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'These Precious Days' showcases Ann Patchett’s storytelling prowess, one essay at a time

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Heidi Ross
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Ann Patchett is the author of 'These Precious Days'

In the introduction to her new book, Ann Patchett says novel-writing, at least for her, is accompanied by an unrelenting obsession with death. As a novel develops, the characters become part of her daily life.

“Everything that was still to come existed only in my head,” she explains. “I didn’t have outlines or notes, and because of that, I was hounded by the thought of stepping off a curb at the wrong moment, or drowning in the ocean.”

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Were she to die, she’d take the entire world of her novel with her, and she couldn’t bear the thought. But essays, she discovered… There was the loophole: “Imagination can be killed but facts are infinitely harder to snuff out.” And so she set about compiling “These Precious Days.”

And what a collection it is. At the center is the title essay, a moving account of Patchett’s unexpected friendship with Tom Hanks’s personal assistant, Sooki, who comes to live with the author for a short time in Nashville. This essay alone is worth the cover price, an exploration of love and friendship set in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other essays look at Patchett’s year without shopping, her youthful memories of Paris, the wonder of Eudora Welty, and the influence of Charles Shultz’s Snoopy on her writing life. She writes about knitting and typewriters and her struggle to buy into her husband’s love of flying. In “There Are No Children Here,” Patchett explains her early and unshakeable decision to remain child-free — and the varied reactions that has spawned.

Most of the essays in this collection were originally published elsewhere, in the New York Times, Harper’s Magazine and the like. You can easily dip in and out, one piece at a time. As a whole, though, it showcases Patchett’s keen observational skills and the storytelling prowess that made her famous.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Before coming to KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Eagle, where she covered schools and a variety of other topics. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.