I first discovered Anne Lamott when I read Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life over twenty years ago. The jacket cover has long since vanished, and it is worn from heavy use. I return often to the chapter titled, “Short Assignments.” In that chapter, Lamott tells the story of her brother’s procrastination of a school assignment about birds. At the last minute, in tears at the table, her brother wondered how in the world he was going to be able to complete the project. Her father said simply, “Take it bird by bird.”
I had my own bird by bird moment just the other day, with an enormous pile of un-read student papers in front of me on my own kitchen table. For weeks, I tried valiantly to ignore them and wish them away, and I found myself ready, like Lamott’s brother, to collapse into despair. But then, the wisdom: the only way to get through a big task is to wade into it, paper by paper, bird by bird.
Lamott’s words are like that – you can pull them out at dark moments. When you find yourself thinking, “Life is not fair,” she’ll whisper, “You’re right, it’s not fair. But you have to live it anyway.”
Her newest collection, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace, is a set of (mostly) previously published essays centered around living with Difficult Things. Difficult Things include the death of loved ones, damaged relationships, envy, loneliness, and online dating. If you are already a fan of Lamott’s essay collections, you will find exactly what you are looking for here. There are no surprises. I, however, only enjoy Lamott’s most recent writing in small bites, like truffles. Too much, and I get overwhelmed with the sweetness. I tried to binge read this one, and that wasn’t the best approach.
The other thing to realize about Lamott is that she grounds everything she writes in her Christian faith. She is welcoming, but she is not one to disguise her identity in a generic humanism or “spirituality.” If explicitly religious writing is not your thing, you might struggle with this collection. In fact, I’d say that Small Victories, like her previous several books, is designed to speak directly to her Christian audience. This is not to say that other audiences (like, say, me) won’t find value here, especially if they’re in the mood for some straight talk about how it’s all gonna be OK/it’s time to stop whining/who cares how your butt looks in those jeans?