These Precious Days: Essays

by Ann Patchett

Hardcover, 2021




Harper (2021), Edition: First Ed, 320 pages


Biography & Autobiography. Literary Criticism. Nonfiction. HTML: The beloved New York Times bestselling author reflects on home, family, friendships and writing in this deeply personal collection of essays. "The elegance of Patchett's prose is seductive and inviting: with Patchett as a guide, readers will really get to grips with the power of struggles, failures, and triumphs alike." �??Publisher's Weekly "Any story that starts will also end." As a writer, Ann Patchett knows what the outcome of her fiction will be. Life, however, often takes turns we do not see coming. Patchett ponders this truth in these wise essays that afford a fresh and intimate look into her mind and heart. At the center of These Precious Days is the title essay, a surprising and moving meditation on an unexpected friendship that explores "what it means to be seen, to find someone with whom you can be your best and most complete self." When Patchett chose an early galley of actor and producer Tom Hanks' short story collection to read one night before bed, she had no idea that this single choice would be life changing. It would introduce her to a remarkable woman�??Tom's brilliant assistant Sooki�??with whom she would form a profound bond that held monumental consequences for them both. A literary alchemist, Patchett plumbs the depths of her experiences to create gold: engaging and moving pieces that are both self-portrait and landscape, each vibrant with emotion and rich in insight. Turning her writer's eye on her own experiences, she transforms the private into the universal, providing us all a way to look at our own worlds anew, and reminds how fleeting and enigmatic life can be. From the enchantments of Kate DiCamillo's children's books (author of The Beatryce Prophecy) to youthful memories of Paris; the cherished life gifts given by her three fathers to the unexpected influence of Charles Schultz's Snoopy; the expansive vision of Eudora Welty to the importance of knitting, Patchett connects life and art as she illuminates what matters most. Infused with the author's grace, wit, and warmth, the pieces in These Precious Days resonate deep in the soul, leaving an indelible mark�??and demonstrate why Ann Patchett is one of the most celebrated writers of ou… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member jillrhudy
Lovely; sometimes brutally beautiful in its honesty. The book was very long for an essay collection and took me a month to get through. but I do believe many of these essays are truly great. Patchett is undoubtedly among America's greatest living writers.
LibraryThing member hardlyhardy
Death "has no interest in essays," Ann Patchett says early in “These Precious Days” (2021), her latest collection of personal essays. She explains that whenever she's writing a novel, she fears dying before she can finish it. No such fear troubles her mind when she's writing essays, they being
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short enough to finish before death becomes an issue.

Yet if death has no interest in essays, her essays often show an interest in death, even as focused as they are on the joy of living. The title essay, easily the longest in the book, tells of the close friendship she established with Sooki Raphael, who worked as an assistant for the actor Tom Hanks. She met Hanks while promoting his book “Uncommon Type” and through him met Sooki.

The two women exchanged emails, but the friendship developed only after Sooki was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Patchett's husband, a physician, suggested Sooki could get the most advanced treatment for her particular cancer in Nashville. Patchett offered her a room in their home near the Nashville hospital. Sooki said she would stay with them for a few days but ended up living with them for months because of two developments: their intense friendship and Covid. These days were precious to both women, in part because they both knew Sooki's disease would likely soon end in death. It did.

In "Three Fathers" she writes about her father and her two stepfathers, all now deceased, and the influence each of them had on her life. Elsewhere she tells us more about her father, the Los Angeles police detective who arrested Sirhan Sirhan after the Robert F. Kennedy assassination.

The essay "What the American Academy of Arts and Letters Taught Me about Death" tells of her acceptance into the academy, which has no more than 250 members at one time. In other words, one American writer must die before another can be accepted.

Other essays show a lighter touch. "My First Thanksgiving" tells about her being stuck at college one year at Thanksgiving and preparing her first Thanksgiving dinner from recipe books, inviting several other stranded students to share it with her.

"My Year of No Shopping" tells how she abandoned all non-essential shopping for an entire year and how this helped her appreciate what she already had — and allowed her to donate more money for the benefit of others.

"There Are No Children Here" explains her decision not to have children.

In "Sisters" she writes not about her sister, as you might expect, but her mother, who has always looked so youthful that people frequently have asked if she and her daughter were sisters. (My ever-youthful wife was often asked if she and her son were siblings, so I know how this can happen.)

These and the other fine essays in the book confirm the truth of Patchett's title, even if death does lurk in the background, seemingly uninterested.
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LibraryThing member pgchuis
I read some, skimmed some and gave up on this. I loved "This is the Story of a Happy Marriage', but couldn't get into these.
LibraryThing member JulieStielstra
I'll give it four stars because making me cry ups the score.

