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Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair

( 17 )

Overview

“Lamott’s …most insightful book yet, Stitches offers plenty of her characteristic witty wisdom…this slim, readable volume [is] a lens on life, widening and narrowing, encouraging each reader to reflect on what it is, after all, that really matters.”—People

What do we do when life lurches out of balance? How can we reconnect to one other and to what’s sustaining, when evil and catastrophe seem inescapable?

These questions lie at the ...

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Overview

“Lamott’s …most insightful book yet, Stitches offers plenty of her characteristic witty wisdom…this slim, readable volume [is] a lens on life, widening and narrowing, encouraging each reader to reflect on what it is, after all, that really matters.”—People

What do we do when life lurches out of balance? How can we reconnect to one other and to what’s sustaining, when evil and catastrophe seem inescapable?

These questions lie at the heart of Stitches, Lamott’s profound follow-up to her New York Times–bestselling Help, Thanks, Wow. In this book Lamott explores how we find meaning and peace in these loud and frantic times; where we start again after personal and public devastation; how we recapture wholeness after loss; and how we locate our true identities in this frazzled age. We begin, Lamott says, by collecting the ripped shreds of our emotional and spiritual fabric and sewing them back together, one stitch at a time.

It’s in these stitches that the quilt of life begins, and embedded in them are strength, warmth, humor, and humanity.
 

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
10/28/2013
Lamott's (Help, Thanks, Wow) latest inspirational title explores how we can find significance in the face of pain or disaster. Readers are guided by an older, wiser Lamott than we met 20 years ago, when Operating Instructions was published. This narrator is not afraid to say that she has learned a few things, and that there are not "shortcuts to wisdom and self-knowledge… . I so resent this." This is also vintage Lamott: funny, brilliantly self-deprecating, and insightful. Characteristically, she ruminates about needing help to get through life, and about finding your family in a group of people who love you and who are not necessarily your blood kin. Indeed, faithful readers may be disappointed by the extent to which Lamott reprises earlier themes—as in Traveling Mercies, Lamott here quotes C. S. Lewis on forgiveness and says it is best to start with something small; she rehearses a vignette she previously told in a novel. Still, Lamott succeeds at using "some of Christianity's language and symbols" to offer spiritual truths that will reach beyond a church audience, and the delights of this new offering outweigh the frustrating repetitions. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
2013-10-03
The author's spirituality pays fewer redemptive dividends than usual in a follow-up guide that falls short of its predecessor. Lamott is a much-beloved writer whose distinctive combination of deep spirituality and wry, post-hippie humor has highlighted work ranging from memoir to fiction to an engagingly intuitive writing guide (Bird by Bird, 1995). Her most recent book, the prayer guide Help, Thanks, Wow (2012) became a best-seller, and she frames this successor as a companion volume. Yet the format doesn't work as well for a book that's more like the flip side of the previous book's coin. It's kind of a spiritual self-help book on how to handle tough times and persevere even when it's difficult to discern any cosmic order in the chaos of life. However, this book serves more as an extended metaphor about how stitching things up, even patchwork-style, can help one cope. "We live stitch by stitch, when we're lucky," writes the author. "If you fixate on the big picture, the whole shebang, the overview, you miss the stitching." The perspective reinforces the recovering alcoholic's one-day-at-a-time experience, and the metaphor threads throughout this slim book. It's not surprising that a book about persevering in the wake of tragedy, either global or personal, might have less of the author's humor than her other work, but what's mainly missing in comparison with her treatment of similar themes in longer books is the more deeply personal experience. Except for chapters on being a sensitive child in an alcoholic household and mourning a friend who died too young, she seems to skim the surface with elliptical anecdotes and homilies such as "we do what we can, as well as we can" and "life [is] erratic, beautiful and impossible." Subtitled as a "handbook," this is minor work from an author known for her range and depth.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781410463661
  • Publisher: Gale Group
  • Publication date: 11/7/2013
  • Edition description: Large Print
  • Pages: 171
  • Sales rank: 524,937
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Help, Thanks, Wow; Some Assembly Required; Grace (Eventually); Plan B; and Traveling Mercies, as well as several novels, including Imperfect Birds and Rosie. A past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an inductee to the California Hall of Fame, she lives in Northern California.

