“These Precious Days” by Ann Patchett tells the story of a generous writer

“These Precious Days,” Ann Patchett’s generous new collection of essays, nearly all of which have previously appeared in periodicals, offers an explosion of warm positivity. Like her first collection, “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage” (2013), this engaging mix of personal and professional underscores the centrality of books, family, friendship and compassion in Patchett’s life.

At the heart of “These Precious Days” is the title essay, a tribute to a woman with whom Patchett befriended in what turned out to be the final years of the woman’s life. Patchett, who commemorated his difficult and intense friendship with fellow writer Lucy Grealy in “Truth & Beauty” (2004), finds it easier to celebrate his less complicated and fortuitous relationship with Sooki Raphael, the longtime personal assistant of Tom Hanks.

Patchett’s essays often carry life lessons. What she learns from Sooki is to remember to cherish and pay attention to every precious moment. Another lesson here concerns the deep gratification of stretching out. That’s what Patchett did when she opened her Nashville home to Sooki so her new friend could participate in a medical trial that was then unavailable in her home state of California. Patchett, a born nurturer, writes that although she barely knew Sooki at the time, “there were a few times in my life where I felt so sure I was supposed to help.”

Sooki turns out to be an ideal host – self-sufficient, tidy, calm, caring. When the pandemic hits, they go into custody with Patchett’s husband Karl VanDevender, a doctor who helped organize Sooki’s trial enrollment. Patchett spends his days writing or packing books to ship from his closed bookstore. Between treatments, Sooki finally devotes himself to his passion: painting. The two women practice yoga and cook vegetarian meals together. “Most of the writers and artists I know were made to shelter in place,” Patchett writes. “The world asks us to get involved, and most of us can, but given the choice, we prefer to stay at home.”

When it’s time for Sooki to return to his family in Los Angeles, Patchett remembers the heartbreaking separations from his divorced father at the end of each weeklong summer visit. “Ultimately,” she writes, “Sooki and I needed the same thing: to find someone who could see us as our best and most complete ourselves. Amazing to meet such a friend at this point in life. At any time of life.

“Those Precious Days” isn’t the only essay that has drawn tears. In several pieces, Patchett poignantly writes about his father, a Los Angeles Police Detective who disapproved of his stubborn determination to become a writer. But his father’s skepticism gave him an unexpected gift: “Without ever wanting to, my father taught me early on to give up the idea of ​​approval. She pursued her dream, although she tried not to offend her moral sensitivity. “I found a lot of things to write about that didn’t smoke, swear or have sex.” She goes on to write, “With the extra time and energy they had, my characters came out and saw the world.”

Throughout the essays, Patchett looks for the essential: “I could watch myself grappling with the same themes in my writing and in my life: what I needed, who I loved, what I could let go and what energy it would take to let go. , “she writes.” Again and again, I wondered what mattered most about this precarious and precious life. ”

In addition to his father, Patchett celebrates his two stepfathers and her husband and his lifelong love of flying. She writes of the relief of overcoming materialism by cutting expenses and not shopping: “If you stop thinking about what you might want, it’s a lot easier to see what other people don’t have. ”

Discussing her profession, Patchett jokes, “Flexibility was what writers had in place of health insurance” and “The price of living with a writer was that she would end up writing about you.” In “Three Fathers”, she admits to having organized the group photo which will eventually accompany her triple tribute after the death of the three fathers. In “Cover Stories”, she doesn’t mince words about her disappointment with her first book covers and points out that, ironically, the adage “Never judge a book by its cover … doesn’t apply to real books.” … The blankets are what we need to continue. On the cover of this book, Sooki’s colorful portrayal of Patchett’s dog, Sparky, is a clear winner.

The same goes for Patchett. Is she too good to be believed? Lucy Grealy accused her of a holiness complex. That’s right, he’s a person who is ashamed of owning seven mixing bowls. But in an essay on her intentional sterility, she clearly shows her annoyance at people’s thoughtless comments.

Bottom line: Patchett is someone you want to hang out with – on the page or in person.

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