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Category: Leah’s Book Reviews

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followedNAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Michiko Kakutani, New York Times • Newsday • Esquire • NPR • Booklist 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…

Description
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
Michiko Kakutani, New York TimesNewsdayEsquire • NPR • Booklist

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.

Praise for Born a Crime

 “[A] compelling new memoir . . . By turns alarming, sad and funny, [Trevor Noah’s] book provides a harrowing look, through the prism of Mr. Noah’s family, at life in South Africa under apartheid. . . . Born a Crime is not just an unnerving account of growing up in South Africa under apartheid, but a love letter to the author’s remarkable mother.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“[An] unforgettable memoir.”Parade

 “What makes Born a Crime such a soul-nourishing pleasure, even with all its darker edges and perilous turns, is reading Noah recount in brisk, warmly conversational prose how he learned to negotiate his way through the bullying and ostracism. . . . What also helped was having a mother like Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah. . . . Consider Born a Crime another such gift to her—and an enormous gift to the rest of us.”—USA Today

“[Noah] thrives with the help of his astonishingly fearless mother. . . . Their fierce bond makes this story soar.”—People

“[Noah’s] electrifying memoir sparkles with funny stories . . . and his candid and compassionate essays deepen our perception of the complexities of race, gender, and class.”Booklist (starred review)

“A gritty memoir . . . studded with insight and provocative social criticism . . . with flashes of brilliant storytelling and acute observations.”Kirkus Reviews
Notes
My 10-year-old saw the cover of this and asked, "Mom? Why would he say he was born a crime?"--I found myself trying to explain apartheid and fear and government control and racism in the shortest, most kid-level way I could...It's hard, you guys. But it's also so necessary, and to read this moving memoir by Trevor Noah--someone we could easily, simply, see as just another successful, approachable, clever comedian--was a lesson in itself. Noah is frank, matter-of-fact, and humble as he talks about his early years as a "naughty as s***" boy, but also as a child with a deep love for his feisty, faithful, strong mother, who came of age in a family broken by apartheid, and who maneuvered his way through the complex maze of South African social constructs, and still managed to rise from a life of unimaginable poverty to seemingly overnight (it wasn't overnight, not by a long shot) fame on The Daily Show. I picked up this book because of both my interest in a personal account of living under apartheid and the simple fact that I anticipated Trevor Noah would be as clever and witty as he is on TV--and was rewarded on both accounts. Noah brings 1980s South Africa home in a way that is humbling--and entirely compelling--for his reader. I couldn't put this book down.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine: A Novel

A Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick“Beautifully written and incredibly funny, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is about the importance of friendship and human connection. I fell in love with Eleanor, an eccentric and regimented loner whose life beautifully unfolds after a chance encounter with a stranger; I think you will fall in love, too!” —Reese Witherspoon“This wacky, charming novel. . . draws you in with humor, then turns out to contain both a suspenseful subplot and a sweet romance. . . Hilarious and moving.”—People No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine. Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.  But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart…

Description
Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. 

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . .
 
The only way to survive is to open your heart. 
Notes
I'll be completely honest: I almost put this book down. By page 14, I felt like I couldn't connect with the main character, she bugged me with her haughtiness, and I just couldn't see myself reading an entire story about someone so completely unlikeable. Spoiler alert? That's the absolute point. ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE is a funny, surprising, original read. Gail Honeyman expertly crafts this debut so that the reader roots for the unlikeable character anyway, learns to understand her, and even empathizes with her just a bit. If a book can teach a lesson, this one shows us that patience can work magic and that we truly do not understand anyone until we get to know her. Set in Glasgow, Scotland, Honeyman brings us smack into a world of personal struggle, daily monotony (and the reasons for it), individual heartaches, and people who are as real and charming and wonderful as anyone who happens to be sitting next to you on a train into work in the morning. Honeyman's writing reminds me a lot of Maria Semple in WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? and Helen Simonson's MAJOR PETTIGREW'S LAST STAND (which are two of my favorite books). If you are a reader who enjoys intelligent, witty, insightful stories about the quirkiest of characters, this one is right up your alley. Eleanor Oliphant (our protagonist herself) will stay with you long after you pass page 14 and finish this lovely book.

