Anybody hate "Operating Instructions" as much as I do? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 18 Old 02-11-2011, 08:38 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Ok, "Operating Instructions", a big best-seller...I'm really glad I borrowed this one from the women's center instead of paying to read it:

 

First of all, the scornful remarks from Anne Lamott about attempting childbirth without an epidural.  Next, the nasty jokes about uncircumcised penises and the certainty that not circumcising her son would be cruel.  Complaining about being fat over and over again, only to reveal that she weighs 137 lbs...at less that 6 months postpartum.

 

The endless references to pop-culture figures that she clearly thinks her reader ought to know about, contrasting with a simplistic definition of the word schadenfreude, which she assumes her readers are too ignorant to understand.  Starting her baby on solids really early, out of simple boredom.  Referring to the poor child's lips as "porno lips".  The many friends she makes mean-sounding sarcastic jokes about all the time, even as they clearly humor the living daylights out of her.

 

The way she calls her baby things like worthless scum and fantasizes about smashing his head against a wall (well, privately in a journal...this is theoretically ok...it just gets weird though when the private journal becomes a big best-seller that the baby will surely read one day).  Threatening (out loud, this time) to hit him with a stick full of nails, for having colic and crying.  The syrupy little ending paragraph that ties each episode into a nice Anne Lamott-shaped birthday present.  The many uptight, nasty "jokes" about her friends being "homos" or about their religions etc. 

 

Bitter complaints about her hair...it supposedly makes her look like a person of color (yikes!), and she thanks God that her son has been spared this fate and blessed with straight, smooth hair.  Her general treatment, in prose, of actual black people.  A total lack of understanding about lives that are not filled with monetary and cultural privilege (a scary moment for AL is when she realizes that she has only got one job at the moment...a once-a-month food review for which she is paid $1000 plus expenses).  And what's more, she makes Christianity seem like a childish security blanket strictly for neurotic people.  And she constantly refers to her baby as looking or being "stoned" when she surely just means he looks contented. 

 

I'm sure there are a thousand other things that I hate about this book, but I am only two-thirds of the way through!  I cringe every time I turn a page, but by God I'm going to finish it, because sometimes when you're sitting there breastfeeding you just need some junky thing to look at.  Right?

 

Anybody with me on this, or am I all alone in new-mother land?

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#2 of 18 Old 02-11-2011, 08:53 PM
 
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I hate that book, too. I don't have a new babe but I  used to run a new mom's support group .....so I have read a lot of these "surviving motherhood" books. I really detest this one.

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#3 of 18 Old 02-11-2011, 09:38 PM
 
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I've never heard of it before now, and I'm glad!


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#4 of 18 Old 02-12-2011, 05:18 AM
 
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I haven't read that one, but I read two others by her. The first I liked, the second I didn't care for as much. She's edgy though, or tries to be. Maybe I'll read it so I can come to more of a critique. 

 

As for those type of books, I do find them helpful. I liked Mothershock very much. 

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#5 of 18 Old 02-12-2011, 05:30 AM
 
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It's interesting to hear these opinions. I'm not a mom yet, so maybe my opinion will change, but I am a big fan of Operating Instructions (and all of Anne Lamott's non-fiction). I don't plan to make all the parenting choices she made, but to me that isn't important. I love her sense of humor, her honestly, and her willingness to look carefully at the world and describe what she experiences. Anyway, I guess this i just more proof that different books work for different people! orngbiggrin.gif

 


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#6 of 18 Old 02-12-2011, 05:57 AM
 
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My DH knows I love to read.  He came on MDC for book recs for me and a lot of moms told him to buy books by Ann Lamott.  So, being the sweet guy that he is, he bought me all her books.  Unfortunately, he gave me Operating Instructions first.  I was sickened by the part about uncirc'd penises and never finished the book.  I've never picked up another of the books he bought me by her.  It is never funny to talk about circing in the way she did, and it's not funny to talk about uncirc'd penises looking like aardvarks or anteaters (it's been a while since I read it, but it was one of these).  I still have the books and contemplate reading another one. . .but I haven't been able to do it.  Guess I'll need to donate them one of these days.


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#7 of 18 Old 02-12-2011, 06:54 PM
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i read it when pregnant and i have to say that there were parts in that book that really got me through when i thought i was going to full on lose it from all the anxiety and getting in my head. so for that reason alone i have to say i loved it. it helped knowing i wasn't crazy and alone. 

 

i had meant to read it again after having a kid to see what i thought of it then but never got around to it. i have to say that her comments probably wouldn;t have bothered me. i tend to see people's reactions to their own experiences as unique and completely valid based on whatever place they are in (not to sound too lovey-dovey though...because i also think that i'm always right;) )...so even if it were of an opinion different than my own i like to see how other people react to similar situations.


