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    Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on
    birds written that he'd had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our
    family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper
    and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my
    father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, "Bird by bird,
    buddy. Just take it bird by bird."
        -Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

I'm not sure how long it was on the air, but for at least five years, Roseanne Barr's show was one of the most popular TV series in America.  Meanwhile, I personally would have only tuned in to watch her be fed, piece by large piece, into a woodchipper.  So I recognize the frequent possibility, even likelihood, that I am significantly out of step with popular opinion.  But let me say this, Bird by Bird, a memoir of the writing life by Anne Lamott reads as if it was written by Ms Barr.  Ms Lamott too is screechy, self-pitying, profane, and profoundly annoying.  She is one of those people who has made a complete hash of her own life--alcoholic, drug addict, bulimic, single mother, born again but calls God, Her, all the time--therefore, thinks that life is really difficult in general and that her's is especially trying, and for some reason thinks that we should all hear about it and that we have something to learn from her.

Now, I hardly consider myself prudish and I must acknowledge that one of my own most troubling character defects is a tendency to be excessively gutter-mouthed, but there is simply no excuse for Lamott's foul language in this book.  If an author is rendering dialogue in a novel, they must obviously use strong language in order to be realistic.  But here, in a book that is purportedly about writing, her frequent resort to swearing smacks of affectation and a forced attempt to keep the tone of the book chatty, rather than pedantic.  Instead, it is merely unprofessional.  What do we have to learn about writing, never mind life, from a woman who can't express herself without resorting to profanity?

The sole moment of pleasure in the book comes in the form of a rejection letter that an editor sent to her, in which he states:

    You have made the mistake of thinking that everything that has happened to you is interesting.

We can safely go one step further and say that the mistake lies in thinking that anything that has happened to her is interesting.

This was actually supposed to be a review of her book Operating Instructions, about raising her baby as a single mother, but the mere prospect is so revolting that I can't face it.  Suffice it to say, my wife who started reading the book threw it away and said Lamott should be horsewhipped.  Who am I to argue?


Grade: (D)


See also:

Women Authors
Anne Lamott Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Anne Lamott
    -PODCAST: Anne Lamott on Secrets: In Conversation with Mitzi Rapkin on the First Draft Podcast (First Draft: A Dialogue on Writing , April 29, 2024)
-ESSAY: Tide In, Tide Out: Anne Lamott on Growing Old and Making Peace with Death: “My father’s death feels like it was twenty years ago but it was more than forty-five.” (Anne Lamott, April 10, 2024, LitHub)
    -ARCHIVES: Anne Lamott (LitHub)

Book-related and General Links:
-The Anne Lamott Site
    -ARCHIVES: Anne Lamott (Salon)
    -EXCERPT: Chapter One of Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
    -ESSAY: on Traveling Mercies  (Anne Lamott, Bold Type)
    -REVIEW: of HEART CONDITIONS By Sara Lewis (Anne Lamott, NY Times Book Review)
    -INTERVIEW: Michael Interviews...   Author Anne Lamott (Whad'yaknow?, PBS)
    -INTERVIEW: An Interview with Anne Lamott: The successful author talks about faith and motherhood (
    -PROFILE: AT HOME WITH: Anne Lamott; Laughter, Death, Lollipops (RUTH REICHL, NY Times)
    -PROFILE: Crooked Little Faith :  Writer Anne Lamott staggers toward Jesus. (Kimberly Burge, Sojourners)
    -ESSAY: Anti-Lamott : Anne Lamott's overrated and over-emoted writing brings our fin-de-siècle values into question (Paulina Borsook, Metro Active)
    -ESSAY: CLOSE TO HOME; Words From Mothers' Hearts  (JAN BENZEL, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of BIRD BY BIRD Some Instructions on Writing and Life. By Anne Lamott  (Carol Muske Dukes, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Bird by Bird (Traci Hukill, MetroActive)
    -REVIEW: of ALL NEW PEOPLE By Anne Lamott (Richard Bausch, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of CROOKED LITTLE Heart By Anne Lamott (Benjamin Cheever, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott Lamott finds 'Mercies' amid madness (Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY )
    -REVIEW: of  TRAVELING MERCIES: SOME THOUGHTS ON FAITH, by Anne Lamott Her way home:  Anne Lamott talking about faith (Michael Joseph Gross, Boston Phoenix)
    -REVIEW: of Traveling Mercies What Do You Mean Anne Lamott Is a Christian?: Unmitigated Mercies (Marion Winik, Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Traveling Mercies (Kelly Luker, MetroActive)
    -REVIEW: 'Traveling Mercies' is mercilessly self-absorbed (Patrick Sullivan, MetroActive)
    -REVIEW: Jesus And A Sack Full Of Boo-Boo Fish: A Review Of Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts On Faith (D. Marty Lasley, American Wasteland)
    -ANNOTATED REVIEW: Lamott, Anne  Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year (Audrey Shafer, Medical Humanities)
    -REVIEW: of Operating Instructions (Maggie Rogers, ParentNetSweden)
    -REVIEW: of Operating Instructions ( Jillian Hanson, BabiesToday)

    -REVIEW: Bird by Bird with Annie  DIRECTED BY: Freida Lee Mock (Boston Phoenix)