud their cheek and I hope that it would work for them in the long run. And they are good fun. Every time I sing “jou ma se poes in ‘n fishpaste jar” in Yo-Landi’s little-girl voice, my partner roars with laughter. And the photography on their web site is excellent. I don’t think their music is, but I am not the target market.

My first reaction to Die Antwoord was the same reaction I had to that kak Afrikaans accent in District 9: Oh gods, now the world is going to think all South Africans from an Afrikaans background sound like that, because it sounds, well, dumb.

In light of the above, I find Mr. Poplak’s statement, that “After all, Ninja has dressed in the guise of lower-class coloured gangstas from the ghetto, …” not totally correct. The hairstyles and the prints on the boxer shorts or T-shirts may reflect a popular and modern gangsta look worthy of imitation, but the moment I saw the photos I thought of white Danville, Langlaagte, Benoni (where someone had their first Campari, if I remember the ad correctly) — kak arm whites with plastic on cheap sofas, forks with yellow egg still stuck between the tines, dentures at the age of thirty, white-burned permed hair and boeps in white vests sinking camping stools into long grass and weeds in the back yard.

I can only conclude that Die Antwoord is so popular (or not) because a lot of people from different environments seem to claim some or other kinship with the culture they portray. Which I suppose is a good thing, in a “need for the suburban soul, white, black, or otherwise, to put a hand up to the dangerous face of the ghetto” way, which frankly, sounds like seeing meaning where there is actually just chutzpah and the ingenuity to combine different aspects of SA culture in an unexpected way. And I wonder, would they have been so fascinating to me, with my Afrikaans background, if they didn’t make Die Taal so thigh-slappingly entertaining.

Such fun. All of it.