Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

I’m on a roll with the memoirs, which is certainly not my normal fare.

Happily, this one is pretty amazing.  I kind of wish I’d been able to get it in audiobook format, as it’s sort of broken down into chunks that would have worked perfectly during my commute.

While I don’t watch the Daily Show regularly, I’ve caught enough snippets on social media to have become a bit of a fan of Trevor Noah, his sense of humor, and his political takes.  When his book came up on a list of recommended reading, my interest was immediately peaked.

I think what really engaged me the most was getting a glimpse into the affects of apartheid on someone who actually grew up with the aftermath.  As an American who was in high school when apartheid “ended”, it was something that was only vaguely on my mental radar and that I knew nearly nothing about in any real, meaningful way.

When I was in college, there was this really strange gathering a South African acquaintance organized.  I can’t remember what she said to get us all together, but I remember the gathering itself leaving me a bit uncomfortable.  She shared videos and personal stories about the violence that was being experienced in the wake of political changes in her country, emphasizing how innocent (white) families were being attacked and killed in their own homes.  I also don’t remember what the whole purpose was in telling us this, and I couldn’t articulate then why the whole thing felt so uncomfortable to me.  Looking back, I realize that it was the one-sidedness of the conversation that bothered me, a conversation that completely ignored any discussion about racism, institutionalized poverty, and slavery.

Since then, I’ve gained a much better understanding of how institutionalized poverty and racism work in America.  Reading Noah’s account of his childhood in South Africa is enlightening, but horrific as well.  It has left me feeling like no one I know has fully understood the realities of apartheid.  It was bad in a vague sort of way because intellectually we know that everyone should be treated equally.

In any case, Noah sheds light on these issues through telling his personal story, never dodging the terrible parts, but also infusing humor and irony.

Here is one excerpt that particularly stood out to me:

“So many black families spend all of their time trying to fix the problems of the past.  That is the curse of being black and poor, and it is a curse that follows you from generation to generation.  My mother calls it ‘the black tax.’  Because the generations who came before you have been pillaged, rather than being free to use your skills and education to move forward, you lose everything just trying to bring everyone behind you back up to zero.”

As someone who received very little education about colonialism and it’s long-lasting, continuing effects on native populations, I appreciate these unflinching accounts of the realities still faced by those of my own generation.

Another excerpt: “The name Hitler does not offend a black South African because Hitler is not the worst thing a black South African can imagine…if a black South African could go back in time and kill one person, Cecil Rhodes would come up before Hitler.  If people in the Congo could go back in time and kill one person, Belgium’s King Leopold would come way before Hitler.  If Native Americans could go back in time and kill one person, it would probably be Christopher Columbus or Andrew Jackson.

“I often meet people in the West who insist that the Holocaust was the worst atrocity in human history, without question.  Yes, it was horrific. But I often wonder, with African atrocities like in the Congo, how horrific were they?”

Searching for my next favorite

As an English teacher, and as someone who loves to read, I am constantly searching for what will be my next favorite novel.  The addiction started when I was in fifth and sixth grade reading The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and Dune.

I spent years (and an expensive college education) thinking that I’d find the next high reading the classics.  After all, they’re classics for a reason, right?

Finally, someone convinced me to read Harry Potter.  I’d stayed away at first based on ridiculously misplaced moral grounds, then because I didn’t want to be part of the trend.  By the time I came around, I’d missed all the fun hype over midnight book releases, but enjoyed being able to simply order the whole set and read one right after the other.  They were divine, and I was hooked on reading again as I hadn’t been since receiving my fancy degrees.

The Twilight Saga followed shortly after that with The Hunger Games not far behind.  I tended to be late to the party EVERY time, which sort of suited me since I really just wanted to spend my summers on the couch reading books back-to-back.

After The Hunger Games, though, there seemed to be a bit of a dry spell for me.  It seemed like everyone was trying to ride the Harry Potter coattails without the skills to world build or tie storylines together over the course of multiple books.  Publishers wanted series writers, but so few authors truly understood how to write a series.

