Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Initial Thoughts: The book seemed pretty much untouched. The design is simple. There are three birds on the cover with a checkered background. One is a crow on top of a red book. Another is a rooster on top of its very own bird pole, and I’m assuming it’s getting ready to wake up its owner. The last one is maybe a red and yellow robin – probably not – sitting on a stick with what seems like dead leaves attached to it and if you think about this for a little while, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense because don’t birds migrate when the trees start dying? There’s also an egg in the top right corner so I guess that technically makes four birds on the cover and not three.
On the back is an excerpt from the book along with three raving reviews. I didn’t understand how the excerpt had anything to do with the book besides the fact that the last three words were “bird by bird.” One of the reviews claimed that it was “sidesplittingly funny” and I have to admit I was a little skeptical because how can a book without any pictures be funny.. Right?
How Yellow The Pages Are On A Scale Of 1 To Bart Simpson: Very. You can literally see the whiteness of the pages fading into piss as you read.
The Actual Review: If you’ve ever wanted to attend a creative writing workshop without actually leaving the house, this is the book for you. As an actual writing instructor, Lamott takes you through her entire curriculum, and by the end of the book, you’ll feel as if you can actually write a full-length novel all by your lonesome.
Drawing anecdotes from her own life, Lamott incorporates a strangely refreshing, self-deprecating humor throughout, allowing you to connect with her on a deeply human level. She admits to being the awkward kid that was forced to use her funniness as a crutch in order to survive ages 7-18, and you know she’s telling the truth because there’s just no way a popular cheerleader can write a book this funny. I was pleasantly surprised to find my sides splitting every few minutes.
Lamott does a masterful job of humanizing your favorite authors and reminds you that the struggles you go through as a writer aren’t exclusive to you. From the many hours staring at a blank screen to the unheralded jealousy that eats away at your self-esteem as you watch others in the same profession ascend at a rate that simply doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, the book reinforces the idea that you are not alone, and that your story matters, no matter how banal it may seem. Her failures will seem all-too-familiar and her personal victories will aid you in creating your own. Her words provide an essential comfort, allowing you to fall deeply in love with the process of writing as you have with the idea of being published.
Lamott’s prose is warm and motherly, but not in the way your mom reads you your favorite Dr. Seuss book before you go night-night. It’s more similar to the time you get drunk with her for the first time and as she’s coolly watching you light up a cigarette, she indulges you in the glory days of her youth. It’s a little edgy, a bit drunk, very chic, but also warm and tender with many quotable clichés about life. And although the clichés are all lines and quotes you’ve heard and used a thousand times over, each one is repackaged in a way that’s both new and profound, full of grandiose moments of your brain being blown to chunks due to the perfection that is Lamott’s writing.
In the end, while the book operates as a collection of writing advice, the many metaphors and lessons can easily be applied to all facets of life. Lamott’s over-arching theme seems to be this: if you’re having trouble writing (or living life in general), just get started because frankly there just isn’t enough time for you to be wasting it.
Re-Read Factor: Through the roof! One of the best reads for me in a while. It truly left me wanting more, not just for the content, but for the way it was written. It still has me wishing that every single piece of writing in the English language was written by Lamott herself.
I’ll definitely be keeping this book around for years to come.
Also, if you’re running out of quotes for the dog-filtered selfies you’re planning to post on Instagram, add this to your arsenal. You won’t regret it.
Personal Thoughts: Apart from the many references to authors and writers I’ve never heard of, I loved this book front to back and I honestly couldn’t have read it at a more perfect time in relation to my life. This book invaded my insecurities and healed me in ways I never could have imagined. Lamott somehow found a way to break off chains of self-loathing and agony all while tearing down the throne built upon a nasty narcissism I so eagerly sat on. I was gravely afraid of saying the wrong thing, of upsetting this person or that group, of not being accepted, of being ridiculed and laughed at instead of praised and loved. I was also foolishly content with my work, that I somehow crossed the finish line because I had a couple pieces on a well-known website.
But word by word, Lamott dragged me back to what made me fall in love with writing in the first place, forcing me to re-evaluate why I write and who I write for. It’s shifted my focus away from my obsession for being liked and redirected it towards being afraid of wasting any more time worrying about the irrelevant and mundane.
Whether in the form of a silly book review or an article fighting for human rights, it’s given me permission to believe in my truth, that it is important, that it matters deeply and that it’s powerful in ways I have yet to imagine.
Next Up: I Never Had It Made (An Autobiography of Jackie Robinson) as told to Alfred Duckett
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott