Book Review of Anne Lamott’s Almost Everything: Notes on Hope
– Book Review by Catherine Lanser –
A few months back I had an opportunity to see Anne Lamott speak. I was familiar with her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, but I wasn’t sure if I’d ever read it. It was lumped in my mind with other texts, such as Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and Julie Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.
These books on writing are more inspirational than instructional, providing encouragement for writers to begin the practice of writing. I had been fortunate enough to take a workshop with Natalie Goldberg once and had done a longer seminar about Cameron’s book, where we worked through her suggestions week-by-week. I continued meeting with some of the women I met in that class for almost a decade after.
But I knew less about Anne Lamott. I followed her on Facebook as any “good” writer should and attended her talk out of curiosity and I suppose duty. My friend and I were surprised when we arrived at the theater and the line wound down the street. The event began late because people were still taking their seats in the packed 1,500-seat theater long after she was supposed to begin.
When she finally did speak, I instantly knew why she had been such a star for so long. She spoke of ordinary things, but in a way that made them seem fresh. Lamott read and talked from her new book, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope, and in doing so provided advice to the audience about how to be a human in trying times.
The book is an inspirational one and her message at that event was too. She covered writing, but she also spoke about loving difficult people, losing the people we love, and the individual struggles we face, such as her own past alcoholism. I was somewhat embarrassed to find myself crying through much of her speech. I believe she was touching something deep inside me that needed attention.
It was not a complex message, and I tend to be a cynic, but I guess it was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. I have since read the book and found the messages there to be similarly helpful. I was even moved throughout my reading to write down many of her quotes. Here were some of my favorites:
- “Don’t compare your insides to their outsides.”
- “Not only is everyone screwed up, but everyone screws up.”
- “Be true to the story you are called to write instead of the story you wish you’d found.”
- “Everything that has happened to you belongs to you.”
- “Truth comes in small moments and visions, not galaxies and canyons.”
- “Why is rarely a useful question in the hope business.”
The book is broken up into sections based on the type of advice she is giving, such as Hope, Death, and Food. She also includes a chapter on her advice on writing in which she paraphrases the lessons she gives to young children as well as adults. I’m not sure how much of this section is similar to Bird by Bird but I felt as if I was copying almost all of it into my notebook.
We also learn the origin of the phrase “bird by bird,” which was something her father told her brother when he was stressing about writing a report about birds. Reportedly, he told him to just take it bird by bird.
I’m glad I decided to attend Anne Lamott’s event and I strongly recommend her book, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope, if you’re looking for a quick and uplifting read.
About the Author – Catherine Lanser
Catherine Lanser is a writer who grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. She writes about life there and growing up as the baby of nine children. Catherine has been published in numerous anthologies including the The Milwaukee Anthology. She recently completed her first full-length memoir about how she stopped being the sick one, reevaluated her brain tumor, and found a new role in her family after her father’s stroke. She is available at www.catherinelanser.com
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