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Showing 1-10 of 36 reviews(2 star). Show all reviews
on June 23, 2009
I've been reading a bunch of memoirs on writing lately, notably On Writing by Stephen King and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. What irritates me about Ms. Lamott's writing is her inability to grasp the effect of her socioeconomic status and racial privilege on her success.

Lamott says, of her college days, "I was drawn to oddballs, ethnic people, theater people, poets, radicals, gays and lesbians." By her own admission, she is normal, while the rest of us are different. Exceptional by virtue of our idiosyncracies -- be they race, gender, or sexual orientation.

In essence, she is a middle class, college-educated white woman whose father was a writer. There is a certain degree of privilege in that, but Lamott is unwilling or unable to own up to that privilege. She claims her experience as a universal one and, by omission, pushes all others to the margins.

Of South and Central American writers, Lamott writes: "When I read their books, I feel like I'm sitting around a campfire at night where they are spinning their wild stories...I understand why this style is so attractive to my students: it's like primitive art. It's simple and decorative, with rich colors...like watching a wild theater piece with lots of special effects."

She describes one character as "an old black woman from the South," as though this description alone is evocative, stumbling over her own predisposition for campfire/mammy imagery.

While I struggle to write the people in my life, many of whom happen to be "ethnic" -- for lack of a pithier, though less derogatory, adjective for non-white -- as real people and not caricatures, hundreds of successful writers sell books peopled by old black women from the South.

It seems unfair that those of us who conceive of ourselves as "ethnic" must shoulder the burden of our sensibilities alone.
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on May 1, 2000
I can't believe that no one else has recognized that Bird by Bird is nothing but a rehash of Brenda Ueland's book, If You Want to Write--A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit. Only Ms. Ueland did it so much better--back in the 1930's. The original author teaches us how to write--without all the self-serving rhetoric of the copycat.
Grab a copy of If You Want to Write--get the real McCoy.
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on January 9, 2015
I read Bird by Bird and found it depressing. I am not a naturally sarcastic or angry person but Ms. Lamott seems to be and I couldn't get into it. I know other reviewers think she is hilarious but I though she was mostly rude and unkind. If you enjoy a mocking kind of humor, maybe her messages on writing will get through better than what other's have published but, for me, I didn't get her. I did like one or two things she said (like her comment about why she has a 1 inch picture frame on her desk: to remind her to just write this scene or that dialogue or that little bit of character description, bit by bit, bird by bird. That helps her keep writing. This is pretty much the same advice on how to eat an elephant) and the story about her 3 year old son and his keys was funny.

I didn't read anything that Stephen King didn't say better, more clearly and more usefully in On Writing. When I read On Writing, I met a man who, in spite of all his failings as a human being, I liked and respected him when I finished reading. His book also helps with teaching writers the joy of and need for a good editor. He also gives some reasoned advice on how to get published whereas Ms. Lamott is kind of cruel towards her students who might have wanted to see themselves published. She is not an encourager whereas King is. I "met" Anne Lamott in the Bird book and, unfortunately, I only felt sorry for her and was ready to leave her company quickly. i did finish reading but barely.
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on January 17, 2014
I bought this, and now regret spending over $10. on it, because it is so often highly recommended. I don't understand why.

Reading of someone imagining their father sitting under a desk doing drugs, or reading about sex under the bed covers as a child I just didn't find informative for either life or writing, it was just memoir and not a great one.

I forced myself to finish this book, and it was a case of forced, and I am glad I can now delete it from my Kindle. I just wish I could get my $10. back from those who keep saying this is an important book.

