I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou)


There are some books, some authors, whose styles resonate soundly within me. To Kill a Mockingbird is that way. Every time I crack it open, I literally sigh my way through it because it is just so...beautiful.

I really like to read and enjoy a rather nice variety of genres, but I LOVE it when an author takes ordinary words and crafts them into something so pretty it can only be called art.

Maya Angelou is an amazing wordsmith, and I adore her style. When I was about 2 chapters in to this book, all I could think was I will never forgive my high school English teachers for not exposing us to this.* I mean, we had to read "Hedda Gabler," for cryin' out loud! Ugh.


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is Maya Angelou's autobiography. She and her older brother Bailey were brought South to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas when they were children (this would be the 50's), and encountered more than one brush with racism in its ugliest forms. The best parts of this book are Maya's penning of segregation and racism in ways most people have never fathomed. Before long they were returned to live with their mother, in California. She was a wild woman with a fierce love for her children but little regard for structured parenting. Maya's experiences living with her mother taught her everything she wanted to know and didn't want to know about family. Sadly, young Maya was sexually abused for a lengthy period of time, and soon after she and her brother returned to Arkansas for a time before a string of moves involving their father, their mother, and their grandmother. As Maya grew into a young woman, she questioned everything about herself, including her appearance, her sexuality, and her relationships with her family members. This "self-discovery" led to a pregnancy, and at a very young age Maya Angelou became a mother to her son.

Eventually Maya ended up in the theater and, through both her innate ability to paint pictures with her words and her proclivity for delivering them theatrically, has become an icon of both this century and the last. She continues to write and speak about her life, and the literary world is a better place because she's in it.

Some of my favorite lines from the book:

On Maya's and Bailey's arriving in Stamps, Arkansas: "The town reacted to us as its inhabitants had reacted to all things new before our coming. It regarded us a while without curiosity but with caution, and after we were seen to be harmless (and children) it closed in around us, as a real mother embrace's a stranger's child. Warmly, but not too familiarly." pg. 5

"Of all the needs (and there are none imaginary) a lonely child has, the one that must be satisfied, if there is going to be hope and a hope of wholeness, is the unshaking need for an unshakable God." pg. 23

On her relationship with her brother: "Bailey was the greatest person in my world. And the fact that he was my brother, my only brother, and I had no sisters to share him with, was such good fortune that it made me want to live a Christian life just to show God I was grateful." pg. 22

Maya's feelings while listening to a white politician giving a speech at her high school graduation: "We were maids and farmers, handymen and washerwomen, and anything higher we aspired to was farcical and presumptuous." pg. 180

*I suspect that the reason I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was kept from us in high school was the chapter toward the end in which she struggles with issues relating to her sexuality. If I'm right, I find this rather unfortunate. I'm a full believer in taking care not to expose children and young adults to material not developmentally appropriate. I also believe that we all need to do a better job of making sure that we aren't "protecting" children and teenagers from issues we find too uncomfortable ourselves. Yet again, a post for another day.

Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid (Lemony Snicket)

Lemony Snicket (which I think is a pseudonym for Daniel Handler, and a writer who I find fabulously entertaining) is best known for his authorship of the Series of Unfortunate Events. I have a few books left to complete the series, but I know enough about them to know that A) Lemony Snicket is hilarious, and B) this series in particular is most delicious when consumed audibly.

Horseradish is a collection of maxims that are categorized by applicable areas of life (as Lemony Snicket sees them), including Home, Family, Literature, A Life of Mystery, the Mystery of Life, and An Overall Feeling of Doom that One Cannot Ever Escape No Matter What One Does, etc. There are some adages that are of a more serious nature, and others which seem serious but end silly. And then there are those that start silly and end serious. Something for everyone, you see.

Just a few of my favorites:

"No matter who you are, no matter where you live, and no matter how many people are chasing you, what you don't read is often as important as what you do read."