The Uglies

Divergent

Beautiful Creatures

Red Queen

The Diabolic

The Maze Runner

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Matched

Legend

Cinder

There have been more.  I have not been a slouch.  I have read a lot that has been crap, a lot that has been mediocre, and some stuff that’s been really great, but just not THAT great.  I’ve also read a lot in between that I wasn’t expecting to be a favorite but that I just read to enjoy; I really do simply love to read.  I’m not just ransacking books in an effort to find the next high.

So imagine my surprise when I stumbled across The One.  Seriously, guys.  This is IT.

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Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.  This book is amazing!  I don’t even feel like I can do it justice writing a review or even giving a preview.  It is beautifully written with complex, nuanced characters and a plot that never becomes predictable or trite.  It is such a breath of fresh air after abandoning both the Red Queen and The Diabolic series.

Of course, the downside to this discovery is that I happened upon this book right when it was first published.  While the sequels are in the works, I will need to wait for them.  Don’t be surprised if you see me queueing up at midnight when the next one is released (although, I don’t suppose that’s really a thing for any books other than the later installments of the Harry Potter series).

Quote of the Day

Okay, let’s see if I can post this quote without a whole lot of commentary.  I just don’t think it’s all that necessary, but I might not be able to resist.

Excerpts from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams:

“It was for the sake of this day that he had first decided to run for the presidency, a decision that had sent shock waves of astonishment throughout the Imperial Galaxy.  Zaphod Beeblebrox?  President? Not the Zaphod Beeblebrox?  Not the President?  Many had seen it as clinching proof that the whole of known creation had finally gone bananas.”

“Zaphod Beeblebrox, adventurer, ex-hippie, good-timer (crook? quite possibly), manic self-publicist, terrible bad at personal relationships, often thought to be completely out to lunch.”

“Only six people in the Galaxy knew that the job of the Galactic President was not to wield power but to attract attention away from it.

“Zaphod Beeblebrox was amazingly good at his job.”

Is it just me or is this way more relevant and kind of scary-funny now?

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I think I’ve become too accustomed to reading plots designed for teenagers; I kept expecting this story to follow a traditional plot line, and while the evidence throughout was that Adichie was not following a typical narrative story line, I still found myself surprised at the end.  I got to the end, and sort of thought, “Oh.  That’s it?”  Not in a negative way, like the author left me hanging (as many of these series writing author’s do, teasing me into reading the next book), but just in a sort of unexpected way.

I don’t know that I can even tell you my overall feeling about the book…it’s just too complex for that.  I liked that the rhythm and pattern of the storytelling was like nothing I’ve read before.  I like that it offered an unfamiliar (to me) perspective of race in America.  I like that the book kind of was and was not all about race.  (I know that last one is super confusing, but just read the book and then ask me what I mean if it’s still unclear.)

It’s a book that is just going to simmer a bit in my brain, and that is perhaps the very best sort of book.

Quote of the Day

I’m currently reading a book called Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  The protagonist is a Nigerian immigrant to America and has a blog where she writes about her observations about race in America.  The blog is successful enough that she is being asked to speak at conferences and such, but she quickly realizes that the people who she speaks to in conferences and workshops are not the same people who read her blog; thus, she realizes that she needs to say different things to the two audiences.

The narrator writes, “During her talks, she said: ‘America has made great progress for which we should be very proud.’ In her blog she wrote: Racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.”

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

So, I’ve just finished reading all three novels nominated for the YA category of the California Young Reader Medal.  The first two I read kind of left me feeling “meh,” so I was all set to be unimpressed with this one as well.  I’m so delighted to tell you that I was wrong.

The story is told from the perspectives of four different characters, and I loved how Sepetys begins the narrative by telling of the same opening event from each character’s view point.  After that, things unfold a little slowly, but it is completely worth it as you approach the climax…by that time, I was completely invested in each of the characters and was absolutely riveted to what was happening to them.

