Anne Lamott’s newest book is a treasure trove for diehard Anne Lamott fans (like me) and a perfect introduction to this delightful, funny and deep writer for new readers. It pulls together into one book the things I love best about her writing:
- It’s as hilariously funny as all of her books
- Like Operating Instructions, her hilarious book about her son Sam’s first year of life, this one is about family – in this case, about the first year of her grandson Jax’s life (yes, Sam is now a father!)
- Like Travelling Mercies and Plan B, it is filled with spiritual wisdom, much of it springing from a 12-Step perspective, none of it heavy-handed
First, the funny part. I read Operating Instructions years ago when I was commuting to a job in the city on the commuter train. The morning train ride was filled with sleepy, reading, quiet riders -library-like in contrast to the more rollicking evening ride home. There’s a part in Operating Instructions in which Anne describes her cat’s reaction to her bringing home her baby that was hilarious – so hilarious in fact that I laughed really loudly, garnering about 10 angry stares. What can I say – she really is THAT funny.
I read Some Assembly Required in the quiet of my home and also found myself literally laughing out loud. Her humor is wicked, often self-deprecating and wry. There’s this part in Some Assembly Required about a trip she took to India. A monkey got caught in her dreadlocks (another thing to love about our Annie – she may be the only white woman I know of who has really great dreads); she chased away beggars by ominously shouting “EnRaHa!”. And then there are little asides: “This morning’s riverboat man said, ‘Too much the foggy!’ which I think captures all of human life.”
The humor is often part of the spiritual message. Anne doesn’t take herself too seriously – well, rather, when she DOES take herself too seriously – as we all do – she ‘tells on herself.’ These bits are some of the funniest, most human and most spiritual parts of the entire book. She is constantly wanting to “help” her son and his girlfriend in their parenting and decision-making and then she catches herself. “It is the most difficult Zen practice to leave people to their destiny, even though it’s painful – just loving them, and breathing with them, and distracting them in a sweet way, and laughing with them.”
Since I have been known – oh, once or twice – to be “helpful” to poor souls who have never asked for even an iota of my infinite wisdom, I can totally relate to this theme throughout the book. Anne talks about getting so desperate that is “forced to call the horrible Bonnie” for spiritual advice. Like Anne, when I call my Wise Woman, I’m always shocked that she tells me that it’s none of my business. And no, that person does not need my wisdom and advice and ‘help’ – they just need me to listen and love them. Oy!
This book is also so very much about family. Anne writes about her family of origin in most of her works – I feel as though I know them in many ways. This book is very focused on family – on her barely 20-year old son Sam, his girlfriend Amy and their son, her grandson, Jax. And her brother, and uncle and the whole clan. She also talks lovingly about some of the folks in her ‘family of choice’ – her inner circle of dear friends old and new. It’s one of many things I most love about her and her books and to which I most relate, being very family-centric myself.
And there’s the deep river of spirituality running through this book, as through most of Anne’s nonfiction. I share Anne’s love of the twelve steps, and it seems that for her, as for me, that is the central river of her rich spirituality. Hers is very much infused with a deep connection to her church as well. she speaks so lovingly of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church that I just want to fly to San Francisco and check it out.
Look, this book is just close to perfect. Easy and fun to read, but filled with all those “ya, I’m like that too” moments and deep, enduring spiritual wisdom. Let me leave you with just three quotes – from the dozens I’ve underlined, to whet your appetite. No, these probably aren’t the BEST ones (it’s making decisions like that which has caused me to delay writing to you about this great book) but they were three that spoke to me.
“It’s always the same old problem: how to fin ourselves in the great yammering of ego and tragedy and discomfort and obsession with everyone else’s destinies.” (p 162)
“I’ve always thought I could use my brain and my heart to jockey everyone around to the good. But life is not jockeyable. When you try, you make people infinitely crazier thanb they already were, including or especially yourself.” (p 85)
“Temporarily unable to remember what city I was in, I said ‘I just want to go back to – wherever it is that I am.’ Then I realized that this was possibly the most brilliant thing I have ever said. All I have to do for a shot at salvation is go back to where I am, and that means wherever my feet are, not my poor old pinball head.” (p 210)
I love Anne Lamott. I just do. She’s smart, silly, spiritual. And those dreadlocks! And I love this book. If you like family, if you struggle with trying to be the best family member you can (or just the best human you can), if you walk a spiritual path, if you’re a mom, grandma – or simply like babies – you’re going to love, love, love this book!