Book Review: Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son

81AOAtwbTtL.jpgSome Assembly Required
by Anne Lamott

Just as she chronicled the first year with her son, Sam, Anne Lamott this time lays bare her first year with Sam’s son, Jax. And of course she does it beautifully.

Lamott is Lamott, and the artistry with which she washes her familial story will keep me coming back again and again, but added into this chapter of her life is her own son’s voice, piping up and filling pages with his own beautiful ponderings on fatherhood, and sonship, and what it means to be firmly caught between the two.

I can never quite lay a finger on what it is that brings me back and back again to writers like Anne Lamott and Mike Perry. Nat Goldberg. Nadia Bolz-Weber and Ursula LeGuin. Annie Dillard.

I’ve tried others on the unfortunately labeled Memoir shelves. There are a few who work with these masters to redeem the genre, but mostly, there is a reason I fight tooth and nail against calling my own writing memoir.  I just can’t identify with all that rubbish. So what is it about this handful of folks that can capture my attention and bring me to my knees, begging for more of their mundane lives?

I mean, OK. So they’re good writers. You know, that helps. But that’s not it. What else? I’ve really been thinking about it a lot lately.

For one, they write like they talk.

I imagine. I’ve only actually been in the presence of one of the above mentioned folks, and to be honest, he talks quieter than my heart beats, so I can’t honestly tell you he writes like he talks. 

Anyway, I imagine they write like they talk. The words dance across the pages and I feel like I’m hiking up to Hoffman Hills tower and we’re just yakkin.’ Just friends telling tales. Just letting the story roll out with the laughter. It is a gift.

There’s more than that though. There is, in every one of them, a raw, naked quality. An honesty that reaches deep, a flaying open of their souls on the page. In the writing that I love, there seems to be a distinct lack of the emergency brake. They just go careening off like a bat out of hell, and when they wind up in the depths of their heart with nothing but a half-dead flashlight and a Clif bar, they just take a bite and invite us along. I guess if you’re going to venture into the dark places inside, you might as well invite along a few close friends. Or the entire populace who might read your book. At least you’re not alone.

And more. More than just that intense honesty. Let me think about this… Yep. Every danged time there’s a yearning. A searching. You can tell me all you want about your life in the wilderness, but it’s not going to get me until I feel your searching. All those folks are in pursuit of something more than is plainly in front of their face. They’re struggling. They’re questioning. They’re moths flailing around in the dark, desperate for the flame.

There’s one more thing. I was just writing a note to a certain friend about this, after his 72nd apology for the mixed metaphor within our email correspondence. Me:
As an aside, I’m the master of the art of juggling metaphors. I’m never one to keep them straight. I just throw them all up in the air and see what patterns they make. It’s been occurring to me recently that most of my favorite writers do the same. They’re pretty higgledy-piggledy about it. Messy. Reckless abandon. I love that. So I’m mostly not worrying about my own personal barrage of metaphors and how they might be received. They are just me. Consequently, I’ve got no problem following your little metaphor bunny around the woods. He makes me smile. 

Yeah. The folks I love to read don’t worry too much about overburdening their readers. They trust us to follow them, and maybe even find their reachings humorous, or poetical. They throw it all up in the air and look for the patterns. Or better yet, let us, the readers, find the patterns.

Now, before the authorial hate-mail arrives, let me just say that I’m intimately versed in how the process of writing works, and how the gold rarely flows in its refined state. I am dismally aware of the investment of time and energy and actual, dripping lifeblood that is made in order to make all of those fantastic things happen, and make them seem effortless.

And this is why it’s such a miracle that it happens at all.

Thank you, to those who write the words that escape them unbidden, who write with their pants down and don’t care who’s watching. To those who will never stop grasping around in the dark, always in search of the light. Thank you to those who toss their metaphors like a salad.

Thank you to those who make it look like old hat, and don’t mind that we, the reader, might not notice the scars or the freshly sodden bandages.

Anne Lamott is one of that number, and for her I am grateful.

Not much of a book review. Oops. How about a quote?

“We pray that we might cooperate with any flicker of light we can find in the world.”
~ Tom the Jesuit, via Anne Lamott, Some Assembly Required

Just go read it.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son

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  1. I think, in this age, that there is a serious need, a search for authenticity. Kids are growing up with less and less that they can actually rely on – family, institutions, faith – and they are desperate for that. Not that we adults are immune to it either, but it’s a different perspective on how people have public faces and how we are when we are in the places we can put them away. When it comes to memoirs, it helps if a writer is good, but there also has to be that sense of going on a journey as well as the sense that we’re being allowed to see that person more when the public mask is put away. It’s a similar thing that got me into “blogging” years and years ago.

    As for the writing, it certainly helps when a writer can paint a picture, can help a reader see and experience something. When my kids try to explain to other people about exciting things in their lives, I usually know what they are talking about, but they don’t understand that other people don’t live in the same context they do, so I try very hard to help fill in the details so that what my kids say actually makes sense. (Though, with my oldest two, I really don’t have to do a lot of that anymore.) A lot of what gets taught in writing is basic and utilitarian, it tells something, but it’s utterly devoid of the color and taste of texture of a situation. I think there are fewer people now who can do this.

    There’s a story from the days of the Beatles, when Paul McCartney was writing the song “Hey Jude”. The song was for Julian Lennon, John’s son, as John and Julian’s mother were going through a divorce. According to the story, Paul was running through the song for John, and threw in the lyric “the movement you need is on your shoulder”. Paul assured John that this was just a filler lyric for the time being, and John replied, “No, you’re not taking that out, it’s the best bit there.” In a very literal sense, yes, that lyric is probably a little absurd, however, particularly in the context of the song, it’s a beautiful way of trying to describe the indescribable, working up gumption, so to speak, to go forth and be brave and not fall into despair while sloshing through the hard times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a beautiful story… I hadn’t heard it before. And you are 100% correct; the ability to put away the public face is an essential one if you’re going to write about your life and not be a newspaperman. Thankfully, there are brave folks (or crazy… sometimes I wonder if they’re the same thing) out there who set the bar high, and show us what it is to write well.

      Liked by 1 person

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