Saturday, April 28, 2012

Anne Lamott's Book Tour Review

Anne Lamont came to town this night. For those of you who never heard of this writer, just Google her book on writing “Bird by Bird.” From the time it was published,"Bird by Bird"along with Stephen King’s “On Writing” became one of the best modern books on novel writing.

Tonight I am on Capitol Hill in Seattle First Baptist Churchwhich is an old stone and wood church built 102 years ago; during a time when buildings were a form of art and had greater value in society. I personally find comfort in old places; knowing that I stand or sit where others have been and knowing more will follow after me. There are so few places like this in the Western United State and Seattle is like any U.S. city where the past has less value than the present. Before the days of the internet, Churches and Town Halls connected the community and one of the reasons I find Author Readings so appealing is that it is one of the rare places where strangers of different backgrounds can come to connect. It occurs to me as I sit in the back of the church and marvel at its beauty thinking. Apparently I am not the only one, because my God, er… my goodness this place was packed.

Anne Lamott comes to Seattle to promote her newest book "Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son."Some Assembly Required"

It is in this book that Ms. Lamont explores the world of the modern grandmother in an era where change is happening so fast it is difficult for many to make sense of the world around them.

This is the follow up in a way to her smash 1993 best seller,"Operating Instructions." That seminal humorous work is still a staple among the new mommies of the world and from what I understand a copy is given to every new mother when they have a baby at the University of Washington.

“Some Assembly Required” is an essay book co-written in part with her son Sam, who is the focal point of “Operating Instructions.”

Well Sam is all grown up now at nineteen and he and his"Operating Instructions" girlfriend are now parents so this has given Ms. Lamott a new perspective on her life as a grandmother.

The book is written as a he said / she said format with Anne and Sam both contributing to various sections. This was the tail end of the book tour and Sam Lamott was not here this evening with his mother which might have made a more interesting event for some, but I was more than satisfied with Ms. Lamott’s performance. That was not the case at the beginning of the speech; in fact I was worried this was going to be a stinker.

Ms. Lamott takes the stage and looks like a disheveled wreck. She is exhausted and admits to being happy that she is on the tail end of her on stage to the point that she request an IV for dehydration. She has brought with her all the energy of a dead flashlight and I’m thinking it’s going to be an early night.

I confess to knowing nothing about Anne Lamont except being aware of her treaties on writing, “Bird by Bird.” In fact I had never gotten around to reading anything she has ever written but in the end I was glad I went tonight because as she continues her talk, I realize that she is doing something so rare for a public speaker. She is bringing the audience along to her cadence. She controls the stage in a slow steady rhythm that calms and hypnotizes the audience. It was fascinating really because I realize that I need to be there this evening.

I needed to hear her message about books and writing and her spiritual journey. I needed to hear her self-deprecating humor about how she is takes herself too serious and that she recognizes her intrusive nature is not always welcome. Listen to her deadpan delivery as she describes herself giving too much good advice to her son and his girlfriend and only to have that advice rewarded by not seeing her grandson for awhile (Big laughs). She uses an acronym: WAIT standing for Why AM I Talking, or as Ms. Lamott’s reproduces her friend’s personal advise to Anne “Don’t inflict your goodness on people.” (Stop for more laughs)

I needed to hear her message about the success behind failure. For instance, she reminds everyone that every great book anyone has ever read was a rewrite of at least five additions. She also tells us that everyone who writes a novel should know that no matter how powerful and wonderful we write something, it is probably not that great. Yet, at the same time greatness can be achieved if in fact the craft is worked.

Ms. Lamott’s lazy speaking style fits her Bay Area accent. It’s a bit like Penny Marshal, and I mean that as a compliment. IF she came across as a sharp polished, crisp talking, Suze Orman, I honestly believe she would be less effective in fact she would have come across like a preachy charlatan. Even in a packed church with the balcony’s full, Ms. Lamott’s style is approachable enough that she holds the entire room’s attention. I’m in the back of the room and I see few if anyone, checking cell phones or texting during the talk.
I did feel that tonight she revealed herself as a conflicted woman. Again this was not a bad thing. A more plastic speaker would have never admitted such personal good and bad to an audience. She seemed conflicted that she is a person who is the family “secret keeper” yet she writes in an honest manner about her family for the whole world to read. She is accepting of her people in their lives but at the same time possesses strong opinions about people, government and of course, writing.

At the start of the Q & A when people seek the courage to step up to a microphone and ask questions in front of a huge place, Ms. Lamott, encourages people to ask questions and after a few brave souls step up, more people find the courage and a line forms and suddenly Anne Lamott tells the event hostess, “I don’t want to answer all these questions.” I’m thinking “What the hey?”
Still I don’t care. I only appreciate her for trying to be nothing more than honest unguarded self and that is an ingredient for a great reading.


  1. I enjoyed your account of her talk. Yeah honesty and vulnerability count for a lot.

    1. Thanks. I hope to catch her again in the future. I encourage everyone to attend good readings and Ms. Lamott qualifies.