"A good library will never be too neat, or too dusty, because somebody will always be in it, taking books off the shelves and staying up late to read them."

"A library is like an island in the middle of a vast sea of ignorance, particularly if the library is very tall and the surrounding area has been flooded."

"Love can change a person the way a parent can change a baby - awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess."

"Just about everything in this world is easier said than done, with the exception of "systematically assisting Sisyphus's stealthy, cyst-susceptible sister," which is easier done than said."

Easily consumed in one sitting, Horseradish is sarcasm at its best.

David Goes to School (David Shannon)

Poor David. Wherever he goes, someone is always telling him not to do this or not to do that. In this school version of No, David! this mischievous little guy gets reprimanded for everything from needing to go to the bathroom too many times to having a food fight in the lunchroom.

If you work with school age kids in any capacity, you know a David. That kid who always gets in trouble, who always has a rough time making the right choices. I love these books because they remind me what life is like from David's perspective. They remind me how bad it must feel for those kids who have the hard time making good choices and hear about it all day long, everywhere they go-from Mama, from the teacher, from the cafeteria workers... And these David books also remind me of just how good it feels when those kids hear that rare "yes" or "good job."

The David books make want to be that teacher, that librarian who gives my kids a happy encouragement.

Things Hoped For (Andrew Clements)

In Things Not Seen, the prequel to Things Hoped For, a young adolescent boy (Bobby) suddenly, for no explainable reason, goes invisible. Eventually he returns to his normal self physically, but he is forever changed as a result of his time spent unseen.

Suddenly Bobby is 18 and now prefers being called Robert. His new friend Gwen has run into some massive trouble of her own. Her grandfather has suddenly vanished without a trace, and Gwen struggles with worrying about him and the pressure of her upcoming auditions for college music scholarships. She quickly learns that Robert is the best friend she can have when dealing with things not seen.

Another winner by Clements, but it's a bit more mature (not rated R or anything) than his previous works.

So Long, Insecurity (Beth Moore)


The women's ministry at my church often meets to discuss books or Bible studies. Beth Moore is by far one of our favorite authors, primarily because not only does she consistently point readers to the Creator and true source of help/wisdom/healing/peace, she is also discerning, authentic, funny, and wise. Recently we read So Long, Insecurity. In this book, Beth tells us what security is, and what it is not.

It's no secret that largely because of the misery mainstream culture projects, many women are plagued with insecurity. It is downright scary, however, to read about and consider just how that insecurity manifests itself in our lives. It can lead to perpetual misery, a controlling nature, being a painful perfectionist, mistrust of everyone around you, rudeness, issues with intimacy, constant fear of loss, and so much worse. Insecurity affects the way you act with your spouse, your children, your friends, your co-workers, and even your acquaintances. Beth, who has devoted her life to serving and ministering to women, guides the reader to uncovering the source(s) of insecurity and dealing with it in order to reclaim a life full of true peace and liberty. She does delve into how men and their personalities/attitudes relate to our security, and she poses the interesting question of whether we have been and should be treating the men in our life as gods or as devils (the correct answer, by the way, is neither).

Every single chapter is brimming with note-worthy quotes, but one of my favorites was Chapter 15, titled "Looking Out for Each Other." In this section, Beth writes that oftentimes it is women who are causing insecurity in other women, leading to a deeper pit of insecurity. She calls all of us ladies to respect one another in unity and sisterhood, specifically to:
-Stop making comparisons.
-Start personalizing other women.
-Stop tripping another woman's insecurity switch.
-Be examples of secure women. She elaborates in Chapter 14 (my most favorite section) that for our own freedom and peace we should actively seek to be examples of secure women, but mostly for the sake of our daughters, nieces, sisters, cousins, and granddaughters. How much easier our little girls will learn to live a life of security if they see it demonstrated daily in our lives!

Reading through this book is a very unique and personal experience, and it can be rather messy. Discussing it in a group of women was not an easy thing, but the wisdom within brought healing to many.