Snowy Friday Reads: "Gone Girl" and "Bird by Bird"

If the weather forecasters are correct, New York City's about to get a whole lot of snow. I don't mind—we haven't had much snow yet this winter, we didn't get much last winter, and I missed the 2010 day-after-Christmas "Snowmageddon" the year before because we were in Tennessee for the holidays. So I feel due a good snow accumulation. Depending on how it looks tomorrow, I may even convince my husband to go out and frolic in it! Snow days with no responsibilities (and no power outages) are fabulous! Plus, I have plenty of unread books. I always think of books when major snow is predicted because of a story my mom loves to tell from when I was a kid. I was a serious reader, and I LOVED going to the library. When I was 10, we had one of the biggest blizzards ever on record for the area—several feet of snow in my hometown, which was normally lucky to get a few inches each winter. To me and my brother and sister, it was heaven. Sledding, snowmen, and snowball fights outside, a fire in the fireplace and hot cocoa inside, and NO SCHOOL.

But in the lead-up to the storm, as everyone was buying every last roll of toilet paper and jug of water and can of soup from the local grocery stores, I had another, more important request for my mom: "We have to go to the library! I don't have enough books!!" Not that I didn't have anything at all to read; I had shelves and shelves of books. But I had added up the unread books on my shelves, and the days we were expected to be snowed in, and I knew I had a serious problem on my hands.

My mom took me to the library, and I loaded up. My mom understood things like that.

Right now, I have six or seven books in my "to-read" stack, plus a few I've been wanting to reread, so I think I'll be set whatever Blizzard Nemo throws our way! So in the meantime, let's talk about current reads.

After I finished A Girl Named Zippy, I read through some back issues of Writer's Digest. Then, because I was in a "thoughts on writing" mood, I picked up Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. My mom gave me this book in college, when I was majoring in English literature (and dance performance and choreography) and taking my first formal courses in creative writing. I had no idea at the time what kind of writer I wanted to be—my short stories and poems from college are all over the place, and some are trying so hard to be something literary and important that it makes me smile and cringe, both, to read them now. But I knew I wanted to write, somehow, and so I was given Bird by Bird.

Bird by Bird, with my shiny new laptop!

The book is Lamott's meditation on writing practices that work, not only in terms of getting something reasonably good down on the page, but also in terms of not driving yourself crazy getting there. The title comes from something her father, also a writer, said to her 10-year-old brother when he was struggling with an overwhelming homework assignment, a long report on birds. "Just take it bird by bird," Lamott's father said, and this is the primary bit of advice she returns through in her book on writing.

One of her main concepts is the idea of breaking down a large project into small chunks that are manageable, so that you can have a sense of accomplishment each writing day and not get overwhelmed by everything that's ahead. She talks about looking at each day or hour's writing through a one-inch picture frame: focus on a single scene, a single moment of character development, a single memory you have to get down, and let your writing flow from there. She also keeps going back to the idea that your first draft isn't supposed to be perfect—it's the time when you let your characters run wild and you overdescribe and underdevelop and basically figure things out as you go, without stopping the stream of creativity. I didn't truly get this concept until first-drafting my current book. Because I stopped self-editing and just let myself write until I reached the end, I finished my first draft in 10 weeks last year, and then dug in to revise it and make it better.

I stopped halfway through Bird by Bird on Wednesday, and will get back to it soon, because of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I'd had this book on hold at the library for about two months, after having SO MANY people tell me I had to read it, and I finally got the e-mail that my copy was ready! So I ran to pick it up. I'm sure Anne Lamott would understand.

Gone Girl, which I stayed up too late last night reading

I'm only halfway through, so you can rest assured I won't spoil the mystery in any way, but this book is really fantastic. It's the story of an unhappy wife gone missing, presumed dead. It's the story of a supremely miserable marriage, a disillusioned and bitter husband, and what happens when two people stop talking to each other about anything that really matters. It's the story of both before and after Nick and Amy Dunne's five-year anniversary—the day she disappears and Nick can't or won't explain his whereabouts. It's completely suspenseful and I stayed up too late last night reading it and it's all I can do not to toss all my work aside for the day and curl up on the couch with it now!

If you're in the northeast U.S., what's your snow-day reading plan? If you're somewhere warmer and sunnier, what's on your book list for the weekend?