Biography & Autobiography. Literary Criticism. Nonfiction. HTML: A Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick "I had been so engaged by Ann Patchett's multifaceted story, so lured in by her confiding voice, that I forgot I was on the job. [...] As the best personal essays often do, Patchett's is a two-way mirror, reflecting both the author and her readers." â?? New York Times Book Review Blending literature and memoir, New York Times bestselling author Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder, Run, and Bel Canto, examines her deepest commitmentsâ??to writing, family, friends, dogs, books, and her husbandâ??creating a resonant portrait of a life in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage takes us into the very real world of Ann Patchett's life. Stretching from her childhood to the present day, from a disastrous early marriage to a later happy one, it covers a multitude of topics, including relationships with family and friends, and charts the hard work and joy of writing, and the unexpected thrill of opening a bookstore. As she shares stories of the people, places, ideals, and art to which she has remained indelibly committed, Ann Patchett brings into focus the large experiences and small moments that have shaped her as a daughter, wife, and wri
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These essays are highly personal, and collectively describe a life with all of its ups and downs. Patchett discusses her writing career, her romantic and family relationships, her dog, the decision to open a bookstore, and her friendship with Lucy Grealy (covered in depth in Patchett's memoir, Truth and Beauty).
Many times, an essay took hold of me, prompting anything from nodding in agreement to outrage to tears. I couldn't possibly mention every one of these moments. One that stood out was her 2007 piece about her 2006 appearance at Clemson University. Truth and Beauty was assigned reading for the incoming freshman class, to the outrage of many parents and alumni who wrongly deemed it pornographic. Patchett endured their public shaming, and to its credit the university did not cancel their invitation for her to address the class. Her powerful address, "The Right to Read," follows her essay about these events. The final essay in this collection, "The Mercies," is about an aging nun and at first seemed out of place. But as I turned the final page, I realized it was a perfect way to end this book while leaving room for more books like this in the future.
Some of these essays originally appeared in some form in various magazines: Atlantic Monthly, Audible, Gourmet, Granta, Harper's, New York Times, Vogue, and the Washington Post Magazine. Others were written for a venue with this collection also in mind.
Actually, I'm hard pressed to pick favorites from her essays since I found strong points in each one. They all deal with commitments, whether it is to a spouse or a dog or a grandmother or a state or a vocation or an idea. But what all of these essays excel at is tutoring and illustrating how it should be done for would-be-writers. All of these essays are just as compelling as any short story and prove the point that a good writer can write about the ordinariness of everyday life, like caring for a loved one, and make it interesting, honest, and poetic.
All of these essays have something to say. The writing is outstanding... simply superlative. Patchett is able to accurately describe scenes and people in such an extraordinary way that you will feel a connection to the writing. While this is a collection of essays, in many ways it also functions as a memoir, an incredibly literary and beautifully rendered memoir with insightful vignettes and heart-felt disclosures.
Fans of Patchett's fiction should do themselves a favor and purchase this collection asap.
To Patchett I just want to say: Thank you for giving me a small glimpse of some of the things composting in your humus. The brief scenes and insight you chose to share have widened my perspective of your work and given me an even greater appreciation of your talent.
Very Highly Recommended
Nonfiction, an Introduction explains the fact that a writer has to earn a living too. It covers how Patchett not only paid her dues as a freelance nonfiction writer, but also how this helped her become a better writer.
How to Read a Christmas Story is a recollection of various Christmas memories and her first happy Christmas
The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life - is another great essay for those who want to be writers. Two thoughts to share:
"I am a compost heap, and everything I interact with, every experience I've had, gets shoveled onto the heap where it eventually mulches down, is digested and excreted by worms, and rots. It's from that dark, rich humus, the combination of what you encountered, what you know and what you've forgotten, that ideas start to grow." (pg 41)
"I believe in keeping several plots going at once. The plot of a novel should be like walking down a busy city street.... All manner of action and movement is rushing toward you and away. But that isn't enough.... Many writers feel that plot is passe' - they're so over plot, who needs plot? - to which I say: Learn how to construct one first, and then feel free to reject it." (pg. 48)
The Sacrament of Divorce is about her very short, first marriage. "Honey, I know. Things happen that you never thought were possible." (pg. 65)
The Paris Match - is about a trip to Paris and a word game.
This Dog's Life - is the story of how she found her dog, Rose.
In The Best Seat in the House she explains how she satisfies her love of opera.
My Road to Hell Was Paved is about renting a Winnebago to explore RVing in the American West for an article.
In Tennessee she reflects on some of her experiences living in the state.
On Responsibility is about caring for her dog and her grandmother.
The Wall is about the time Patchettt went through the written and physical tests to try out for the police academy in Los Angeles.
Fact vs. Fiction is the Miami University of Ohio Convocation Address of 2005.
