I was actually inspired by the BritishBeautyBlogger to write this post. She has a great site and I love seeing what she’s reading. So I thought I would have a go too.

One of the biggest sins of writers, in my opinion, is when they don’t read. So many of my writer friends admit to not reading, ever. Now I am clearly not talking about magazines, online posts etc. I mean real books. Novels, biographies etc. It is through reading that we expand our minds and our understanding of words.

But I must admit to you that I am a hypocrite. I barely read. I have this belief and I don’t even adhere to it myself. As a Drama and Theatre and Classical Civilisations student (as well as English through A Levels) I had to read so much required texts that I lost the ability to read for pleasure. That’s not to say I didn’t read some amazing books during university, but it meant I stopped picking up books to my own enjoyment during down time. And now? Now every time I have five minutes to myself, I can’t shake the feeling that I should use it to write or blog. (I’m on a 2 hour train to Dorset as I write this, perfect reading time but instead I am on my third post).

But this year, my resolution was to start reading more - my modest aim was one book a month. I actually started this last year but failed having only read two books. This year was going to be my year. I bought a kindle to see if that would help me over carrying physical books and it’s now my met coveted possession.

After a shaky start, I found my stride and I am happy to say I am on my 12th book already. WINNING.

The books that changed my mind set and spurred me to seek quiet time to read (though a three-hour round commute to work was also pretty handy) were the seven books that make up Maya Angelou’s auto-biography.

I have always been a fan of auto-biographies and you’ll probably see lots crop up here (I have also just finished one of Joan Rivers’ volumes - apparently you’ll also see a lot of dead people’s stories - is that a thing?!)

ANYWAY, that was a long intro.

I first heard of Maya Angelou as a youngster. I was never quite sure how I knew her name - I think it must have been in a song - but I remember being in a Waterstones back in Dorset and seeing her name on the shelf and thumbing through one of her poetry collections.

It was the poem Still I Rise that I remember the most and I had started her first auto-biography I Know Why The Cage bird Sings  but I never finished it and the perils of teenage years took over.

So it was after her passing this year, I was reminded of my fondness for her poetry, I began watching countless videos of her on YouTube and it reignited my admiration for this incredible woman. So decided to start her books over again.

In just under three months, whenever I could steal a moment I would read her work. I ploughed through her seven books faster than I think I have read anything - I know that’s not overly impressive to those ‘I-read-Harry-Pottter-in-a-day’ folks, but hey, I never said I was a fast reader.

Maya’s life story is beyond anything you can imagine. The woman has lived a thousand lives - a mother at 16, a pimp, a prostitute, the first black woman tram conductor in San Francisco, famed performer in world-touring shows like Porgy & Bess, poet, novelist, screenwriter, director, actress, activist and I have still probably left some out. Oh yeah - and chef!

She toys with the traditions of autobiography writing - the books are written in a novel form, almost non-fiction prose-like. They are a thrilling read, through incredible hardship and sadness she still manages to step forward and find the positive and become great. The books are filled with quotes that I highlight and now carry with me. The woman’s insight on the world is incredible, her wisdom is unmatched and her heart and loving, unrivalled.

As a child she was raped by her mother’s then boyfriend. After confiding in her brother who did it, the man was arrested and jailed for ONE DAY only. After his released he was found dead. It is made clear that it was her mother’s family who dealt with him, though it is not expressly said. Due to this, a young Maya thought her voice had killed him, so she became a voluntary mute for 5 years! It was through this time she found her love of poetry. As a poor family in Stamps, Arkansas (Maya and her brother, Bailey, were shipping off by train alone aged 2 and 5 by their mother to live with their grandmother as she couldn’t handle them), all Maya had was her books and it seems like she read everything you could imagine.

The books continue through her younger years, through to adolescence, her teenage years where she became pregnant and subsequently a mother at just 16 years old during her first sexual encounter. They follow her travel around America, trying to find her path, first as a performer, then a journalist, a wife, a poet, an activist as well following her journeys around the world.

Her life is too full to discuss fully here, but I can’t implore you enough to read these books. They are mind-changing, I think so much of her work resonated with me as it follows similar though patterns as my own. It reminds me a lot of my recent #MondayMotivation. A lot of it’s content is inspired by her and her way of life.

The only thing missing from the books, as they finish around the time she asked to write the first one, is that they don’t cover much of life once famous and working. This is part of her life I would love to read. There might be something out there in essays she has written, but I am still looking. Her last book, Mom & Me & Mom is somewhat of a retelling, in one giant paraphrase, of the previous 6, but with a greater focus on her and her mother. It does touch on her work, but not enough to satisfy my craving.

Find Maya’s books here:

Don’t forget to check out the BritishBeautyBlogger, too!

Written by Neil Thornton
London-based coffee drinker. Editor by day, blogger by whatever time he finds spare.