#BookedByB: First Quarter (2017) Favorites
1. Born A Crime And Other Stories by Trevor Noah
Up until Trevor Noah, I had never really watched any late night news/satire shows. But, when I heard an African man—An-African-born-and-raised-in-Africa-African-man—would be Jon Stewart’s predecessor at the Daily Show (late night American television is notoriously the territory of white males) I just had to see it for myself. Trevor Noah did not disappoint: he is funny, wise beyond his years, well informed on diverse issues, and easy on the eyes. Of course, when I heard he released a coming-of-age memoir, I had to read it for myself, too.
Trevor Noah was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time in in South Africa when it was a criminal offense for “Europeans and natives” to have romantic relationships. In Born A Crime & Other Stories, Trevor paints a vivid and raw picture of life under South Africa’s apartheid system and the post-apartheid era of the 1990s. For example, as a child, Trevor could only be with his father indoors, and his mother sometimes had to disguise herself as a maid. Using his signature wry humor, Trevor captures the complexities of identity, the intricacies of socio-economic class barriers and the power of language in South Africa (he speaks several languages including English, Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Tswana, Tsonga, Afrikaans and some German) in this book.
More than anything, Born A Crime is an ode to Trevor’s mother, Patricia Noah. Across his essays, Trevor does a good job of painting a woman of many parts: Ms. Noah is religious (she made Trevor attend church four nights a week and three different churches on Sundays) and forward-thinking (“If my mother had one goal, it was to free my mind…my mom did what school didn’t. She taught me how to think”). She is emotionally strong yet caught in a physically abusive relationship. Above, all, Ms. Noah is resilient: the type of woman who gets shot in the head and survives it. “I was blessed with another trait I inherited from my mother: her ability to forget the pain in life. I remember the thing that caused the trauma, but I don’t hold on to that trauma,” Trevor writes.
One part of Trevor’s narrative that was missing for me in this book was his leap from DJ in South African hoods to main host of an acclaimed American TV show. This will hopefully be fodder for his next book—I’m saving my coins already. I picked up Born A Crime impressed by Trevor the comedian and satirist and finished it blown away by Trevor the writer and Trevor the human being. This book is hands-down the best book I have read so far this year.
- How to Purchase: You can purchase Born A Crime here.
- Genre: Autobiography/Memoir
2. The Smart Money Woman: An African Girl’s Journey To Financial Freedom by Arese Ugwu
Zuri is living the fabulous city life, or what some Nigerians might call the “Babygirl lifestyle”: she drives a Mercedes ML 500, lives in a highbrow Lagos neighborhood, and has a closet filled with designer bags. She works too hard to ball on a budget—or so she thinks—until a couple emergencies force her to realize that she is living paycheck to paycheck with no savings or solid investments. The Smart Money Woman is about Zuri’s journey to financial freedom along with her friends: Tomi (the flighty fashion designer), Lara (the tough oil and gas executive), Adesuwa (the conservative lawyer) and Ladun (the fabulous housewife). The inter-woven tales of these women’s lives reveal a lot about Nigeria’s consumerist culture and the global conundrum of “Keeping Up With The Joneses.”
I often view financial literature like broccoli: good for you, but not particularly exciting. The Smart Money Woman is like a lively salad though: good for you and fun to consume. The book is creative (it uses fiction to explain finance) and practical (‘Smart Money Lessons’ and exercises accompany each chapter of the book). I appreciated the book’s avoidance of clichés: Zuri didn’t have to start a business/side hustle to be financially free. Instead, she learned how to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset while focusing on her 9-5. Also, the gender equality advocate in me was happy that Zuri’s financial freedom was not achieved at the hands of a man, but over time, using her brain and hands (although she meets a good catch). There were quite a few typos in the book, and some of the promotion of Nigerian brands felt less organic and more advertorial; but overall, I highly recommend the Smart Money Woman.
- How to Purchase: To find out more about the Smart Money Woman or to purchase it, follow @TheSmartMoneyWoman on social media.
- Genre: Finance, Fiction
3. I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi
I first discovered Luvvie Ajayi’s (née Ifeoluwa Ajayi) blog circa 2012. I use the word discovered loosely here, in the same way Christopher Columbus discovered America or Mungo Park the River Niger, because Luvvie had been blogging about popular culture and newsworthy happenings for almost a decade before I ever read her work. Luvvie gained a lot of traction through her recaps of Scandal and other TV shows, and the rest has been a glow-up. Take 2016: in addition to being the first writer to speak at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture (the event sold out), and being handpicked by Oprah as one of the #SuperSoul100 who have “elevated humanity,” Luvvie published her first book, I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual. The book debuted at number five on the New York best-seller list.
