Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

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Cover image provided with permission by Random House

I think this might be the most perfect book I have read on the subject of writing, it actually might be the most perfect book I have read, period. I have fallen in love with Anne Lamott’s writing style recently: crisp, funny, sad, and honest, she has come to me at a point in my life when I have fallen and gotten back up enough times to realize there is humor and grace in our darkest moments. In understanding this have I found freedom in sharing and saying “Hey! Yes, life can be terrible, but it also can be beautiful and you have to take the messy parts to experience the miraculous joy that is there too.”

I haven’t always been here, a few years ago while pregnant with my daughter, a friend recommended Lamott’s “Operating Instructions”, a book she wrote on raising her son as a single mother. It’s dark, she swears a lot, she’s a recovering alcoholic, and it made me feel uncomfortable. I wanted to project myself as a beautiful, clean, perfect mother, and I did not approve of swearing in front of my child(!). I returned the book after a few chapters, I didn’t think I was anything like this woman, I was completely confident in my worldview, I did not need to hear about her spiritual journey and bouts of depression. I was judgemental pretty out of touch, honestly.

A few years later of wonderful highs, along with some real lows and moments of grace, Lamott feels like a friend, sometimes she feels like me, and her depiction of the writing process is very real and very human. I love that she cares about her readers, she does not try to instill some kind of magical idea that one will become successful beyond all expectations if they just try hard enough: we are not all going to be Kristin Hannah. She writes so eloquently about the ups, but mostly downs of the writing process: the jealousy of watching others succeed, the stress of waiting for your writing to be reviewed, the pain of a bad review, and that getting published is not all it’s cracked up to be. Writing is important because of what is learned through the process, not because of its potential for success or notoriety. Here is my most favorite quote from the book (and I had many favorite quotes):

“I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good enough at it, and I don’t think you have time to waste on someone who does not respond to you with kindness and respect. You don’t want to spend your time around people who make you hold your breath. You can’t fill up when you’re holding your breath. And writing is about filling up, filling up, when you are empty, letting images and ideas and smells run down like water…”

While this book is mainly on writing, Lamott experiences writing as part of life, so it also has a lot of great insights on the human experience and spirituality as well (Lamott is a Christian- a very liberal Christian). I would recommend this book to writers (and a writer is one who writes, not just someone who gets paid to do some), those looking for spiritual insights, and anyone who has fallen on their face enough to know it’s the getting up part that really matters.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Published: September 1, 1995

I read this as: a library book

If you enjoy this book you may like:

Calypso by David Sedaris

Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott

Happiness by Heather Harpham

Happiness by Heather Harpham

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Cover image provided with permission from Henry Holt & Co.

When I reflect on this book, I think of one word: Grace. It’s a story where many things go wrong, but then there are moments of miraculous blessings. Where people are given second chances after making poor decisions, and some are given the ultimate gift of life after looking death right in the eye. Unfortunately, it’s a story where the unthinkable happens, the death of children-innocents-and it reminds me of the lyrics from Hamilton, after Alexander’s son is killed:

There are moments that the words don’t reach

There is a Grace too powerful to name

We push away what we can never understand

We push away the unimaginable

Ultimately, I consider the grace with which Harpham weaves several stories that tell how she became the mother of a very sick little girl, how she fought for her with all her might, and how through a great deal of suffering and countless moments of despair, she found happiness, in spite of everything stacked against that outcome.

This book is a memoir in which Harpham deftly describes how she became pregnant with her daughter, Gracie, how this strained her relationship with Gracie’s father, Brian; a man who although loving her deeply, was terrified of parenthood and walked away from their relationship during the pregnancy (the worst I know, but Harpham tells the story so beautifully and with such clarity that you almost see where he’s coming from. Almost.) Once Gracie is born, it’s clear that she is sick, she must undergo regular blood transfusions to keep her alive. What follows is a beautiful story of hope, love, strength, heartbreak and resiliency as this little clan goes through setbacks and surprises to make Gracie well.

What I really loved about this story is Harpham’s ability to understand other people, to forgive and connect with them in a way many of us simply are not capable of. ¬†She’s able to see her own pain, her own unlucky hand, and still find goodness and offer kindness to others. While the book’s title is Happiness, so hopefully it doesn’t spoil anything to say it has a happy ending, she points out that going through this experience doesn’t make her immune to future sadness. I find that a very brave way to look at the world.

This is a great book for someone looking for a very moving story, who is not afraid to cry a good deal while reading it. Harpham’s writing is seriously top-notch and she is a gifted story-teller, I could not put this one down because I had to know what was happening in this little world, to this family and the people who surrounded them. If you are looking for a book about family, grit, and love, this one is for you.

Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham

Published on: August 1, 2017

I read this as: a library book