The Blue Jay’s Dance: A Birth Year

ISBN: 0060927011
ISBN 13: 9780060927011
By: Louise Erdrich

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About this book

In The Blue Jay's Dance,Louise Erdrich's first major work of nonfiction, she brilliantly and poignantly examines the joys and frustrations, the compromises and the insights, the difficult struggles and profound emotional satisfactions she experienced in the course of one twelve month period--from a winter pregnancy through a spring and summer of new motherhood to fall a return to writing. In exquisitely lyrical prose, Erdrich illuminates afresh the large and small events that mothers--parents--everywhere will recognize and appreciate.

Reader's Thoughts

Chanel Earl

There were sentences and even whole paragraphs in this book that I loved, but I didn't love the whole book: 1. I never felt grounded. Was I reading about motherhood, writing, nature? I didn't know what kind of book I was reading. In the end I decided it was a book about whatever Louise Erdrich wanted to write about that day and I felt she was a little indulgent at my expense.2. Too many adjectives and adverbs. It slowed me down and made the book less fun.That said, I wish I would have written this sentence: "When every inch of the world is known, sleep may be the only wilderness we have left." I love it.


"Growing, bearing, mothering or fathering, supporting and at last letting go of an infant is a powerful and mundane creative act that rapturously sucks up whole chunks of life.""Time with children runs through our fingers like water as we lift our hands, try to hold, to capture, to fix moments in a lens, a magic circle of images or words. We snap photos, videotape, memorialize while we experience a fast-forward in which there is no replay of even a single instant.""Rocking, breathing, groaning, mouthing circles of distress, laughing, whistling, pounding, wavering, digging, pulling, pushing- labor is the most involuntary work we do.""I find women's labor extremely difficult to describe. In the first place, there are all sorts of labor and no "correct" way to do it. I bow to the power and grandeur of those who insist on natural childbirth, but I find the pieties that often attend the process irritating. I am all for pain relief or caesareans when women want and need these procedures. Enduring pain in itself doesn't make one a better person, though if your mind is prepared, pain of this sort- a meaningful and determined pain based on ardor and potential joy- can be deeply instructive, can change your life."


I absolutely loved this book. I loved it mostly for the language -- a deep celebration of motherhood as well as an acknowledgement of the burdens. I read this quietly, disappearing into the words each time I picked it up, underlining passages such as this: "Growing, bearing, mothering or fathering, supporting, and at last letting go of an infant is a powerful and mundane creative act that rapturously sucks up whole chunks of life." And one of my favorites: "A mother's vision includes tough nurturance, survival love, a demanding state of grace."


I loved her holistic take on pregnancy, nature, the cycle of life, identity... with so much pregnancy and child-bearing non-fiction out there, it was refreshing to read a pregnancy and birth memoir that folded in more than just THE BABY. It's beautifully literary and helped me meditate on concepts like pain, growth, partnership, and parenthood.


I read this when I was a new mom. I love Louis Erdrich's books. She takes an interesting perspective in this book, blending the experiences of giving birth to her children. I remember her meditation on trying to retrieve a cat from a whole in her basement wall being a little too long, but for the most part I loved this book. Especially, the way she juggles being a writer and a new mom.

Nike Sulway

One of my favourite books of all time. Ever. How does she do it? Write such beautiful, honest, sentences? Reveal everything while saying so very little? Who knows. not me. It's magic.


Erdrich takes the reader through her winter pregnancy, becoming a new mother, and reconciling that motherhood with her own needs, namely writing. I've never read any of her fiction, but I imagine it must be very lyrical because of the way she describes things in this memoir. This was an enjoyable read, though as new-mother memoirs go, I think I prefer the more humorous style of Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions.


There is some lovely nature writing here and some good, honest descriptions of the all-encompassing work of motherhood. I wish I had read this when my kids were babies--I'm glad for all the moments Erdrich expresses the intensity and difficulty of being a mother.Edrich's skill as a writer shines through as she describes pain and beauty, darkness, depression, joy, observes wildlife and the forest that surrounds, describes her babies and their growth--all with precision, care, and grace. She never does sound self-pitying or complaining. She honors toughness--that of her forbears, herself, her offspring, the survival instinct of all living things. If there is anything that keeps me from giving this book four stars it is that Erdrich sometimes seems to want to create or say things that to me do not sound authentic; they do not ring true. They make pretty sentences, but they are too precious. I find also that in some of the nature writing I read from this era (the 1990s) that there is almost a self-congratulatory or complacent element that creeps in and then I feel less enjoyment in the writing. It is as if the writer thinks he or she is a little more righteous or enlightened than everyone else because she is wise enough to observe and enjoy the natural world, and there is an artificial (!) feeling at those moments. Now we are in a post 9/11 world of edginess and fear and a distractedness that makes some of these works from the 90s seem naive to me. Too content. Like the writer is a cat who has just finished a bowl of cream and congratulates herself for her enjoyment of it. But who gave her the bowl? She is dependent on her caretaker and doesn't see how tenuous her existence really is. However, here are some quotes I liked: "The primary parent of a new infant loses the ability to focus. and that in turn saws on the emotions, wears away the fragile strings of nerves. Hormones, milk, heaviness, no sleep, internal joy, all jam the first few months after a baby is born, so that I experience a state of tragic confusion. Most days, I can't get enough distance on myself to define what I am feeling. I walk through a tunnel from one house to the other. . . I'm being swallowed alive. On those days, suicide is an idea too persistent for comfort. There isn't a self to kill, I think, filled with dramatic pity for who I used to be. That person is gone. Yet, once I've established that I have no personal self, killing whatever remains seems hardly worth the effort....""Any sublime effort has its dark moments."


