These Precious Days by Ann Patchett

In These Precious Days, Ann Patchett has gathered reflections, meditations and biographical sketches written over the course of many years. The title essay is by far the longest and most most somber. Patchett’s friend Sooki Raphael (Tom Hank’s assistant) appears several times, and it is her complex story that ends the book and gives the collection a sense of weight and substance.

In between, there are many and delightful meditations –  such as how Snoopy’s vocation as a writer was an early literary influence of Patchett’s. Perhaps my favorite is how she uses The Joy of Cooking as her guide when cooking Thanksgiving dinner as a college freshman. She cites this as the beginning of a reliance on books to face life’s challenges. Her “feral” experience at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop is fascinating. The glimpse we get into the  80’s grad school experience is fascinating.

Always, always  – books and authors and writing are woven in and out of each selection. Here is a person who has found her true calling and has created a life that would seem improbable if you were to read about it in a novel. She runs a successful bookstore (Parnassus Books in Nashville), she’s married to a kind and smart man (a doctor and a pilot), her roster of friends and acquaintances have included John Updike, Renee Fleming, Tom Hanks, and Kate DiCamillo.

In essays like “There Are No Children Here,” just as she seems to approach a Martha Stewart-esque entitlement, she’ll turn the screw enough to bring the essay out of a faint whiff of perfectionism (she’d be the first to own this tendency). It is this unpredictability and skillful turn of phrase that lifts the writing into another level.

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