THE READER: Peter Attard Montalto

Peter Attard Montalto

Peter Attard Montalto is the London-based Head of Emerging Europe, Middle East and Africa Economics at Nomura International. His cogent analyses of South Africa’s political economy have made him one of the most widely quoted South Africa-watchers in the media.

What are you reading at the moment?

As I travel a lot I always have at least one book on me though these are invariably non-fiction or work-related. I’m currently reading The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty by Nina Munk which I think provides a useful journalist’s view of the development vortex of institutions and ever-shifting policy landscape. I find development economics one of the most bewildering and fraught areas of economics and the book is a reminder of how hard it is to alleviate poverty through direct scalable interventions without getting some simple foundations in place first like institutions and natural markets.

How do you decide what to read next?

Much of what I read I have little choice over – dry budget or policy documents from governments, tomes from central banks of international institutions which can take up a considerable amount of time looking at many different economies. Autobiographies of politicians are always the hardest to deal with and demand to be glanced at but can be dull beyond the titbits picked up in the press. Helen Zille’s book is a prime example which thankfully had an index to remove the need to deal with it cover-to-cover. But I always try and intersperse my reading with fiction from countries I’m dealing with (Francophone Africa is on my list next and especially Diogo) and “hobby” reading (currently about the technicalities of winemaking!).

What book has had the greatest impact on you?

I think reading enlightenment thinkers has had the most profound and lasting impact on me. Smith, Locke, Rousseau and then later Hayek etc. as well as their critics. Whilst I’m somewhat towards the libertarian end of spectrum politically now (a place sparsely populated in South African discourse) it’s interesting to see how one’s views shift over time as you read more and see more real-world problems to deal with. The long-term development path for individual countries in Africa is going to be a battle between enabling governments with appropriate redistribution and governments that strangle development and growth. South Africa may find itself on the wrong side of that dividing line versus other places like Ghana or,most exciting, probably Kenya. South Africa needs to find a base of black libertarian voices to steer it in the right direction. For fiction, I think Alan Hollinghurst has had the most profound impact on me. The Line of Beauty has pulled me to read straight a number of his other books.

Do you read on tablet, Kindle, paper or all three?

Paper still has its uses when travelling and for whatever reason I think I absorb information better and enjoy it more with books versus computer screens which seem too much like work. Having a massive stack of books also makes for a more interesting home and brings back memories of poking around my grandparents’ library of books – floor to ceiling – that they had. I wonder sometimes what people will surround themselves with when they grow old if it isn’t books! Blogs though are increasingly a more important source of information especially around my two favourite hobbies which is collecting SA modern art and SA wine.

What were your favourite books as a child?

It depends how far back you want to go! I always remember a fascination with systems, engineering etc (of the “Little Jonny visits a building site” type!) from an early age. It turns out I ended up studying economic and political systems every day but the roots are the same! I think a fiction serious I read most assiduously was Swallows and Amazons and the issue of self-reliance appealed to me.  

What’s the last book you gave as a gift?

Daunt Books in London is a treasure trove of appropriate books for presents even for the most discerning reader and the natty totes the bags come in are still an enduring icon for a present to come in. I think the last set of books I got as a present was for my dad who, as a former captain in the merchant navy, is into anything relating to boats or exploration.

The most useless thing you read at university?

Endless books on the underlying theory behind econometrics. Economics should ultimately be a practical social science and learning to derive by hand statistical theories was just too much! Using econometrics to practically analyse the SA economy is a much more hands-on experience.  

Best book on economics you’ve read?

The literature on behavioural economics starting with Richard Thaler (and non-academic books like Nudge) has probably been the most fascinating and relevant I’ve read especially given its use in everything from policy to explaining financial markets after the 2008 crash. It’s an important bridge from the dry theory of micro- and macro-economics to the real world we live in.  This segues into pop economics books like Levitt’s Freakonomics of which most of their explanations of economic phenomena in everyday life come down to behavioural economics.

What’s the last thing you read that made you laugh?

Reading a lot of dry non-fiction doesn’t necessarily provoke laughs! Private Eye in the UK is normally the most reliable comic antidote to these very serious times we are living through. I suppose the most random book I came across that made me laugh straightaway having found it in a hotel room on a business trip was Carrie Fisher’s autobiography which simply cut through with its candour and honesty to make parts laugh-out-loud funny.  

Which book have you never been able to finish reading?

I try to read fiction from the countries I cover to get into the local psyche. Sometimes this works like reading Achebe, Gordimer, Adichie or Coetzee and is useful and insightful. However, this failed spectacularly when I used to deal with Iceland and tried reading Halldór Laxness and came back from one trip there laden down with books. There are now several unopened books on my shelves after failing to get more than a few chapters through the bleakness that is Independent People 

What book do you turn to for advice?

