Trevor Noah’s Autobiography Transforms a West Texas Drive

Far mesas, turning windmills, splotches of scrub brush and grassy tufts, sharp spires of agave and sotol, with sporadic interruptions of far-off rigs whip by at 80 mph. I’m driving the sun-soaked stretch of Interstate 10 between Fort Stockton and Austin, one of my favorite drives.

This year, I missed my annual fitness camp in the Davis Mountains but replaced that West Texas trek with an old-fashioned a road trip. My honey and I made our way to New Mexico via Palo Duro Canyon, a drive that stretched for some 12 hours. One way.

No matter how much you like it, that’s a lot of scenery to soak up.

I missed a lot of that scenery. Thanks to Trevor Noah’s mesmerizing voice and captivating narrative, that beautiful iconic landscape melted away. West Texas became invisible.

What I saw was Johannesburg.

Choosing My First Audio Book

I love books. I’m passionately old-school, a dedicated fan, someone who enjoys the tactile sensations surrounding reading. The feel of pages and covers, flipping through chapters, and the solid physical weight are all part of any book’s transformational experience. Sure, I appreciate how well compact e-books travel, but I’m still resistant (past digital experiences beg the question: is my dislike of electronic experience prejudicial to the material or do I only order less worthy books on digital?). Audio books, I thought, were like cruise control for readers.

All those hours in the car, however, dictated a shared experience, so I embraced the need to go audio. But which book? So I asked my Facebook friends — what’s the best you’ve ever heard?

My friends are readers, so I got quality recommendations. A lot. Yes, I counted. If someone recommended a series (many did) or all books by a certain author, that equaled one recommendation. Multiple shout-outs (the Harry Potter books, Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series) also counted once. Total: 32 unique recommendations.

How to weed through all those great options?

First step: weeding out already read books. If I’m spending hours in a car listening, I want to hear something new. That culling created a short list. And, yes, I did consult James, my husband, for his input, too.

From the “never read” titles, we eliminated anything that didn’t sound interesting. Next step: assessing availability and length. The final cut consisted of Stephen King’s 11–22–63 (sci fi) and Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime (autobiography).

Got Stephen King’s book for later (and I’m going to buy Trevor Noah in print, too).

Audio books are an investment of time and money — King’s 30+ hour book cost $52.50; Noah’s book, at 8:44, $24.99. For a hot minute, we considered purchasing both; after all, car time would total at least 24 hours, not including side trips. A quick sample made the decision easy. Noah’s beautiful melodious South African voice blew the scratchy American guy narrator on 11–22–63 out of the water (sorry, Craig Wasson).

Audio Book Active Listening

We started Born a Crime a few hours into our out-bound trip. The first day’s destination was Palo Duro Canyon, which is farther west than Lubbock. When Noah casually dropped a quick mention about his mother being shot in the head, I turned to James. “What?” I exclaimed in horror. “Please tell me Trevor won’t leave us hanging like that.”

Oh, he could. He did.

Over the hours on our way to New Mexico and back, we learned about his life growing up in South Africa. We’d pause the book to discuss — how what we knew about apartheid fit in with Noah’s experience; systemic oppression and the concept of “colored” people; economics, parenting, and home life as a poor Black family; domestic abuse — and laugh (Trevor, it seems, was quite precocious . . . and often entertainingly naughty). And we’d marvel, especially at the number of languages he “just picked up.”

That facility with languages, Noah’s ear for vocal subtleties, puts flesh on his story’s recurring characters. Thank goodness I could hear Trevor Noah’s voice! My inner reader would not have done justice (not even remotely) to the various South African tongues, especially his mother’s Xhosa. By the powerful last chapter, where Noah answered that hanging question, Patricia’s voice a laher son was firmly lodged in my head. I knew her.

Hearing that final story gave me goosebumps. We turned off the audio book, turned toward each other, and talked about what had transpired. For miles. I’m not sure West Texas really registered.

Born a Crime weaves themes throughout Noah’s stories so that the final chapter is a masterful wrap-up. Either a very good editor worked some magic or the author is a seriously smart guy (a seriously smart guy would enlist a very good editor, so this probably isn’t an either/or scenario). Trevor Noah is a seriously smart guy . . . and funny, articulate, and socially conscious. I highly recommend traveling with Born a Crime.

Cadillac Ranch, outside Amarillo, Texas (husband for scale)

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