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on August 26, 2003
...and let's face it, if there's one thing we need more of, it's feelgood stuff where God is credited with performing 'miracles' that don't actually involve anyone getting healed of an incurable disease.
Actually this book is quite readable and good fun. Some of it is charming. There's a surprising amount of humourous self-reflection that reminded me more of Bridget Jones's Diary than anything else, but such is the nature of trendy Christian thought, apparently.
Particularly illuminating is the old joke about the guy who crash lands in the snow, complains about how God didn't rescue him, and, when reminded that he is in fact alive to tell the tale, says that it was because some Eskimo came along and saved him. We laugh because we are so used to Christian apologists using the 'mysterious ways' ploy, so we all know it was really God that sent the Eskimo, right? Lamott parrots this one without a comment. It would have been interesting to see her think about it a little; I'm disappointed that she accepts something so fatuous at face value.
This is good to read on a plane or a beach. You'll enjoy it, toss it aside, and never think about it again.
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on June 29, 2001
Anne Lamott makes Kathleen Norris seem stodgy and Rebecca Walker seem prim. She writes with a crackle and snap that can be endearing or enervating, depending on her topic. The story is familiar: a child of the 60s discovers that religion isn't just for octogenarian bishops, it's for cool people like you and me. Cool = progressive, in case we haven't learned that by now.
There are passages that should be read aloud to a friend or relative or spouse or captive listener, to be fully appreciated. On substance abuse, Lamott combines the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer with the savagely funny humor of Denis Leary. Truly memorable.
If we read this as an autobiography of a funny & fascinating gal, we won't be disappointed. But if we're looking for a faith that transcends the narrow, doctrinaire confines of hollery redhamite progressivism, we probably won't find it in "Traveling Mercies."
When Lamott writes about abortion, she is ardently pro-choice, as might befit someone whose first child succumbed to a "legal medical procedure." But her detailing of the after-effects of that procedure could be used as material in a pro-life argument. Also, witness her reluctance when counseled by a clergyman to end her second pregnancy in a similar fashion.
I wanted to throw this book across the room when Lamott describes a man being mean to his dog and says it was the most heartless, brutal, inhumane thing she had ever witnessed. Then she goes on, flippantly, casually, to detail how she once grabbed her child with such force that her fingernails became embedded in his forearm. But it was all right, because she didn't mean it. You see, Anne Lamott is one of the cool people, and cool people don't do mean things. (We could ask which is the more inhumane action: striking a dog with a stick or dismembering a gestating baby, but this rhetorical question might force some people to think. Heaven forbid that persons who are unaccustomed to serious cogitation about moral truths should be forced to think about these things.)
There's something endearing, even to this curmudgeon, about Lamott's wisecracks & dreadlocks; her voice is neither omniscient nor Olympian, but she is always ready to give an opinion, and sometimes we find the opinion disagreeable. We're glad to have read "Traveling Mercies," but also glad to have bought it at a used bookstore. There's a fine line between the endearingly hip and the gratingly flippant, and Lamott crosses this line dozens of times, with almost reckless abandon.
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on October 14, 2000
This book is one of those that gives me fits when I ask for it in a bookstore. The cashier says, "what section would it be in?" and I answer "well, nonfiction maybe... um, literature. Personal essay, is that a section? It could be under religion or spirituality... or autobiography?" The cashier just looks at me and tries not to laugh.
Lamott writes about herself and all around her. The first third of the book, my favorite part, is a journey of faith from California hippie agnosticism/mysticism to strict atheism to christianity. She writes about her son, about her friends, alive and dying, about her journies and discoveries. She is very real, very tough, very high-strung emotionally and quite honest, I think. She reminded me of Ani Difranco -- if Ani Difranco was a bit older, had a son, was christian, and lived in California.
This book could be a cool drink of water to many sick and tired of "mainstream" christianity. Anne Lamott isn't mainstream, but she is definitely christian. She writes, "My friends like to tell each other that I am not really a born-again Christian. They think of me more along the lines of that old Jonathan Miller routine, where he said, "I'm not really a Jew -- I'm Jew-ish." They think I am Christian-ish. But I'm not. I'm just a bad Christian. A bad born-again Christian. And certainly, like the apostle Peter, I am capable of denying it, of presenting myself as a sort of leftist liberation-theology enthusiast and maybe sort of a vaguely Jesusy bon vivant. But it's not true...I could go to a gathering of foot-wash Baptists and, except for my dreadlocks, fit right in. I would wash their feet; I would let them wash mine."
Anne Lamott describes herself as "slightly more anxious than the average hypochondriac", and maybe it's well-earned. There is a lot of disease and dying in this book -- often used to paint a wonderfully painfully important lesson about faith, God, and people. I can't quite decide if reading this while being close to a serious illness would be incredibly good or disastrously bad.
All, in all, her writing is pretty good. At the end of some chunks, I was a little lost about how we got to this conclusion, or even what conclusion we came to. But the book is quite enjoyable, and potentially powerful. It's a quick, easy read, with pieces to savour.
