The flaps of Anne Lamott’s latest book, Dusk Night Dawn: on revival and courage, ask, “How can we recapture the confidence we once had as we stumble through the dark times that seem increasingly bleak? How can we cope as bad news pile up around us? Where, Anne Lamott asks, ‘do we start to get our world and joy and hope and our faith in life itself back…with our sore feet, hearing loss, stiff fingers, poor digestion, stunned minds, broken hearts?’” These are big, good questions.
I have more questions: How do you review an Anne Lamott book? How do you explain this verbal life-force to someone who may not already be familiar with her? How do you catch a cloud and hold it down?
The New York Times bestselling author of Help, Thanks, Wow; Small Victories; Stitches; Some Assembly Required; Grace (Eventually); Plan B; Traveling Mercies; Bird by Bird; Operating Instructions, Hallelujah Anyway and many other fiction and non-fiction books, Anne Lamott is a successful writer by anyone’s definition. Words pour out of her. While a large proportion of these words are about herself, her stories of single-motherhood, writing, alcoholism, activism, and Christianity have resonated with readers for over three decades.
When asked why she writes, she told the Dallas Morning News, “I try to write the books I would love to come upon, that are honest, concerned with real lives, human hearts, spiritual transformation, families, secrets, wonder, craziness—and that can make me laugh. When I am reading a book like this, I feel rich and profoundly relieved to be in the presence of someone who will share the truth with me, and throw the lights on a little, and I try to write these kinds of books. Books, for me, are medicine.”
Anne Lamott is nothing if not self-aware. With dead-eye accuracy, she writes the books she wants to read. They are good medicine, but they are difficult to describe individually. They even dress alike. Her latest book, Dusk Night Dawn, is packaged like all her books since Help Thanks Wow: It’s a slim volume with two color printing, gift-book binding, pretty endpapers and a single excerpt on the back cover. She does not need to be endorsed by other writers; rather, what she writes just needs to be packaged beautifully and presented to her adoring audience.
Despite the sameness and the foregone conclusion of success that this formula suggests, I’m part of that audience. I love Anne Lamott’s writing. I have all her books, and I’ve gone to hear her speak every time she’s come to town. But it’s tricky trying to individuate this latest book. In many ways, Dusk Night Dawn is just like Help Thanks Wow, or Hallelujah Anyway, or any of her other books in this vein. They’re each a stream-of-consciousness recounting of episodes from throughout her life, with a few images and individuals anchoring her thoughts. This one, written after her recent marriage to Neal Allen and during the last presidential term adds these topics, polar opposites that both lead her to deep rumination, and still covers single-motherhood, writing, alcoholism, activism, and Christianity.
If you haven’t read any of her previous books, I have no idea how you might respond if you jumped into this massive oeuvre with Dusk Night Dawn. If you have read Anne Lamott before, of course you need to read this latest. While you’ll be interested to hear about how her online dating worked out, you’ll have the same reaction to her writing that you’ve had before: you might think she needs more editing; you might think she’s prophetic; you might wonder where she’s going with some of her anecdotes, only to find yourself pondering them like a good parable several days later. Or you might skip the literary judgement and declare this new book just perfect. Because, more than anything, her constant message to readers is how deeply we are loved by our Creator, even in the darkest night of our unedited, rambling imperfection. Even, and especially, when the world seems like it’s falling apart. Nobody’s looking for perfection; we just need to show up for each other.
The Anne Lamott quote on the back of the book says, “Yes, these are times of great illness and distress. Yet the center may just hold.” Dusk Night Dawn is sub-titled on revival and courage. But isn’t all her writing about revival and courage? While she struggles every day to show up for her life, her center has clearly held. It hasn’t always been pretty, but it’s held well enough for her to create a multitude of books about her journey, books that help us better understand where the center of our own lives should be and help us show up, for ourselves and our dear ones.
So, yes, we are older. Yes, our joints are stiff, and we’ve been stumbling through a heartbreaking year, even if we were lucky enough to find or hold love in it. And yes, this book looks and reads a lot like her books that have come before it. But don’t let that keep you from reading it. It’s the same, but it’s different. The parables stay the same, but we change. There’s still more to understand.
As always, she’s tangential, irreverent, charming, opinionated, and brutally honest. Reading her, book after book, is like sitting down with a thoroughly modern Maria (When I’m with her I’m confused, out of focus, and bemused, and I never know exactly where I am. Unpredictable as weather, she’s as flighty as a feather. She’s a darling; she’s a demon; she’s a lamb. She’d out pester any pest, drive a hornet from its nest. She can throw a twirling dervish out of whirl. She is gentle; she is wild; she’s a riddle; she’s a child; she’s a headache; she’s an angel…she’s Anne Lamott.) How do you explain her remarkable verbal magic?
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand? Read Dusk Night Dawn. Or, if you’re not already familiar with her work, go back to Operating Instructions or Bird by Bird and get to know her and her people from the beginning. Each book layers richness on the last. You can’t read about Anne Lamott: you have to experience her books for yourself. You might not be able to explain just why, but chances are you’ll feel revived and more courageous afterward. And isn’t that what the sub-title promised?
Anne Lamott will be featured in the Episcopal Booksellers Association Authors Series on April 8 at 6 p.m. Central. Join us to experience her irrepressible wisdom by registering at the link here.
To purchase Dusk Night Dawn from the Cathedral Bookstore, click here.
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand.
~ Henri Nouwen