I am a big sceptic of self-help and advice books. They are so often repetitive fluff and it depresses me the number of people reading them on the train every morning. The closet I’ve probably come is Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. There are a range of books now coming about the crisis in economics as a profession which are on my reading list which might count as self-help….  

If you could take an author out (dead or alive) who would it be, and where would you take them?

In the South African context it would have to be Nadine Gordimer who always struck – with her quite strength and moral determination – me as someone who I would most want to take out for a nice dinner somewhere with a hushed atmosphere which can sometimes be hard to find in SA! DW11-13 in Joburg is one of my favourite go-to places and would have just the right atmosphere for such a meeting! There is a quiet confidence of purpose to the books she wrote which is captivating.

A book that most aptly sums up the state of the South African nation?

I always find the economic and political books from SA rather depressing. Walking into Exclusive Books I just get confronted with a wall of books that continually seem to say the same things in the same way. They either fall into SA-exceptionalism or are overly simplistic in their characterisation of the issues in SA. This is partly why I’ve resisted calls from people to write a book on SA – it is very hard to cut through prevailing narratives around the situation in SA which are often grossly over simplistic. One book that has stood out has been Frans Cronje’s A Time Traveller’s Guide to Our Next Ten Years which cuts through to the underlying currents in the country very well.

The magazines and newspapers you most frequently?

I have to read the entire South African press every day! The most interesting thing I read is probably The Daily Sun which gives an alternative perspective of grittier reality with Tokoloshe stories etc! Whilst I don’t work with The New Age, I think it’s also always worth a read in these times of capture and to know what certain factions are thinking. The most random thing I probably read locally is the SA version of House and Garden which gets physically delivered to London. I really love the SA design scene and it’s also a nice bit of escapism to get the summer edition when it’s the middle of winter in London and is always a spur to book another holiday to SA!

THE READER: Cateringa & Kompanen

Alexander Geijzendorffer and Odrada Burghoorn are members of Cateringa & Kompanen – a Dutch artist collective of makers with a specific interest in mixing food, art and the interaction between people. They find food and its context to be an artistic material like copper, clay or pain. Yet it offers so much more in terms of how its perceived. What is “good”? What is “normal”? What is “health”? What beholds the future? They challenge and investigate these concepts in various forms, from performance and installations to interactive buffets and experimental film nights.

What are you reading at the moment?

A: Ai. You caught us at just after a massive book binge. I’m trying to read nine books at the same time to prepare our research for next year. Ahem… Let’s say the main two today are Ingredients by Dwight Eschliman and Steve Ettlinger and Chemistry for Dummies by John T. Moore. The first is “a visual exploration of 75 food additives & 25 food products”. It’s my breakfast and coffee book. Page after page of glossy photos with whitish powders or translucent liquids. The second helps me to bring back the fundamentals on food chemistry that I realise I lack for fully understanding the other seven books.

How do you decide what to read next?

A: Often friends and fellow artists/chefs will advise me books on a topic we are discussing. Occasionally I realise that internet offers mostly superficial snippets and I need something thorough and real.

What book has had the greatest impact on you?

A: Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. I realised all adults have gone through a phase of existentialism and somehow decided it was worth living anyway. This blew my mind.

O: Still love John Seymour’s The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency. It covers everything from building a compost toilet to how to see if a chicken egg is fertilised to harvesting and storing your crop. when our modern world collapses you can use this book to stay alive 🙂 

Do you read on tablet, Kindle, paper or all three?

O: Tablet and paper. Tablet while travelling because paper tends to be heavy to bring, but i prefer paper at home. When I love something i want to own it on paper.

A: Almost only paper. I loathe all the screen work I have to do and prefer to jump around and do stuff. Paper books are kind of between.

What were your favourite books as a child?

A: Oh! The Witches’ Handbook by Malcolm Bird. An illustrated guide to be a witch, including recipes for worm soup, how to spoil your neighbours’ harvest and useful career suggestions.

O: Meester van de zwarte molen by Otfried Preußler (which in English mean “the satanic mill”) has a fairy-tale quality, magic and a romantic plot and it plays in a mill (yay, bread!).

What’s the last book you gave as a gift?

A: Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter. A typical engineer who decided cooking would mix well with graphs and screwdrivers. I’m about to give it as a gift to a friend of mine who never liked cooking till it became difficult. I believe in borrowing books.

O: for my sister one of Ottolenghi’s beautiful books for her birthday.

What’s the last thing you read that made you laugh?

A: Many things. Yesterday I read a comparison of how electrons around the core of an atom try to keep as much distance from each other as they can are very similar to you and another person in the same cocktail dress on a fancy gala. I don’t know which one took more imagination.

