Monday, July 24, 2017

What I'm reading this week (7/24/17)

Last week I finished:

Do I know Trevor Noah from a fence post? No, not really. I mean, I know who he is and what he does, but I've never watched his show or seen his standup comedy. This only allows me to be a little more objective about his book, Born a Crime. When celebrities write books that have nearly 3,000 perfect reviews on Amazon and over 7,000 on Goodreads, you know either folks are simply enthusiastically supporting a product by someone they like, or the book is amazing. So I went into this read knowing it could be anything. I came out with mixed feelings (no pun intended, Mr. Noah). First, the good. I think this is one of the best-written celebrity memoirs I've ever read. I sincerely hope he wrote every word himself (do celebs still do that?). It's a smart book dealing with difficult issues of race and poverty, but with a lot of humanity and humor. Some countries and systems of living are so bizarre, one can only survive them with humor. South African apartheid is such a system. Its arbitrary rules about who trumps who based on a cursory look at skin color is hard to fathom. But things didn't necessarily improve when Mandela was released and apartheid fell. South Africa had no coping mechanisms for moving on as a country after the odd structure of forced racial divide was dismantled. People, whole communities, fell through the cracks. The government did nothing to address unemployment, for instance. In some areas, when forced labor was taken away, people had nothing to do at all. Noah does a good job of presenting the life he lived in South Africa. He talks about growing up a mixed child (called "colored" in South Africa) of a black mother; not fitting in anywhere because the color of his face (colored) did not match the culture he came from (black); and struggling to resist the pull of the ghetto. He talks about being a troublemaker, some of it harmless childhood pranks, but much of it illegal, though, since everyone was doing it, he never considered what he did as illegal, immoral, or beneath him. He says he never regretted what he did to get by, though he eventually did see the soullessness of it. So that's where my mixed feelings come in. It distresses me to think that teens and young adults are getting their views of the world from someone who says "you do what you do to get by because though they taught you to fish, they never gave you a fishing pole." Race is an explosive issue in our country right now, and any view against the norm brands you a racist, so young people have stopped examining both sides critically. I'm not saying Noah isn't a good role model, because I don't know the guy, but he does talk about his days of illegal activity a little too flippantly for me. Still, I think he thought he was balancing things well in this regard, and I may be more sensitive to issues of morality than others. In the end, I found the book fascinating, his storytelling enormously entertaining, and his stories about South Africa enlightening. I would recommend this book, especially for book clubs, as there is much to chew on here. My rating: 4 stars.

I also finished the third book in Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Morality for Beautiful Girls. I enjoyed this one as much as the first book. In this installment, Mma Ramotswe is forced to combine her detective agency with Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's Speedy Motors mechanic shop, when her business isn't bringing in as much money as needed and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is too depressed to care for his shop. She puts Mma Makutsi in charge managing Speedy Motors and its two lazy apprentices while she packs Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni off to rest and goes out to solve some cases on her own. I enjoyed the cases in this one: a government man thinks his brother is being poisoned by his wife; a boy is found who seems to have no facility for language and smells of lions; and the Botswana beauty pageant asks Mma Makutsi to determine which of its four beautiful contestants is the most moral and deserving of the title. In these books there is a traditional clarity of though when it comes to judging people, their actions, and right from wring, that would just not fly in contemporary American society. It's why I find them so wonderful. This one did make me wonder, though, exactly when these books are set. I thought it was present-day (well, 15 years ago, since this book is from 2002), but I found it odd that Mma Ramotswe had never heard of depression or Dr. Leakey's anthropological discoveries in Kenya. On the other hand, these naïvetés are kind of endearing. I loved this book, and I loved the audio version, as always; Lisette Lecat is brilliant. My rating: 4.5 stars. 

This week, I continue reading:

I'm now about 200 pages in to The Spirit of St. Louis, and Lindbergh's plane is built. He's about to make his way to New York to begin his historic flight. I can feel the anticipation building.

I'll be finishing Poems to Read this week, and I'm ready to be done with it. While I'm enjoying it, I'm not absorbed by it. Could be that after reading 1,600 poems this year, I'm a little burned out on verse. Plus, Pinsky has always been a little too pedantic for me.
My audiobook:

You guys, what an absolute treasure West with the Night is! And to think that a year ago I set it down sure I would never pick it back up to finish. I'll have a full review up next week, but suffice it to say, this one is blowing me away.

Next up:

I don't know where the sudden fascination with stories of Africa has come from, but it will continue this week when I start Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible on audio. My brother has been telling me to read this one for years.

My last book of July will be How to Read Literature Like a Professor. I always save the book I'm most excited to read for last, and the fact that this is what I saved will tell you what kind of English major dork I am.

What are you reading this week?

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