I am an unabashed Ann Patchett fangirl, particularly for her nonfiction. What I love most about her memoirs: she is so open about her life’s experiences. This is particularly valuable for (ahem) aspiring writers like myself, but I think it’s also just a trait of good writing. Who wants to read something where you can tell the writer’s holding back? Isn’t it better when they just go there? Again, I’m biased! But I think this truth-telling adds so much wisdom and poignancy to the work.
My favorite essay in this collection is “The Getaway Car,” in which Ann tells of how she transformed herself from a waitress at TGI Fridays into one of the country’s most successful novelists. Other essay topics: dogs; marriage; divorce; starting a bookstore; and making ends meet as a creative person before she became a household name. I have read this collection several times, twice via audiobook.
This memoir is about Ann’s close friendship with the late poet Lucy Grealy, who she attended both Sarah Lawrence and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop with. Grealy is well-known for her memoir, Autobiography of a Face, in which she wrote about losing part of her jaw to childhood cancer and undergoing years of chemotherapy, radiation and reconstructive surgeries. Consequently, Grealy has a fascinating (and often heartbreaking) perspective on the subject of beauty.
In her latest essay collection, These Precious Days, Ann tackles writing, shopping, holidays, furniture, and she gushes about one of my other favorite writers, children’s author Kate DiCamillo. Each essay is steeped in themes of mortality, especially the title essay, “These Precious Days,” about Ann’s intense friendship with Tom Hanks’s assistant. I know people who steer clear of these kinds of books because they feel too real. But in this collection, Ann has made it clear she’s accepted the fact that her own days are limited, and, for whatever reason, I find it oddly comforting and reassuring.