Born a Crime

born-a-crimeby Trevor Noah

ISBN 978-0-385-68922-9

“The genius of apartheid was convincing people who were the overwhelming majority to turn on each other. Apart hate is what it was. You separate people into groups and make them hate one another so you can run them all.”

When Trevor Noah was born in South Africa in 1984, his existence was literally illegal, proof that his black, Xhosa mother and his white, Swiss-German father had violated the Immorality Act of 1927, one of the many laws defining the system known as apartheid. The crime carried a punishment of four to five years in prison, and mixed race children were often seized and placed in state-run orphanages. But Noah’s mother was determined and clever, and she managed to hold onto her son, refusing to flee her home country in order to raise him. But it made his childhood complicated, even after apartheid officially ended in 1994. Racial hierarchies and inequities persisted, and despite receiving a good education, his upbringing was anything but easy. In a series of essays, Born a Crime chronicles Noah’s experience growing up under apartheid and its aftermath.

Noah opens with an effective hook; when he was eight or nine years old, his mother threw him out of a moving vehicle. From there he relates his extremely religious upbringing, eventually circling back to the incident that led his mother to push him out of a moving minibus on their way home from church. By then the reader has a much better sense of the context, both political, and personal, that led to the event. In addition to an interesting life, Noah also has a good sense of pacing and narrative style that make his recollections particularly illuminating, as is clear from the first chapter.

Noah is observant, and able to clearly convey the absurdity of the system he was born under while also explaining its function for a North American audience that is probably not terribly familiar with the ins and outs of apartheid. Each section opens with some background history that helps contextualize the story from his life that he is about to tell. This means that the episodes themselves are not overly bogged down with explanation, and readers who are already familiar with South African history can skip much of the exposition. He also highlights important differences in the ways systemic racism has functioned in South Africa when compared to the United States. The most important point to note in terms of understanding his narrative is that the word ‘colored’ in South Africa refers to a mixed race person. Whereas the American “one drop” rule made anyone with any African blood black, mixed race people formed their own category in South Africa, separate from both black and white.

An aspect of the memoir that I found particularly interesting and revealing was Noah’s discussion of language and its power. South Africa has several official languages, including English and Afrikaans, as well as a variety of indigenous languages like Xhosa and Zulu. Noah grew up multi-lingual, criss-crossing language boundaries in the same way that he crossed racial ones. Describing the way language could make him into a chameleon, he writes “My color didn’t change, but I could change your perception of my color. If you spoke to me in Zulu, I answered in Zulu. If you spoke to me in Tswana, I replied to you in Tswana. Maybe I didn’t look like you, but if I spoke like you, I was you.” For white or colored people, it was considered demeaning to learn African languages, but a black person speaking good English could be considered uppity in the wrong context. Rifts between different African groups could be crossed by speaking their language. Children in schools in the tribal homelands were taught only their native language, the better to divide them from other black tribes. This is an interesting contrast to the strategy employed against indigenous people in North America, who were stripped of their native languages in order to divide them from their culture and heritage, and assimilate them.

Trevor Noah is known as a comedian, successor to Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show. But while there is an understated humour present in Born a Crime, for the most part it is memoir, not comedy. The humour comes mostly in the form of sly comments, such as when he describes his mother’s determination to attend church three times every Sunday: “The more time we spent at church, she reckoned, the more blessings we accrued, like a Starbucks Rewards Card.” However, there are some episodes that are laugh-out-loud funny, such as the time when Noah’s fear of using the outhouse while visiting his mother’s family in the Soweto Township led to his family becoming convinced that there was a demon in the house. For the most part, however, these are leavening incidents in an otherwise serious account of his childhood. This memoir highlights the insightfulness that, while essential to any good comedian, can also be put to other purposes.

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You might also like Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow

The Sun is Also a Star

Cover image for The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoonby Nicola Yoon

ISBN 978-0-553-49668-0

“Observable Fact: You should never take long shots. Better to study the odds and take the probable shot. However, if the long shot is your only shot, then you have to take it.”

