I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Nonfiction — audiobook. Read by Maya Angelou. Random House Audio, 2005. Originally published 1970. 10 hours, 12 minutes. Library copy.

Angelou’s autobiography is, unfortunately, one of several books assigned as required reading during high school where my teacher decided we should watch the film version rather than read the original book. The film version was rather uninspiring hence why it took me over ten years to finally rectify such a wrong and read her autobiography for myself.

This book – the first in a loosely assembled series – covers Angelou’s childhood through the birth of her son while she is still a teenager, but focuses largely on a few, key pivotal moments in her life: experiencing racism at age seven, being raped by her mother’s boyfriend at age eight, experiencing homelessness, and becoming the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco around the age of fifteen.

Such a summary makes the book appear to be a stark, bleak read, which it is at so many points. And yet there is a sense of hopefulness, an insight into the beauty of life despite the hand dealt to you. The despair of being kicked out of her father’s home by his girlfriend gives way to the joy of finding a group of youth who value her as a person and equal split all their resources. Her feelings of guilt over the murder of her rapists are alleviated by an elderly woman who encourages her to read and find her voice through the written word. And yet the way she explains these moments of beauty never seems gimmicky, never seems to be highlighted so as to prove a point.

I decided to listen to the audiobook version once I learned Angelou narrated it herself because what better way to enjoy an autobiography than to hear the author’s words in the author’s own voice? In this case, an unnamed male narrator introduces the setting of the story providing the age, location, and overall theme before Angelou begins to tell her story. Thus, the book feels more like an interview with the author than a cohesive narrator following her entire childhood.

That said, I rather enjoyed her narration. Angelou, of course, knows exactly how to pronounce the names and phrases used in her narrative, but she also captures the innocent bravery, fear, and other contradictory emotions through the inflection of her voice and I was rather captivated by her memoir. Maybe even more so than I would have been had I read the book rather than listened to the audiobook.

The Classics Club:

I read this book for the Classics Club, which challenges participants read and discuss fifty or more books considered to be classics within a five year period. My personal goal for this project is to read seventy-five books in three years ending on August 15, 2017. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post, project post, or spreadsheet of titles.

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4 thoughts on “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

  1. I never really knew what this book was about, in spite of its fame (it wasn’t assigned reading in my high school class) so I’m glad I read your review because now I’m interested in it.

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