I read Trevor Noah’s favorite books. Here’s what I thought.

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Reader, I took a journey into the mind of a comedian and Daily show Guide Trevor Noah through the books he loves most. How did it end? Read on to find out.

Before the world got so turned upside down that I couldn’t even stand to watch a comedy news show (let alone the real news), I started every morning with a coffee and The daily News. And do you know how many book recommendations I got while watching? The daily News? A lot of. I could make a whole exhaustive list of all the books I’ve discovered while looking at them The daily News, But some highlights are Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottam, Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall, Surviving the White Gaze by Rebecca Carroll, Know My Name by Chanel Miller and many others.

But it’s not only The daily News that is literary. The show’s Trevor Noah loves books, and rightly so. Noah once explained in an interview: “When I was a kid I wasn’t allowed outside because the police would take me away because my mother was black and my father was white and South Africa was going through apartheid… so I was always inside. And because I was always in the house, I could only entertain myself by reading. And that’s all I had. I had books that took me around the world. That’s why I’ve always loved to learn. I have always loved to read.”

All of this means I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Trevor Noah talk about books and talking to authors about books. And I, like almost everyone else on the planet, have read his memoirs A crime born. But I was still curious about Trevor Noah’s taste in books. What books are the South African comedian’s absolute favourites? And what do his favorite books say about him?

I didn’t have to search long to get the answer to my first question. 2016, The New York Times Ask Trevor Noah what 10 books he would take with him if he were stranded on a desert island. Those were his answers. Have his tastes changed at all in the last six years? Probably. Which one of us didn’t find a new favorite book between the years 2016 and 2022? But that still felt like a good snapshot of Trevor Noah’s tastes.

And so I decided to pick five of Trevor Noah’s favorite books, read them, and then judge Trevor Noah as a person based on how I feel about those books. Okay, the last part is a joke. Most of time. But here’s what I thought about her!

Homecoming of Yaa Gyasi

For selfish reasons, Yaa Gyasi homecoming was the first book I picked from Trevor Noah’s book recommendation pile. I have read Gyasis Transcendent Kingdom last year and absolutely loved it. Even though I’ve heard that from many readers homecoming was a very different kind of book, I had also heard it was as good (if not better) than Transcendent Kingdom. Well, that’s a lot of hype for this book (in my eyes) so I was excited to dig in.

Trevor Noah described homecoming as “a fascinating novel about the legacy of slavery and white supremacy on both continents”. Yes, homecoming has a much larger scope than Transcendent Kingdom. While the latter deals with the personal tragedy of one family, the former confronts the tragedies of a whole group of people spanning generations through three hundred years of Ghanaian history. This book is undoubtedly an incredible achievement. And while Transcendent Kingdom is still my personal favorite homecoming is likely one that will resonate with more people. And I can definitely see why Trevor Noah would call this a favorite.

To be honest, that was a pretty high bar to set right from the start. Maybe I should have saved it for last.

Cover photo of Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

Born standing by Steve Martin

I had to pick this one because Steve Martin and I have the same last name, so we’re best friends. Just kidding. just ignore me Trevor Noah called Steve Martin’s book “one of the best accounts ever written on the art of stand-up and the life of stand-up comics”. So I had to see what all the fuss was about.

Born standing is comedian Steve Martin’s book about his time as a stand-up comedian, his rise to fame and the reasons he left stand-up for good. As someone who appreciates Steve Martin as an actor and comedian, I found his story interesting and I think there are probably life lessons in this story that anyone could learn from. Ultimately, I felt like I probably wasn’t the right audience for this book. But I can understand why comedians like Trevor Noah and Jerry Seinfeld rate this film so highly.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Cover

The little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery

I can’t believe I never read it The little Prince before. I knew so much about the story and had seen the artwork so many times that I never got around to actually reading it. Reading this beloved children’s classic for this reading experiment felt like the perfect time to finally get to what Trevor Noah called “a wonderful fable, beautifully told.” It’s so simple and so complicated at the same time.”

I’m a bit sad that I missed this book as a kid. This is one of those books that I think is probably best experienced when you’re younger. And then, when you’re older, you return there to experience a new sense of wonder in the world around you. But beyond that, I imagine you also gain a new appreciation for the symbolism in the story. That didn’t entirely escape my notice, and I quite enjoyed it. But I also wondered why it took me so long.

Long Walk to Freedom book cover

Long way to freedom by Nelson Mandela

I feel that this book needs no introduction. But what did Trevor Noah say about that? “He was as good a writer as he was a freedom fighter and president. This is a book worthy of his eventful life.” Okay, I’m sold. And it’s the next to be picked up by Noah’s recommendation stack.

This book was probably the furthest out of my comfort zone out of the five books I chose for this experiment, simply because I don’t read a lot of memoirs by political leaders. I’ve read maybe five in total in my life, not because I don’t like them, but I just don’t think about getting them. So this seemed like a good opportunity to read one. I was particularly intrigued to read the story of a political leader from outside the United States. It’s no secret that American education focuses quite heavily on American history, so while I was vaguely aware of what Mandela had done for South Africa, there was still so much that was new to me. And yes, reading it made me think I probably should have more books like this on my radar.

To quote myself book cover

To quote myself: A memoir by Khaya Dlanga

This last book is the only book on this list that I wasn’t aware of until reading Trevor Noah’s recommendations. So I guess out of all the books on this list, this is the one that I read 100% purely because of Trevor Noah’s recommendation. Noah called this book “hilarious,” and I was intrigued because he said this memoir was “as good an account of life as can be found.” [South Africa] today.”

This is a treatise in essays in which Khaya Dlanga talks about growing up in rural Transkei, his time studying advertising, his experiences as a stand-up comedian and more. I had never heard of Khaya Dlanga before and I really appreciated discovering this author through this experiment. If you’re curious about what he’s been up to lately, Dlanga just published a memoir about his quest for human connection via social media during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s called It’s the answers for me and yes I am adding it to my TBR list.

Do I feel like I know Trevor Noah better now that I’ve read five of his favorite books? Maybe. These books seem pretty much in line with what I know about Noah’s personality and tastes. While I wish he recommended more books written by women, the book he recommended still offers a wide range of perspectives between fiction and non-fiction. Noah’s favorite books speak to the comedian’s desire to marvel at the world, always be learning, and have a sense of humor.

If you’re curious about more book recommendations from The daily News, Here’s a great compilation of important black authors interviewed by Trevor Noah on the show.

Want to know what other celebrities are reading? Check out this list I’ve compiled of celebrities who read diversely (and the books they recommend).

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