Natasha is an undocumented Jamaican immigrant who has been in the United States since she was eight years old, and today is her last day in New York. Tonight, she and her family have to get on a plane and go back to Jamaica, all thanks to her father’s DUI. But Natasha is desperate to stay, to graduate high school, to go to college. Everything—her life, her future, almost all of her memories—is here. Daniel is the second son of hard-working South Korean immigrants. Today, he must put on his suit, cut his long hair, and put aside his dreams of being a poet. Today, he has an admissions interview for Yale University, where his parents expect him to study to become a doctor. When Natasha and Daniel’s paths cross, their romance is destined to end almost as soon as it begins. How much can you love in a single day?

When Natasha and Daniel meet, there is an undeniable chemistry, even if Natasha initially—and understandably—refuses to be open to it. She has bigger things to worry about than the cute Korean boy who thinks that they are destined to be together. Nicola Yoon uses this New York Times article as the basis for Daniel and Natasha’s experiment. When the empirical Natasha refuses to accept Daniel’s idealistic belief in love at first sight, he challenges her to spend the day replicating a lab experiment where scientists used increasingly intimate personal questions and prolonged eye contact to try to spark a romance between the subjects. With time to kill before her long-shot appointment with an immigration lawyer that afternoon, Natasha grudgingly agrees.

The Sun is Also a Star requires a certain level of buy-in from the reader. I don’t think you need to believe in love at first sight, but you do need to accept that sometimes two people have an instant, electric connection that signals the possibility of love further down the road. Daniel and Natasha experience an accelerated intimacy spurred by the limitations of circumstance. Whereas Daniel is romantic and idealistic, Natasha has trained herself to guard against disappointment, to always make the reliable choice. She likes things to be quantifiable and certain. I am definitely more Natasha than Daniel, but thanks to Natasha’s healthy skepticism, I was still able to get caught up in their whirlwind romance. If the story had been entirely from Daniel’s point of view, I think I would have had a harder time buying in.

Yoon employs short chapters that alternate quickly between Natasha and Daniel’s perspectives. But sprinkled in are other short interludes from the fleeting perspectives of secondary characters, from waitresses to security guards that they encounter throughout the day. Each glimpse shows that while this is not their story, the secondary characters are fully fledged people with stories of their own. Natasha and Daniel’s actions have ripples that affect these people in ways they could not imagine, just as some of the minor characters have outsize impacts on their single day together. If you can accept the level of coincidence that Yoon employs, these additional perspectives are quite beautiful.

Though Natasha and Daniel’s romance anchors the story, family also plays an important role. Natasha’s father came to New York with dreams of becoming an actor, but has been ground down by repeated failure. Natasha wishes she could blame the failure on her father’s lack of skill, but the truth is that he is a great actor who has be unable to crack a system that is stacked against him. Meanwhile, her mother has worked hard to prop up the family as her father slides into despair. Daniel’s parents have worked hard to give their sons a better future, even if they have a very circumscribed idea of what that success might look like. Daniel and his brother Charlie have a fraught relationship that has been shaped by this pressure. Reflections on immigration, family, and talent add depth to the romantic plot.

Ultimately, I do not think that this is a story that will work for everyone, particularly those who are put off by whirlwind romances, since the love story is the primary narrative here. But if you can get past that initial barrier, Nicola Yoon has written a touching, bittersweet story of first love.

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Also by Nicola Yoon:

Everything, Everything 

In the Garden of Beasts

Cover image for In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson by Erik Larson

ISBN 9780307408846

“There existed at this time a widespread perception that Hitler’s government could not possibly endure.”

In the diplomatic service, Berlin would normally be considered a plum ambassadorial appointment, a great European capital exceeded only by London or Paris. But in the spring of 1933, the recently elected Franklin Roosevelt was having trouble filling the position. The political situation in Germany was turbulent, and Adolf Hitler had just been appointed Chancellor. Meanwhile Roosevelt had more consuming problems closer to home, dealing with the Great Depression. Just before congress closed session in June 1933, Roosevelt appointed William E. Dodd, a historian from the University of Chicago, to the post. At least four previous candidates had declined the position. Dodd, his wife Mattie, and adult children Bill and Martha, decamped for Berlin, becoming first-hand witnesses to the rise of National Socialism during their four year tenure in the German capital.