Luvvie got the inspiration for her book after finding out a journalist had plagiarized several paragraphs of her writing without referencing her. She tracked the journalist down and he essentially said he didn’t know better. “Clearly, we need a playbook, a guide to help people get a bit of common sense and some behavior as they navigate today’s hyper-obsessions with pop culture, social-media sharing, and outright navel-gazing,” she writes in the introduction of her book. Across four sections (Life, Culture, Social Media and Fame), Luvvie says everything you’re thinking or need to be thinking—but with much better humor or metaphors than you could conjure. I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a section in the book dedicated to popular culture, but maybe she’s saving these essays for her next book? I hope. I would have also liked for a bit more nuance and depth with some of her essays on social issues. Nevertheless, as can be expected from “the professional shade-thrower” as Luvvie calls herself, every essay in I’m Judging You is funny and incisive. Her essays on social media etiquette were some of my favorite (must read for anyone using social media to build their brand!).
I remember how excited I was when Shonda Rhimes first tweeted Luvvie during a Scandal episode, so to hear that Shonda Rhimes recently acquired the rights to turn I’m Judging You into a cable comedy series? My Naijamerican sister (no, I don’t know her personally but allow me to famz OK?) is out here prospering and I am so here for it. As a fellow blogger/writer/gender-equality believer/pop-culture lover: I hold Luvvie’s book up as a reminder of what’s possible if I keep doing better.
- How to Purchase: You can buy I’m Judging You here.
- Genre: Humor & Entertainment, Criticism & Theory
4. Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds by Yemisi Aribasala
“Nigerian food is often stodgy and soupy. But it is also misunderstood, atrociously photographed, not yet given its due. It’s a multifaceted cultural treasure trove full of intriguing stories. It might not be gastronomically illustrious but it is energetic and good-hearted. It belongs to one of the most fascinating personalities in the world: the Nigerian. Needless to say, it is delectable”—thus we are introduced to Yemisi Aribisala’s love letters to Nigerian food. Whether she is waxing poetic about the mucilage of Okra soup, or singing the praises of well fermented locust beans (aka dawadawa or iru), write about food Yemisi does well.
But Longthroat Memoirs is definitely not a recipe book, and it is not just about food. Food is the author’s gateway to a variety of topics including love (“Nsala soup is cooked with chicken, with love, or something akin to love, with lovemaking masquerading as contention”), gender (“Women are indoctrinated from a young age to the mindset that men have all the advantages and to be truly successful, a woman must somehow attach herself to a successful man…Enter the necessary artillery among artilleries: cooking”), the cultural and geographical diversity of Nigeria (“And perhaps Lagos has been good to the Yoruba stew because it has, out of necessity straightened some of the kinks of Yoruba finickiness. It’s given the stew the opportunity to exist as stew even if imperfectly made in a blender. The Yoruba woman in Lagos has to live the fast-paced life”); and the problems with generalizations of foods deemed exotic (“I am often amazed that, in 2016, people try to take Nigerian food and squeeze into this all-encompassing title of ‘African food’”).
Longthroat Memoirs is innovative in its subject matter, creative in its approach and intelligent in its delivery. And it is because Longthroat Memoirs is such a good book, indeed an important book, that I wish the language used in it was a bit more accessible—not a dumbing down, but a more minimal vocabulary. There are probably simpler ways to describe moin-moin than “large cauldrons of seasoned ground beans steamed in thaumatococcus leaves,” for example. I had to digest this book in bits-and-bobs over two weeks, but it was a really good and very enlightening read.
- How to Purchase: You can buy Longthroat Memoirs here (Cassava Republic) or here (Amazon).
- Genre: Food, Memoir, History
5. Like A Mule Bringing Ice-Cream To The Sun—Sarah Ladipo Manyika
My Aunt walked in on me reading this book, took a glance at the title and exclaimed: “Blessing, you are always reading weird things!” Do not let the title fool you though: Like A Mule Bringing Ice-Cream To The Sun is actually a straightforward (yet subtle) and pleasurable read, and it has nothing to do with mules or ice-cream.
The short novel revolves around Morayo Da Silva, a sophisticated and hip septuagenarian, who lives in San Francisco. She enjoys reading the books she amassed during her career as an English professor, driving her vintage Porsche and having conversations with her ethnically diverse neighbors. She is considering getting a tattoo for her seventy-fifth birthday when she slips and falls. Without the support of a family (she is a divorcee with no children), Dr. Morayo must rely on friends and chance encounters while she recovers.
Like a Mule Bringing Ice-Cream To The Sun is a free-flowing, nuanced and compelling narrative about ageing, friendship, cross-cultures and desire.
- How to Purchase: You can buy Like a Mule Bringing Ice-Cream To The Sun here (Cassava Republic) or here (Amazon).
- Genre: Fiction
Note: Questions for Ada by Ijeoma Umebinyuo was also one my favorite reads this quarter, but I already wrote a whole blog about it here.
 Famz is a Nigerian-slang for acting familiar with/about someone you don’t know