2007/03/21

Bird by bird


I've finished reading Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott. I've enjoyed it more than anything that I have read in years. The book tries to capture what Lamott teached in her writing worshops, "every single thing I know about writing". And the surprising thing is that she does it in a way that makes the book great even for people like me that don't have the slightest interest in writing fiction [1].

Not every book makes you think, or gives you advice that sets you in a good mood that lasts for days, or makes you have bursts of laughter while reading it on the bus, or makes you feel like going to watch a baseball game when you have always thought that watching paint dry is more exciting than watching a baseball game. And Bird by Bird did all this to me.

I'll be quoting some instructions on life in other posts, but I feel like quoting today some of the fragments that have made me burst in laughter. Of course, sense of humor being sense of humor, they may not even make you smile.

On the writer's block (p177)

A blissfully productive manic stage may come to a screeching halt, and all of a sudden you realize you're Wile E. Coyote and you've run off the cliff and a second away from having to look down. (...) You may feel a little as if writing a novel is like trying to level Mount McKinley with a dentists drill.
On one of the reasons to write a book while her father was dying of cancer (p187)
I found myself desperate for books that talked about cancer in a way that would both illuminate the experience and make me laugh. But there weren't many. In fact, there was only one that I was aware of, Violet Weingarten's Intimations of Mortality, a journal of het chemotherapy (...) I read the book over and over (...), then went to the library and said, "Do you have any other really funny books about cancer?" And they looked at me like, Yeah, they're are right over there by the comedies about spina bifida.
While discussing the lack of books on single parenting that were funny and sick and therefore true (p188)
Having a baby is like suddenly getting the world's worst roommate, like having Janis Joplin with a bad hangover and PMS come to stay with you.
[1] During my teen years, I liked to write short stories; but in my late teens I thought that first I had to become a better reader before being a writer. And when I realized that, while enjoying very much reading, I was not able to capture in the books what other people seemed to be able to capture, I decided that I was done with writing fiction.