Biography

Anne Lamott's recovery from alcoholism and drug abuse helped her career in two ways. First, it marked an artistic rebound for the novelist; second, she's become an inspirational figure to fans who have read her frank, funny nonfiction books covering topics from motherhood to religion to, yes, fighting for sobriety.

Early on, Lamott's hard-luck novels were impressive chronicles of family strife punctuated by bad (but often entertaining) behavior. Everyone in Lamott's books is sort of screwed up, but she stocks them with a humor and core decency that make them hard to resist. In Hard Laughter, she tells the (semi-autobiographical) story of a dysfunctional family rocked by the father's brain tumor diagnosis. In Rosie and its 1997 sequel, Crooked Little Heart, the heroines are a sassy teenage girl and her alcoholic, widowed mom. Another precocious child provides the point of view in All New People, in which a girl rides out the waves of the 1960s with her nutty parents.

Lamott's conversational, direct style and cynical humor have always been strengths, and with All New People -- the first book she wrote after getting sober -- she turned a corner. Reedeming herself from the disastrous reviews of her messy (too much so, even for the endearingly messy Lamott) 1985 third novel Joe Jones, Lamott's talent came back into focus. "Anne Lamott is a cause for celebrations," the New Yorker effused. "[Her] real genius lies in capturing the ineffable, describing not perfect moments, but imperfect ones...perfectly. She is nothing short of miraculous."

That said, Lamott's sensibility is not for everyone. The faith, both human and spiritual, in her books is accompanied by her unsparing irony and a distinct disregard for wholesomeness or conventionality; and God here is for sinners as much as (if not more than) for saints. Her girls are often not girls but half-adults; her adults, vice-versa. She finds the adolescent, weak spots in all her characters, making them people to root for at the same time.

Among Lamott's most messy, troubled characters is the author herself, and she began turning this to her advantage with the 1993 memoir Operating Instructions, a single mom's meditation on the big experiment -- failures included -- of new parenthood. It was also in this book that Lamott "came out of the closet" with her Christianity, and earned a whole new following that grew with her subsequent memoirs, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life and Traveling Mercies. However gifted Lamott was at conveying fictional stories, it was in telling her own stories that her self-deprecating humor and hard-earned wisdom really made themselves known, and loved by readers.

Good To Know

Lamott's Joe Jones, which is now out of print, was so poorly received that it sent the alcoholic Lamott into a tailspin. "When Joe Jones came out I really got trashed," she told the New York Times in 1997. "I got 27 bad reviews. It was kind of exhilarating in its way. I was still drinking and I woke up every morning feeling so sick, I literally felt I was pinned to the bed by centrifugal force. I wouldn't have very many memories of what had happened the night before. I'd have to call around, and I could tell by people's reaction whether I'd pulled it off or not. I was really humiliating myself. It was bad."

Lamott's father was a writer who instilled the belief in her that it was a privilege in life to be an artist, as opposed to having a regular job. But she stresses to students that it doesn't happen overnight; that the work has to be measured in small steps, with continual efforts to improve. She said in an NPR interivew, "I've published six books and I still worry that the phone is going to ring and [someone] is going to say, 'Okay, the jig is up, you have to get a job..."'

In an essay accompanying Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Lamott described her decision to begin writing in earnest about Christianity: "Thirteen years ago, I first lurched -- very hung over -- into a little church in one of the poorest communities in California. Without this church, I do not think I would have survived the last few years of my drinking. But even so, I had written about the people there only in passing. I did, however, speak about the church whenever I could, sheepishly shoehorning in a story or two. But it wasn't really until my fifth book [Operating Instructions], that I came out of the closet as a real believer.... I started to realize that there was a great hunger and thirst for regular, cynical, ragbag people to talk about God..."

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    1. Hometown:
      Fairfax, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 30, 1953
    2. Place of Birth:
      San Francisco, California
    1. Education:
      Attended Goucher College in Maryland before dropping out to write

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.***

  Copyright ©2013  by Anne Lamott

One

 

BEGINNING

 

It can be too sad here. We so often lose our way. It is easy to sense and embrace meaning when life is on track. When there is a feeling of fullness—having love, goodness, family, work, maybe God as parts of life—it’s easier to navigate around the sadness that you inevitably stumble across. Life holds beauty, magic and anguish. Sometimes sorrow is unavoidable, even when your kids are little, when the marvels of your children, and your parental amazement, are all the meaning you need to sustain you, or when you have landed the job and salary for which you’ve always longed,

or the mate. And then the phone rings, the mail comes, or you turn on the TV.

