The Best Maya Angelou Poems Everyone Should Read

I really enjoy the Interesting Literature blog. 
It’s well organised and curated, and has lots of excellent posts about all sorts of different literature. There are collections of poems or novels by theme, and various authors’ and poets’ “best of” lists. 

If you liked my Poetry Month or Classic Novels posts, you may well appreciate their posts as much as I do.  (If you missed them, you can find them easily by clicking on those tags on this post.)

This post about Maya Angelou’s poetry is a great example of the excellent content you’ll find at Interesting Literature. 

The Best Maya Angelou Poems Everyone Should Read

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Seven Little Australians’ by Ethel Turner

My copy of ‘Seven Little Australians’ is rather tattered and the worse for wear, a result of having been read many, many times.

This is an Australian classic that tells he story of the Woolcot family, and is set near Sydney in the late 19th century. The father was a gruff army captain, and his young wife was a sweet and kind stepmother to the children, most of whom were spirited and often mischievous.

The story is a lot of fun, but it also has some tragic moments. I remember reading the book for the first time when I was perhaps nine or ten. When my favourite character met a most untimely end, I put the book down and refused to read on. I couldn’t believe that an author would do such a thing! 

It was only when I talked about it with my great Aunt Judy, who had given me the book, that I resumed reading. She sympathised with me, of course, but told me I really needed to finish the book to understand that the author had a message and a purpose in making that happen.

If Auntie Judy had told me to read it standing on my head, I probably would have done. I adored her. As the sister of my grandmother, whom I had never bet because she died before I was born, Judy was much older than me, but we had always had a close bond. We were great friends and she would always call me “her little girl”. We enjoyed each other’s company enormously, and we both loved books,  She and her sister, my Auntie Enid, used to visit us regularly, and in school holidays or weekends, Mum and Dad would take us to visit them. Auntie Enid always brought me a pretty handkerchief as a gift, and Auntie Judy always gave me a book. On her next visit, we’d talk about the book and what we liked about it.   

The funny thing was, until the day I told her I couldn’t finish reading this book, I didn’t know that she had been similarly affected for a while. I also discovered that her name wasn’t really Judy. Her given name was Anne, and my mother had been named for her, but she chose to start calling herself Judy because the character of that name had been her favourite in this book, and she had also adopted that name for herself— her real name was Helen. 

So, this delightful book holds a lot of personally powerful memories and associations for me. Entirely apart from those, it’s a really good story that anyone who enjoyed Anne of Green Gables or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer would appreciate. It has a similar sense of fun and evokes an indulgent love for a naughty kid that is hard to resist. It also has a similarly sentimental tone about it, without being soppy at all. 

While my Auntie Judy is long gone, along with the rest of that generation of my family. I am very pleased that I still have this book and my memories. I also have my mother’s copy of two others in the series, given to her by her parents as gifts for her birthday and Christmas in 1944. I love looking at her handwriting inside the front cover, and feeling connected once again by our love of the same stories. 

I should also confess that I have laughed at myself heartily while writing about the memories of my outrage at an author killing off a character because, now that I’m an author, I knock people off all the time. My readers don’t tend to be children, though, and in all fairness, the people who die in my horror stories generally deserve what’s coming to them. 
Given that Auntie Judy also gave me a copy of  both Frankenstein and Dracula, and loved those stories, I am fairly sure she’d have enjoyed mine, too. My mother? Not so much. 

Oh well. You can’t please everyone. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Don Quixote’ by Miguel de Cervantes

While Shakespeare was writing plays and fancy sonnets that made him incredibly famous, Miguel de Cervantes was sitting in a jail cell for getting his accounts wrong while working for the Spanish tax department, writing this work of comic genius that would bring him, too, worldwide fame.

As always, the comedic examines important issues and ideas in ways that no other form feels free to do. Think of medieval court jesters and today’s stand-up comedians – they make their mark on the world by saying things nobody else feels free to say and making people laugh at the same time. That’s exactly what Don Quixote does. 

Don Quixote is a story about a man who is so obsessed with stories of chivalry, romance and adventure that he loses his mind and sets off on his own missions of derring-do and knightly behaviour. He is a man who cannot separate the imaginary from the real world, so in his version of reality, he rescues damsels, fights giants, and seeks to solve the problems and wrongs that beset the people he meets. Everyone else, including his own faithful sidekick Sancho Panza, thinks he’s nuts. 

