Thursday, November 14, 2013
Ann Patchett is a writer I admire. She has released a wonderful, well-written collection of essays about her life and her writing. Many of the stories were previously published in magazines because before Patchett was a novelist she was a journalist and a short story writer. Her big break came when she wrote a book review of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club and was hired to write non-fiction for Seventeen magazine. She has been writing for magazines ever since, The New Yorker, Harpers, Vogue, Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post mag and others.
Patchett included several new essays in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage as well and they are excellent. Patchett explains her writing life and gives new writers advice in her essay "The Getaway Car, A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life."
"If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it, put it away, write another story." pg 29.
Patchett's essays are deeply personal. In "The Sacrament of Divorce", she writes about how and why she left her first husband after one year of marriage. Her mother says that "the more lost you are, the later it got, the more you had invested in not being lost. That's why people who are lost so often keep heading in the same direction." pg 65 And stay in unhappy marriages.
Many of her essay's revolve around her books. In "The Best Seat in the House" Patchett discusses her love of opera and how that love was born during the time she was working on her novel, Bel Canto. In "Fact vs. Fiction" Patchett writes about her friendship with Lucy Grealy and both of their books, Autobiography of a Face and Truth and Beauty. These two books should be read as companion reads. (Incidentally, this is how I read them, back to back. First, I read Lucy's book and then Ann's. I read them several years ago and recommend them to my students all the time) In her essay, "The Love Between the Two Women", conservatives try to have her book, Truth and Beauty banned from being read by the freshman class of Clemson University in South Carolina.
Ann has not forgotten that many of her readers are bibliophiles and she recommends authors and books throughout her collection. In "The Bookstore Strikes Back" Patchett gives readers an essay on the bookstore she co-owns in Nashville called Parnassus books. Let me just say, I need to take a road-trip to Nashville to visit this bookstore.
I'm a big fan of Ann Patchett's writing. I have read her fiction, Bel Canto and State of Wonder, and her non-fiction, Truth and Beauty and now the collection of essays, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. I frankly, couldn't put this book down and did not want it to come to an end. The reading experience was like having your best friend in the room, telling you a story about their life, over a cup of tea. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage spoke to me and made me reexamine my life. I love this collection of essays. Yowsa, their good. Ann Patchett is a writing rockstar.
I think the best way to read this book is to limit yourself to one essay a day, that way you can savor the experience.