Anne Lamott’s latest book is named for her favorite essential prayers for everyday life: Help Thanks Wow.
The fourth essential prayer — “Help me not be such an ass” — didn’t make the cut but is important all the same, because we’re human and cranky and fallible and, well, let’s just say it the way Lamott does in this neat little book: “Most of us are more like the townspeople of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery than we are like the Dalai Lama.”
But Lamott, who appears Sunday at Miami Book Fair International, also believes that a simple prayer — nothing fancy, just a word or two — can go a long way toward healing us.
“I’ve been annoyed with God for not having a magic wand and not tapping us on the head so we can see the world through magical glasses,” she says wryly. “We get glimmers of grace or illumination, and then real life catches up with us.
“These last few weeks, it was impossible not to be fixated on the election and not hold your breath and have multiple, gigantic opinions. ‘This is the end of the world!’ ‘This is a setback!’ ‘Oh, this is wonderful!’ We keep starting over.”
Lamott, 58, has been writing about faith for years now in such warm, thoughtful collections as Grace (Eventually) and Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. (She’s also author of several novels, including the Rosie trilogy, about a dysfunctional but loving family in Northern California, where she lives.)
She’s written two memoirs, Operating Instructions, about her son Sam’s first year, and Some Assembly Required, about Sam’s unexpected fatherhood at 19 and her conflicting feelings about becoming a grandmother to baby Jax. Her 1994 nonfiction classic, Bird By Bird: Some Instructions On Writing and Life, is still required reading in writing programs around the country.
“I’ve taught for a long time, over 20 years, and throughout that time it stays consistent: generations of students always quote Anne Lamott in critical work and in workshops,” says author Connie May Fowler, who lives in St. Augustine and teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. “I think it’s because they feel they know her. She’s very accessible, and her writing is very intimate. She opens herself up, and that’s what the students are responding to. I have students who carry Bird By Bird around like it’s a Bible.”
Known for her generous, liberal Christianity, her adoration of her dogs and cats (“They’re like my collective husband,” she says ) and her fierce guarding of her many years of sobriety, Lamott is easy for a reader to love. In Help Thanks Wow (Riverhead, $17.95) she writes frankly and humorously about prayer, welcoming moments of grace and recognizing the importance of taking time to appreciate joy or beauty wherever you find it. (“The only good news is that we somehow ended up on the one planet where someone thought up Monopoly and Oreos,” she writes.)
“We’re obsessed with our busyness, and when we’re surprised by grace or sweetness in the world, it’s wonderful,” she says. “It’s the reset button. And I do like writing about the experience.”