How reading changed my life

“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” ― Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life




piglet‘Oh, dear, oh, dear, oh, dear!’

said Piglet to himself. And he wanted to run away.

Some irritating challenges get thrown at us in life when ten drops of Rescue Remedy on the tongue and taking a deep breath are called for.  However, there are times when even hooked up to a cellar stocked floor to ceiling with red wine and an alcoholic fermentation to blow a roof off will not suffice.  Like Piglet, all we want to do is run away.

The urge to press the escape button came to me recently when calling Telkom on their ‘help’ line.  While I’m the first to admit that my IT skills are sorely lacking, that I’m no techo-monkey, that Outlook Express has something to do with a digital mailbox, I still like to think that institutions to whom we pay a monthly remittance offer good customer service in return.  This especially when the organisation in question has their staff decked out wearing bright blue t-shirts with a slogan which goes along the happy lines of We are here to Wow you! Oh, Hello and no, I don’t think so!

I can vouch for the fact that on more than one occasion this advertised euphoria is simply lip talk.  My technology woes as we kick off to a new year are gaining momentum.  And here’s the thing – the problem with poor service is that it gives us the impression that we are not cared about. When making a call to Telkom, I immediately identify with Piglet’s plight – courage is called for!  Instead of a personality with whom to engage, there’s a repetitive robotic voice with a monologue of instruction options, followed by syncopated music interrupted intermittently with the same voice informing whoever cares to listen that all consultants are busy.  This waiting can go on for an hour or more and to prevent the caller from nodding off is frequently interspersed with marketing promotions.  But what do I care that Thomas Cook sailed to the Americas in the 1770s when all I want and pronto is a restored internet line and a functioning inbox?

Okay, so I am not clued up on Telkom’s annual budget structure but surely judging from their online service or lack of it, incidentally duplicated at their local branch office, that there is a dire need for the creation of job employment.  What happened to those good old days when instead of collapsing in a heap, pulling our hair out, left to feel both frustrated and helpless, we were able to speak to someone with a face who offered us a cup of tea?  This new age of technology and virtual reality makes living in a changing world from one day to the next a tad overwhelming.

‘It is hard to be brave,’ said Piglet, sniffing slightly, ‘when you’re only a very small animal’.

Oh, Piglet don’t we know!

Beth Hunt; Saturday 7 March 2015

A few internationals

hemingways of hemanusUrbain Louis:

Great meeting Urbain Louis this morning who over the past 15 years has cycled through 30 countries … Urbain, from Belgium arrived in South Africa and visited Hemingways of Hermanus having spotted us in the Routard Travel Guide. Travel safe and power to the pedal!

hemingways of hermanusDiana and Etienne Aubert:

A wonderful opportunity to meet Diana Aubert and her son, Etienne from Switzerland. Etienne was the first customer at Hemingways of Hermanus to purchase a copy of ‘Adults Only’ once I had displayed both ‘Adults Only’ and ‘Bloody Satisfied’ from Short.Sharp.Stories – National Arts Festival Awards


In the space of two days Noel and I have travelled from Austria to Argentina and on to Sweden.   There’s no stopping Noel who then heads for Toronto – solitaire this time – I’m on a walk-about in town and get left out of the picture!

In real life, however, we are as rooted as pot plants – travel has not been on our itinerary for yonks!   Having visitors take photographs of us in our bookshop may not be quite the same as doing the trip ourselves, but at least with this virtual reality we don’t have to worry about the shaky conversion rate of the Rand, forking out R50 for a coffee or the drama of luggage going missing.  At Hemingways of Hermanus whether we are behind or in front of the cameral lens, it is a huge compliment when tourists ask if they may take pictures of our bookshop as souvenirs of their holiday.

Austrian-moviemakersAn enjoyable photo session was had with Dina Borsch and Barbara Windtner who work with WanderSis Films based in Vienna.   Five minutes into conversation with these two young film makers and we soon realise what movers and shakers they are.  Innovative and creative they are certainly not the type who let the grass grow under their feet.  Dina and Barbara are currently doing research for a documentary film and are visiting South Africa – in their own words: searching for new inspirations.