O: I stumbled upon the columns by Renske de Greef last week and found them hilarious.

Which book have you never been able to finish reading?

Ulysses by James Joyce. My interest in novels has diminished over the years to make space for more informative books. This mindboggling stream of words was the first victim to fall.

O: I am OCD about reading books, I have to absorb every word, read a page again when I find myself drifting away, and it is impossible to not finish a book that I have read halfway. And I actually read Ulysses, Alex. 😉

What book do you turn to for advice?

A: Ehm. Heukels’ Flora van Nederland by R. van der Meijden. The biologists’ handbook for determining exactly which wild plant is about to kill you for trying to eat it. The SAS Survival Guide offers some basics on that too.

O: I have a copy of the I Tjing lying around somewhere that I used in a playful manner with my friends to advise us on the important questions in life. That was fun for a while.

The best food magazine?

A: Ai ai ai. I’m afraid I don’t read any magazines. I might follow up on interesting articles that pass by on my Facebook feed from various online magazines.

O: No magazines, but food blogs, I like the dessert recipes of Chocolate Covered Katie.

The recipe book you use the most?

A: Ottolenghi’s Plenty More. I live in a communal house with six other entrepreneurs that love cooking in their spare time. It’s actually a luxury with which I never have to buy recipe books myself. Ottelenghi has an interesting non-dogmatic view on cooking with vegetables (“this would be great with a piece of lamb”), that I much

appreciate. Every kitchen, from raw to vegan to African to molecular has interesting features, but I take open mindedness as the healthiest approach to life.

Favourite book about food?

A: Harold McGee’s book On Food and Cooking. Great and almost too-thorough bible of the scientific processes that happen in food cooking. A must-read. Maybe prep up on your chemistry basics though.

If you could cook dinner for a dead writer, who which writer would it be, where would you eat with them, and what would you make them?

A: Roald Dahl, whom I feel would appreciate anything cooked with enthusiasm. He would be more than welcome to join us at my house and dig into whatever has been created by whoever that day. Home cooking is as much about informal ambience as it is about the freedom to try new things.

Geijzendorffer and Burghoorn will be speaking in Joburg at the Spier Secret Festival on Sunday, 6 November 2016. Book your tickets here.

THE READER: Thania Petersen

thania

The Cape Town-born Thania Petersen is a multi-disciplinary artist who focuses on photographic “self portraits”, installations and multi-sensory-based performance. A direct descendant of Tuan Guru  (an Indonesian Prince in the late 1700’s brought to South Africa by the Dutch as a political exile), Petersen explores the universal themes of personal and historical identities by reconstructing herself in various guises “of what remain from our ancestors rituals and past in our lives today”.

Petersen studied at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art in London as well as in Zimbabwe and South Korea. In 2015, Petersen was featured by Brundyn+ at the Cape Town Art Fair and with the AVA at Johannesburg Art Fair. I AM ROYAL marked her first solo exhibition at the AVA Gallery in August in the same year. Her next solo exhibition will be at the Everard Read’s Cape Town gallery next February.

What are you reading at the moment?

If reading was eating, I would have to describe myself as a grazer. I nibble all day long but never actually sit down and eat a full meal from beginning to end. I read many books at the same time at various times of the day — a little bit here and a little bit there.

At the moment I am carrying three books in my handbag which I read whenever I get a break in my day. The one I am most gripped by is The Pilgrimage by Iranian scholar Ali Shariati, the second one is Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like, which I have just opened and the third book is a selection of Rumi’s Poems. Next to my bedside I have a pile of books which I go through depending on my mood. Tonight I’m reading the poetry by Wole Soyinka, the first African writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and on my iPad I have an academic text I’m struggling to get through on the history of the Afrikaans language.

How do you decide what to read next?

What I am reading is usually directly linked to a project I am planning to do or something I am currently obsessing about like “how to make sushi” or some conspiracy theory on world domination or current consumerism, and always something on art.

thania-petersen-bookshelfWhat book has had the greatest impact on you?

Oooooooo, I’m not sure. I read Marabou Stork Nightmares by Irvine Welsh many, many years ago and it nearly put me off reading novels for the rest of my life. That left me scarred! I think since then I have only read three novels. One I highly recommend is The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak. It’s the true story of the Persian Sufi poet Rumi and his friendship with his teacher Shams of Tabriz.

Who is your favourite fictional character?

I have never been one to read fiction. As a child it must have been Roald Dahl’s BFG.

What’s your favourite book about art?

I have no idea how to answer that question. 85% of the books I have read in my life is art related — I really could not choose.

What were your favourite books as a child?

I loved Roald Dhal. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was the first book I ever completed by myself, I think aged 9. I was very proud of myself.

