Book review: Bird by Bird

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Review: Bird by Bird

There are a couple of important things to remember when reading Bird by Bird. The first is that it was published in 1994, so it predates the internet. This means that the writing advice is not informed at all by the last 27 years of technological and social change. It makes a difference.

The second is that, while Anne Lamott is enthusiastic and funny, this is not anywhere close to a formal how-to on writing. Lamott covers some broad topics–writing every day, not worrying about the quality of first drafts, how publishing shouldn’t necessarily be looked on as an end goal–but does not get into any kind of nitty-gritty. The advice is more inspirational than nuts and bolts.

A lot of it is amusingly written. Lamott seemed a tad neurotic at the time but also rather self-deprecating, so a lot of the book consists of colorful recollections on how she dealt with various writing-related crises, and sometimes her advice translates to simply “don’t do the thing I did.”

I was glad to finally read Bird by Bird, but the passage of time, changing markets and new technologies have made some advice less relevant in 2021. Some fault may also undoubtedly lie with me–if this was one of the first books on writing I’d read, I probably would have found it hilarious rather than amusing, and found the tips more compelling. Still, it’s a quick read and a lot of the information it contains remains relevant today.

UPDATE, September 24, 2021: I have fixed a few egregious typos and such in this review. I always seem to commit the worst writing mistakes when reviewing books on writing.

I also think my take on the book is a bit glib–this is a well-loved classic and I think I was in an especially cynical place when I read it, and that colored my view of it. If you are just starting on your potential career in fiction writing, this is one of the books I highly recommend reading. There is a joyfulness in it (along with pain) that you don’t find in many books on writing.

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