Lands of Lost Borders

Rating:
Author: Kate Harris
Genres: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Travel, Canadian
Pub. date: Jan. 2018 (read Aug. 2019)

This was a really excellent book! It wasn’t really at all what I was expecting, but Kate Harris is a wonderful writer and I ended up really liking it.

Lands of Lost Borders primarily tells the story of Kate’s almost year long bike ride across Central Asia on the “Silk Road” an ancient trade route used by Marco Polo. But Kate also shares a little of her childhood and formative university years with us as well, which surprisingly ended up being some of my favourite chapters of the whole book.

I’m not sure what I was expecting Kate’s character to be like, but so many of these travel-type memoirs are from hippie types, teens on a gap year, or people wealthy enough to be able to go on extended vacations. I don’t want to say Kate’s not a hippie, but I didn’t really think she fell into any of those categories.

Kate is a Rhodes scholar and MIT graduate whose livelong obsession with Mars drove her to become a modern day explorer. She’s incredibly smart and accomplished, but she isn’t driven by fame, money, or accolades. She’s driven by a desire to get out into the unknown and explore. She’s a wonderful writer and she had a good blend of interesting facts, philosophical thoughts, and funny anecdotes. Although I did think the story started out stronger and declined a little bit when she starts writing about the silk road. She does get a bit bogged down sometimes in the historical and scientific facts, when I would have loved a few more stories and anecdotes from her time on the silk road and what it was like day-to-day.

After finishing the book I went to Kate’s website to learn a bit more about her and discovered that she has a ton of albums from the trip on the website. I would say that photos are the one thing missing from this memoir and I wish I’d discovered them earlier because it would have been lovely to look at each country album as I progressed through the book. So if you decide to read this one, I’d recommend following along with the photos on her website.

Overall though, this was a really strong debut novel and I would definitely be interested in reading more about Kate’s adventures. This was definitely a part of the world I haven’t read very much about and I think most travellers tend to pass over the “stans” in favour of other countries like India, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Born a Crime

Rating:
Author: Trevor Noah
Genres: Memoir, Non Fiction
Pub. date: Nov. 2016 (re-read Jul. 2019 on Audible)

I read Born a Crime several weeks ago as an Audiobook. I first read Born a Crime as an e-book with my Book Club in 2017 and absolutely loved it. But I was feeling like a re-read and decided to go with the audiobook this time since it’s narrator by Trevor Noah. Either way, you definitely can’t go wrong with this book, but I’d say the audiobook definitely has an edge over the e-book.

I wasn’t planning to write a review for this book because I thought I’d already written one, but when I went back and checked my goodreads, I’d only written a little blurb that was never posted to my blog, so I’ve decided to write a proper review since I love this book so much.

I recommend this book to people a lot. They always look at me kind of like “really? Trevor Noah? The comedian?”, but I totally stand by my recommendation because this book has so much going for it! It’s hilarious, interesting, and it damn matters. Sure there’s a lot of comedic memoirs out there, but Trevor Noah’s memoir is all about growing up ‘coloured’ in Apartheid and post-Apartheid South Africa.

South Africa’s have been broken down into factions for many years: white, black, and coloured, which is everyone in between. In Trevor’s case, he was considered coloured because he was mixed race – his mom was a black South African and his dad a white Swiss. Trevor was literally “born a crime” and had the interesting experience in his childhood of never really being allowed to be seen with either of his parents. Whites and blacks weren’t allowed to date or marry, but Trevor’s mom wanted to have a baby anyways and largely kept their relationship a secret.

In post-apartheid South Africa (when Trevor was around 10 I believe), they could finally be seen together, but Trevor struggled for years with his identity. He had a decent relationship with his Dad, but they eventually drifted apart, so everyone else in Trevor’s life was black. He is pushed to identify as coloured and for a while tries to access all the different sides of his identity, but eventually comes to the conclusion that while he looks coloured, he is black.

Trevor crams a lot of hilarious stories into this short memoir and it is definitely one of the few books that had me laughing out loud throughout. Even when he gets serious about South African politics and all the shit his mother went through, he still infuses a lot of humour into the story, which makes it a joy to read. His childhood was fascinating, as were his formative years growing up and trying to make it in Johannesburg. If you’re looking for an account of how he became a successful comedian, you won’t find it in this book, but you will find a lot of anecdotes about South African culture and oppression.

But the real hero of this story is Trevor’s mom. I talked about her briefly in my first review, but she is really what made this book for me. It’s hard to believe a poor, coloured boy who was literally born a crime could become so successful, but after learning about his mom, I know exactly how it happened. She is an independent and headstrong woman who is not afraid to go after what she wants, even when the deck is stacked against her. She acts as a wonderful foil to Trevor’s childhood antics, but you can tell everything she does is grounded in a deep love for her children and a deep love for God.

