I have a confession to make: I sort of miss non-fiction. I hated, loathed, detested, and abhorred non-fiction in high school. Then in college I started reading spiritual non-fiction; a little Rob Bell, a little Shane Claiborne, a little Erwin McManus. I was easily tricked into this genre because I was used to reading Bible Studies and, of course, my Bible. And then Into the Wild blew up (because of the movie) and John Krakauer entered my world.
I was a little behind. I’ll admit, but whenever I find something I enjoy I track down everything else that person has done and devour it. So, along with Ray Bradbury and Frank Delaney, I credit John Krakauer with giving me the courage to start telling stories. And I realized this morning as I began to process how I would review Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott that I miss reading non-fiction. The last non-fiction I read was Talking to Girls about Duran Duran back in May. It taught me a lot about 80s music and how being a teenager hasn’t really changed since the 80s. Actually, I take that back… I read Love Wins.
Anyway, I’m in the mood for some non-fiction that will wrinkle my brain a bit – teach me some things about the current political environment or a certain demographic or challenge me spiritually. So, I’d appreciate any suggestions in that vein.
So, on to Imperfect Birds (in my head I keep thinking Delicate, Imperfect Birds which is a mash-up title with this short story). Imperfect Birds is a family drama by Anne Lamott. Wikipedia tells me that her novels often deal with the themes of being a single mother, alcoholism, depression, and Christianity. All of these things are present in Imperfect Birds with some teenage angst and drugs to boot.
Though I’d heard of Traveling Mercies (but never read it) Anne Lamott didn’t really enter my world until I saw this quote
I shared it on Facebook and then one of my friends whose opinion I respect said that she “love love love”d Anne Lamott. So I figured, what they hay, I’ll read me some Anne Lamott. And this was her most recent novel.
It’s sad. Which seems to be a theme in the world of Literature. And fresh off the heels of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which ends quite bitter-sweetly, I felt the weight of Imperfect Birds more than I was ready for. Also, it freaked me the geek out about the future of raising a teenager. (And maybe helped me understand, to a small degree, my mother’s concern about me being out late at night).
I would equate this reading experience to getting an unabridged view into your neighbors’ lives. It’s not fantastic. At points it was actually rather tedious. But there are moments of the fabulously mundane breaking through to reveal the deeper story. These cracks offer a glimpse of the story that is about more than an apparently sitcom-ready family. The stay-at-home mother is a recovering depressive alcoholic, the step-father feels detached because he was a late addition to the family, and the seemingly straight-A, successful student is actually addicted to a myriad of drugs and an expert liar.
I want to write something sort of like this. Not so real that people have no interest because it’s like looking in a mirror. But real in the sense that she collides spiritual thoughts and experiences with an otherwise fairly secular family. And without overt religiosity or Christianese she expresses the hope of redemption.
It ends on a hopeful note. The seeds of healing and truth planted. It’s a tired hope, though, because that sort of healing and truth takes so much work. I think reading this book is what has made me miss non-fiction so much. It felt so real, so heavy, that I figured if I’m going to read something like this it might as well have actually happened.
Maybe I’ll give A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius a second attempt. Or maybe I’ll just go throw a frisbee. Or obsessively check the weather. I mean take a look at this forecast:
What are your plans for this strange Tuesday in the October of 2011?