At Hemingways, Noel and I were not only inspired by meeting such creative and interesting artists but also by the compliment they paid us:

Hemingways Bookshop attracted us immediately and we could only escape from it after several hours and with six books plus a journal.  Noel and Beth opened to us a magic world with their books.

Thank you to Dina and Barbara, may they travel safe, be inspired by the diverse landscape of this beautiful country and go on to make great media and movie mojo!

‘We keep moving forward,

Opening new doors,

And doing new things,

Because we are curious

And curiosity keeps

Leading us down new paths.’

– Walt Disney

Beth Hunt; Wednesday 4 March 2015

One of the oddest series of love letters ever written

“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over. So in a series of acts of kindness there is, at last, one which makes the heart run over.”  ― James Boswell

“We agree, because I have no talent for subordination”. – Isabelle de Charrière/Belle van Zuylen (in respons to Boswell’s letter in which he writes that he is not in love with her)

Boswell in Holland

Boswell in Holland

Read: ‘Boswell in Holland (1763-1764)’. Edited by Frederick A. Pottle (Yale University). First published in 1952 by William Heinemann.

Introducing the principal characters (excerpts from Wikipedia)

James Boswell (1740-1795); a Scottish lawyer, diarist, and author born in Edinburgh. He is best known for the biography he wrote of one of his contemporaries, the English literary figure Samuel Johnson, which the modern Johnsonian critic Harold Bloom has claimed is the greatest biography written in the English language. It was around three months after this first encounter with Johnson that Boswell departed for Europe with the initial goal of continuing his law studies at Utrecht University. He spent a year there and although desperately unhappy the first few months, eventually quite enjoyed his time in Utrecht. He befriended and fell in love with Isabelle de Charrière, also known as Belle van Zuylen, a vivacious young Dutchwoman of unorthodox opinions, his social and intellectual superior. Frequent guest of certain ‘relax centers’ Boswell’s dead was caused by venereal disease.

Isabelle de Charrière (1740–1805), known as Belle van Zuylen in the Netherlands and Isabelle de Charrière elsewhere, was a Dutch writer of the Enlightenment who lived the latter half of her life in Switzerland. She is now best known for her letters and novels, although she also wrote pamphlets, music and plays. She took a keen interest in the society and politics of her age, and her work around the time of the French Revolution is regarded as being of particular interest. Isabelle enjoyed a much broader education than was usual for girls at that time, thanks to the liberal views of her parents who also let her study subjects like mathematics. By all accounts, she was a gifted student. She wrote several novels and pamphlets and (co-)published ‘Confessions’ of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778). Boswell always referred to her as Zélide.

This book is based on the records of James Boswell which he wrote during his time in the Dutch university city of Utrecht plus the extended correspondence (partly lost!!!) between him and Belle van Zuylen (née Isabella van Tuyll) that lasted to 1769. It are the records of a soul in torment, groaning, wailing, repining but also of a soul struggling and resisting with every resource in his power. It underlines the fact that Boswell has been subject to periods of depression from his early boyhood. His unhappiness was given in by the frustration not becoming the Great Man of his ambitions within the  shortest period of time. At the time of Boswell’s arrival in Utrecht Belle van Zuylen was 23 years and has just written and printed Le Noble which ‘perplexed’, ‘ruffled’ and ‘entertained’ the ‘Noblesse Societies of Utrecht and The Hague’ for it was an onorthodox satire on the prejudices of the caste. Exasperated of Dutch still-life she always scanned the horizon for ‘any object that might be moving, animated or odd’. In the Autumn of 1763 such an ‘object’ had appeared. Boswell had arrived…. Via introductions he was placed in the circle of Belle’s friends and relations. Their correspondence begins 14 June 1764, four days before Boswell’s actual departure from Utrecht with a letter from Belle van Zuylen addressed to Boswell.

Belle van Zuylen

Print of Belle van Zuylen in the Louvre in Paris

….. you are singularly curious, my friend, to find out what my feelings are about you. I would perhaps be more dignified in you not to say so; but I have no regards for dignity, and I despise the art which you revere so much. I am ready to afford you this pleasure because I desire your happiness and pleasure is a part of happiness. Besides, it is natural to me to say what I feel and what I think….. I find you odd and lovable. I have a higher regard for you than for any one, and I am proud of being your friend. Are you not satisfied? …. And this first letter (of which I just quoted a few passages) sets the tone for a series of love-letters between the two.


9 July 1764 (Boswell to Belle van Zuylen) This letter contains a poem:

“Talk not to me of Nature’s charming ease

By which alone a woman ought to please;

Nature shoots forth rank weeds as well as flowers,

And oft the nettle o’er the lilt towers.

The buxom lass whom you may always see

So mighty nat’ral and so mightly free,

A vulgar bosom may with love inspire,

But Art must form the woman I admire;

Art which usurps not beauteous Nature’s place,

But adds to Nature’s dignity and grace.”


1 October 1764 (Boswell to Belle van Zuylen)

“…. No Zélide; do not tell me you have never experienced feelings for me more lively and tender than those of friendship. Say it as much as you please, I shall not believe you ….  Believe that this letter comes from an honest Scot who still feels for her what he felt in Utrecht. He begs her to be good enough to write, as soon as she has a moment to spare for him. Write if it wee only to say, ‘I shall never write to you again.’ God bless you….”


27 January 1765 (Belle van Zuylen to Boswell)

“… I was blaming myself, none the less, for my silence, when, towards to middle of October I got your second letter. Once more I found myself commanded by you to confess that I had felt a passionate desire for you. I was shocked and saddened to find the puerile vanity of a fatuous fool, coupled with the arrogant rigidity of an old Cato ….. “


25 May 1765 (Belle van Zuylen to Boswell)

“…. I have indeed much feeling for you, and now that you exempt me from saying or believing that I am in love with you …..


26 February 1768 (Boswell to Belle van Zuylen)

” ….. I had moments of felicity when I almost adored you and wished to throw myself at your feet ……. If you say at once it would be a bad scheme for us to marry, your judgement shall be rule to me …. “







It was Van Morrison, who way back in the 60s, sang ‘Well, mama said there’d be days like this’.  At Hemingways of Hermanus we were having one of those days when things were certainly not falling into place like the flick of a switch as the lyrics go, whether due to yet another notorious unscheduled outage or a misplaced rare book, now escapes me.   However, what I do remember is the way in which this ‘bad hair’ moment was turned on its head through an unexpected encounter with a group of visitors to the bookshop: two South Africans and two Swiss.

bookshop Hemingways of Hermanus

From left to right: Dries Botha, Michael Claesgens, Eric Stierli, Wayne Sanders

There are those, who no matter where they go, seem to be fired with the gift of making their own brand of light topped with a sunny-side up kind of energy.   In fact, one of the group, Dries Botha, an artist makes candles.  How symbolic is that!  It was Dries who initially ignited the flame of our conversation and from there I was subsequently introduced to his friends.   As I had lived in Switzerland myself, we were immediately on the same page and within minutes our conversation was snowballing from alpine peaks to beautiful lakes, cobble paved cities, rustic chalets and my penchant for Swiss Bircher Muesli topped with whipped cream and fruit.  Not to mention a hamburger, which when dining in Switzerland today costs R230.  With the current conversion rate, I think we came to R50 for a coffee!  Far too depressing for South Africans to even think about.

Michael Claesgens and Eric Stierli who live in the cultural city of Zurich tell me they visited South Africa for the first time in 1995.  This coincidentally is the year in which Hemingways of Hermanus opened its doors.  On their next trip, they met South African, Wayne Sanders who now hosts them annually at their ‘second house’ in Cape Town.  The best was to hear that since then, on each holiday in the country, they make a point of visiting Hemingways Bookshop. 

This time round, Wayne made a selection of Africana books, Michael chose a coffee table book on erotic art while Dries is constantly on the lookout for books on his grandfather’s nephew’s biography, General Louis Botha.  Dries, in fact grew up in Kroonstad, which is also birthplace to a famous South African journalist and poet, Antjie Krog.  Her account of the Truth and Reconciliation Process in her book, ‘Country Of My Skull’ was published in 1998.