If this were just a book to read, a waffling memoir, I may have given it three stars. Because it is recommended as "Instructions on Writing and Life " it deserves one star. I am being generous, in giving it two stars.
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on March 23, 2016
Buy this book if you want a general pep talk. The book did not relieve my anxiety because it was too non-specific to provide a way out of my difficulties. Certain writing problems require specific techniques (for example, organizing a book with a complex plot, writing about a period or place with insufficient information, incorporating essential subplots without breaking the flow, beginning a book that seems to require a lot of preliminary information). If you are facing a problem besides general low self-esteem, you will not find much help here. I loved the advice to write a "s***ty first draft" but I regret following it. I produced a bunch of confusing crap that causes nothing but frustration. I would instead recommend writing with care, especially at first--not so much that you stifle yourself. Clarity gives more confidence than permission to write s***.
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on February 25, 2013
I bought this because many technical writers serve other markets, and Strunk and White was not meant to be especially engaging.

Great introduction: an autobiographical ebb-and-flow with near-peaks and valleys, and a superb example of "breathing" contrasting quips with intentional run-ons - one nearly a half-a-page long. Well-punctuated with humor, it offers credentials and tidbits, promising not to sugar-coat. We're given reason to read on.

To the author, writing is like meditation; there's no there-there, and the joy is in the practice, not getting published. Warning taken. For pathological writer's block, either "School Lunches" or "S***ty First Drafts" is worth its weight in gold for perfectionists like me, the apparent enemies of humanity. But I could have stolen either nugget from the bookstore; was the rest worth the take-home?

Not for me. Bird by Bird consists of many flowery vignettes lacking good examples or depth. The great irony, however, is that we are told to shelve our experiences and prejudices, and get out of the way of our characters' development; yet the author's life woes keep obstructing her instruction. Is this about your growth as a writer, or her own unsolved angst and unmet needs that would strap most of us down in a mental hospital?

Glaringly, even bird non-enthusiasts should expect more embellishment of the title and cover theme. 'Turns out her little brother once waited a record three months to start a paper on birds the night before it was due. "Bird by bird," was her father's gentle advice, when what both needed was a swift (no-pun) kick in the rear, with the boy getting a well-deserved 'F'. There's no telling whether he even passed anything in, or just passed out.

I've found more nuggets and pellets, but nothing especially unique. 'No waiting here for the cocaine memories. "Radio Station KFKD" was the last straw, just another obscenity laced with metaphors summing all fears. Also, the author's "let life happen" attitude is poor advice for aspiring to certain goals, including self-employment as a writer.

With due respect to her better works and accomplishments, I'm tossing it. Time is precious.
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on March 18, 2011
This is a book about writing. Ms. Lamott's dad was a professional writer and that's the profession to which she aspired as a kid and has, as an adult, attained. The problem is that at a soul level she seems to have little about which to write. Thus, the book covers one's lifestyle for writing (what time of day, and other tips to get one "in the flow," so to speak, of writing). It seems that her answer to writing is write, keep writing, and write some more, and eventually some stuff will come out that you and maybe others like. Her problem is, again, that she struggles with: about what do I write? Her default is to write autobiography, basically, because she seems to have little else to say. So you have form without substance. My opinion obviously is that if you have substance (soul stuff, philosophy, a lesson learned that you seek to teach, etc.), then the writing simply flows from this.
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on July 19, 2015
While this book did have some heart-touching events in it, it was mostly a retelling of disjointed episodes in the life of an overly anxious semi-recovering alcoholic. The amount of writing-related content was minimal, and of that 80% was vague or no longer relevant given the material's age.

I don't normally write negative reviews, but the level of self-obsession in a book rated so highly in a "how-to" section is surprising​.

I've gotten more useful information in blogs posts than there were in this entire book.
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on July 3, 2014
I had to buy this book for a college English class & even though some of the reviews on the back of the book praise Lamott for her humor, I found the book to be very dry, and hard to get interested in.
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on October 26, 2014
The author wades through her miserable life in pursuit of being a writer. Not because she has a story bursting to get out, but because she likes the idea of being a writer. To the person who has something to say, or a story to get out and is looking for tips on how to make it happen this will be of little help. If you enjoy reading of the misery of others you will enjoy Bird by Bird.
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