In terms of the diplomatic service, Dodd was an unconventional choice. He was not a Harvard graduate, a captain of industry, or a friend of the president. Most ambassadors, and even junior diplomats, were independently wealthy, but Dodd lived on his professor’s salary. The year before, Dodd had quietly felt out the possibility of a small ambassadorial appointment in Europe, perhaps Belgium or the Netherlands, looking for a sinecure where he could turn his attention away from teaching and academic administration, and dedicate more time to writing his history of the Old South, which he feared he would not be able to complete before he died. Thus, his name was in the air when Roosevelt became desperate to name an ambassador before congress recessed for the summer. Having attended the University of Leipzig for his doctoral studies, Dodd spoke German, and was familiar with the country. By phone, he agreed, with some misgivings, to accept the post, and he was confirmed by congress in absentia.

As ambassador, Dodd is one of Larson’s two main characters for In the Garden of Beasts. The second central point of view in the book belongs to Dodd’s daughter, Martha, who was twenty-four when her father invited her and her older brother Bill to join him and Mattie in Berlin for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Martha, recently secretly married and then immediately separated, accepted with alacrity. If Dodd himself was a staid figure, determined to live on his ambassador’s salary, and temper the excesses of the Berlin embassy, his daughter was his flamboyant opposite. Initially charmed by what is euphemistically termed “the New Germany,” Larson tracks Martha’s increasing disenchantment with the Nazi regime, as well as her many love affairs with both German officials and foreign diplomats. Less emphasis is placed on her later involvement as a Soviet asset. It is Martha who adds pizzazz to the story, and perhaps this is why Larson handles her so lightly.

Although the Dodds were in Berlin for four years, the majority of the book focuses on their first year in residence, from their arrival in August 1930, through The Night of the Long Knives, a purge of the Sturmabteilung (SA) that began on June 30, 1934, and the death of President von Hindenburg on August 2. Following Hindenburg’s death, Hitler combined the offices of Chancellor and President. Despite the narrow focus, this is a key and interesting period of German history. Having attended university in Germany around the turn of the century, Dodd was immediately struck by the change he found in the country when he arrived as ambassador. By contrast, Martha was more readily seduced by the energy and enthusiasm of the Nazi movement, and it took longer for the scales to fall from her eyes.

Although he does not dig broadly into European history, Larson does a good job of painting a picture of the political situation that made the United States reluctant to interfere in the German situation. Hitler’s government was not expected to last, and in any case, the State Department was more concerned with Germany’s debt to American creditors than with the “Jewish Problem,” as it was often called. Some highly placed people within the State Department even believed that the United States had its own Jewish Problem. With so many troubles at home stemming from the Great Depression, the American people were increasingly turning away from Woodrow Wilson’s legacy of international engagement, and pinning their hopes on isolationism. They did not want to become involved in another European war. Roosevelt also intimated to Dodd that directly standing up to Germany would put the United States in the uncomfortable position of having to account for the lynching of African Americans, and the fact that black people did not enjoy full civil rights.

The Dodds entered the foreign service with a good helping of naiveté, and a fair share of their own prejudices, most of which are brought to light by Martha’s flip comments. Early on, she wrote in a letter to a friend that “we sort of don’t like the Jews anyway.” Later, she thoughtlessly bragged to a Russian lover that both of her parents came from slave owning families as a means of emphasizing their deep roots in the American south. For his part, Dodd did his best to keep stories out of the press when American visitors were beaten by Stormtroopers for failing to heil, even if he protested loudly through diplomatic channels. But by the time he returned to the United States in 1937, Dodd wad decidedly anti-Hitler, and possessed a grim certainty that war was coming. Instead of settling down to work on his book, he toured the country sharing what he had seen and experienced in Hitler’s Germany.

In the Garden of Beasts is richly described, from the scenery to the characters, in a manner that gives a horrifying immediacy to a crucial turning point in history. From our vantage point in the future, we are forced to see through the eyes of people living in the time, who had no idea of the horrors to come. It is an uncomfortable but revealing perspective.

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You might also like The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

The Fate of the Tearling (Queen of the Tearling #3)

Cover image for The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansenby Erika Johansen

978-0-06229042-7

“For three long centuries the Fetch had watched William Tear’s dream sink further and further into the mire. No one in the Tearling could even see Tear’s better world any longer, let alone muster the courage to dig for it.”

