When I picked up Rebecca Davis' book, Best White, in Exclusives last year, I didn't just read a few pages. I found a quiet corner of the bookstore and tore through the whole thing.* While this is a bit creepy in itself, I made the situation worse by guffawing at random intervals, wiping the tears off my face while trying not to make eye contact with anyone. This is how funny her book is. Rebecca is one of the most prolific writers in South Africa today, switching from hard news reporting to features to slaying trolls on a regular basis. Her book can be compared to Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman, or anything by Dave Sedaris. But comparisons are always a bit one dimensional. Rebecca is doing something that is completely, and incomparably her own. I got to interview her recently, and you can read the answers below.
Tell us a bit about Best White (for those who haven't read it yet).
It's a collection of humorous essays: hopefully amusing musings on South Africa, life, work, and, er, Goldilocks.
How was the process of writing Best White different to writing your news pieces?
A lot of what I write as a journalist or commentator is deeply unfunny, and South African current affairs are often deeply unfunny. Because I explicitly set out to write a funny book, there were nights when I really had to dig deep to mine a humorous seam - after a day's glum reporting on something depressing
Life - especially life as a reporter - is not always funny. How do you keep your sense of humour?
I try not to take myself too seriously, and I try to maintain a sense of the absurd. I also drink heavily.
If you were to prepare a reading list to school Penny Sparrow on race and privilege, what would you include on it?
Can Penny Sparrow read? If she can: The title chapter of my book; some Ta-Nehisi Coates; Eusebius McKaiser's latest, 'Run Racist Run', and the book that TO Molefe keeps promising us, because I know it'll be great.
What type of books do you read to relax?
Thrillers! It's embarrassing how many thrillers I've burned through this summer. I buy 'em in bulk for holidays and generally instantly forget them when I'm done. Although in seriousness, the most memorable book I read last year was Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life. It's attracted mixed reviews, which I understand - there's something quite misery porn-ish about it - but I really couldn't put it down.
There's always a bit of romantic mythology around writer's rituals. Do you have a particular place you write in or something you always do before you write?
Before I write I like to get insanely caffeinated and then spend minimum 4 hours dicking around on the internet.
What are your favourite feminist reads? These could be actual feminist texts or just books with strong female characters...
Little Women! Who didn't want to be Jo from Little Women? Everything by Caitlin Moran. A Young Adult novel I read recently and LOVED for its strong (if somewhat unsubtle) feminist message was 'Only Ever Yours', Louise O Neill.
Who are your SA authors to watch in 2016?
It's time Darrel Bristow-Bovey wrote a novel, because he's one of the few writers who can simultaneously amuse and move me.
What types of books would you like to see coming out of the local publishing industry?
I'd like to see them taking chances on more fiction in general, and more speculative fiction in particular (sci-fi etc). I'd love it if there were fewer sports biographies, fewer true crime accounts and fewer speculations on how soon South Africa is going to the dogs, but I do recognise that publishers produce what's most likely to sell.
*Disclaimer. Even though I read the whole thing, I bought Rebecca's book because, kids, we should always support South African literature.