I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Author: Maya Angelou
Series: Maya Angelou’s Autobiography, #1
Page Count: 310
Publisher: Random House
Original Publication Date: 1969
Genre(s): Non-fiction, Autobiography
If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.
Part 1 of Maya Angelou’s autobiography is a classic and something I’ve been meaning to read for a while now. In college, we didn’t really study Angelou much, but Caged Bird did come up occasionally in class discussions. The book details Maya’s life growing up as a young black girl in the segregated south during the ’30s and ’40s. As you can imagine, life wasn’t exactly ideal. Maya and her brother, along with their entire race, faced many hardships, prejudice, and pain. They bounced around to different living conditions and states, each bringing its own set of struggles.
So as you all may or may not know, I’ve started a book club with my girlfriend and a few ladies I met through my current job. Today we had our meeting to discuss our July book: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. As this is an autobiography, it is of course told in first-person. Each chapter details a different memory from Maya’s life. She jumps around a lot, so the book feels a little choppy. I started each chapter not really knowing how old Maya was or where she was living. The pace is pretty slow, and at times pretty boring, but then again this is more an image of black life during the 40’s rather than an action-packed adventure. That’s typically how autobiographies go.
I’m not a big fan of autobiographies and typically opt out of reading them unless I’m incredibly curious about the author. I was not that curious about Maya Angelou. I was interested in reading the book, though, as it’s cannon, so that, and being our July read, propelled me to read. I struggled, though, and had to skim the last few chapters so that I could finish right before book club started. And speaking of those last few chapters… Very anticlimactic. I know it’s part of a series of books, but it just seemed like it was leading up to something and then just…ended. Again, though, it’s a story about her life, not a fictitious adventure story, so it’s expected.
I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it, either. There were many interesting aspects to the book that were nice interruptions between the slow sections. It was eye-opening, to say the least. And I definitely can appreciate Angelou and her experiences.
Our discussion of the book did not last long. I, myself, didn’t feel I had much to contribute. I’d say my favorite part was Angelou’s writing. She is very quotable and an amazing writer. I empathized with her struggle and did find myself relating to her personality at times.
–“I sensed a wrongness around me, like an alarm clock that had gone off without being set.”
—“To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power.”
–“To be left alone on the tightrope of youthful unknowing is to experience the excruciating beauty of full freedom and the threat of eternal indecision.”
—“See, you don’t have to think about doing the right thing. If you’re for the right thing, then you do it without thinking.”