Where do we even begin in the presence of horror or evil or catastrophe—dead or deeply lost children, a young wife’s melanoma, polar bears floating out to sea on scraps of ice? Where is mean­ing when we experience the vortex of intermina­ble depression or, conversely, when we recognize that time is tearing past us like giddy greyhounds? It’s frightening and disorienting that time skates by so fast, but then, it’s not as bad as being embed­ded in the quicksand of loss.

One rarely knows where to begin the search for enduring significance, though by necessity, we can only start where we are.

That would be fine, when where we find our­selves turns out to be bearable. What about when it isn’t—after 9/11, for instance, or a suicide in the family?

I really don’t have a clue.

I do know it somehow has to do with sticking together as we try to make sense of chaos, and that seems a way to begin. We could start with some­thing relatively easy: C. S. Lewis famously said about forgiveness, “If we really want to learn to how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo.”

Maybe, counterintuitively, it makes sense to start right off with hard, rather than easy: Where is life’s meaning after Katrina, or an unwanted divorce?

If we’re pressed for an answer, most of us would say that most of the time we find plenty of mean­ing in life as it unfurls in front of us like a carpet runner—at least when it goes as expected, day by day, with our families and a few close friends. We have our jobs and those we work or play or worship or recover with as we try to feel a deeper sense of immediacy or spirit or playfulness. Most people in the world are striving simply to feed their kids and hang on. We try to help where we can, and try to survive our own trials and stresses, illnesses and elections. We work really hard at not being driven crazy by noise and speed and extremely annoying people, whose names we are too polite to mention. We try not to be tripped up by major global sad­ness, difficulties in our families or the death of old pets.

People like to say that it—significance, import— is all about the family. But lots of people do not have rich networks of hilarious uncles and ador­able cousins, who all live nearby, to help them. Many people have truly awful families: insane, abusive, repressive. So we work hard, we enjoy life as we can, we endure. We try to help ourselves and one another. We try to be more present and less petty. Some days go better than others. We look for solace in nature and art and maybe, if we are lucky, the quiet satisfaction of our homes.

Is solace meaning? I don’t know. But it’s pretty close.

The kids say, “It is what it is.” They can say this with a straight face since they have not had kids yet. I remember my youth, and having that same great confidence in bumper stickers and my own thinking. Say it’s true: It is what it is. We’re social, tribal, musical animals, walking percussion in­struments. Most of us do the best we can. We show up. We strive for gratitude, and try not to be such babies.

And then there’s a mass shooting, a nuclear plant melts down, just as a niece is born, or as you find love. The world is coming to an end. I hate that. In environmental ways, it’s true, and in exis­tential ways, it has been since the day each of us was born.

It’s pretty easy to think you know the meaning of life when your children are small, if they come with all their parts and you get to live in that amaz­ing cocoon of oneness and baby smells. But what if your perfect child becomes sick, obese, an addict or a homeless adult? What if you wake up at sixty and realize that you forgot to wake up, and you never became the person you were born to be, and now your hair is falling out?

You’re thinking about this for the first time when maybe it’s a little late. Your life is two-thirds over, or you’re still relatively young, but your girl went from being two years old to being eleven in what felt like eighteen months, and then in what felt like eight weeks to fifteen, where she has been now, sharply dressed as a bitter young stripper, for as long as you can fricking remember.

Oh, honey, buckle up. It gets worse.

Where is meaning in the meteoric passage of time, the speed in which our lives are spent? Where is meaning in the pits? In the suffering? I think these questions are worth asking.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 17 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2013

    A Gifted Writer

    I have never read an author who can express her feelings so vividly. It is a true gift from God to be able to interpret life in such a matter-of-fact way. I'm almost envious of Ms Lamott's' ability to accept life on life's terms and enjoy the relationships formed along the way. Reading this book made me realize I need to appreciate more and worry less.

