This all started a little over a week ago after I read Anne Lamott’s new book, Some Assembly Required, reviewed on May 21. I immediately took her other 5 non-fiction books from the library. I’m already on number 4 and it happens to be Bird By Bird, her book on writing. It says fiction writing but I’m here to tell you it’s writing across the board.
I know many of you have read it but for those who haven’t please do.
She explains where the title comes from in Operating Instructions.
I was 7 or 8 and my older brother was 9 or 10. He had this huge report on birds due in school and hadn’t even started it, but he had tons of bird books around and binder paper and everything. He was just too overwhelmed, though. And I remember my dad (a writer) sitting down with him at the dining table and putting his hands sternly on my brother’s shoulders and saying quietly, patiently, “Bird by bird, buddy; just take it bird by bird.” That is maybe the best writing advice I have ever heard.
As I’m devouring every word what I most see in her prose besides candor and humility wrapped in some pretty heavy humor, is an inherent teacher who can pass along all that she knows with ease and tremendous generosity.
I like that she quotes other writers along with her dad:
E.L. Doctorow once said that, “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way…”
You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you…
I love that, how she takes the pressure off the writer. She also admits that few writers are instantaneously brilliant; there are many drafts to pen before we have Gone With the Wind.
Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it. Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled. They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the snow…
I’m resting in this book, lolling on the page feeling as if I’m someplace safe where someone I really respect and admire understands me.
Having a literary affair with an author like I’ve been having for the past week is probably one of the most enriching experiences anyone, not just a writer, can ever have.
My friend Ed is having one with Robert Caro at the moment. (wonder if his wife Evelyn knows…lol)
Anne Lamott’s humor like all my favorite writers (Austen, Kerr, Mitford, Rudnik, Sedaris ,Vowel, Waters) never fails to come through.
In Operating Instructions she talks about the birth of her son Sam and their first year together. It goes from fear to elation so many times at the end you feel as if anything’s possible. It’s almost like a gift she gives you for finishing her book.
The way she talks about her son when he’s small is utterly delightful.
Sam has a marvelous new look of impatience. You see it cross his face when he first notices that he’d like to nurse. His brows furrow in a slightly sarcastic way, like he’s about to ask, “Who the hell do you have to know to get a drink around here…
Sam loves the kitty more than anything else in life except for me and my breasts. On Valentine’s Day we were in the kitchen and Sam was lying on his back on a blanket on the floor, and suddenly the cat came in and started rolling around on the floor near him, like some blowsy Swedish farm girl rolling around in the hay. Sam laughed for 10 straight minutes. He sounded like a brook…
Take it from me, you clearly don’t have to be a mother to laugh at her quirky, maternal observations.
There’s also a path of poignancy she takes intermittently like when her best friend Pammy, who’s helping to raise Sam, gets breast cancer. At the conclusion of her story I cried for Pammy too.
The other 2 books I’ve read, Grace Eventually and Plan B – More Thoughts on Faith, were equally compelling.
She’s also born again, something a fallen Catholic like myself in search of a religious replacement can certainly relate to. One of my favorite essays was Ham of God about a ham she won at a supermarket that she ends up giving to a mother in the store’s parking lot who’s having trouble feeding her kids. As you see by the title, despite being saved her irreverence still runs deliciously wild.
I did peek into Traveling Mercies, the last book warming up in the batter’s cage. I turned to page 131 and this is what I read. It’s about her son Sam now around 7 and a conversation she has with another mother.
I don’t bake. I baked for school once and it was a bad experience. Sam was in kindergarten at the little Christian school he attended, and I baked a dozen cupcakes for his class’s Christmas party and set them out to cool. Sam and I went outside to sweep the Astroturf. (OK,OK, I also don’t garden.) Suddenly Sadie came tearing outside – our dog who is so obedient and eager to please. But there was icing in the fur of her muzzle and a profoundly concerned look on her face. Oh my God, she seems to be saying with her eyes. Terrible news from the kitchen…
It’s so a part of her charm that she’s herself no matter what, take her or leave her. (We’ll take her.) To put it in a nut shell (pun intended) this born again bitch can really write and I can go on and on till the cows come home so we will stop here however…
I am declaring it National Anne Lamott day.
Thanks Anne for every time you make me laugh…
and all the times you made me cry.
― Anne Lamott