Book Review: Born a Crime

bornacrimeBorn a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
Trevor Noah
Memoir
285 pages
Published 2016

I read this book, though I’d really like to listen to the audio book version. It’s narrated by Trevor Noah himself, and apparently very, very good. I totally believe that – the man is hilarious on The Daily Show. I still really enjoyed the stories Noah told, though I wish he’d gotten more into his journey as a comedian, and not just his childhood and teenage years.

Noah has an uncanny way of explaining background information that you need to know while not giving away the (actually somewhat obvious in hindsight) punchline. Even the background information is told in an extremely entertaining way – you can feel Noah’s everpresent grin through the pages. Even though the book begins (and sort of ends) on a sad note, the book itself is a happy, optimistic one. I didn’t laugh myself silly, like the next book I read (Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy), but I did have to giggle and read parts to my husband. (And he actually laughed at them, instead of looking at me like I was insane, which is what happened with Furiously Happy.)

I’ve been a fan of Trevor Noah’s since shortly after he took over The Daily Show, and this was an interesting peek at his background, and the very different culture he grew up in. I highly recommend this book.

Incidentally, I spotted someone reading Born A Crime at the Atlanta airport on the way home from Christmas vacation in my hometown, so this one knocks off the PopSugar category “book that was being read by a stranger in a public place”! This is also my first review for Black History Month.

From the cover of Born A Crime:

Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.

Book Review: Furiously Happy

furiouslyhappyFuriously Happy: a Funny Book about Horrible Things
Jenny Lawson
Memoir?
353 pages
Published 2015

How do you even begin to explain a Jenny Lawson book? Known as The Bloggess on the internet, Lawson is one of the most laugh-out-loud, hysterically funny, off-the-wall-crazy-pants writers I’ve ever come across. From her antics with taxidermied animals to the bizarre arguments she has with her husband to the weird tangents her brain goes on, Lawson is one of the most entertaining people on the internet. In Furiously Happy, she explores her lifelong fight with mental illness, from depression to anxiety to a number of manias, and she does so in a lovely, non-judgmental way. She does get serious – she talks about her “folder of 24” – 24 letters from suicidal people telling her that she, and the community she’s built, are the reason they’re still here. Lawson tackles the topic of depression head on, and by writing down the bizarre things that go through her head, lets people know THEY’RE NOT ALONE, and that’s incredibly important.

As the subtitle of the book says, it might be a book about a serious topic, but oh. my. is it funny. Between sneaking a taxidermied ecstatically happy raccoon into view of her husband’s video conferences, and trying to snuggle koalas in Australia while dressed in a full-body koala costume, Lawson also talks about waking up in the middle of the night thinking her arms have fallen off, and being stalked by carnivorous swans. Lawson’s blog is hilarious, and this book is one of the most insanely funny things I’ve ever read, and now I have to track down her other two books. (Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and You Are Here)

From the cover of Furiously Happy:

In Furiously Happy, a humor memoir tinged with just enough tragedy and pathos to make it worthwhile, Jenny Lawson examines her own experience with severe depression and a host of other conditions, and explains how it has led her to live life to the fullest:

“I’ve often thought that people with severe depression have developed such a well for experiencing extreme emotion that they might be able to experience extreme joy in a way that ‘normal people’ also might never understand. And that’s what Furiously Happy is all about.”

Jenny’s readings are standing room only, with fans lining up to have Jenny sign their bottles of Xanax or Prozac as often as they are to have her sign their books. Furiously Happy appeals to Jenny’s core fan base but also transcends it. There are so many people out there struggling with depression and mental illness, either themselves or someone in their family―and in Furiously Happy they will find a member of their tribe offering up an uplifting message (via a taxidermied roadkill raccoon). Let’s Pretend This Never Happened ostensibly was about embracing your own weirdness, but deep down it was about family. Furiously Happy is about depression and mental illness, but deep down it’s about joy―and who doesn’t want a bit more of that?