Book Review: Bird by Bird


Illustration of a book shelf and words, "Iris's Bookshelf"

Book Review: Bird by Bird

Book Review by YWP alumna Iris Robert
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Cover of Anne Lamott's book, Bird by Bird

I first read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott during a creative writing class I took this summer. I happened to find my copy at Goodwill for $2, and I was surprised by how much I liked it. 

Sometimes I think that writing advice can be repetitive and drone on, but Lamott brings a fresh and humorous perspective to all areas of writing: first drafts, dialogue, plot, writer's block, and finding your voice. She includes anecdotes, prompts, and quotes from other books/poems/pieces of writing. 

This is a helpful read for writers for both the advice and the ability to recognize yourself in Lamott's descriptions, as the young writer unsure of their voice, the writer who cannot continue their story no matter how many attempts, the writer who suddenly despises everything they've written, and the writer who doesn't know how or where or what to edit. Even though I read this for my class, I would absolutely have read it on my own (and I'll return to it, too).

Lamott talks about wonder and awe in writing, and how important it is to maintain. She writes, "This is our goal as writers, I think; to help others have this sense of - please forgive me - wonder, of seeing things anew, things that can catch us off guard, that break in on our small, bordered worlds. When this happens, everything feels more spacious.... I think this is how we are supposed to be in the world – present and in awe." I love this idea of seeing this anew and being in awe while writing – I think it's also a great prompt. What fills you with awe? What makes you feel most present?

Lamott also talks about character development: "My friend Carpenter talks about the unconscious as the cellar where the little boy sits who creates the characters, and he hands them up to you through the cellar door. He might as well be cutting out paper dolls. He's peaceful; he's just playing." 

I really love this idea of creating character as paper dolls and just playing around with ideas and concepts in a carefree way, rather than being hard on yourself or getting caught up in specifics. It's always harder to write when you're critiquing yourself, rather than being open and playful with your ideas and seeing where they can lead.

Lastly, one of my favorite quotes from this book is actually a quote from another book, Rabbit, Run: "It always reminds me of the last lines of Rabbit, Run: 'his heels hitting heavily on the pavement at first but with an effortless gathering out of a kind of sweet panic growing lighter and quicker and quieter, he runs. Ah: runs. Runs.'" This just perfectly describes the feeling of writing and finding your pace and your voice, and getting to the point of being comfortable and excited about what you're writing.

Overall, I would give this book 3.5/5 stars. I really enjoyed Lamott's advice, especially since I don't usually choose to read nonfiction books. I would definitely recommend this book if you are interested in learning more about the different elements of writing, or if you're looking for motivation to get past that stubborn writer's block.

Happy reading!

September 2023

Iris Robert is a YWP alumna and summer 2023 intern who is studying English literature at Bennington College. You can contact Iris with questions, feedback on her reviews, or just to say hi by messaging her on the site at eyesofIris.