I have admired Patchett's writing greatly (Bel Canto) and bailed in deep disappointment (Commonwealth). I admire her bookstore venture (Parnassus Books in Nashville) and, here, her trenchant, humane, clear-eyed essays. I admire the fact
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that she knew from childhood that she wanted to be a writer, and never deviated from that path. I admire that she is a devoted dog lover. So I am the reader who will sit up, pay attention, stay patient when necessary, and read with an open heart and ready sympathy.

So I say to Ann Patchett: thank you for "There Are No Children Here," a litany of the condescending, mansplaining, maybe-well-intentioned-but-not-getting-it lectures about "what you're missing," "you'll change your mind," and "you'll be sorry if you don't." I desperately want to know who "Q" is, the male writer who admonished her at a book festival discussion: "You can't be a real writer if you don't have children." And it strikes her that she can "reach into this man's chest and pull out his heart in front of an audience. 'Emily Dickinson,' [she] said to him. 'Flannery O'Connor, James Baldwin, Eudora Welty, Henry James.'" You go, Ann!! (I would just add: Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, all the Brontes, Samuel Beckett, Paul Gallico, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Beatrix Potter, Kate DiCamillo... okay, I'll stop.) Some of us Just. Don't. Want. Them. There's nothing wrong with us, we DO know what we're doing, we are rational creatures capable to deciding our own lives, thank you very much, and what's it to you, anyway?!

I say thank you for the scathing and yet good-humored talk to the deans of graduate humanities programs about her years in academe: first, the attentive, encouraging support she got from the writing faculty at Sarah Lawrence as an undergrad: Allan Gurganus, Grace Paley, Russell Banks... ! Then on to the outrageously incompetent free-for-all that was the University of Iowa graduate program, to this day billed as the be-all-and-end-all of writing programs (and hopefully, improved from her time). I thank her for the wonderful survey - from both a writer's and a bookseller's point of view - of how book covers are chosen and designed. Nice to know I'm not the only one who shakes my head in despair over bad cover imagery, especially women with their heads or faces obscured or simply decapitated. (I feel lucky that my publisher agreed to use a gorgeous landscape photo taken by a friend of mine for my novel, Opulence, Kansas, as Patchett was able to have covers of her own choice by artist friends on hers.) And I thank her from the bottom of my heart for "How to Practice," about getting rid of "stuff." Clearing the closets, clearing the cupboards, clearing the cabinets of the detritus that reminds us of who we aren't really and who we never were, while acknowledging the power of those objects that do the opposite. How many other people are there who will weep over a typewriter? (I did.)

As is to be expected, other pieces are less successful, mostly because they simply go on too long. I had more than enough about her husband's passion for planes. Knitting, admittedly, is a difficult topic with which to fascinate people who aren't already in the fold. And for all the poignancy and love evinced in the title piece (and Patchett seems to have an extraordinary gift for deep, loyal, unselfish friendship), long pages of analysis of same can just be...too long, even when realistic and true to the experience.

Overall, a rich, enjoyable, and often moving collection of stories told by a serious, dedicated, often funny and earnest writer.
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LibraryThing member mzonderm
There is something for everyone in this collection, whether long-time Patchett fans, or those just introduced to her. Those who want a little insider’s look into her craft will enjoy the essay on cover art. There's an essay about her relationships with her father and stepfathers, an essay about
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her relationship with a close childhood friend, and essays about her love of the work of Eudora Welty and how she discovered Kate DiCamillo. There's an essay on how she never wanted to have children, some sections of which are several pages, although she packs as much punch into the sections that are a single paragraph or even a single sentence.

And many more.

And really, who else can pull off an essay about how Snoopy is her role model as a writer, teaching her valuable lessons about rejection letters and how a writer doesn’t need a fancy studio? Ann Patchett is a wonder.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.
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LibraryThing member Berly
Essays on everything from knitting, dogs, choosing cover art for her books, friendships and family to it's okay to not have children and so many more. Insightful, witty and poignant.
LibraryThing member Whisper1
Given to my from a dear friend as a gift, this is indeed a book to savor every essay. Some essays were long winded, and I had to struggle to get through them, and yet, it certainly was worth to wait to read a missive that literally took my breath away from the beautiful subject and incredible
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There are a few entries dealing with the loss of a parent of a very special friend, wherein she captured the emotions so very eloquently.

