With the year in full swing, make sure you grab some time to switch off, too. If your ideal escape is into the pages of a book, the Flow team has you covered.
Whether it’s Nobel Prize-winning literature, an all-time classic, self-help, a historical novel or superb storytelling you’re after, here’s a round-up of Flowstars’ best books.
Strategist Kevin Collins enjoys “slightly offbeat books”, but his choices for the year include Mr Mac and Me by Esther Freud – “wonderful fiction” based on the life of the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh – as well as East West Street by Philippe Sands, which recounts how the acclaimed international lawyer “discovered an astonishing series of coincidences that led him halfway across the world to the origins of international law at the Nuremberg trials”.
One of Durban editor Christine Marot’s all-time favourites is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. “I remember thinking that it was the most beautifully written book that I had ever read. Much later I found out that it had won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction,” she says. She also recommends The Penguin Lessons by Tom Mitchell.
Project manager Angela Blake recommends all Terry Pratchett’s books, as well as Super Brain by Deepak Chopra and Rudolph E Tanzi.
Head of PR Caroline Smith recommends “anything by Neil Gaiman, but especially American Gods”. The Dictionary of Literary Biography has listed Gaiman as one of the top 10 living postmodern writers, she explains. “I’ve read American Gods around six times, and each time it makes me reframe the way that I exist in the world, and how I interpret things.”
Caroline also recommends Gibbon’s Decline and Fall by Sheri S Tepper; Little Brother by Cory Doctorow; and the Jane Austen classic, Pride and Prejudice.
Cape Town-based project manager Carla de Klerk first read JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings when she was 12. “Even today, I get emotional just thinking about the book. Sometimes, when I'm sad, I take my copy off the shelf, open it in random places and just read a few paragraphs.” Another favourite is Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden.
Just in time for reflection and new resolutions comes traffic and production manager Christelle de Beer’s recommendation of The Power of Habit, by award-winning New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg.
“This book was an eye-opener,” says Christelle. “It's a three-phased explanation of how habits work psychologically and neurologically. It’s written in a lively style, with a good balance between seriousness and practical advice on how to break our bad habits and replace them with good ones.”
Momo by Michael Ende (who also wrote The Neverending Story) is senior account executive Edwin Reichel’s top choice. The book never leaves his bedside. “It’s a constant reminder of how valuable time is and that we should never lose our inner child, but nourish and nurture it constantly,” he says.
Senior writer and editor Sue Blaine offers a read that packs a punch. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild is “an exploration of the devastating exploitation of the Congo by King Leopold II of Belgium between 1885 and 1908, that included large-scale atrocities in the quest for plunder, mostly ivory and rubber”, she says.
“You might ask why this is a favourite book. My answer is that it changed my outlook completely when I read it almost 20 years ago [it was published in 1998] and made me simultaneously angry and ashamed.”
Sue balances this with The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker, saying, “Pinker explains in great detail how the world, which so often seems such a dark and terrible place, is actually getting better ... Worldwide, violence is on the decline. It’s something I have to keep reminding myself is true.”
For “pure whimsy”, she selects Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins, “a funny novel with a great underlying message: a lot of what we believe is what we have been taught to believe”.
Project manager Sally-Ann Niven’s favourites include the haunting The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, which plays out during the Bosnian civil war in the 1990s, and Mr Pip, by Lloyd Jones, set in a remote village on a Papua New Guinea island, also during civil war.
Strategist Janet Berger adds another vote for Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. “I loved this, because the author managed to speak with such understanding of what it must have been like to be just ordinary, small people in a time of war.” She also nominates Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, describing it as “the best book I've ever read that made the horror of World War I life in the trenches real”.
PR account director Allison MacDonald also loves Tom Robbins’s Skinny Legs and All, and her “all-time favourite” is the classic The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.
Flow managing director Tiffany Turkington-Palmer recommends the 2017 Man Booker Prize-longlisted The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy. “It’s intimate. It’s moving. It’s clever. It’s beautifully written – every paragraph you want to read again,” she says.
Head of project management Gail Cameron chooses Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns: “This book completely took over my life for about two weeks; I couldn't think about anything else.” She also loves Ken Follet’s epic historical novel, Pillars of the Earth.
Hosseini also features among Cape Town media developer Alyx Carolus’s favourites. “The Kite Runner made me weep until 3am,” she recalls, adding Janet Fitch’s White Oleander as a brilliant must-read.
Senior writer and editor Willem Steenkamp offers an impressive list, including everything (!) by Roald Dahl, Shakespeare, Hunter S Thompson, Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, and selections by Iain Banks, Leslie Thomas, Irvine Welsh and Chris van Wyk.
Flow chief executive Tara Turkington nominates the entire Harry Potter series. She says, “The storytelling is superb – JK Rowling is masterful at creating strong, memorable and believable characters and driving a fast-moving plot full of suspense, all against the uber-universal theme of good versus evil.”
As for my own favourites, there are too many to mention. Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being moved me deeply as a young student. I have a mild obsession with JM Coetzee – I read Boyhood, Youth and Summertime in quick succession while living in Sydney, followed by many of his other works, and think Coetzee is utterly brilliant.
I also love Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness and the bitter-sweet Leaving Before the Rains Came, while home-grown author Dominique Botha’s poignant and heartbreaking False River (I read the Afrikaans version, Valsrivier) is simply beautiful.
So, next time you need some downtime, switch off your devices and have a reading feast, inspired by Flowstars’ fabulous choices!