Khadija Patel
Khadija Patel

Taking on ‘Gareth Cliff on Everything’

It is far easier to collect books than to actually read them. Recently, even the most bookish of my friends report some measure of difficulty in reading a book from start to finish. These are not people who have spent their lives eschewing books. Many of us spent our teenage years lapping up classics with the same intensity we consumed bubble-gum pop. We got through university successfully combing our individual ways through the drivel sprouted at us but now in the mindless haze between our smartphones and our laptops, we have lost our taste for reading, dare I say it, religiously. It may well be the impending pall of old age that has reconfigured our literary bents. After all, these are our mid-late twenties — the brink of veritable antiquity. But something more insidious has conspired to rob of us what we once loved. Somewhere between our smartphones and computers, in the midst of our restlessness, we have foregone depth.

In our relationships, our reading habits, our consumption of news there is now a remarkable lack of depth. Too busy to actually engage with someone or even a complex idea we skim the surface of the world and then retreat back into ourselves only to fall asleep from the exhaustion of it all.

William Powers in his book Hamlet’s BlackBerry underscores well the need for depth in our experiences. “Depth roots us in the world, gives life substance and wholeness. It enriches our work, our relationships, everything we do,” he writes. It takes some measure of psychological and structural adjustment to regain some measure of depth but in the meanwhile the world is changing to accommodate this lack of depth. The news has been reduced to pockets of 140 characters supported by trifling 200-word reports. Books too have not been unaffected by this trend.

The newly released Gareth Cliff on Everything is one such product that has been primed to accommodate for our collective lack of time and disinclination towards depth. This is certainly not an autobiography and it is not meant to be. It is a collection of short pieces on a dizzying array of subjects upon which Cliff weighs his opinion and emerges supreme. This is not a meaty treatise on the philosophy of Gareth Cliff. These are easily readable chunks of opinion bound together by the force of Cliff’s personality. And while it is easily readable, and in parts very well written it is not always agreeable.

When I was first approached to write a review on this book, I immediately felt repulsed. I am no fan of Cliff. I last listened to him on radio when he anchored the afternoon show on Radio 702. Yes, that long ago. I do not follow him on Twitter but every now and then suffer the misfortune of seeing an errant retweet from him. I eventually accepted the offer to review the book because I believe in the little cliques we form online, we suffer the danger of insulating ourselves from thoughts and opinion that bruise us or just plainly take an opposing view to ours.

The blurb on the book warns that this is a book that will “engage, enrage and derange” you all at once. I picked up this book carefully, well aware that I would not be nodding my head in fawning approval of Cliff but I was ready to try to understand him better. Early on, Cliff reveals that his impatience with religion runs so deep that he cannot take anybody who is an adherent to any religion seriously. What is clear however is that Gareth has swopped religion for self-righteousness. I don’t deny that he does sometimes make sense but too often his views are couched in a saucy superiority but in a piece titled, “Getting the house in order”, he concedes his fallibility. “I’ve never imagined for a second that I was perfect. I know I’m full of stupidity, occasional myopia and some prejudice, but that doesn’t mean I’m not capable of correcting myself,” he says.

He proceeds to offer an apology to Thabo Mbeki, Cindy Nell, the late Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, Blade Nzimande, Helen Zille, his co-worker Damon Kalvari, Alec Erwin, Idols contestants and anybody else he may have once incensed. It may be a turgid apology but I thought it was a refreshing admission of his own humanity.

Fear not, however, any good will that the apology does extend is easily balanced out by a number of other questionable views Cliff expresses of women, fat people and those he deems stupid. This is a book that Cliff’s fans should read in fitting worship of their hero. It is also a book Cliff’s detractors should read. There is nothing particularly engaging, enraging or deranging in this book. It’s just all Gareth Cliff.

This book, through no fault of its own, or indeed Gareth Cliff, is however a sad indictment of human life today. We have forsaken the complexity of depth for easy opinion — my own included.

* This is the first stop in a “blog tour” organised by representatives of Jonathon Ball Publishers. The writer received a complimentary copy of the book for purposes of this review.

