I’ve come to that point in my reading life that I no longer can recall if I’ve read certain books. I was so certain I had read an Ann Patchett book before this one, but according to my hand-written reading log and Goodreads, These Precious Days is my first Patchett book. Perhaps I had read reviews stating as much beforehand, but I expected this book of essays to feel like a warm hug, and I was right. Reading this made me want to slow down my life and sit with a cup of tea for hours, reveling in the domestic, maybe even calling old friends to reconnect. A famous author and bookstore owner, Patchett has a wealth of stories to tell, although none are salacious or hard to believe. Instead, her words are a source of comfort and joy, finding inspiration in friendships, hobbies, and shared personalities.
This book features an introduction, epilogue, and 22 essays spanning Patchett’s life. They range in topics, but most are about her immediate realm; her childhood, her experience having three different fathers, the beginnings of her life with her current partner, his obsession with airplanes, her attempts to learn knitting, the way she met Tom Hanks for the first (but not the last!) time, her friends, her decision to not have children, her journey of reading and loving the children’s author Kate DiCamillo, even the experience of choosing covers for her books. The title essay, which was easily my favourite, is also the most affecting. “These Precious Days” is the story of a brand new friendship that turns into a deep understanding between two women, and a short re-telling of the way their lives were thrown together during the pandemic. Patchett doesn’t dwell on how terrible the pandemic is because compared to what else is happening in their lives at that same point, Covid doesn’t seem all that bad. This new friend of hers is the artist behind the dog painting on the front of the ARC I received, and apparently there are other paintings of hers included in the hardcover version.
It’s inevitable that I’m going to love a cozy book like this, especially one that is regularly espousing the value of books. Patchett is also a bookstore owner – she co-owns Parnassus Books in Nashville, and being a famous author who has written many books, literature is a constant companion of hers. Many of her stories incorporate scenes from her store and elements of what it’s like to be a bookstore owner and the strange workings of the publishing industry, but this isn’t a book about books. Instead, we are dropped into different parts of Patchett’s life, not in sequential order either. There is one essay about her year of not shopping, and it included such a wonderous quote I need to repeat it for you:
“The things we buy and buy and buy are like a thick coat of Vaseline smeared on glass: we can see some shapes out there, light and dark, but in our constant craving for what we may still want, we miss too many of life’s details.”-“My Year of No Shopping”, These Precious Days by Ann Patchett, p. 43 of ARC
Don’t you just love the way she put that? In some ways it’s a strange way of describing our obsession with stuff, but it so perfectly crystallizes the problem with that obsession too.
Patchett has a quick sense of humour, she doesn’t set out to make one laugh per se, but her turns of phrase are witty, and I found myself releasing a soft snort of laughter every so often (my snorts are quite different than my cackle laughs, and those who spend a significant amount of time in my presence will quickly recognize the difference). She describes one woman as “all business” after having a quick labour that she witnesses, and maybe it’s because Patchett so clearly cherishes her friendships that she often finds herself in these quirky situations, which makes for entertaining but believable stories.
My sheer enjoyment of this collection surprised me because I don’t really think of myself a non-fiction lover, but my favourite author is David Sedaris, yet another essayist, so perhaps I need to re-think my so-called preferences. Unlike Sedairs these stories are clearly rooted in reality and never stray from it, but Patchett leads an engaging enough life that embellishment isn’t needed or wanted – the talent of her writing clearly shines through in even the most mundane of situations.
Wonderful review, Anne. Other blogger friends have enjoyed this, and I’ve enjoyed her previous nonfiction too, so I know this will hit the spot for me. She’s a wonderful writer. I have been to Parnassus once and it’s a great store! They have a good store blog too.
Oh that’s so cool you’ve been to the store! I’ll have to visit if I ever get down that way.
I’m not much into essays or memoirs, but I have read one of her novels, State of Wonder, and loved her writing – unfortunately I wasn’t so enthralled with the story. I’ve been meaning to give her another try for years…
Great review! Ann Patchett is one of my favourite writers and even though I am not much of a non-fiction reader either I really enjoyed this and her previous essay collection.
She’s just so lovely, I want to meet her haha
Me too! I’ve never really wanted to visit Nashville but I do really want to visit her bookstore!
Sounds like you need to give more nonfiction authors a try! I’ve mentioned that I think you would love Samantha Irby. Jeanette Winterson may also strike your fancy. Let’s see….Betty MacDonald for sure. Oh! And Tom Robbins. His memoir is hilarious. Also, in your top photo I totally thought your book was resting on a dog, which I now see was the point! LOL!
I have read and loved Samantha Irby, you were spot on about that!!! And I totally didn’t even think about that picture looking like it was resting on a dog, you are giving me far too much credit. It’s just a shaggy blanket LOL
Oh! I read all of Ann P’s books! I did not know about this one – thanks!
Oh I hope you enjoy it!
I listened to this on audio not long ago and never wanted it to end. She has such a way with words and is also an excellent narrator. I was struck by what a kind, generous person she seems to be.
Yes she is quite lovely – was she the narrator for the audio book? I just assume it’s usually the author reading it now…
Yes, she’s the narrator. It does usually seem to be the author, which most of the time I like. There’s only been a couple of times I wished it was someone else.
I dabbled through this collection shortly after publication because I just wasn’t in quite the right mood to persevere with it and there was a long queue behind me at the library so I shuttled it back after reading just a few. She’s so good in this form, though. If you haven’t read the first collection, it’s every bit as good (even though it’s been many years now).