Anne Lamott •
Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year •
Anne Lamott’s writing belongs in the 4H Club: honest, hilarious, heartrending, and human. Her most appealing quality may be her zero-tolerance policy on bullshit; whatever you get from Lamott, she’s guaranteed to shoot straight.
The journal entries that make up Operating Instructions record upheavals familiar to any new mother—wanting to throw the baby against the wall, then feeling overcome by shame at her thoughts; being too exhausted to scrub the bathroom and abjectly grateful to a friend who does it for her; falling in love with her child over and over again. Lamott documents the emotional whirlpool with clear eyes, astonished heart, and self-deprecating wit.
Open the book at any page to find a keeper. “There are days when it feels like The Seventh Seal with diaper rash and milky bras, but we’re sort of lurching along.” “I had hidden [a photo] away so that they couldn’t use it against me at my commitment hearings.”
During this same pivotal year, Lamott’s closest friend (“I’ve known her since before Jesus left Chicago”) is diagnosed with cancer, bringing the dance of birth and death into sharp focus, the way a magnifying glass intensifies the sun’s rays. In Bird by Bird, Lamott’s fine book on writing, she recalls a conversation with her friend’s oncologist. “Watch her carefully right now,” the doctor says, “because she’s teaching you how to live.”
It’s a tribute to Lamott’s considerable gifts that readers aren’t put off by her strong religious slant, even if they don’t share it. As fellow writer Adair Lara accurately observes, “[People] will follow that wry, warm, funny tone anywhere.”
Highly recommended for anyone grappling with the human condition.