First published in 1994, Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird is considered one of the quintessential books for writers. As the subtitle Some Instructions on Writing and Life suggests, Lamott’s narrative breaks down the writing life, guiding students of the craft on the journey to understand what drives our passion by sifting the intricacies of writing through the varying emotions and circumstances we’re apt to come across in our day-to-day lives. In chapters like School Lunches and Index Cards Lamott draws on her habits and experiences to better explain her own unique process, while in the chapter titled Writing a Present she explores the various ways in which her inspiration has taken root somewhere outside of herself. Her characteristic wit is at work throughout her narrative, often turning a darkly comic glance on the harrows we come across in writing and life that can sometimes help to fuel our journey.

While Bird by Bird covers a lot of ground, Lamott’s voice handles the material with a quick and comfortable pace. She has a unique ability to shift from seemingly superfluous stories to some hard-hitting and beautifully honest words of advice; occasionally the asides she takes will require the reader to pay a bit more attention in order to fully appreciate her meaning, while at other times she delivers blatant and profound bits of wisdom without preamble. Her ability to balance the two is one of the significant defining factors of the book, but at the core of its impact is the most basic, most important writing advice Lamott can offer, to her readers as well as to the students in her writing workshops.

Bird by Bird reads quickly and easily, and the reader can be in danger of sometimes zipping through its pages with a little too much casual enjoyment, at the risk of missing some of the book’s most powerful – yet delightfully simple – messages. Although she has a clear understanding for the intellectual science of the art of writing, Lamott’s focus weaves between the deliberate and the philosophical; her chapters on creating honest, in-depth characters and natural dialogue will have the reader fervently scribbling notes (“One line of dialogue that rings true reveals character in a way that pages of description can’t.”) while in other chapters she encourages the reader’s introspection and subjectivity (“Write towards vulnerability.”). When she gets to the most philosophical topics of her instruction, the vital question of why we write, she departs from her humor to offer some of her most heartwarming and thought-provoking words of encouragement. Although these are arguably the little gems – such as, “You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words” – that we as aspiring writers are the most quickly inspired by, throughout Bird by Bird Lamott delves into topics deeply important for writers, exploring them with a sense of wit, charm, and wisdom that will have a lasting resonance within her reader.


Title: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Author: Anne Lamott
Genre: nonfiction, writing
Publisher: Pantheon Books (first edition)
Release date: January 1, 1994
Source: Local Library
Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | BetterWorldBooks
Connect with the author: Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

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New in fiction this week, Room author Emma Donoghue is back with a new novel, as are Catherine McKenzie and Julia Glass; there’s new historical fiction from Barbara Taylor Bradford and Jude Morgan, as well. In mystery, Nevada Barr, Donna Leon, and Susan Wittig Albert all have series additions; Emily Brightwell also has a collection of Mrs. Jeffries stories, and Donald Bain’s Jessica Fletcher returns in the forty-first Murder, She Wrote book. In sci-fi and fantasy there’s new work from E.E. Knight, C.J. Cherryh, and Lynn Flewelling, among others. Romance has the latest in J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, as well as new books from Stefanie Sloane, Juliana Stone, Jennifer Ashley, and Jo Beverley. The was far more than I could cover in young adult this week, but a few notables are novels from Danielle Paige, Bethany Crandell, Deb Caletti, and Beth Kephart. New adult has novels from Tish Thawer, J.S. Cooper, Abbi Glines, and more. And in nonfiction Under the Tuscan Sun author Frances Mayes is back with a memoir of her life growing up in the south. Last but not least, many new-to-paperback releases this week, including Mary Roach’s Gulp, Edward Rutherfurd’s Paris, and Lynn Cullen’s Mrs. Poe. Enjoy!

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When one reads a classic there are a million extra ways to be surprised, because for so long preconceived notions have been quietly stewing in our minds about what sort of story the book is going to tell. Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera is just such a classic, first published in English in 1988 and an irrevocably iconic work ever since, second only to his Nobel Prize-winning 100 Years of Solitude. Yet in twenty-six years its story – the tale of Florentino Ariza’s devastating love and half-century of waiting for the beautiful Fermina Daza – will not be as instantly recognizable to readers, or as culturally ingrained, as the love stories between Rhett and Scarlett or Cathy and Heathcliff, for example. It’s a young novel yet, but there seems to be an enduring singularity to it that will allow it to slip through the grasp of convention for a long time; and it’s also an impressively subjective novel, with every page giving rise to new reactions in its reader, opening the door for uncountable opinions. These two factors alone make the prospect of writing about it rather staggering, to say the least, but it’s a novel that surely evokes a prolonged, unshakable reaction.

