The Week in Books #98

7/14 ✅

The week in books! I made some more progress on the pile of books I set out for Black History Month and I feel like I’m motoring! I’ve started my 21st book of the year which has encouraged me to up my reading goal from 52 books to 104. I may even bump it up again if I continue at this pace as I’m already 6 books ahead of schedule and have lots more downtime in the coming months as Ziggy continues to nurse non-stop and trap me on the couch. I have so many books that I’ve been waiting to read and this is the perfect time to blast through as many as I can before my son starts crawling.

1. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. This is an excellent memoir. It tells the story of Trevor’s upbringing in South Africa but also gives a lot of history and insight into racism and apartheid in the country. When the title says “born a crime” he means it literally; under apartheid it was against the law for Blacks and whites to be in relationships with each other so having a mixed child was illegal. Trevor’s mom had to hide his existence so he wouldn’t be taken away by the government. A clip was shared to his IG this week of a segment he did on the “Freedom” trucker convoy in Canada (view it here) where he calls out folks who are comparing vaccine mandates to the Holocaust (just, no). “This guy thinks the Holocaust is like when you can’t take a [expletive] in Tim Hortons.” Well, Trevor knows what it is like to actually have your freedoms trampled by government; he wasn’t free to move about in plain sight because of the colour of his skin and who his parents were. The government was controlling who you could love in apartheid South Africa, among other things, and that is definitely an infringement on human rights whereas not being able to go skiing is not. Great book filled with humour and entertaining anecdotes while also being very informative. Loved it.

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.

Penguin Randomhouse

2. Long Division by Kiese Laymon. I wasn’t sure what this was about when I picked it up but I ended up being pleasantly surprised. Book one is about City having a freak out at a competition and then being sent to stay with his grandma and be baptized. Before he leaves he finds a book called Long Division that has no author and eerily seems to be about him. We don’t get much of an explanation about the book in this part, but part two (you flip the book over) explains so much more. There were some cool elements to this story (time travel! Comedy!) and also some bits that could have used a bit more development (characters!) but overall a very entertaining and unique book.

Written in a voice that’s alternately humorous, lacerating, and wise, Long Division features two interwoven stories. In the first, it’s 2013: after an on-stage meltdown during a nationally televised quiz contest, fourteen-year-old Citoyen “City” Coldson becomes an overnight YouTube celebrity. The next day, he’s sent to stay with his grandmother in the small coastal community of Melahatchie, where a young girl named Baize Shephard has recently disappeared.

Before leaving, City is given a strange book without an author called Long Division. He learns that one of the book’s main characters is also named City Coldson—but Long Division is set in 1985. This 1985-version of City, along with his friend and love interest, Shalaya Crump, discovers a way to travel into the future, and steals a laptop and cellphone from an orphaned teenage rapper called…Baize Shephard. They ultimately take these items with them all the way back to 1964, to help another time-traveler they meet to protect his family from the Ku Klux Klan.

City’s two stories ultimately converge in the work shed behind his grandmother’s house, where he discovers the key to Baize’s disappearance. Brilliantly “skewering the disingenuous masquerade of institutional racism” (Publishers Weekly), this dreamlike “smart, funny, and sharp” (Jesmyn Ward), novel shows the work that young Black Americans must do, while living under the shadow of a history “that they only gropingly understand and must try to fill in for themselves” (The Wall Street Journal).

Simon and Schuster

I’m part way through Reproductions, winner of the Giller Prize in 2019, which is so far a pretty uniquely written novel. Looking forward to getting through more of this stack of books for Black History Month before it’s over.

Is anyone else reading Black for BHM?

I have a small collection of books I gathered in the last couple weeks, including some that I’ve had on my wish list for a bit which makes me really happy. From Value Village I scored Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee and Crosshairs by Catherine Hernandez, both titles I’ve been itching to get my hands on. VV has changed the way they price books and have increased what they charge (grrr) so I will likely change the way I buy books there as well. Most books were $5 or $6 and buy 4 get the 5th free for the longest time, but now they are individually pricing them and most of the ones I picked up were $7.99 and up to $12.99 (!!!!!) which is just stupid especially given that they get those books for free.

GIRO, on the other hand, sells books 3 paperbacks for $1 and $1 for hardcovers so it’s practically free, though the selection is pretty limited. I did find a copy of Jonathan Franzen’s new book Crossroads though which was exciting. I also got copies of The Wild in Us by Thirza Voysey (a friend of ours here on Gabriola) and Where the Pavement Ends this past week. The rest came from Little Free Libraries around the island and included some great titles: Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, Songs for the End of the World by Saleema Nawaz, The Land of Sea Women by Lisa See, The Arrest by Jonathan Lethem and Infinite Country by Patricia Engel.

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