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The Time Traveler’s Writer: Going Back To A Beloved Writer’s First Book For The First Time

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Anne Lamott has written and spoken frequently, warmly, hilariously, and honestly about not being 26 years old anymore. Because being late to all the good parties is my only party trick, I discovered her only a few years ago when I picked up Bird By Bird, her words of wisdom and encouragement on the craft of writing. In its pages she shares some of her experience writing her first autobiographical novel, Hard Laughter. It’s an account of her family’s experience as her father was diagnosed with a brain tumor and it is positively Anne Lamott from top the bottom.

Some people (see also: the narrator of this article) are ridiculous and mostly nonlinear thinkers. I only say ridiculous because we are outnumbered by linear types and if we want to function in their world we have to either try our best to learn their ways or at least fake it ‘til we make it. The words “chronological order” kinda make me want to yak for reasons I don’t yet completely understand, and this little quirk lends itself to a wonderful sort of time travel in my reading life.

For instance, I like to read magazines back to front. Again, the why and wherefore is a mystery wrapped in a backwards enigma.

But having met the voice of Anne Lamott when she was middle-aged, fully in her stride, practiced, nuanced, successful, and comfortable in her own literary skin though she would tenderly deny such comfort is there (she and I will have to agree to disagree because she is just one of the best), I didn’t exactly know what to expect when I went back to the beginning at last, to where her career leapt into publication.

It is to her credit that even if her name had been scrubbed from its cover, I could have almost certainly named its author. The elements of her style I love best—her scruffy vulnerability, gentle observations of human behavior even when we are being a-holes, her cautious vivacity—are all over it. And who else could convincingly refer to a brain tumor as a “lumpoid mass” and still stick the landing?

Anne Lamott. Anne Lamott could.

I’m happy to have zipped back in time with her, though I’m happy she is the older, wiser, even more lovely writer we know and love today.