THE BOOKSELLER: Kate Rogan – Love Books

Kate Rogan

Kate Rogan is the owner of Love Books, a delightful independent bookshop in Melville, Johannesburg. Offering a wonderfully edited selection of fiction, non-fiction and children’s books, the space also frequently hosts lively launches.

The book you’re currently most excited about selling?

Impossible to answer, there is so much at this time of year. But Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad left me excited, bowled over, entertained and satisfied. The seamless integration of the slave story with the fantasy elements is remarkable and, love it or hate it, I feel confident that our customers will recognize its brilliance. Firepool by Hedley Twidle is a gem of a book. A collection of essays by a subtle, observant, self-deprecating mind that we are loving selling. And I cannot wait to start selling 100 Objects of the Boer War.

Which title gets shoplifted the most frequently?

Without a doubt, anything in the Jacana Pocket History series. We have hidden them, placed them on unreachable shelves, and still they go. So now we put dummy copies out and keep the sale copies in the office. Close second is Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. But shoplifting is not a big problem for us thankfully.

The biggest seller of the past year?

For sales outside of launches, it’s a wipe-out for Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. If we had to include launch sales, our biggest seller is Reflecting Rogue by Pumla Dineo-Gqola, by a long shot!

The most underwhelming book you’ve read in the last year?

It has to be Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life. I must have read that dreary opening scene at least ten times until I finally got beyond it. It improved a bit after that, and I know it’s full of quiet and gentle universal truths, but my imagination was just not captured by the main character or the snowy scenery.

Which book do you wish all your customers would read?

Since we have customers from the age of 0 to 99, I am going to choose RJ Pallacio’s Wonder. It’s an extraordinary book with a huge heart that somehow speaks as powerfully to me as it did to my 9-year-old daughter.

The last thing you read that made you cry?

Is this allowed in a literary magazine? Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – because it was an emotionally charged read, and I, like everyone, was rooting for love to win. It didn’t, but it also did. I also suspect I cried because Jojo Moyes is a clever writer and that’s just what she wanted me to do!

Is there a book you’d never sell? If so, what is it, and why?

Anything by Steve Hofmeyr. He’s an obnoxious racist poser and I don’t want his stuff in my shop!

What’s the most surprising thing about your bookshop?

I love to quote from Mark Forsyth’s The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the delight of not getting what you wanted, where he quotes Donald Rumsfeld on the necessity of book shops: “There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.”

Rumsfeld was of course warming up for war in Iraq, but what I’m trying to say is that Love Books is full of wonderful, surprising books that you never knew you wanted. You will also meet bookseller Anna Joubert in the shop, and she is a wonderful surprise! She knows what you want before you do!

The three writers you admire the most?

Ivan Vladislavić because no one captures the soul of Joburg and its unique urban landscape like he does. And he is simply one of the best writers I know.

Maggie O’Farrell because I love writing that makes the ordinary extraordinary, and she deals with domestic themes in a most extraordinary way.

Alexandra Fuller, for the way she writes about Africa, and the power of her storytelling.

The biggest challenge you face in bookselling?

Balancing cash flow and stock levels. It’s a daily dance, and some days it’s beautiful and other days we’re tripping over ourselves!

Describe your archetypal customer

Someone who’s read (and understood) The Unknown Unknown.

The best part of being a bookseller?

Buying new books – I really love seeing the reps and get terribly excited about what’s coming. Meeting the most extraordinary people (Paul Beatty, Barbara Kingsolver and Helen MacDonald come to mind). Making a difference in our local community by bringing them fantastic launches and a great space to engage with books and the mind.

And the worst part?

Admin. There’s LOTS of it.

THE BOOKSELLER: Griffin Shea – Bridge Books

Griffin Shea

Griffin Shea is the founder of Bridge Books, which recently opened in Joburg’s CBD. A retail store with a thoughtfully edited selection of predominantly African titles (both new and secondhand), Bridge Books also sells to the inner-city’s street booksellers.

The book you’re currently most excited about selling?

