Audiobook Review: Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

Audiobook Review: Born A Crime (Stories from a South African Childhood)
Written & Read By: Trevor Noah

Not far into listening to this audiobook being read by Trevor Noah himself, it became abundantly clear that this is a perfect example of the benefits of hearing the author reading it over reading their own words, especially autobiographical ones, over reading from the page for myself. Not only couldn’t I bring all that’s needed to this story, but I’d unintentionally take a lot away from important aspects of it.

An early-years autobiography of Trevor Noah, the South African comedian who was born to a black mother and white father in the Apartheid era. His life is fascinating and much of the focus in this book centers on the key point of the title he was essentially born a crime, being of mixed race in apartheid South Africa, his parents’ relationship was illegal and he was living evidence of that. 

I’ve often enjoyed Noah’s stand up, I saw him on UK TV years ago on a show that features a few 10 minute stand up sessions, he stood out as my kind of comedian, whose comedy is built on a foundation of intelligence and an interesting perspective. When, years later, he was announced as the person who’d be taking over from Jon Stewart as host of the Daily Show I immediately saw the potential, he’s really intelligent, multilingual, multicultural, well-read, and all these things that make his comedy interesting, give him a perspective on current events that’s usually worth hearing. 

Throughout the modestly apportioned chapters, Trevor Noah builds a clear picture of his childhood, the state of the country, the changes it underwent, and the resilience of his mother and himself to make the most of their circumstances, brilliantly detailed though the events recounted are sometimes spaced far apart. The final chapter has some of the most dramatic events that other writers might have at least teased in the opening chapters, if not used as where their story starts.

A key part of Noah’s story is his ability to speak a selection of African languages, and when he reads accounts of his own life he gives the characters what are presumably approximations of their own accents and voices, and even a more minor point is that he’s able to pronounce their names correctly. If I was to read it in my head it would be at the very least inaccurate, if not unintentionally but unavoidably racially insensitive.

Based on Trevor Noah’s stand up I was already looking forward to the feature film adaptation that’s in development, with Lupita Nyong’o already signed on to play Trevor’s mother Patricia, but now I’ve heard the book I’m convinced this is going to be a really enjoyable film and if handled aright it could even be a major awards contender, unlike this cake that was recently made on ‘The Great British Bake Off’ (or ‘The Great British Baking Show’ for all you Americans), that was meant to look like Lupita Nyong’o.

After enjoying the author’s reading of this book so much, I think I may now do this as my routine method for enjoying works of non-fiction. In this instance it was almost vital to have him reading it as anyone else would have been unable to give all the pronunciation, intonation, or accents that brought the account to life and greatly deepened my understanding of his experiences. 

Born A Crime is available in multiple formats, including a child-friendly version of the book for younger readers which I think is a really brilliant idea to bring this story that’s full of lessons on racial issues to a wider audience and possibly even makes it suitable for use in classrooms. My firm recommendation is to download the audiobook read by Trevor Noah himself, it’d be a great use of an Audible free trial for example, as he brings linguistic abilities that few readers would be able to even attempt, that greatly maximizes the enjoyment and understanding of his life and story. 

Podcast Review: An Oral History of The Office

An Oral History of The Office (Podcast, 2020)

I don’t often review podcasts, partly as I only listen to a select few, I’m not someone who adds a lot of new shows to my podcasting repertoire. However, when I read about this one a few weeks ago it caught my attention and on listening to the podcast trailer I immediately loved listening to Brian Baumgartner (Kevin in ‘The Office’) whose voice and presenting style really enjoyable and surprisingly soothing. 

There have only been five episodes released so far, the latest of which I have yet to listen to as I’m finishing writing this early afternoon. I am loving this podcast so much, it’s now something I’m finding myself anticipating the next episode of, a little highlight in my week. Now, on a Tuesday afternoon, I’m finding myself co-ordinating my day so I can enjoy listening to it while cooking and tidying the house. The tone and style remind me quite a bit of the excellent ‘Drawn’ podcast that my brother got me into, which was a particularly good show that tells the story of animation and which is desperately in need of a second season.

This doesn’t take the episodic format like other podcasts about beloved-but-finished TV series, especially as that’s already happening with ‘The Office Ladies’ hosted by Jenna Fischer and Anglea Kinsey. My problem with that format is it makes me feel like I have to re-watch the show at as it goes, I want to refresh my memory of the episodes they’re talking about and so the podcast is a little harder to enjoy on its own merits or at the same pace as I watch the show.

This podcast takes the more easy-listening format of discussing, not the episodes themselves, but the making of the show in general. Episode one tells of the conception, gaining the rights to the British show, and the effort to get it going. Then there are episodes that go in-depth on starting production, the struggling first season, and last week I just listened to the fourth episode which deals with the period in which the show went from nearly being cancelled, to gaining huge popularity, with a perfect storm of events, many of which I didn’t know about.

Some stories and things discussed I was already familiar with, but there has been so much new information revealed too. There have been interesting and entertaining firsthand accounts from the key players, practically all of them, from almost the entire cast including Steve Carrell, producers, writers, casting directors, and even Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. One of the silver linings to lockdown is that we’re seeing these usually busy actors finding themselves more available to participate in interviews, table-reads, and podcasts, making something like this feel like a more rounded-out and ‘definitive’ account instead of just one perspective. 

I’m off now to ‘clean the kitchen’, a.k.a. listen to the next episode, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who’s interested in the production of television or films, and especially fans of ‘The Office’ as it’ll build your appreciation for the show.

‘An Oral History of The Office’ is available to listen to on Spotify and is essentially unmissable for anyone who loves the show, as well as full of great insights for those interested in television.