Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson
ALMOST EVERYTHING: Notes on Hope. By Anne Lamott. Read by the author. Penguin Audio. 3½ hours; 3 CDs. $34.
I popped the audio version into my car’s CD player one day not long ago when the news was full of horrible, hate-inspired violence and the airwaves were bristling with alarmist political ads. OK, Anne Lamott, I thought: See if you can give me any reason to hope.
I had never read anything by Lamott, who is a novelist as well the author of books that might be called spiritual or inspirational. My sister had talked about liking her books, but I didn’t really know much about her.
I’m also wary of self-help, shallow popular religion and feel-good pep talks.
I need not have worried. For the many people who are already fans of Anne Lamott, I’ll just point out that this brief book, written for the era of Trump in America, is here, offering a much-needed dose of what Lamott has to offer.
For others who might have missed her, I’ll say this book will not only cheer you, it will also make you want to go find some of her earlier works.
Anne Lamott recorded the audio version herself, so listening to it is a lot like having an enjoyable conversation with a friend – a lively, irreverent, funny friend who seems to have many of the same anxieties, insecurities and doubts that I do, but who finds reasons to keep going – with a zest for life – nonetheless.
Like a lunchtime conversation, this book jumps from subject to subject and doesn’t deal with any of them in great depth. You leave the table feeling much better, but it’s hard to pinpoint any one, profound thing she said that made a difference.
Lamott says she set out to write down all that she’s learned that’s worth passing on to her grandson.
One thing she’s obviously learned is that “hurt, loss and disaster” are common in life. Definitely no holier-than-thou Christian, she speaks frankly and often with wry humor about her own troubled past and shortcomings. But a believing, churchgoing Christian she is, even if a left-wing, latter-day hippie who recognizes that not everyone’s idea of God – or whatever supreme force there might be – is the same.
In her very personal, honest, peripatetic musings, she touches on all sorts of topics: body image and eating disorders; family dynamics, birth order and the ways we never outgrow our childhood selves; the futility of trying to “fix” other people…. The anxieties she was grappling with as she wrote included a devastating fire in California, where she lives, and her fear each morning that she would learn upon waking that the U.S. had bombed North Korea.
“All truth really is paradox,” she writes. Her stories show us that life is full of change, so when things seem bleak, that’s all the more reason to keep going. She also reminds us that there are nuggets of hope and happiness even when things are bad. Acknowledging that much in life is hard, she offers not the brand of faith that promises if you just pray enough, everything will go your way, but the faith that says life is worth living despite very real problems and disappointments. She finds joy in teaching the diverse children in her Sunday school class and in visiting the church garden with an elderly friend.
When I finished Almost Everything, I found myself not only more hopeful but also wishing I could visit with Lamott again in a week or so. I’ll have to look for some of her earlier books. Meanwhile, remembering her stories about how doing something nice for someone is good for the soul, I ordered a copy of this new book to be delivered to the sister who’s been telling me about Anne Lamott for years.