I’m also terribly impressed that Sepetys tackles telling a story from the “wrong” side (Germans during WWII), painting the characters not as the accepted “evil” caricatures but as real human beings caught up in a horrific war.  In doing so, she sheds light on a human tragedy that so few of us know anything about (myself included) because it happened to the Germans as they were losing the war.

I will warn potential readers that the end of this novel does get rather graphic and emotionally wrenching, as you would expect in a novel about war and death.  Although writing for a young adult audience, Sepetys does not gloss over the terror, panic, and trauma of the events.

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton

I absolutely loved this book!  I suppose I’m a bit partial to stories told in poetry, as I’ve really enjoyed all of the YA novels I’ve read that are written this way, but I’m just so impressed at how these authors use this medium to tell incredibly powerful stories about difficult topics.

This particular book addresses issues of racism as well as tackling issues involved with being bi-racial in America, something that hits particularly close to home for me as I’m raising bi-racial children.  While the story is set in 1969, I think so many of Mimi’s experiences still resonate today–everything from being followed around a store by a suspicious salesperson to being a wallflower at your first middle school dance.

Of course, the other aspect that I’ve fallen in love with in Marilyn Hilton’s writing is her ability to capture images so beautifully in her poetry.  This section, towards the end of the novel, is particularly touching:

I used to think the people of Vermont

were like the snow–

crusty,

chilly,

and slow to thaw

But now I think

they’re what’s underneath.

Like the crocus bulbs making flowers all winter

in the dark earth–

invisible until they push through the snow–

and like the cicadas growing

underground for years–

until they burst from the ground–

the people of Vermont

do their hardest thinking

and their richest feeling

deep inside,

so no one can see.

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

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I’ve got mixed opinions about this one.  I mostly enjoyed reading it, but towards the end you begin to realize that you are being set up for a sequel, which disappoints me every time.

I really did love the premise…especially how Riggs uses the old photographs as part of his narrative, but I’m just a bit underwhelmed overall.  I love how Riggs brings up the idea that all of these children are stuck emotionally in adolescence, but then he doesn’t really ever develop that and build it as a plot point.

For some reason, the end feels very similar to The Golden Compass for me.  Everything is very rushed and the tone of the narrative gets much darker and everything builds to a climax that doesn’t mesh very well with the rest of the narrative and leaves so much unresolved that I’m just frustrated rather than intrigued.

Unfortunately, a colleague has already lent me the next book, so I feel obligated to continue with the series.  Maybe…

Summer Reading

After getting off to a rough start, I actually did do a bit of reading over the summer, though some of it “doesn’t count.”

I reread the 50 Shades of Gray books…sort of a guilty pleasure.  They are not particularly well written, and the content is not really appropriate for most conversations, but I just couldn’t help myself.  I needed something that was going to be light and fun and that would pull me in…one of those books you just can’t put down.  These were a perfect fit.  So, I sped through them but will not be counting them toward my reading goal for the year.

I picked up and put down several books during the summer that I may or may not come back to.

For now, I’ve been sucked into the Outlander series.  Part of me didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon, but honestly, the book has been sitting on my shelf for over a decade just waiting for me to get to it, so it was about time.  I recently started book three.  I’m only a couple of chapters into it and it’s already to the point where I have a hard time putting it down for the evening.

So, it seems I’ve kind of had a summer of fluff, but that’s about all I could handle while taking care of the twins all summer.

Macbeth (Graphic Novel) by Gareth Hinds

I LOVE this!  I love the idea.  I love the execution.  I particularly love Hinds’ endnotes where he explains his choices both for the illustrations and the changes/cuts to the original text.  He clearly has a very good grasp of not only the original play, but also the historical context.  I love that!

As a middle school teacher, I definitely feel that this adaptation makes the play accessible to my more advanced students.  One word of caution, however–it’s a fairly bloody story, and the illustrations reflect that.  There’s also the issue of the witches, if that’s something that concerns you, but they are also in the play and are depicted faithfully in this version.

Now, to go track down more of Hinds’ adaptations (Romeo & Juliet, The Odyssey, King Lear, The Merchant of Venice, and Beowulf).