Book Note: “Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith” by Anne Lamott



Anne Lamott’s name kept appearing in writerly conversations, writing periodicals, writing books, the writing conference I attended on Saturday, and just about everywhere I turned. With each mention and recommendation I was more convinced I had to read some of her work. While she has success and accolades in both fiction and non-fiction, I was most interested in the latter.

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith made it to my TBR pile, and I was not disappointed. It takes courage to write of your faith journey with the honesty and clarity that Lamott does. In Traveling Mercies Lamott speaks of the various stages of her faith journey from childhood to motherhood. She gently analyzes the circumstances that guided her decisions and doesn’t shirk from acknowledging the messy road of grace. Her stories are not particularly memorable because they are infused with spiritual languages; rather, they are poignant because they demonstrate how much of faith should be expressed in how we live.

Certainly, her subject matter contains enough drama to push any story onward – addiction, alcoholism, cancer, loss – but never does it overwhelm the reader or overtake the meaning in the larger whole. Lamott’s writing is laced with earnestness, honesty, and a good dose of well-timed snark. Her descriptions were stunning in respectful humor on delicate subjects, in one example she writes, “I kept starting to cry and then falling asleep. Sometimes grief looks like narcolepsy (p. 74).” And they are stunning in their descriptive accuracy, “It is preternaturally quiet, like being inside the mind of someone whose eyes are closed while he or she is praying (p. 223).”  It is tightly written and thoughtfully executed. Several stories reappear within the telling of other stories, but she never lets them become old or tired. Rather, the weaving of stories reflects the layering of life and the reality that meaning often comes in waves – first one understanding, then another experience coupled with an old one brings forth another insight, and so on.

It was clear to me why Lamott’s name was referenced repeatedly as an example of strong non-fiction writing. I look forward to reading her account of the first year of motherhood in Operating Instructions. And then perhaps Bird by Bird, which was recommended as a good book for writers. Maybe after that I’ll take a look at her fiction.

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