These Precious Days by Ann Patchett review – radiant lessons in writing and living | Ann Patchett

TNearing the end of her new collection of essays, Anne Patchett describes joining the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a picture of which now hangs alongside the likes of Henry James, John Dos Passos, and Eudora Welty. She writes: “The photo you chose to send was fun.” “I’m showing all my teeth and I’m so far removed from every serious, cautious picture that surrounds me.”

In the first brush, These precious days It seems a similarly inconsistent addition to the large body of recently published articles by women writers. Although not devoid of joy, but nicknames like Lavinia Greenlaw Some answers without questions Or Lucy Elman things against us They are shameless arguments. They wrestle with courage, converge and explode. In contrast, Patchett is distinguished by a sun-soaked benevolence.

At the age of 57, her bestseller won awards and acclaim, and her bookshop in her native Nashville, Tennessee, became a thriving cultural center. Her marriage is harmonious (her first collection of articles was titled This is a happy marriage story), and her extensive friendship network includes celebrities such as soprano Rene Fleming as well as childhood friends. She swallows green juices, does Kundalini yoga, and if she ever finds herself in a bar, she’s probably with her friend and former elementary school teacher Sister Nina, a Catholic nun in her 80s (Sister Nina drinks merlot, Patchett drinks seltzer with cranberry juice) .

This is the world in which Patchett’s intimate and elegant articles take root, whether it’s about knitting or giving up a year’s worth of shopping, how Snoopy was a role model for her growing up (making her want to be a writer) or why she decided not to have children. More than once, she comments on her good fortune, although she also believes in deep thought, whether it’s for a new novel she’s writing or a women’s article a month. As she says, “many possibilities can arise as a result of intelligence, education, curiosity, and hard work.”

It’s not, of course, that she doesn’t find herself in cramped quarters; It’s only when she does that she tirelessly salvages something positive. Like the time, when she was 19 years old, she went on a trip around Europe with a friend, and they accepted a transfer to Derry, instantly finding themselves in a war zone. That piece, the Paris tattoo, became an anthem of friendship. Even her husband’s health panic, linked in The Moment Nothing Changed, gives the reassuring assertion that “as often as a terrible thing happens, that terrible thing passes us a thousand times every day.” And there are always books—books to teach, to make friendship, and to save you when, say, you hurriedly agreed to cook Thanksgiving dinner for six for the first time.

That mood suddenly changes, however, three-quarters of the way through the title article. As Patchett notes the writings I have collected here: “Over and over again, I have been asked what is most important in this perilous and precious life.” Title article brings this fragility sharply into focus.

Topping 60 pages, by far the longest, it tells how Patchett fell into a life-changing friendship with Tom Hanks. Or at least that’s what I assumed it would be about to happen, but Hanks turns out to be just a little player; His assistant, Suki Raphael, a struggling painter who is stylistically discreet and glamorous in the wardrobe, is his shining star. (One of her paintings, of Patchett’s dog, adorns the book’s jacket.)

Suki suffers from recurrent pancreatic cancer, and just as the epidemic spreads, he arrives in Nashville to participate in a clinical trial. Patchett insists on staying with them, and so begins to deepen their nascent relationship. With the world turned upside down, they soon head out for night walks and experience magical medicinal mushrooms together.

It’s a radiant storytelling, researched and poorly frank. It’s also the reason this book exists. “This article was so important to me that I wanted to build a solid sanctuary for it,” says Patchett, yet it is the essay that gives the sanctuary its weight, and it highlights dark currents that have been flowing through its pages all along. Deaths, in particular, loom larger suddenly. Then there is her candid admission that befriending an author is to write about your life, and the deeper corners of my psyche are examined and revealed.

Of course, Patchett did another friendship hymn with the late Lucy Greeley in her 2004 memoirs Truth and beautyand, elsewhere in this particular book, the author can be found plotting a passage about her dying father even as she holds his hand. It was “like carrying a linen sack full of bumblebees,” she remembers—a reminder, if necessary after reading the few light pieces from the collection, that she had serious literary pieces.

These precious days It contains some advice on writing, but it also confronts how different literature and life are: people are not characters; Our daily speeds and our daily speeds don’t make a plot. And while Patchett can’t begin work on a novel without figuring out exactly how it will end, living well requires the opposite: “Death always thinks of us at the end. The trick is to find joy in the meantime, and make use of the days we have left,” she advises. As a rallying cry, it’s timeless, timeless and as full of voice as her smile is wide.

These precious days By Ann Patchett published by Bloomsbury (£16.99). to support guardian And Foreman Request your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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