Book Chatter: Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

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Two weeks ago, a friend and I took a trip to a monastery. It was something we’d been meaning to do for a while, and at the end of the quarter, getting outside the city and into four inches of manure was a much-needed break.

As a general rule, I don’t take many pictures. When I’m enjoying an event or a landscape, I’d rather focus on soaking it in than on trying to capture its aura with my abysmal photography skills.

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Oh yeah. Bring on the Pulitzer.

You will, however, be pleased to know that during my weekend at the monastery, I took eleven pictures. Nine were of a window; two were accidentally of my leg.

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I call this one Fenestra: The Undead Arise.

Anyhow. When staying at a monastery, it’s practically required that you bring along something meaningful to read. For me, that meant Anne Lamott’s Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith.

You might remember Lamott as the author of one of the best writing books of all time, Bird by Bird. In Plan B, she’s no less of a gently challenging maestro who will make you simultaneously laugh, sigh, and wince. Written during some of Lamott’s more spiritually fraught times (which, not coincidentally, were also during the second Bush Administration), Plan B is a collection of short stories about parenting, church, dogs, forgiveness, politics, weddings, racism, cruise ships, terminal illness, skiing, and more — in short, topics where you’re either bracing yourself for controversy or pursing your lips in preemptive boredom. But despite this broad range of topics — or perhaps because of it — Lamott succeeds in turning out a richly detailed patchwork quilt of a narrative that works very well, as one reviewer put it, as “a spiritual antidote to anxiety and despair in our increasingly fraught times.”

So if the world has been getting you down lately, and you’re exhausted from trying to nudge it towards a better state of being, try sitting down with Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. It might not fix the world, but it might lower your cortisol levels a bit — and really, sometimes that’s all we can expect from a day.

In closing, I’ll leave you with this excellent calming song and this warming post from Amanda Palmer:

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What’s your favorite hope-filled book?

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Photo credit: Book cover from Better World Books.

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Book Chatter: Bird by Bird

Widely regarded to be one of the best writing books out there, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life has a special role in my life.

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When I first read it, I was in college, involved in a writing group. Now, there are several flavours of writing groups. Some are more about tea and chatting, and then in the last fifteen minutes they might get around to discussing their latest pieces. Others are very focused on Getting Published, and if they don’t have charts tacked to the wall detailing the progress of everyone’s query letters, it’s because their memories are doing the job perfectly well.

And then there are the groups that are all about being honest. These can be tricky. They can be super helpful. They can also completely crush your spirits and make you believe you will never write anything good again, not even a Facebook status or an inter-office memo. Probably even when you buy a new car and try to create a good license plate number, you will crash and burn because your ability to string symbols together is not to be trusted.

"Poor guy --- thought he could play Scrabble."

“Poor guy … thought he could play Scrabble.”

The trick to dealing with these groups is to choose very carefully what piece of writing you bring to them. You can’t bring something you’re too attached to, but you have to care about it enough to value the criticism you get. It’s a delicate balance.

It can also be a little tiring, and several weeks into the group, I was talking with a writing friend who wasn’t in the group. She’d heard about the dynamic and, in sympathy,  told me to read Bird by Bird. It turned out to be exactly what I needed — Lamott knows how to push her readers into writing more, writing better, but she does it so gently that it’s a delight to be challenged. She talks about perspective, about plot, about character development, about writer’s block, and all throughout the book her voice is encouraging, calm, and humorous. Wherever you are in your writing journey, whatever kind of setting you’re writing in, Bird by Bird is a resource that is well worth your time.

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Photo credit: Book cover from Better World Books; fire from tpsdave on Pixabay.