I’m loving Nomavenda Mathiane’s Eyes in the Night. It’s her retelling of her grandmother’s experiences as a child during the Anglo-Zulu war, and the story is part of the of amazing work that South Africa as a whole is undertaking in understanding history from more points of view.

Which title gets shoplifted the most frequently?

Actually, not a single book has been stolen yet. I think this is partly because we run a “pay it forward” scheme, where customers buy books to give away to others. Also, if anyone asks, I’ll loan them a book for a R20 deposit if they promise to write a review.

Once someone did lift a copy of Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like from a pop-up we ran in Soweto on Youth Day. But when we asked if anyone had seen it, he returned it the next day. He’d thought we were giving away the books as part of the Youth Day events.

The biggest seller of the past year?

I Write What I Like, by Steve Biko, which sells consistently week after week, on both the retail and the wholesale side. We run a wholesale trade to connect small booksellers (even smaller than us!) with publishers so they can get new books, and Biko is always in demand.

The most underwhelming book you’ve read in the last year?

It’s hard to narrow it down to just one, only because I did a lot of reading for my PhD work at Wits, which focuses on South African young adult novels. Unfortunately, that means I read a shocking number of heavy-handed, preachy books that we inflict on our young people. Also, of course, several real gems. But it’s no wonder young readers gravitate toward “adult” books if they have any passion for reading at all. The books aimed at their age bracket often talk down at them from a very high pulpit.

Which book do you wish all your customers would read?

Devilskein & Dearlove by Alex Smith. Like the best young adult books, it explores themes too big for most adult fiction: the nature of evil, the legacy of trauma, the difficulty of change, the hidden layers of meaning in everyday places. Think The Secret Garden or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe set on Long Street in Cape Town.

The last thing you read that made you cry?

Wishful Drinking, by Carrie Fisher. The Star Wars films leave me cold, but when the latest one came out and the world was awash in commercials and merchandise, I decided to read Carrie Fisher. I laughed so hard, tears squirted out of my nose too.

Is there a book you’d never sell? If so, what is it, and why?

A couple people have asked for Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal. But I can’t carry it. He’s the antithesis of everything Bridge Books is trying to do. And honestly, even the ghost writer Tony Schwartz has renounced it.

What’s the most surprising thing about your bookshop?

This building was originally Barclays headquarters for South Africa. The vault is still downstairs. Also, we have a great roof space for readings under the stars.

The three writers you admire the most?

Toni Morrisson, whose books often explore love and its boundaries. She’s shaped the way I think about human relationships, and the reasons we treat each other the ways that we do.

Assia Djebar, who writes about the ways we can seek freedom, including through storytelling. She also introduced me to the idea of the Bechdel Test, before that phrase was widely applied to the idea.

Mark Twain. Did you know he’s really funny? I’ve been reading Huckleberry Finn out loud to my 11-year-old son, and it’s funnier, sharper and actually quite a lot darker than I remember it being.

The biggest challenge you face in bookselling?


Running a bookstore is a lot like Scrabble: it’s a math game masquerading as a word game.

Our indoor shop space is only 60 square metres. We have 12 bookcases. The limits of that geometry and its implications for which books we can carry continue to confound me.

Describe your archetypal customer.

Twenty-something, smart, creative, professional. Oh, and black.

The best part of being a bookseller?

The readers who come shopping, or simply visiting. I meet so many new people every day, and I love hearing their stories and the stories they’re looking for.

And the worst part?

You open a bookstore thinking it’s going to create this glorious life of the mind. And that’s true, but frankly it’s just as much about quads and glutes. There’s a lot of carrying heavy boxes up and down stairs.

Read more about Bridge Books over on 2Summers and in the Mail & Guardian.

FICTION: If you go down to the woods | Part 4



In order to produce werewolves in your own family, it is not enough to resemble a wolf, or to live like a wolf …

Yissis, even Lucky throws us out now man, says Jegs, bumping into me as we go down past the mall.

Ja, but you were causing kak, and anyway it’s five in the morning, so what you expect, man?

