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

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Calypso by David Sedaris

Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott

It’s been a minute

It’s been a minute

flat lay photography of calendar

I started writing earlier this year with high hopes. I was going to read three books a week, blog once a week, and become the book influencer I have always imagined in my heart I could be. Here is what happened instead:

  1. I blogged a few times a month up until June when I completely stopped (whoops!)
  2. I have read 72 books so far this year, which if I do the math equals almost 1.5 books a week. Honestly that’s pretty good I’m going to pat myself on the back for that one.
  3. Managing my neighborhood library has always been a dream of mine so when the opportunity to transfer to my local branch came up, I took it. This meant leaving the library where I’ve spent most of my career with co-workers and customers that I love; it was a decision that was made with a lot of tears. A few months in I’m starting to get my groove back and really enjoying my new staff and customers, but this was definitely a big shift in my life.
  4. I was given the opportunity to review books for Booklist, a librarian book magazine from ALA. So while I can’t say I’ve become a book influencer, I can almost call myself a book professional, which maybe sounds better(?)
  5. I made new friends, which was my secret goal for this year. Since I moved to RVA 8 years ago I was really focused on my career, then I was really focused on my daughter, and all the sudden I realized I had kind of dug myself into a lonely little hole of my own creation. To me, making new friends after 30 is as terrifying as dating, and I have felt the paralyzing fear of gearing myself up to ask for someone’s number. However through yoga, church, my neighborhood, and just trying to ignore the fear of rejection, I’ve been able to reach out and build a small network of people in the area.
  6. I’ve grown my yoga, meditation, and spiritual practice, I’m able to manage my emotions and stress better, and I’m more aware of what my body and spirit are experiencing.

There have been some down moments as well this year, but overall it’s been a period of growth for me. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished even if I didn’t get done everything that was on my list, and I’ve missed another year of becoming an internet celebrity (shoot!). My hope for next year is to continue to write, I don’t know in what capacity, but stringing words together is where I feel most creative, and I definitely want more creativity in my life.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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Cover image provided with permission from Penguin Random House Canada

From the outside Eleanor appears to be okay, maybe even completely fine. Sure, she is socially awkward, has no verbal filter, is unable to be anything but completely literal, and her closest friend is a plant, but none of this seems to really bother Eleanor, as she puts it:

“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.”

Once we start digging through the layers of Eleanor, we begin to see that she is far from fine. However, as the shroud of her heartbreaking past and the mystery around it begins to fall, Eleanor learns about herself and develops meaningful relationships. She meets Raymond, her office IT guy, and through her friendship with him she saves Sammy, an older man who falls in the street. Even though Raymond and Sammy are a little confused by Eleanor initially, they see the kindness in her and open their friendship and families to her, giving Eleanor a chance to experience loving relationships, perhaps for the first time.

This book is about trauma, but even with everything stacked against her, Eleanor is a true heroine; she is brave, kind, someone you simply cannot stop rooting for. Despite the sad parts, Eleanor is unwittingly hilarious, I loved the depictions of her experiencing something for the first time, such as dancing in public:

“I found myself not thinking about anything, sort of like how the vodka worked, but different, because I was with people and I was singing. YMCA! YMCA! Arms in the air, mimicking the letters – what a marvelous idea! Who knew dancing could be so logical?

During the next free-form jigging section, I started to wonder why the band was singing about, presumably, the Young Men’s Christian Association, but then, from my very limited exposure to popular music, people did seem to sing about umbrellas and fire-starting and Emily Brontë novels, so, I supposed, why not a gender and faith-based youth organization?”

I DIED.

This novel was so endearing, funny, and sweet, I loved it from start to finish. Learning about Eleanor opens us up to understanding people who are different, even if they are off-putting and strange, and in this way the book reminded me a lot of A Man Called Ove. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys quirky and like-able characters, character-driven story-lines, or someone who enjoys cheering for the under-dog.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Published: May 9, 2017

I read this as: A library book

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How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

Miller, Tom 2018.02The Philosopher’s Flight creates an alternate history where Emperical Philosophy (which looks very much like magic), is practiced and taught as regularly as Geometry or French, its use ranging from growing larger tomatoes to gruesomely murdering ones enemies. It’s also mainly practiced by women: in the matriarchy of Emperical Philosophy men are treated as not-quite-as-capeable and are not allowed the same opportunities or to move up the ranks with the same ease as their female counterparts. Hmm, this seems familiar…

The novel is set in the midst of World War I, and our narrator is Montana teenager Robert Weekes. His mother was well-known for her daring bravery for flying wounded soldiers from the front lines of battle for the Rescue and Evacuation (R&E) Department of the US Sigilry Corps, the Emperical Philosophy branch of the United States Armed forces. Robert dreams of joining the R&E, but doesn’t have a shot (remember the aforementioned matriarchy) until a chance of luck and a brush with death lands him with a scholarship to Radcliffe, a prestigious Boston College where the various branches of philosophy are taught. The book launches from there as Robert encounters many obstacles and enemies, but gathers support as he strives towards his goal.

This details and complex characters of this book are woven carefully with the creation of an alternate universe that is the same, yet not quite ours. This alternative US history makes it a good read for both lovers of fantasy as well as historical fiction. Miller subtly threads themes of war, violence, friendship, politics, and even feminism while keeping the overall tone of this book light and fast-paced. There is also a charming love story so this novel really does appeal to a wide-ranging audience.

The book’s use of magic to fight in real wars, mention of actual historical figures, and creation of a complex form of magic reminded me a lot of “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell“, although at 400 pages it is long, but not quite as a long as Susanna Clarke’s 2004 volume. The Philosopher’s Flight is in the works for a sequel, which is a well-deserved opportunity for first time novelist Tom Miller, and a treat for his readers.

The Philisopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

Published on: February 13, 2018

I read this as: a library book