‘Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood’ by Tevor Noah

born a crime

Being from the UK all I really knew about Trevor Noah was that he was a comedian from South Africa who did some stuff for one of those late night talk shows in the US and then took over it after the main host left (I’m playing a little dumb, I know it was ‘The Daily Show’). All I ever really saw of him was the occasional YouTube clip which I always enjoyed, finding him very funny in an intellectual and progressive way.

I’ll start with my relatively minor disappointment from the book, which in all honesty is probably more my fault that Trevor’s. I was hoping to hear how a (as I found out he was) a poor, ‘coloured’ boy from South Africa became one of the leading late night show hosts in the world. This book doesn’t talk about any of that, in fact it only passingly mentions that he was a comedian right towards the very end. No how he found his way into comedy, no how he found his way across the world from where he started. I started this book expecting a tale of ‘rags to riches’ and that’s where the disappointment ends, because what this book is, and what it more likely sets out to do, is an education about what life really was like in South Africa towards the end and in the aftermath of the apartheid. For clarity, my “disappointment” in this book is drastically overshaddowed by my enjoyment of it, I only give it credence because what I was hoping would be talked about, wasn’t. However, what Trevor delievered instead was a far deeper and compelling education, as I will explain below.

I learned so much in this book that I had never even considered before such as how black, and coloured, South African’s have a completely different perspective on major events such as World War 2, even going as far as ‘Hitler’ being a not so uncommon name in many parts of the country. The part of the book which gave me most pause for thought was a section where Trevor (although he never actually admits to having this belief himself) explains how ‘The Holocaust’ may not be in fact the worst, most inhumane, crime against humanity ever committed. He points out that there have been a myriad of things that have happened not only in South Africa, but throughout the continent before, and possibly even more importantly, since ‘The Holocaust’ which should be considered for that title. The only difference between those atrocities and ‘The Holocaust’ is that the latter is fully documented, that all the facts and figures are known as proof of the evil, whereas the others are only vague numbers at best, therefore far easier to dismiss.

It’s not all doom and gloom however, the book is filled with a variety of funny and clever stories. My particular favourites were the stories about how blind racial prejudice allowed him to get away with shoplifting, and the tales of his DJ and dance crew which included his friend ‘Hitler’. These stories are woven in, out, and through the darker tales, the escalating stories of his violent step-father, and his near miss with actual prison time. In fact it is because of these tales and memories, both good and bad, that this book is so effective in its delivery and education of what life was truly like. Unlike the disconnected ‘real educational’ books, Trevor’s retelling of how he grew up gives all the issues a face and therefore a much greater impact than just the vagueness of other accounts.

Overall I very much enjoyed this book and came out of it feeling like I had a far greater appreciation for what life must have been like for people like Trevor in South Africa at that time. Trevor’s natural charm and charisma which is clearly evident throughout and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the subject, whether they’ve ever heard of him or not.

Top Five Books 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, we take a quick look at my top five books from the year…

Books2017

So after many, many, hours stuck in traffic with ‘Audible’, or stolen moments alone with the ‘Kindle App.’, here is my definitive, personal, selection of my top five books of 2017. Note, I will keep this as spoiler free as possible!

Honourable Mention – ‘James Acaster’s Classic Scrapes’ by (shock) James Acaster

James Acaster

Although most of the books I consume are done through ‘Audible’ I don’t feel as though I had the same “book experience” with this as I have with other titles. Possibly due to the fact that it is narrated by James Acaster himself and I listened to it in two sittings, driving too and from London, it felt less like I was listening to a book, but rather that I was driving with a very chatty, yet hilarious, hitchhiking ghost. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone, therefore it’d be a damn travesty if I didn’t at least mention it.

#5 – ‘City of Thieves’ by David Benioff

City of Thieves

“Wait I know that name” you say trying to rack your brain. Yup, it’s one of the guys that does ‘Game of Thrones’! Caught wind of this by sheer chance whilst delving through ‘Twitter’ at an ungodly early hour and thought I’d give it a go. Set during the siege of Leningrad in WW2, the book is about a couple of guys who are forced into going on a mission to find a dozen eggs. Naturally, the mission sounds far easier than it proves to be due to Leningrad being reduced to a city of people who were melting down the glue in book bindings for sustenance. The book isn’t ground-breaking but it’s charming and engaging with a particular quote about the fickleness of talent which stuck with me for a few days after finishing.