    12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 13, 2013

    Anne Lamott "Gets" It

    Anne Lamott, a brilliant author and out-of-the-box Christian, is not afraid of asking the tough questions. Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why do good people die before their time? What can we say or do when someone we care about is suffering?

    Without giving any pat answers, Anne explores these and other life questions. As always, her writing is beautiful and engaging, drawing us in. She shares deeply personal stories that resonate.

    She is raw, personal, and likeable. She makes us feel like we are her friends as she takes us through chapter after chapter.

    I picked up this book for myself, and then later purchased a copy for a friend whose father had died. I highly recommend it.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 10, 2013

    highly recommended

    For anyone whose life is upset and upside down from loss or impending loss. Lamott, who uses the fewest words to make a point, is spot on with uplifting thoughts. Not schlocky overused phrases, but meaningful stories and observations.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 5, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    I wasn¿t expecting much from this book. The cover mentioned hope

    I wasn’t expecting much from this book. The cover mentioned hope and I frankly could use the positivity. Twenty pages in, I was already blown away. Lamott was telling me what I needed to hear. Heck, there was even a mention of Oakland (where I’m from). The book is recent and mentions the Sandy Hook tragedy several times. 
    What I liked most about this book is that it is NOT your new edition of “Chicken Soup for the Tragic Person’s Soul.” This book is NOT about how to learn how to keep your happy face on at all times. It IS about finding meaning, dealing with the difficult things in life one piece at a time and finding the lesson in each moment of suffering.
    Maybe it’s because my life appears to draw on similar parallels to which Lamott wrote about in her essays. Or maybe the timing was just right. Reading this book didn’t necessarily give me clarity on all the dark parts of my life, but it did shed a little light. And yes, I felt a little more optimistic about things than I usually do. 

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    QUICK PLEASANT READ

    This is just the kind of book I was looking for to read over the Christmas holidays. I finished it in two readings. I was surprised to learn that Anne Lamott was from the San Francisco Bay area. I knew a lot of the locations she was describing. I did think it was inspiring and useful, I thought it would go a lot deeper into loss of a loved one and while part of it does not the whole book does. I did turn down some pages, and know I will be rereading again as they apply too my life. I must admit that I am very curious about her other books. I do like the way she compared life to sewing, I remember my mom with the darn sock tool, I still have it, I think. I will use the info in the book, but can't say that I have yet.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2013

    STITCHES

    I was somewhat disappointed in this book due to it being so short, not much written about her son, her church or the people that added to the fabric being stitched together...I have read several of her books and just didn't arrive at the same place as I had previously, which is that made me laugh, cry, ponder, share...

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 8, 2014

    I approached this book with great skepticism. It was recommended

    I approached this book with great skepticism. It was recommended to me because I'm dealing with my daughter's and husband's major health issues. Being a humanist agnostic, I knew of Anne Lamott as a Christian writer. Being particularly frazzled one morning, I picked up this book. In a short time, I became amazingly calm and thoughtful, experiencing an awareness that there are many others dealing with such challenges. My expected sensitivity to the author's references to God and Christianity was softened by her personal openness and honesty and her real lack of dogmatism. I'm so glad to have discovered this book.   

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2014

    Love it

    Love her style. Love her outlook. Makes me think.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 10, 2013

    out of the box

    I like to think I am pretty well grounded in most of my beliefs. However, when I become complacent with those beliefs along comes Ann with an out of the box observation that me a "never thought about that" moment. If you like to be asked to think out of the box about complacent stuff then Stitches and Lamott are your sort of adventure.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 22, 2013

    I read it and it's the first book in 34 years I want my money ba

    I read it and it's the first book in 34 years I want my money back on. the book wasn't stitched together well (pun intended) it left me with a bad view of the author and the publisher that would publish this book.

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2013

    Did not like

    Boring, if i kept my receipt would gladly return bact to the store.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2013

    Not recommended

    The book is mediocre compared to most of this author's work. It did not leave me inspired like most everything else she has written. It could have been incorporated with Help, Thanks, Wow rather than sold as a separate book.

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    Posted October 30, 2013

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    Posted January 28, 2014

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    Posted April 29, 2014

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    Posted May 9, 2014

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    Posted August 29, 2014

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