These Precious Days by Ann Patchett: A review

 

I grabbed this book on a whim in the mistaken perception that it was a novel by Ann Patchett. Yes, even though it says "essays" right there on the cover! Obviously, I was not paying close attention. I don't often read essays and if I had realized that's what it was I probably wouldn't have gotten it. That would have been a mistake. It was a terrific read.

Her essays touch on a wide variety of subjects, mostly very personal. She writes, for example, about her three fathers. Her mother married three times. Ann was born in her first marriage to an L.A. cop. That cop was very dismissive of Ann's aspirations to be a writer. His ambition for her was to be a dental hygienist. This had the unintended effect of making her even more determined to become a writer and to succeed at her craft. 

While Ann and her sister were still young children, her mother, who was a nurse, fell in love with a surgeon. When he moved to Nashville, she followed him there and they were married. Her new stepfather, the surgeon, had really wanted to be a writer. Ann writes that he thought she "was the second coming of Christ."

Both her father and her first stepfather played central roles in her life. Her father's influence was instrumental because it caused her to rebel against the life that he thought she should have, while her stepfather really wanted to be like her. He wanted to be a writer and was supportive of her aspirations. Her mother later married for a third time when Ann was 27 but that stepfather came into her life after she was an adult and had less influence on her life choices. 

Ann, too, divorced her first husband and after eleven years of dating, married her second, Karl, who is a medical doctor with a master's in philosophy and theology at Oxford. He is sixteen years older than she. She has no children and that was apparently her choice. She writes: "To have a child required the willful forgetting of what childhood was actually like; it required you to turn away from the very real chance that you do to the person you loved most in the world the exact same thing that was done to you. No. No, thank you."

She recalls a national radio show on which she was interviewed and was asked about her childlessness. The interviewer pointed out that her husband was quite a bit older than she and that the chances are that she would be left alone at the end of life. The interviewer asked if she worried about that. Ann pointed out that Jonathan Franzen does not have children either and wondered whether the interviewer would have asked him the same question. (Let me guess: No, he wouldn't have!)

Not all of the essays are so serious. She writes of her friendships and of her experience in owning a bookstore which has been one of the greatest joys of her life. But the title essay, "These Precious Days," details her friendship with a woman named Sooki who she met through Tom Hanks. Sooki was his assistant. The essay tells a bittersweet story - no spoilers here in case you want to read the book.  

My conclusion on finishing the book was that the title was perfect. The days that Patchett relates to us were precious indeed and she describes them so straightforwardly without unnecessary embellishment. Her writing might be described as spare, unadorned, but it seemed just about right to me.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Comments

  1. Glad you also enjoyed this one Dorothy. I do love the way Patchett writes - a lovely series of essays.

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    1. Yes, there was not a dud among them. They were all winners.

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  2. Essays aren't usually my thing, though I can enjoy them in small doses when they're written very well.

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    1. These definitely were. Even a non-essay reader like myself could enjoy them.

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  3. It's fun when it wasn't what you expected...but better!

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  4. This was already on my list, and I do like essays. Since essays are not your favorite genre, and yet you enjoyed the book enough to give it 4/5 stars, I'm even more eager to read it!

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  5. "Bel Canto" is still high on my list of favourite books of this century, but it's the only work of hers that I have read. Maybe it's time to read it again!

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    1. If you are at all into essays, you should read this one, too. It is an excellent example of the craft of essay writing.

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  6. Yeah I enjoyed this one -- especially the essays about her father and the ones about Sooki. I'm not an essay reader either ... but Patchett's nonfiction are personal, open, generous at heart, and well done. I'm glad you liked it too.

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  7. Nice review! I have this book on my ever growing reading wishlist!

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