Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 8+ hrs.
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Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah is narrated by the author and is a look back at his childhood in South Africa while it was under apartheid and after.  He is the child of a black mother and a white father, and under apartheid he was classified as colored alongside the Indians, Chinese, and others that were neither black nor white.  Being born colored was a crime because white and black people were not supposed to procreate.  But beyond only the complex and illogical thinking that is apartheid and racism, in general, Noah’s life was anything but plush.  His mother loved him and he loved his mother, but tough love was the order of the day given the fact that his parents had broken the law to have him in the first place. I knew little about this nation other than Nelson Mandela was there in jail for a long time and that whites somehow controlled an entire country of black people (I really couldn’t wrap my head around it as a child or even now).

Noah’s religious mother believed that Jesus could cure any ill and help her through any challenge, but he did not.  Many stories involve them arguing about the role of Jesus and God like lawyers.  At one point, they were arguing in a series of letters.  Despite the tough love and the arguments about religion, Noah seems to have reconciled those actions with her good intentions.  Many of these stories help to establish a line he has drawn between the tough love she showed him and the beatings he received from his step-father later in life.  Readers looking for information on South Africa and apartheid will find some of that here, but this is a memoir about how that regime and its consequences not only shaped the lives of others, but also that of Noah (as well as how he was treated by others).  His adaptability to certain situations and cultures is a credit to his own ability to puzzle out how best to survive in this barbed world.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah is funny, heart-warming, sad, and infuriating.  Like many young men, he chooses the wrong path to make money and get ahead, but he also learns a great deal from his own mistakes. One tragedy clearly shaped the narrative of this letter; it is like a love letter to his mother and how they grew together as a family despite the external challenges they faced.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Trevor Noah is a South African comedian, television and radio host and actor. He currently hosts The Daily Show, a late-night television talk show on Comedy Central.

Poe’s Children: The New Horror edited by Peter Straub

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 544 pgs.
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Poe’s Children: The New Horror edited by Peter Straub, which was our October book club selection, is billed as an anthology that includes horror stories that can be deemed literary, rather than “formulaic gore.”  Although some of these stories are by turns surreal and unsettling — some may even be literary — they are a far cry from the disturbing and nightmarish tales of Edgar Allan Poe.  Readers may appreciate the nods to Poe or even other authors, like Franz Kafka, but those nods to previous greats on their own do not make a story worthy of note.  “Cleopatra Brimstone” uses the idea of people turning to bugs found in Kafka and turns it into a story about strong female sexual identity, but at the same time, the story lacks verve.

“The Bees” and “The Man on the Ceiling” will leave readers wanting more, particularly in the development of the characters, while “The Great God Pan” offers an interesting premise and a shadow that lurks behind the lives of three friends who underwent a ritual together, but the story fizzles out by the end.  “In Praise of Folly” is a slow moving story in which Roland Turner seeks out the Jorgenson estate in his quest for a folly to be saved, and it’s a tale of watch what you ask for because you just might get it — and then some.  While the story itself is not particularly unique, the anxiety stems from what happens when Turner finally finds the estate and its “Little Italy.”  Although it is not horrifying in the gory sense, it does make readers gulp for air as they consider what happens to him.

Even the stories by Stephen King, Joe Hill, Peter Straub, and Neil Gaiman are lackluster, though Gaiman’s story is the most enjoyable and uses his writing style well.  King’s story was not what readers will expect, Hill’s is unimaginative, and Straub appears to be too bogged down in his own introductory statements about literary horror fiction.  Unfortunately, Poe’s Children: The New Horror edited by Peter Straub does not live up to expectations and is mediocre at best.

What the Book Club Thought:

Many of us were disappointed by the horror collection, with many of the stories only moderately creepy and others were just surreal or odd.  Some stories felt very unfinished, and others had endings that came out of left field.  A few felt that the introduction set us up for disappointment, as many of the stories were lacking in the horror or Poe quality we expected.  The cover of the hardcover edition seems to tell you what the book will not be — it is not about dead babies and other horrors traditionally found in the genre.  One member, however, thought that the introduction helped lower expectations and made the collection more enjoyable.  Overall, the discussion about each of the stories was animated, even though no one really LOVED this one.

About the Author:

Peter Straub was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1943, the first of three sons of a salesman and a nurse. The salesman wanted him to become an athlete, the nurse thought he would do well as either a doctor or a Lutheran minister, but all he wanted to do was to learn to read.

He went to the University of Wisconsin and, after opening his eyes to the various joys of Henry James, William Carlos Williams, and the Texas blues-rocker Steve Miller, a great & joyous character who lived across the street, passed through essentially unchanged to emerge in 1965 with an honors degree in English, then an MA at Columbia a year later.










Lucky Alan and Other Stories by Jonathan Lethem

Source: Random House
Hardcover, 157 pgs
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Lucky Alan and Other Stories by Jonathan Lethem is an eclectic collection of short stories that range from the experimental to the surreal and traditional, but many of these stories lack the final punch readers make expect from short stories. While characters in these stories may experience smaller revelations, they often fall a little flat in the telling as the prose tends to be overly flowery or down-right boring. Of the collections that should be engaging to the reader given the title alone, they often lack the glitter readers will expect, such as “The Porn Critic.” And even these stories with catchy titles are some of the best in the collection, despite their flaws.

The first story, “Lucky Alan,” chronicles a neighbor who is obsessed with a reclusive Alan in his building and upon his marriage and later his growing family, the neighbor feels less important and pushed aside. In reality, he learns that this friend he tried so hard to win, was not who he thought him to be at all. And after the entire building sides with Alan, it is hard for him to continue living in a place that is unaware of Alan’s true nature. There are more nuances in the story, but they often get lost in the strange dialogue between friends and the situations that seem outlandish even in a large city of eclectic people.

In “The King of Sentences,” Lethem takes a look at the other side of fame, not so much the emphasis on the crazed fan, though there are some here, but on the perceptions we have of these famous people and how they may be very far from reality. In fact, the reality presented here is very scary for those of us who wish to meet those famous stars and writers we love. Meanwhile, “Their Back Pages,” seemed to be riffing off of Survivor and Lord of the Flies, but there are some pieces within the story that worked better than others, which made the overall effect of the story muted and confused.

Lucky Alan and Other Stories by Jonathan Lethem was a collection of stories with a lot to recommend it, but unfortunately, I can’t. I was disappointed with the individual stories and those that worked for the most part just didn’t wow me. Others might have a different view, but when reading short stories, I shouldn’t be falling asleep.

About the Author:

Jonathan Allen Lethem is an American novelist, essayist and short story writer. His first novel, Gun, with Occasional Music, a genre work that mixed elements of science fiction and detective fiction, was published in 1994. It was followed by three more science fiction novels. In 1999, Lethem published Motherless Brooklyn, a National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel that achieved mainstream success. In 2003, he published The Fortress of Solitude, which became a New York Times Best Seller. In 2005, he received a MacArthur Fellowship.