Posts tagged ‘Memoir & Biography’

June 5th, 2011

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Bird by Bird

Author: Anne Lamott

Published: September 1st, 1995

Number of Pages: 239

Rating: 4/5


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. [It] 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.'”

With this basic instruction always in mind, Anne Lamott returns to offer us a new gift: a step-by-step guide on how to write and on how to manage the writer’s life. From “Getting Started,’ with “Short Assignments,” through “Shitty First Drafts,” “Character,” “Plot,” “Dialogue.” all the way from “False Starts” to “How Do You Know When You’re Done?” Lamott encourages, instructs, and inspires. She discusses “Writers Block,” “Writing Groups,” and “Publication.” Bracingly honest, she is also one of the funniest people alive.

If you have ever wondered what it takes to be a writer, what it means to be a writer, what the contents of your school lunches said about what your parents were really like, this books for you. From faith, love, and grace to pain, jealousy, and fear, Lamott insists that you keep your eves open, and then shows you how to survive. And always, from the life of the artist she turns to the art of life. [From Goodreads]


There are few experiences as depressing as that anxious barren state known as writer’s block, where you sit staring at your blank page like a cadaver, feeling your mind congeal, feeling your talen run down your leg and into your sock.

Now, you also want to ask yourself how they stand, what they carry in their pockets or purses, what happens in their faces and to their posture when they are thinking, or bored, or afraid. Whom would they have voted for last time? Why should we care about them anyway? What would be the first thing they stopped doing if they found out they had sixth months to live? Would they start smoking again? Would they keep flossing?

…clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground – you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip.


Despite the fact that many, many were, it’s odd to find out that certain books were written before I was born. For instance, this book was written almost two months before I was born, and now here I am, reading it and understanding it. Isn’t wonderful how time has no hold over literature? And it’s quite fortunate, considering how much this book has and will continue to help me with my writing.

As I’ve said before, it’s always a comfort to read a book on writing by someone who can very clearly write well. If the author can manage to make their nonfiction interesting, I am willing to learn from them! They’re gifted.

Bird by Bird is definitely the… deepest of the three books on writing that I’ve read recently. Anne Lamott ties life experiences of her own and of others into the concepts she’s trying to teach. In many cases, I forgot that I was reading a book on writing at all, because the “on life” factor is so dominant. At the same time, I learned loads about writing, specifically theme, characters, and the lifestyle that a person must adopt to devote themselves to writing. Anne Lamott was born into a literary household (her father was a writer). She learned to love books from her loved ones, and eventually learned to write from them as well. I was inspired by the stories she told of writing books for her dying father and best friend. What could be more worthy of our time, energy, and creativity than the people we love most?

I think the key thing I got out of Bird by Bird was a strengthened appreciation for the writing craft (or art?). It affects everything a writer does in life. The way we speak, the way we read, the way we think of people, and the way we see the world. As I come to understand how to create characters, I understand people far better. The more I learn about intriguing description, the more I appreciate the things around me. Anne Lamott stresses how wonderful – though sometimes brutally difficult – writing is, and it’s evident that she thinks it’s the best sort of life.

And isn’t it?

Bird by Bird is a touching, funny, and informative book that will teach and motivate. You will want to jump right back into your work-in-progress. You’ll remember why you began writing in the first place – it nurtures you.

January 3rd, 2010

Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd & Ann Kidd Taylor; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Traveling with Pomegranates

Authors: Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

Published: 2009 by Viking Press

Number of Pages: 282

Rating: 3/5



“I glance over at my mother. Her eyes are closed, her fingers interlocked. I wonder what her prayers are about. Her novel? Her blood pressure? Peace on earth? The two of us praying like this to the Black Madonna suddenly washes over me, and I’m filled with love for my mother. The best gift she has given me is the constancy of her belief. Whatever I become, she loves me. To her, I am enough.”

“I look up at Mary and concede what I am coming to know. I will become a writer. As we descend the stairway, I tell Mom that since we have only two more nights in France, we should go all out on the meals. No more hamburgers. Bring on the baguettes. The cheese plate. Steak au poivre. Champagne.

“Then, after a few moments of wondering, I come out and ask her, ‘What did you pray for back on the kneeler?’” 

“ ‘You,’ she answers.”


Okay, bear with me people; I read this book awhile ago.

As anyone close to me knows, I was and still am completely in love with The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. I’ll go into that further when I read it over again.

Consequently, when a new book with her name slapped on the front cover appeared, I lunged for it. I was intrigued by the thought of her having a daughter – not just a daughter, but a daughter who wrote. And, apparently, writes well!

Traveling with Pomegranates is a mother-daughter story and takes place over the years during which both are thrust into new stages in their lives. Sue is turning 50 and Ann is graduating from college. Suddenly, they both are changing, their situations are changing, and they both must learn to understand themselves and understand the new differences in each other. (Wow, I really wish I could figure out how to rephrase that last sentence. Ick.)

First of all, can we all agree that the cover this book is beautiful? Honestly, anyone’s eyes would be drawn to its sweet simplicity, and it’s a wonderful representation of the book as a whole. The book is thought-provoking yet calming. It is ideal when you are looking for a momentary escape from reality, and will likely leave you with some valuable knowledge.

The book had a few clear main focuses, such as the mother-daughter relationship and the spiritual and personal discoveries made by both, but there were many backgrounds that greatly affected the feel of and mark left by the book.

For example, the different settings, from Greece to Paris to South Carolina, were all influential, and the happenings at all led step-by-step to the eventual denouement. It was certainly one of the few books with complete closure, which is a recommendation in and of itself. As a reader, I was completely satisfied with the connections made by the Ann and Sue, and the feelings and conclusions that evolved from events.

The chapters alternate between Sue’s and Ann’s point of view (all is written in present-tense), which allows readers to get the full story. You could literally draw a venn diagram in relation to this book. Certain things directly affected both, such as their relationship; daughter worrying about mother’s blood pressure, and mother letting go of certain claims on her daughter as her daughter grows. Then, we see Ann as she develops a relationship with Scott and as she deals with the troubles of finding a career, and we accompany Sue on her journey to write a novel (The Secret Life of Bees). (By the way, the way she went about writing said novel was quite interesting.)

Honestly, though, one of the most crucial aspects of the book (other than their relationship in general) are their spiritual discoveries over the time recorded in the book. Sue Monk Kidd’s connection with, respect and love for, and interest in the Black Madonna evolves, and, if you’ve read The Secret Life of Bees, you’ve seen that her faith has affected her and her writings immensely.

Ann also makes some discoveries similar to, yet different from her mother’s and watches as her mother slowly becomes more engrossed in reevaluating her life and adjusting herself to the coming years.

Overall, the book was a touching, amusing, and heart-felt one. I enjoyed it far more than a few of the nonfiction books I’ve read. It is certainly, however, a book you must be open-minded about and is an extremely difficult book to speak of, since I can guess it has a great many different effects on everyone.

I will be honest, and say that I probably won’t reread the book, unless, of course, I want some information on attractions in Greece.

Go ahead and read it and see what you think. I’d be interested to know.