Because I Don’t Share
My Favorite Book Excerpts Enough…

h1 January 28th, 2010 by jules

After I shared this news in mid-December, a dear friend sent me, as a thoughtful congratulatory gift, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Now, I know this was published in 1994 and lots of writers have probably long leaned on Lamott’s wise advice. In other words, I’m sixteen years late to the party here. But, yeah. I’m reading it for the first time ever. And I love the below excerpt so much on so many levels that I’m going to share it today. And then—while we’re on the subject of glorious imperfections, which we will be—I’m going to follow it with a novel excerpt Eisha once shared with me years ago in a card she gave me, which I also love so much that it’s been hanging in my kitchen all these years.

(And, since Lamott mentions addictiveness, I’m picturing my addiction-of-choice above.)

This post is sort of like a cheap Dollar-Store copy of the kind of goodness you get at John E. Simpson’s blog on Poetry Fridays — interrelated poems, excerpts from novels, song lyrics, even videos/music, etc., though I’ve just got some book excerpts here and though this post doesn’t deliver half as well as John’s do. (Here is but one example.) His cyber-bungalow can be one of your best Poetry Friday visits.

I hope you enjoy the below excerpts as much as I do…

From Anne Lamott’s chapter on character in Bird by Bird:

Now, a person’s faults are largely what make him or her likable. I like for narrators to be like the people I choose for friends, which is to say that they have a lot of the same flaws as I. Preoccupation with self is good, as is a tendency toward procrastination, self-delusion, darkness, jealousy, groveling, greediness, addictiveness. They shouldn’t be too perfect; perfect means shallow and unreal and fatally uninteresting. I like for them to have a nice sick sense of humor and to be concerned with important things, by which I mean that they are interested in political and psychological and spiritual matters. I want them to want to know who we are and what life is all about. I like them to be mentally ill in the same sorts of ways that I am; for instance, I have a friend who said one day, “I could resent the ocean if I tried,” and I realized that I love that in a guy. I like for them to have hope—if a friend or a narrator reveals himself or herself to be hopeless too early on, I lose interest. It depresses me. It makes me overeat. I don’t mind if a person has no hope if he or she is sufficiently funny about the whole thing, but then, this being able to be funny definitely speaks of a kind of hope, of buoyancy. Novels ought to have hope… We all know we’re going to die; what’s important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this.

From Denise Giardina’s The Unquiet Earth:

Still yet it is a fine place. I know every man jack that lives here, know their wives and younguns, know the insides of their houses like I know my own trailer. I set and drink coffee with everybody and they tell me their troubles. Wouldn’t you know, the folks that has the most problems makes the best coffee. It’s funny the way life works out.

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17 comments to “Because I Don’t Share
My Favorite Book Excerpts Enough…”

  1. I love Bird by Bird! It’s truly a must-have. The one that I only read recently and had the same love-at-first-read reaction to was Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it!


  2. Words to live by! Many thanks.


  3. I envy you, experiencing Bird by Bird for the first time, although it doesn’t fail under multiple re-reads either.

    (And if I’d known you hadn’t read it, I would’ve walked a copy all the way down there to Nashville myself.)


  4. Sigh. Thanks for these excerpts. Been awhile since I read Bird by Bird, and now I need to dip back into it. The Unquiet Earth sounds good.


  5. Sarah, yes, I want to read that, too.

    Rob, yes, they are words to live by.

    Sara, if you had walked a copy here, I would have had a cup of coffee waiting for you.

    Jama, I’ve actually never read all the rest of The Unquiet Earth. Need to do that one day. But I do love that excerpt.


  6. I can’t believe you haven’t already read this book. I keep a copy at my desk and reread portions of it when I’m in a dark why-am-I-even-trying mood. Lamott’s honesty refreshes me, and that book feels like home. I suppose that I, too, like a narrator who has a lot of my own flaws.

    Sarah, Thanks for reminding me about Writing Down the Bones. So many people have told me I have to read it–I’m putting it on hold now.


  7. I am reading Bird by Bird now. I’m an illustrator, but I see the close relation of writing to art-making. Well..writing is art, really.
    Anyway, I’m past that chapter, but it was really good to read that again. I’m on the chapter about jealousy…brutally honest :/ and also very relatable. :)


  8. Thanks so much for sharing this. I love the wisdom of Anne Lamott. Whenever I’m faced with some daunting task, I think of this story Lamott shares early in the book; Her brother had put off a report for months and had no idea how he would ever finish. Their father sits him down and tells him to “just take it bird by bird.” So wise.


  9. I loved Bird By Bird! Just read it a couple months ago. If I may name-drop, guess who recommended it to me? Kate DiCamillo! I met her at a book-signing and we got to chat for about thirty seconds or so about writing and rejection and perseverance. She told me, “You HAVE to read this book. Go find it!” and scribbled “Bird by Bird” on a napkin for me. I think I still have the napkin, silly starstruck me. :-)

    I can almost smell the espresso in your photo!


  10. Like others, I can’t believe I’ve never heard of Bird by Bird. (It sounds like the title of Charlie Parker’s autobiography. :) ) I have read other things by Anne Lamott. But that excerpt is GREAT — thanks for the recommendation! (I never sneer at an excuse to acquire another book, ahem.)

    Loved the quote from The Unquiet Earth, too.

    (If you’re looking for something else to add to your Netflix quuuuuuuuuuuuueue — I think that’s how I’ve seen you spell it — and haven’t already seen it, I suggest John Sayles’s film Matewan, on the same unquiet earth.)

    [And THANK YOU for the kind words. It is to blush.]


  11. Adrienne, well, I guess I never thought I had a need to read it—as in, I thought: Oh, that’s just for people who want to be fiction-writing-types-of-authors—but that shows you what I know. Shoot, it’s good for anyone to read.

    Renee, yeah, I can see how it’d work for an illustrator, too.

    Catherine, I need to read some of her other books.

    Hannah, neat! And I wish it were real espresso.

    John, I usually do queueueueueueueue, ’cause who can remember when to stop? Thanks for the rec.


  12. jules, my daughter, rachel (whom I hope you meet soon), gave me _Bird by Bird_ as her favorite book years ago — all these wonderful memoirs of writing serve us up well-you are doing such wonderful things!


  13. it is so good i have had two copies stolen. i’m sure it was students who just forgot to bring the books back. that’s ok, i hope they learned as much as i did. as an illustrator and art guy, i may have learned as much from writers as i have from artists over the years.


  14. I’m using Bird by Bird in my class for the first time this semester–well, it is my first time to teach creative writing. Whenever you come to the book is good. Better late than never!

    I think I like the same people she does…


  15. Jinx: Hi! Thanks.

    Bill: I can see how a lot of her advice can be applied to making-art. Shoot, a lot of it is good advice for life (as the sub-title indicates).

    Marta: Me, too. I definitely like those kind of people.


  16. what a great post! thanks!


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