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am 20. Februar 2000
Unsuspecting people will buy this book because it appears to be a memoir of a troubled woman's journey to religious faith. Anchor Books promotes this impression by (a) on the cover, putting the title of the book on a signboard in front of a church -- as if it were the title of a sermon, (b) subtitling the book "Some Thoughts on Faith", (c) on the back of the book, classifying the book as "Memoir/Spirituality" and stating that the book "shows us the myriad ways [Lamott's] faith sustains and guides her", and (d) on the publishing information page, encouraging such card catalogue entries as "1. Lamott, Anne -- Religion" and "3. Christian biography -- United States".
This is false packaging. There is very little about religion or spirituality in this book; it is much more about gaining faith in one's self than it is about gaining religious faith.
So what is this book? It's part Fran Leibowitz, part Annie Dillard, and great dollops of self-indulgence. If you are looking for a book about faith, spirituality, or religion, then you have come to the wrong place. If you seek an "irreverent" book about growing up drug-addled, having a child without benefit of marriage, being obsessed with hair and cellulite, and how to come to terms with these assorted conditions, then this is your book.
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am 19. Oktober 1999
Traveling Mercies is the first book I have ever read by Anne Lamott and all I have to say is "incredible." She writes with honesty, humor, depth. Her short stories are multi-layered and resound with me. I found myself "connecting" more than once with her offerings while I could not stop thinking about the book after I put it down for the day.
For all those naysayers who say she is writing about "me, me, me..." this style of writing is called memoir, which usually means "a narrative composed from personal experience" so the writing is autobiographical. Also, I found that while she did write on her past personal experiences, she did not dwell on them. I found most of the book more on her faith journey than a moan and groan, why me?, life is so terrible exercise!
Be that as it may, what I found especially powerful was her "conversion" experience. In a society where "God" seems to take a back burner in many ways, I found her thoughts on the subject of faith relevant and persuading. We all should be so lucky as to be on a continual spiritual journey ala Anne Lamott.
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am 2. November 1999
She's that girl you knew back in high school who walked around constantly saying, "I'm so fat," despite being skinnier than nine-tenths of the female population and loudly worrying that she was going to get a B on that French test we took yesterday when everyone knew she was going to get an A. This sort of behavior is nauseating enough in teenagers; in a middle-aged woman, it makes for bad memoirs.
Her treatment of Christianity is so superficial in these pages as to be insulting to those of us who believe that God is something other than a Santa Claus who dispenses wishes. This book has little to do with faith; it's mostly a compilation of how the world has somehow wronged Anne Lamott. Perhaps some people find her privileged whine amusing, and I might have looked more kindly on the book if it didn't purport to be about "faith." But there are better memoirs by bulimics out there, and Anne Lamott's sophomoric "humor" gets on my nerves.
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am 27. September 1999
Or, more specifically, what has Anne Lamott missed? This book is not about faith, but about a confused and lonely person who seems to regard religion as a sort of personal improvement program, like AA or therapy. I fully agree with the reviewer who said that Anne Lamott needs to contemplate pride as one of the seven deadly sins.
Since the book isn't about faith, what is it about? Well, one woman's feelings of inadequacy resulting from a rather difficult life. In the hands of good authors this can be interesting, even deeply moving, but Lamott never moves beyond the whining peevishness of a high-school girl. I had felt the same way about her "Bird By Bird" but thought I would give a book on faith another chance. But all one hears from Anne Lamott is "me, me, me." Hard to find God, or even Christian fellowship, in all this.
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am 4. August 1999
Have been an avid reader for 30 years, but never before felt compelled to write a review or letter to an author before...This book, perhaps more than any of the thousands of others I have read, struck a chord in my soul. On the recommendation of a friend I had read "Operating Instructions" about three years ago. While thumbing through a Book of the Month Club type catalog I ran across the photo of a white woman in dreadlocks and was struck with admiration for the woman who would present such a public image. I was pleasantly surprised to read that her name was Anne LaMott. I ordered the book "Traveling Mercies" and was delighted and completely engrossed by it. Ms. LaMott puts words to emotion I cannot personally express when she speaks of her "Christian-ish" life-orientation, her likening of her personal experience of coming to the Lord as to that of a stray cat trying to enter her life, and the pain and sublime joy of rearing her Sam. Like Annie,(oddly enough the name my own mother, a story in and of itself, was called as a girl) I came to a personal relationship with God through voyeurism into a congregation of Black believers, and like her, was taught life lessons I didn't know I needed through my interaction in fellowship with them. I thank God for the talent with words he has bestowed upon Anne, ask his blessings upon her and her loved ones, and recommend this book to anyone who finds him/herself surprised at the move of the Holy Spirit in his/her life.
