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'Help, Thanks, Wow' by Anne Lamott - Book Review

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Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott

Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott

Riverhead
  • Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott was published in November 2012
  • Publisher: Riverhead
  • 102 pages
One difficulty I have in reviewing memoirs, or other soul bearing nonfiction, is that I want to let readers know if this is a book I would recommend reading, but I am also well aware of how much of themselves authors put into books like these, and I want to be kind. Anne Lamott excels at writing with humor and honesty about her life. It is why I read her books and "follow" her on facebook -- I enjoy her rambling stories packed with gems of insight. Help, Thanks, Wow, however, seemed more rambling than insightful to me. If I buy a book, I want better content than I get in facebook notes -- and more length, for that matter. This book, at 102 pages, barely seemed long enough to be a book, yet it is one I probably would not have finished if I did not have to for this review.

Lamott is best when she is telling a story. That's why Some Assembly Required, which she released earlier this year, was such an enjoyable read. In the midst of narrative, Lamott often hits readers with something keen or candid, an insight you did not quite expect. It is refreshing to read about life and struggles in a tone that is honest, funny and still hopeful. That's why I love Lamott's narratives.

Unfortunately, Help, Thanks, Wow does not have the structure of a story to hold it together. There are times when Lamott tells personal anecdotes, as when she recalls, "When my son, Sam, was seven and discovered that he and I would probably not die at exactly the same moment, he began to weep and said, 'If I had known that, I wouldn't have agreed to be born'" (50). These are the best moments in the book, and they are few and far between.

Sometimes, I admit, it can be nice to hear a beloved author thinking on a page even if it is not clear where she is going. This was the case in Marilynne Robinson's collection of essays released earlier this year, When I Was a Child I Read Books. Robinson's sentences are like a religious experience. Lamott, however, does not achieve this in Help, Thanks, Wow. I kept thinking, "didn't she already say this?"

Another problem I had with the book -- which I admit might not be a problem for all readers -- is that it was not grounded in anything. It was just Lamott's winding opinions on what prayer might be. I realize there are some who might appreciate how completely open to almost all forms of religious expression Lamott is, but while that attitude is very inclusive, it does not provide much substance or direction. Lamott writes, "I had a great friend named Jack, who has since passed, who was all but destroyed by the Catholic Church. So when he began a new, sober life, he turned in prayer to our local mountain, Tamalpais, the sleeping Indian maiden whom the coastal Miwok worshipped. I love the memory of this plump salesman from St. Louis worshipping a sacred mountain, beseeching and praising and turning to God in Her distressing guise as a forested landmass" (28). If God can be anything, then how do we choose and why would we even think God cares if we pray? Indeed, if this book were all I knew of prayer, I would come away thinking that prayer is mostly a form of mental gymnastics that help us live a better life and be more calm. That might be comforting to some people, but I wanted more -- I wanted to explore whether there is actually a God, and if so, what does it mean to seek Him or Her.

Overall, I would not recommend this book, although I would recommend Lamott. Read some of her earlier works. Follow her on facebook. And if you decide to read Help, Thanks, Wow, you can probably get it from the library and enjoy a good skim.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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