It was a lot of fun and laughs chatting to these four great guys with their magic mélange of South African and Swiss cosmopolitan mojo!  And I look forward to their visit and a catch-up next year.

Beth Hunt – 25 February, 2015


Windmills of the mind

‘The road to the future is always under construction’.

Allister Sparks. Writer, journalist and political commentator.

vandeVeldenAt Hemingways of Hermanus we were given a mid-week treat with a visit from a lovely couple – Anneke Groen and Jan van der Velden who hail from Holland.  The country famous for its tulips, canals and delicious ‘Kroketten’ , is one of my favourite destinations on the map, having spent some time there, coming away with memories of wearing clogs just for the fun of it, sailing on a yacht at a coastal resort with a name impossible to pronounce unless you are Dutch of course:  Scheveningen, and then there’s the exotic Indonesian cuisine.  I was hooked big time!  However, I never quite mastered the art of eating raw herring in Holland. 

It seems from Anneke and Jan’s account that they too are having a marvellous holiday in South Africa.  While it is Jan’s first visit, Anneke came to the country twenty years ago at the beginning of South Africa’s new democracy when she organised a convention with Allister Sparks in Johannesburg.

_DSC8281A Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela was Anneke’s first choice but alongside this famous title, I was thrilled to sign a copy of my coffee table book, Hermanus which they both purchased.

On leaving, Anneke and Jan expressed their wish to return to Hermanus when the whales visit Walker Bay from Antarctica between the months of June and November.

We look forward to their next visit!

Beth Hunt; 22 February 2015

Drove over 1000 km to visit his favourite bookshop ….

…. and this is what he wrote:

“Hi Noel & Beth,

Many thanks for your email and attachment to your blog.  It was a wonderful hour I spent with you both and in your magnificent book shop!  You both can be extremely proud of what you’ve created.  One would have to travel many a mile to experience something of that stature.

We arrived home safely on last Saturday @ 17h30 after spending the Friday night with friends in Sedgefield.  We had a wonderful trip, car went well, travel was safe and house all fine on our return home.

Some photo’s of my pub are attached and will forward some of my library when Leanne takes them!!

I am very pleased with the bottom section of my library with all my shelving full of hard covered books – the top section has a long way to go! I still have the cutting of your article from Country Life and have shared my story/visit and the blog with our neighbours and family!  You may have some more visitors from this party of the world….!!

Anyway, thank you both once again for your update, nicely written and will keep it on file.  Will be following your blog closely and look forward to return to Hermanus again one day.

Take care and best wishes.

Roy & Leanne.”

And this is Roy with Beth: Port-Alfred


“I may never be happy, but tonight I am content.  Nothing more than an empty house, the warm hazy weariness from a day spent setting strawberry runners in the sun, a glass of cool sweet milk, and a shallow dish of blueberries bathed in cream.  Now I know how people can live without books, without college.  When one is so tired at the end of a day one must sleep, and at the next dawn there are more strawberry runners to set, and so one goes on living, near the earth.  At times like this I’d call myself a fool to ask for more ….”

The Journals of Sylvia Plath; 1950 – 1962

‘Mirror’ was the first poem I read of Sylvia Plath’s and since that memorable day the way in which I see English has never been the same.  From the voice of one of the greatest twentieth century poets, I experienced the wonder of words, the magic of metaphor and the brilliant intelligence that makes up the power of Plath.

An-American-DiplomatSo when Patrick Gaspard, New York Ambassador posted in Pretoria, came up to the counter at Hemingways of Hermanus, with a hard cover early edition of Plath’s first published collection, ‘The Colossus’. I knew we had to talk!  There is a tribe out there of Plathian devotees: people who love language and marvel at the way this poet made her short and tragic life a masterpiece on the page.  In Patrick Gaspard’s words:

I love the precision and psychological tension in Plath.  Real craftsmanship.

I felt enriched that Sunday morning chatting to Ambassador Gaspard and was delighted when he agreed to pose for a photograph with his lovely daughter, Cybele, for our blog.

Beth Hunt; Wednesday 18 February 2015

P.S. After his visit Patrick Gaspard tweeted:  @Hemingways1 Thank you for these treasures. South Africa still has bookstore culture that I miss in my old New York.