In Review: Stitches by Anne Lamott


From January 22nd: Stitches – A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair [NF] – Anne Lamott

I’ve been meaning to read this book for at least three years. It came out in 2013, but I hadn’t heard of it until 2015, because that would have been when I read my first Lamott book, Bird by Bird, her treatise on writing [one of my favorite books]. I finally picked it up, for no reason other than it had been on my list. It’s quite short and overall an easy read, with Anne’s rambling sort of storytelling, idea-weaving method. At times it is magical, yet others difficult to follow[1]. I haven’t read any other of her work and [probably] unfairly, I had high expectations for Stitches simply because Bird by Bird blew me away. My expectations for that book were an unknown entity when I read it; for this book, my expectations were known.

I’ve discovered my sensibilities match up well with Anne’s, which is why this book didn’t push me any direction, instead just propped up what I was feeling already. Without shortchanging the book, because its message is good and important, she basically writes that in the face of tragedy and trauma, there aren’t really answers and the only thing we can really do is show up for each other and be together.

One of my favorite quotes is, “What if you wake up at sixty and realize that you forgot to wake up, and you never became the person you were born to be, and now your hair is falling out?”, mostly because I sort of feel that way at 35: one night after I stopped drinking and smoking daily, I woke up, drenched in night sweats, unable to breath, with an anxiety I’d never known: I’ve done this to myself –am I going to be able to pull myself out of it?

I woke up, drenched in night sweats, unable to breath, with an anxiety I’d never known: I’ve done this to myself –am I going to be able to pull myself out of it?

Overall it was a very self-soothing read – surprisingly natural when you consider the subject of this book and the ideology Anne is sending us toward with her message. I’m certain there are many people for whom this message is deeply important and moving; for myself, I feel like I arrived at the end of the book over the last three years without reading it. And still, I find the message tranquilizing.

[1] I generally enjoyed it and also can’t believe I fancy myself enough to criticize the author of one of my favorite books!

In Review: Into the Magic Shop

Into the Magic Shop [Nonfiction] – James R. Doty, MD.

My brother sent this book to us for Christmas – I wasn’t immediately drawn to it and I only picked it up because it was a non-fiction book in our house that I hadn’t read and was new to me. But as I started the book, I was immediately captured by the introduction: a brain surgeon talking about performing surgery on a 4-year-old child. Doty is intimate and bizarrely personal. I was only going to read the intro but kept on into the first chapter, when suddenly, I found myself as a 10-year-old boy standing in a magic shop, meeting a woman named Ruth and feeling so important and special that I reached the end of the chapter without meaning to. I was intrigued by the story and what sort of message Doty was trying to convey.

It’s sort of a memoir, yet also a self-help book [though not quite as pushy on its instructiveness]. It’s a decent thickness but broken up into 3 different parts. The first section is his childhood experiences meeting the Ruth, who teaches him how to control his body and mind through four “magic” tricks: 1] Relaxing the body; 2] Taming the mind; 3] Opening the heart; and 4] Clarifying intent. Doty has some nice summary sections at the end of each chapter relating to these four steps for your own guidance.

The second part of the book is an exposition on how he only took parts of the tips Ruth gave him into adulthood, focusing instead on forcing his way through life and obstacles with out regard for anyone or anything else. I found this part of the story a bit weird because in some ways he was acknowledging his extreme ignorance of how to interact and engage with people. But in many ways, he attributed the success of his “magic tricks” to gaining access to what he needed. There are several examples of him forcing his way into a program or lucking his way into college where he attributes his “mind over matter” mindset as the reason for his success in gaining access. From the outside, though, it just seems like luck.

The final section is about how he finally realized he was missing a major part of the puzzle from the magic tricks that Ruth had taught him: his heart. This moment comes when he’s lost practically everything, going from incredibly rich to possibly broke and it brings with him a moment of reckoning that changes him for the better. He delivers some ideas about the heart that are cute, but not ground-breaking [see 1st Corinthians 13 for the most recent ground-breaking anecdotes on love]. He works to explain how, really, the heart is responsible for dictating much of what it needs/wants/delivers to the brain.

All in all, it is a pleasant and readable book. I found Doty’s childhood encounters extremely captivating but was much less impressed with his encounters afterward. Perhaps that is just because I felt so intimate with his 10-year-old self and was disappointed in how he played it out after that, knowing in advance what he was missing. I am intrigued by the four “magic” tricks – I do want to explore those and implement them in my own life. In the end it is a story of redemption, and that, by itself, makes it a worthwhile read.