Book Review: Some Assembly Required

Image from Amazon.com.

Image from Amazon.com.

Anne Lamott wrote one of the seminal books on writing techniques (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life) and I’ve been meaning to read some of her other work. I recently downloaded and read several free samples of her books on my Kindle, then bought Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son.

To start: Lamott is smart, talented, and funny. She’s a writer, a writing teacher, a Christian, a recovering alcoholic, a single mother, a grandmother, and a middle-aged white woman with dreadlocks. Some Assembly Required chronicles the first year of her grandmotherhood, when she must adapt to the reality of her college-aged son and his on-again, off-again girlfriend having a baby boy. The story has many of the same elements as the MTV show Teen Mom (which I love)–a rocky relationship between two young parents of no professional means–but this story takes place among an artsy, academic family with a quirky, loving matriarch (Lamott) who can float the entire enterprise financially.

I enjoyed reading Some Assembly at first, but I never felt a pull to return to the book and finish it…but I did. I probably would have abandoned it if I hadn’t paid for it.  Mothering and grandmothering just isn’t very interesting to me, I fear–unless, apparently, it’s totally dysfunctional and in 30 minute chunks on MTV. I found myself glazing over during some of the book’s passages describing the adults’ intense baby love and parental angst. The baby is like an addictive drug to this family, and everyone is held rapt by him. They can’t stop observing him, describing him, celebrating him, fighting over him, etc. This is parental love, I suppose, but I probably will never under the fanaticism of parents until I have biological children of my own. The gushing words of star-struck moms and dads always sound so overblown and thin to me. Perhaps words cannot truly describe that kind of love?

Anyway, I was mostly reading to find the (frequent!) nuggets of Lamott’s good writing and jokes. She will relate seemingly mundane details about her life, but then suddenly and subtly turn the corner into something funny, poignant, or thought-provoking. Lamott’s very funny and self-effacing, especially about her lapses in spiritual faith and her propensity to get (slightly, and endearingly) jealous and controlling when the intoxicating baby is in question. Lamott practices a kind of casual but fervent Christianity, too, that is nice to see. She’s a true believer, but she’s not afraid to cuss, question, joke, and incorporate non-Christian elements of spirituality into her personal religious practice (like Eastern meditation techniques). I admire her for this.

In short: I really like Lamott, but I’m lukewarm on this particular book. No biggie!  Check this out for some essays that give you an idea of Lamott’s style and humor. And here is a list of her (many!) good quotes.

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