Book Review: Operating Instructions

Review of Operating Instructions

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott is one of my favorite books about parenting of all time. I try to reread it every year or so, just to remember what it was like to be back in those first scary and beautiful few months of being a mother.

For those of you who have read Lamott (Bird by Bird, Traveling Mercies, Plan B, etc.), Operating Instructions is just like those books, but explores the first year or so of her son Sam's life. For those of you who haven't read Lamott, she writes personal memoir in a very real, raw, humorous way. She takes life seriously, but pokes fun at herself and really draws out the fallible, human moments she experiences.

Lamott herself is a single mother, a recovering drug addict, a fierce Christian, and a Liberal with a capital L. The book takes place during the presidency of George H.W. Bush in the '80s, and boy does Lamott hate his presidency. Her loathing of him is cartoonish, and I think probably offensive to his hardcore fans, but to me it reads as a real record of the times, of how hopeless half this country felt in the years before Clinton's first term and the carefree days of thinking single payer healthcare might be just around the corner. She's equally passionate about her faith in Jesus and her conviction that he asks her to be his arms on earth.

I also think her vehemence about politics and religion are testament to the phenomenon many of us go through when we become parents. Suddenly the things we believe become even more clear and important to us. Things we thought were kind of imporant become vital, and it's our job to save the world for our children. Lamott simultaneously conveys a sense of that urgency and the is-it-3-am-or-3-pm-I'm-too-tired-to-know timeless haze of those first dreamy, dreamless months of parenting.

And the book is funny, too. Lamott is constantly poking fun at herself for the silly thoughts she has and laughable things she does. I'd tell you about some of the hilarious episodes in the book, but they're just funnier when she writes them in that deadpan way she has.

I've started buying this book for friends, but sending it to them when their babies are around 6 weeks old, just when it starts to sink in that This Is The New Normal and they start to worry that they may not be as competent at parenting as they'd assumed they'd be. Reading about Lamott, who you know is a great mother, and the idiotic things she did at the beginning makes you feel a lot better about yourself.