Books, The Classics Club

Book 350: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

Angelou, Maya - I Know Why The Caged Bird SingsI picked up my copy of this book just 11 days before Maya Angelou died last spring. I’d always had this book on my list, but I’d never found a reason to pick it up and for some reason at the library book sale last year I finally added it to my pile. I knew I wanted to read it because it is one of those books that is mentioned by everyone and has such a place in American culture, but not as widely read as I probably assumed.

As I read the novel I was floored at the breadth of experience Angelou faced before she turned 17. At times the novel reminded me a lot of The Color Purple and Bastard Out of Carolina, but I have a feeling both Alice Walker and Dorothy Allison were inspired/influenced by this. That being said, of the three this is the most profound work. Perhaps because it is explicitly an autobiography (and Bastard is semi-autobiographical and Purple is a fictional novel).

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Book 122: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

I need to stop saying I don’t like nonfiction and start saying I enjoy immersive nonfiction. It seems the majority of nonfiction works that I do like are those that delve deeper into societal issues from a different perspective, like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

This was a fascinating read and it constantly reminded me of an updated (more micro-focused) version of Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man in which he discusses and shows the errors of many scientists whose procedures created ultimately racist data. If you enjoyed Skloot’s work you should definitely check out Gould’s, although it’s not as much about the personal stories behind the family and behind Skloot’s interest in this subject which makes Skloot’s work more approachable to the general public.

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2012 Challenges, Books, The Classics Club

Book 110: The Color Purple – Alice Walker

I must preface this post with the caveat that prior to reading the novel I knew little about it. I vaguely knew that Whoopie Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey were connected to the film, but that was it. And for future reference, this is how I approach most novels I read.

To be honest, it’s hard to know how to respond to a novel like this. When an author opens a novel with a scene as disturbing as that which opens The Color Purple, how can you respond other than viscerally? How can you relate to something that is foreign to you as a reader?

Take a look at the opening line and you can only imagine where the story goes from there.

“You better not tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy.”

And that doesn’t even cover the shock/horror I felt in the first few pages of the novel. It doesn’t reveal anything, really. Clearly, however, Alice Walker wrote an amazing novel. Walker keeps the reader riveted, regardless of your relation of the experience, from the brutal opening scene to the emotionally exhausting closing scene.

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Book 47: The Help – Kathryn Stockett

The Help - Kathryn StockettAfter hearing Emma Donoghue recommend this book, I of course immediately added it to my list of books to read. So I was ecstatic when I flew home to NC for my aunt Miriam’s wedding that another aunt had a copy I could borrow!

The Help is a fascinating snapshot of the lives of three women, Skeeter—a young college educated white socialite (a bit of an outcast), Aibileen—a black maid who specializes in raising white children, and Minny—a spit-fire black maid who has made her fair share of enemies and works for a woman with secrets that would shock anyone.

Told over one year from the alternating perspectives of Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny we encounter 1960s Jackson, Mississippi and the myriad connections between ‘the help’ and the bosses. Skeeter an aspiring writer made an editor contact in New York who recommends she write about what bothers her and after spending time with her childhood friends, Skeeter realizes how bad ‘the help’ are treated and what they must know. After a series of events in which Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny are thrust together, the idea to author a book exposing the lives of working black women is born, conveniently also called The Help.

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