138 of 164 people found the following review helpful
A Bit Thin, Both Literally and Figuratively,
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This review is from: Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (Hardcover)
When you read thin books, you always assume that they are sharp and succinct, that they were once big books that have been cut to the bone, trimmed to the essence, and winnowed to their winning ways before submission for publication. You certainly entertain no thoughts of repetitiveness -- not in a thin book. That's forgivable with Dickens, Thackeray, and Fielding. They write huge tomes that earn the room for error. But the 100-page book? No.
That's my main beef with Anne Lamott's long essay on prayer. I read a NY Times essay of hers that I enjoyed mightily. It told of how her family was anything-but religious, how they worshiped at the altar of great writers and lived a Bohemian lifestyle. Lamott cut against the family grain. She got religion -- of a sort. But, in writing about it in this book, she travels six ways to Sunday yet keeps arriving at the same four-way intersection. That is, as I read it, I found the same repetition one gets in rote recitals of real-life prayers, and I thought to myself, "This would never see the publishing light of day if not for the name of its author."
I should have been the perfect audience for this book, which is why I bought it. I am irreligious, yet spiritual; agnostic, yet defensive about God; skeptical, yet trusting in the great unknown. Lamott is similar. She has no patience for Christians who claim to know "the way" because, of course, they don't. Hers is a most laid-back and understanding God. He (sometimes Lamott goes with "She") doesn't mind if you say, God, I'm P-O'd with you this time, as if these are the risks deities take when they get in the business of creating humans. Frankenstein's monsters, and all that.
But the three sections -- prayers for HELP, prayers of THANKS, and prayers of WOW -- were a bit circular and the writing a bit meandering. I wanted a more poetic precision from this. The smaller the genre and the smaller the manuscript length, the greater the demands. Plus Lamott has earned a reputation as a writers' writer. Did she not write BIRD BY BIRD, chapter and verse, the Gospel of Wannabe Writers everywhere?
OK. Yes, there are some neat moments, like this paragraph on the WOW of autumn:
"And autumn ain't so shabby for Wow, either. The colors are broccoli and flame and fox fur. The tang is apples, death, and wood smoke. The rot smells faintly of grapes, of fermentation, of one element being changed alchemically into another, and the air is moist and you sleep under two down comforters in a cold room. The trails are not dusty anymore, and you get to wear your favorite sweaters."
But overall, I got a "Meh" kind of feeling, like the book needed HELP, like I owed it little THANKS, and like I'd been gypped out of $17.95 (WOW!) for 102 measly pages.
Welcome to the hazards of reading new books, Pilgrim. If you love Anne Lamott's stuff unconditionally, "proceed." If not, "with caution...."
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 28, 2012 8:31:00 PM PST
Diane Wiley says:
Beautifully written review, I must say. I am a writer and an editor and have always appreciated Ms. Lamott's efforts. However, not all authors can bat .500 all the time (e.g. Rita Mae Brown's last few outings). I also wonder if "real" authors feel even greater pressure now (with the glut of self-published writers) and, consequently, rush to get things into print. As a writer, I believe there is great merit in letting things "stew" a bit before hitting "send." Based on this review, I think I'll wait and check the book out from the library.
Posted on Jan 5, 2013 7:08:54 AM PST
Curious Reader says:
Thanks for your thoughty, beautifully written review. I go way back with Anne Lamott, but when this one came out, I said to myself, "Hmmmm, I think we've trod this ground before." But I love Miss Anne and have wanted to buy her latest and send some money her way, but still, I have hesitated because of the "Hmmm" feeling. Now I still continue hesitating--Thanks again.
Posted on Jan 5, 2013 5:25:43 PM PST
Yesterday i just drove across the country. I heard the unabridged audiobook of this & with GREAT joy.I recommend Lamott's book highly !
Posted on Dec 6, 2013 9:52:11 AM PST
A. Perez says:
Thanks for articulating so beautifully what I've struggled to put into words. I had very high expectations for this, based on the ratings and Lamott's reputation, and was completely underwhelmed when I finished it this morning. I know she's a popular author but I'm really not inclined to read more from her based on this book. And a big LOL for your own Help, Thanks, Wow at the end of your review. ;)
Posted on Mar 24, 2014 6:45:07 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 24, 2014 6:51:36 AM PDT
Rhonda Davis says:
I applaud your deft and honest maneuverings with the review of the book and the author. Miss Lamott has set the standard for many of us as readers of her work to expect more than has been meted out of late and as writers who sat at her knee as "Bird by Bird" was spoon fed to us. Is it unusual for us to hold the mirror up for her own review? My apologies to those who still hold Miss Lamott in such high regard that this may offend, however, I was told that 'all first drafts are shitty' by Anne Lamott. Those five words gave me pause and gave me courage time and time again to simply begin - bird by bird. Unfortunately, it seems as if the teacher needs to become the pupil. I've not read anything since that has not seemed like more first draft than not. Less is polished and more is slap-dash, get it on paper, get it to the editor, and get it out the door to the publisher. I admire the woman, I admire the writer in her. I do not admire anyone who makes so little effort to reproduce what art they are capable of producing in their most basic state. Others of her time also treat the 'artistry' of this craft as if it opens the floodgates for one book after another only requiring a minimal of personality and style to be included between clever chapter titles and eye-catching covers. Bravo to the publicists - they deserve the praise! I'm not only purchasing work I expect to be of a certain caliber but I am investing time and energy and a smidge of devotion that is offering less of a return with each publication that has become a 'condensed' version of the original best-selling work by the authors. Bird by bird? Quote the Raven, 'Never more.'
Posted on Mar 31, 2014 9:40:49 AM PDT
This is my first Anne Lamott book, read it for a church book group but was underwhelmed. She can be funny but quickly wears on you. If those are her best Wows her life is pretty dismal. I get the impression her life is a hot mess and instead of practising mindfulness and getting some insight into her patterns, she runs to God for Help! That may be her way of pressing her reset button but it's not the best method I find. I do both for sure (meditation and prayer). I think I could write a better book. Oh and I hate dreadlocks, especially on white people, and her photo shows her with dreadlocks. Oy.
Posted on Jun 29, 2014 1:24:22 PM PDT
Terrific review! Thank you from one who adores Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD and hungers for more of that Lamott!
Posted on May 10, 2015 4:12:07 PM PDT
Denker Dunsmuir says:
I understand your comments. However, there is a context (perhaps to be found in the author's history) for the practice of "Help - Thanks - Wow" which I get. There is an international audience across cultures, nations and languages for this message which I also get. Further, I am a member of that fellowship as well, so I really get it. I also am a writer, and devotee of Bird by Bird, et al. of Lamott's work. So, for me she could describe paint drying or grass growing, anything, and I would be interested in her POV whether presented in a format of 100 pages or 350 plus pages. Everyone has their preferences. The key is to find the ones that fit.
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