These essays on faith aren't your granny's Christian musings
by: , ‘Grace (Eventually)’ by Anne Lamott, Riverhead.

Having grown up with Southern Presbyterians and Baptists for grandparents, I can assure you that Anne Lamott's essays would have sent all four of them careering to an early grave.

Thankfully, none of them will read her latest collection, 'Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith' - which allows me to savor Lamott's laugh-out-loud wit and razor-sharp commentary without hiding the book from dear Nana and Paw-Paw.

Take, for example, this hilarious image from 'The Muddling Glory of God,' which deals with a food binge Lamott indulges in amid much self-loathing and guilt: 'Sometimes I think Jesus watches my neurotic struggles, and shakes his head and grips his forehead and starts tossing back mojitos.'

This combination of self-deprecation and humor is one reason to drop everything this evening and scurry down to the Bagdad Theater. I have had the mixed pleasure of seeing Lamott twice, in venues where her fans have had to contend with standing room only or, worse, being turned away.

Listening to Lamott is a jumbled experience. As her writing implies, she can be charming and cranky, witty and whiny.

Her ability to present herself flawed and naked to the world is refreshing in an era of somber and hypocritical preachings. The essay 'Nudges' is a great testament to the overwhelming horrors of jealousy and spitefulness that most God-fearing adults would deny ever experiencing.

Lamott begins by chronicling how she became friends with a couple who were writers. 'They were spiritual in the same way I was and am, which is to say devout, with a sometimes bad attitude, a black sense of humor, and tendencies toward gossip and character assassination. We hit it off instantly.'

As time goes by, the friendship becomes twisted by the green-eyed monster and the couple's repeated flaunting of their newfound wealth. Neither the friends nor Lamott comes off too well. But the author's honest depiction of her consuming envy and consequential behavior raises this piece above a modern-day parable.

Parents of teenagers, especially those who have considered filicide or boarding school, will appreciate the essays that deal with Lamott's beloved son, Sam. In 'Samwheel,' she details a nasty argument with the adolescent and the subsequent forgiving of not only the boy but herself.

Like the rest of us, Lamott knows the 'sorrow of being ordinary, and that much of our life is spent doing the crazy mental arithmetic of how … we might improve, or at least disguise … our defects and screw-ups in either more charming or more intimidating ways.'

I, for one, hope Lamott never masters her deficiencies but continues to share them with a captive audience.

Also reading this week

An exhibit featuring the recent works of 62 bookbinders and book artists who constitute the membership of the Guild of Book Workers is about to open at Portland State University's Millar Library (1875 S.W. Park Ave., 503-725-4617). The exhibit features everything from traditional bindings to pop-ups, and calligraphy text resides alongside digital output. The Guild 100th anniversary exhibit runs Monday, April 9, through Sunday, May 20, on the library's ground floor. The exhibit will be open to the public at no charge.

If you're a fan of the television series 'The Dresden Files' you'll want to read the latest book by Jim Butcher, the creator. In 'White Night,' Harry Dresden uncovers a series of deaths which threaten not only him but those closest to him. Butcher will read at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Powell's Books at Cedar Hills Crossing (3415 S.W. Cedar Hills Blvd., 503-228-4651).

In November 2004, three independent filmmakers traveled to Darfur, Sudan, to learn more about the tragedy of the ongoing conflict and the resilience of the Darfurian people. 'Darfur Diaries: Stories of Survival' is an account of their journey. One of the authors, Jen Marlowe, will appear at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Powell's on Hawthorne (3723 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., 503-228-4651).

Jonathan Lethem is the recipient of a 2005 MacArthur 'genius' grant, and his book 'Motherless Brooklyn' won a National Book Critics Circle Award. His new novel, 'You Don't Love Me Yet,' focuses on a struggling rock band and the odd musings of a character known as the Complainer. As part of the Portland Arts and Lectures series, Lethem will appear at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 12, at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall (1037 S.W. Broadway, 503-227-2583). Tickets range from $5 (youth) to $26.

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Anne Lamott

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 3

Where: Bagdad Theater, 3702 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., 503-236-9234, free

More: For information, call Powell's City of Books,


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