I have read both Commonwealth and The Dutch House, two of Patchett’s NY Times bestsellers, so I had been exposed to her expertise as a novelist. Imagine my great pleasure to discover she is equally adept as an essayist. This large print edition’s cover, published in 2009 caught my eye at the local library. I took it home, and put it on my bedside shelf. The painting of the dog, with its post-impressionistic connotations, made me curious about the artist, whom was written about in the title essay, ” These Precious Days.” Had it been a short story, I would argue it was a novelette, judging from its length. However, it is non-fiction, reflecting a true experience of the author; so instead, it is a very long essay.
“Precious Days” chronicles the author’s friendship with a publicist/assistant of Tom Hanks named Sookie, who came to live with Patchett and her husband as she took on exhausting cancer treatments at a hospital in their town. The friendship that grew between the two women, actually, the three adults, was nothing short of amazing. And anyone would have liked to become a friend of the creative, courageous, paragon of a positive attitude as was Sookie. I was so relieved that Sookie was alive at the end of the essay (although her death date is given in the Epilogue) that I wanted to shout, “Way to go, girl!”
My second two favorites were “Eudora Welty, an Introduction” written for The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, published in 1980, when Welty was 71. Interestingly enough, Patchett had met Welty as a young girl at a reading, at which Welty signed one of her books for her precocious reader, Patchett.
I also enjoyed “There Are No Children Here,” which recounts how Patchett appeared on the same platform as a fellow, unnamed author who contended that until one had children, they’d never experienced love. Because I wanted to be a teacher more than I wanted to be a mother, and felt I couldn’t do both and do them well, I chose not to have children, so, of course, I cheered Patchett on when she disagreed and said, ” …I have to tell you, people without children have known love , and we are [real] writers.” I couldn’t agree more.
This particular book of essays was nice for “picking up and putting down,” sporadic reading. I found myself reading an essay or two, then devouring a whole novel, or watching episodes of Netflix series in between essays. The structure of this collection was conducive to this, and it made for a variety of reading sessions for the four weeks I kept it from circulating at the library. It is a fine collection of literary essays by a fine writer, one of my new favorites–Ann Patchett.