It’s a story that could be sad and pathetic, but it’s written with a strong sense of comedy and powerful wit that enable the reader to empathise with Don Quixote, who is a man living his dream in every sense of the word. There are some “Groundhog Day” elements, with some scenes being relived and reinvented long after the fact, which emphasises both the delusion and the intelligence of Don Quixote as the creator of his own reality.

As the story progresses, it poses an interesting dilemma: if you can’t actually do what you’d most like to do, and if your imagination can take you there and allow you to do it- is it crazy to pursue your dream, or madness to forego the pleasure? 

It’s a fascinating and fun read that, like Shakespeare’s works, has inspired musicals, ballets, films, and countless other stories and novels in the 400+ years since its publication. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Jamaica Inn’ by Daphne du Maurier

My copy of ‘Jamaica Inn’ was given to me by my sister-in-law for my 16th birthday. I don’t know if she remembers giving it to me, but I certainly do. I hadn’t read any of du Maurier’s books before, and I read it in a day. Given the tendency of many other favourite books to migrate from my shelves to those of other people, it is something of a miracle that the very same copy is still on my bookshelf.  

Jamaica Inn is set in and around a Cornwall coaching inn in the early 1800s. It is a a dramatic and exciting story, full of mystery, intrigue, skullduggery and danger. 

Having come to live at Jamaica Inn with her relatives, Mary Yellan, the heroine of the story, learns the hard way that she can’t trust anyone she thought she should be able to, and that life on the moors can be as bleak and coldhearted as the weather.

It is reminiscent of Bronte’s Withering Heights in both the setting, even though the location is vastly different, and the characters who populate it, giving the book a strong sense of the kind of Gothic literature that was written a century earlier. It’s sinister and rather creepy, laced with vivid detail and evocative writing that brings the characters and  especially the settings to life. 

While it is classified as Romantic Literature, this book should not be mistaken for a romance – the two are very different things. In fact, it’s more of an anti-romance, showing men to be ignorant and selfish, some violent and others just rather stupid. It’s not about female vanity, but rather about the vulnerability of women living at a time when they were entirely dependent on their men to provide for and protect them. The contrasts between integrity and deceit, and between love and selfishness, are powerful, adding depth and drama to the compelling storyline. 

The thing I love most, though, is the writing: du Maurier’s craftsmanship is magnificent. That in itself makes her books well worth reading. 

P.S. I am excited that I actually got to use the word ‘skullduggery’ in a post, as it’s one of the most delightful words, yet one so rarely gets a chance to use it well.
I really am a word nerd.

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘I Capture the Castle’ by Dodie Smith

Dodie Smith is best known as the author of ‘101Dalmatians’, but I much prefer this beautifully sentimental and highly engaging book.

Set in 1930s England, the story of the Mortmain family is told by Cassandra, who begins her narrative with one of my most-favourite-ever opening lines:

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it. The rest of me is on the draining board, which I have padded with our dog’s blanket and the tea-cosy.”

Another feature of this book that I really enjoy is Cassandra’s frequent references to books and plays she has read and enjoyed. In that sense, she is the literary forerunner of Rory Gilmore, the booknerdy lead character in the TV show Gilmore Girls. Other characters, too, make scattered literary references throughout the book. 

It does frustrate me that the only copy I have on my shelf is one with a movie-based cover image— I generally avoid those, but this is my last remaining copy, which I picked up in my favourite book rescue shelter upon discovering that my other copies had disapeared. It was their last copy, too. Like The Scarlet Pimpernel, this is a book that has migrated from my shelf to those of family and friends on multiple occasions. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ by Baroness Orczy

I looked for my paperback copy of ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ last night in order to include it in the image for this post. It wasn’t there. Again. 

So, I slipped in my vintage copy of Eldorado, another book in the same series, because it does have a really beautiful title page.

I can’t tell you how many times I have bought ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ in paperback. It just keeps disappearing— which means a good number of my friends and family members probably have it on their shelves. I hope they’ve read it, because if they haven’t, they’re missing out. 

