Anne Lamott signed my book. I wanted a personal inscription, something like, “Keep the faith,” “Tell the truth” or “Write about Carrot Sticks.” These, of course, are references to her work Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life. As an emerging author, I came for inspiration. Unfortunately, I was number 164 in line.
Her current book tour focused on Grace (Eventually), her sober sequel to Plan B, an honest and argumentative memoir on her spiritual life. At the time of her speaking, the book boasted second place on the New York Times Bestseller list.
The room was set for revival: seekers crammed in folding chairs; lay people cluttering the aisles, blocking the exit; Anne Lamott standing at the altar, book in hand. She read a chapter. The audience laughed and cried and raised its hands. She answered questions and closed with a poem. The service concluded with 276 signatures. None personal, but moving nonetheless.
Lamott has mastered the art of memoir, although, she calls her works essays. Each installment is connected by a thread of devilish self-reflection. She muses about her falls, professes to a “consignment store faith” and confesses her anger.
This last element she did personally. Before plunging into “Nudges” (Chapter 10), Lamott uttered a disclaimer: her hatred for President Bush had subsided. Two years of anger left her feeling toxic. Admittedly, the tick, tock, tick, tock of his concluding term played a large part in placating her. The chapter reiterated the nauseating effects of envy and spite, and the equally potent act of forgiveness (deemed forgivish-ness, a near title for the book).
Lamott’s words read well aloud—I’ve been going through them, chapter by chapter, bird by bird, speaking the words to an invisible audience. My voice doesn’t quite capture her sarcasm—she recited her lines with a deliberate understatement—but her prose feels sweet on my tongue. It’s a good companion to a cup of coffee.
Following her reading was a brief question and answer period. A few pastors (I’m assuming) in the audience tried to get Lamott to agree to a particular brand of Christianity. She pled the Fifth, saying that love was what she understood about the Bible, and that God, is the force of Love.
Other listeners asked about Sam, her son, a frequent character in her narratives. The topic was one the author clearly enjoyed: she rattled off a few explicative-rich tales (to throw the clergy further off, no doubt), she being the antagonist each time. One example occurred on Christmas Eve, when she yelled something R-rated to her son, who responded by tattooing the quotation on his bedroom wall. (I will deliberately withhold the details of the story so that Lamott might share it in her next book, Plan C-H: I’ll Keep Writing About Faith If You Keep Buying.
Finally, the conversation turned toward Lamott’s personal code of publishing: she doesn’t tell intimate stories. What she records in her essays she considers “universal.” In fact, the very reason she can read, write and talk with such casual self-consciousness is because she assumes that the average reader suffers from a similar ailment. That would explain why the lady sitting next to me sighed when her neighbor asked, “Are you an author?” And why I feel cheated with impersonal inscriptions. And why pastors have to substantiate their faith with celebrity approval. This code—my story is your story—I find refreshing. To me it reflects the Gospel. It makes the author standing on a stage more approachable, and the Christ enthroned more inviting.