The Autobiography of Malcolm X

3 X slideshowNo matter what your political leanings, it’s definitely worth taking a look at this novel. Many people discount Malcolm X’s autobiography, due to preconceived ideas about Malcolm X as a person and political figure, but it’s definitely worth reading it. There is a lot that Malcolm X said that has relevance and importance in today’s world, and there is plenty of interesting material to be found in this book’s pages.

Malcolm X created this book with assistance from Alex Haley, but it doesn’t read like a ghostwritten autobiography. It flows like a monologue from Malcolm X himself, and is very easy reading – we are taken right from his upbringing, to his prison stay, to his career as an advocate for the Nation of Islam and finally his untimely end. It’s vital to read the ending notes from Alex Haley, as they neatly encapsulate the process of writing the book with Malcolm X and describe his death in a way that fits with the narrative and provides closure that its exclusion would sadly lack.

Many have said that this book should be required reading for everybody, and I’m inclined to agree – not because of any personal opinion I have on Malcolm’s positions and writings, but because there is so much ‘common knowledge’ about Malcolm X that is untrue or inaccurate. There are a lot of opinions people have about him, the Nation of Islam, and general Afro-centric thought and opinion that has been formed by media representations, by people making jokes, simply by depictions in all forms of media. Even if someone is seeking to learn some things about Islam, then this book does an excellent job of teaching – it’s very interesting to see Malcolm X’s approach to Islam and his personal beliefs change throughout his life.

In this sense, there is plenty to be gleaned from this book that still has relevance today. It’s an invaluable piece of American history that still holds plenty of relevance today, and is definitely worth checking out. You’re sure to learn a lot, and it might give you some true insight into the history of the black struggle in America, which I think is still a tremendous issue that affects the entire world in many ways – even for those living outside of America, it’s worthwhile picking up this piece of history from a very influential country and man.

 

Spook Country by William Gibson

Spook_CountryThe work of William Gibson begun as what most readers would call pure science fiction: worlds far into the future that were worlds removed from what they were describing at the time. There were plenty of readers who thought what Gibson was describing could never happen, but look at the world we’re in now – effortless, instantaneous communication available almost anywhere at a very low price. Wireless transfer of what is essentially the sum of human knowledge to tiny devices that can be carried with you anywhere is something that most people take for granted – and, in fact, if people don’t have access to Wi-Fi wherever they’re going, they can get pretty tetchy. Even this is something William Gibson couldn’t predict.

In his latter works, Gibson began to describe the present day, as the world quickly caught up with those he was describing in almost every respect. Spook Country is a look at the present day with some very minor details changed, but nothing at all removed from the world that we live in – a world after the events of 9/11, a world where technology has reached a saturation point that we can’t imagine progressing any further but that continues unabated.

Spook Country concerns itself with Hollis Henry, who is investigating locative art in Los Angeles, Tito, a freelance thief and smuggler, and Milgrim, a translator. He manages to thread together all of these characters’ narratives easily throughout the book in a way that never becomes clumsy and that reveals the interactions between the characters and their worlds beautifully. Gibson reveals his knowledge of various aspects of our modern world quite adeptly – and shows that he really knows how to conduct research for a novel. It’s incredible how much of the world Gibson knows about, especially if you were originally in the mindset that a science fiction writer wouldn’t tend to have much general knowledge or write convincingly about the world that we live in.

The work is filled with detail that unveils the plotline beautifully, advances the story and gives a truly believable feel to how the novel plays out: it manages to touch upon some sci-fi plot points without feeling far removed from reality and the present, and truly creates a tense and thrilling atmosphere at points. As with many of Gibson’s pieces, the plot can be difficult to follow, but ends up giving some resolution.


 

Remainder by Tom McCarthy

remainder-coverThe subject of memory is something that many books touch upon. None have examined them in the same way that Tom McCarthy has with Remainder, which is an excellent addition to anyone’s bookshelf. The book concerns itself with the quest for authenticity, both in memory and action – the main character has absolutely no memory, and doesn’t know whether the actions he is taking are authentic, real or genuine or not. This becomes all-consuming, and the vast majority of the book is spent trying to recreate the one genuine memory the main character thinks he has. It’s much more than an unreliable narrator – we’re examining someone’s whole life through their lens after an accident that they can’t even describe and that we assumed must have happened in order to put the narrator on the current course of action they’re on.

Describing this book makes it much more complicated than it actually is. With this kind of subject matter, it could be very difficult to read – but the writing style isn’t anywhere near as dry or analytical as one would expect. There are a few wry moments and there is a surprising amount of humour in the book, despite the overall tone and subject matter. As the book progresses, the general atmosphere becomes more violent and intense – but in an interesting way, that is both detached and involved. It never becomes an exercise in transgression or ‘testing’ the reader to see how much they can take, unlike many other writers – there is an element of intensity in the book but it remains a constant undercurrent, which is much more unsettling than outright shock-writing.

The slow burn of this book is something to behold. It’s truly interesting to see the narrative develop, and the main character’s voice is distant without being aseptic and difficult to read: there are plenty of writers who would take the route of making the main character’s voice nearly unbearably matter-of-fact, but McCarthy doesn’t do this here. This choice elevates this book far further than what it could have been, I believe.

If you have any interest in ideas about memory, storytelling, repetition or any similar subjects, I highly recommend Remainder. McCarthy has created a very intriguing and re-readable work here that really lends itself to analysis and interpretation, and is sure to be something you’re mulling over for plenty of time to come.