Tag Archives: Nancy Shohet West

Guest Review: SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED by Anne Lamott

You know how when some bloggers go on vacation or maternity leave, they line up guest posts so that their blog won’t go dark during that whole time? Well, I’m neither on leave nor on vacation, but this blog has been darker than I’d like these last few weeks. Thank you to Nancy Shohet West for sending me a guest review for EDIWTB to help brighten things up!

Here is Nancy’s review of Some Assembly Required by Anne Lamott:

Back when my friends and I were in that typical early-30’s phase of either trying to conceive, going through pregnancy, or at the very least contemplating our proximity to one of the aforementioned categories, Anne Lamott’s newly published memoir of single parenting, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, was all the rage. Many of us were already big fans of her novels and essays, and we devoured her poignant, brutally honest, sometimes painful and often humorous account of deciding to become a first-time mother at the age of 36.

So I imagine I’m not the only reader who did a double take last year when I glimpsed the headline of the book review stating that Anne Lamott had just published a memoir of grandparenting. Sure, Baby Sam Lamott has made recurring appearances in his mother’s published essays throughout the years as he progressed through the adventures and phases of boyhood and adolescence. But fatherhood? Has time really passed so quickly that the infant from Operating Instructions is old enough to be a father?

Well, yes…. and no. And therein lies the hook of Lamott’s newest memoir, Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son (the title itself deserves a prize for cleverness, in my opinion). Indeed, not so very many years have gone by at all since the first book: Sam became a father at age 19; his sort-of girlfriend Amy was 20 at the time. He was an art student living on his mother’s dime in a San Francisco studio apartment; she was a cosmetologist receiving support from her own parents; their relationship pre-baby was mercurial. And as just about everyone likely to pick up this memoir knows, new babies are not known for making tempestuous relationships get easier.

But the elder Lamott tells the story of her grandson’s infancy and first year with the same admirable candor that marked her own memoir of parenthood. Back then, those who liked the book — not everyone did — celebrated her rough-edged honesty about both the magical and the abhorrent aspects of coping under difficult circumstances with a new life; the good news is that Lamott hasn’t changed much. She still worries about the health, well-being, and financial viability of a new infant — while also adoring him for his beauty, innocence, and perfection; and she still draws heavily upon a network of friends and faith community to help her through the hard times, only this time it’s with her grandson rather than her son.

Yes, she’s still the same funny, anxiety-prone, insecure, mystical Anne Lamott that she was twenty years ago, and this is both the good news and the bad news. Those of us who savor her blend of casual, profane and profound insights into life will find her unchanged… and yet once in a while I was tempted to implore, “You’re a 56-year-old best-selling internationally renowned author! Can’t you shed just a little of the insecurity and self-doubt?”

But she can’t, because that’s who she is and who she has always been. She’s been willing to share that with us for the past three decades, and now, with the new challenge of being a good grandmother, mother-to-an-adult-child, and pseudo-mother-in-law (the status of Amy and Sam’s relationship remains tenuous throughout the book; for the curious, Google makes it easy enough to find out what has happened with them in the two years since the book ended), she’s still sharing. She dotes; she frets; she loves; she questions; she prays. Yes, Anne Lamott is a flawed, imperfect work-in-progress… as we all are, and as she would be the first to tell us about herself.


West It is only fitting that I should kick off 2011 with a book that is essentially about a resolution.

The Mother-Son Running Streak Club, by Nancy Shohet West, is the account of a year that West, a freelance journalist living outside Boston, spent streak running with her 9 year-old son Tim. For the uninitiated, streak runners are runners who run at least one mile every day, with no interruptions. West, a longtime runner, challenged her son to run at least a mile with her for a year, a challenge that he accepted and met. The Mother-Son Running Streak Club documents that year, including the way her relationship with Tim changed (and didn't), and how the running was incorporated into the rest of West's life. 

West is an incredibly honest writer. She unapologetically talks about the flaws she sees both in her son and in herself. She admits that she hoped that the running would cure Tim of his moodiness and addiction to video games. (It didn't.) She admits that she hoped that the running would magically erase the tension she often felt with him. (It didn't.) She admits that she is not always the most patient mother or the most ambitious worker. I admire her for her honesty and for putting those statements out there for the world to read, which couldn't have been easy.

West is also a beautiful writer – clear and precise and compelling. The book flows naturally and doesn't get bogged down in unnecessary detail. It can be a bit repetitive at times, but when you're writing about a singular activity that you participate in every day for a year, I am not sure how to avoid that.

There was a lot in the book that I could personally relate to. Working mother guilt. Slow running. Dread of your children leaving the elementary school years. West covers it all, but manages to find the positive in most situations, even when she's at her most anxious.

I feel that I must disclose that West is a faithful reader of EDIWTB and the sister of one of my closest friends in the world. But I can honestly say that if she were a total stranger, my review wouldn't be any different. I will, however, thank her for the review copy (Hi FTC!).

I have a blog that I write about my kids, and every year on their birthday, I have the previous year's entries printed into a book. My kids like the books now, but I hope that they will really treasure them when they're older. I suspect that Tim will similarly treasure this book when he's older (especially because his own journal of that year is threaded through the book), as he will the touching efforts his mother made to connect with him in this unusual and dedicated manner.