I believe this will be on of my top favorites of the year!
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LibraryThing member FormerEnglishTeacher
I had only read one of Patchett’s books, “The Dutch House” (2019) before reading “These Precious Days.” This, of course, is a book of essays while the previous book is a novel. Patchett’s essays are really well written (as was “The Dutch House”) and span many topics. Probably my
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favorite and the favorite, no doubt, of most readers, is the last, an essay from which the book gets its title. It is a tribute to her friend Sooki Raphael. In the words of the bard himself, “If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.” The essays are thoroughly enjoyable, even the sad ones. Patchett is a gifted writer, one who deserves to be on the pedestal of American letters where she resides.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
Sometimes I think Patchett's nonfiction is even better than her fiction. These essays reveal so much about her life and character that it's hard not to feel very emotionally involved with her. I particularly loved the chapters: My Year of No Shopping, Three Fathers, How Knitting Saved My Life.
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Twice, Cover Stories, and Eudora Welty an Introduction which pushed me to order The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty. But the title story, These Precious Days and also A Day at the Beach, nearly tore my heart out. Such a great collection.
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LibraryThing member gbelik
These are very enjoyabe,
very personal esssys. I feel like I know Ann Patchett…or I wish I did.
LibraryThing member bookchickdi
Ann Patchett’s book of essays These Precious Days compiles some of her best pieces of nonfiction writing where she asked herself “what mattered most in this precarious and precious life.” The first essay, “Three Fathers” is a beautiful homage to the men her mother married, including her
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own father, and recalls what each brought to her life. She shares a lovely photo of her with the men at a family wedding in 2005, shortly before she began to lose them.

In “Flight Plan”, Ann relays her doctor-husband’s love of piloting his plane, and how even though she worries when he takes off, she knows how much joy it brings to his life. The title essay, “These Precious Days” is the best of the book. Ann met Tom Hanks’ assistant Sooki at an event and was drawn to her right away.

Sooki had a serious illness, and one of the medical trials for her condition was taking place in Nashville, where Ann lived. Ann’s husband was able to get Sooki into the trial, and Ann insisted Sooki stay with them during the trial. Shortly after Sooki arrived the pandemic hit, and she ended up staying with Ann for much longer than expected. Sooki staying with Ann and her husband changed their lives, and this essay is one of the most moving I have ever read.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
I have come to enjoy Ann Patchett's essays more than her fiction. Simply written, these read like individual vignettes from her life, filtered through her lovely mind & spirit. A very nice read!
LibraryThing member bookworm12
A completely delightful collection of essays. Patchett’s writing style always resonates with me and this book reminded me why she’s one of my favorite authors. From wry reflections on her three fathers to flying with her husband to finding value in her life in letters, I loved this one.
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“Curiosity is the rock upon which fiction is built.”

“She had managed to peel off other people’s expectations in order to see what a life that was entirely her own would look like.”

“I promote the books I love tirelessly, because a book can so easily get lost in the mad shuffle of the world and it needs someone with a loud voice to hold it up and praise it. I am that person. As every reader knows, the social contract between you and the book you love is not complete until you can hand that book to someone else and say, Here, you are going to love this.”
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LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
I just finished These Precious Days: Essays and loved it which was a surprise since I didn't like it at first. Sometimes our favorite fiction writers aren't all that interesting in nonfiction, plus she has great respect for the Catholic religion or for practitioners of it. My Year of No Shopping
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didn't really apply to most of us since, as Patchett says, she's rich. She has so much accumulated stuff that she doesn't need to shop for more. She doesn't even need to get a new dress for an extra special occasion since she has lots of extra special dresses. But that wasn't the one that got me - The Worthless Servant was. In fact, I came very close to abandoning the book after this nonsense about faith and self-sacrifice. But, it's Ann Patchett, so I continued and loved the rest of the book, and was inspired and uplifted by it. The woman knows how to do friendship.
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LibraryThing member jphamilton
When I had a little over one hundred pages of These Precious Days left, I never wanted to stop reading it, yet, I also didn’t want it to ever end—the quandary of a great book that connects strongly with the reader. Erdrich’s The Sentence and these essays by Patchett are easily my favorite
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books of the year. For a longtime bookseller like myself, it just might be that they are both centered around independent bookstores, but the strong, beautiful writing in both is grand for booksellers and “civilians” alike. If I could, I would be forcing them on you to read. The funny and tender moments between people and especially couples in both books, reached deep into my heart and warmed it so.

On the power and importance of certain essays, Patchett wrote, “It wasn’t until I wrote the title essay, “These Precious Days,” that I realized I would have to put a book together. That essay was so important to me that I wanted to build a solid shelter for it.”