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    • Jenna

      I have often wondered where my appetite for reading has gone and I think you have just hit the nail on the head. Tragic symptom of the world we now live in.

    • Philip Cole

      ‘It is a collection of short pieces on a dizzying array of subjects upon which Cliff weighs his opinion and emerges supreme. This is not a meaty treatise on the philosophy of Gareth Cliff. These are easily readable chunks of opinion bound together by the force of Cliff’s personality’.

      So, if I understand this correctly, an overgrown schoolboy with the opinions to match, who has no discernable qualification as an expert on anything outside showbusiness, offers his views on just about everything.

      I wish I could confidently say that there would be no market for this sort of drivel. Unfortunately, in the celebrity-obsessed world in which we live, some people take Mr Cliff and his opinions seriously. A sad commentary on the shallowness of our society!

    • Daniel Berti

      I like the point you were discussing, but ironically I wish you’d put more meat on its bones.

    • Ethan James

      I am confused as to where your review is here. Yes I get it, you don’t like Cliff, but you’ve said very little about the book itself.

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      It is not Gareth Cliff who should apologise. It’s the unfortunate people who could possibly be offended by such a paltry personality – and indeed people who would be interested in reading his book bar for reviewing purposes – who should apologise.

      Though it is likely the only book-like product they buy, not counting You and Huisgenoot of course, so I’ll rejoice if they do read it, despite the general notion of “garbage in, garbage out”.

      The only way in which I’ve felt engaged, enraged and deranged is by the complete lack of depth from Gareth Cliff and 5 fm in general. I solved that by switching it off and buying books by people who don’t have to shout to make it appear like they have something to say.

    • Stephen Browne

      Try deleting your facebook, twitter and all that other nonsense. I did, and suddenly I am back to my pre-internet reading habits. Instead of viewing endless mediocre memes I actually feel like I am getting something out of my spare time. And strangely enough, my social life did not end. I just ended up selecting my social contact more discerningly.

    • MD

      “Many of us spent our teenage years lapping up classics with the same intensity we consumed bubble-gum pop.”

      A pity, then, about the split infinitive in the opening sentence.

    • Grant Walliser

      And there I was thinking that nobody on earth does self-righteous better than the religious…they just KNOW they are right don’t they?

    • MLH

      Certainly if absorbing the depth of Gareth Cliff is a point of judgement, I’d worry about myself.
      However, this taught me something really worthwhile: you infer that all those arrogant and rude atheists who contribute to my FB page can liken their minds to Cliff’s; that they may, in fact, be his devotees.
      Now that’s a big come-down on their part Thank you for levelling the playing fields!

    • http://www.cindynel.co.za peter nel

      I find your summation and opinions very interesting Khadja, if a little biased ( understandably). Having no considered opinion about Gareth personally, I can only say that I have found through the years that it not only the well read or educated that are able to offer us words of wisdom, but that one can learn from anyone as long as one is prepared to give audience and listen carefully with an ear to understanding their point of view. Perhaps we all criticise too easily when we have a predisposed attitude towards the subject and are thus unable to grant that the possibility exists that there is much worth to ponder on further examination of what has been written or said. We believe our politicians as it were and we have found that belief to be detrimental in so many ways that perhaps we should consider that the fault lies within and not with them. It is great that Gareth has a point of view, acknowledges his own shortcomings and is prepared to state his thoughts. Have a lovely day and I hope you meet many wise people during your travels.

    • http://lennymaysay.wordpress.com Lenny Appadoo

      I’m no great fan of Cliff, but the guy is occasionally funny (well more than occasionally), and I appreciate that. The world needs funny very badly right now. Hence I have to agree with Peter Nel above.

      Everyone needs to have a say; it’s your right to not listen or read as the case may be. It’s also your right to criticize, but you must then accept criticism in return.

      Personally, I would rather read or listen to Cliff, than any of our politicians or clergymen. The latter two are the dregs that personify “self-righteous.”

