I have written before how much “Bird by Bird” by Ann Lamott works as a non-fiction-novel for me.
A woman in faith, a writing woman, a woman with a view – these themes resonate with me, deeply.
This week I am going to pair that book with “The Story of a Happy Marriage” by Ann Patchett.
I read this memoir and writings tucked up in first class on the (slow) cross country train to Bristol this week. As the engine and carriages wound their weary way through Derby, Chesterfield, Birmingham and Cheltenham Spa, I drank black coffee, chewed on mints and read and read and read.
What a treat, hours and hours to myself to read – oh how I wished that journey would trundle on for days!
What can I share?
For me, the writing in this book is alive with the awe and wonder of life and with absolute grit.
The author’s skill was honed in non-fiction writing for a myriad of publications and magazines including Vogue, Granta, New York Times and Atlantic Monthly on a huge variety of personal and life themes.
This book is a journey deeply into her life as a daughter, wife and sister. Part personal memoir, part instruction guide for writing women, part advice and part inaugural lecture notes on life and circumstance.
For me the essays on the people with whom the author has connected deeply are the most interesting: her second husband, her mother, her grandmother, her dog Rose: the eponymous title essay is profoundly moving for the authenticity of the writer and her relationship with her husband Karl.
For me, it is also a defining book.
Written by a woman with a definite voice where finding my own writing voice, (and strangely my identity, my true Self) has proven to be such a challenge on my journey to date.
“Write it out,” she urges, “tell the truth, stack up the pages. Learn to write by writing”
And I embrace that.
“Focus your energy on the part of the equation you control – the quality of your work.”
Simple, direct clear and yet I get it.
“The trick is not to fight it and to thrive within that thing you feel deeply and about most of all..”
Guidance and endless encouragement fill the pages in and amongst the anecdotes, stories and experience.
Here are two of my favourite extracts:
Writing of the breakdown of her first marriage the author describes how:
“I would get so lost on the way to work some days that I had to pull the car over to the side of the road….When I awoke at 3 am as I did every morning, I never once knew where I was. For several minutes I would lie in bed and wonder while my eyes adjusted tot he dark. After a while it didn’t frighten me any more”
How many of us have felt that too?
There is beauty in the endless depth of recognition.
“Honey, I know. Things happen that you never thought possible,” she writes.
And again during a road trip with her second husband in an RV through America. Eating in a bright sunshine outdoors at a truck stop they meet a man and woman motor biking to a music festival. The woman, Rhonda offers them both a ride, Karl first.
Then it is the authors turn:
“How you ride says everything about how you see the world. In the winniebago we see the world from inside our house. We watch it as it roll sedately past our living room window. But on the back of Rhonda’s bike leaning deeply from side to side, I am the jutting purple mountains. I am the black asphalt and the birds in the sky. I remember everything about the 20 minutes spent in the blown back cloud of Rhonda’s hair. People are more than willing to die on motorcycles because for that moment in the Badlands of South Dakota they are truly and deeply alive.”
Love is what you are without a Past
The whole book reminds me of a phrase I read once from Byron Katie because at the heart of the book there is a lot of love. Read carefully and it will be found.
The essays touched me, inspired and enriched me and that for me is the purpose of great writing.
This wonderful book deserves to be read by a wide audience and has rightly earned itself the current window spot on my best shelf in our study.