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Anne Lamott's Lagniappe

Do pardon while I take a break from kid lit today.

Earlier this week some friends and I went to hear Anne Lamott read from her latest book of essays, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith. Prior to the author's taking the podium, a Super Store representative must have announced 53 times that Ms. Lamott would be signing books afterward but not personalizing any messages. Armed with book bags and late-winter pallors, we evidently looked like a rowdy crowd who would any minute begin to chant, "Write my name! Write my name!"

As my friends and I expected, Anne Lamott is dry and funny in person. She read two essays from Grace (Eventually), "The Ski Patrol" and "At Death's Window." She got a lot of laughs from the first, but the second essay, which is about assisted suicide, did not connect with me. That one starts, "The man I killed did not want to die, but he no longer felt he had much of a choice." Given the seriousness of her topic, I found that beginning glib. Lamott said that she expected criticism for the piece, and several friends had urged her not to publish it. As much of a fan as I am, I agree. The 8-page essay with a self-referential opening falls short of conveying the subject's complexities and lacks emotional resonance.

I did buy the book a couple of days later, and am slowly perusing and enjoying the other pieces, which cover some familiar Lamott territory (her church, her writing life, her son). The author ended her appearance at the Super Store by reading Galway Kinnell's "Saint Francis and the Sow" (which can be found online at the Poetry Foundation's archive). When Lamott finished that poem, you could feel the audience's inaudible sigh, a recognition of Kinnell's art. Instead of inscribing our names in her books that evening, Anne Lamott gave us that, and it was a lovely gift.

Comments

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Thanks for posting this. I am always up for something new from Lamott and I haven't treated myself to GRACE (EVENTUALLY) yet. What is more, I learned a new word ... LAGNIAPPE (something given to with a purchase to a customer, by way of compliment or for good measure). Was I the only one who didn't know?

Best,
Loree Burns
www.loreeburns.com

Loree, it's a Cajun word (as far as I know), and it seemed just the right fit for what Lamott gave us. Did you read the sow poem? Wonderful!

Years ago when I visited Evangline/Cajun country on a jr. high field trip, the very kind Southern Louisiana hosts gave us lagniappe bags filled with reminders of our trip. For years I carried around teeny-tiny bottles of McIlhenny tabasco sauce!

I've liked Lamott's Salon essays over the years, but I wasn't able to finish Tender Mercies, and while I did read all of Bird by Bird, I can only remember a couple of things about it. (Which, actually, is more than I remember of a lot of books.) I think I prefer her in small doses.

I meant Traveling Mercies.

I'm forever rereading Bird by Bird. I just started Grace (Eventually) last night and am enjoying it so far. Her writing always makes me feel a little more centered.

I am glad to know she has a new book out. i love her work. Off to read the Galway poem. Thanks.

Susan,
How terrific you got to hear her read, whether or not every word resonated. I think this goes to the point that there is a difference between the writer who puts words on the page and the author in flesh and blood. There can inevitably be disillusionment -- or perhaps pleasant surprise. I loved Bird by Bird and Traveling Mercies but not so much Rosie and Blue Shoes. No matter, she clearly has a voice, cares about issues and expresses point of view. We readers all have to pick and choose which we buy into...

Did she have dreds? I'm considering them for my midlife crisis ... And I felt the same way about the second essay, so thanks for articulating your thoughts and mine.

Yes, she did have the dreds, a few. That second essay really bothers me, as you can tell.

My top three of Anne L.'s books are 1. Bird by Bird; 2. Operating Instructions; and 3. Plan B.

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