These Precious Days – Ann Patchett’s gathering of whimsical, wise, comical, sad, personal, prosaic, and profound essays that readers will find as enchanting as her novels.
A new essay collection by Ann Patchett, whose nine novels and three other essay collections have enchanted readers for decades, simply adds to the breadth of her prose. These Precious Days moves seamlessly from topic to topic, from pieces about her father and stepfathers, her husband and her closest friends, to pieces about her writing and discussions of how and why she puts her books together. There’s even one charming essay about book covers, especially those the publisher loves and the author loathes, a conundrum all too common I believe. I was especially drawn to Patchett’s book-making essays, but I appreciated all the others—the whimsical, the wise, the comical, the sad, the personal, the prosaic, the profound—that are gathered together in These Precious Days.
Because Patchett’s assortment contains so much breadth and depth, I decided the best way to review it might be to borrow the author’s own words of wisdom. One of her Precious essays introduces The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty. As I read it, I thought Patchett might well be talking about her own collection. So, I’m going to share what she writes, pointing out the uncanny parallels to what she accomplishes in These Precious Days. Patchett observes, “Reading the [Welty] collection now from beginning to end is an experience not unlike going to a retrospective exhibition, walking through room after room of paintings to see the full development of a vision.” Exactly! Patchett’s Precious renders the same feeling as its readers wander through the essays, moving from one literary canvas, one setting or one scene, to another. Patchett even notes that “we have a tendency to lift out those pieces that are most pleasing to us, or that best illustrate a particular point,” just as I was doing when I confessed my affinity for her essays about the craft of writing.
Patchett goes on to praise Welty’s “extraordinary dexterity” as she “steps” between subjects and among an array of emotions and themes. Then Patchett concludes, “in the same way that her narrative voice is capable of moving from character to character, her style shifts with allegiance to nothing but the compassionate truth. She [Welty] could accomplish anything because of her complete understanding of the world in which she lived.” So, too, Patchett moves from character to character, from relatives to friends to fleeting acquaintances, searching for the truth of her relationships with the array of people who populate her essays. And she does so with a deep affinity for them and for her ever-expanding world.
The title essay, “These Precious Days,” codifies her achievement. I’m not going to be very specific about its content because this is an essay best unfolded in Patchett’s own words. I do want to say, however, that its thematic constant applies to all the other Precious essays. Value every precious day, every precious person, every precious experience, every precious bond with others, every precious inner connection with oneself. I think Patchett successfully does just that in These Precious Days and I trust other readers will agree. This is a book to be savored, its essays to be read and re-read, its content to be pondered in both the heart and the head. Without any reservations, I recommend it to you all. – Ann Ronald
Also available by Ann Patchett: The Dutch House; Escape Goat; Lambslide; Nashville, Scenes form the New American South; Commonwealth; This is The Story of a Happy Marriage; State of Wonder; What Now?; Run; Truth & Beauty; Bel Canto; The Magician’s Assistant; Taft; The Patron Saint of Liars.
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