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am 16. April 2000
I had no idea what to expect in this, my first encounter with Anne Lamott. The wide assortment of reviews convinced me to purchase the book--plus, the idea of reverence paired with irreverence, since we can all use a little humor to season the subjects that matter most...that therefore become so stinkin' divisive! Wow! When I'm not laughing at Anne's great writing and gritty insights, I'm pushing down that lump in my throat. Anne plants and waters the flowers of faith and grace, but pats down their seeds beneath the coarse dirt and smelly manure of life. I'm not trying to match her metaphors, I'm merely responding to the fresh light she's shone on my own recent experiences. This woman can write and, boy, does she have something to say. If she steps on your toes to get to the podium, so be it. Hear her out. She writes of a heartfelt belief in Jesus that I share. But she also drags out the skeletons that we born-again Christians are so afraid to let out. Ironic, isn't it, that those who follow Christ--the most amazing example of love and acceptance and forgiveness to the "unlovely"--are the very ones who insecurely point their fingers at those outside their box. I grew up in that box. I still love Jesus, still consider myself "born-again," but I, along with Anne Lamott, refuse to live in that box anymore. Jesus, speaking to the religious leaders of his day, called them "white-washed tombs full of dead man's bones." Anne, in her gracious, irreverent way, says the same. Mercy me! What a breath of fresh air!
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am 3. März 1999
I pounce when I see a new title by Anne Lamott. Her sensitivity, her sharpness, her humor (she's especially able to laugh at herself, a trait I place at the top of the list) and, above all, her very "humanness" as she struggles to live, love and make sense of what we're all about hit a chord deep inside me. The book's title, TRAVELING MERCIES, refers to the wishes that the members of Lamott's church send with their pastor when she goes on vacation. Although the subtitle of the book is "Some Thoughts on Faith", Lamott ranges beyond the confines of the stereotypic response to talk of love in all its manifestations - Her child and the celebration of his being; her parents; the lives and deaths of close friends; the difficulty and wonder of day-to-day existence. How can you not love someone who can write self-deprecatingly of issues as disparate as (to name a few) her early alcoholism, her achingly beautiful friendships, a worrisome mole and anger at herself for speaking too softly as she witnesses a man abusing his dog? Although I do not subscribe to the religious convictions of the author, I wholeheartedly agree with her politics and think she is one of the truly grand voices writing today.
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am 19. April 1999
If you're experiencing a lot of spiritual "static" as I am right now, this book will immediately make you feel better. It will assure you that you're not the only one to feel doubt and need and grief, and yet it will give you countless opportunities to release those emotions through laughter.
I have highlighted much of the book so that I can reread the great ways that Anne Lamott captures these experiences. She talks about grieving over her late best friend, saying she was, "thinking of how much we lose, yet how much remains." Then she says, "I thought maybe I wouldn't feel so bad if I didn't have such big pieces of [her friend} still inside me, but then I thought, I want those pieces in me for the rest of my life, whatever it costs me."
Lamott writes about trying hard to translate her spiritual beliefs into everyday treatment of others, and she's particularly funny when she writes about the mother of her son's friend. She berates the woman first for wearing bicycle shorts ("because she can"). Lamott says, "...she does not have an ounce of fat on her body. I completely hate that in a person. I consider it an act of aggression against the rest of us mothers who forgot to start working out after we had our kids." Lamott tries to be better, saying, "I tried to will myself into forgiving various people who had harmed me directly or indirectly over the years--four former Republican presidents, three relatives, two old boyfriends, and one teacher in a pear tree--it was "The Twelve Days of Christmas" meets "Taxi Driver."
I loved this book. I didn't want it to end. It made me laugh. It made me think. These are qualities I seek in my friends and my books.
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am 9. April 2000
I read this book in about one day, couldn't put it down--am not now nor have ever been either Alcoholic or Christian. In fact, I seldom read books on religion, faith, or spirituality and chose this particular text because I am an Annie Lamott fan, not a believer (in the more conventional sense). I do, very sincerely, respect other people's beliefs, however orthodox or UN-orthodox, and I greatly enjoyed reading the way someone so totally unlikely to write about a spiritual journey nonetheless found herself on one when she became sober.
I was very moved, and actually envious of the comfort Lamott's faith has given her life. Not only has her spiritual awakening played a role in controlling her alcoholism, but it has lead her to a Christianity more resonant of the teachings of Christ than is true of many more "traditional" spiritual authors.
