Advertisement
  1. Books

Review: 'Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers' by Anne Lamott

Published Nov. 17, 2012

Forget the pumpkin pie and fruitcake. At this time of year, you can suffer sugar poisoning just from all the sticky, sentimental piety the holidays come wrapped in. For a bracing antidote, try Anne Lamott's slim little book Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.

Although Lamott writes often about faith, she is not your ordinary religion writer. A recovering alcoholic and single mother with a wide-ranging curiosity about the world and a low tolerance for anyone's bull, she has published seven novels and six memoirish books, including Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith and Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year.

Help Thanks Wow is small enough to slip into a bag and short enough to read in a sitting, although it would repay thoughtful reading. It's a series of meditations on the nature of prayer, from Lamott's iconoclastic, ecumenical point of view:

"You may in fact be wondering what I even mean when I use the word 'prayer.' It's certainly not what TV Christians mean," she writes. "It's not for display purposes, like plastic sushi or neon. Prayer is private, even when we pray with others. It is communication from the heart to that which passes understanding."

She breaks prayers down into the three categories of the title: supplication, gratitude and awe. Her focus is on genuine communication, rather than the "beautifully pre-assembled prayers. . . . the good china of prayers" prescribed by organized religions.

Lamott is, as usual, funny and self-deprecating: "People always told me, 'You've got to get a thicker skin,' like now they might say jovially, 'Let go and let God.' Believe me, if I could, I would, and in the meantime I feel like stabbing you in the forehead." But that relates to her real point about prayer — in its best and purest form it takes us way past our own petty concerns. Giving thanks, for example, is not about congratulating ourselves for our good luck:

" 'Thanks' is a huge mind-shift, from thinking that God wants our happy chatter and a public demonstration and is deeply interested in our opinions of the people we hate, to feeling quiet gratitude, humbly and amazingly, without shame at having been so blessed.

"You breathe in gratitude, and you breathe it out, too. Once you learn how to do that, then you can bear someone who is unbearable."

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford, from left, starred in the 1977 film 'Star Wars.' [AP]
    Sheila Weller’s biography of the actor recounts a life of privilege and stardom, as well as mental illness and addiction.
  2. Retired NASA astronaut Kathryn Sullivan will talk about her memoir "Handprints on Hubble" on Dec. 12 at Bookstore1 Sarasota. [Courtesy of MIT Press]
    Playwright Robert Schenkkan will also give a staged reading of ‘The Investigation’ at Stageworks.
  3. Robert Bryndza [Petr Kozlík]
    The author of ‘Nine Elms’ finds encouragement in Christie’s ‘disorganized genius.’
  4. Sarah M. Broom is the author of the memoir "The Yellow House," winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction. [Adam Shemper]
    Broom’s memoir, winner of a National Book Award, tells the story of her family and their New Orleans home before and after ‘the Water.’
  5. Author Jami Attenberg [Courtesy of Zack Smith Photography]
    ‘All This Could Be Yours’ brings dark humor and insight to the story of the dysfunctional Tuchmans. | Review
  6. USF professor and author Steven Murawski spotted a statue of naturalist Alexander von Humboldt in Havana, Cuba. [CASTILLO  |  courtesy of Steven Murawski]
    The USF professor also recommends Thomas Friedman’s ‘Hot, Flat, and Crowded.’
  7. Novelist Jami Attenberg will be in conversation with fellow author Kristen Arnett on Dec. 2 at Tampa's Oxford Exchange. [Courtesy of Zack Smith Photography]
    John Cinchett will sign ‘Vintage Tampa Signs and Scenes’ in Tampa as well.
  8. The Bookstore at the  Oxford Exchange during its First Friday event on 09/06/13. [TIMES (2013)  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Plus other Instagram-worthy spots around Tampa Bay.
  9. Ace Atkins will discuss and sign his book "Angel Eyes" at Tampa's Oxford Exchange on Thursday. [Courtesy of Joe Worthem]
    Plus, Ibram X. Kendi’s talk at the University of Tampa is sold out.
  10. Candice Anderson, left, and Alsace Walentine, co-owners of Tombolo Books, rearrange books as attendees of the Times Festival of Reading leave the University Student Center behind them. [Jack Evans | Times]
    The shop plans to open next to Black Crow on First Ave. S before the new year.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement