Book Review: Travelling Mercies

I was originally drawn to reading something by Anne Lamott after seeing potent quotes from her referenced in other works. Things like:

“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

So while I was in Boston for work a few months ago, I saw her memoir Travelling Mercies for only $2 at a really fine used bookstore just off of Harvard. Now, Lamott is like no one I had ever read before: A liberal, dread-lock wearing feminist activist. I’d spent most of my life growing up in the company of conservatives who wouldn’t touch an author like this with a ten-foot pole. So here is the part where I say my eyes were opened and I gained fascinating insight into a different perspective on faith… Except that I can’t say that. Actually, I wasn’t all that impressed. Lamott is a funny and ironic writer and some of her stories from the book were enjoyable to read. I think she clearly has a handle on the fundamentals of who Jesus is and the nature of grace. Nevertheless, I tired of her frequent detailed descriptions of how bad her drinking problem was before she found Jesus. I don’t think I need to write anymore about it since this one reviewer on Amazon described it very accurately:

About midway through the book, Lamott reads a review of a lecture of hers that described her as “narcissistic”, and that, I think, hits the nail pretty much on the head. It’s not that one cannot find inspiration here, or humor, or compassion; the main difficulty in Traveling Mercies is that the essays are so consistently self-absorbed as to miss many of the lessons she could have learned were she able to get beyond herself even a little bit. So we have her chalking up as a minor miracle her being able to play the `bon vivant’ with a fellow air-traveler who happens to be of a religious and political persuasion at which she would normally have sneered; it never seems to occur to her, however, that were the shoe on the other foot (as in: “I actually talked to a feminist today, and even though she’s spreading Satan’s lies, she really wasn’t all that bad!”), the essay would have read as intolerably patronizing.

Anyway, the next book like this that comes along will need to be a little more highly recommended. There is so much to read and so little time!