I stop and tie my shoelace and when I stand up I get on Jegs’s other side without him even spotting. He has puke on the left side of his hoodie that I can see and smell every time I look at him.

Ja, but still man, how ’bout some loyalty?

It’s dark still and there’s no way the ol’ lady is gonna let us in, so no point going home. She’s most probably fucked anyway. Right at the edge of my eyes is a little jumping light, like some arsehole is flicking a torch at me. I feel my heart, like it’s changing gear. My lungs burn in the cold. I cough and I can taste blood.

Jegs is kicking little stones into the road and dragging his feet. Dude, he says, that chick that came in last night, is that Lucky’s side piece? Man, she was nice. Hey, maybe that’s why he threw us out? He had a fokken hardon under the bar so he had to gooi us out fast? You think that’s it, hey?

I dunno Jegsie, it was late man, the oke wanted to split.

My fingertips have started that little irritating jumping, like I’m holding a wet cord and getting electric shocks. And it’s as if mud is coming up into my chest so I feel I’m gonna choke, maybe even spit actual blood.

Hey we could do the corner near Garden City, dude, some rich ou on his way to work with a cell phone on his ear.

Jegs is the only oke I know who still says dude.

Who’s he gonna be speaking to at five in the morning? Plus you know what happened to Uysie last time he did that corner? Shadrack and his mates work that one, and Uysie is gonna do some serious weeks in hospital for that fokken little Nokia. They caught him up behind the Hindu place and beat the crap out of him. So bear that in mind oke.

Ok then so, so, what, Emmarentia, hey?

No way man, they have that one too.

Ja but, like right now man, those okes are nowhere. It’s fokken freezing and dark out here, so no way they heading to the park to steal a phone off some tannie now.

He had a point.

Smash will take a phone, won’t he, or we could, we could go to Jeppe?

Can’t do Jeppe, the okes will see us coming a mile off with a phone and wanna know which corner we did. I wanna avoid that type of thing. But ja, we could do it. Except, who’s walking dogs now?

You know these crazy aunties, man. The little brakkie starts whining at four ay em and she’s getting out of bed and heading to the park in her nighties. Plus, by the time we get there it’s not so dark anymore, and we get there now there’s no car guard so he can’t give anyone a headsup.

Ja, he wouldn’t be able to tell anyone if he wasn’t there, I say, but it goes straight over Jegs’s thick head.

The stuff is up in my ribs, like I ate a bucket of tar and now I’m gonna drown in it. I try to work it back in, shifting my shoulders up and down to keep moving, and I breathe deep. It’s seriously unpleasant here, so an old lady in the park is starting to sound like an option. They all have iPhones now. That’s enough for a hit if Smash will take it off us, which there’s no reason to think he won’t. Anyway, we’re halfway there already, picking up the pace down Beyers past the homeless guys on the left under the tree. Wankers think we can’t see them buried under that cardboard, but there’s legs and arms sticking out all over the place. Okes could be dead in this cold, nobody would know for a whole day.

Ja, okay Jegsie, let’s do it.

Hey, dude, what’s got into Shaun, man, he’s out of it totally these days, and I don’t even think it’s the shit.

Shaun is fucked. His old lady made him do a test and he’s positive, so he’s pissed. Tried to pick up someone at Lucky’s last week but he’s so skeletal a chick would have to be suicidal.

Bummer man.

Jegs is also the only oke I know who says bummer.

Ou’s dead in a month, I say.

Jegsie goes quiet for about fifty metres and then he starts giggling. Works himself up into a nice dik laugh until he’s half falling over.

What the fuck? What’s so fucking hilarious?

He can’t even get an answer out he’s so amused with himself and he starts tripping over his own feet, stepping off the path into the road. Next thing there’s a guy yelling from behind us and before we know what’s what, he’s on us and there’s fucking recycling stuff all over the road. Jegs is on his back, and the guy is seriously pissed. He pulls his balaclava half up his face and starts to shout something in French, or Zambian, or whatever. I see his mouth going, and everything slows down, like it’s all in slow motion, except my heart rate is out of control, in the red.