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#8 of 18 Old 02-12-2011, 07:35 PM
 
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I've read the book a couple of times, and some of the things that clearly bother you don't hit me at all.  Like the thing about the epidural - it's a personal choice, and Lamott is really - *really* - honest about her struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction, and her prior history of responses to pain and how it makes her fearful.  I don't think she's mocking when she says that she was *obviously* going for the epidural.  I don't much care about when she started Sam on solids (recommendations on that have varied wildly over the last fifty years, so I figure no matter when you do it, someone will think you're right).  The one quantified comment on her weight flew right by me, but I hate the idea that if our weight isn't over a certain number at a certain point, we aren't permitted to express dismay or discomfort about the changes in our bodies.  I am evidently a smaller person than Lamott, but I still really didn't want to contemplate my naked body for a long time post-partum.

 

Some of the things that bug you, I actually appreciate.  A lot of the depictions we get of motherhood in this culture are highly sanitized narratives of perfect love and contentment.  It was a shocker when, during a speech to a Pro-Life group, Sarah Palin admitted that she'd briefly wondered if she should get an abortion when she discovered that the baby she was expecting had Down's Syndrome.  By contrast to this (the shock that Palin would admit to *thinking* the word "abortion"), Anne Lamott's neuroses, the childishness of her religious stances, her selfishness and pettiness and avoidance of pain, look reasonable. 

 

I love my children, but I have had moments of ambivalence, both during pregnancy and after.  I am a flawed human being.  I cuss, and I hold not a few indefensible and (I hope) irrelevant opinions.  I have moments of vanity and pettiness and unjustified anger.  Sometimes the sound of a crying baby makes me want to do terrible things.  At these moments, it is a blessing to me to see that mothers have walked this path before me.  It's comforting to hear about someone else's struggle, and to do the things she did.  Put the baby down, breathe a moment, trust in God (who I don't even believe in when I'm not reading Lamott, so if you're Christian, she's done that much), call a friend. 

 

I can see how Lamott can come off grating, and how she can come off wrong, but she's good for me.

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#9 of 18 Old 02-13-2011, 03:44 PM
 
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I didn't like it, ended up skimming through. Just don't care for her sense of humor or anything. A good book I read right after to take the bad taste out of my mouth is Momma Zen. Check it out!


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#10 of 18 Old 02-13-2011, 06:37 PM
 
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I'm going to move this to the Books forum.

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#11 of 18 Old 02-14-2011, 06:15 AM
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I appreciate the honesty, while abhoring the concepts. If she were a close friend and I knew that she knew better (about penises, specifically) and we were roasting each other several years AFTER giving birth, it would be more funny. Reading it from a stranger, not knowing how seriously she takes herself...it doesn't work for me. May I suggest any of Ariel Gore's books? A boyfriend bought me The Hip Mama's Survival Guide when I had my first, it was delightful. Acknowledges the rough and honest aspects of dealing with raising kids in a disaster culture(my phrasing) without punking on children or motherhood itself. A little more wise than Operating Instructions, and certainly more fruitful. And funny. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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#12 of 18 Old 02-14-2011, 07:18 AM
 
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I *love* the Hip Mama Survival Guide, although it's a totally different book (not a narrative at all).  Unfortunately, it's out of print.  The world needs that book, though.  I'd do nearly anything to bring it back.

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I appreciate the honesty, while abhoring the concepts. If she were a close friend and I knew that she knew better (about penises, specifically) and we were roasting each other several years AFTER giving birth, it would be more funny. Reading it from a stranger, not knowing how seriously she takes herself...it doesn't work for me. May I suggest any of Ariel Gore's books? A boyfriend bought me The Hip Mama's Survival Guide when I had my first, it was delightful. Acknowledges the rough and honest aspects of dealing with raising kids in a disaster culture(my phrasing) without punking on children or motherhood itself. A little more wise than Operating Instructions, and certainly more fruitful. And funny. 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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#13 of 18 Old 02-14-2011, 07:42 AM
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I *love* the Hip Mama Survival Guide, although it's a totally different book (not a narrative at all).  Unfortunately, it's out of print.  The world needs that book, though.  I'd do nearly anything to bring it back.


Good point, definitely not a narrative. But being so conversational, I say it more than fills in for Operating Instructions. Add that to her book The Mother Trip, and you've got great, accessible, quick reading for the 37.9 seconds per day that you actually get to yourself.

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#14 of 18 Old 02-14-2011, 09:58 AM
 
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I *love* the Hip Mama Survival Guide, although it's a totally different book (not a narrative at all).  Unfortunately, it's out of print.  The world needs that book, though.  I'd do nearly anything to bring it back.


Good point, definitely not a narrative. But being so conversational, I say it more than fills in for Operating Instructions. Add that to her book The Mother Trip, and you've got great, accessible, quick reading for the 37.9 seconds per day that you actually get to yourself.


37.9 whole seconds?  Mama, you can take on War and Peace in that time!

 

(Just kidding, obviously.)

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#15 of 18 Old 02-14-2011, 12:55 PM
 
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I have to say that the part on circ flew by me the first time (I was having a girl) - the second time I read it after my DS was born I was a bit annoyed.

 

I also have to say that the part where she writes, "I hate him, he's scum." made me laugh so hard that it was one of the things that helped lift my PPD. If someone else felt that bad, surely I wasn't the only bad mother out there. Or at least that's what I reasoned. When that book was published, there was not as much out there about the reality of PPD - I think it was kind of groundbreaking, in that sense.

