Lately, it seems like actors and performers are making the leap from stage and screen to pages in a book. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling, Bossypants by Tina Fey, and Yes Please by Amy Poehler were all such wonderful reads that I decided to read more of these celebrity memoirs! (Also, I love memoirs!) While there is no shortage of books written by celebrities, I had to kiss a few frogs before finding my prince – I think I read parts of or even entire celebrity books before realizing I couldn’t include them in this post because I really just had nothing to say about them.
Nevertheless, I did find a few real golden nuggets in the world of celebrity-authored literature! Here are some great books written by celebrities:
Yes, My Accent is Real by Kunal Nayyar
I don’t even remember how I found out this book existed, but I did and I’m glad because it was quite an enjoyable read! At first, I wasn’t sure if it would be all that funny because Kunal Nayyar doesn’t write for television and he doesn’t do stand-up, so he’s not like all the other comedians out there who have written silly, self-deprecating memoirs. It wasn’t hilarious, but there were still funny moments and I found myself snickering to myself like a weirdo while reading.
The book was essentially about Kunal Nayyar’s relationships throughout his life (with dad, girlfriends, roommates) and how those relationships shaped him. It was, as most memoirs are, a series of essays and wise words of advice written on aeroplane* napkins. Over time I realized that the book was moving along somewhat chronologically, with silly immature stories at the beginning, and culminating in important life events like marriage and caring for aging parents. The book almost became like a narrative, and I could see Kunal (are we on first name basis yet?) growing and changing throughout, and that made it hard to say goodbye at the end once I finished the book. (He also was sad to say goodbye too, so it was a two-way thing.) The good thing about celebrities is that they are kind of very easily accessible, so naturally, after finishing the book, I fell into a deep, dark, YouTube vortex of The Big Bang Theory clips and Kunal Nayyar interviews, and I didn’t really feel like I had to say goodbye at all.
*He’s from India, and they write Britishly there.
In the Country We Love: A Family Divided by Diane Guerrero with Michelle Burford
Again, not sure how I discovered this book, but I absolutely love Jane the Virgin, and who hasn’t heard of Orange is the New Black? It was almost shocking to hear about Diane Guerrero’s extremely humble beginnings, given how successful she is on television.
In the Country We Love retells the experience that completely transforms and reshapes Diane’s life: when she was fourteen years old, she came home from school to find that her parents had been arrested and set to be deported. The experiences that followed (puberty, high school, college, trying to break into showbiz) almost could have been commonplace, but they were all tinged with the sense that something was missing – Diane had to grow up without her parents, and worse, it was because the government had taken them from her.
At first, I thought that the fact that Diane was an actor was simply an extra fact or coincidental. But it seemed more that her love for performing and the rush that it gave her helped to fill in some of the gaps that had been created when her parents were forced to leave her. (The arts really do save lives!)
This book really opened up my eyes to the experiences of immigrant families, as well as the harsh realities that undocumented immigrants might face. I don’t know what the situation is like in Canada, but immigration policy is definitely pertinent at this point in history, no matter where you are in the world. In fact, Diane urges readers to get involved and to make their voice heard (this book was published just before the 2016 US election). Immigration and immigration reform will continue to be an important political issue. Reading this book has made all the stories in the news feel more personal and emotional, and I’ve been reminded how important it is to stay informed and up to date on national and international politics.
P.S. Here‘s a video of Diane visiting the homes where she grew up, including the one where she lived when her parents were taken.
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
Wow, I raced through this book like Trevor Noah raced through the streets while running away from his mother’s beatings! It was that good; I couldn’t put it down.
Born a Crime is full of stories of Trevor Noah’s childhood growing up in South Africa. As a person of mixed race, Trevor Noah wasn’t technically supposed to exist due to apartheid laws, but his very existence points to his mother’s grit and will and strength! For a lot of the book, there was a huge sense of “mother and son against the world!” From the comical and humorous way she handled his antics (which I’m sure contributed to his comedy today in some way) to her determination to ensure a good education for Trevor and thus an escape from a life of poverty, his mother is as much of a protagonist in this book as Trevor Noah is.
The Daily Show is on Comedy Central, so of course I expected this book to be funny, and it was. Some highlights include: Trevor discovering what his dog was up to while he was at school, his mother’s strategies for disciplining him, and a story set in a Jewish neighbourhood involving Trevor’s friend with an extremely unfortunate name. (I apologize for the vagueness of this last paragraph; I don’t want to give any of the jokes away!)
One thing I really really appreciated about the book was the insight it gave on race and racism in apartheid-era South Africa. I’m finding it very hard to put into my own words what I learned from this book, so here are some quotes I found really meaningful.
On the system of apartheid:
In America you had the forced removal of the native onto reservations coupled with slavery followed by segregation. Imagine all three of those things happening to the same group of people at the same time. That was apartheid.
On education for black South Africans:
British racism said, “If the monkey can walk like a man and talk like a man, then perhaps he is a man.” Afrikaner racism said, “Why give a book to a monkey?”
On the irrationality of racism:
Chinese people were classified as black in South Africa … Interestingly, at the same time, Japanese people were labeled as white. The reason for this was that the South African government wanted to establish good relations with the Japanese in order to import their fancy cars and electronics.
On changing your circumstances:
People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.
Hopefully this post proves that celebrity memoirs don’t have to be filled with scandal and gossip and parties! I didn’t expect this post to be so focussed on immigration and race (it’s now very clear where my interests lie), but it just goes to show that a lot of diverse people from very different backgrounds can end up in the media we consume every day. Here’s hoping that we keep seeing and hearing these diverse stories, because there’s always something to learn from someone else.