I snap back into it when I hear some other guys start to yell as well, and when I turn to look back up Beyers they’re headed straight for us, three in row, standing on their trolleys balls to the wall, and Jegs is still on the grass giggling like a zombie. Plastic and shit everywhere, and the guy’s big canvas bag’s off the edge of the cart half in the road and cars are coming up Beyers straight towards us.

I bend over and grab Jegs’s jacket so he stops giggling and looks up at me.

Oke, we are fucking meat if we don’t get out of here now, I tell him.

He turns his head and I see the crusty puke on his hoodie.

Yissis man, these okes are pissed dude.

Ja, no kidding you fucking poes, let’s go man.

I yank him to his feet and we start running, straight down the hill. It’s about a hundred metres to the corner and we round it going ninety kays, burning rubber, the Zambians yelling behind us, but they haven’t bothered to chase. We run between two cars at the light and head for the little zig-zag gate in the fence. I half drag Jegs through it and then we’re in the park, in the dark, so we stop running. He bends over and laughs. Fuuuck, man that was mal, he says.

We head deeper into the woods, next to the stream and round the bottom of the hill that goes up to the soccer fields. There are big trees here, and we sit down and chill for a bit. Except I’m not chilling, I’m speeding up and those little jumpy shocks are starting to bounce back against my brain and it’s getting seriously nasty.

So we’re there in the half pitch dark, no dog walkers anywhere, but no other people either, so we just lie on the leaves for a while, listening to the cars coming up Beyers. There’s a stone under me and I remember that fancy doctor with his cheap lube, fucking me like he’s gonna pass out if he doesn’t come now, and I’m feeling it like a sword up the arse. But it was decent money so I just held on and flew on his coke while he did his thing. No going back after a point.

Jegs is snoring. Unbelievable. He’s also the only oke I know can fall asleep taking a dump. I listen to him for a while and then I hear it, a whistle, coming from the field. I feel the cold sweat that comes up always between my shoulder blades before I do it, every time, no matter how clearly I plan the get-out-of-jail-free route. Jegsie’s a doos too, so the sweat is like my body knowing he’s going to fuck up. I kick his shin.

Jegs, someone’s coming.

He wakes and sits up fast, pulling his hoodie around his ears. Serious, dude, where, which side?

I point across the little bridge straight ahead of us and then yank him back behind a big tree.

Okay, what’s the plan man? he asks, getting excited.

Okay, so we check out the dogs first, see what’s what, and then as she comes around this end, past the end of the bridge, we jump her.

Jegs pulls his blade out. Lekker, I’m on it. He’s hopping from foot to foot.

We wait. I take a chance and look around the tree. She’s coming up towards the bridge, walking close to the water, walking fast. Black pants, running shoes, little baggie around the waist, which is probably where the phone is. I look for a dog and there it is, little black and white one, Jack Russell type, but really small. Okay, no sweat, one clean kick and the dog is sorted. Nobody else around.

Okay Jegs, ten seconds man. Hold tight. I hear him breathe and then he’s out from behind the tree, rushing the woman like he’s fucking Schwarzenegger, and the little dog goes ballistic.

I run up behind him and hear him say to her, Okay, lady, what you got? Give it to us now. And he’s waving his knife around like there are fifty ninjas attacking.

And then I see it. Bull terrier built like my uncle’s towtruck, coming round the stone wall of the bridge. He sees us and picks up his pace. Funny thing is, the woman grabs him as he gets to her, which is weird because he was onto us, coming at us so fast Jegsie wouldn’t have had time to aim the knife anywhere. The little dog is still going bos, barking at Jegs and he’s dancing around trying to keep it off his ankles. This is a fuck up.

The woman grips the big dog, but his huge jaw is open and he’s barking and growling. She holds him tight around the neck, kneeling next to him and talking to him. Then, get this, she fucking speaks to us.

