Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott

It's really hard not to love Anne Lamott.

If you haven't read any of her collected essays, drop what you're doing and get to the bookstore now -- she's that amazing. Self-deprecating, brilliant, insightful, and spot-on with her musings on parenting, writing, faith, and life in general.

I was lucky enough to receive Operating Instructions, a book that chronicles Lamott's first year as a single parent, for Christmas this year, and I tore through it (but plan to go back and reread sections many times over like I do with all her books!). My only regret is that I didn't read it sooner: I think it would have been quite the salve for my tired mama soul back in the early days of non-stop nursing sessions and tear-filled sleepless nights. I love how honest she is in her descriptions of life with her darling son Sam -- one minute she's gushing about how she could lose herself in his big beautiful eyes, and the next she's complaining about how she just wishes he would leave her alone so she could have some peace and quiet. Here's an example of two short observations from a single page of her book:

"Real tears leave his eyes now. It is almost more than I can take. Before, he'd be sobbing but there were no tears. Now there are. It seems an unfair advantage. Between the tears and the cooing and his crazy drunken-old-man smiles, it's almost unbearable. There's so much joy and pain and love and wonder in my chest and behind my eyes that it's like The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It's like Patsy Cline's voice. [...] I just can't get over how much babies cry. I really had no idea what I was getting into. To tell you the truth, I thought it would be more like getting a cat." (page 66, Anchor Books 1993 paperback edition)

Haven't all new parents -- heck, any parents -- felt that way (multiple times a day)? I like that she is bold enough to admit not only her frustrations with parenting but her overwhelming love of it, as well -- it's easy to fall into the "I hate my kids" or "Having children is the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me" camps when the reality of it is, of course, somewhere in between.

There are so many amazing passages I want to share with you -- my book is already filled with tiny little slips of paper marking all kinds of words of wisdom and parts that made me laugh and paragraphs that sounded exactly like the voice in my own head. Here's one more -- Lamott and three-month-old Sam had just experienced the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, after which she realized with horror that her first thoughts were not about the safety of other people but about how the disaster would affect the sales of her recently-released novel:

"I know Sam will grow up and have all these terrible secret thoughts, too. His self-centered, petty, envious, conniving mule-stupid side will haunt him; he will be plagued by terrible self-doubts and fear. I hope I can remember to tell him then that on the night of the 1989 earthquake, I was trying to figure out how distributors would be able to get copies of my book into the stores, what with the Bay Bridge down and all. I guess he'll have to figure out someday that he is supposed to have this dark side, that it is part of what it means to be human, to have the darkness just as much as the light -- that in fact the dark parts make the light visible; without them, the light would disappear. But I guess he has to figure other stuff out first, like how to keep his neck from flopping all over the place and how to sit up." (page 77)

And that, my friends, is the best description of parenting I can think of: crippling fear and self-doubt, an overwhelming desire to protect your child, the uncomfortable knowledge that you will someday have to let them go, and then the relief that it's all just one day at a time.

Final verdict: ****

Don't forget to pass along your book recommendations -- I'm always looking for a great new read!


  1. I haven't yet read any of her books yet so thanks for sharing! I'm really intrigued to read this book now, I love the way she writes in the two paragraphs you posted!

  2. I'm a bit behind the curve I think, but I've recently started The Game of Thrones series. I am HOOKED!! An excellent substitute since I've already read the standards: Harry Potter, Hunger Games etc etc and am still mourning the end of the series.

    After writing that I feel I have to say...SOMETIMES I read literature not meant for teenagers-but mostly that is textbooks (boring!) so I think I deserve my fun reads.Hah!