Anne Lamott’s hard-luck novels are impressive chronicles of family strife punctuated by bad (but often entertaining) behavior. Everyone in Lamott’s books is sort of screwed up, but she stocks them with a humor and core decency that make them hard to resist. Her latest, Imperfect Birds, releases 6 April.
She tells PopMatters 20 Questions how life can be just as quirky as fiction; take Jar Jar Binks, George Bush, and a rickshaw driver in New Delhi, for example.
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
I saw all these movies in preparation for a recent ten day trip to India, and two of them really made me weepy—Salaam Bombay and Water, about the little seven- or eight-year-old girl who is placed in an ashram for widows because her arranged-marriage-husband dies before she’s even met him. The British are still running India, but Gandhi is just coming into prominence. It is one of the great all time movies, as is Salaam Bombay.
2. The fictional character most like you?
Pippi Longstocking, for her deep wildness and humor and independence; Jo March in Little Women, for her tomboyishness and intelligence and rebelliousness. These two females made enormous impacts on me when I was a girl. Also, Ignatius J. Reilly, for his deep and hilarious eccentricity and cluelessness.
3. The greatest album, ever?
Allman Brothers, Eat a Peach. No, wait, wait, American Beauty by the Grateful Dead. No wait, Emmylou Harris’ greatest hits.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
I have no feeling one way or the other about either of these. Is Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars? If so, that is my favorite, because one of the auto rickshaw drivers in Old Delhi pronounced George Bush “Ja-Ja Boots”, which I just love, and so maybe I’m indebted to Star Wars. Unless Jar Jar Binks is from Star Trek…
5. Your ideal brain food?
Hiking. Crisp, cold morning air in the hills, hiking with my two dogs, who make me feel like Steven Jobs. GOD, they are dumb.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
I took care of both my parents when they were dying, 25 years apart. I raised the loveliest, sweetest, funniest young man on my own, and I am holding his sleeping, six-month-old baby boy in my arms. Jax is asleep against my chest while I type this, snoring like an extreme obese alcoholic. I feel like I could faint with love and pride.
I’m proud of these things because sticking together, through hard and complicated times, is my most deeply held value.
7. You want to be remembered for…?
My political activism, and how hard I tried during the eight-year reign of Ja-Ja Boots to keep the spirits of my readers up—how I tried to help them keep the faith in America and democracy.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
Martin Luther King. Mahatma Gandhi. Benazir Bhutto. Gloria Steinem, who more than anyone changed my life for the infinitely better.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible. Also her new book, The Lacuna. She is just sickeningly wonderful. Also, Mary Oliver’s poetry.
10. Your hidden talents…?
I am a good Sunday school teacher, because I’m sympathetic to children. I’m a great dishwasher, and would much rather do dishes out in the kitchen with a few stragglers, than to have to socialize.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
When my best friend Pammy was dying, I asked her if I looked fat in a certain dress, and she—from a wheelchair—said, “Annie, you really don’t have that kind of time.” I live by that.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
I am wearing—and always wear—these simple but fabulous gold hoops from Guatemala. A very dear friend lent them to me almost 30 years ago, and the next day I said, “You know, I won’t be giving them back.” She said, sort of sadly, that she’d gotten that right away.
I still see her every few years, and I’ve always got the earrings, and we still laugh. You can see them in every author’s photo of mine since my second book, Rosie.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?
Jeans, but not Levis, which I used to look good in. Then I had a baby, and forgot to workout at any time in the next 20 years. Although, I certainly meant to. I look okay in Ralph Lauren Saturday jeans and am almost always wearing them. J. Crew painters t-shirts—white, black, dark green. Flip flops, and the aforementioned gold hoop earrings.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Rachel Maddow. She would want to be my best friend and move out to Northern California so we could go for walks every day, and talk on the phone, all day every day.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
I love being exactly where I am, and the era and age I am at—or in. I’ll be 56 on April 10th, and it’s fabulous. Except for the knees.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
Naps. I give up a lot of things for a short nap most afternoons. I don’t hit men—if sufficiently provoked, I grow teary, and won’t eat. Or else I binge, on Mexican food and Ben and Jerry’s (NY Super Chunk Fudge.) I lie on the couch and read in lieu of hitting men and taking spa vacations. I would love spa vacations if there weren’t other people there, and if they didn’t skip so on the butterfat.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
At one time or another, I have been seriously addicted to one or more of these sacramental elements. Now, however, I’m only compulsive about going to movies – and eating movie popcorn. Also those little white bags of movie candy from the bins, where you can mix and match four shovelfuls of different kinds of chocolate candies.
I always get the exact same amounts of plain M&Ms, peanut M&Ms, Reese’s pieces, and Raisinettes. Then I eat each piece individually, with bites of popcorn in between. But you’ve got to believe me, it is not addictive. Nothing could be further from the truth! Even though I do it twice a week, every week, rain or shine. With the popcorn, and the little white bags of candy. For about 15 years. (But who’s counting?)
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
I like things very quiet (which is why I just got back from ten days in India, oops). I live in a semi-rural, hippie-health-food, half-hour out of San Francisco town, and it is my favorite place in the world. I grew up ten miles from here. My uncle and cousins live five minutes away, by foot. We scattered my mother’s ashes half a mile away.
The stunning hiking trails of Mt. Tamalpais, sacred to the coastal Miwok, are also five minutes by foot. I grew up hiking these trails with my father and brothers. Yet there are also a lot of movie theatres within a 20-minute drive, and my church is 25 minutes away, toward Sausalito. So everything and everyone I need is nearby.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
“Push ‘em back, push ‘em back, we liiiiiiiiike it, we liiiike it.”
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
I can’t talk about it yet! Are you nuts? Do you know what bad Ju-Ju it is to discuss your next book while waiting for your current book’s publication? This could only lead to a catastrophic change in one’s fortunes, or a complete mental collapse. Probably both.