Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Nonfiction Review: Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy

When I presented my book group with a selection of nonfiction choices (all from my own TBR shelves), in honor of Nonfiction November, they chose Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott. I've enjoyed Lamott's books in the past, particularly Operating Instructions (about her experiences as a new mother), the writing classic Bird By Bird, and her novel, Rosie, so I was looking forward to reading this newer book. It is a memoir like many of her previous books, with some thought-provoking musings on mercy, kindness, and grace.

Like several of Lamott's recent memoirs, this one is about her spiritual journey. She tells stories from her own life, including her earlier struggles with sobriety and her more recent search for spiritual meaning, topics familiar to her frequent readers. She intersperses these with quotes from the Bible, concepts from a variety of faiths, and her own musings about what these things mean in the context of our current world. As always, she is brutally honest about her life and own imperfections, inviting  readers to consider their own experiences and thoughts. Here, near the beginning of the book, she contemplates how difficult it can be to not only extend mercy to others but also to herself, with that trademark candor:
"What if we know that forgiveness and mercy are what heal and restore and define us, that they actually are the fragrance that the rose leaves on the heel that crushes it? So why today is it absolutely all I can do to extend mercy to myself for wanting to nip an annoying relative's heel like a river rat? Forget extending mercy to this relative, who has so messed with me and my son--she doesn't even know she needs my mercy. She thinks she is fierce and superior, while I believe she secretly ate her first child. Horribly, she is perfectly fine. I'm the one who needs mercy--my mercy. The need for this, for my own motley mercy, underpinned most of my lifelong agitation, my separation from life and self."

As with much of Lamott's writing, this passage is so open and raw that it invites you, too, to admit to your worst feelings and moments and bring them into the light to examine them. Since I, too, have been hurt by family members in the past (and the present), that passage--and others--hit home.

Here is another example, as she considers how important mercy is, yet how difficult it can be:
"Kindness toward others and radical kindness to ourselves buy us a shot at a warm and generous heart, which is the greatest prize of all. Do you want this, or do you want to be right? Well, can I get back to you on that?"

As you can see, along with honesty, Lamott also has a sense of humor.

I enjoyed reading this book, as I have Lamott's previous memoirs, though I found this one a bit meandering. I was OK with that and just went along for the ride, and my copy of this slim volume is filled with mini Post-Its marking passages that spoke to me or made me think, which is probably her primary purpose here. I was very disappointed to miss our book group discussion (it was the night before we left on vacation) because I had been looking forward to digging into some of the topics and issues that Lamott introduced. Our group leader told me that the book did not get very high ratings from some of our members (this is an eclectic group with varied tastes), but she said that it was an interesting discussion. I guess I will just have to copy all of these tabbed passages into my Quote Journal so I can consider them again on my own. As always, Lamott is eye-openingly candid, funny, and oh, so thought-provoking.

176 pages, Riverhead Books

NOTE: This book was also the subject of one of my Weekly Inspiration posts on my chronic illness blog, where I  excerpt more quotes from the book and write about how they moved or inspired me.

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Listen to a sample of the audio book here, read by the author from the beginning of the book, and/or download it from Audible.

You can buy the book through, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local:   

Or you can order Hallelujah Anyway from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. I haven't read an Annie Lamott book in a long time. I'm glad you liked this one.