#4 – ‘Acadie’ by Dave Hutchinson

Acadie

More of a long short story than the rest of the books on this list, but what it lacks in length it more than makes up for in punch. I read ‘Acadie’ knowing nothing about it at all beyond the blurb: “The first humans still chase their children across the stars”, and read the whole thing in a couple of hours. The fact that this is a science fiction novella will probably put a lot of people off, which is a real shame as it’s a great little book which is easily accessible and enjoyable for those not so well versed in the genre. I don’t want to say too much about it because I feel that not knowing what to expect going in will only improve the experience, at around 110 pages it’s more than well worth it.

#3 – ‘Crazy is My Superpower’ by AJ Mendez Brooks

Crazy is my Superpower

I don’t read many autobiographies and I’m not sure why seeing as I more often than not thoroughly enjoy them. AJ Lee was, and is, by far one of my favourite female wrestlers of all time so when she published her story earlier this year, naturally I bought it almost immediately. Unfortunately it then sat gathering dust on my shelf as other commitments took priority. Therefore, when I finally got round to reading it months later I was left cursing my past self as I genuinely couldn’t put it down and read the whole thing in one sitting. AJ’s life before wrestling was, in a word, insane and it was genuinely inspiring reading about all the things she’s had to overcome, including pretty bad poverty, mental illness, and (I’m pretty sure it’s more than borderline) child abuse. I don’t often describe things as inspiring and in fact often roll my eyes internally when other people do, so it’s no small praise when I call this book that. In my opinion you don’t need to be in any way a wrestling fan to enjoy this (although it probably helps) as this isn’t a book about wrestling, it’s a book about a girl who happens to become a wrestler (which actually happens surprisingly late on in the book). If you enjoy reading real life stories about people finding success against all the odds, then this is the book for you.

#2 – ‘La Belle Sauvage’ by Philip Pullman

La Belle Sauvage

‘His Dark Materials’ is easily one of my favourite series of books of all time with Philip Pullman being possibly my favourite living author. Like many who craved more tales of the world where everyone has their own daemon, I’ve been waiting almost 15 years to get a proper taste of it. Therefore this book always had one of two fates, either I was going to be disappointed, and therefore hate it, or I was simply going to love it. Thankfully for all, it was the latter. Set years before ‘Northern Lights’ (or is it called ‘The Golden Compass’ now?), this is a relatively fresh story involving a few characters we already know, but mostly completely new unknowns. The story was far more in keeping with ‘The Northern Lights’ (that’s how I know it and I won’t change for nobody) than the insanely high stakes of ‘The Amber Spyglass’, but even though we know where all the pieces end up, it keeps you invested throughout. I’d agree with many that this book doesn’t quite reach the (ridiculous and possibly unfair?) high standards of quality the original trilogy set for it, but I was enthralled throughout. I wasn’t disappointed in any way after finishing and again cannot wait until the next entry in the series comes out.

#1 ‘Artemis’ by Andy Weir

Artemis

Remember when I said Philip Pullman was possibly my favourite living author? Well Andy Weir is his competition. I absolutely loved his previous book ‘The Martian’, it’s easily up there with my favourite books of all time, and I am a big fan of his prior short story ‘The Egg’ (if you haven’t read it, do so, it’s literally only 4 pages). ‘Artemis’ isn’t ‘The Martian’, but it’s good, it’s very good, it’s best book of the year good! It kept all the science-mumbo-jumbo that ‘The Martian’ did so well as well as having a really cool, likable (and badass?) main character, Jasmine, known as “Jazz”. The story is basically that of the main character being pulled into needing to complete a heist on the moon. The stakes don’t feel quite as high as those in ‘The Martian’, despite them clearly being higher, which is the main reason I don’t rate it quite as highly. Despite that though it was a clear winner for my personal favourite book of the year!