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 It’s more than being outdated; it just doesn’t ring true for me anymore.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. 


  1. When I read that book again recently, I felt the same way. I thought I was the only one!

    1. Ha! Nope, not the only one! I recommended this book to so many people over the years, too. It felt a bit sacrilege to say negative things about it. Then again, it is 24 years old . . . I would like to think that I've changed a bit in the last 24 years, LOL. Thanks for stopping by, Erika. Have a great weekend.