By handing over the Tear sapphires to the Red Queen, Kelsea has bought a reprieve in the war with Mortmesne, but at a terrible price. She is taken captive, and imprisoned in a dungeon beneath the Palais in Desmesne. With her hold on her kingdom slipping, the Red Queen is desperate to master the magic of the sapphires before the dark threat from the Fairwitch sweeps her off her throne. The Mace is left in charge of New London, torn between his duty to rescue Kelsea as head of the Queen’s Guard, and his responsibility to rule Tear as her Regent. He cannot leave Kelsea imprisoned, but sensing an opportunity, the Arvath is attempting to wrest power from the crown, and Lazarus must move on two fronts. The fate of the Tearling hangs in the balance.

In The Queen of the Tearling, the series began as a traditional fantasy tale of a young monarch coming to power after being raised in secrecy for her own protection. In her first days on the throne, Kelsea Raleigh Glynn made powerful enemies by stopping the shipment of Tear slaves to Mortmesne. But from that prosaic beginning, the trilogy has made some unusual choices, revealing a dystopian twist, and a science-fiction turn that create an interesting blend of genres. Johansen has built a unique world, but one that requires a high level of buy-in from the reader, and acceptance that not everything will be readily explained. With The Fate of the Tearling bringing the trilogy to a close, there are still many questions and loose threads left over from the second volume.

Raised in exile by a historian, Kelsea believes strongly in the importance of history, and that the past can help her unlock their present predicament. Imprisoned in a Mort dungeon, she gives herself over to her strange fugue states, which mysteriously continue despite the fact that she has been separated from Tear’s sapphires. Though Lily Mayhew is still alive at the time, Kelsea is now seeing William Tear’s Town through the eyes of Katie Rice, the daughter of Tear’s trusted lieutenant, Dorian. As Tear’s utopian dream begins to unravel in the years after the Crossing, Katie is recruited for secret training to guard Tear’s heir, Jonathan. These flashback sections are more loosely framed than in The Invasion of the Tearling, possibly because with Kelsea imprisoned, there is little other action to interrupt.

Since Kelsea is imprisoned in Mortmesne, Johansen draws on the perspectives of wide variety of secondary characters to flesh out the wider story. In New London, Andalie’s daughter Aisa observes events from her new position as a member of the Queen’s Guard. Several chapters are seen from the perspective of Arlen Thorne’s witch, Brenna, who was captured and imprisoned in the Keep dungeon. The traitorous Gate Guard Javel follows the Queen’s Guard on their mission to Desmesne, more to find his long-lost wife than for any interest in rescuing the Queen. As usual, Johansen perfectly times her changes in perspective for maximum dramatic tension.

In the first two installments of the series, Kelsea relied heavily on the magic of the mysterious Tear sapphires, handed down through generations of Raleigh monarchs. Their precise origins and the source of their power both remained unexplained, making them a rather unsatisfying device. In The Fate of the Tearling, we finally get some answers, but perhaps not as many as some readers might desire. Despite the explanations, the sapphires are still overly-convenient devices, but understanding their history does mitigate this somewhat. This reliance on the sapphires weakens Kelsea’s character, and the series as a whole, but Johansen’s strong pacing, and complex characters such as Mace, the Red Queen, and the Fetch carry the series to an intriguing if not entirely satisfying conclusion.

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You might also like Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

You Can’t Touch My Hair

Cover image for You Can't Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinsonby Phoebe Robinson

ISBN 978-0-14-312920-2

“In fact, throughout the Obama years, there has been, at the very best, resistance to change, and at the very worst, a palpable regression in the way the country views and handles—or more accurately refuses to handle—race.”

Phoebe Robinson is a writer and stand-up comedian, as well as the co-host of the comedy podcast 2 Dope Queens with Jessica Williams. You Can’t Touch My Hair is a collection of humourous essays that draw on Robinson’s experiences as a black woman, including “How to Avoid Being the Black Friend,” and “Uppity,” an essay that explores coded language and white guilt. In a style replete with pop-culture references and internet slang, Robinson recounts her relationship with her hair, highlights black hair in the media over the past thirty years, and addresses some of the racism she experiences on a day-to-day basis.

