Let’s be honest: when a celebrity puts out a memoir it often seems nothing more than an easy way to cash in on their moment. I confess I wasn’t expecting that much from Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime (Spiegel & Grau, $28) outside of a few laughs. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Born a Crime is a revelation, and easily one of my favorite books of 2016. Noah tells his extraordinary story of growing up bi-racial in apartheid South Africa, and while there are gut-busting set pieces involving bad dates and cultural misunderstandings, the true heartbeat of this memoir is Noah’s complex and fiercely devoted mother who guides him through a childhood of painful—and sometimes violent—situations. Superstar editor Chris Jackson (Just Mercy, Between the World and Me) has worked his magic again—the prose here is raw and wrenchingly smart and it flows beautifully from one section to the next. Born a Crime is the book to take on a family vacation this year: pass it all around the cabin—everyone, from the pre-teen son to the family matriarch, will find something to connect to in this heartbreaking, hysterical, warm, and unforgettable book.
Do you have a millennial child or grandchild? Check. Do you want to be the world’s coolest parent or grandparent this holiday season? Check. Carry this Book (Viking, $25) is your golden ticket and hands-down the quirkiest, winningest stocking stuffer of the year. Sprung from the effervescent imagination of Abbi Jacobson, one half of the feminist comedy super-duo behind the Comedy Central hit Broad City, Carry this Book is filled with beautiful, pen-streaked, hand-drawn illustrations. Jacobson imagines what lies in the bags and pockets of the famous; here are her renderings of the things carried by historical figures ranging from Gandhi (a soccer ball and fake teeth) to Anna Wintour (Chipotle Burrito card, “extra guac always”). This is a sly and warm commentary on our new celebrity culture—on the things that truly make us all who we are, when social media isn’t watching.
The Best of the Harvard Lampoon: 140 Years of American Humor (Touchstone, $26) is the first anthology ever produced by the venerable humor magazine, which began in 1876. President Ulysses S. Grant is said to have been warned against reading the Lampoon as it would leave him “in stitches” and unable to lead the government. Since then, contributors to the magazine have gone on to write for The National Lampoon, The New Yorker, Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock and many other publications, movies, and TV shows. Included here are some very funny people, including B.J. Novak, Henry Beard, Andy Borowitz, George Plimpton, Conan O’Brien, John Updike, and Patricia Marx to name just a few.