“I have known hell, and I have also known love. Love was bigger.”
One of the more endearing qualities of Anne Lamott’s books is that she writes like she’s in a thoughtful one-on-one exchange with the reader. So it isn’t a surprise — in fact, it’s somehow reassuring — to discover that the bestselling author talks like she writes: with self-deprecating wit, empathy, and insight. The opportunity to speak with Lamott about her new book, “Almost Everything,” which she’ll be discussing at All Saints Church Tuesday night, is particularly welcome on a day when social media is awash with #IBelieveHer and #WhyIDidntReport posts and vicious political pushback.
The recurring theme captured in the book’s subtitle — “Notes On Hope” — gently emerges as Lamott talks from her “funkily delicious home” in Marin County. Her dog barks in the background; her son Sam arrives; Lamott apologizes for being distracted. It is Sam’s son and a niece that she conversationally addresses (“Hello, Dearest”) in the book. Unlike 2013’s “Stitches,” which was specifically triggered by the Sandy Hook shooting, “Almost Everything” arose not from one event but rather from Lamott’s recognition that hope is an endangered entity these days.
“It has just been the last couple years, since the  election, that everyone I know has been in such despair and fear, and just feeling that it was all pretty hopeless,” she explains. “And I never feel it’s pretty hopeless; I feel it’s very, very hard. So I made a list for my grandson and niece about everything I knew for sure that was true, and I based the book on that list.
“I always knew it was gonna be a book on hope. [In the past] I told my writing students to write what they’d like to come upon, and I would have loved to come upon somebody that I trusted that I thought was marginally funny about why there are so many reasons for hope right now.”
Lamott’s wisecracks are more than “marginally funny.” She calls laughter “carbonated holiness,” and that effervescence balances darker passages when she extracts thorny lessons from family feuds, a friend’s stubbornness, natural wonders, and the challenges of aging. In the book she wryly acknowledges the challenge she set before herself (“‘Why?’ is rarely a useful question in the hope business”), and matter-of-factly gives voice to widespread political frustrations: “In general, it doesn’t feel like the light is making a lot of progress. It feels like death by annoyance.”
That relatability grounds the kinship that often snaps into place between Lamott’s readers. After earning critical praise for several novels in the 1980s (including “Hard Laughter,” inspired by her writer father Ken Lamott’s death from brain cancer), the 1985 Guggenheim Fellowship recipient staked out her personal literary nook with 1993’s nonfiction “Operating Instructions,” about Sam’s first year of life, and especially 1994’s bestselling memoir “Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life,” which has since become an inspirational bible among artists. Oscar-winning filmmaker Freida Lee Mock borrowed the title for her 1999 documentary on Lamott, “Bird By Bird With Annie.” In 2010, Lamott was inducted into the California Hall of Fame.
Dysfunctional families, addiction, alcoholism, sobriety, sex, single motherhood, crises of belief, environmental and civil rights activism, the challenges of nappy hair: Lamott’s humor has burned as fiercely as her candor in her books as well as her Salon.com columns. With 1999’s “Traveling Mercies,” another bestselling turning point, the ex-atheist began digging deeper into questions of how to justify her decidedly non-fundamentalist Christian faith in the modern world, ruminations that have centered her books since. She isn’t religious so much as spiritual, but she frequently talks about teaching Sunday school classes and references celebrated theologians like Frederick Buechner, Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen as comfortably as she cites Carl Jung, the Dalai Lama, Anaïs Nin, Barack Obama, and Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time.”
“Almost Everything” is studded with droll asides (“Chocolate with 81% cacao is not actually a food. Its best use is as bait in snake traps”) and pithy comments. “Joy is always a surprise, and always a decision” glides up from the page like an easy aphorism; but asked if it means to live joy as a verb, Lamott places it in more nuanced context.
“So much of life can be confusing and hard. But to some degree you can decide to wait for more information or to just not give up on your faith, or on your belief in people’s goodness and whatnot. So it’s a decision. I heard this story once about an older woman who was checking into a convalescent home. At the front desk the nurse said, ‘You have a room by yourself and it’s gonna be a beautiful room for you,’ and the woman said, ‘Oh, I know it is,’ and the nurse said, ‘But you haven’t seen it yet.’ And the woman said, ‘I know, but I decided it will be.’ That really impressed me. I think to some degree we can decide that we’re going to stay as centered and as watchful and curious as possible. If you’re watching and curious and centered, it’s very hard to be defeated.”
The 64-year-old Lamott doesn’t recount that episode in “Almost Everything,” but it’s characteristic of the more personal revelations she gives readers to chew over — relatable albeit unconventional stories that fill “the God-shaped holes” many strive to fill without yoking themselves to repressive dogma. She says she does not possess the “gift” of preaching, but believes she has “a little minister” in her.
“I believe that there’s a divine intelligence and a loving energy underfoot and around and above and beside us. … People are spirit, with clothes on, and skin.” More than she has ever observed before, she says, they are unsettled and “just starving” for “connection to the ‘we’ and to the bigger identity, rather than just these small little packages of anxiety and stuff our parents or culture told us about ourselves.
“I feel like sort of a street minister. I’m often looking myself for spiritual uplift, so I’m glad if I find a story provides that to share with a reader.”
Vroman’s presents Anne Lamott in conversation with Father Edward Beck about “Almost Everything: Notes on Hope” at All Saints Church, 132 N. Euclid Ave., Pasadena, 7-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16; $24. Admission includes one entry and one book copy, and tickets are available at eventbrite.com/e/an-evening-with-anne-lamott-tickets-48387378953. Info: (626) 449-5320.