Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

lamott, anne 2019.01
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

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

Center, Katherine 06.2018
Cover image shown with permission from St. Martin’s Press

I was recently reading some comments by the Dalai Lama (and stay with me here because I realize I’m here to write about Katherine Center’s latest novel, I promise this has relevance) about his experience being forced to flee his home country of Tibet, and to live most of his life in exile. What he said about this experience that was so painful to him, was also all the joy that had come out of the life that was forced upon him. Instead of being bitter about the unfairness of it all and focusing on the pain the separation had caused him, he spoke about the relationships and the positive outcomes that he would not have had if he had been able to live the life that he had originally imagined. How many of us could have the same outlook?

Margaret (what a great name for a protagonist!) Jacobsen has her life planned out: she is about to start a dream job in Austin, Texas after years of hard work, she is adored by her family (except for a mysteriously estranged sister), and has a successful, handsome boyfriend, who loves her dearly, and who looks like he is about to propose(!) On top of all this, Margaret seems like a really kind, hard-working person, who deserves all the success and happiness that is coming her way. Unfortunately, as in real life, bad things happen to good people.

After a terrible accident changes everything, Margaret’s world begins falling apart, forcing her to rely on people she cannot stand (see: return of estranged sister), and watching pieces of her life that were supposed to be so strong crumble around her. She has to make choices, really hard ones that make you wonder what you would do in her shoes, and cause the reader to think about people who live with disabilities every day, and what their experiences must be like. I have to admit, I was humbled when she spoke about hating the looks of pity people gave her, when she just wanted to be viewed as a normal person. I am definitely guilty of giving those looks.

I felt this story was very honest and compelling, while also upbeat considering the seriousness of the subject. Another thing I’ve learned from the Dalai Lama is the value of laughter and not taking yourself too seriously, so I found this tone to be realistic and empowering. There are lots of interesting family dynamics/drama, and yes, a love story, so as far as I’m concerned this book has it allincluding amazing inspirational quotes such as “When you don’t know what to do for yourself, do something for somebody else.” and

“You have to live the life you have. You have to find inspiration in the struggle, and pull the joy out of hardship… Because that’s all we can do: carry the sorrow when we have to, and absolutely savor the joy when we can.
Life is always, always both.”

Overall I would recommend this story to anyone, but definitely for someone who enjoys an engaging plot that’s realistic but upbeat, with a thoughtful and strong female narrator, and interesting and complex relationships and family dynamics.

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

Published: May 15, 2018

I read this as: an ARC I received at the PLA conference 2018

If you like this you may like:

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Grit by Angela Duckworth

Grit by Angela Duckworth

Duckworth, Angela 05.2018
Cover image shown with permission by Scribner from Simon & Schuster

This book was recommended to me by a fellow librarian friend while we were working at a conference a few months ago. While I had heard about the book, I’ve often found self-help books to be hit-or-miss and am reluctant to read them. With her recommendation I decided to try it out.

This book starts out discussing the tendency in American culture to prioritize talent and “genius”. We believe in the value of hard work, but when someone is labeled as special, the narrative that they will be successful automatically starts playing. However, what about people (like myself), who haven’t been labeled a “genius”? Are we destined to a life of second-rate happiness? And what about those early prodigies that end up fizzling-out after all of their talent is overtaken by the pressures of success or the first encounter with disappointment?

Duckworth’s research demonstrates that innate talent isn’t the main driver of success, in fact in some cases it is quite the opposite. Often those to whom understanding and brilliance comes easily are not prepared for the moments of failure that inevitably come. At the same time, people who develop the habit of working hard in spite of repeated disappointment discover the value of Grit, and are more likely to finesse skills that take 1,000s of hours to master. Additionally, Duckworth underscores the importance of following your passion, as it is the innate love of something that will inspire you to get up and work at it, rather than chasing a dream that never was your first love.

I found this book really inspiring, and it did speak to me as the mantra of never giving up is an important theme in my own life. Of course, there are unfortunate aspects of our society such as nepotism, institutional racism and sexism, that will continue to block even the most hard-working of us from landing deserved successes, and this has been one of the criticism of the book. However, I want to point out that barriers like those may not spell the end for someone who has Grit, and I think that was Duckworth’s point. That it is people who can find the strength to keep going in spite of the odds that are more likely to ultimately find success, and that, I think that is something we can all believe in.

I read this as an audiobook (read by the author) and found it really easy to listen to, which is a strength in a researched-based non-fiction title. This is a great book to recommend to a student, someone early or at a turning point in their career, or a parent, as she gave lots of advice for how to instill grit in your child (hint: don’t tell them they are a genius!) This book has helped me re-focus on my own goals and create strategies on how I can achieve them, and I’ll leave you with this quote that personally resonated with me:

…there are no shortcuts to excellence. Developing real expertise, figuring out really hard problems, it all takes time―longer than most people imagine….you’ve got to apply those skills and produce goods or services that are valuable to people….Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it…it’s doing what you love, but not just falling in love―staying in love.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Published on: May 3rd, 2016

I read this as: an audiobook from Overdrive