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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

“Among my associates, there were no takers.”- Maya Angelou on finding a boyfriend.

I loved this book. It was like poetry. Maybe I loved it more because I found a recording of Maya Angelou, herself reading it. I loved especially her descriptions of her brother, Bailey. There were sections, such as this section, that I thought should be read in middle school classrooms. Then there were other sections that I wasn’t so sure about but I guess it would be okay because I read The House on Mango Street in the eighth grade without any issue as to the content. Well, that’s not entirely true. I read the rape scene out loud to the entire class without knowing the girl had been raped. Sure, I knew something bad had happened. I knew they hurt her and I knew they touched her in inappropriate ways but I read it to the class like I was reading a new list of vocabulary words. I didn’t pause or stop or anything. For some reason, it weirded the teacher out. She asked me to stay after class. When she asked me if I understood what I read I said yes. I thought I’d be in trouble or she’d think me stupid if I said otherwise but as she talked to me I realized that more happened to the girl than I’d originally assumed. Anyway, that book comes later in my vicarious journey.


I found that I related well to the young Maya, which was refreshing since I’ve been reading so much YA lit recently for a class and I cannot relate to any of the characters in the books on the syllabus. Gemma from Smack is hopelessly stupid and obnoxious. Devon Davenport from After seems like a character that could not possibly exist although I laud the author’s good intentions. Infanticide, especially by distraught young mothers is a confusing topic that someone needs to shed some light on. Maya was a real character though. I know there’s a bit of an advantage here in that she’s also autobiographical but she was so heartbreakingly honest about her faults that it was impossible not to love her and relate to her. She was certainly a thousand times more courageous that I could ever be but I knew all to well her not so altruistic quest to be “good” and her insecurities that she allowed to pollute her notions of good and evil. The writing was vulnerable and that’s what made it real and alluring.

My only complaint would be that it ended so abruptly and that it ended at all.


Next on the list is California with Inherent Vice. I’m not super psyched about this one so who knows when I’ll get around to it with all the other YA and Gothic reading on my list. Also, I’ve committed myself to reading David Copperfield. I do not remember quite why but I shook hands on it on a subway platform in Mexico City. So, it must have been of the utmost importance to the development of my character. With all of that though. I’m beginning to question whether or not I will make it in 4.16 years. Things were looking well in January, but now, as March draws to a close, I’ve only finished with the “A” states. Maybe I won’t go in order. Maybe the next letter will not be “C”. I don’t want to read Inherent Vice right now. I suppose I could jump to “W” then jump back to “C” and end somewhere in the middle. That actually sounds good. I’d be quite content with Reservation Blues. I like Sherman Alexie and I’ve been meaning to get to this one. I just recently read his YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I didn’t find it as good as his adult stuff. I don’t know why Flight isn’t considered YA but it was pretty amazing. I liked it better. Reservation Blues has been on my list for awhile. I do feel like going out of order might be cheating so I’ll leave it up to fate, and my library’s pathetic collection. I’ll see which one they have after work today. I have no reason to believe they’ll have both because well, it’s a terrible library but they just might have one.

I’m not really sure Why I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings counted as Arkansas. A great deal of it was not set there. Oh well. Perhaps that’s all Arkansas really has in the way of literature set there. That was a challenge Arkansas.


“Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.”- Maya Angelou describing her mother



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I’m way behind. I finished the Arizona book before 2014 and I’m just now getting around to saying something about it. I can tell that the author didn’t do his research on Catholicism or synesthesia, so I can only assume that his research on borders and drug cartels is also sub par. It was violent raunchy and crass. Can I say I was just grossed out? Because a lot of the time I was just grossed out, and not by the gore which there was some but by the middle-aged sex scene in a Marian Shrine. I guess it shouldn’t matter that they were middle-aged because that’s ageism or whatever but it did. I think I expected some reverence or at least some decorum from people of that age.

A lot of necessary Spanish was not translated. Some of it was but if he meant to write this book to be read by people who speak English you’ve got to translate other languages.  If I hadn’t been reading on a Kindle there’s a lot I wouldn’t have been able to look up, as I do not have a Spanish-English dictionary tied to my waist.  I get that the story jumping back and forth was clever due to the border issue. Honestly though, Tolstoy is a great enough writer to do that and hold my interest. I’ve completely lost interest in Caputo’s characters the moment I leave them and I don’t care if I ever come back to them again. The main guy, whose name escapes me (that says something maybe it was Gil) is barely a character at all. I’m supposed to sympathize with him throughout the story but getting to know him is like surviving on plain graham crackers. The guy’s got less personality than Qui Gon Jin did in the prequitrilogy. (Can we start calling it that?) The guy goes fairly quickly from being somewhat sad  to suicidal to going out hunting to having sex with a cowgirl. I just wasn’t following it and frankly I didn’t believe it. I didn’t feel any of his feelings. You could say that I couldn’t understand the loss he’d gone through (from the beginning the reader knows that his wife died in the 9-11 attack) and that seems like a fair thing to say. I can’t imagine the emotions that would ensue after losing someone in a terrorist attack. However, I started reading “The Goldfinch” (even though it’s not  on the list..I needed a break) and Donna Tartt is doing her best to make me understand exactly how it feels. The MC’s feelings of loss in Tartt’s writing are thick and palpable. It’s more than a bit depressing. Caputo makes me understand none of it. The storyline worked well. Things came together in a more or less clever resolution that made sense and even made a statement about the far reaching consequences of sin and revenge, but after reading that shrine sex scene, I’ve completely lost any respect I might have otherwise mustered up for this novel. I simply could not care about the fates of any of the characters.

