SMALL VICTORIES by Anne Lamott
The first time I read Anne Lamott’s work was in 2007 when I decided I wanted to be a writer. I’d only taken one creative writing class in college in the late 90s; otherwise, I was on my own. From what I’d heard, Anne Lamott was a good place to start. Bird by Bird, Lamott’s book of practical and inspirational advice for writers, made me a fan of her style.
Lamott’s essays, including the ones in her newest collection, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace, often include a mix of humor, wisdom, raw emotion, and poignant, honest descriptions of her relationships with difficult family members, boyfriends, and alcohol. There’s also plenty of talk about the blessings of her life, her faith, her friends, and desire for love. Small Victories is no exception. Although the spiritual base Lamott draws from–Christianity–is different from mine–Judaism–I find myself nodding often when the writing turns spiritual, which she discusses in such a disarming way.
In Small Victories, Lamott’s humor and spot-on observances about life are what makes each page so readable. In typical Lamott fashion, she points out the that way she (and many of us) get stuck in ridiculous cycles of shame, the way we worry about how we look in a bathing suit, and the petty or even legitimate reasons we hold grudges but only harm ourselves in the process.
As the book opens, for example, Lamott discusses a hike she took with her friend who was dying of ALS. In describing how spending time with people who are dying forces you to be grateful for your life, she says, “They ruin your multitasking high, the bath of agitation, rumination, and judgement you wallow in without the decency to come out and just say anything. They get you by being grateful for the day, while you are obsessed with how thin your lashes have become and how wide your bottom.”
In the essay, “The Book of Welcome,” Lamott discusses friendship. As usual while reading Lamott I had a pencil in hand to underline favorite passages. From that excellent chapter I chose this one: “Let people see you. They see that your upper arms are beautiful, soft and clean and warm, and then they will see this about their own, some of the time. It’s called having friends, choosing each other, getting found, being fished out of the rubble. It blows you away, how this wonderful event happened–me in your life, you in mine.”
In “Forgiveness,” Lamott examines the topic through the innocuous relationship with a fellow parent she remembers from many years earlier, a mother who seemed to excel at every parenting task and notice all of Lamott’s shortcomings and Sam Lamott’s shortcomings, too. Readers know from this book and others that Lamott has more significant relationships from which she could consider the most difficult aspects of forgiveness, but she advises starting small when working on this particular muscle. “Not with the Gestapo,” as she quotes from C.S. Lewis. I also appreciated her point that “not forgiving is like drinking rat poison then waiting for the rat to die.” She goes on to explore issues of forgiveness in several other chapters. The ability to forgive and move on in your mind even if you still don’t intend to spend time with the person in question takes up a good deal of Small Victories. It’s a topic worth exploring again and again.
Small Victories is a great book for the beginning of a new year, especially if you have certain kinds of resolutions in mind related to gratitude and forgiveness. It’s also classic Lamott and therefore an all around great read.
Have you read SMALL VICTORIES or another of Anne Lamott’s books? What did you think?