    • john carter

      All of you should read this book. It takes the similair ideas discussed in this article, but is presented in an engaging, thoruougly factual and slightly pessemistic view of technology in our lives.
      http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0393339750/sr=1-1/qid=1314910087/ref=olp_product_details?ie=UTF8&me=&qid=1314910087&sr=1-1&seller=

    • David

      I totally agree with Gareth. How on earth can you take someone who believes in myths and magical stories seriously? I cant. If I have any big financial or business interests and I smell the slightest hint of a religious undertone… I will pull out. I am not interested in doing business with people who believe in magical invisible faeries.

      Its amazing how someone who is calling for rationality is treated like this. Gareth
      deserves a medal. He is telling the truth and getting rammed for it.

      Religion is for common or uneducated folk. As Seneca the Younger said in 4 b.c.- 65 a.d. “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” and as Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet”

      Humans need to wake up already. Until they do, someone who suspends all critical reasoning and adopts “faith” (faith is unquestioning belief with little or no evidence) should be treated like the idiot they are.

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      @David:
      I’m an atheist too.

      There are many religious people in history who were geniuses and made a great contribution. Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, to think of two.

      It’s the same fallacy: Just because someone is religious, doesn’t mean they’re remedial. Just because someone is not religious, doesn’t mean they’re a genius (fallacy of composition).

    • goolam.dawood

      You can’t tell us that the book is posturing opinion, lament the effect of our 21st century indulgence in this type of rubbish, and then encourage us to read it?!?! Shouldn’t we boycott the puddles of shallow human intellect instead?

    • http://www.anthonybila.tumblr.com Anthony

      I think that the appetite for reading still exists, but the pace of our lives and the speed and immediacy makes reading novels and long winded books seem like a marathon. The young people I know, myself included, hardly have time to really go in depth anymore, which is very sad indeed. It explains why so many people lack depth these days. But if you look at literary geniuses like Edgar Alan Poe or Oscar Wilde, it reveals a truth that’s been overlooked here, depth doesn’t equal length. Making an article or book longer for the sake of making it longer accomplishes nothing except to bore one. So my point, I’m young and I still want to and love to read but make it relevant, interesting and to the point. Depth and Length are not the same thing, they are not mutually exclusive.

    • http://www.anthonybila.tumblr.com Anthony

      I think that the appetite for reading still exists, but the pace of our lives and the speed and immediacy makes reading novels and long winded books seem like a marathon. The young people I know, myself included, hardly have time to really go in depth anymore, which is very sad indeed. It explains why so many people lack depth these days. But if you look at literary geniuses like Edgar Alan Poe or Oscar Wilde, it reveals a truth that’s been overlooked here, depth doesn’t equal length. Making an article or book longer for the sake of making it longer accomplishes nothing except to bore one. So my point, I’m young and I still want to and love to read but make it relevant, interesting and to the point. Depth and Length are not the same thing, they are not mutually exclusive. With regard to Gareth Cliff, well I disagree with portions of his book, but his opinion is just that, his. It does not make him the authority on any of his subject matter, at all. I’m enjoying pockets of the book and by you own admission, he has admitted to his own fallibility, which we should all always remember.

    • http://mdcowling.blogspot.com Mike

      “Daniel Berti#

      I like the point you were discussing, but ironically I wish you’d put more meat on its bones.”

      “Ethan James#

      I am confused as to where your review is here. Yes I get it, you don’t like Cliff, but you’ve said very little about the book itself.”

      Part of the reason, I’m assuming, that there is no meat here and no real review is simply because thats the essence of Cliff’s collection of published blogs. Its no more than that. He makes arguments without fleshing them out leaving the reader without sufficient information to decide if they agree or not. Its mediocre at best and I’m being kind.

      It’s not about whether he likes fat or stupid people or even his warped views on women that one doesn’t fully understand, it’s the whole bloody book that leaves you wanting an explanation of some sort.

      All this book amounts to is an egotistical, self centered and self righteous assignment given to him by the publisher. To say that he has produced a work of excellence, which he claims is sadly lacking in the South Africa of today, would be a travesty for the literary world.

      When I had finished the book, I felt like Amazon had robbed me of $11.95

      P.S I was a GC fan and thats why i bought the book in the first place.

    • http://mdcowling.blogspot.com Mike
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