Robinson’s essays hit a range of tones, from mostly humourous to mostly serious. I read the book in print form, but I often found myself wondering if some parts of the book would have been better on the audio version, which Robinson performs. Her more serious essays hit home hard in print form, but delivery is a huge part of comedy. I listened to a couple episodes of 2 Dope Queens after I finished You Can’t Touch My Hair, and suddenly I could much better imagine how Robinson would deliver the material she had written. This might be less of a problem for people who are already familiar with Robinson’s comedy and then pick up her book, but this was my introduction to her. However some of the pieces are definitely best suited to print form, for example the second essay is about black hair in the media, and includes a lot of photos.

Two of the more serious pieces that hit hard were “Uppity” and “The Myth of the Angry Black Woman.” In “Uppity,” Robinson recounts an acting job where she was called uppity by the white director when she asked for a minute to review her lines. After she called out the director, he apologized so profusely, and displayed his guilt so dramatically that Robinson wound up being responsible for consoling him for his racist behaviour. “The Myth of the Angry Black Woman” is a bit meandering to start with, but ends up being just as loaded. Robinson admits that the piece was hard to write, but when she eventually gets down to the point, her story about being the only black student in the senior thesis workshop of her creative writing program is gut-wrenching. The workshop normally enforced a very strict rule that the person whose work was being critiqued had to listen silently to the criticism without defending themselves. But when another student debuted a very racist master/slave romance and Robinson had to give her critique, the white student who had written the piece cried and tried to defend her work, while the rest of the class and the teacher looked on.

The piece that made me laugh the hardest was “Casting Calls for People of Color That Were Not Written by People of Color,” which highlights the absurdities faced by non-white actors. The casting calls are parodied examples that highlight the different types of clichés that are common in roles for people of color created by white writers and directors. I think part of the reason this piece works so well is that it is clearly meant to be delivered in print form, whereas some of the other essays, while funny, seemed like they were intended for verbal delivery but adapted to written form. Overall I am torn about whether to recommend print or audio for this title, as it really is a bit of a hybrid. If you are in it for the comedy, I would say that audio is definitely the route to go.

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Juliet Takes a Breath

Cover image for Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Riveraby Gabby Rivera

ISBN 978-1-62601-251-6

“If you don’t know my life and my struggle, can we be sisters? Can a badass white lady like you make room for me?”

Juliet Palante has just come home to the Bronx from her first year at college, and she is trying to figure out how to come out to her Puerto Rican family before she moves across the country for a summer internship. She will be spending the summer in Portland working for Harlowe Brisbane, author of Raging Flower, the book that sparked Juliet’s feminist awakening. But when she arrives in Portland, Juliet quickly feels out of her depth. Her girlfriend Lainie isn’t returning her calls, Harlowe doesn’t seem to have a clear plan for her internship, and everything is unfamiliar. The longer she is in Portland, the less sure Juliet is about Harlowe’s brand of feminism. But the summer nevertheless introduces her to people and experiences that will open her mind in ways she never expected.

I was sucked into Juliet Takes a Breath right from the first page. The story opens on Juliet’s letter to her hero, who is a famous feminist writer. It is a heart-felt outpouring, and it is the missive that scored her the internship in Portland. By the end of those five pages, I was already in love with Juliet’s voice, as well as her passion and curiosity about the world beyond the place where she grew up. Her character really is the linchpin of the story, and her voice kept me with her even through some of the slower parts of the book.

Harlowe was not at all the character I expected. I was picturing a hard-charging corporate white feminist when I first heard about the book, but instead Harlowe is a mild hippie feminist who is all about auras and the power of the female body. If you are familiar with feminist literature at all, you will probably quickly realize that Raging Flower is a clear analogue for a real book. Indeed, Rivera thanks the author in her acknowledgements, since she in fact did an internship with her, and some parts of the book are based on Rivera’s own experiences. Harlowe, though a bit weird, is generally a likeable character. This contributes to the gut-wrenching awfulness of the climax of the story when she reveals just how deep certain prejudices can run even in people with the best intentions.