It’s a mystery adventure story about an unidentified Englishman who helps French aristocrats escape France, and therefore the guillotine, during the ‘Reign Of Terror’ after the French Revolution. Of course, there’s only one thing the French want more than to chop off the heads off the rich and powerful, and that’s to chop off the Scarlet Pimpernel’s Head, so maintaining the mystery of his identity is definitely in his interests. 

It’s a great read for lovers of Historical Fiction, but there’s also enough mystery, romance and adventure for readers of those genres to enjoy, too. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Barchester Towers’ by Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope has quite a few novels to his name, of which I have enjoyed most, but ‘Barchester Towers’ is the pick of the bunch. If you are only ever going to read one of his works, choose this one. 

While Dickens was writing novels that exposed the social issues and injustices of his time, Trollope was doing the same thing in a slightly different way. Trollope’s ‘Chronicles of Barsetshire’ turned the readers’ attention to the structures and conventions of the church hierarchy in Victorian England, framing clerical life in a comedic way that highlighted the hypocrisy and manipulation that plagued the upper ranks of the church. His Palliser Novels series focuses on political life and the machinations of Parliament and government, once again with a good degree of satire and cynicism.

Trollope’s characterisation is every bit as clever and masterful as Dickens’, and the humour with which he wrote is just as engaging. I find it most disappointing that Trollope is not as widely read or renowned as Dickens. The reason for that lies in the fact that Dickens’ books made him the champion of the lower classes, giving him very widespread appeal and ensuring a loyal readership, while Trollope tended to write more about the challenges faced by the middle and upper classes as society changed. Those issues were just as real, but far less relatable and interesting to the masses. 

‘Barchester Towers’ is a gem of a book. It’s quite easy to read, and very entertaining. While The Guardian listed it as one of the 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read’it is much higher on my own list,  hence its inclusion among the novels featured on this blog as one of my top 25 classic novels. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘The Three Musketeers’ by Alexandre Dumas

The ultimate story of friendship, loyalty and chivalry, ‘The Three Musketeers’ is full of the adventure, swordfighting and drama that was life for the king’s Musketeers of the Guard. This book transports the reader to early 17th century Paris and all the intrigues and machinations of courtly and public life.

I always felt a bit sorry for d’Artagnan that the book wasn’t called ‘The Four Musketeers’, but on the other hand, Athos, Aramis and Porthos were exactly the kind of men that a swashbuckling heroic adventure story should be named after.

I guess d’Artagnan could be satisfied knowing that many people would know his name even if they couldn’t name the others.

The Musketeers’ catch cry, “All for one and one for all!” has been adopted and echoed many times by groups of friends the world over, including my beloved Indie Fabs, six author friends bound by friendship, support and loyalty.

This is still a tremendous read which I highly recommend. Of the movies and TV adaptations I have seen, the black and white movies I grew up watching almost did the book justice, and the recent BBC TV production The Musketeers is brilliant, but they aren’t quite the same as reading the book.

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Les Miserables’ by Victor Hugo

Set in France during the first decades of the 19th century, this is a story of the struggles of the lower classes — the miserable, the dispossessed, and the dissatisfied. 

While many people in the 21st century know the story because of the highly popular and quite magnificent musical theatre show, most have never read the book. It is a large novel: epic in its scope, powerful in its storytelling and heartbreaking in its story and drama. 

Many of the key events of the novel were based on events and circumstances that Hugo witnessed personally, adding a depth of detail and authenticity that immerses the reader in the settings and makes them feel as they are right there, watching the events and listening to the characters’ conversations. 

Admittedly, there are some passages that are moral reflections rather than narrative, but they do add depth of understanding to the social issues and conflicts experienced by the French people of the time, and cause the reader to reflect on the responsibility of those with wealth and power to ensure that those under their rule are able to live without despair. Given that it is not possible to separate a work of literature from the society and environment in which it was written, Hugo’s thought-provoking digressions remain relevant to the story overall.   

One can simply watch the musical or a film adaptation, but they will not deliver the full impact of the story as it is told in the book. It’s a magnificent, wide-reaching story with themes of social justice, equality and personal redemption that are still really powerful and resonate with readers today. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘The Wind In The Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame

A favourite since my childhood, ‘The Wind in the Willows’ features Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger as  the main characters in a delightful story about friendship and adventure. 

The stories are enchanting and memorable, conjuring images of rural England in days gone by.

This is a wonderful book for children, and a great choice for reading together as a family.