Book Reviews / Books

Bird by Bird Book Review

08.03.21
Bird by Bird Book Review

I recently interviewed Ed Cunningham – podcaster at A Need to Read – on my podcast, where we discussed in detail his Desert Island Books. His list had changed slightly from when he first shared which books he’d take with him to a desert island on my blog, and a new addition to the list was Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. He spoke about how it was an integral book when it came to encouraging him to write more, and – having bored myself to tears for God knows how many years with empty promises about how I’ll sit down to write tomorrow – I figured there was no time like the present to give it a read. Thankfully, Gertrude & Alice had a copy in stock and so I moved it to the top of my reading pile and began it on the penultimate day of July.

Bird By Bird Book Review

Having not read anything of Anne Lamott’s before, I knew nothing of her writing style, but immediately fell in love with her sharp sense of humour, witty anecdotes and how she doesn’t shy away from the difficult – and often painful – side of writing.

Written with a self-deprecating sense of humor, Bird by Bird is an exploration of Anne’s harsh yet realistic approach to writing, and it should be read by anyone who wants to flex, hone and nurture their creative muscle. Lamott expertly tackles a range of topics ranging from the neurotic mentality of writing to the woes and joys of publishing; and she uses her own experiences and friends and foes she’s met along her the way to offer real-life examples.

Part guide, part memoir, part manual Bird by Bird is a surprisingly funny book about writing and – as the title implies – life. From the death of her best friend to cancer, to the hysteria surrounding failed revisions of one of her books, it’s a candid, honest and – at times – hysterically funny book that fully deserves the hype that surrounds it. Full of advice on writing that is practical and no-nonsense as she addresses the difficulties of writing and getting published, alongside step-by-step advice on dialogue, plot, characterization and more, it is rich with Lamott’s trademark wry observations about living life somewhere between faith and failure and the “bird by bird” philosophy espoused within can apply to all creative endeavours, not just the one of writing.

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Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott Summary

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

With this basic instruction always in mind, Anne Lamott returns to offer us a new gift: a step-by-step guide on how to write and on how to manage the writer’s life. From “Getting Started,’ with “Short Assignments,” through “Shitty First Drafts,” “Character,” “Plot,” “Dialogue.” all the way from “False Starts” to “How Do You Know When You’re Done?” Lamott encourages, instructs, and inspires. She discusses “Writers Block,” “Writing Groups,” and “Publication.” Bracingly honest, she is also one of the funniest people alive.

If you have ever wondered what it takes to be a writer, what it means to be a writer, what the contents of your school lunches said about what your parents were really like, this book is for you. From faith, love, and grace to pain, jealousy, and fear, Lamott insists that you keep your eyes open, and then shows you how to survive. And always, from the life of the artist she turns to the art of life.

Buy Bird by Bird from Bookshop.org, Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon or Amazon AU.

Further reading

I loved this article on Brain Pickings: Anne Lamott on writing and why perfectionism kills creativity.

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Anne Lamott Author Bio

Anne Lamott is an author of several novels and works of non-fiction. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, her non-fiction works are largely autobiographical, with strong doses of self-deprecating humor and covering such subjects as alcoholism, single motherhood, and Christianity. She appeals to her fans because of her sense of humor, her deeply felt insights, and her outspoken views on topics such as her left-of-center politics and her unconventional Christian faith. She is a graduate of Drew College Preparatory School in San Francisco, California. Her father, Kenneth Lamott, was also a writer and was the basis of her first novel Hard Laughter.

Lamott’s life is documented in Freida Lee Mock’s 1999 documentary Bird by Bird: A Film Portrait of Writer Anne Lamott.

More Anne Lamott books

Anne Lamott has written a number of other books, including Dusk, Night Dawn: On Revival and Courage, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope, Small Victories, Hallelujah Anyway and  Hard Laughter.

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