Book Review: Born a Crime

Content/Trigger Warnings: Domestic abuse, attempted murder, gun violence, racism.


Born a CrimeOfficial Blurb: Trevor Noah, one of the comedy world’s fastest-rising stars and host of The Daily Show, tells his wild coming-of-age story during the twilight of apartheid in South Africa and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed. In this Audible Studios production, Noah provides something deeper than traditional memoirists: powerfully funny observations about how farcical political and social systems play out in our lives.

“Nelson Mandela once said, ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’ He was so right. When you make the effort to speak someone else’s language, even if it’s just basic phrases here and there, you are saying to them, ‘I understand that you have a culture and identity that exists beyond me. I see you as a human being.'” (Trevor Noah)

Attuned to the power of language at a young age – as a means of acceptance and influence in a country divided, then subdivided, into groups at odds with one another – Noah’s raw, personal journey becomes something extraordinary in audio: a true testament to the power of storytelling. With brutal honesty and piercing wit, he forgoes an ordinary reading and, instead, delivers something more intimate, sharing his story with the openness and candor of a close friend. His chameleon-like ability to mimic accents and dialects, to shift effortlessly between languages including English, Xhosa, and Zulu, and to embody characters throughout his childhood – his mother, his gran, his schoolmates, first crushes and infatuations – brings each memory to life in vivid detail. Hearing him directly, you’re reminded of the gift inherent in telling one’s story and having it heard; of connecting with another, and seeing them as a human being.

The stories Noah tells are by turns hilarious, bizarre, tender, dark, and poignant – subsisting on caterpillars during months of extreme poverty, making comically pitiful attempts at teenage romance in a color-obsessed world, thrown into jail as the hapless fall guy for a crime he didn’t commit, thrown by his mother from a speeding car driven by murderous gangsters, and more.

My Take: 5/5 Stars

I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in my life, any choice that I’ve made. But I’m consumed with regret for the things I didn’t do, the choices I didn’t make, the things I didn’t say. We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection. But regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to. ~ Trevor Noah

In full disclosure, I am not a person who gets celebrity crushes, but Trevor Noah is an exception to that rule. I was skeptical (like most people) about the new host of The Daily Show after Jon Stewart left, but the minute I saw Trevor Noah, I was hooked. Which is why it’s almost surprising that it took me so long to read his book. But then you see my TBR pile and you’re like, “Oh, yeah, I see why she’s just now getting to this one.”

Anyway, BORN A CRIME, Noah’s memoir is, quite obviously, hilarious. If you like Trevor Noah’s comedy, you’ll like his book. Fun anecdote to emphasize how funny this book was: I listened to it, and like every other audiobook, I listened to it at the gym. When Chapter Three of Born a Crime started playing, I was on the elliptical. I was doing my thing, working up a sweat, listening to the beautiful lilt of the South African accent play over my ears. Then I got into it, really into it. Chapter Three of this book is so funny I could feel the laughter building up in the back of my throat. But I couldn’t let it out because on this particular afternoon, the small gym at my work was packed. I mean packed. Every single piece of equipment was being used, and two people were waiting for others to finish so they could hop on. I’m a relatively new gym-goer, but me busting up laughing while working out didn’t seem like proper gym etiquette.

However, the laugh did not care. It built until my throat burned. I tried to hold it in. I tried not to breathe, but, while breathing is critical at all times in your life, it’s especially so when exercising. I sucked in a breath because I had to, to live and all, and this high-pitched squeak of a laugh erupted from my burning throat. I sounded like a lizard someone had stepped on. I put my hand over my mouth and tried to contain it but another one came, and another, and another. People looked over at me. Honestly, I think they probably thought my workout was killing me, or that I was going to throw up on the elliptical they were waiting for. I tried to open my mouth to tell them it was just that this audiobook I was listening to was hysterical, but opening my mouth to say that made real, full laughs come shooting forth like the vomit I’m sure all these people expected.

I laughed so hard I had to stop my workout, wipe down the elliptical, and bust out of there, cackling the entire way. Because I mean, let’s be real, if something is making you laugh that hard, especially in today’s world, you choose the book over the workout.

Yet, despite it’s comedy, Born a Crime is also incredibly dark. There are things I laughed at that I had to sit back and think, “Wait, that should not be funny.” Then there were things I did not laugh at at all.

To be completely honest, before I read this book, I didn’t know much about Apartheid other than it was terrible, and Nelson Mandela ended it. Born a Crime gave me a peek into how terrible it was, both before and after. It also left me wanting to learn more, which is always a great thing to come away with.

All in all, this book had a little bit of something for everyone. It was funny, it was serious, it was informative, it had some good bits of life advice, and if you listen to it, you get the added bonus of a great narrator with a beautiful accent.

Buy Links:

Amazon

Audible

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

Anyone else have an embarrassing gym moment they’d like to share while I’m over here doing that? Make me feel less alone, will you?

❤ Aimee

Book Review: Heavy

Author’s Note: If you are into audio books, I highly recommend you listen to this one. 

Trigger Warnings: Child abuse, sexual assault, sexual violence, rape, gang rape, drug abuse, emotional abuse, racism, eating disorders. This book is called Heavy for many reasons, its contents are only a few.

Official Blurb: 

havyKiese Laymon is a fearless writer. In his essays, personal stories combine with piercing intellect to reflect both on the state of American society and on his experiences with abuse, which conjure conflicted feelings of shame, joy, confusion and humiliation. Laymon invites us to consider the consequences of growing up in a nation wholly obsessed with progress yet wholly disinterested in the messy work of reckoning with where we’ve been.

In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to his trek to New York as a

 young college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, Laymon asks himself, his mother, his nation, and us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.

A personal narrative that illuminates national failures, Heavy is defiant yet vulnerable, an insightful, often comical exploration of weight, identity, art, friendship, and family that begins with a confusing childhood—and continues through twenty-five years of haunting implosions and long reverberations.

My Take: 5/5 Stars

“For the first time in my life, I realized telling the truth was way different from finding the truth, and finding the truth had everything to do with revisiting and rearranging words. Revisiting and rearranging words didn’t only require vocabulary; it required will, and maybe courage. Revised word patterns were revised thought patterns. Revised thought patterns shaped memory. I knew, looking at all those words, that memories were there, I just had to rearrange, add, subtract, sit, and sift until I found a way to free the memory.”

There is nothing I can say about HEAVY: AN AMERICAN MEMOIR before I first say it was one of the most beautifully written pieces of literature I have ever had the privilege of reading. I was also fortunate in that the co-worker who recommended this book to me, urged me to listen to it. It is narrated by the author, and it flows like a spoken word poem: in you, and through you, and out of you. It stays with you, both in content and in language, haunting and fresh.

I will also say that as a white girl, I won’t comment much on the content, except to say that white people should read or listen to this book. For us, this book is here to listen to, and think about, and stay silent, and do better. These words do not exist for us to analyze or dissect. They are not for us, for once. But they are lovely, and I am glad to have been able to hear them.

Kiese Laymon is a raw writer of a kind I can only hope we see more of. He writes with a courage that steals your breath. At times, his anecdotes are laugh out loud funny, and at other times, his stories left me with tears flowing down my cheeks. Laymon reached me in a way that I haven’t been reached in a good long while, and I am a better, rounder, fuller person for it.

Buy Links:

Amazon (audiobook)

iTunes (audiobook)

Barnes & Noble (hardback)

I feel as though I’ll be thinking about this one for a long while yet. I hope I’ve convinced some of you to listen to it!

❤ Aimee

Book Review: Becoming

Official Blurb:

Books-Michelle ObamaIn a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

My Take: 5/5 Stars

“Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.” ~ Michelle Obama

First of all, I have to say that I’m really glad Michelle Obama narrated this herself. It gave the text an extra layer of richness, and really made me feel like I was getting a special insight into the words she’d written. Also, she just has a lovely voice. Second, this book was technically brilliant. Probably my very favorite thing about it was how it managed to capture so much in so little space. Every word seemed to be selected with care, so that without using many words at all, a huge world could be opened up for the reader. Even by the end of the book, I found myself marveling over how much story and information I’d received in such a seemingly short space. That’s something that everyone, but especially a writer, can certainly appreciate.

Technicalities aside, Becoming was everything I had hoped it would be. It was inspirational, emotional, moving, and empowering. I laughed (often), I cried (a couple time). I was amazed at the courage of the storytelling. Without giving anything away (because you should seriously just go read it yourself as soon as you can), I will say that Michelle Obama attacked this book with a fearlessness I admire. There was no subject she was unwilling to tackle, no door she wasn’t going to walk right through, carrying herself with grace, dignity, and honesty.

Everyone should read this book, but especially girls. All girls, but especially girls of color. Girls who are marginalized, who feel unseen and unheard. Girls who come from families that are broken or intact, from families who don’t have much money but have richness elsewhere. Girls who need a little push to see their power. Because though this was Michelle Obama’s story, I couldn’t help but feel those girls are the ones she wrote it for.

Buy Links:

Amazon

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

If you need a little bit of hope, do the thing. Read the book.

❤ Aimee

 

Book Review: Educated

Author’s Note: For this week’s 5 Star Review, I’ll be featuring a memoir, which you will likely see many of on here as the weeks pass. Though I write young adult fantasy, I also have a particular fondness for memoir, and you can usually find me reading a hardback YA fantasy and listening to a memoir of some kind. So with that caveat, here we go!

Trigger Warnings: Physical and emotional abuse of children, animal abuse, religious extremism, sexism and misogyny, use of racist slurs.

educatedOfficial Blurb:

Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

My Take: 5/5 Stars

“Guilt is the fear of one’s own wretchedness. It has nothing to do with other people.” ~ Tara Westover 

Tara Westover’s memoir EDUCATED has made all the lists. It’s a New York Times Bestseller. It was named one of the ten best books of 2018 (also by the New York Times, among many others). It won Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Memoir & Autobiography. It was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize for Best First Book. The list goes on. Long story short, this book has hype.

As a general rule, likely because I’m ornery, I do not flock to books with hype. Maybe it’s years of a being forced to read books I didn’t enjoy while I pursued my “classical” education in literature and creative writing or my genuine love for young adult fiction (fantasy in particular), but I tend to snub books with the critical acclaim of Educated. However, three things caused me to finally break down and read this book: 1. a free Audible trial; 2. a recommendation from a coworker I trust; and 3. it’s narrated by Julia Whelan who I once shared a room with and who I respect and admire greatly.

I am glad these three things fell in line. Because I am grateful to have read Educated. Tara Westover’s first book deserves every bit of acclaim, hype, and praise that’s been heaped upon it and then some. The book is bold, brave, and beautiful. Right from the first page, I knew I was in for a lush narrative. Within the first five minutes of Julia Whelan’s soft and smooth narration, I had to pause the book to say aloud (to an empty room), “My God, that’s beautiful writing.”

And it is. Educated is so beautiful that at times you almost forget how terrible it is. Westover transports you to her world so completely, you see everything through her young, and at times, naive eyes. You understand her so entirely that it’s not until you put the book down that you realize nothing makes sense in this place where this young girl lives. At least, not for me. And eventually, I think not for her, either.

Educated is one of those books that will make you think for days. It is triggering at times, especially for me, who has a history of abuse in my dark closet, too, but it’s not heavy-handed. It says what it needs to say without much judgment. It makes room for the reader to sit beside the author and stay awhile, and that awhile lasts long after the closing line.

Buy Links:

Amazon

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

Let me know your thoughts and feels by sounding off below.

❤ Aimee