William S. Burroughs vs. the Qur’an (Soft Skull) begins with the author, punk-Muslim novelist Michael Muhammad Knight, deciding to write the biography of his mentor, the anarcho-Sufi writer Peter Lamborn Wilson (a.k.a. Hakim Bey). Knight’s attachment to the project is shaken when he learns that Wilson was an apologist for the shah in the 1970s, and it is shattered when he discovers Wilson’s defenses of pedophilia. Abandoning both the bio and the friendship, Knight goes searching for new gurus and creeds, discovering with discomfort along the way that many of his readers want him to be their guru.
Knight finds that he best expresses himself when rebelling against someone else’s system. The pattern peaks when he moves into a West Virginia compound built by his white supremacist father and transforms it into a one-man mosque devoted to black Islam. Inside, Knight spends his days cutting up and remixing the Koran, using someone else’s words to make something of his own. —Jesse Walker