Friday, September 26, 2014

book review: Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott

The backstory: When I was pregnant, I found myself enjoying memoirs of pregnancy by great writers so much more than the traditional self-help pregnancy books. Several people recommended this one to me, and I opted to save it to read while on maternity leave.

The basics: When Anne Lamott finds herself thirty-something and pregnant, she decides to have the baby. His father immediately exits the picture, and she must rely on her family and friends to serve as a support system for her single parenthood.

My thoughts: First of all, I'm so glad I waited until after Hawthorne was born to read this. Lamott's son Sam was horribly fussy, and knowing how bad it could be would have been awful for me to imagine while pregnant. My baby is blessedly not very fussy (he does have his days), and I often found myself feeling sorry for Lamott in the early weeks. I'm also fortunate to have a supportive partner. I cannot imagine Lamott's version of motherhood. While it does get better as Sam gets older, I don't know if I could have endured it the way she did.

This memoir is in the form of a journal, as the subtitle suggests, and I enjoyed reading about her experiences with Sam in his early weeks while Hawthorne is so young. It was fascinating to compare notes. As this memoir went on, however, I had to face the fact that I just didn't like Anne Lamott. Her attempts at humor grated on me. Ostensibly Sam is the focus of this memoir, yet she spends more time talking about her complicated journey to Christianity and her ongoing struggle with sobriety. I found both topics grating. Over all, I found the tone to be off. Some passages read like a journal--her thoughts were often abrupt in the early weeks, which makes sense. Too often, however, it felt inauthentic to me as she shared quotes or references literature and art. I typically love such references, but Lamott sprinkles them in somewhat haphazardly and doesn't offer much commentary.

The verdict: Throughout this book, I wanted more commentary on the experiences. Instead, Lamott shares her experience and comments on sobriety, Christianity, and George Bush (the first.) Having read so many honest explorations of pregnancy and motherhood, this one simply doesn't measure up for me. Admittedly, Lamott came first, and perhaps this memoir doesn't age well in an age where honesty about motherhood is so common.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 273 pages
Publication date: April 27, 1993
Source: library

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  1. I think I actually read a similar feeling review about the latest book (I think when her son has a kid). That's interesting. I haven't read any of her books.

  2. I chose to read this book shortly before the birth of my first child. Having previously read Lamott's book on writing Bird by Bird I think I was more prepared for her somewhat rambling style. I found that I enjoyed it quite a lot, but did get somewhat tired of entries that were not related directly to motherhood or Sam.


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