That’s an attempt at a clever title for a short post on Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz and Anne Lamott’s Plan B. I’ve read both recently and discovered that many of my students were either reading or had read Blue Like Jazz.
Anne Lamott came to our school not long ago (before her new book Plan B), read some of the stuff in Plan B, Kris and I sat right up front, and we really enjoyed her. She charged a hefty fee, which didn’t surprise, but what did surprise was when one of my postmodern colleagues said she thought “Anne Lamott spoke too much about herself.” Duh! I said to myself, “What do you expect from a memoirist?” Her fame comes not so much from her novels or her book on writing, Bird by Bird (which is good, not great), but from her simultaneously hilarious and penetrating self-revelations in Traveling Mercies. (I’m on a Safari browser this morning, and can’t find any “edit” buttons to turn things into italics.)
It is hard to summarize an Anne Lamott book, for the genius is the smooth prose. Her section on Mary is enjoyable.
Two comments about Plan B, other than it is “totally Lamott.” First, I don’t think the best way to convince either Republicans or Christians who are Republicans (need we continue remind ourselves that they are not one and the same?) that war is wrong is not by whining about it or taking shots at Bush. While I’m not convinced these sorts of things can be argued out in a way that convinces the other side all that often, I do think the only way to make a case and actually do some good by changing minds is to offer a patient and reasonable assessment in light of Christian theology. Her comments about Bush are sometimes funny, but they wear thin for me.
Second, her self-revelations sometimes make me wonder if she is describing herself or her persona. I think what I like the most about Lamott is her hilarious stories about herself, but sometimes I wonder if the issue of genuineness or authenticity or authentic voice is at issue. Can she really be this self-deprecating without making us wonder if it is the real self? After all, she’s out and about this nation writing and lecturing and talking and she makes lots of sense lots of the time. Having said this, I’ll still read her, and I like her a lot. But these are my two hesitations. I’m wondering what others thought of her Plan B? (I could go on and talk about what I liked — and I liked a lot — but the only thing I’ll mention is her graduation address — it was good and wish I had heard this at some of my graduations.)
I’m also interested in your comments about Blue Like Jazz.
Donald Miller, for my take, is about as authentic a voice as I’ve read in a long, long time. I don’t think he quite has the skill Lamott has at writing (he’s considerably younger, after all), but his prose is about as transparent as it gets. I don’t have Blue Like Jazz in front of me, but here’s what I’m thinking now.
First, I like his voice for the emerging church for it is one that says what it thinks, and does so from a Christian point of view, but it does not say what one is expected to say and is not overlaid with jargon. I liked his many stories, found his own development useful to others, and the chapter on living alone too much is a real eye-opener (my wife, ever the psychologist, thought that chapter was special). His sections on his relationships and attempts at dating are both funny and revealing — and probably helpful to all those who are struggling. I’ve been married some 30+ years and still like this sort of topic.
Second, for me the highlight chapter may have been the chapter on grace. His episode with radical fundamentalism and unrealistic spirituality is insightful. I loved his story about learning to be more forgiving with his roommate who cranked up his motorcycle every morning and woke him up and how when he learned to love the roommate he couldn’t hear the motorcycle anymore. Early he discusses “original sin” and does so with story — and tells us just about everything Plantinga tells us in his profoundly theological Not All We’re Supposed to Be.
I see now that I have mostly positive and mostly negative about Miller and Lamott. Sorry, Anne, but I liked Blue Like Jazz more.