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.