A Critique for Anne Lamott ~ BitterSweetLife

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Critique for Anne Lamott

Learning to Read & Write

Anne Lamott at AmazonI know about Anne Lamott by hearsay only at this point. She is Donald Miller's favorite author and Over the Rhine quote her in the cover notes of their excellent album Ohio. I've also read a couple interviews and articles about her, all of which leaves me with the feeling that she's someone who I want to read first-hand - probably after I finish reading all of C.S. Lewis' books for the second time. Really, that was a compliment. Here are a few quotes to prove it.

Laughter is carbonated holiness. - Plan B

When you're conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. - Bird by Bird

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. - Operating Instructions

Lamott's glib mix of liberal politics and gospel is off-putting, but there's no arguing with the impact of her writing. Like her apparent understudy, Donald Miller, she has voice. She is trying to write about Jesus in a way that makes truth stick in attention-deficit-plagued minds.

Because of my interest in Lamott, I found this article from
Touchstone Magazine very interesting. While appreciating Lamott's abilities, writer David Mills has advice to offer:
Judging from her writing, Lamott seems to be someone who has read and observed a lot, but not actually studied anything. She seems to be the kind of verbally gifted quick study who goes to print long before she should, and what she writes is so enjoyable and breezy and personal and sometimes insightful, offering so much with which some readers can identify, and the content so safely what I call "p.c. with modifications" (that is, essentially inoffensive to the liberal mind but with enough quirks and dissents to make it feel a little racy, ideologically), that a huge number of readers love her work, which keeps her writing...

As gifted as she is, I think Lamott would be a much better writer, meaning deeper and wiser, if she stopped to consider such questions. She could stand on the shoulders of giants, and share with her readers what she sees from there. I suspect she would also be a less popular writer, because the answers to such questions, seen from the giants' shoulders, lead you, eventually, to truths that are not p.c.

I don't know if Lamott will ever see the piece, but there's still benefit. Critiques like this are worth the attention of readers and writers everywhere.

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Dustin said...

The very things Mills holds against her are the exact things, I believe, she wishes to convey. It's not about refinement and well reasoned arguments 100% of the time, but about honesty, grit and openness.

Tim said...

Thanks for sharing Mills' insight Ariel, that is solid stuff.

@ Dustin: Honesty, grit and openess are nice character traits, but being honestly wrong, grittingly false and open about things that aren't true doesn't seem very valuable to me--a start perhaps, but well short of good. What I'm saying is that thoughtful truth is always better than open honesty about something you know little about.

Jamie said...

I read Bird by Bird a couple years ago and was not very impressed. Lamott is rather crass (needlessly so, in my opinion), which made it hard for me to appreciate her. I think she is crass and gritty for the purpose of being authentic and connecting with her readers, but to me, the effect is the opposite, and she comes off seeming INauthentic and put on.

Ryan said...

the only person who's taught me more about writing than lamott is a college prof who wrote me a page back for each 5 or 6 pages that i wrote for him. she's taught me a lot about transparency, too - and how faith can be messy. once i decided i wouldn't let her scandalize me as much as she'd like, i found her to be a good companion.

Ariel said...

Interesting that these comments are split down the middle as far as the worth of Lamott's writing. I'm guessing that's a reflection of what she does: entertain & provoke.

I can tell I'll find things to appreciate and things to disparage when I get around to reading her. I like Ryan's comment: once i decided i wouldn't let her scandalize me as much as she'd like...

That's a good approach to reading any self-styled provocateur.


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife