Ann Patchett. If you know her work, I can almost guarantee you love her work: how I adored Bel Canto and then, impossibly, adored State of Wonder even more. Commonwealth, and most recently The Dutch House. That first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars. Her incredible non-fiction, her essays. She is a novelist and a writer with heart, an author who explores every aspect of the human condition, dissects it and lays it bare for all of us to see. An extraordinary storyteller. Her latest book, These Precious Days (Bloomsbury 2021) is a collection of essays about life, truth, love, friendship, death, stuff, history, other people’s lives, flying and knitting.
It encompasses everything. It is beautifully written, finely well-crafted; she casts a luminous eye over her subjects and writes (speaks) about things and people and emotions and journeys with such energy and light, such visceral description, such tender and wise insight. This is a powerful book of essays that are collectively encouraging, kind, nurturing, confronting and always relatable. When she is doing something extraordinary, she reminds us that even she finds her own life unbelievable. This book is an absolute pleasure to read and I want to press it into the hands of everyone I know.
The title story, These Precious Days, is ostensibly about Ann Patchett meeting Tom Hanks, and being in conversation with him. But it evolves into so much more, about a woman named Sooki, about illness and friendship and strangers and randomness and death. It is my favourite. It will probably make you cry.
Ann Patchett owns a bookstore, writes, has no children, is married to a doctor who flies his own planes, owns a dog called Sparky. These are the facts. What she manages to extrapolate from those facts is a magical and infinite world of wonder. She writes of her three fathers, of travel, of her college years. She muses over owning too much stuff and the worth of a saint and being obsessed with Snoopy. She writes of famous authors much beloved, of the value of knitting, and the freedom/terror of flying small planes (or watching your husband pilot them). She speaks of friends she has and the children she does not. Teaching, book covers, her mother, fame. The topics are wide and varied but the common denominator is exquisite and clear-eyed observation, brilliant writing, and a feeling that she is your friend, sitting beside you, telling you these stories, or reading them to you alone. Some people have that very great ability to use kindness, compassion and humour to bring out the best in others. Ann Patchett is that person; that writer.
I recommend These Precious Days unequivocally; whoever you are, whatever your situation, however you find your life, this collection of essays will make you see all your days as precious and encourage you to find the silver linings behind every rain-heavy cloud.