I found this to be a very relaxing read. The book is a memoir covering a specific year in the author's life during which she was pregnant with her third child, gave birth, and returned to writing. The prose is lyrical and she includes reflections on pregnancy and motherhood as well as vivid descriptions of her encounters with wild life and her walks through the forest. At times she shares mystical experiences.

RH Walters

I like Erdrich's comment that each woman must write her own bloody fairy tale. Throughout the book her attention is absorbed by passing wildlife, garden planning, recipes, family members and dreams. Conversational but not too personal, written like someone who is regularly awestruck and determined to record it in the time she has.


This book consists of Erdrich's reflections on a year surrounding the birth of a child. It's cobbled together out of memories from the pregnancies and births of her three daughters and broken out into seasons. Parts of the book astounded me with their beauty and lyrical description of feelings I've had the past 8 months of motherhood, but haven't been able to put into words. The way Erdrich describes how time moves dreadfully slow as well as flashing forward in an instant for a parent was spot on. I also appreciated her insight into labor and birthing.With those positive points, I was less intrigued by the nature writing and her observations of wildlife which kept cropping up and taking away from the more interesting stories about her family. I just didn't care so much about the birds, the woodchucks, the feral cats... Hearing about her late husband, Michael Dorris, was intriguing, but also unsettling. Knowing now about his eventual suicide and the craziness that precipated that event made me realize that "Shadow Tag" is probably semi-autobiographical.


If you know anyone's who is pregnant and who isn't exactly getting the conversation they need throughout the bizarre experience that is pregnancy, buy them this book. Erdrich recognizes and explores the beauty, complication, and terror of motherhood in a way that is making the forthcoming changes in my life not only more recognizable, but more manageable.


Reading this book is like peeking into the soul of every mother who ever lived, though every mother's life is different, of course. In a kind-of almost-poetic, dreamlike prose, it describes moments of the purest oneness, the most intense warmth, but also deep wells of darkness. The author springs those fleeting moments on us the way they occur in real life, randomly, unannounced, like little revelations, amid what is our everyday life. And if not everyday life, then whatever it is we do, as mothers, in our attempt to fight off complete self-erasure. In her case, it's planning gardens in winter and animal-watching during spring and summer, descriptions of which turn into allegories for the creation and celebration of the cycle of life, of birth and death, taking and letting go. Her new baby is not mentioned in every chapter, and less increasingly as the chapters progress. Sometimes, it's uncomfortably absent. It doesn't have a name, it's just "the baby", and her other children and husband are mere sketches, mentioned only 3 or 4 times or so. As such, the book doesn't read like a journal of a mother doting on her daughter and her every milestone and recounting family life, but as that of a woman, mother, who must wean, who must let go, who must break apart from the togetherness, who must be destroyed and built up again, who must, in the end, find herself again, quietly, crossing the bridge back into solitude. It is this dependence-independence dance that is at the heart of this memoir, and, I find, at the heart of every baby-mother relationship.There are many passages I find myself re-reading for their beauty. And yet, I feel that something is missing, that she is hiding something from me. Her family life, certainly, the names of her children. And maybe she is hiding it on purpose, that elusive thing about motherhood, the sanctity that we cannot explain, that we cannot name, not even a writer as accomplished as Louise Erdrich. I like that she doesn't try, at least directly, that she keeps it anonymous, but makes it present, nonetheless. The book is meaningful and melancholy, enriched with beautiful little moments here and there, if not exactly the way I have experienced early motherhood myself, then very much like it.


(Non-Fiction - Mothering Memoir) Erdrich's writing is absolutely lovely, but the overall tone of this book was cumbersome. Her observations of mothering an infant while writing were interesting, but her commentary on the seasons and wildlife were a bit too emotionally taxing for a brand new hormonal mom, like myself. For fans of Erdrich, and those interested in the life of a writing mother.


Louise Erdrich chronicles the first year of her baby's life in rural New Hampshire. The baby's birth and development and her own spiritual and emotional growth are rooted in the cycles of nature. The family live surrounded by teeming wildlife, flora and fauna - all described so evocatively. Seasons pass inexorably and events are recorded in a series of self-standing pieces (some of which have been published in magazines), capturing the essence of motherhood and interweaving wise observations on life and death. A quite different and extraordinary book.

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