*I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I read this for the first time about 15 or 20 years ago, and though it’s one of those books that everyone should read, it didn’t strike me as powerfully this time as it did when I read it back then.  I’m pretty sure I’ve read all of her books except her poetry collections, so maybe what I remember being struck by is more the journey of her life than any one particular book.  That said, I do like her matter of fact writing style–it’s not gushy or self deprecating like so many memoirs are.  But it also feels kind of choppy, meandering from one event to another without a whole lot of linear direction.  Some events seem very important to her identity and others not so much, but she doesn’t necessarily give more time or space in the book to one over another.  I’ll comment on two parts of the book that struck me the strongest.  One is when she describes waste vs. charity (my words, not hers).  Whites often gave clothing to blacks, but there was no sacrifice there—they simply didn’t want or need the clothes and it was a way to get rid of them.  But when blacks gave things to each other, it was a sign of true generosity and sacrifice because the items were “probably needed as desperately by the donor as the receiver.”  A second part of the book that stood out was when she writes about her post rape behavior and treatment.  For a few weeks, everyone tolerated her silence, but once the nurse said she was “healed,” she was supposed to be back on the sidewalk playing games as if nothing had happened—as if physical healing and psychological healing are the same thing.  Though published in 1969, there are definitely some timeless ideas and points of discussion in this book.  (memoir)

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