I so enjoyed the book’s title essay about taking Steve Martin’s multi-talented assistant, Sooki, into her home while she was in town for treatments for her pancreatic cancer. Patchett said this about it all, “It wasn’t until I wrote the title essay, “These Precious Days,” that I realized I would have to put a book together. That essay was so important to me that I wanted to build a solid shelter for it.” Patchett had started communicating with her while setting up an event where Patchett interviewed Martin on stage. When Ann tells her husband Karl (a leading doctor in Nashville), about Sooki’s condition, he gets her into a research study and Ann offers to put her up indefinitely. They have a three-story house with plenty of rooms and they are constantly offering a room to visiting friends, relatives, and writers for events.

Then the pandemic came and extended her stay. By the time a jet was available, months later, they were referring to each other as sisters. They talked, cooked, and did meditation and yoga together twice each day. During the shutdown, Karl was home from working in the hospital, and the three of them became quite close. As for how long Sooki would stay, it was always left at, “for as long as it takes.” Sooki would try to give them money for their generosity, but Patchett simply said “Don’t do that.”

“She kept saying she wanted to be the one to help me for a change. But all Sooki did was help me. She was the magnet in the compass. The very fact of her existence in our house kept me on track.” Later, Tom Hanks wrote that, “Sooki is all that is good in the world.’” Patchett does mention at one point, that the life around a writer is always potential material, and this essay proves that.

Patchett tells of one quiet moment with her house guest. “We were standing in the kitchen in the late afternoon, the time before dinner and between two yoga practices. ‘I like myself here,’ she said softly.” And when plans are in the works for Sooki to finally return to her family, she says, “’I’m afraid that if I leave, I’ll never see you again.” While I was reading the book, I dreaded the following information, Sooki Raphael died on April 25, 2021.

Patchett seems so very kind and human in all she writes, yet, I still always think of her as a stiff, but well-mannered Southern lady, but what do I know? She is quick, smart, funny, caring, and kind. So many of Patchett’s essays are wonderful and moving. Any of them that touch on literature and having a bookstore were things of beauty for any lover of bookstores. I found it impossible to not think about my late wife while reading her words.

The Peanuts comic strip is used by Patchett to explain about being a writer. “Snoopy taught me that I would be hurt and I would get over it. He walked me through the publishing process: being thrilled by acceptance, ignoring reviews, and then having the dream of bestsellerdom dashed: ‘It’s from your publisher,’ Charlie Brown tells Snoopy. ‘They’ve printed one copy of your novel. / It says they haven’t been able to sell it. / They say they’re sorry. Your book is now out of print.’”

Reflecting on being a bookstore owner, Patchett was on the exact same page as my late wife and I. “That’s what owning a bookstore has been like for me: it reminded me of what I loved about graduate school. It made me realize that I could use the tools I’d been given in ways I never knew they could work. I’ve made a soft place for an ever-expanding group of friends and strangers to come and exclaim and argue over books.” As well as when she says, “So many possibilities can arise as a result of intelligence, education, curiosity, and hard work.” I did notice that she made no mention of financial success or woes, but that has more to do with my history and what ended our bookstore’s 22-year history, and took us away from the best jobs we ever had.

I’m sorry that this is such a poor excuse for a book review, but my emotions and the connection I felt to Patchett’s writing was so very intense, that a complete and objective review just isn’t in the cards.
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LibraryThing member bell7
Ann Patchett's latest collects 23 essays, many which were previously published (sometimes in a slightly different version), in a lovely rumination on life, love, and friendship.

It was, quite simply, a delight to read through these personal essays. I enjoy Patchett's writing style, simple yet often
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beautiful or profound. My favorite essay was "The worthless servant," which was a beautiful homage to a priest who served the poor and homeless. The title essay, "These precious days" was the longest but so worth the read, as she reflected on how she became close to Sooki (who just so happened to be Tom Hanks's assistant) during her cancer treatment. Reflective, lovely prose that made me smile and cry by turns.
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LibraryThing member Hccpsk
Essay collections by famous authors can be tricky as they often collect a lot of older works and put them all together to sell as new. These Precious Days by Ann Patchett definitely has some previously published older essays, but for me, the wonder of the new writing far outweighs the annoyance of
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this, and Patchett is almost always worth re-reading anyway. The last group of stories about her friend, Sooki, was worth the price of the book three times over. I listened to the audio, and Patchett reads the book herself which just adds to the pleasure. A huge recommendation to anyone who likes essays, Ann Patchett, or just enjoys great writing on any level.
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LibraryThing member viviennestrauss
I listened to the audio version (read by the author) while I worked - thoroughly enjoyable!
LibraryThing member msf59
"Paying close attention to the text, and realizing that books can save you, those were the lessons I learned my freshman year of college when school was closed. I then went on to use this newfound understanding to great advantage for the rest of my life. Books were not just my education and my
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entertainment, they were my partners. They told me what I was capable of. They let me stare a long way down the path of various possibilities so that I could make decisions."

