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Reading Time: Maya Angelou edition

Reading time, friends! It’s been all Maya, all the time around here. Well, maybe not all the time, but solidly for the past twenty-four hours, in which time I inhaled three of her books:

Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas

The Heart of a Woman

Even the Stars Look Lonesome

I love Angelou’s writing. You can hear her speak so strongly and clearly. The first two books are volumes three and four in her memoirs, tracking her time as a professional and dancer, and later as an activist, with America’s social change (and some of its inevitable turmoil) an everpresent element of the stories. I’ve learned more about social injustice and the equality movement in the US from Angelou’s books than from anywhere else. The thing I liked best about Angelou’s memoirs is the way she presents people: she’s fair in her depictions of them, even those who have hurt her, and she’s just and honest in her depictions. It encourages me to be more fair in my evaluation of people, and of myself. Where errors were made by her own arrogance of pride, she lets the reader know. But at no point is she self-deprecating or denigrating: there’s no self-pity, there’s no wailing or reproach. She made mistakes, and did things that her older self is not proud of her doing, but at the same time she makes amazing, dazzling, bold and exciting successes and did things that her older self would be justly proud of. The picture of Angelou I get from the books is a woman of enormous intelligence, personality, charm, sensuality and insight and I love her. I love her voice, I’m fascinated by her amazing life, and I’m inspired and moved by the tremendous capacity and courage she shows in extraordinary situations.

The third book is a collection of short essays, looking at ageing, sensuality, houses, Africa, her early performing career, and violence, all with deftness, swagger, beauty and resonant with sturdy emotion. Angelou is a great essayist: her pieces are short and to the point, and loaded with her personality. I tore through this book in about an hour and I strongly recommend it. It gives you language to savour and ideas to mull over. Actually, if you’re not sure where to start with Angelou, this book might be a good place. It’s a chat, a set of diverse comments, which give an indication of the depth and intelligence you’re reading with.

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