A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
The story that novelist Ann Patchett tells about the origins of this book is that an assistant was given the task of organizing her papers, which included many essays she had written over the years. While sorting through them, the assistant told her that there was a book in those essays, and this book was born.
This is a collection of essays that have appeared in Vogue, Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, and a host of other publications, and as a group they add up to a kind of memoir of Patchett’s writing and personal life. She speaks of her desire to become a writer from a very young age, her education from grade school on, and the many people with whom she studied, including Grace Paley and Russell Banks. She describes her early jobs writing about widely varying non-fiction topics for several magazines including Seventeen and Gourmet (easy), followed by her decision to try her hand at writing novels (hard).
We learn about her mother’s decision to move the family to Nashville when she divorced Ann’s father in California, and Ann’s relationship with her LAPD father when she became an adult and tried out for the police academy, just to see if she could make it and to write about the experience. She describes her first brief marriage and decision to never marry again, then the long and bumpy road that led to her current happy marriage. We get to meet her beloved dog Rose, and the nun who was a despised grade school teacher until she became a close friend. We hear about her opening of the Parnassus bookstore in Nashville when the other booksellers in the area closed.
I loved every single one of these essays. I heard Ann Patchett speak at a library convention last summer, and listened to an interview with her on Bob Edwards Weekend on public radio regarding this book. I have only read one of Ann Patchett’s novels (Bel Canto), but I will definitely be reading more now that I feel I know her so well.
Reviewed by Nancy