“How other people live is pretty much all I think about. Curiosity is the rock upon which fiction is built.”

“As every reader knows, the social contract between you and a book you love is not complete until you can hand that book to someone else and say, Here, you’re going to love this.”

I adore Ann Patchett. Her last essay collection, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage was excellent. She returns to this format here, after writing a couple of novels and delivers a bullseye once again. Her writing is beautiful and insightful and draws the reader in, no matter how mundane the subject matter is. A book pal (Bonnie) recently commented that Patchett may be a better nonfiction writer. This is arguable but what is not, is that she is a helluva writer. This is also a terrific audiobook experience, with Patchett narrating herself.
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LibraryThing member niaomiya
This lovely collection of essays was like having a conversation with a friend. Ann Patchett has lived such an interesting life, and all the people close to her have also lived interesting lives. The intersections produce stories that are humorous, touching, thought-provoking, and always deeply
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personal. The way Patchett describes something as simple as knitting or cleaning out the house makes me want to -- well, learn to knit and go clean out my house. LOL I truly enjoyed this gem of a book.
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LibraryThing member muddyboy
A series of great essays by an author who is at the top of her game. She covers a wde variety f topics that include her family, her education and writing career. The must important essay and titled the same as the book itself is about her close friendship with a woman who when she met her was Tom
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Hanks' personal assistant. (Sooki) This essay deals with Sooki's terminal illness and their joint journey navigating "These Precious Days).A worthy homage.
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LibraryThing member Castlelass
Collection of twenty-four essays on such diverse topics as Patchett’s three fathers, literature, travel, disease, friendship, art, marriage, death, hobbies, and more. She weaves in observations about daily activities. I particularly enjoyed the piece on her decision to not have children, and the
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various responses and unsolicited advice she receives. The primary set piece of this collection is the title essay, where she tells of picking up Tom Hanks’s book (the short story collection Uncommon Type), and how that one decision led to a deep friendship with his assistant, Sooki, who ended up staying at her house during the pandemic while she obtained cancer treatments. She wrote these pieces during the pandemic, saying “death has no interest in essays.” They are not just random writings. They are connected through themes of life, death, and love. She writes of death without being morbid. Patchett comes across as observant, sincere, and interested in others. This collection is worth reading.
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
Now and then I will pick up a book of short stories and skim through it, but seldom do I read every story. Ann Patchett’s collection of personal stories is the exception, The short story that represents the title comes near the end. It’s about an effervescent woman with pancreatic cancer who
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lives with them during the pandemic as she seeks out trials to put the cancer into emission. Patchett’s ability to write about her own experiences and make them meaningful to the reader is superb. Anyone who loves Kate DiCamillo’s children’s books as much as I do and encourages adults to read them is my kind of person
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LibraryThing member carolfoisset
I am a fan of Ann Patchett, I love her fiction books but I think I love her non-fiction even more! Both of her essay books and Truth and Beauty are some of my all time favorites. Highly recommend this book!
LibraryThing member lauralkeet
I’m an Ann Patchett fan, having read most of her work over the years, so I didn’t think twice about reading her latest essay collection. Patchett writes with self-awareness and candor, comfortable both exploring emotions and standing up for her beliefs. Every reader will be affected by this
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collection, with some essays having greater impact than others.

The first essay, Three Fathers, is a lovely tribute to the three men her mother married. First Thanksgiving was a delightful look back at Patchett’s first year of college, in which she was one of only a few students spending the Thanksgiving holiday at school. Eudora Welty, an Introduction inspired me to immediately buy Welty’s Collected Stories for my Kindle. Patchett also writes about how knitting helped her through difficult times, and reluctance to preserve her body of work. Some essays provide a behind-the-scenes look at her career and her craft.

But the most powerful essay by far is the title piece, which explores Patchett’s friendship with Sooki Raphael. The two met when Sooki worked for Tom Hanks, and began a correspondence that blossomed into friendship. When Sooki came to Nashville for medical treatment, there was no question she would stay with Ann and her husband, Karl. This was early 2020, and lockdown measures suddenly meant Sooki would be staying with them indefinitely. For some people this would be very stressful, but in this case the time spent together had a profound impact on both women. The book’s epilogue is a moving denouement to their story, and is a fitting way to conclude this outstanding collection.
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Kirkus Prize (Finalist — Nonfiction — 2022)
Australian Book Industry Awards (Shortlist — 2022)
BookTube Prize (Octofinalist — Nonfiction — 2022)


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