I have to justify the exceptions I have made in this post to the I hate celebrity memoirs complaint that I have been blogging about for years.
I hate them, and I have talked about why likely on multiple occasions. So then why, when I have to read a humor book, would I choose to read these? There are plenty of funny books out there that aren’t autobiographies. But, there are plenty that are. And not all of them are exercises in white privilege.
One of them I talk about in this post is, and one is most certainly not.
They were both mostly consumed via audio, as is always best with a humor memoir read by the author.
Born a Crime, Trevor Noah
This audiobook was the highest-rated new book of 2016 and the best male narrator that year. Very highly recommended by a friend of mine who, while very bright, doesn’t always go in for heavy books. She has done her share of them, certainly, and when she tells me I need to read a heavier topic book I take heed. I had to finally listen to this long time TBR surfer.
And it’s so not about white privilege and at times so very not funny that partway through the book I looked up the genre to be sure that I didn’t once again read something that I thought fit the BookRiot category but in fact did not once I had committed myself (The Friend, In Cold Blood, hopefully not etc). It’s the story of a man growing up colored (mixed race) in South Africa and apartheid. Of course his brilliance is in finding a way to laugh at years of being a child who doesn’t fit in anywhere. And the hardship afforded him by living in his place and time. The lack of options. The struggle with not fitting in with the white or the black kids.
Essentially, his spicy mother, with her own rough personal history, steals this show. This wouldn’t have been as brilliant, or as heartbreaking at times, without her. She’s tough but she’s 110% heart, so even in her most desperate power struggles with her son and her most extreme parenting choices you can see her good intentions shining through. Her constant efforts are always to get her kid into the kind of shape that wouldn’t participate in trouble and therefore go unnoticed for the darker forces in the world. And even though she is tough, she is desperately loved and her son feels like a team with her against the world. I love her devotion to God and her ability to survive and thrive despite all the misfortunes dealt her. I even googled her face after reading this because I just had to see it.
So it is a credit to the other book I read that I could still get through it and care about the narrator despite the next universe level of privilege:
Yes, Please, Amy Poehler
Also, a long time TBR lister, if that fact is surprising to you. It probably is. The other memoirs I have read for past challenges were mostly not books I had been wanting and meaning to read.
But I had been meaning to read this because I read Bossypants by Tina Fey, and I wanted to read the other side of the comedy duo. I like Amy’s work with Tina. And I liked this more than Bossypants, even though I feel that I have seen more of Tina’s work than Amy’s.
It was better because Amy’s brand of humor is not constantly self deprecating, like Tina’s is. Tina’s self deprecating humor is rampant in her show 30 Rock and her book is similar. I had always thought that she was lovely and she talked about how fat and hairy she is in real life. It can be funny, certainly, but it was in the teeth gritting amount of it. Amy made comments that she is short and has difficult eyebrows and her personality quirks, but they did not feel as central to the narrative.
The other reason I could stomach this after Born a Crime is the fact that Poehler emphasizes her luck throughout. She openly acknowledges a life of unconditional love and support from her family and how she saw things a differently than people who didn’t have that experience. And she has a whole chapter on mindfulness, which she states is time travel, which is an interesting way to put it. Mindfulness is about taking more control of your feelings and thoughts, but she makes it even more evident by framing it as a way to control time.
Poehler is funny and poignant, of course, and she put in a lot of time to be where she is, which is a good reminder to anyone who really wants to make it in the creative world (and academic world, for that matter. It took me over ten years to go from HS grad to licensed Psychologist) but she also takes the time to be grateful. She talks about motherhood and those young years with no money but all the time in the world in ways I can relate to. Because yes I’m privileged too. I love how she talks about motherhood and her silly boys and the active decision not to answer questions in a way that could scar them for life.
One of the only things she wrote about that I couldn’t really relate to was doing drugs. It’s never been super appealing to me and I mostly just drank during my youth, in amounts in college that were not healthy but a certain level of drunk was way more optimal then than it is in my sweet mom, full time job, chasing the writing/running thing life. I like to sleep and too much alcohol ruins a good 9-10 hour go on the weekend.
I don’t expect the privileged to grovel for forgiveness in their privilege. I certainly don’t have that kind of time. But when you take a moment to breathe in the sweetness you have been dealt, and use your privilege for the improvement of the lives of others, that’s better than drinking yourself into ruin and lamenting your lost looks. I mean, often washed up stars that end up like that have their own trauma and demons.
So I have my excuses, but I did enjoy both of these. And I have been pleased with my TBR getting hacked into this year. I’m probably reading too much long and should be burying my face in shorts because I have been writing those for submission.