A sample:
"Nothing happened. No burning bush, no cereal flakes dropping from heaven, forming letters of instruction in the snow. It's just that God began to act like Sam-I-Am from Green Eggs and Ham. Everywhere I turned were helpful household hints on loving one's enemies, on turning the other cheek, and on how doing that makes you look in a whole new direction. There were admonitions about the self-destructiveness of not forgiving people, and reminders that his usually doesn't hurt other people, so much as it hurts you. In fact, not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die. Fortune cookies, postcards, bumper stickers, everything but skywriting -- yet I kept feeling that I could not, would not forgive her in a box, could not would not forgive her with a fox, not on a train, not in the rain."...
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on April 21, 2000
I had mixed feelings about this book. I appreciate her honesty and her humor, and the fact that she is not afraid to be real, warts and all. I appreciate how far she has come to arrive at a real faith in God, considering her background. However, I feel that in some areas she has merely put a spiritual veneer over some of the beliefs that were formed in her during her radical, drug- and alcohol-fueled past, and it is my belief she needs to re-examine some of those values in the light of biblical Christianity. As an evangelical Christian, I am open to learning from almost anyone as long as I exercise enough discernment to "eat the meat and spit out the bones." Anne Lamott needs to use that same type of judgement, and to learn to seek guidance from other areas than the liberal wing of "Christianity".
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on March 28, 2001
First of all let me state I'm a fan of Lamott and will continue to take an interest in everything she produces. But while Annie Lamott makes a very personal case for her faith and honestly depicts her experiences, I was not moved by this book as I was by BIRD BY BIRD, which, unencumbered by the "baggage" of religion, is filled with compassion, understanding and tenderness toward the human condition. TRAVELING MERCIES is much more self-indulgent, trite and unconsidered - okay if there's nothing else around to read, but hardly "essential reading"!
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on March 2, 2000
I, too, feel that this book is more about finding oneself than about finding faith in religion. It was obvious from Ms. Lamott's experiences that she had a lot of grief in her life, but that only made me feel like I was reading about a real person; someone to identify with. And, as she grew older, she came to terms with her problems. I felt the book was an honest account, painting a true picture of Anne Lamott. I also found it funny - in some parts I actually laughed out loud - and a little sad at times, too. It was well worth the read.
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on June 13, 1999
I found the book entertaining--laughed at parts, agreed with parts, but not very thought-provoking. I was particularly annoyed with the author's easy dismissal of the role of fatherhood in her son's life. Men don't seem to be too important to Ms. Lamott, as she goes through them like tissues. I did enjoy her style of writing, however, and I like her sense of humor. I find that many people struggling with their faith are self-absorbed and hypocritical, and Ms. Lamott's book has not disappointed me in that regard.
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on May 5, 1999
Anne Lamott is a good writer, so I understand all the five-star reviews she's getting here. But this book doesn't really work as a collection, or as anything but a mere surface-level look at faith.
I share her beliefs and her style of humor-filled, laid-back Christianity, but after a while I got tired of her whining. Lamott should have been much more ruthless in editing a book about God and faith. And she should have tried to delve deeper than she did.
But...still worth reading.
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on September 5, 2003
Ann Lamott puts us in a classic conundrum because of her bold-faced honesty. Do we embrace her Christianity or dismiss her vulgararity?
Travelling mercies is filled with her customary wit, humility, and frenetic disorganization that quite honestly characterizes most Christians were they honest as Ann is. Her willingness to admit her failings and weaknesses is something to admire and applaud. Her transparency is recommended in every believer.
What I find troubling with Ann is that she seems to revel in all of her problems. She is proud of her vulgarity and her affinity for things she knows disappoint the God she loves. I'm a firm believer in grace, but should we willingly abuse the test God's mercies? He wants us to come as we are, but not stay that way. That's why he's given us His Word to point to a better way. That's not to say any of us have arrived, because we haven't. We're all feet of clay.
Believers, especially new ones, might get the false impression that sin is okay and that it's okay to stay spiritually immature. They might also get the impression that anyone who earnestly tries to honor His God is altogether pious, legalistic, arrogant, and boastful. Many Christians are, but far more are not and would people like Ann open an honest dialogue, they would discover fallen people like themselves on a journey toward Christ-likeness.
Travelling Mercies is intelligent, well-written, and refreshingly to the point. I can't however, in good conscience, give it a complete thumbs up, because of some of its content. But, I do pray that God blesses the irreverant Ann Lamott.
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on August 20, 2000
Anne Lamott is a gifted author who has made many contributions to the world of literature in a variety of formats. This personal essay illuminates more about her personal journey and allows the reader to share in the good and the bad. It is a hopeful book and shows that a person is capable of evolving.
The best chapter was titlted: Barn raising. It once again gives evidence that we are all responsible for one another. This segment should be read by cynics.
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