Juliet isn’t the only one who struggles with Harlowe’s brand of feminism. On page three of the book, I wrote myself the following note: “Are we going to challenge the connection between feminism and vaginas?” The answer is, eventually, yes, but not until page 197. Juliet is a naïve character, and there is a lot she is learning over the course of the book. Consequently, it takes nearly two hundred pages before her cousin points out to her that not all women have vaginas, and that centering feminist discourse around them can be exclusionary. Rivera generally does a good job of circling back around to eventually address Juliet’s misconceptions. However, I would encourage you to check out Weezie Wood’s review of the book, which critiques a statement Julie makes about Native Americans, which is never revisited. Indeed, while there are many Black and Latina characters, Native women are noticeably absent.

If this book has a difficulty, it is striking the right balance between educating and story-telling. It would also have benefitted from at least one more proof-reading pass; I caught many places where an extra word belied the fact that a sentence had been changed or rephrased. Rivera has crammed a lot of information into the book, and some sections can get a little bit didactic. However, integrating this material into a story will be far more accessible for many people than a Women’s Studies text book. Juliet also struggles with the language of the social justice movement. This is a good reminder for readers who are fluent in this vocabulary that they didn’t always know the terminology, and that there can be a big learning curve that can make people feel excluded. And for readers who are also new to this language, it introduces the concepts while also showing that it is okay to still be learning. So while this book is far from perfect, I don’t doubt that I will be recommending it often.

Rest

Cover image for Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

ISBN 978-0-465-7487-7

“Rest is not something that the world gives us. It’s never been a gift. It’s never been something you do when you’ve finished everything else. If you want rest, you have to take it. You have to resist the lure of busyness, make time for rest, take it seriously, and protect it from a world that is intent on stealing it.”

If someone told you that you could feel better while working less and getting more done, you would probably think they were selling snake oil, or at least methamphetamines. But in Rest, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang is making exactly that contention, while bringing the science to back it up. Pang’s core thesis is that rest and work are interdependent rather than opposing forces in our lives, and that this idea is backed up by psychology, neuroscience, and sports medicine. Pang cites a variety of scientific studies from around the world, on subjects such as sleeping, napping, exercise, and creativity in order to show how these activities—which occur outside of work—come together to profoundly influence productivity and creative thinking on the job. He also looks into the lives of figures like Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, and Dwight Eisenhower, to show how they incorporated restful practices into their daily routines while also producing great work, or operating under extremely stressful circumstances.

Pang’s contention is not unique, and he isn’t the first person to call out the destructive nature of our sleep-deprived, always-on business culture. However, I did like the way he approached rest holistically. Sleep is an important part of the book, but Pang also examines routines, exercise, and hobbies, as well as vacations and sabbaticals to see how these others forms of taking a break from work affect our performance. He also demonstrates that it is not just doing these activities that is important, but also being mentally disconnected from work in the process. It is not that our society does not enjoy ample leisure time, necessarily, but rather than we make poor use of it. Pang extensively explored the digital aspect of that distraction in his previous book, so he does not touch on it much in Rest.

One section I found particularly interesting was the study of napping—as opposed to night-time sleep. While I was generally on board with Pang’s message that we need to rest more, and rest smarter, I have long been pretty anti-nap, because I always seem to wake up groggy and nauseous from mid-day sleep. But Pang includes a section on what studies show about optimizing napping (see page 121) to your circumstances, whether you want to feel more rested, process new learning, or be more creative when you wake. Apparently both the length and the timing of the nap are key, and the ideal time is between five and seven hours after waking up in the morning, which is a low point in the Circadian rhythm of the human body. Using that information, I took two successful naps after reading this book!

One of the most famous studies cited in Rest is K. Anders Ericsson’s famous study of Berlin violin students, the best of whom had accumulated about 10, 000 hours of deliberate practice at the time they were assessed. This study became famous after Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in Outliers. Gladwell has been frequently critiqued for his oversimplification and selective use of Ericsson’s study. Here Pang highlights another part of Ericsson’s work Gladwell ignored, namely that the best students tended to sleep more, and often took afternoon naps. Deliberate practice took a lot of mental effort, and sleep helped them to consolidate the learning and benefits of that practice. The students also recognized that there was a limit to the amount of deliberate practice they could do in a day, and that continuing beyond that point was not useful.

