369 Queen

queenby Alex Haley and David Stevens, 1993

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read a book with a cover you don’t like.

Much like its well-known predecessor Roots, Queen mines American history to chart Alex Haley’s lineage, this time from the paternal side. Starting with his great-great-grandfather James Jackson as he prepares to leave Ireland at the end of the 1700s, Haley traces the arrival of his European ancestor in America for the purposes of telling the story of his grandmother, the titular Queen. As Roots opened in Africa and followed Kunta Kinte’s capture and enslavement, it’s perhaps surprising that the sequel spends much of the first half of the book narrating the experiences of Haley’s white forebears. However, the truth is that this is the story of America, not just immigration from the Old World to the New for a chance at a better life, and not just the enslavement and importation of Africans so the former could amass wealth and power, but the intersection of the two, often borne in the children who were the result of the bonds of this societal structure.

Continue reading

110 The Autobiography of Malcolm X

The Autobiography of Malcolm Xby Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley, 1965

The great thing about books is that they help us understand not only others, but ourselves and our own place in history a little bit better. Growing up I knew little of Malcolm X. I was raised Catholic, owing to my mother, but my father (the black side of my family) was Methodist and the First Nation of Islam was so far off my radar as to be non-existent. It was something for other black people, the ones who changed their names and insisted they were African, not American. (Conversely, I know now that we were the “smug” and “intention-hungry Negroes” that Malcolm X detested.) I read maybe a few passages from The Autobiography in school, but Malcolm X was never studied in depth and overall I got the sense that, while he contributed to our history as black people, he was not to be admired. I could have gone my whole life thinking that had I not taken it upon myself to learn more.

Continue reading