Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions, A Journal of My Son’s First Year (1993)

Transitioning from Philip Roth to Anne Lamott seems pretty much like doing splits: I’m not flexible enough to find a clever way.

I’m an old Anne Lamott fan since the day I found Bird by Bird on a “take one leave one” bookshelf in a hostel’s common room in Beijing. Of course I took it, and I’ve long since forgotten what I left instead. The place was called the Bookworm, and for a while my group of writerly-inclined friends and I gathered there for a weekly critique meeting. Of course, that made conditions ideal for me to fall in love with the charming, direct, warm style of Lamott nonfiction. 

Bird by Bird was a writing guide, Operating Instructions is actually Lamott’s diary, beginning with her son’s birth until his first birthday. It is very refreshing and candid and poignant. Just what I needed after reading pages and pages of technical information in “What to Expect when you’re expecting” and the likes. I would compare it to the literary equivalent of an American hug (something we French people don’t really know how to react to): slightly rough and unsettling because of its unexpectedness, reaching out to you despite all the barriers your upbringing and politeness set, but essentially well-meant and incredibly warm. Some pages made me very emotional. 

Of course, there is a little too much about faith and God to make me fully comfortable with the book. But it doesn’t really overshadows the story’s strength. At last, a non-sugarcoated account of the upheavals brought by a newborn! I really needed her honesty. At some points, physically and emotionally exhausted by sleep deprivation and endless colic screams, she contemplates the idea of putting the baby outside the house and seeing whether it would survive on its own. Of course she doesn’t do it. 

Lamott is very far away from my world (a single, former drug-addict and alcoholic and a white born-again Christian in an African-American church)and she never tones her radical, liberal indignations down (I had to remind myself that when she hates George Bush, it’s GB Senior, not the present one!), but I totally could relate to her as a person and a writer. I admire her ability to make fun of the most harrowing moments.


8 thoughts on “Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions, A Journal of My Son’s First Year (1993)

  1. Roth to Lamott would be quite the switch to have to make. I really enjoyed Bird by Bird and continue to enjoy it as I dip into from time to time when I need a lift. I’ve not read Operating Instructions but I read the one with Faith in the title (I read it many years ago so forgive me for not remembering the title). I enjoyed it but she got a bit preachy now and then which was a turn off so I ended up just finding the book so-so.

  2. Stefanie, I too would be wary of Lamott’s take on faith, as she can be very opiniated and passionate about it. In Operating Instructions, it remained in the background, that was enough for me.

    Litlove, you’re most welcome! I didn’t know about it yet when you asked around for titles on motherhood.

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