These Precious Days by Ann Patchett
3 words: warm, lyrical, heartfelt
Ann Patchett is my favorite author, so of course I was going to read her essay collection. Not only do I adore Ann, I adore essays. And when you combine the two, you’ve basically got the world’s most perfect book.
And I can confirm: These Precious Days may be the world’s most perfect book.
(…after Run, which is officially my favorite novel of all time. In this new essay collection, Patchett shares the inspiration for Run, which completely expanded the size of my heart.)
From the very first essay, I was sharing details with my loved ones — telling them how Ann feels vulnerable when carrying around fictional characters inside her before they’re published. And so she wrote essays during this awful pandemic time. I’m so grateful she did.
The second essay (I promise I won’t cover every single one) will stay with me for a long time, too. It’s about her three fathers — her biological father and her two stepfathers. The way she writes about the group photo she coordinated with all three of them made me smile, and her stories about each of them gave me that warm, sad, good feeling.
And she writes about her work, and her mentors, and the way she’s devoted to making sure her book covers are exactly the way she wants (and why). She writes about her lack of sentimentality about her early work and her potential archives, and she writes about her bookstore. She writes about her love for dogs.
But most poignantly, she writes about friendship. She’s written about this before – in Truth and Beauty – the memoir about her friendship with writer Lucy Grealy. And here she writes about other meaningful friendships – with her lifelong friend Talia, and with her new friend Sooki.
Her friendship with Sooki — the topic of the title essay — is the one that devastated me. Ann writes about the way she picked up the ARC of Tom Hanks’ book Uncommon Type, read it, loved it, blurbed it, and then was invited to interview Tom Hanks. That’s where she met Sooki (who worked as Tom’s assistant) — and the two became close email friends. And then Sooki was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
That’s where it hit me in the gut. Pancreatic cancer killed my own sweet, dear, stealthy-strong, one-in-twenty-trillion mom, and it’s an evil demonic beast of a thing. At its mere mention, I go weak in the knees and also grow killer fangs; I feel like I’m going to pass out, but not before I do some fierce damage to try to defend someone against this murderous force.
So Sooki had this awful diagnosis, and Ann sprung into action because she could. Her husband Karl is a doctor, and he connected Sooki with a clinical trial, and Sooki moved in with Ann and Karl during her treatments. Near strangers, but not strangers at all. It’s a remarkable thing how kindred spirits find one another and connect.
Light in the midst of darkness — that’s what this book is about. Doing every doggone thing you can, even when it might not be enough to bring about the outcome you really want. Fighting the good fight, and doing with with the biggest, fiercest, most beautiful love.
It broke my heart. Then it put it back together again. I can’t think about it without crying. If someone had told me, “There’s pancreatic cancer in this book,” I think (I know) I would’ve shied away. I’m glad I didn’t.
Reading this book made me feel like the world is not such a horrible place, because there are such fine humans living here.
Give this book a whirl if you like: sparkling essays, lyrical writing, insight into a writer’s life, stories of wonderful friendship, being a good human