In My Life in Sales Patchett reflects on going out on book tours to sell her novels.
"The Love Between the Two Women Is Not Normal" discusses a protest at Clemson University over Patchett's nonfiction book Truth and Beauty, a memoir about her friendship with writer Lucy Grealy.
The Right to Read is the Clemson Freshman Convocation Address of 2006.
Do Not Disturb discusses Pachett checking into the Hotel Bel-Air for some peace and quiet in order to get some work done.
Introduction to The Best American Short Stories 2006 (self-explanatory)
Love Sustained is a moving tribute to her grandmother.
The Bookstore Strikes Back explains how Patchett came to be co-owner of an independent bookstore in Nashville, Parnassus Books.
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage is the story of her family history of failed marriages in comparison to her now successful relationship.
In Our Deluge, Drop by Drop, Patchett reflects on flooding.
In Dog without End she is faced with her faithful companion Rose's decline in health.
In The Mercies Patchett helps Sister Nena, a Sister of Mercy and former teacher, move into an apartment by herself for the first time at age 78.
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from HarperCollins for review purposes.
It takes a long time to unlearn the engrained habits of youth. Fortunately, Ann Patchettâ€™s personality does gradually begin to emerge. This makes the final quarter of the collection, which is arranged in order of publication, much more satisfying than the first quarter. Fans of Ann Patchett will be more than satisfied, since her life is certainly one worth telling, worth re-telling, and even perhaps worth inventing. I thoroughly enjoyed the long essay whose title is used for the collection as a whole. In another, I was struck by the poignant scene at the funeral of Eudora Welty when Weltyâ€™s elderly relations use Annâ€™s attendance (whom they do not know) as evidence for younger Welty relations that the recently deceased was indeed someone famous. For those of us curious about the practicalities of the writing life, there is much here, including insights into â€śBook Tourâ€ť which Patchett presents unarticled, not unlike â€śFight Clubâ€ť I suppose. And these days, the story of how Ann Patchett became perhaps the most famous independent bookstore owner in America has become, literally, front page news, which is here laid out in all its particulars.
None of these essays is overly challenging. Each is competently written. And some, the best of them, begin to evoke what the anxious reader might hope is a bit of the personal aura of Ann Patchett. Gently recommended.
This is a collection of essays written over the past decade or so with most of them published elsewhere. Most of them are memoir material, having to do with growing up as a child of
Having read several of her novels, I was interested in hearing more about how the author thinks, reads, and approaches writing. I was not disappointed. I gave it 4 stars.
These essays were originally written for various publications as a way for Patchett to support herself while she wrote novels, and that may have given them their clear voice. Patchett reflects, "The job of these essays had been to support art, not to be art, but maybe that was what spared them from self-consciousness." Patchett convinced me that writing about it is a good way to see a life clearly, as she does with her relationship with her husband:
"There are always those perfect times with the people we love, those moments of job and equality that sustain us later on. I am living that time with my husband now. I try to study our happiness so that I will be able to remember it in the future, just in case something happens and we find ourselves in need."
This is a beautiful collection of essays. Highly recommended!
The title essay is also very good, the story of Patchettâ€™s two, very different, marriages. There are several essays about writing and literature, and those I liked, particularly one about going on book tours. Her essay on giving a convocation speech at Clemson University over the protests of students and parents who found her book Truth and Beauty offensive is very good. Overall, Patchettâ€™s voice is engaging, and she seems like a fascinating, vibrant person. Iâ€™ll admit I felt some disappointment at times, especially with some of the less personal essays where Patchettâ€™s own history and personality is not the focus, but I also felt this way about the collection as a whole. I wanted more depth, more complexity, more that felt surprising. The essays were solid, but not revelatory. Ultimately, although this is a strong collection, I felt that Patchett is best as a novelist.
Almost all of the essays in the book have been previously published in a wide variety of magazines, which might lead you to think that there is no unifying thread to the works but you'd be far wide of the mark. No matter how diverse the subject matter appears to be, each of the essays adds a small piece to the puzzle of who Ann Patchett is as a person. It might seem odd to suggest that there are snippets of bared soul in essays like living in an RV or trying out to enter the LA Police Academy, and less odd to suggest that additional private glimpses come through in essays about her love for her small, found dog, her relationship with her failing grandmother, and her friendship with an aging nun who once taught her in school, but all of them, as well as the rest of the essays, are equally personal and revealing in weaving the story of her life.
The essays are linked by the importance of commitment and relationship and explore the things about which Patchett cares deeply. She addresses marriage and divorce, the parent child relationship, the power and disappointment of writing, and the negative reaction to Truth and Beauty, her beautiful ode to her late friend Lucy Grealy. Most of the pieces are short; they were written for magazines originally, after all. But the length is immaterial given the heart that shines through them in this uniformly strong collection. Patchett doesn't present only the heartwarming and positive in her experience but she chronicles the real and the difficult and the not so pretty, the arguments and the failings and the less than admirable moments that make up a real person. And in compiling the collection she has, she has made herself accessible to her readers in a new and different way. You'll close the cover to these stories feeling as if you'd be privileged to be Patchett's friend.
