27 May 2013

Audio Book Review: Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou

I am very lucky to find myself on some sort of magic mailing list from Random House Audio--I don't know if it's because of my audio book reviews, or regular book reviews, or because a sales rep somewhere down the line put my name in for them.  But every couple of months I find myself receiving a box of four random books on CD, if you'll pardon the pun. One of the best parts so far is that they have all been audio versions of books I would not otherwise have chosen to purchase or read.

One of them was Maya Angelou's memoir, Mom & Me & Mom. It's a fairly short production, unabridged but only 4 discs long, and read by the author herself.  Once upon a time, back in my first year of college, I think it was, I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings for a class, but that's about the extent of my knowledge of Maya Angelou, at least until now. I didn't even know how to pronounce her name correctly; up until this listening, I had pronounced the last syllable of her surname as if I were saying "skip to my Lou," when actually it's supposed to be pronounced like "swing low, sweet chariot."

I had no idea she has led such an extraordinary life, one marked by some truly horrifying moments as well as blessed ones. The strength of her character, as well as that of her mother and paternal grandmother, are clear from the onset in this book. When she was only three, Angelou's mother sent her and her older brother to live with their paternal grandmother, and this book is largely the story of their relationship and eventual reconciliation after Angelou and her bother return to live with their mother while in their teens.

It's unusual enough for a mother and her near-adult child reconcile and reach a place of deep respect and commitment to each other after a prolonged period of abandonment, but that's just one of the wondrous things revealed in Angelou's memoir. Thank goodness, because it helps to balance out, at least a little, the two most terrible things that happened to Angelou in her life: being raped as a young child and later being abducted and beaten almost to death by a lover whose jealous rage pushed him to the brink of insanity.  If I gloss over these things lightly, it is not to be glib, but to intentionally follow the author's lead, who deals with these things in a very matter-of-fact way in this book.

I would love the chance to listen to Maya Angelou tell a story without reading it from a script, as there were times during the listening to this book when I mesmerized by her cadence and other times I was brought up short by how unnatural and choppy it felt, with pauses in places that really made no sense. I don't always, or even often, think that the author is the best reader for any audio, and I think that holds true here. But every now and again there were moments of listening transcendence.  I just wish she had been more consistent, and I have a hunch that anybody who knows Angelou and can listen to her stories unfold as the words occur to her would be privileged, indeed. I'm very happy that I listened to her story of her mother, and I find it to be one of uncommon generosity and respect. 

1 comment:

  1. How I've missed reading any of Maya Angelou's books, is amazing. Funny you should mention the audio book-I generally steer clear of audio books, preferring my own narration-but it was upon hearing a clip read out of the audio book that caught my attention. I'm a regular listener of the recorded radio show on bookreportradio{dot}com, where the host gives the usual outline of the story at hand, and then an excerpt is played. Well the story line was intriguing, but when I heard Maya's writing style, my interest in the book piqued. So while I will still read this myself, it was hearing a piece out of her book, rather than the blurb, that hooked me and got me investigating further.
    You mention "Why the caged bird sings" Is this one that should be read first? Thanks for the input!


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