Classics Club Question of the Month

Book cover for Maya Angelou's I Kniw Why the Caged Bird SingsThis month, The Classics Club asks its members

What classic book has changed your view on life, social mores, political views, or religion?

I’ve read a lot of books, and many of them have changed the way I think about things. That said, when I looked back at some of the classics I’ve read, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings jumped out at me. This is the first of Angelou’s memoirs, where she talks about growing up and all the struggles she faced. There is a lot that this book showed me. The item that really struck me, though, was not directly about Angelou. It was about her brother, Bailey. I think it was because this was so much a book about Maya as a young girl, and the problems and abuse she faced, but she was still able to see when things were done wrong to others, that was what made it so powerful.

Angelou writes about how black boys were allowed to be successful, but only in very limited ways. If her brother wanted to grow up and be a football star – fine. If he wanted to be a pharmacist or a lawyer or an optician – no way.

I can imagine in my head someone looking like a chubby Dwight Eisenhower a middle aged white man, bald headed, with a big grin on his face, dressed in a seersucker suit, up on stage in front of a black high school graduation, feeding the young people and their families this line of garbage. And expecting them to be grateful.

To think that there are still people today that see other groups as less-than, that truly believes they are not capable of being as perfectly flawed as anyone else, that they should be happy with inching towards tolerance by the majority, still makes me ill.

This book is one piece of my history that made me into the person I am today.

You?

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3 thoughts on “Classics Club Question of the Month

  1. Well said. It’s hard for me to pinpoint the ways in which the books I’ve read have changed me. There’s Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which I read at a time when I was more likely to see the world in a binary way and so took to heart Lee’s message about understanding how complex people are (“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”). The books that had the greatest potential to change me were the ones I read in my adolescent years, but there were a handful of life-changing books I read in college, such as Anne Fadiman’s “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.” That’s a nonfiction book that has affected the way I interact with clients and others from diverse backgrounds.

  2. Living on a small island it’s easy to be engulfed by the cultures of larger nearby nations. The Star-Apple Kingdom, a collection of poetry by nobel laureate Derek Walcott originally published in 1978, at a young age instilled in me that sense that the Caribbean is more than just tourist destination.

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