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Posts Tagged ‘book review’

When Jon Stewart announced his retirement from “The Daily Show,” I was very disappointed. Jon’s penchant for incisive and relevant analysis wrapped in wit and snark would be a hard mantle to take on. When he announced that Trevor Noah would take the helm in his stead, I was downright unhappy. Noah (I felt) was too young, too green, to fill that spot. The show would founder with this “kid” at the helm.

Noah quickly proved my preconceptions to be unfounded. Though he did bring a more youthful spirit to the show, he also brought a depth of understanding and a global sense of humanity that, albeit different than Stewart’s style and substance, was also an enhancement in many ways. Since those first years, Noah has only improved, and has emerged (in my opinion, at any rate) as a clear-minded observer of American society who is well worth listening to.

That said, when someone suggested I should read his autobiography, I again returned to my prejudice. “Autobiography? He’s just a kid! What could he possibly have to say?”

Silly, silly me.

Trevor Noah’s autobiography, Born a Crime, focuses on his childhood, growing up in South Africa, dealing with apartheid and the effects of that heinous system’s downfall. Told with humor and candor, he shows us, through his experiences, what apartheid intended, what it accomplished, and what it left behind.

Most of us who remember a world with apartheid know that it was definitely a bad thing, a truly evil social construct designed to subjugate a majority population by a tyrannical minority. Likewise, we remember the boycotts, the riots, and the eventual jubilation when that social system was finally dismantled and cast onto the ash-heap. Like Nazism, apartheid was racial and ethnic hatred codified into law on a national level, and we do well to hold them both in similar regard.

But what did I really know about living under it? What did I really know about apartheid’s mechanisms of pressure, or about the myriad tiny rebellions performed by regular folk (of all colors) who lived there?

Nothing, really. Really. Nothing.

This book helped me with that, from Noah’s tales of his mother’s religiosity and recklessness, his father’s legally enforced distance, and the complicated interactions of the government’s often arbitrary assignments of racial class. Through these, Noah illuminates both the absurdity of the system itself and the lasting damage apartheid left in its wake.

More importantly, though, is that in this book, in its stories of an openly and unabashedly racist society, we can see magnified versions of what is currently convulsing America. Our government, our institutions, our law enforcement, and more all carry elements of what was writ large in South Africa’s apartheid, and when you see what the end-state was under that regime, it’s not difficult to see America’s slavery and Jim Crow laws nestled comfortably within it.

However—and I fear I’ve buried the lede here—this book is not a heavy treatise or polemic. Rather, it is a thoroughly enjoyable read filled with unique characters, passion, rebellion, high-jinks, bittersweet romance, danger, growth, wit, and pranks, all told by a self-described “naughty rascal” who, because he really didn’t fit into any of apartheid’s established classes, was able to flit between them, being part of all and part of none, simultaneously insider and outsider both.

Trevor Noah is young, by my benchmarks, but he is not green, and he has a lot to say. I, for one, look forward to reading about the next chapters of his life, and expect I will learn as much about him, about the world, about America, and about myself, as I did with Born a Crime.

k

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What? You thought that just because I posted a book giveaway on Wednesday, there wasn’t going to be a regular post this week? Silly rabbit.

Reading is usually an escape for me, but while in COVID-lockdown, it’s been a challenge. Oh, I can read news articles fine (although I could do with fewer of them), but fiction? I just can’t seem to marshal the requisite mental focus to immerse myself in a novel. My mind is too easily distracted, too easily pulled out of the narrative, and I can only concentrate for twenty or so pages at a time, which frustrates me and compounds the problem.

Last week, though, I thought “Ah, but short stories!” A short story I figured I could handle, so I picked up a collection we’d recently brought home. The Birds and Other Stories, by Daphne du Maurier.

My first introduction to du Maurier’s fiction came via Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca.” It’s a great movie and I recommend it highly, but the novel, ah, the novel! So many interesting and unusual choices in style and structure, with beautiful prose paintings and deep character studies. The book and movie both garnered deserved praise.