However, this book may in many ways appeal more to those who are TOLERANT than those who might find the word "faithful" as the first on their tongue to describe themselves. Even the deeply skeptical, or the totally without faith will enjoy this book if they are "tolerant", because it is about the faith of someone so unlike those one generally finds writing about spirituality. This fact also makes the book a great deal more interesting than one might expect of a text about a spiritual journey (for those who aren't wild about that sort of literature in general), because you get to see how Lamott sustains her faith despite a mind with little of the "obedient" nature one generally associates with religious fervor. This is particularly true for those of us who see the word "religious" and think more of Pat Robertson and the Religious Right than somebody we might like to talk with at dinner.
I read this book maybe a year ago, and was shocked to see it now on the best seller list, since it's really quite liberal, and is not the sort of book I would expect to appeal to a wide range of Americans, given the fact that so many people voted in primaries for the son of George Bush--a man for whom Annie Lamott has never had a good word (to put it MILDLY! ).
Anne Lamott writes for Salon.com, and is not your average American by a longshot. She's got an incisive mind, she is witty and articulate, but she is also wildly opinionated (in a way I find attractive), and so liberal that most right wing "Christians" (as opposed to Methodists or Episcopalians or Roman Catholics)will run in the other direction should they pick up this book by accident-- These are probably the people responsible for most of the one star reviews of this book.
For the rest of the reading public, however, this is a taste of Annie Lamott at ALMOST her best--(I do think that "Operating Instructions" is even better, but so few books in my life have been capable of making me laugh OUT LOUD in the New York City subway system during rush hour, that it may be the funniest book about motherhood on the planet--and motherhood is its own unique kind of spiritual journey.)
It is also true that this book is about religious faith--the sincerity of this woman's vision of God is very touching for those of us willing to admit more than one concept to the way in which God is defined. It's somewhat disturbing to read reviews on this page where the way Lamott talks about God is considered offensive--this book is definitely NOT for those into dogma, fundamentalism or thought control.
It is however, a delight for those of us who have not entirely lost the idealism of a generation much maligned by the numbers of its members who have become so conservative with age that they view their younger selves as the enemy--if that's you, avoid this book like the plague, because there's lots of things here that will offend you. And for those who find reading about one person's spiritual life interesting--a fairly self-destructive person whose faith has enabled her to cope without flipping her out into a person who believes her way is the only way--the book is an incredibly enjoyable, irreverant and sincere journey documenting her less than well-traveled path.
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am 5. März 2000
Life shouldn't be this difficult! Lamott, through witty, humorous, clear, concise writing and compelling stories shows us how, in many ways, we are our own worst enemies. But she also shows us ways out of the problems we create and gives us a glimpse of how our attitudes and perseverance can overcome even the problems of alcoholism, drugs, being a single Mom, and being poor.
On the surface, this is a very self-centered book, focused almost entirely on the feelings, friends, enemies, and weaknesses of the author. Yet, Lamott manages to use her story to demonstrate to us that through love and faith, one can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. If one reads these stories while keeping compassion in his or her heart for another suffering human being, then a spiritual journey unfolds with many wonderful lessons along the way. But it takes work to get by the feeling that we're learning far more about the author than we needed to.
Yet Traveling Mercies becomes a wonderful sermon since it afflicts the comfortable and gives some hope and comfort to the afflicted. And perhaps the discomfort one feels when reading it is the same as that of being around sick family members or friends. And how can one tell the story of love and compassion for others bringing grace into one's life without sounding self-centered and a bit self-righteous? In the end, Lamott does precisely that. The reader grows respect and admiration for this frail human being as she tells of her own spiritual journey from someone who could not stand being "in the same room with a Christian," to someone who can lean on God and accept Jesus. And she does so without trashing anyone else's faith system.
"I make him [her son, go to church] because I can. I outweigh him by nearly seventy-five pounds. But that is only part of it. The main reason is that I want to give him what I found in the world, which is to say a path and a little light to see by. Most of the people I know who have what I want--which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy--are people with a deep sense of spirituality. They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith; they are Buddhists, Jews, Christians--people banding together to work on themselves and for human rights. They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful."
I spoke of this book to a minister friend, and recommended it as good reading. He in turn mentioned it to a friend who was having difficulty with a wayward daughter. The daughter read Traveling Mercies and reported back that it had changed her life. That she was able to see how to get things back into control. Perhaps that is the only recommendation this book needs. It changes peoples' lives for the better.
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