There are many books I am embarrassed to say that I have never read.
Growing up I was never on the honors track. I take that back. I was in “Gifted and Talented” programming in elementary school and the top reading group in 5th grade. But when you enter the abyss of middle school, the cavernous black hole of hormones and social hierarchy, differentiation and special programming cease to exist (even today!). And college prep and the advanced courses of high school have yet to start. Somehow, I fell through the cracks.
As a middle school and high school student, I felt like school was mostly a way to pass the time until I could get to gymnastics practice, which I attended mostly year-round. I wasn’t a bad student, but in the gym I was surrounded by friends and could spend my time doing what I was really good at, and what I truly loved.
As an education major right out of the gate, most of my college work was focused on elementary level texts, Cognitively Guided Instruction math classes and a smattering of science and social studies courses. I began my Master’s degree shortly after attaining my undergraduate, and so my single adolescent lit course at UWEC counted as an elective in my new degree.
Don’t worry about me. I got a perfectly fine public education. A great one even. I’m mentioning my education background to make the point that I wasn’t destined for a literary life. Instead of reading from a required list of pre-selected titles, I created my own literary landscape.
I read widely, but not the classics. No one forced me to read The Outsiders or Of Mice and Men or Don Quixote, but I did read a bunch of Babysitters Club. (Do you remember those Super Special Editions!?! The ones that had the white cover and were twice as long as the typical book in the series?). I distinctly remember reading the children’s abridged version of Heidi while huddled in the corner during a sleepover birthday party while the other ten-year old’s bickered and did their hair. I read Tom Sawyer and Quest for A Maid. One summer in college I read every biblical fiction book I could get my hands on. After reading The Red Tent I felt like I understood the appeal of being a feminist for the first time in my life
I have not read Catcher and the Rye or The Great Gatsby. But I have read every Harry Potter book multiple times, and I found books like How I Live Now and Jellicoe Road by combing the shelves in Barnes and Noble (in the days before it was a mall establishment and the creaky wooden doors and overstuffed chairs kept me company). The Tea Rose and The Uncommon Reader. The Book Thief, Eragon, The Pillars of the Earth, and Five Smooth Stones. Pages that offered me joy and comfort and companionship.
My literary up bringing was one I designed for myself. The same is true of my writing career. I was a social studies minor, not English. And I’ve never taken a formal writing class (unless you count weekend workshops and conferences.) It is probably because of this that I have never read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
I was recently gifted the book by a writer friend and have since devoured it in a week.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Advice on writing and on life from an acclaimed bestselling author: "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.'"
As I read and paid attention, I took notes. Here are a few of my favorite pieces of writing wisdom Anne had to offer in this evergreen writing resource.
I love the way Anne uses real life examples of pain and suffering and frustration (feelings often associated with writing), and then shows you a practical way out. One step at a time. Who would have thought that school lunches and a tonsillectomy and Polaroid pictures would provide such wisdom? Anne did. And any writer worth their salt will as well, because what writers are better at than anything else, is paying attention.
In case you are curious. Here are a few of the books that I have chosen to in my self-prescribed writing education. I’d highly recommend each and every one.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Writing and Selling the YA Novel by K.l Going
Robert’s Rules of Writing by Robert Masello
Writing for Quick Cash by Loriann Hoff Oberlin
Write-a-Thon by Rochelle Melander
What about you? What books… for pleasurable reading, personal growth or writing skill based have impacted your literary life? Comment below, I’d love to add them to my list!
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