Harvard Educational Review
  1. Bird by Bird

    Some Instructions on Writing and Life

    By Anne Lamott

    New York: Pantheon Books, 1994. 239 pp. $21.00.

    Anne Lamott's irreverent and humorous approach in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life is greatly inspiring for those confronted with the task of writing. She reminds us that the process of writing is messy, and that lousy drafts are common to all good writers. Lamott cautions the writer not to be obsessed with perfectionism, since the treasures in our writing are under piles of clutter: "Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move" (p. 29).

    Each chapter covers a particular aspect of a piece — from plot to dialogue — and offers practical tips and suggestions for approaching them. Her advice for developing a character, for example, is 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 six months to live? Would they start smoking again? Would they keep flossing?" (p. 45).

    Amidst Lamott's funny anecdotes, however, are deep and insightful comments about writing. "Writing can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong" (p.19). Her wisest advice for those grappling with writing is to take it step by step, or "bird by bird," her father's advice to Lamott's ten-year-old brother when he was paralyzed by a writing assignment about birds.

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    Book Notes

    Moral Development
    Edited by Bill Puka

    Places of Inquiry
    By Burton R. Clark

    Teaching and Learning in History
    Edited by Gaea Leinhardt, Isabel L. Beck, and Catherine Stainton.

    School-Based Management
    Edited by Susan Albers Mohrman and Priscilla Wohlstetter.

    Developing Home-School Partnerships
    By Susan McAllister Swap

    Over the Ivy Walls
    By Patricia Gandara

    Composition as a Cultural Practice
    By Alan W. France

    Fugitive Cultures
    By Henry Giroux

    A New Generation of Evidence
    Edited by Anne Henderson and Nancy Berla.

    By Molly Ladd-Taylor.

    Beyond Tracking
    Edited by Harbison Pool and Jane A. Page

    School-Community Connections
    Edited by Leo C. Rigsby, Maynard C. Reynolds, and Margaret C. Wang.

    Bird by Bird
    By Anne Lamott

    The International Education Quotations Encyclopaedia
    Edited by Keith Allan Noble

    Learning from Strangers
    By Robert S. Weiss