Wednesday, April 14, 2010


See also my Fortnightly Post:
"Play With This!"
I can appreciate Lamott's anecdote about the evening when her son Sam hugged her good-night and they both suddenly realized how much taller than her he had grown: "Wow," he said, stepping back, "When did this happen? You're like a little gnome to me now."
(PLAN B, 150)
Speaking of which, in above photo:
My Older Son Ben, Me [Little Gnome], My Younger Son Sam
March 2010, Formby Pine Woods, Merseyside, England



I read these two Anne Lamott books about ten years ago, when my friend Etta gave them to me as a birthday present. Rather than one book about child-rearing and one book about faith, really both books are about both subjects. As I told Etta at the time, the religious parts are on the wacky side but Lamott's parenting insights are excellent, all about coping with the fragility of life and childhood passages (illness, growing pains, coming of age, etc.).

A couple of years later, I read BIRD BY BIRD: SOME INSTRUCTIONS ON WRITING AND LIFE (1994), and wrote to tell Etta what a delightful book it was, about writing and life, full of wit and creativity, positive energy and good advice:

"Don't be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done. . . . Don't worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it" (226).

Etta wrote back all worried that I hadn't liked the first two Lamott books she had sent (Operating and Traveling). I had to remind her that my original assessment had been at least 50% positive. I wrote to her (thank goodness for saved mail): "Etta, go back in your mind to what I said when you sent them. I loved Lamott's wit from the very beginning. She seems like a wonderful parent, and her generous observations have allowed me to forgive myself for not being the perfect mother -- that 's saying a lot! Not many books have been able to do that! My one & only criticism was her religious mumbo jumbo, and you know that has always made me uneasy, since I was about age 9 or so! Still, everything else she says is so meaningful that I can work around the stumbling blocks. Now, do you believe me at last that the books were a wonderful present that have had a profound impact on my way of thinking and being in the world? I hope so!"

In fact, when I pulled out Operating Instructions that day (to re-read favorite passages after finishing Bird by Bird) guess what fell out -- the birthday card that Etta had enclosed back in 1999, telling me that Lamott's writing reminded her of my "funny voice." She had written on the card: "If you ever feel compelled to write, I hope you use your funny voice like this book does." What a wonderful compliment! I blushed at such high praise, and felt honored that she could see any resemblance between Lamott's tone & mine.



In Plan B you'll find Lamott at her best! Last year, in my Fortnightly post, "Rocky Road" I told the story of how this book, like the first two, entered my life as a birthday present -- this time from my friend Cate. To this day, Cate's favorite is the essay about the rock in Mary's hand. I like the one called "Diamond Heart," which contains the "Little Gnome" incident and an opening ode to puttering: "I was puttering around the house, which is my main spiritual practice" (Plan B, 149). Hey, mine too! The exaltation of puttering! You've gotta love that!

Most recently is Grace Eventually, like the others a mixed bag but mostly terrific. Existential moment: "Why are we here? . . . "To live, love, help -- to decorate. To sweep our huts and find some food" (135). Another favorite line: "The lesson was on Letting Go: so I gritted my teeth winsomely" (31). Only Anne Lamott (and Roz Chast -- I can see it now) could grit her teeth winsomely. In fact, I can always count on these two for a laugh (also on my list: Bryson, Colbert, Sedaris, Vowell).

From my cynical perspective, these two books, same as with those above, contain some crazy portions that raised my skepticism. Lamott's narrative voice combines a progressive political stance with a near-fundamentalist religious outlook -- two views which, in my experience, rarely co-exist within one individual. Yet, she doesn't judge; and all of her books make me laugh and cry and feel compelled to read aloud to Gerry and think a lot about belief, faith, and forgiveness. I definitely admire her vision of what life on Earth is supposed to look like.

One thing you can say about Anne Lamott, she has the guts to expose her craziness to the world, and in a very reassuring way. More than any other writer I've ever encountered, she shows me how to forgive myself for being human, for being mean, for being wrong, for making bad choices and stupid mistakes. I need a writer like that in my life!

P.S. I tried Plan B as a book on tape, read by Anne herself. But strangely enough, I didn't feel the love, didn't hear the wryness, didn't laugh the way I do when hearing her voice in my head. The same thing happened when I saw her on The Colbert Report. She was earnest, but where was that "nice sick sense of humor" that she writes about in Bird by Bird (50)? Back home inside those books I guess. So, with these titles, even if they're available to download or as CDs, I have to recommend sticking with the written word.

P.P.S. Question / Suggestion for Anne: Why the same subtitle three times in a row? Time to branch out!


  1. an e-mail from my cousin Dodie:

    Kitti, I am also a fan of Anne Lamott. I, like you, love her sense of humor about everything, but especially parenting and religion. However, I actually find her mix of liberal politics and christianity oddly refreshing somehow. Or maybe it is her ability to be irreverent, yet devout. I like that type of honesty. She seems to always see the double edge of an issue. Nothing is ever black and white with her; always gray. And like you said, she is so transparent with her feeling and thoughts that she helps one feel okay with our own imperfections. Having said what a fan I am, I didn't even know the last two books existed. I go to the library nearly every week and my favorite section is "new books," so not sure how I missed it. Although we have a very small library, so it may never have come thru here. But I will now look them up and order, if needed. I could really use a laugh! Thanks for highlighting her work.

    I tried to post my comments to your blog, but didn't understand what the profile thing was, so I'll just email.....

  2. A friend writes: "As usual, loved it (loved them all). I've had Anne Lamott's "Traveling Mercies" on my kitchen table for a week. I will use the image of you reading as inspiration to slow down, sit, look forward and out to read for a bit each day. My daughter does it all the time--why shouldn't I? I also was reminded to take photos of her reading in her window seat in our sunroom, all of her books lined up on the window ledge as if on display in a bookstore.

    Thank you, thank you. Your blogs are such a treat for me.