I met Anne Lamott yesterday!
The author of some of my favorite spiritual writing of all time is currently on tour promoting her latest nonfiction collection, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace, just released last week. And somehow, unbelievably, she was tricked into stopping through Kansas!
The first Lamott book I read was actually her second volume of nonfiction, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. It's a follow-up to Traveling Mercies, published back in 2000. I'm not sure how exactly to classify these books--they're part memoir, part religious reflection, part pep talk. All I know is I love them and I'm always thrilled to find out she's publishing another one. I highly recommend any and all of them--and you definitely don't need to read them in any certain order.
Basically, Anne Lamott is the only Christian writer I can read even when I'm completely disillusioned with the church and the people in it. No matter how jaded I am, no matter how despairing I feel at the way our human failings are destroying this precious world around us, I can always find a shred of peace in her essays. She never, ever resorts to platitudes. Tired of well-meaning but clueless people saying that God has a plan and everything happens for a reason after something terrible has happened to you? Yeah, Anne Lamott doesn't say shit like that.
Last night, before the obligatory signing line, Anne took the stage and spoke for about an hour. She was just as funny and warm and ornery in the flesh as she seems on the page. (And her dreads are amazing! Someday I MUST have whitegirl dreads!) When a handful of people straggled in late and stood at the back looking for seats, she left the podium to hunt down places for them, even inviting them to come and sit on the floor near the stage. When someone's cell phone rang and interrupted her flow for the third or fourth time, she said, "So many cell phones tonight. I'm so happy for you, that you're all getting your organs."
So yeah, Anne Lamott is a fabulous and witty speaker. I was a little nervous about the event ahead of time--events had conspired such that I had to put on my big girl pants and go by myself, as most of my wonderful, liberal, tree-hugging, Jesus-y friends tragically live far away these days--but as soon as she started speaking, I was so glad to be there. It made the hour I spent beforehand, staring at my phone and listening to all the old ladies around me chat with their sweatered friends, completely worth it.
Book signings are great--it's a chance to meet an author whose work you've enjoyed and put a face and voice to someone who has been just words and thoughts swirling in your own head. It's a chance to show appreciation for their craft and support them with your ticket and book purchase. But they're also kind of weird and unsatisfying.
Especially if it's an author you've read for many years, if you've loved their books like close friends, it can feel a little awkward getting to the front of the signing line. The bookstore employees are concerned solely with keeping the line moving. They are positioning book flaps, snatching cameras from hands and then throwing them back again, at times literally shoving less confident readers forward into the laps of their writerly idols. And of course all their prompting and prodding is necessary. No one wants to wait in line forever, and I'm sure no author wants to sit fake-smiling at strangers til midnight.
Still, if you happen to be a tender-hearted emotional reader, and you have exactly ten seconds in which to express all of your feelings about the author and what her work has meant to you, and a helpless desire to represent yourself in such a way that the author understands you are a special snowflake, set apart from the thousands of other slack-jawed drooling fans she will encounter in the next two weeks, well, then you might just blurt out, "You're a beautiful genius!" and, bending over awkwardly, smile cringingly for the camera before fleeing the scene as if chased by wolves or your own good intentions.
If you do that at an Anne Lamott signing, I can tell you that she will kindly respond, "Thank you."
Don't ask me how I know.