Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott: Classic Case of Expecting Too Much From a Book

Oh, this one’s charming, and its irreverence can be funny. It’s very personal; the voice saves it from being a hollow mess. But the advice it offers is rather conventional—far more fulfilling if you read Roland Barthes or Charles Baxter or Jonathan Franzen—even simplistic. And that latter word can be used to describe her views on fiction and its forms and elements. But, all in all, it’s unremarkable, which is a pity.

Augh. Goes to show what good it’ll do ye to read about writers you don’t respect, or even, at the very least, whose fiction you have read.

* * *

[I feel an essay brewing. (Or is essay to lofty a term for me?) Talk about Baxter, Franzen, James Wood, Joan Silber, Lorrie Moore, etc. And, on the other side, Eudora Welty, Stanley Fish, and a host of other writers. The Millions, among many others, has an essay—yes, essayon writers writing about writing. I might just give my two cents, on my experiences, both successful or failed. (Also, what constitutes a success? A failure?) Bah.]

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5 comments

  1. This is the book that made me realize it was about time I stopped reading writers on writing, and especially should stop reading writers like Anne Lamott who’ve written I-don’t-know-what.

    1. Ach, there are so much amazing writers on writing. Although I don’t know if it’s because 1) I agree with what they’re saying, and that they say it so much better than me, or 2) I really love their fiction, and so there’ll only be good news in store for me — or a combination of the two.

      And none of that covers Lamott, AUGH, it was an icky experience.

      PS – Thank you so much for your comment — I love your blog, I’ve been backreading like crazy. :]

  2. I got this book about three years ago because I felt like I must have it! and then I’ve never picked it up. I stopped reading aobut how to write a few years ago too (I see Ellen comment) and I think it’s because I’d just rather read their well crafted works. But. I still do want to read this. If just for the fun light-hearted approach to “remember you can do anything if you just take it one step at a time.”).

  3. [...] Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. [...]

  4. I was assigned this book in a creative writing master’s program and got it early despite my class not beginning until the end of this month. I hadn’t ever heard of it, so when I opened it I had no preconceived notion of what I was going to be reading about… All things considered, I am truly impressed.

    This book and its teachings are not for everyone, but it has really opened my eyes in a lot of ways. If even one person is impacted and inspired by this book to become a better writer, Lamott has succeeded. However, I am not the only one to be inspired. Perhaps going in with an open mind rather than with high expectations (as your title alludes to) may have yielded different results? Such preconceived hype often perpetuates disappointment. Sometimes we just have to take things at face value and, in this case, marvel at the paradox of simplicity and complexity.

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