Next on the list is Arkansas. That is “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou. The library did not have a print copy, which feels like a travesty but I’ve been listening to it instead of reading it because it’s actually read by Miss Angelou herself. Her prose is rich like poetry and I feel like it’s meant to be heard anyway, besides how can you understand a work better than by letting the author read it to you in their own voice and perhaps more importantly, in their own cadence.

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I finished The Yiddish Policeman’s Union awhile ago. In fact. I also finished the book after it too but apparently I’ve been bad at updating this. I must conclude that Michael Chabon, although he may not write what is typically to my taste, is a genius. I did not see myself enjoying a murder mystery, especially one where the protagonist is an alcoholic cop, but I must say this was the most enjoyable mystery I’ve encountered since the Boxcar Children. I promise, that’s more of a compliment than it sounds like. I adored the Boxcar Children…and their little dog too. heh.

This wasn’t you’re typical mystery. It’s set in the present, as I think I’ve mentioned before but it’s not the same present. it’s the present as if The United States Government had offered a temporary home in Alaska for European Jews during the WW2 era. Chabon imagines an Alaska that the Jewish community has made their own. The world he builds is complete and completely new to me. That alone held my attention. The setting need not carry the novel though because the storyline was well crafted and so well woven into the fabric of the setting that I didn’t think to separate them while reading.


I get the feeling that Chabon must be Jewish. At least he must have Jewish roots. I don’t know that it’s possible to write as fluidly about a culture without sounding like you’re trying too hard as he writes in this novel. There was a lot that I did not understand and I was grateful that I was reading on a Kindle so I could hold down on a word until the definition came up. I found out at the end that there was a glossary in the final pages but I still that even had I known about the glossary I would have needed to spend some quality time on Wikipedia. Before reading this novel my brain understood Jewish people in three categogies: reformed, orthodox, and hasidic. My knowledge about these three groups was also pretty scant. I would expect that orthodox Jews eat kosher and obey mosaic laws more literally. When I thik of reform Jews I think of female rabbis with no qualms about eating peperoni pizza. Hasidic Jews…they have curls…and might be Amish. I saw one once and he wouldn’t talk to me but he spoke to the man I was with. Maybe hasidic Jews find it improper to speak to strange women. That was my knowledge base going into this, a paltry collection of facts varying in degrees of truthfulness. Now after reading this, all I know if that I do not know anything at all. There were some Jews which Chabon called “black hats” I can’t tell if that is a synonym for hasidic or not but there were different groups of “black hats” that obeyed laws that I’d never heard of. The story focused on one group called the Verbovers. The Verbovers are, as far as I can tell a fictional group. I’m glad for that because if not this book could have made of them what Dan Brown made of the Opus Dei. They were portrayed as strange overly pious gangsters. While that was clearly fictional I wonder if there are tensions between certain communities or sects of Judaism that the secular world knows nothing about. There were laws and occupations and concepts that I never would have dreamed of. One such law had to do with the Sabbath and what could be carried out of the house on the Sabbath. There was a guy who was called a boundary mason and it was his job to construct boundaries made of string so that people could stay in certain zones and not break any Sabbath laws. I’m not explaining it all that well but it was great in that it was something that my own mind never would have fathomed and I go the idea that boundary masons do actually exist because it seemed too outlandish to have been made up. Maybe it was though. Chabon seems to have that degree of unbridled imagination.

My Yiddish vocabulary has increased about 500% I hope some of the words are stored in my long-term memory because many of them were truly entertaining. I read an article by Chabon that the saddest book he’d ever owned was a Yiddish language book, the kind meant to help tourists get around. I wonder how many people still speak Yiddish fluently. Before reading this novel I didn’t realize it was a language that anyone ever spoke fluently. I thought it was a kind of elaborate slang used by certain types of grandmother. I hope that’s not a horribly offensive statement. I simply didn’t know. I’m realizing more and more that I’m an exceedingly ignorant human being. I recently tried my hand at a quiz involving the flags of different nations. Not only could I not identify the flags, I couldn’t tell you with any amount of certainly which continent some of the countries that came up are on.

