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Review: Letter to My Daughter (Maya Angelou)

Title: Letter to My Daughter
Author: Maya Angelou
Genre: Adult, non-fiction, essays
Rating: 4 out of 5
FTC Disclaimer: I borrowed this audio book from my local library
Challenges: Women Unbound (7); POC (13)
Summary (from her website): Dedicated to the daughter she never had but sees all around her, Letter to My Daughter reveals Maya Angelou's path to living well and living a life with meaning.Told in her own inimitable style, this book transcends genres and categories.

Review: I liked that Maya Angelou did the reading of her own book and listened to this book on CD as I drove to and from work, which meant that I got 2 to 3 chapters each way. Each chapter stands alone and is a story from her life; each one a lesson that she has taken away to improve her life. There were only a few chapters that didn't really interest me, some that were interesting, but I felt the lesson wasn't one that applied to my life, and then the majority of the chapters were extremely intriguing. I got choked up, laughed, was awed, and stunned by these stories

It turns out Maya Angelou doesn't have a daughter so I still find the title interesting; she says the book is for all her "daughters" out there. Here are some of the lessons that I found most interesting and poignant:
  • Philanthropy doesn't have to mean that you donate huge amounts of money; you don't need to be a philanthropist to have an impact. She told a story of when she learned that charity can be a smile or a kind word, changing a person's day. For me this has really hit home this week. Wednesday (2/17) was Disabilities Awareness Day and we held student panels in my library. Each period about 5 or 6 students with disabilities (cerebral palsy, Muscular Distrophy, Downs, Prader-Willi Syndrome, amputations, and others) spoke to their peers about the details of their disabilities, what life is like for them, how to treat them, and how not to treat them. It was so interesting, powerful, and touching! They all said, "don't ignore me. Say hello in the halls. I am just like you."
  • Angelou's first experience with sex was a one-off with a boy she didn't like. She got pregnant and had the baby, her son Guy. She kept it a secret until she was over 8 months along. Instead of treating her as someone who had totally screwed up, her parents supported her. Her mother, a nurse, was there at the birth, helping her through the experience. Instead of making Angelou feel badly about herself, her mother told her (and continued to tell her throughout her life) that she was proud of her. Angelou says that means she has no regrets in life, takes each challenge as it comes, and feels good about herself, despite some tough times.
  • When Angelou was on the edge of suicide (yes, the book is brutally honest) a friend made her write down her blessings. She felt she didn't have any until the friend said to write down "I can see" and think of all those in the world who cannot. Write down "I can hear" and think of all those in the world who cannot. Write down "I can breathe" and think of all those who have trouble doing that. As she filled the yellow notepad with blessings, she came to realize how much she had even in the darkest moments. She has written every book, poem, and speech on a yellow notepad.
  • She had a very funny story about an encounter with a stranger where Angelou couldn't figure out why she was going through the event. By the end they had become friends and are still friends today, decades later. I loved her line: a friend is waiting behind a stranger's face


Suzanne Yester said...

What a great review! I didn't realize that Maya had no daughter! How interesting that the title refers to all of "us" in a way. I love the way Maya Angelou recites, so I bet this was amazing to listen to! I am definitely putting this on my TBR list because of your review! Thanks for sharing! And it is a perfect match for the Women Unbound challenge!

Helen's Book Blog said...

Suzanne, listening to Maya Angelou read her own book was great