Say what you want about religion. But I absolutely believe in the God that Trevor’s Mom believe’s in. She is a zealous woman, but her faith is inspiring. The final chapter of this book is pretty much the most insane thing I’ve ever read, but it can’t help but make you believe that Patricia Noah knows something that the rest of us don’t about faith and religion.

Ultimately, this is a series of stories from Trevor’s childhood and young adult life. Every story offers a different insight into South African culture, but they all weave together a story of a remarkable mother and son.

Becoming

Rating: 
Author: Michelle Obama
Genres: Memoir, Non-fiction
Pub date: Nov. 2018 (read Jan. 2019 on Audible)
Narrator: Michelle Obama

I admit, I’ve been postponing writing my review on Becoming because I’m at a bit of a loss for what to write. I still don’t really know what I’m going to say, so let’s just go for it and see what comes out (honestly, this is why I like writing reviews because half the time I don’t know how I really feel about a book until I actually sit down and write something about it).

I listened to Becoming as an audiobook – it’s narrated by Michelle so that’s a huge benefit to reading it this way. Like pretty much every other liberal Canadian out there, I love the Obama’s. I’ve always liked Barrack and his policies when he was President, and though I didn’t think too much about Michelle most of the time, I admired her for her attitude. Together I thought they brought something fun and new to the White House and having the Obama’s replaced by the Trump’s has only served to make me miss them more.

I’m not sure what I expected this book to be about. To be honest, I didn’t really know that much about Michelle except that she had nice arms, cared about healthy eating, and always radiated positive thinking in her speeches. I guess I thought this would mostly be about her time as first lady, but it was actually a pretty substantial look at her entire life. It’s broken into three parts; the first part focuses on her childhood and education, the second part on her relationship with Barrack, and the last part on her time as First Lady. Barrack obviously features heavily in the memoir, especially since she essentially had to give up her own career to accommodate his dreams when he became president, but it is really still just about Michelle.

Michelle grew up in Chicago and her memoir takes us through her early years growing up on the south side. Her family wasn’t wealthy, but they weren’t poor either, mostly they were just a family that stuck to their guns. Michelle and her brother were both very smart and are both Princeton graduates. She graduated with a law degree and worked as a lawyer for many years, trying many different things. She worked for a big law firm, which is where she met Barrack, but found this high paced life wasn’t for her, which inspired her to seek out more meaningful work. She is a very successful individual in her own right.

What I liked most about her memoir was how personal it was. She shares her struggles being the wife of a senator and how hard she had to work to maintain her own career and family life. Both her and Barrack had big dreams for their futures and she struggled with the traditional roles that were expected of her as a mother. She always wanted to support Barrack, but it was hard on her and the family when he had so many commitments all over the country. Honestly, I was kind of annoyed for her. Most of the domestic responsibilities fell to her over the years and she’s honest about how difficult it felt to manage that. She says multiple times that she never really wanted Barrack to be in politics.

As a couple, Barrack and Michelle are pretty inspiring themselves. They’re both very ambitious people, but they were able to make it work. Michelle was able to stay out of politics when Barrack was a senator, but when he ran for President, she was essentially forced to give up her job to support him. I think I personally would have really struggled with that if I was in her shoes. I would hate to have to set my own ambitions aside, especially as a woman who hates fitting into traditional gender roles. But people have to make sacrifices in relationships all the time and sometimes you will have to prioritize one career over the other if you want to make your relationship work. So I really admired Michelle for deciding what concessions she was willing to make and for the compromises they made in other areas. As First Lady she had a huge platform from which to work and I think all of her experience in the workforce and as a lawyer really worked to her advantage.

I did struggle with this book at times. I never found it boring and I was always into it while listening to it, but you already know how the story ends, so sometimes I did tune out a little bit. Even though I think Michelle is really honest in this memoir, something about it still felt a little sanitized to me. I think that’s to be expected from someone who had to constantly censor themselves at all times lest she say something that could be construed in a poor light or misinterpreted. It’s too bad, because I think the Obama’s are probably one of the most down to earth couples that have ever been in the White House, but because they are black they are held to a much higher standard and there’s really no room for them to make mistakes or be messy. Being messy is what makes people real, but that privilege will never be conferred on a couple like the Obama’s. Trump can say all the dumb shit he wants (and does) and his supporters will still look the other way. Michelle had to be a role model in every aspect of her life and she did it really well.

Overall I think she offers up a lot of herself in this book. I also think it’s a bit of a chance for her to tell her side of the story- to clear the air on the ways she was misunderstood or misquoted on the campaign trail and during her time as First Lady. Without Barrack, Michelle is still an inspiring individual and it was really interesting to learn about her roots. I have tickets to hear her speak in March and I’m excited to hear what else she has to say!

