Mini Non-Fiction Reviews #1: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings + More

Hi All! Today I’ve decided to share three mini-reviews for some non-fiction books I’ve finished recently: ‘I know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ by Maya Angelou; ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’ by Jon Ronson; and ‘Shame Nation’ by Sue Scheff.

I’ve decided to do mini reviews for these as I find it quite hard to write full-length reviews for non-fiction books, but I still want to share my thoughts on these in a more detailed way than I did in my June wrap-up or WWW Wednesday posts.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

I think everyone knows about the existence of this book, it’s regularly included on lists of books we should read before we die, and it’s been recommended a lot recently due to world events. So I finally decided it was time to read it and stole my mother’s old copy from the bookshelf and gave it a go. I don’t usually like autobiographies so I went into this one cautiously and honestly not expecting to love it, but I did. This autobiography was not comfortable to read, nor should it be, as it was addressing issues that were (and still are) deeply-rooted in America’s psyche ranging from poverty and class, to segregation to molestation but each one was handled so eloquently and you could clearly hear Angelou’s voice guiding you through the highs and lows of her early life. After reading this I understand why this is always on those ‘necessary reading’ lists, as it is necessary reading, it paints a vivid portrait of so many ‘social issues’ we still get uncomfortable talking about and shows us the true horror of them, and that’s something we must face.

“But we know that people are complicated and have a mixture of flaws and talents and sins. So why do we pretend that we don’t?”

This was also a great non-fiction book, and I am unashamed to say I flew through it with great speed. Whilst I didn’t agree with everything Ronson said in this, or every opinion he gave, he did raise some interesting ideas and points about public shaming and what we now refer to as ‘cancel culture’. Whilst this was first published in 2015 so it may seem slightly out of date for some readers in some parts now, the main themes on forgiveness, redemption and accountability hold true to this day. The reason I’ve rated this so high is not because I agree with everything, but because it made me think about my online behaviour, and other people’s, and it’s also made me consider where my line should be when it comes to ‘cancelling’ or holding people and corporations accountable. As well as this, I think Ronson’s discourse on why we are eager to partake in online shaming or ‘cancel culture’ online is intriguing, especially when he talks about the democratisation of justice being a motive, and then tears this down as a cruel and bad idea – you may not agree with it (I won’t tell you what I think), but it’s interesting.

‘shame culture doesn’t make value judgements on one’s actions, but instead, more insidiously, it tells people that they, as human beings, are unworthy.’

This was also another book that focused on the concept of public shaming online and ‘cancel culture’. This dealt with the topic by briefly examining how and why people are shamed in a wide range of circumstances: revenge porn, being shamed for offensive remarks, cyber bullying etc. The second half then dealt with the concept of how we should help prevent and deal with these circumstances if it happens to us, and how to recover from them afterwards. I was really interested in this first half of this book, but unfortunately the second half brought nothing new to the conversation on public shaming for me, it felt very much like a guide to the internet for people who weren’t internet ‘savvy’ and it didn’t teach me anything. This book also failed to make me think in any meaningful way about online language and behaviour. However saying this there were parts of this book I really enjoyed, especially the introduction by Monica Lewinsky.

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