Recommended Reads: Malcolm X Biography, Tina Fey's New Book and a Collection of Laugh Out Loud Wrong Test Answers

Rob Levy works at Subterranean Books and each month recommends five books for University City readers

A survey of interesting titles, must reads and best sellers from , University’s City’s only neighborhood bookstore. 

Malcolm X: A Life Of Reinvention by Manning Marable

Marable’s biography of Malcolm X may be the most controversial read of the spring book season. While this book has shed new light on the life and legacy of Malcolm X, it also casts doubts on almost every part of his life. This, of course, does not sit well with his family, who is upset with how Marable, who died just three days before the book hit bookshelves, depicts Malcolm.

Marable spent the large part of the last two decades researching and writing this book. Scouring every government document he could get his hands on and talking to those who knew him, Marable developed a thesis that Malcolm’s life and death have never been fully and honestly examined by scholars. He argues that while Malcolm X was an influential and significant player in the fight for Civil Rights, previous biographers have been soft on the activist’s militant rhetoric and missed important information about his life.

At the center of the book’s controversy is Malcolm’s alleged infidelity, bisexuality and prolonged embellishment of his early criminal activities. Then there are stunning revelations about his meeting with leaders of the Ku Klux Klan, as well as his involvement with the controversial leadership of The Nation of Islam. Marable closes out his biography with the theory that there is more to the assassination of Malcolm X than previously revealed.

Although Malcolm X: A Life Of Reinvention goes a long way in demystifying the enigma surrounding one of America’s most controversial figures, it also raises more questions about his character, legacy and impact then previously published biographies.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

From her start doing improv comedy in Chicago to her nine years on Saturday Night Live and her current gig on 30 Rock, Tina Fey has established herself as a comedian who understands the pulse of what makes people laugh. Her quick wit, biting sarcasm and keen understanding of human nature make her a comedic force.

In print, she writes with the same intelligent clarity and whimsy as she does on camera. Although this is a memoir, filled with stories of her childhood and her career on SNL, Fey still manages to hide behind a veneer of mystery. Fey also uses the book to fire back at the many Internet stories, rumors and opinions that have besieged her in recent years.

The book is in many ways like Fey her herself, short and to the point with hectic and high wire sarcasm. The deeper you get into Bossypants the more you realize how intelligent, humble and brilliant Fey is as an artist. This is a clever and fun read about one of today’s most interesting entertainers.

F In Exams: The Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers by Richard Benson

Remember when you were in class, and the teachers got really mad at everyone for how poorly they did on a test and then proceeded to read off the stupid answers they received for said test? Well, imagine that as a book and be prepared to laugh your fanny off. Benson collects 250 real-life, incorrect test answers. One example: What is the highest frequency noise that a human can register? A: Mariah Carey. He bombards the reader with so much silliness and snort-inducing laughter that you forget how tragic it is that these students are so hopelessly lost.

Benson has selected his answers from a cross section of students and throughout a variety of academic fields. Some of the answers here have a puzzling innocence to them while many are just flat out funny. Others are heart wrenchingly wrong. F In Exams: The Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers is perfect reading for summer vacations or mindless hours away from the real world.

A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Egan’s novel of rebellious nostalgia is a great read, especially for anyone who has any of the feist and fire of the 1980s left in them. It is set during various times and around a batch of interestingly strange people with a proclivity for changing the rules, bucking the system or making their own mark in hipster centers like New York and San Francisco. These characters bob and weave throughout several chapters and as the story unfolds in nonlinear time, we see how the fire of rage and angry youth has gone out moving our young rebels into adulthood and finally in some instances, a meek life of domesticity.

As she interlocks characters and stories by shifting the context in which we encounter them, Egan focuses on time and how it ebbs away and erodes us as well as our perception of relationships, interactions and time itself. Her overlapping story arcs are like brush strokes on a large canvas with only the complete picture to use as a reference point.

The novel is Egan’s loving tribute to a time gone by when kids rebelled as almost a gut instinct instead of doing so because popular culture dictates it. Egan’s jumbled narrative and unorthodox storytelling may not be the right cup of tea for everyone, but it is a curious read for those who like their fiction served up edgy with helpings of nostalgia thrown in for seasoning. A Visit From The Goon Squad just won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Think of it as Proust for hipsters.

To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918  by Adam Hochschild

Reading Hochschild’s account of The Great War is like reading a great tragedy. As he notes with great clarity and thorough research, in 1914, the world was chomping at the bit to go to war. What the leaders of the time did not know then is that they were on a collision course with disaster, death and suffering.

To End All Wars is a character study as to what makes civilized nations capitulate to the chaos, bedlam and destruction of war. Hochschild carefully peels back the complex layers of why the war started, why it was prolonged and why it is so relevant to our world today. As he does this, we discover why World War I was a horrific exercise in human rights and combat warfare, as well as an utter debacle in diplomacy. However, what really makes this book percolate is how Hochschild provides an in-depth exploration of both the loyalty of those fighting in the trenches as well as those actively speaking out against the war.

As millions of men died on the battlefield most of those who rebelled against various governments were jailed, ostracized and brought to personal ruin by those in higher authority. As the frenzy of war grew with each year, the real casualty was intolerance for dissent by the civilized nations of the world.

Those who remained steadfastly loyal to the cause of fighting “the war to end all wars” also paid a heavy price. Many were killed, maimed or disfigured under the most horrific battle conditions yet conceived by out of touch military strategists and blundering commanders.

Hochschild focuses on these aspects of the conflict because World War I soaked every populated continent with blood, wiping out an entire generation and scarring the ones that came after it. As the tactics of warfare became more fierce and amoral, the scale of mass casualties rose alongside increasingly louder voices of protest, ruining the “old world” in just four years, while leading the world down a perilous postwar path that it still walks today.

For more than 10 years has been an independently owned business located at 6275 Delmar, in the heart of The Loop. www.subbooks.com


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