By Maya Angelou
Random House
145 pages, $18

There is an old distinction between nakedness and nudity. Nudity implies sensual attraction, desire. It is revealed, or unveiled, with the conscious intent of affecting another. Nakedness, on the other hand, is a stripping away of all that belongs to the individual conception of self -- the exposure of the self in the harsh light of reality.

The best writers manage to be naked on the page through their words. They express opinions that arise from a visceral reaction to the world around them. They shed their social and mental clothing and speak personal truths.

Such is the nature of poet and writer Maya Angelou's new collection of essays. Short as it is, it is sweet where it needs to be, but also stings at times and has a hint of pontification mixed in.

Angelou always goes to the heart of human experience. Sex, food and the grace of aging are at the heart of this work. Clearly compiled here are no more than the author's impressions: comments gathered on trips, memories of wisdom passed on from mother to daughter, calls for remembrance and unity among African-Americans.

She has a way of making it all seem like the advice a reader would gather by visiting an experienced friend.

The spectrum of subjects covered is broad, but the focus is always down to earth and very human. From a broken marriage to the advantages of solitude, the book seems to be the author's effort to define herself at this point in life. For the reader, it may not necessarily be the personality that attracts, but rather the honesty squeezed from every word and from every experience she relates. Her unique take on the world around her and her reactions to it still captivate as they did in earlier autobiographical works ("I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," "The Heart of a Woman," etc.)

Disagree with her opinions if you must, but it's impossible to challenge her veracity.

This is an artist whose life forms the canvas. And for interested readers, she paints not to cover up, but to reveal.

It is a nakedness few authors reveal in their work today.