The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor

A lively argument from an award-winning journalist proving that the key to reversing America’s health crisis lies in the overlooked link between nutrition and flavor: “The Dorito Effect is one of the most important health and food books I have read” (Dr. David B. Agus, New York Times bestselling author).We are in the grip of a food crisis. Obesity has become a leading cause of preventable death, after only smoking. For nearly half a century we’ve been trying to pin the blame somewhere—fat, carbs, sugar, wheat, high-fructose corn syrup. But that search has been in vain, because the food problem that’s killing us is not a nutrient problem. It’s a behavioral problem, and it’s caused by the changing flavor of the food we eat. Ever since the 1940s, with the rise of industrialized food production, we have been gradually leeching the taste out of what we grow. Simultaneously, we have taken great leaps forward in technology, creating a flavor industry, worth billions annually, in an attempt to put back the tastes we’ve engineered out of our food. The result is a national cuisine that increasingly resembles the paragon of flavor…

Description
A lively argument from an award-winning journalist proving that the key to reversing America’s health crisis lies in the overlooked link between nutrition and flavor: “The Dorito Effect is one of the most important health and food books I have read” (Dr. David B. Agus, New York Times bestselling author).

We are in the grip of a food crisis. Obesity has become a leading cause of preventable death, after only smoking. For nearly half a century we’ve been trying to pin the blame somewhere—fat, carbs, sugar, wheat, high-fructose corn syrup. But that search has been in vain, because the food problem that’s killing us is not a nutrient problem. It’s a behavioral problem, and it’s caused by the changing flavor of the food we eat.

Ever since the 1940s, with the rise of industrialized food production, we have been gradually leeching the taste out of what we grow. Simultaneously, we have taken great leaps forward in technology, creating a flavor industry, worth billions annually, in an attempt to put back the tastes we’ve engineered out of our food. The result is a national cuisine that increasingly resembles the paragon of flavor manipulation: Doritos. As food—all food—becomes increasingly bland, we dress it up with calories and flavor chemicals to make it delicious again. We have rewired our palates and our brains, and the results are making us sick and killing us.

With in-depth historical and scientific research, The Dorito Effect casts the food crisis in a fascinating new light, weaving an enthralling tale of how we got to this point and where we are headed. We’ve been telling ourselves that our addiction to flavor is the problem, but it is actually the solution. We are on the cusp of a new revolution in agriculture that will allow us to eat healthier and live longer by enjoying flavor the way nature intended.
Notes
I happened upon THE DORITO EFFECT courtesy of my sister-in-law (she knows me well), and I've been obsessed with it ever since. It’s a known fact in my family that I will eat up (ha! get it?) books like Michael Pollan's FOOD MATTERS and documentaries with names like "Food, Inc." But this book in particular threw me for a loop. In terms of research and life-changing information, the knowledge and view of the food industry and farming presented here by Mark Schatzker blows the other materials I’ve read and seen out of the water. Researcher and writer Schatzker leads us through the science and the "why"s of the food we eat now (and how it relates to our modern war with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and all of the physical effects of eating a diet low on nutrition and flavor and high on synthetic chemicals). He explains how modern agriculture, in a race to increase yield, has resulted in meats, vegetables and fruits that are low in flavor and nutrition--and how, in our natural instinct to seek out those things, Americans have turned to the synthetic foods—(full of flavor and trick-your-brain additives) the food industry offers us in droves as a replacement for the stuff we should be taking from nature. It’s a depressing book, truly—to learn how far and how quickly we’ve moved away from the bounty nature is meant to provide for us makes for an uncomfortable read. But I think it’s an important one, and for that I am very grateful for Sarah (my good-gift-giving sister-in-law). I did have some issues with the book: Schatzker has a tendency to come across with a little arrogance (kind of like that super fit friend of yours who quietly patronizes you for never finding time for the gym), which can be off-putting. The information can be dense at times. I found myself wishing for photographs of some of the scientists and places he visited while researching the book. There is a very short chapter of “tips” at the end of the book, but I wish he’d finished each chapter with a “What You Can Do About It” section: a lot of this information is scary and unsettling, and often I was left feeling hopeless without any clue how I could make the situation better, on a small scale. But overall, I highly recommend this to anyone interested in modern food. It’s intriguing, interesting, and Schatzker can be funny and casual, especially toward the end when he began using more of his own personal anecdotes. Much to my family’s Cheetos-loving chagrin, this book has altered the way I plan our family meals, the restaurants we patronize--even where we buy our groceries. A book like THE DORITO EFFECT that has the power to make someone make positive change is worth a look.