Guys, I think you should back off, okay? she says.

Jesus this is a fucking world-class hold up. But I don’t really have much to say to that, so I grab at Jegsie’s jacket and pull him back towards the gate.

Let’s duck man.

The little shocks are making me see weird colours and black spots bouncing around in my eyes and I want to hit them away like mozzies.

But Jegs has got the Jack Russell on his foot and he’s kicking to try get it off and the woman yells, Mouse, Mouse, come here. Which is priceless. Jegsie has a dog called Mouse on his ankle, with little jaws and teeth and he’s waving that knife around, slicing at everything but the dog, and the woman, chilled as a dominie, is holding that bully with all her strength to keep him off us.


The little scene is starting to feel like slow motion again, like it’s all a seriously bad idea, when a guy rounds the corner at the other end of the bridge, running, with a fucking pit bull on a leash. I don’t think this oke had seen what was going down but as soon as he turns the corner he starts yelling. I reach for Jegs and ruk him back through the leaves towards the gate and of course he falls on his arse and the little dog is on him, snarling and snapping at him like it’s gonna take his head clean off, and he’s yelling, screaming like a chick.

It’s all slowing down now in my head and I’m trying to hold it together, and this is what goes down. The bully sees the pit bull and he makes a break from the woman. Like a bullet he’s after the other dog, and before he knows what’s hit him, the big oke is flat on his back, holding onto his leash for dear life, with a crazy pit bull on the other end pulling him towards the bully. The Jack Russell hears this and lets go of Jegsie, turns around and heads for the dogfight. And for some reason, I stop. I can’t miss this. Jegs is through the gate and gone, heading up the road as fast as he can, calling me as he runs. I step behind a big tree, half in the dark, and watch this little scene happen.

The woman is up and running, yelling at her dog who is now seriously grappling the pit bull. She doesn’t stop when she gets to them but takes a dive, right into the middle of the two dogs and it’s just kak en hare, and she grabs the bully around the back legs, and starts pulling him backwards. She’s on the ground with him, trying to get him out of there and the man, big guy with an accent, is backing up on the ground, on his gat with the pit bull, yelling. They finally get away from each other and the guy stands up, grabs the dog’s collar and ruks him hard. The woman has a leash on the bully now and she starts apologising to the oke. He’s calmed down now and he’s cool and they start worrying about the dogs.

Your dog okay? she asks.

Yeah, yours?

Yes. Did you see those two guys?

Yeah, were you being mugged?

Seriously oke? Did you not see Jegsie’s blade flashing? I move deeper behind the tree and wait for them to move off because, fucking amazing, the guy dropped his phone when he went down with the pit bull. It came flying out of one of those back pockets that cycling jackets have, spinning up like a beautiful ninja star into the beams of light from the traffic on Beyers and landing in the dead leaves behind him. And the oke has no idea. So I just stand there and wait. They head off down the path, the woman in front dragging the bully who wants to get at the pit bull but she yanks him hard so he has to turn and walk. The oke is patting his dog’s head as he goes, feeling around its ears and under its jaw. Looking for blood I skiem.

It’s quiet now. The traffic is picking up and Jegsie’s gone. I focus on the black stuff crawling up my chest, try to make it go back down, till I wanna puke from trying to keep it together. And then I step out from behind the tree and walk towards where I saw the phone drop. It’s there, half buried in the leaves, shining at me like a diamond. iPhone 5. Fucking brilliant. Smash will give me a couple hundred. I hold down the power switch till it goes off, so that the guy can’t find me on his computer or his GPS or whatever when he gets home. I step through the gate, look both ways. Jegs is about a hundred paces off, waiting for me. Dick head. I turn left onto Judith and start towards him. The time on the phone before it powered off said oh six-twenty. Jegs is hopping up and down on one leg, slapping his thigh, starting that stupid lag again. I feel the cool of the phone in my hand, and slide it into my back pocket just before I get to him.

This is the final part of If you go down to the woods. Read the rest of the story:

All of the stories’ epigraphs are from A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.