Traveling Mercies

by Anne Lamott

ISBN: 0679442405

I’ve never read any of Lamott’s novels, but I’m attached to her previous nonfictions works, Operating Instructions and Bird by Bird, so I when this came out, I figured I’d read it. What I didn’t expect was to find myself having one of those ‘perfect book at the perfect time’ reading experiences.

This book is a collection of essays in which Lamott reflects on the unlikeliness of her belief in God and her continuing to follow a spiritual path. She isn’t preachy, she isn’t looking to convert anyone to her point of view — in other words, she writes about coming to believe in an accessible way, one I could follow as a reader because I wasn’t constantly worried that some trap door was going to open under my feet and drop me into a proselytizing pit.

Also, can be funny as hell. Like when she is talking about a time when she lashed out at her young son, and she says she feels like she bitchslapped E.T.

I like Lamott’s nonfiction, because the voice she writes with seems authentic, honest, like she knows things. When she doesn’t know things, you see her arms flailing around, you see her crazed search for the clue, and you know she doesn’t know things and that is a sort of comfort to read about.

It was in reading “Ladders” that I knew I was having my perfect timing reading experience, because it is about grief:

All those years I fell for the great palace lie that grief should be gotten over as quickly as possible and as privately. But what I’ve discovered since is that the lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place and that only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone, without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it.

She is writing about her best friend Pammy, who died of cancer:

I am no longer convinced that you’re supposed to get over the death of certain people, but little by little, pale and swollen around the eyes, I began to feel a sense of reception, that I was beginning to receive the fact of Pammy’s death, the finality. I let it enter me.

My mom died eight months ago, and reading this gives me hope. Hope is really what Lamott delivers in these pages, because that is what she has found faith has delivered for her.

I appreciate reading about someone struggling with feelings, with grief, with recovery, and not sounding like she left her sense of humor or half her brain in a hospital room or church pew somewhere. In talking about prayer like it is any other conversation she makes her experience of it real for the reader. A writer with lesser talent, or a less unflinching view, would write about faith and make it a warm fuzzy or hokey bright light experience, but she makes it an ordinary extraordinary one.

2 thoughts on “Traveling Mercies

  1. I loved this book too! It is one of those books I wanted to get everyone I know to read. Annie Lamott is so real in her struggles that she is an inspiration. You can hear her telling the story about the woman on the airplane and her friend with Aids on the This American Life webpage – definitely worth a listen!

  2. The book was great!! It is for someone who is doubting their faith! It is for someone who needs their sprits lifted up!

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