About 13 years ago I read “Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett. I did not like it very much, although I can’t remember why. At some point I need to go back and re-read it because everyone else I know who read it loves it. A few years later I read an interview with her, and I thought that she sounded like someone I wanted to be friends with, so even though I didn’t like “Bel Canto,” I decided to go back and read her first book “The Patron Saint of Liars.” I am so glad I gave her another try. I also loved “Truth and Beauty” and “Run” – and my esteem for her continues to grow.
Her latest publication “This is the Story of A Happy Marriage” is a collection of 22 personal essays that were published in Outside, Gourmet, Atlantic Monthly, Harpers, NY York Times, and more. Every single story in this book is a gem. She writes about writing, marriage, divorce, the slow death of her grandmother, dogs, owning a bookstore, her love of a nun, Nashville, trying out for the policy academy, opera, and censorship. She obviously thought very carefully about what stories to include in this collection because not one of them is a dud. They are the kind of stories that you could read over and over. Each one of them spoke to me.
In my favorite essay in the collection, “The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life,” Patchett discusses her road to getting published and how she has supported herself as a writer since she graduated from college. She dispenses so much honest, down-to-earth, practical information in this essay. Part of me has always wished that I had applied for an M.F.A. program instead of getting an MA in English, but she confirmed my practical decision (where we went into no debt for my degree). She writes: “my most empathetic piece of advice regarding whether or not to attend an M.F.A program has to do with money: no one should go into debt to study creative writing. It’s simply not worth it. Do not think of it as an investment in yourself that you’ll be able to recoup later on…” Patchett knows that writing requires work, talent, AND luck.
Patchett is friends with Elizabeth Gilbert, which is pretty cool. She loves dogs, which is even better. But, perhaps the most awesome part about her is that she OWNS a bookstore. When all of the bookstores in Nashville closed, Patchett and a business partner opened a small independent bookstore. She writes blog posts on the bookstore webpage and they are full of great reading recommendations. In the essay “The Bookstores Strikes Back” she describes the unpredictable way that she ended up opening a bookstore. I so appreciate how she reminds her readers to shop at stores that you truly support. She writes:
But my luck has made me believe that changing the course of the corporate world is possible. Amazon doesn’t get to make all the decisions; the people can make them by how and where they spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read a book. This is how we change the world: we grab hold of it. We change ourselves.
Our money is our voice and that is how we can make a difference…which is why I don’t shop at Walmart.
Random, surprising fact I learned reading these essays – Patchett had a relationship with David Foster Wallace. He got around…Ann Patchett, Mary Karr, Elizabeth Wurtzel. I just finished reading about the Karr/Wallace relationship in “Lit” and Patchett (briefly) describes her relationship with him in “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.” Wallace’s essay “This is Water” remains one of the best things I have ever read, but whenever I read descriptions about him he sounds like someone I would not want to be around.
Odds and Ends:
- If you listen to podcasts make sure to check out the interview that Ann Patchett did with Teri Gross on Fresh Air.
- I think I may be the only person on the planet who did not read the Harry Potter series. Not sure why I never read them…Last week, I finished listening to JK Rowling’s novel “The Casual Vacancy” on CD. It is full of miserable people, set in the countryside of England, and will keep you turning the pages to see what happens next.
- For fun reading about authors check out the Daily Beast’s How I Write series. Super fun and interesting facts about all the writers I love. Margaret Atwood and Barbara Kingsolver are my 2 favorites interviews…of course.