Buzz Ride: Driven to Disruption: Memoirs of an Uber Driver and its disturbing double-barreled subtitle could be so much more than what it is, if the author would have shared a bit more about the financial and managerial side of his experience as a member of the sharing economy. There are just a few glimpses of the relationship with Uber, and nothing at all about financial arrangements, which would have been interesting to understand, especially as the author drives a Mercedes!
Instead, he chooses to focus on his clients, who seem to have partaken abundantly of alcohol and drugs before stepping into the cab (the author chose to work late hours, so perhaps it’s no surprise). And in-cab behaviors are not what Miss Manners may recommend. So the book is entertaining to a certain extent, but we tire of the rides just about when the author decides to stop driving.
Show, don’t tell! This classic piece of writing advice shines in Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. Trevor Noah does not sermonize about the evils of apartheid; he simply describes how his (black) mother had to smuggle him to see his own (white) father. He does not fulminate against domestic violence; he matter-of-factly recounts police officers’ shrugs when his mother reports abuse by his stepfather. He does not belly-ache about how poor people cannot rise out of their poverty; he chronicle how his friend’s gift of a CD burner put him on a path of financial independence.
He is funny, as we would expect, but deadly serious, and this book-length tribute to his indomitable mother is very touching.
At its best, Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose is the very moving story of a family living through the last days of one of theirs, dying of a brain tumor. But it’s also a book about politics, since Joe Biden continued to serve as vice-president throughout the ordeal and was pressed to decide whether to run for the presidency to boot. And at times the narrative reminds us of how necessarily detached from regular folks’ lives privileged people can live — with private planes, round-the-clock security, and a certainty that access to care or specialists is always possible. I thought I would think solely of the private suffering, but I found myself uneasy with the privilege.
Did you know that Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse fame, was a reluctant and picky eater as a child? T hat she trained and worked as a Montessori teacher? That she almost married David Goines? I did not either, until I read her memoir, Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook, which interestingly focuses on her life before she became a restaurant owner, although she interleaves vignettes about the restaurant throughout the book.
She grew up in the turbulent era of the Free Speech Movement (paying $98 tuition at the University of California, those were the days when students could afford to travel and experiment, even taking in count inflation!) and meandered quite a bit before founding the restaurant. This would be a good book to share with a young adult trying to figure out what to do (or the parents of said young adult who wonder when their kids will ever find themselves and contribute to society).
The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives also tells a true story from Oakland, that of a very bad mistake from a teenager who lights on fire another’s dress, for a lark, really, on the bus of the title. The two come from two different worlds, one white and privileged, one black and struggling financially. The story unfolds both in the past and the present, showing the physical recovery of one and the harsh legal treatment of the other, despite remarkably generous interventions by the wounded teen’s parents. It’s a good illustration of why we should probably not treat teens as adults in the legal system.
The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life stars twin brothers who, threatened by gangs in their native El Salvador, flee to the US and settle in Oakland with their older brother, who is undocumented. Because they are minors, they are able to benefit from some protection from the law, and a helpful school community, but they face violence, family heartbreak, and the memories of their difficult voyage.
And they also waste money, fail to clean their room or go to school, and engage in other teenage behaviors (although they seem to work exceptionally hard at their jobs). The story shows how difficult it is to craft policies for refugees, and even more to put them into play. And it would be even better if it stuck to the actual story of the twins, without the political commentary.
Haroon Moghul’s autobiography, How to Be a Muslim: An American Story, is at its best when it keeps to the personal story, how the author describes being thrust into the role of professional Muslim as an undergraduate (because of 9/11) — even as he struggled with his faith, his relationship with his family, and his American-ness, not to mention his mental illness.
The more sweeping historical and political descriptions I could have done without, but the personal struggle is engaging and a reminder that a carefully composed public identity can hide much suffering.