Scrappy Little Nobody

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: 
Author: Anna Kendrick
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Humour
Read: Nov. 2017

Wow, this was much better than anticipated!

I’m not really an Anna Kendrick fan, with the exception of Pitch Perfect, but Scrappy Little Nobody was surprisingly well written and actually really interesting. Kendrick spends a few chapters on her childhood to let us know she really does come from a normal family and then she jumps into how she got into acting and what it was like adjusting to fame and Hollywood.

I found her beginnings really interesting; I had no idea she started off on Broadway at the age of 12, but I guess that helps to explain why she’s been featured in so many singing roles. She talked about her first experience on a film set when she did Camp at 14 and how surreal it was when the film featured at Sundance. She was disappointed when she told her class she was going to Sundance and they didn’t seem to care, until she later discovered they just didn’t realize she meant THE Sundance because they couldn’t picture tiny little Anna occupying the same festival as mega stars like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

She moved to LA straight out of high school and landed the role of Jessica on Twilight. I got a kick out of listening to her talk about Twilight and how awesome it was to get a minor role like Jessica because you got to be in the film and hang out with the stars for a few weeks each film, without any of the crazy fan notoriety, because really, who cares about Jessica anyways. But the money from Twilight kept her afloat financially for two years because even after landing a role in arguably one of the largest teen franchises (AFTER HP YOU GUYS), she still lived with two guys in a crappy apartment.

The first time I remember knowing who Kendrick was with Up in the Air. I didn’t really care for it; I remember trying to read the book and then abandoning it, not liking the movie, and promptly forgetting about it. But this was really her first major role and she was nominated for an Oscar for it! I found it fascinating though because she still never really made any money until after this movie because it was never anticipated to do so well. So even when she attended the Oscars for the first time as a nominee, she was still pretty much broke and had to be forced by her stylist to buy a $1000 pair of Louboutin shoes because evidently these things matter. I enjoyed her commentary on how ridiculous it is that when you’re starting out that you have to spend money you don’t have on purchases like this, but once you legit become famous and can afford it, designers give you their stuff for free.

Kendrick had a lot of meaningful insight into Hollywood and I like that she never takes herself too seriously. I felt this was a very honest memoir and I really did feel that she wasn’t so different to me. Even though she obviously is, she now feels like a real, down-to-earth person versus just another famous person living in a fantasy world with no clue how the rest of us live.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body


Rating:
 ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Roxane Gay
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Feminist
Read: May 2017

 

I read Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist a few years ago and really enjoyed her essays, but I definitely think this a stronger book and one that takes a lot of courage to write.

“The Story of my body is not a story of triumph… Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story.”

This is one of the opening passages in Hunger and why I think Gay is such a brave writer. Her memoir is ultimately about her being gang-raped at the age of 12 and how that has since changed and shaped her entire life. Gay never told anyone about her rape and kept her fear and shame bottled up for most of her life, turning to food as a comfort. Making herself big as a way to feel safe within her body.

This is a truly heartbreaking story because Gay still suffers PTSD along with the added challenges of moving around in a world that is not built for people her size, much less black women of her size. She offers many anecdotes on what it’s like to live in a world where you’re medically classified under the horrible term of “super morbidly obese” (seriously, who decided this was okay?).

I’ve been trying to educate myself on intersectional feminism and Gay’s memoir was helpful in recognizing the ways I benefit from thin privilege. There are many obvious ways in which I benefit from thin privilege, but Gay’s memoir highlighted other ways such as the constant worries she faces about fitting in chairs and whether or not she’ll be able to easily access the stage at events she speaks at. She tells one story of a time she spoke at an event that had a stage about 2 feet off the ground with no stairs and how mortifying it was as she struggled to get onstage and then proceeded to have to crouch over her chair for 2 hours because she felt a small crack when she first started to sit.

One of the most helpful articles for me in understanding white privilege was Peggy MacIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack as well an imitation essay, The Male Privilege Checklist. This essay ends with the ultimate check of male privilege being that “I have the privilege of being unaware of my male privilege.” I was reminded of this while reading Gay’s memoir because it helped me realize some of the ways in which I am unaware of my thin privilege (as well as reinforcing some of the ways I was aware of).

Gay’s honesty is part of what makes this such a strong memoir, but I also really appreciated her insights into what it means to be a woman in our society. How we treat the thousands of girls and women who have been emotionally, physically, or sexually abused – how we treat black, fat, disabled, poor, or gay girls and women – and how that affects our body image, self-confidence, and the way we grow up and who we develop into.

Like I said, this is a heartbreaking story, but also a very important one.

“He said/she said is why so many victims don’t come forward. All too often, what “he said” matters more, so we just swallow the truth. We swallow it, and more often than not, that truth turns rancid. It spreads through the body like an infection. It becomes depression or addiction or obsession or some other physical manifestation of the silence of what she would have said, needed to say, couldn’t say.”