God Bless America?

Also, I finished the book for Arizona but that will have to be a separate post because my right foot is asleep and I actually have homework to do. Oh! and it’s New Year’s Eve. Yes there’s that and I have…plans. Ha! No I don’t because social gatherings are actually the worst.

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Which believe it or not is a book called Finding Alaska. It’s a YA novel so I was able to finish it in one day. Now, though, I’m too tired to write. Goodnight.*EDIT*

PRE-Script: This post is free of spoilers. I’m not out to ruin endings or help anyone with their homework.

Wow, I must have been quite tired. I didn’t even get the name of the book correct. The book is called Looking for Alaska. I’d apologize to John Green but I’m fairly certain that he does not frequent my blog.

There are several good things about reading an entire coming of age novella/novel on a Thursday night.

a. You won’t be tempted to go out to some “ladies’ night” and get hit on by old men while your shoes are sticking to the floor thanks to the healthy layer of cheap beer that coats the floor of every evening establishment.

b. You will spend the rest of the weekend feeling young, but grateful that you made it out of puberty just a bit less traumatized than your average Holden or Charlie, or in this case, Miles.

c. You will begin your weekend feeling accomplished, which will in turn motivate you to be more… well, motivated. I cannot, f course, guarantee this. I can however, tell you that on Friday I was an unstoppable force, a regular aficionado of getting sh*t done. I even paid my library late fines.

d. and if a, b, and c weren’t enough for you there’s always the consolation that you escaped your own life for a few hours and lived an entire story as someone else. In my case it was a whole school year. It’s like free life.

Looking for Alaska was overall, not a disappointment. I was tentative to read it when I realized that John Green is the same author who penned the popular, The Fault in Our Stars. I guess it’s not fair that I immediately am turned off from popular literature but it’s hard not to gag when popular literature continues to spew innocent female main characters with no personality who fall desperately in love with dark men with supernatural/disturbing secrets. I’m looking at you Bella Swan and girl from 50 Shades of Gray.

I enjoyed this book, but is scared me. I know I led a sheltered childhood. I wouldn’t have dreamed of misbehaving in the ways I saw other teenagers doing so in movies and in books. I’d venture to guess that there will always be kid like me, kids who are spectators in mischief and never participators no matter how enticing the activity becomes. And I don’t want to be a book banner or anything but I think if this book were assigned to my child in school I would be really conflicted. There are a lot of experiences in this book that I wouldn’t want my child to imitate. Certainly John green does not create a world where his characters live without consequence, in fact, there are terrible and real consequences to reckless and thoughtless behavior that the novel make abundantly clear in a way that I admired. It’s just that I sometimes worry that reckless behavior is displayed as the norm, therefore, making it normative. Once I get past the maternal goo in my female brain though, the story was captivating, even if often predictable. The three main characters were well developed. Others were not so much but what can you expect a guy to get done in 221 pages?

I liked it. It was entertaining. I think that if a book is well written you don’t have to be overly fond of the characters to feel a connection to them. If I had met any of these characters in the halls of my own High School, I can say almost certainly, that we would not have been friends. I understood the characters though, and I was happy to get to know them. The main character, Miles, is very fond of one of his teachers in a way that I found interesting. The teacher is not very kind to Miles on several occasions, but Miles doesn’t take it personally and still believes the teacher to be brilliant. Maybe that is true and it’s probably wise not to take it personally when reprimanded in class, but I’m not sure it’s a wisdom that most teenagers, or adults for that matter, have attained. In my experience, teenagers take reprimanding quite personally. Maybe in some ways Miles is wise beyond his years; there are definitely many moments in which he is not. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this book beginning to appear on High School summer reading lists. I hope though, that it will be for Juniors and Seniors and not for eighth graders just entering their freshman year. That is the summer that I read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Supposedly, a modern classic, however, I can’t bring myself to reread it since that first terrifying time.

So, on a scale from 1-10 I give Looking for Alaska a 6.5. It’s brief and entertaining without being trivial. It wasn’t a game changer for me but it easily could be for someone else.

The next titles on my list is The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon. Set in Alaska, near present day it is not at all the Alaska that currently exists. Chabon imagines a world where instead of suffering persecution in Europe during WW2, European Jews were offered temporary refuge in Alaska…How thoughtful. I’m only about 150 pages in. It’s a murder mystery- not really the genre I seek out on my own. It’s interesting enough though. There are a lot of Yiddish words that I need to Google. It feels similar to when I read in french with a dictionary and verb book handy. So far, I’m undecided. He is a celebrated author. I’ve heard him described as the best living author. I am unconvinced. It could just be that I despise cops. I’ll keep reading and let you know.

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