 

When I was very depressed after DS was born my mother told me that she often thought about throwing me down a flight of stairs when I was a newborn - now obviously, this is something I can look back and laugh at now - and appreciate given my own feelings for my kids. I certainly wouldn't tell my 7 year old that I wanted to shake her as hard as I could when she was screaming for the 4th hour in a row .... but maybe when she's my age she'll understand ...

 


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#16 of 18 Old 02-14-2011, 06:09 PM
 
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Originally Posted by PollyC View Post

Ok, "Operating Instructions", a big best-seller...I'm really glad I borrowed this one from the women's center instead of paying to read it:

 

First of all, the scornful remarks from Anne Lamott about attempting childbirth without an epidural.  Next, the nasty jokes about uncircumcised penises and the certainty that not circumcising her son would be cruel.  Complaining about being fat over and over again, only to reveal that she weighs 137 lbs...at less that 6 months postpartum.

 

The endless references to pop-culture figures that she clearly thinks her reader ought to know about, contrasting with a simplistic definition of the word schadenfreude, which she assumes her readers are too ignorant to understand.  Starting her baby on solids really early, out of simple boredom.  Referring to the poor child's lips as "porno lips".  The many friends she makes mean-sounding sarcastic jokes about all the time, even as they clearly humor the living daylights out of her.

 

The way she calls her baby things like worthless scum and fantasizes about smashing his head against a wall (well, privately in a journal...this is theoretically ok...it just gets weird though when the private journal becomes a big best-seller that the baby will surely read one day).  Threatening (out loud, this time) to hit him with a stick full of nails, for having colic and crying.  The syrupy little ending paragraph that ties each episode into a nice Anne Lamott-shaped birthday present.  The many uptight, nasty "jokes" about her friends being "homos" or about their religions etc. 

 

Bitter complaints about her hair...it supposedly makes her look like a person of color (yikes!), and she thanks God that her son has been spared this fate and blessed with straight, smooth hair.  Her general treatment, in prose, of actual black people.  A total lack of understanding about lives that are not filled with monetary and cultural privilege (a scary moment for AL is when she realizes that she has only got one job at the moment...a once-a-month food review for which she is paid $1000 plus expenses).  And what's more, she makes Christianity seem like a childish security blanket strictly for neurotic people.  And she constantly refers to her baby as looking or being "stoned" when she surely just means he looks contented. 

 

I'm sure there are a thousand other things that I hate about this book, but I am only two-thirds of the way through!  I cringe every time I turn a page, but by God I'm going to finish it, because sometimes when you're sitting there breastfeeding you just need some junky thing to look at.  Right?

 

Anybody with me on this, or am I all alone in new-mother land?


Reading your description, I probably would have burn the trash and paid for it's replacement while praying that they spent the money to buy something else.

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#17 of 18 Old 02-15-2011, 05:22 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Well, I still think the book kind of s*cks, but, in a way, I think it's mostly for the covert classism/sense of entitlement and (to me) unfunny jokes.  The condescending yet syrupy magazine-esque writing style just makes me cringe.  It's like a combination of Redbook and Adam Gopnik.  I dislike her use of language, and I hate reading books that talk down to me. 

 

BUT:  Those of you who said it's fine for the author to have her own parenting style are absolutely right.  Meepy, it's true--the parts about the author's recovery are actually pretty good to read (and it's not even "conference approved literature"--I know some of you know what I'm talking about!).  Those of you who found comfort in her venting about her baby have a really good point.  That stuff is scary when it is only in your mind, and can be really useful to encounter in another's words, so you know you're not alone.  PPD is a powerful force that isolates us, and it's great to encounter universals within it through the experience of other women.  However, language like "I hate him", etc (like some of the other items on my complaints list) can also be really painful to read, like hearing squeaky chalk scraped down a chalkboard...and I am sure her Sam read the book at some point.

 

Anyway, thanks so much for your opinions on this one.  I don't flinch as bad now when I see the book on my table, because some of you allowed me to be more open-minded regarding a couple of the things I hated about it.  Thanks for spreading the love (and suggesting other books)!  It's going back to the women's centre asap though.

 

I found myself googling "Sam Lamott" for some reason...turns out he's just had his first baby, although he's only 20.  Congrats to him and maybe his mom's book will be a comfort to him now in his time of need!

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#18 of 18 Old 02-15-2011, 06:00 AM
 
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PollyC - and that may be another difference.  I love Adam Gopnik.  (No defenses for that one - reading about Paris is like a quick trip to Paris, with no risk of rioting or dog poop on your shoes.  I'll go to Paris anytime.)

 

I did not know that about Sam Lamott.  God, I feel like it was only yesterday that I was reading about him getting his first library card.  They grow up so fast.

 

ETA:  You know who else's writing about parenthood is fun?  Michael Lewis.  He is so unapologetically *not* AP, and there are times when, on behalf of his wife and children, I want to smack him with a clue by four, but he's also really funny.

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