â€śThis is the Story of a Happy Marriageâ€ť gave me a chance to see behind the curtain, to see more of the person behind the words. Many of the essays are about Patchettâ€™s life, and all of them involve her in one way or another. I liked them almost as much as I adore her fiction â€“ possibly because she does not hold back when the subject matter calls for brutal honesty. The reader learns about her first marriage (and her divorce), her relationship with her grandmother, her relationship with her dog (both of which are beautiful and heartbreaking), and about some of the most difficult times of her life.
There is also the added benefit of getting a taste of her sense of humor. She is funny and self-deprecating and isnâ€™t afraid to let the reader see her at less than her best. The stories about her week-long trip in a motor home, her experience taking the qualifying tests for the LAPD police academy are funny and fascinating.
And yet, the sections I enjoyed the most were the ones about writing. About her love for, frustration with and passion surrounding her craft. For one who always dreamed of being a writer, who went to college to study creative writing and one who loves books, this was almost akin to learning the secrets of a master magician â€“ without any resulting disillusionment.
â€śThis book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life. It is the greatest novel in the history of literature, and I have thought it up, and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see.â€ť
â€śAnd so I do. When I canâ€™t think of another stall, when putting it off has actually become more painful than doing it, I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. Itâ€™s not that I want to kill it, but itâ€™s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page.â€ť
And: â€śItâ€™s a wonderful thing to find a great teacher, but we also have to find him or her at a time in life when weâ€™re able to listen to and trust and implement the lessons we are given. The same is true of the books we read. I think that what influences us in literature comes less from what we love and more from what we happen to pick up in moments we are especially open.â€ť
All of these fascinating, beautifully written, emotionally honest essays were a delight to read. And last but certainly not least? Reading about an author who then buys and promotes an independent bookstore (every readerâ€™s dream â€“ come on!) when the two big bookstores in her town close? Icing on the delicious and well-crafted cake.
Ann's deliciously complex marriage is the subject of the longest story and maybe the best. Everything here is grade A+++ choice. Don't miss it.
I've never wanted to truly meet and know an artist/writer before, but I would love to be able to be a friend to this exceptionally-talented lady. she has lived a life on her terms and her essays in this wonderful book give each of us courage to continue our life's path, even with detours and sharp turns.
Most of these articles were published in various magazines (Atlantic Monthly, Wall Street Journal, etc.) over the years, but all of them were new to me. She also included a few new pieces to round out the book. She spent years making ends meet with her freelance work for magazine and that experience is evident in the structure of the essays. They flow smoothly, each one a self-contained piece that stands on its own, but also adds to the neat arch through her life that the book traces.
One of my favorites was a piece on her bookstore Parnassus in Nashville. I had the opportunity to visit it last year and I loved hearing more about the history of its creation. I also loved her pieces about her dog Rose. As a dog lover itâ€™s easy to immediately relate to those.
BOTTOM LINE: Each essay offered the reader another glimpse into the writerâ€™s world. I donâ€™t know if I would have loved it so much if I wasnâ€™t already a huge fan, but I am, so this was a treat all the way through.
The best ones for me were "The Getaway Car," which was about writing, and "The Wall," which was about her attempt at the tests for the LAPD police academy. An odd thing happened while I was listening to the various essays, though, and that is that I began to like Ms. Patchett less and less. I can't point to exactly why that is, although her references to her long-time boyfriend/eventual husband seemed so unemotional that they were offputting. Also, her essay about her friend, writer Lucy Grealy (subject of Patchett's book Truth and Beauty, which I haven't read) just struck me as odd at points. In searching around for more information on the book, I found out that Grealy's family was not entirely happy that Patchett wrote that book, or with the timing and contents thereof.
So I guess what I'm trying to say is that by the end of the audiobook, I was listening with a certain amount of distance I didn't have at the beginning. I'm sure Patchett would be a great companion for dinner, but I don't know that I'd want to spend much more time with her than that. However, her advice about being a writer (which applies to any creative field, and probably to a lot of others as well) is spot-on and well-stated. It boils down to: Sit. Write, or don't, but don't get up or do anything else until you've written something or decided that you're not going to write.
That being said, there are other signs of nobility in her steadfast care of her grandmother, and her acute talent for friendships. The last chapter I read aloud to my husband. It is one of those passages that will stay with both of us, I think.
I read Richard Russo's "Elsewhere," and I came away liking him better as a person. Not so much with this book, though it confirmed her amazing skill as a writer. And in a way it gives the lie to the belief of her college professor. I am not sure I see her as a good person but she is a most formidable writer.