Though Pang cites a variety of studies by a diverse group of researchers, I did notice that his examples always tended to be white men, usually scientists and executives. Pang has enough insight to note that women can particularly benefit from vacation, for example, because it can relieve them of household and childcare responsibilities, in addition to their work duties, but beyond such passing references, he seems to have little interest in exploring how this research could be relevant to, or exemplified in, the lives of women. This is not to say that there are no women examples, but they tend to be passing, as opposed to the more in-depth profiles of Darwin and Eisenhower.

Although Pang’s thesis is not unique, he provides a good overview of studies in a variety of interconnected realms that contribute to a well-rounded approach to rest and its relationship to productivity. I see in this book the outlines of the best parts of my daily routine, largely discovered through trial and error. But the keys are here for the taking, if you haven’t already discovered them elsewhere.

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Audiobook Memoir Mini-Reviews

I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and I’ve written before about all the awesome ways they make my life better. However, I don’t usually write reviews, because driving, cleaning, cooking, or walking while I listen means that I don’t usually take any notes, which is a key part of my regular review writing process. But this year I’m trying out short reviews that will share my quick impressions of the books I’ve been listening too. These are admittedly not as in-depth or analytical as my usual reviews, but rather a quick record of what I thought about my latest listens.

Scrappy Little Nobody

Cover image for Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick Anna Kendrick

ISBN 9781501117206

This memoir features a series of funny essays about Kendrick’s rise to fame read by the actress herself. She is best known for Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect, and forgotten for, but financially supported by, her bit part in the Twilight franchise. Scrappy Little Nobody shares Kendrick’s stories about being a theatre nerd, the weirdness of appearing on red carpets in borrowed dresses that cost more than your rent—which you can barely pay—and yet having everyone assume that you are rich because you’re famous. I especially enjoyed the story about the first time she realized she was being followed by a paparazzo, and her strategy for avoiding stakeouts of her apartment (use your introvert super powers to stay inside, watch Netflix and eat take-out until they go away).  Kendrick was both funny and relatable and this audiobook made for enjoyable company while getting my chores done.

Being Jazz

Cover image for Being Jazz by Jazz JenningsJazz Jennings

ISBN 9780735207448

Being Jazz is a sweetly earnest memoir by a trans girl who realized her identity at a very young age, and was blessed with the rare support of her family despite the difficulty they faced in finding any information about raising a trans child. Jazz has now featured in several TV specials, a children’s book, and a reality series, in addition to her own memoir. Honestly, I felt like a bit of a creepy snoop for getting this intimate look into the life of a very young person, who will probably be embarrassed by some of these stories down the road. Apart from her advocacy work, Jennings’ life is pretty normal, and while that is important for people to see, it isn’t terribly interesting, especially if you’ve already been a teenage girl once yourself. Jennings also touches on her struggles with depression, and evinces a sex-positive attitude with little room for shame. Her straightforward message focuses on self-love and acceptance.

In Other Words

Cover image for In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri Jhumpa Lahiri

ISBN 9781101875551

After completing her 2012 novel, The Lowland, award-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri largely gave up reading and writing in English, and moved to Rome to pursue her passion for the Italian language. After studying it sporadically for more than twenty years, she wanted to immerse herself in it to become truly fluent, something that she felt was impossible in New York. In Other Words was written in Italian (In Altre Parole) and then translated back into English by Ann Goldstein. The audiobook is read by the author, first in English, and then again in Italian. I was absolutely fascinated by these layers of mediation, as well as the process of learning another language, and I listened to the entire English half of the audio book during the January 24 in 48 readathon. Lahiri explains why she felt she had to give up English, the reason she chose to have someone else translate her book into English, and meditates on the experience of trying to express herself in a language she has only just begun to grasp with any fluency. The collection includes two of the stories she wrote during her time in Rome. One is the first story she wrote in Italian, and the other is one that came later. She also reflects on how her three languages—Bengali, English, and Italian—relate to her identity as the child of immigrants. If you find languages or the writing process interesting, or are curious about the relationship between language and identity, you absolutely have to check out this memoir!