This is the journal of the birth of Anne Lamott's son Sam, and their first year together. Coping with being a recovering alcoholic and a single mother, Anne had to face the fact that her best friend since childhood was dying of cancer.
Why read it?
5 authors picked Operating Instructions as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?
This is the Mother of all boy mom books. It’s required reading for anyone learning to speak boy. Equal parts despair—Lamott is a single mom who sometimes wants to leave her crying boy outside on the stoop—and equal parts gut punches of hilarious wisdom and ardor about boy life and mom devotion.
My son was born around a time of great tragedy and upheaval. I was never so uncertain or nervous or worried or perplexed about my role as a father in the months and weeks before his arrival. I was certain and cautious and uplifted by this coming change. Then he slid onto the birthing room floor and I bawled endlessly. To chronicle a child’s first year, I would soon learn, is not an easy task. But witnessing it, hand-in-hand, is a beautiful and immensely enriching experience. For those who want children, for those who don’t want children, and those…
I read Operating Instructions during my own first son’s first year and so appreciated how deliciously and memorably shameless and taboo-smashing it was in describing everything from how Lamott’s friends kept reminding her about the “tiny poo” she left on the table during labor to the Radio KFKD constantly playing in her head to the appearance of an uncircumcised penis (if I recall correctly, something like a squirrel trapped in a garden hose?). Her fierceness, hilarity, and compassion helped me through one of the craziest times of my life.
I’ve read Operating Instructions at least five times. First as a new mother, most recently as a mother to three adult children. Every time I laugh out loud, cry a few tears, and get inspired to use my life experiences as fodder for my writing. Lamott’s diary reminds me that none of us has life figured out and that the friends and family we embrace deepen the intense experience of being female, and that great joy and great sadness often go together in a life well-lived.
Don’t let the title fool you: Operating Instructions is not a guidebook. It’s an author’s classic memoir about becoming a parent for the first time. While the book isn’t new, and every family’s experience is unique, Lamott taps into something deep and relatable. Read Operating Instructions to get into the mindset of what it is to have a baby and be a parent.
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