To refer to the story of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza as a love story, as it is most popularly categorized, seems to be an extreme oversimplification of everything García Márquez puts forward in the novel; likewise, to say that it’s a tale of unrequited love also doesn’t quite hit the mark. Instead, Love in the Time of Cholera embodies the entirety of love in all its scope and forms: through Florentino’s devotion to Fermina we see all-consuming love, while Fermina’s flighty responses range from adolescent love to the falling out of love (“the abyss of disenchantment”) and eventually a love born of time and understanding. When Fermina, driven away from Florentino by her father’s determination, marries the amiable Dr. Juvenal Urbino, her restless independent nature seems to find a home in married love, and here we find the perpetually unsteady but ultimately well-achieved journey of the novel’s only long-term relationship. Beyond this, as Florentino whiles away fifty years in wait for Fermina, his six hundred affairs explore the many other faces of love; sexual love, of course, being the most obvious. It’s in this way that Love in the Time of Cholera seems to be a character study of love itself, and García Márquez’s profound dedication to his subject uncovers the untidiness of love, its ability to both enrapture and disturb. What results is a novel of astonishing complexity and jolting honesty.

Neither Florentino nor Fermina (nor, for that matter, Juvenal Urbino) are presented to the reader as unflinchingly pure characters. Fermina is at times headstrong against romantic notions, sometimes childishly obstinate in the face of things that displease her for reasons we as readers are not always able to understand; but her agitated spirit has a way of reaching in and finding its kindred within the reader. Florentino, alternatively, forces romance on the novel’s unseen narrator in his furious, inherently selfish pursuit of satisfaction. His relationships with women are at turns perverse, depraved, and tragic, but somehow a character whose ideas and actions demand the reader’s objections manages to draw out compassion instead, perhaps through the perpetual naïveté that renders him childlike and starry-eyed even at old age. He contradicts his platitudes of undying devotion many times (six hundred and twenty-two times, to be exact) under the belief that the love he makes with other women is not real love, and the reader is left to wonder whether his mentality is an excuse for blatant obsession or a revelation of delusion. This is another example of the complexities García Márquez expertly leads his readers through, inviting us to question and probe and unearth the grittiness of love, or non-love, as it may be.

Perhaps the most riveting element of Love in the Time of Cholera is García Márquez’s prose, which will captivate the attention of readers new to his craft. The story unfolds through a narrative that is at once dense and fluid, a solid thing with a liquid quality that seeps into the reader’s bones. With very little dialogue, García Márquez relies almost entirely on his narrative power, which in itself is a remarkable departure from the typical structure of a novel; but also mystifying is his ability to weave through time without the convention of continuity. Deaths of prominent characters are merely mentioned and future events are revealed before their time with utmost nonchalance, a collective tactic that lets him playfully taunt the reader with the flimsiness of mortality, time, and other real-world structures. By this effect García Márquez aligns the most poetic reaches of his prose with his reader’s vulnerability; he opens the full heart of his Florentino and the uninhibited spirit of his Fermina to the reader, with an aim to leave us questioning everything we knew before beginning the story; he hits his mark with legendary ease and charisma, and with no small amount of mischief.


Love in the Time of Cholera was my March selection for the 2014 TBR Challenge (and I made it by the skin of my teeth, didn’t I?). It was my first time reading Gabriel García Márquez, whose work I’ve been meaning to read for many years, and I loved the experience. I think I had a much different idea of what sort of novel Love in the Time of Cholera would be, but it went an entirely different direction than I anticipated; I expected a complex and deeply thought-provoking book, which I got, but I never expected the complexities and depth to take the shapes they do. Such a very interesting work!

My tea of choice was Harney & Sons Bankok tea, which is a green tea with vanilla, coconut, and ginger; and I snacked on raw almonds, grapes, and Vincent cheese.


Title: Love in the Time of Cholera
Author: Gabriel García Márquez
Genre: classics, literary fiction, magic realism
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (original English), Vintage (my edition)
Release date: January 1, 1988
Source: Personal collection
Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | BetterWorldBooks

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Another week, another batch of bright new releases! This week in fiction, Jane Green is back, as well as Eva Stachniak, Paullina Simons, and Lisa Verge Higgins, among others. Meanwhile in mystery, James Patterson and Marshall Karp are back with the second in their NYPD Red series, plus series additions from Heather Graham, Mary Daheim, and Teresa Grant, and series premieres from Allison Brennan and Alyssa Maxwell. In sci-fi and fantasy there are new novels from M.R. Carey, Paula Brackston, Douglas Nicholas, and others. There’s lots of new work in romance – from Robyn Carr to Debbie Macomber to Kristan Higgins to Maya Rodale and many others. In young adult there’s a new Soul Screamers volume from Rachel Vincent and series additions from Jaclyn Moriarty and Victoria Lamb. New Adult has the second in Emma Chase’s Tangled series, plus series additions from Nichole Chase, Tara Sivec, and others; additionally, Rob Thomas, the creative mind behind Veronica Mars, is following up the Veronica Mars movie premiere with a new series of novels. Nonfiction has new releases from Deborah Feldman, Arianna Huffington, and Rachel Zoe, while newly released to paperback this week are Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, Lauren Graham’s Someday, Someday, Maybe, Bee Ridgway’s The River of No Return, and many more. Enjoy!

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