Reviewing Anne Lamott’s new book: Some Assembly Required

Ever wonder what happened to Sam Lamott, the best “character” in any of his mother Anne Lamott’s books? Well, he grew up, had a baby at the age of 19, and went to art school here in San Francisco.  My biggest question was answered in the preface — he has not resented his mother writing about him, in fact, calls it “the greatest gift anyone has given me”, and cherishes Operating Instructions as a special memory book of the first year of his life with her. He wanted to give his new son a similar experience, so he participated in the writing of his mom’s newest book: Some Assembly Required, a journal of her grandson’s first year.

It is mostly filled with the baby being an awesome baby, Anne taking lots of naps and making tons of meddling phone calls, and Sam stealing the show, as he always does. So, in other words, if you are very interested in babies, you may like this book, but if you are interested in the Lamott family, you will love this book. There are some total gems about parenting, like when she says it’s “like having a terminal illness, but in a good way.” Sam, wise beyond his years, says, “We as parents have the illusion that we make our kids stronger, but they make us stronger.”  Anne is the matriarch that I always want more from, a spiritual mother of many people of my generation, but one who refuses to go quietly into this role, choosing instead to expose her failings at every turn of the page.

Anne, looking like the queenly sage she and I both want her to be, in a photo by Mark Richards.

I have been reading Anne Lamott’s work since I was 19, finding comfort in her honesty about her shortcomings and her inevitable turning towards grace.  Over the past 12 years, however, I’ve been wanting her to… get a little better.  I’ve read time and again how self-centered, petty, and neurotic she is, and by this point, has all the church-going, therapy-having, and yoga-doing worked, like, even a little bit?!  I look up to her, and I want to see some forward movement, so I can have hope for a future in which all the hard work I am doing now pays off and I am less crazy.  I want her to like her body more at this point, to eat the damn chocolate cake already.  I want her to be less fearful of life and more aware of how awesome she is, not in a self-aggrandizing way, but with strong confidence.  The funny thing is, Anne wants this, too.  She is continually trying to be the person I want her to be, and failing comically at it.  But she still does manage to impart some wisdom along the way, in spite of herself.

At least Anne knows she’s insufferable, and she surrounds herself with fantastic friends, who do not take any of her bullshit. In one conversation, after which she has stormed out of Ash Wednesday service at her church because they changed the program and were doing things differently without asking her permission, she calls her Catholic friend Tom (who is a hilarious delight throughout the book, reminding me of my favorite gay priest friends) and asks, “Will you talk to me about Ash Wednesday?” He said, “Everyone hates you.” “I get so goddamn sick of myself.” “We all enjoy stories of your hysteria and shallowness.” And then he does talk to her about Ash Wednesday, buoying her up, even when she doesn’t deserve it, which is the gorgeous grace of our friends.

At one point, she writes about the concept of “radical becoming”, in the words of philosopher Henri Bergson, “reality as a state of radical becoming, constant flux, graspable only by intuition.” I guess I want more of that radical becoming from Anne herself, I want to see growth and for her to be some sagely crone of a woman now, dispensing advice about aging gracefully and how content she is now. It is absolutely ridiculous for me to want this. Anne is only human, and what keeps me coming back to her books is her intense honesty, so why am I tired of hearing it now? Is there a statute of limitations on listening to someone’s problems? Maybe she’s just more real than the spiritual leaders who seem to have it more together. In any event, I hope to hear more from Sam Lamott, even if I feel a little done with the neurotic tendencies of his mother. He is an entreprenuer, inventor, and artist, but hopefully he will find the time, as his child grows, to give us a little writing as well.

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6 thoughts on “Reviewing Anne Lamott’s new book: Some Assembly Required

  1. I have been a Lamott fan for about 10 years now (I think!); first reading Thoughts on Faith and loving it. I am almost finished with Some Assembly Required. I have cried, laughed out and had moments when I couldn’t put it down. Anne is very human and that’s what I like about her. Thanks for your interesting review!

  2. Great post- that new book is on my to-do list. I am “friends” with Anne on FB and I was actually thinking everything you wrote. Really I was….from how hard she is on her body to her thoughts on faith. I read a FB update of hers and my response thought was: “its time to be ok with how big your butt is getting.” And on faith- what drew me to her was how open and honest she was. I don’t think you ever get older and have it together…but don’t you come to some point in your life where you THINK you have it together? I barely remember Blue Like Jazz but I kinda remember it to be a book for the younsters (like me at the time) who were not really feeling “church” as we remembered it to be growing up. But I just read another one of his books A Million Miles in a Thousand Years… loved it. And I could tell he took a life journey…learned some positive stuff and wrote it down. He evolved some- even if he doesn’t have it all figured out yet. I had to write this response even though I’m getting dangerously close to Anders coos turning into cries as I see him getting hungry. But those are my thoughts….and I was so happy to read this smart post in the 10 mins I had before my little boy woke up.

    • Thank you for this thoughtful comment. It is sort of ridiculous for me to want more growth from her — she never asked to be a spiritual mentor of mine — but there you have it, I do. I’m glad to know my perspective resonated with you. I will have to pick up Donald Miller’s second book, since I love seeing that evolution in a person. Did you see the review that fellow Eastern University alum Ed Travis did of the movie version of Blue Like Jazz, that is coming out soon? Here it is:

      • I can’t see your link to the review but A Million Miles in the Thousand Years is not the follow up. In fact I think he wrote some books that tanked, which I think made this book better. It is about how he was approached to turn his book into am movie. Doesn’t sound good but it made him wonder about what made a good story and about living life intentionally….something I’m thinking about a lot more now that I have a little life in my hands. How can I make us have a good family story, how can I help him achieve a good life story? and I guess if you don’t get anything out of it in terms of living life- at least you have a better understanding of the elements of…story!

  3. Pingback: 2nd Annual Book Review Bonanza « thirty threadbare mercies

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