25 June 2012

Two for One: Malcolm X

Hey, there, fellow readers and book lovers. I am so sorry for my absence. I haven't posted on here for nearly a year because I've been busy with school and what not. But here I am, for the time being. :)

Last semester, I took a history class on the American Civil Rights Movement. One of the texts for the class was Malcolm X's The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I've always liked Malcolm X, though I don't agree with him on many things, and this book just sealed my fascination with this enigmatic man. How can I not adore someone who destroyed their eyesight via reading, the same as I did? ;)

For those of you who don't know, Malcolm X had a chaotic childhood and ultimately ended up as a teen-aged hustler and robber before being sent off to prison. While there, he converted to the controversial Nation of Islam, eventually rising to a position of national prominence in the organization after his release. However, he eventually broke with the NOI and formed his own organization, shortly before his assassination in 1965 at the age of 39. He's often painted as the direct opposite of Martin Luther King--opposed to nonviolence in the civil rights movement, though the truth is quite a bit more complex. (As my professor pointed out, he advocated self-defense, not unprovoked violence, and was never once responsible for inciting race violence.) Regardless, X still remains a divisive subject almost fifty years after his death.

I think one reason I enjoyed this autobiography so much is its distinctive style. It was dictated to Alex Haley and, thus, X's inimitable oratory skills seem to leap off of the page.(Having come off of watching his speeches on YouTube, I could hear his voice in my head as I read.)

I also enjoyed the structure. This book was composed during shortly before and after X's break from the NOI. It could have turned into a polemic against the organization--and X does have a tendency to get a little preachy in spots--but the structure of the book prevents that. When Malcolm is committing petty crime in Boston and New York, you're along for the fun. He saves the moralizing for after he's realized the errors of ways. Therefore, when he comes to his senses in prison and decides to reform, the change is all the more palpable because he didn't spend the entire first section ranting about his mistakes. Likewise, X's break with the NOI is all the more powerful because the section where he talks about his time with the organization does not come with condemnations of it--he saves those for later.

Chances are, some parts of this book may offend you. Some of his statements on women and Jews left this Jewish girl scratching her head, but, overall, I highly recommend this insightful read. (First rule of history: taking historical subjects as they are, not as you want them to be.) This book is widely considered one of the most influential American autobiographies ever written and, in my opinion, it is well worth your time.

After finishing the book, I next tried Manning Marabel's biography X, in which he sheds more light on Malcolm X. This book is also controversial, for Marabel argues that X exaggerated and omitted facts in his landmark autobiography, a fact disputed by some of Malcolm X's family and supporters. Personally, I can see why they would argue with Manning, but I found his book compelling, and it didn't affect my admiration for X. Overall, I found the Marabel autobiography well-written and well-argued, though I did think the final few chapters seemed a bit more likely to generalize without corroborating evidence. This book is a mammoth--I polished it off on a class trip for my Civil Rights class--but, if you find yourself intrigued with Malcolm X, I think it's a great followup read to The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

~~~~~~~~~What's Next: I'm not sure. Right now, I am busy studying for the GRE, so I may not get a chance to read much in the next few weeks. I will try to post more reviews as soon as I can. ~~~~~~~~~~

On a different note, I have missed you guys! Let me know what you're up to. :)