Book: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: 2009 (trade paperback), 1969 (original publication date)
Summary: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the story of Maya Angelou’s life from age three, when she and her four-year-old brother traveled alone by train from California to their grandmother’s home in Arkansas, and moving into her teenage years. Life in tiny, but segregated, Stamps, Arkansas is contrasted with a brief period in lively St. Louis and, later, in San Francisco. The Great Depression and World War II are in the background of the daily struggles and joys of life. Racism is a greater part of Angelou’s lived experience in these years than national and global crises.
Thoughts: This was the February selection of my book club. We specialize in books about race in America, so it’s not hard for us to choose a book for Black History Month — most of the books we read qualify. Since I’m late writing my review, I’m glad that this book also works for Women’s History Month.
Our book group was about half and half of “I’m really glad to read this again because it means more to me now than it did when I was younger” and “I can’t believe that I didn’t read this long ago.” Since I’m in the latter group, I’m pleased that we picked I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings so that I finally got myself to read it.
The first thing we discussed, naturally, was the beauty of the writing. I’m not much of a poetry reader, but I love reading prose written by poets.
Even though I hadn’t read the book before, the shocking event in the middle didn’t come as a surprise. That’s floating out there in our culture so I knew that it was coming. I love reading books with St. Louis settings, so I’m sad that Angelou’s St. Louis experience is so traumatic.
My favorite part of this story is when teen-aged Angelou persists in getting a job on a San Francisco streetcar.
We had a lovely discussion about this book. I see why it’s so popular in classrooms. There’s a lot of ground to cover depending on the interests of the readers — history, race, class, families, sexuality, crime and punishment, running away, growing up, and so much more.
Appeal: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a book for readers who love beautiful writing. If you don’t read much nonfiction, I think you’ll like this anyway. Even though it’s autobiography, Angelou uses all the story techniques of good novels.
Challenges: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is my third nonfiction book for 2018. I challenged myself to read twelve, so I’m right on track to finish one a month. I’ll link this post on tomorrow’s Nonfiction Friday post at Doing Dewey.
Have you read this book? What did you think?