I’m really excited about this post because I gave all of these memoirs 4-stars which is a feat especially for me and this year of books. I love all of these and would highly recommend them.
Yes Chef by Marcus Samuelsson
For some reason, I’m not all that into cooking but I love reading about food and the making of food. That appetite was probably fed by watching Ratatouille. My favorite part of that movie being, you guessed it, the food. In fact, my favorite scene of the movie is when Remy is adding all these ingredients to the soup that Linguini leaves out. So I initially wanted to read this because it’s the memoir of a professional chef but Samuelsson is quite the renowned chef having appeared on Masterchef and was a guest chef at Obama’s first state dinner.
Born in Ethiopia but raised by Swedish middle-class parents, Samuelsson was first exposed to extravagant home cooking through his grandmother. From there, he worked at some well known restaurants in Austria, Switzerland, and New York. Samuelsson is able to evoke this sense of coziness of his grandmother’s house but effortlessly conveys a dog-eat-dog world at Restaurant Aquavit where the upper chefs consistently humiliated the young chefs and one mistake could get you fired. It makes his memoir feel so rich and diverse. There’s no doubt that what makes Samuelsson so compelling to me is his undying ambition probably because it is so different than mine. He can come off as an arrogant asshole but I liked that he talked about the sacrifices that ambition takes. Few people are willing to work 16 hour shifts 6 days a week with little pay and endure humiliation to reach the top of the cooking world. Samuelsson could not even attend his father’s funeral. Besides the cooking though, his life is so interesting. He talks about how he reconnected with his birth father whom he thought was dead his entire life. He has lived in Switzerland, France, New York and has traveled the world trying out and currently owns a restaurant. He talks about all of this with such passion and occasional bouts of humility and it was quite inspirational in many ways.
Another thing that stood out to me was the fact that he wrote such a perfect balance between cooking and food jargon and his life stories. I feel like whenever you read about another professional not familiar to you it can become tedious because there is so much vocabulary you don’t know but Samuelsson combines it with enough context to make you want to look it up yourself. It’s a lovely ode to food.
Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
I’ve been a fan of Anna Kendrick ever since I watched 50/50 (an awesome comedy about a guy who has cancer). She’s absolutely hilarious on Twitter; I love her self-deprecating but snarky humor and we both like red pandas so I mean we are obviously soul sisters. Obviously..
This celebrity memoir is in my humble opinion a little different from other celebrity memoirs because instead of telling me their whole life story, she only told me snippets of some of the more entertaining stories of her going into theater and being an actress and how she got into the acting world because let’s face it I don’t want to hear every single thing you did as a child.
The best part about this memoir to me is that listening from her perspective you get the sense that she was almost thrust into this world because she always seems surprised that she has acquired recognizable fame but it just helps readers be put into her shoes, what it’s like for someone who has only become “famous” recently. She knew she loved acting but she didn’t know what it came with so to speak. I really liked the parts when she was talking about the first time she went on a red carpet (Twilight) or the first time she got a hair stylist.
I highly, highly recommend the audiobook for this. Anna Kendrick has such a sharp, clear voice and you can really feel her sense of humor based on what she emphasizes or when she lowers or raises her voices for certain parts when it’s suppose to be funny. Of course, if you don’t like Anna Kendrick, it’s not the book for you because her trademark is very apparent but even if you have a passing interest in her, I highly recommend.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
This might actually be my favorite book of 2016 because it changed me a little bit. The author, Bryan Stevenson, is a lawyer representing people on death row and life imprisonment and he recounts his experience working on these cases with the case of Walter (a wrongly convicted death row prisoner) as an overarching case throughout. His words are taut with tenderness and the self-righteous passion of what he felt justice should be. I have always believed the saying that no matter how bad a childhood a person has, he/she still has a choice to be good so there are no excuses for criminals to use their past as an excuse. But reading the accounts of the people Stevenson has represented (most of them poor and nonwhite), you realize that what they’ve been through shapes their actions so much and even after they had been convicted, the justice system continued to fail them.
One case in particular was especially heartbreaking to me: Trina grew up with an abusive and alcoholic father who repeatedly beat her, her mother, and her siblings. When he beat her mother to death, some of her siblings ran away. She ran away to her sister’s and her husband’s place but ran away again when her husband was sexually abusive. One day, she decided to sneak into some friends’ house at night; she couldn’t see, lit a match and set fire to the house killing everyone inside. She was thirteen when she was sent to life imprisonment. In jail, she was raped by a guard and became pregnant with a son. She had been repeatedly hospitalized for mental illness and intellectual disabilities which worsened when she was incarcerated. Though Stevenson does not excuse the crimes these people have committed, he pleads for the system and us to show compassion to those who might not want it or even to those society deems unworthy of compassion and mercy. These cases add a human touch to the abundance of legal procedures and trials that Stevenson employs to get these people out. These cases only prove that our legal system is fueled by racial and gender politics instead of being as objective as it needs to be. Stevenson covers all of these procedures and rulings as well as his experiences trying to protect those convicted though legal ruling. The result is equal parts frustrating and touching.