As part of this week’s Weekly Geeks, Dewey asked us to list books we hadn’t reviewed and gather questions about those books. This is, apparently, a very popular idea, as I’ve gotten more questions about these books than most of the other posts I’ve put up. (To see my original post, click here.) I’m definitely going to get to all the questions, but I’m going in order of which books had the most inquiries. Today, I’m tackling two – Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies and Kathleen Norris’ Amazing Grace.

Some quick similarities:
Both books are about religion, Christian religion specifically.
Both are written in first-person, in a fairly personal first-person.
Both are located heavily in place – Norris in the Plains, Lamott in northern California.

And the differences —

First, Lamott – I love this book. I think it’s the best contemporary memoir on spirituality that there is today, and that’s not because I’m simply a huge Lamott fan (but not such a big fan of her fiction – to answer your questions Dewey.) While Bird by Bird is absolutely a great piece of writing (about writing), I still prefer Traveling Mercies because of the frankness and honesty with which she talks about her conversion to Christianity. The language here is rough – both in terms of word choice and in syntax – and story is fairly straight-forward. If you’ve ever been to a church where people are sharing their “testimonies,” you’ll know much of what Lamott speaks here – addict, jilted, death in the family, God finds her.
As I write that last line, I realize that may sound trite, but somehow Lamott manages to make it not sound so – or to make it sound simple and easy. There’s no “I found Jesus and my life is all better” in this book; this conversion is messy – like most are, I believe. In her characteristic sarcasm and self-deprecation (something that many people seem to really hate – although I love it), she has written a lovely and honest story that is worth reading by anyone who is a Christian, who has struggled, or who just knows what it is in live in this time in America.

In contrast, Kathleen Norris’ Amazing Grace is an understated and lovely piece about religious life. This is not Lamott’s Christianity – but there is a beautiful undercurrent in both of these books that speaks to God’s grace and understanding when we are not sufficient as humans; instead, Norris is writing of the world of the monastery, specifically the monastery where she is an oblate. She is describing the language of Christian faith in terms of the cloistered life (and while I love this book, her book Cloister Walk was absolutely life-changing for me). She talks about the liturgy of the hours and the systems in which monastic work. In between her descriptions of things, she also writes her own personal stories – tales of frustration and fatigue and glory in the moment. This blending of styles – more objective and deeply personal – makes for good reading. A caution is worth mentioning here, however. This book is not written for those who are looking for a quick read; this is a book of meditation, one to read in tiny pieces to savor all day. It’s great, but not fast.

So all in all, these are two very different books written by two very different women who love the same God. There’s something to be said in that – that God meets people where they are and doesn’t expect us to be clones. There is glory in becoming exactly who God created you to be. These books remind me of that.

Thanks to Bybee, Kim, Joy – for all the great questions.

For another perspective on Traveling Mercies, see Word Lily’s Review.

And if you’ve reviewed either of these books, please let me know, and I”ll link to your review here.