Your favourite magazine?

I mostly buy food magazines and find myself buying every supermarket monthly food mag — not glamorous but true. It’s just so easy to pick up at the counter and then know where to find all the ingredients afterwards — not that I actually make anything from these magazines but it seems like a practical and sensible thing to do every time! It’s like reading Metro everyday on the London Underground — you plan on going to all the gigs it informs you about but you never actually go.

What’s the last book you gave as a gift?

Books are my absolute favourite gift to give! Today I gifted four people books: Making Art in Africa 1960-2010 edited by Polly Savage and three adult colouring in books. Yesterday I gave my friend an interior decorating book to inspire her as she is feeling overwhelmed and excited about a house she just bought and last week I gave my gallerist a book on a contemporary painter I’m currently enjoying, Barnaby Furnas.

Which book have you never been able to finish?

Almost every book I pick up. I use to own a bookstore / collectables shop in Obz and in my excitement of receiving new books weekly I would go from one to the other constantly before completing any — like tasting plates, everything is so enticing you skip to the next before you done with the one you eating. If books were lovers, I would be the most promiscuous of all lovers. Ha ha ha.

What book do you turn to for advice?

It depends what I am needing advice for. If it’s for health I tend to research alternative methods for treating ailments. If it’s guidance in life, I look towards religious and spiritual literature.

Do you read mostly paper books? On your iPad? Kindle? All three?

Almost exclusively paper books except for the occasional academic texts I download from the Internet which I would read on my iPad.

THE READER: Lerato Bereng

Born in Maseru, Lesotho, Lerato Bereng is a curator living and working in Johannesburg. In 2007 she received a Bachelor of Fine Art and in 2014 graduated with a Masters in Fine Art from Rhodes University, Grahamstown. She is currently an associate director at Stevenson gallery in Johannesburg and has been working there since 2011.  From 2007 to 2009 Bereng was selected as one of five young curators in CAPE’s Young curator’s Programme for which she curated “Thank You Driver“, an exhibition on mini-bus taxis as part of the Cape ’09 Biennale.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m Not Your Weekend Special edited by Bongani Madondo. I’ve been meaning to read it for the whole year and stillness would not be found. Finally reading it and I wanna be Brenda Fassie.

How do you decide what to read next?

I read quite spontaneously. Either a book will be recommended by a friend or colleague, or I will be interested in a particular thing and read books around that, or see something on someone’s shelf that catches my eye. Mostly I read on flights, stillness doesn’t often avail itself in Jozi.

What book has had the greatest impact on you?

I don’t have a single favourite anything but one that is gentle and memorable is a book called The Meaning of Tingo by Adam Jacquot de Boinod, which I discovered in a book sale pile years ago. The book is a dictionary of words that only exist in certain languages. For example the word “Mukamuka” is defined as Japanese for so angry one could throw up. I liked the idea of feelings that often transcend language but are universal. I certainly have been so angry I could throw up. This actually inspired an exhibition at some point. I have a thing for language and translation and the spaces between.

Who is your favourite fictional character?

Tricky. I have many favourites for different days. An artist created one favourite of mine: Kemang Wa Lehulere has a character named The One Tall Enough to See The Morning, who features in his work – he made a drawing of him.

What’s your favourite book about art?

Oddly, I don’t have a favourite book about art. There are many that I find insightful or stimulating like Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Do It: The Compendium which is a collation of several DIY art works collected by Obrist of several years. I liked the approach of multiple versions of the same work / exhibition happening in people’s living rooms, project spaces etc. across the world.

What were your favourite books as a child?

Well we grew up hearing unwritten stories in Sesotho, and some of those like the story about “Tselane – a girl that was fooled by a sweet singing voice – are engrained in my memory. Roald Dahl’s Matilda had me captivated for a long time. Beverly Clearly’s series of books about a girl called Ramona taught me spunk at age 9.

Your favourite magazine?

I used to read Elle in my formative years, traded that for Art South Africa and Frieze when I first landed in the art world, and now I read whatever I come across. Chimurenga is still one of the gems.

What’s the last book you gave as a gift?

I bought my niece Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and gave my mom my copy of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart as a hospital read.

Which book have you never been able to finish?

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I’ve had it for years, read it, but didn’t really read it and have had to re-read it a few times more.

What book do you turn to for advice?

My uncle Patrick Bereng wrote a book called Haboo. This tells the history of Lesotho’s royal family and its many branches. It is not really advice that I look for, but definitely a go-to-book to remember where I’m from when things get a little abstract.

Do you read mostly paper books? On your iPad? Kindle? All three?

Only paper books. A little old school of me, but weird not to turn a page or find an old receipt/note/flyer used as a book mark from 5 years ago.