Bird by Bird: A Review

In March I wrote about ten books worth re-reading. I decided that during this current school year I would attempt to finish them all one more time and write reviews as I go.

This week I finished yet another read-through of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. I don’t actually remember buying this book; it seems like it’s never not been sitting on my bookshelf. I’m certain I’ve read it cover to cover more than any other book I’ve ever picked up. But this time might have been my last.


I found myself unable to get into the writing this go around. I mean, I’ll probably keep it in my collection, but as more of a keepsake than a reference. I know I’ve learned things from it, and I appreciate that I had it in my life when I needed it, but I feel basically indifferent now. It’s more than being outdated; it just doesn’t ring true for me anymore. 

There were many moments where I found myself cringing, or rolling my eyes, or some combination thereof. Maybe my middle-aged adult self isn’t as impressed by her pithy commentary as my college student self and young adult self were. Maybe I’ve simply outgrown the need for it.

Honestly, that feels a bit sad, but it is what it is.

In all fairness, I do still quite like some of the writing. I even highlighted a few parts as I read. {Yes, with an actually bright yellow highlighter pen.} A couple of gems that popped out at me:

“Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it.” {page 22} 
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts.” {page 25} 
“. . . you don’t get to sit next to your readers and explain little things you left out, or fill in details that would have made the action more interesting or believable. The material has got to work on its own.” {page 57} 
“If you don’t believe in what you are saying, there is no point in your saying it." {page 106} 
“If you give freely, there will always be more.” {page 202}

I might put these five points in a journal or on post-it notes somewhere. They were the essence of the book.

To be perfectly honest, a large part of what bothered me about her writing is her constant referencing to spirituality and God. Now, this might work for some, but I found it, well, annoying and presumptuous. 

And perhaps that’s unfair; she is just going with what she knows and in all likelihood most readers have been indoctrinated into the same cultural assumptions and barely noticed the numerous allusions. And truthfully, I probably didn’t even bat an eye during previous readings, because at the time it would have seemed normal to me as well. 

But now it doesn't. And it’s not my thing. So there’s that. 

Nothing against Anne . . . I’m sure she’s great and probably the kind of fellow human I’d actually want to have coffee with and chat up. But I doubt I’ll be picking this one up again any time soon, if at all. 

Year Seven, Week Two: An Update

Yesterday we wrapped up the second week of our “new” school year . . . which even for us year-round folks seems odd to say on 2 June. Here’s a peek at what we covered in these first two weeks and what’s to come.

For geography, we started re-reading our spine book, beginning with the formation of the planets and a detailed look at planet earth. We are detouring briefly to take a closer look at Our Solar System by Seymour Simon. We have another of his books, Earth, in the queue.

{Side note: I’m definitely making more use of the Want To Read and Currently Reading shelves of my Goodreads account this year than I have in the past. Yes, it involves some extra work moving titles around, but I like the overall organization better.}


We’ve gone back to the start of our world history studies and did an overview of the first section of our spine, which covers early humans {early hominin species, hunter gatherers, first farmers}. We are going to add a DK Eye Wonder book about Early People and also combine it with our art curriculum by taking a look at Prehistoric Art by Susie Hodge.

For American history we intend to get back to our study of the 50 states {as well as Washington, D.C. and U.S. territories}, but for now we are quickly reviewing major historical events addressed in the United States Encyclopedia. We’re currently up to the Industrial Revolution. 

{Side note: For fun we’ve also started watching The Who Was? Show on Netflix. At first I thought it was pretty strange, but it’s kind of growing on me. It also reminded me of how much we used to enjoy watching The Mr. Peabody and Sherman Show.}


We restarted the much-loved Treasury of Greek Mythology, but I think we might take a break from that to re-read Z is for Zeus instead. We have enjoyed so many of these themed alphabet books from Sleeping Bear Press. We also recently discovered Ken Jenning’s Junior Genius Guides, and the Agents are reading through the Greek Mythology one on their own. 

Every time we open the world religions book What Do You Believe? we plan to read a page, maybe two, and end up unintentionally chatting and getting way off course with the rest of school. This for whatever reason is just a topic that fascinates the Agents. We plan to add Anita Gainer’s Atlas of World Religions to our reading list as well. 

So far we’ve only completed the first four lessons of Coffee Break Spanish, but we’re off to a consistent start of two lessons a week, which is what we aimed for. Agent E has been using Practice Makes Perfect: Basic Spanish, and Agent A is going through the Brighter Child workbooks that Agents E and J used a few years ago. Agent J is the only one not currently doing any written Spanish work, although she may try the same workbook Agent E is using later this year. 

{Side note: We should probably practice our Spanish when we are out and about more than we do. I think if I tried to speak it in public, the Agents would follow. But, I feel kind of weird doing it. Even though we live in an area filled with people fluent in both English and Spanish and we may never have that kind of opportunity again, we’ve been here for nearly a year and I can’t make myself do it. Introvert problems?}


For science we restarted our visual encyclopedia spine, beginning with matter. This week we re-watched the Disney Imagineering: Fluids episode. We also finished our umpteenth reading of Our Family Tree and started the Cartoon Prehistory of Life on Earth series, beginning with When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm. We discovered recently that Your Inner Fish is streaming for free on Amazon Prime, so that will be a definite re-watch in the near future as well. {There is also a book, and it’s excellent.} 

Our health studies for right now focus on the human body and understanding how everything works, including sexual reproduction, because—gasp!—kids should actually know that stuff. We’ve begun the year with a re-read of It’s Not the Stork, and plan to continue with the rest of this amazing series by Robie H. Harris before moving on to some other old favorites.

For art we've focused mainly on early {prehistoric} art, and as mentioned above we’ll be reading Susie Hodge’s book beginning next week. This means we’ll be putting aside our art spine for a bit, but we will be excited to get back to it and cover Renaissance art in few weeks.

We are concentrating on early music {prehistoric through about 1600} for right now, using The Children’s Book of Music as a spine. We also took Play Me a Story out of the library again recently, which combines our love of mythology with our music studies. Agent E is still the only one interested in playing a musical instrument {she has a recorder, keyboard, and guitar} at this time. Now that we’re getting into a groove with the school year, she is coming up with her own plan for practicing each of them during the week. {She is very much my mini-me when it comes to planning and organizing schedules.}


This is the first year we decided to make critical thinking its own “subject” for school. We started the year by taking another look at Maybe Yes, Maybe No by Dan Barker, and next week we’ll be reading another of his books that is very similar, Maybe Right, Maybe Wrong. I showed the Agents the video Ridiculous Claim, and although I’m not sure Agent A was paying full attention, the Senior Agents definitely understood it’s premise and purpose. We also ended up in a random discussion about Occam’s Razor.

One final note: I was sad to see in my e-mail this morning that Our Little Earth—a biweekly current events newsletter for kids that we’ve been reading for years—is no longer going to publish issues. Guess we’ll be on the hunt for something new.

Hope your school year—whether it’s ending or beginning or in the middle of break—is going well.