But, chances are, your introduction to Daphne came from a different du Maurier/Hitchcock collaboration, specifically “The Birds.” It was with this short story, written circa 1952, that I sat down, in an attempt to get my mind off All Things COVID. (more…)

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As a white male, my specific morphology is well represented in the media, but as an introverted generalist, not as much. My introversion has its avatars in fiction, of course—neither nerdy brain-cases who live in cupboards under the stairs nor socially invisible milquetoasts with hidden strengths are too hard to find (hell, some of them show up in my own books)—but the generalists? the broad-spectrum observers whose curiosity drives them scattershot through life? Them, not so much.

However, just as I saw my inner introvert expounded upon in Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, this month, (despite the brain-crushing climb up the logarithmically steepening learning curve of my new job) I’ve seen my inner generalist defined and extolled in David Epstein’s new book, Range. Subtitled “Why generalists triumph in a specialized world,” it immediately caught my attention, and when I saw Epstein interviewed earlier this year, I had to have it. When it arrived in the post, it caught my wife’s eye, too, so much so that she grabbed it first (she’s also a generalist) making me wait.

This month, I finally had a chance to read it, and I am loving this book. (more…)

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We all make mistakes. Sometimes, it’s our fault. We move too fast, we don’t think something through, we misspeak, we fat-finger as we type. Other times, though, it’s not our fault because, though we do our best, we were simply ignorant of the rules.

English Grammar: 100 Tragically Common Mistakes (and How to Correct Them) can help, at least with mistakes involving the words we use.

Sean Williams, (known also by her Facebook alter ego, Captain Grammar Pants), has gifted us with a useful, readable, light-hearted tour of grammar ignominy. It is chock-full of tidbits, explanations, examples (good and bad), and sound advice. Each topic is concisely laid out, putting everything—introduction, example of the mistake, example of the correction, a brief explanation of the underlying rule, and an optional test question—all into a few paragraphs that can be read in under a minute.

Unless, like Williams, you are a grammar maven, you will benefit from this book. As an author, I’ve got a pretty good grasp of grammar, but even so I learned from reading it; sometimes I learned something new, and others, I got a better understanding of the rule behind what I already knew. Throughout, it was interesting and informative.

I recommend this book to any student, any budding writer, anyone who wants to polish up their grammar skills for work, or anyone who simply loves words and wants to use them more effectively. It’s a book you can read in bits, or all in one sitting, but either way, it’s a book you’ll come back to repeatedly.

k

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As regular readers know, I’m a Browncoat for life. However, I am not the sort of über-fan who will buy anything they slap a “Firefly” logo on. Yes, I have Firefly-related t-shirts, a couple of “behind the scenes” books, and on the back of my car there is an “I aim to misbehave” sticker, but I’ve passed on most of the comic books, the graphic novels, and other paraphernalia that’s out there vying for my Browncoat credits.

A series of novels, though? Sign me up.

The Magnificent Nine is the second installment in the new Firefly novel series, penned by James Lovegrove, who also gave us the first in the series (a review of which can be found here.) I was underwhelmed by Lovegrove’s first title, but I enjoyed the book despite its flaws.

Alas, this title also has its flaws, some of them serious.

But first, what’s good . . . (more…)

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Full disclosure: I am a Browncoat.

I wasn’t an early adopter, in that I never saw Firefly during its brief broadcast on FOX, but once a friend lent me his box set of DVDs, I knew I had found my all-time favorite science fiction television show.

That said, you might think I’m about to go all gosh and gee-willikers about Big Damn Hero, the first official Firefly novel.

And you’d be wrong. (more…)

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I was missing London last week. I really felt the need to go for a visit. Luckily, I had a book in my TBR pile that was waiting to take me there.

I’ve visited London a handful of times over the decades, seen it clean itself up—from pollution, bombings, fires—seen it rebuild itself, piece by piece. I remember thinking, when The Shard started to go up, “Oh my, that’s gonna be awful,” and yet today, I look on that gargantuan pillar of glass rising above the Southwark walk and think, “Yeah, I like that. It fits.”

While I’m not always fond of London’s continually changing cityscape, one thing I adore about London is what doesn’t change. A perfect example is the ancient building that’s tucked in among skyscrapers called the Gherkin, the Walkie-Talkie, and the Cheese Grater. In the shadow of modern architecture is a treasure that’s been around for nearly a thousand years.

The Tower of London. (more…)

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