Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair

Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair

3.9 18
by Anne Lamott

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From the bestselling author of Help, Thanks, Wow comes an honest, funny book about how to make sense of life’s chaos.

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

These questions lie at the heart of Stitches, Anne

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From the bestselling author of Help, Thanks, Wow comes an honest, funny book about how to make sense of life’s chaos.

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

These questions lie at the heart of Stitches, Anne Lamott’s captivating follow-up to her New York Times–bestselling Help, Thanks, Wow. In this book, Lamott explores how and where we find meaning in our modern, frantic age, especially after personal and public devastation; how we recapture peace and balance after loss; and how we locate our spiritual identities in these frazzled times. 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 and humanity.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Audio
Sometimes, life takes you off a cliff. What to do when this happens? How should one, for instance, deal with devastating losses? How can one live a meaningful life when one is buffeted by a world of intense emotional pain? Lamott's self-help book uses an extended sewing metaphor to teach embattled readers how to stitch up a lifeline. However, Lamott, who narrates her own work for this audio edition, isn't the most compelling performer. Her reading comes across as tired and melancholic at times, and her habit of stretching out vowel sounds does little to win over listeners. For a book about hope, Lamott's performance is distracting and disconnected. A Riverhead hardcover. (Oct.)
Library Journal - Audio
Lamott's (Bird by Bird) new book is brief and conversational and strives to offer comfort without platitudes. Lamott is at her best when she is midstory, as with the tale of the teen at her Sunday school who, while making coffee-filter paper angels, is asked, "What does humane mean?" and responds, "It means why are all of our projects about coffee filters?" Like Lamott's Sunday school coffee-filter arts and crafts projects, this little book has a homey feel, and while it might linger too long on generalities or overwork a metaphor in a few places, listeners will feel that Lamott has generously given them what she knows about meaning, hope, and repair, humbly and with the same thoughtful and humorous irreverence we have come to expect from her. Lamott herself reads, and her voice lends a warm imperfection that suits the deeply personal subject matter just fine. VERDICT Readers who are drawn in by the subtitle will not be disappointed, in spite of the brevity of the book. Lamott fans will also likely find exactly what they've come for.—Heather Malcolm, Bow, WA
Publishers Weekly
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
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

Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 5.60(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

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

  Copyright ©2013  by Anne Lamott





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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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Praise for Stitches

“Lamott’s pithiest, 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.”

“Laced with stories, full of faith…a hopeful [book].”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“The wickedly witty and very funny Lamott…makes you laugh at the same time she makes you think. This collection of moments, memories and spiritual insights is one of her best.”
Denver Post

“Like a warming, hearty sip of soup after a day out in the cold or a candid letter from a friend.”
New York Daily News

“[Stitches] brings the beloved author's trademark compassion, wisdom and tart wit to the question of how to deal with suffering and loss, both public and personal.”
Tampa Bay Times

“Whirling, fuming, blunt, wise, and funny…Lamott’s larky yet shrewd needle-and-thread spirituality is realistic and renewing.”

“Vintage Lamott: funny, brilliantly self-deprecating, and insightful.”
Publishers Weekly

“Anne’s thoughts on human loss and brokenness are served with slices of quirky humor, wisdom and spiritual insight that pulls readers in and won’t let them go.”

Praise for Help, Thanks, Wow

“Charmingly irreverent.”
More magazine

“Filled with Lamott’s unique brand of humor, wisdom, and profound spiritual insight . . . She has a gift for putting into words what it means to accept and ultimately embrace the beauty, mystery, and pain that is life.”
San Antonio Express-News

“Prayer is a topic that can quickly turn treacly, but the reader needn’t fear that in Lamott’s irreverent hands.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Practical and poetic advice on prayer.”
The Oregonian 

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