The New York Times spoke to Trevor Noah, the “Daily Show” host and author of “Born a Crime” about his reading habit this week. I’m interviewing him next Wednesday about this incredible book and Trevor’s answers have given me much to think about…
What books are currently on your night stand? For fiction I’ve got Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” and Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist.” For nonfiction I’ve got Jill Leovy’s “Ghettoside,” a fascinating account of life in the L.A.P.D. homicide division that should change the way we all understand the policing problem in America. I also just finished Chuck Klosterman’s “But What if We’re Wrong?” Which is a question I constantly ask myself because: What if we are?
What’s the last great book you read? Thanks to my job at “The Daily Show” I get to read many amazing books written by our guests. The last great one I read was Yaa Gyasi’s “Homegoing,” a fascinating novel about the legacy of the slave trade on both sides of the Atlantic.
When, how often and how much do you read? Electronic or paper? I read every day. Some days more than others, but every day. I almost always read electronically; I travel a great deal, and the weight of physical books has become a luxury I can’t afford, and I’ve actually grown to love reading on my phone more than paper. It’s not romantic, but it works for me.
Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?
I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, so J. K. Rowling is near the top. Also Lin-Manuel Miranda; “Hamilton” blew me away, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. Because of “The Daily Show,” most of my reading time these days is consumed by journalists. Paul Krugman is always great. Also Vann R. Newkirk of The Atlantic; Jamelle Bouie at Slate; and Rembert Browne with New York magazine. All fantastic writers.
Who are your favorite South African writers? And the best book you’ve read about South Africa? I don’t know if I could pick the best; the territory is too rich. J. M. Coetzee and Zakes Mda are probably the best-known South African novelists in the West, and deservedly so. Nelson Mandela was as great a writer as he was an activist and leader. Sol Plaatje was a founder and first general secretary of the organization that became the A.N.C.; his writings were largely ignored during his lifetime, but they’ve survived to become some of the most compelling and celebrated accounts of the early days of apartheid. Rian Malan’s “My Traitor’s Heart” is a brutal excavation of a white South African’s conscience at apartheid’s end. Among contemporary South African writers, Khaya Dlanga is a personal favorite. His memoir, “To Quote Myself,” is as good an account as you’ll find about life in the country today.
What genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid? I’m a sucker for fantasy. Write anything in a magical world with creatures and spells and you have me hooked. I also cannot resist autobiographies; it’s like learning about a person from inside their own mind. As for genres to avoid, I don’t avoid much. I’ll try anything once.
How do you organize your books? Luckily Kindle does that for me.
What do you like to read on the plane? I can’t read on planes. I don’t know if it’s the lack of oxygen or the low light, but I can’t stay awake when I try to read on a plane. Planes are for watching movies based on books.
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves? Books about self-esteem and depression.
What’s your favorite book by a comedian? It’s a tossup between Charlie Murphy’s “The Making of a Stand-Up Guy” and Steve Martin’s “Born Standing Up.” Both books capture the business incredibly well.
What’s the last book that made you laugh out loud? Paul Beatty’s “The Sellout.”
What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift? My friend David Kibuuka gave me a copy of “The Little Prince,” which I love. It’s so simple and yet so complicated.
Tell us your favorite TV, film or theater adaptation of a book. Far and away it has to be Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton,” inspired by the Ron Chernow biography, by far. It’s not just an adaptation. It’s a transformation. One of the most impressive creative feats I’ve ever witnessed.
And now for a movie or TV show that has yet to be made: Tell us about your ideal adaptation of any book. Someone needs to make a movie about Shaka, the legendary Zulu king who warred across South Africa forging the modern Zulu nation. There’s battle, conquest, siblings turning on each other and murdering each other — it’s better than “Game of Thrones,” and it’s all true.
Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain? Favorite hero: Henry Sugar from Roald Dahl’s “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar.” Favorite Villain: Lord Voldemort from “Harry Potter.”
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most? I was a voracious reader as a kid. Being the mixed child of a black Xhosa mom and a white Swiss dad, my existence was illegal in South Africa at the time. When I was little I spent a lot of time indoors so my parents could avoid going to jail, which would not have been fun for any of us. Books were my escape. I loved getting lost in fantasy worlds. I’d read anything by Roald Dahl: “James and the Giant Peach,” “The BFG,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” I also loved “The Chronicles of Narnia,” but I only got to read them after convincing my very Christian mother that Aslan was a Christ figure and not a false idol.
If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be? I’d love for him to read my book, actually, if only to satisfy my curiosity of knowing what he thinks about it. I’ve always felt a connection with President Obama through our shared experiences of being mixed race and both having African roots.
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite? J. K. Rowling, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Nelson Mandela.
If you could be friends with any author, dead or alive, who would it be? I would choose to be friends with an author who’s alive. Probably Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Yes, he’s a professional soccer player, but he’s fascinating, and he wrote a book, so I’m exploiting that loophole to sneak him in here.
Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing? I’ve been really lucky with my book choices. All started and finished.
Whom would you want to write your life story? Myself! I’ve already written it, the early parts at any rate. But if I were to make it into a musical, definitely Lin-Manuel Miranda. Or J. K. Rowling if I chose to include wizards.
What do you want to read next? I’ve got a stack of books I’m hoping to get to as part of my ongoing immersion into American history and politics. Heather Ann Thompson’s “Blood in the Water,” about the Attica prison uprising, is sitting on top.
A version of this article appeared in the New York Times in print on November 6, 2016. Credit Illustration by Jillian Tamaki