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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 73/100: X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz

X: A Novel - Kekla Magoon, Ilyasah Shabazz

I feel as if this book's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness.

I love that this book presents teens with the early life of Malcolm X, a time he spent much the same as other Black youth of his generation, becoming a fixture of the jazz and blues music culture of both Boston and Harlem in the 1940s, smoking weed, and engaging in small-scale illegal activities from running gambling rings to selling drugs and performing other petty crimes. Although he tries not to let it affect him in his life of "ease," Malcolm cannot fully escape the racial reality of the day, and he confronts it in several harrowing sequences, such as the teacher who tells him a career as a lawyer is not a reasonable aspiration for a Black kid, and the thugs who attack when they see him taking his white girlfriend for a walk.

I think the strength of this book is in how ordinary it makes Malcolm X out to be, showing disenfranchised teens that humble beginnings can still lead to a life powerfully and impactfully lived. At the same time, I often felt frustrated by Malcolm's lack of motivation in his teen years, and in the increasingly poor choices he makes. Also, I found myself really wanting to know more about his life after he got out of prison, the life of the "public Malcolm X" that I still don't know nearly enough about (this is my own fault, not the book's). See what I mean about the book's strengths also being its weaknesses?

Still, the potential "weakness" is mitigated by the extensive historical notes at the end, which answered all the questions I would have gone to Google with were the note not present. Malcolm's fictional "voice" is smooth and conversational, occasionally betraying the fact that he is lying to himself about the impact of certain experiences. The writer very much captured the sense of a disillusioned Black youth who has not yet realized the greater potential within him. Also, the audio version is very good, and really makes the written voice come alive.

The book piqued my interest in learning more about Malcolm X, which I think is perhaps the highest compliment any piece of historical fiction can be paid.