I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sing in high school after my particularly awesome English teacher won her stare-down with the school board. Unfortunately, I don’t actually remember it all that well and didn’t remember much about the author either, for all her name recognition. Clearly that needed to change.
So for my Christmas road trip, I picked up (thank you public libraries!) three of Maya Angelou’s audio books, each of which she read herself. I like audio books that have been read by their authors. All readers add their own nuances to texts and when the authors read them you know it’s the intended nuance. Maya Angelou has the added benefit of actually being a professional performer and reciter.
Curiously, her speech pattern reminded me of William Shatner’s, and I wonder if he modeled his after hers. Very well enunciated, and with frequent, intentional pauses. She carries the style off better, though.
Maya Angelou had a pretty amazing life with many ups and downs. Where before my impression of her was as this iconic individual almost out of sight on a pedestal, this autobiography shows her as fully human with all the attending strengths and weaknesses. One of her many strength is surely her willingness to show the world her weaknesses.
Rather than a single long book, this felt like a themed collection of short stories. Rather than telling the story of her life, she’s telling stories from her life, giving the reader a look at different times and events. Each chapter could potentially stand alone and be well worth reading.
Wow. Maya Angelou’s mother, Vivian Baxter, sounds like a truly amazing woman who lived her life to the fullest. As tumultuous as Maya Angelou’s life has been, her mother’s seems to have been that much more so. This book focuses on Maya’s relationship with her mother, which was excellent, but I also wish there was a full biography of Vivian Baxter, because just the glimpses we see into her life as it intersected with her daughter are pretty amazing. She was strong and determined and opinionated and just an amazing woman but she was not necessarily a comfortable woman to be around. She seems to have been utterly and completely herself and lived out loud.
This struck me as pretty much a perfect graduation gift (highschool? college? some other major life transition where you’re not sure what you’re going to be doing next?). Many of the chapters are slightly edited versions of chapters from her other books, but they’re collected here for a reason. The overall message of this book is that life is going to throw a lot of different things your way, some wonderful opportunities and some awful experiences, so stay strong and try your best to take advantage of the first and get through the second.
I recommend all of these.