Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
It is no wonder that this latest book by Ann Patchett has inspired unanimous praise and enthusiastic responses from those who have read this as a ‘hugely enjoyable conversation with a particularly brilliant friend.’ She is one of the current 250 members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and deservedly is ranked as one of the nation’s finest living writers.
These Precious Days is an unforgettable testament to her skill and wonderful humanity in depicting the extraordinary and sometimes the mundane in our lives. It is a collection of essays that range from ‘A Year of No Shopping’ and ‘How Knitting Saved My Life. Twice.’, to being a friend to Sookie, personal assistant to Tom Hanks; but who suffers the treatment for pancreatic cancer.
She confesses that her writing is a laborious task. Sometimes it entails pondering at length about a word or a sentence before it reaches her level of satisfaction. Yet what she accomplishes is laced with a breathtaking warmth, wit, and honesty.
‘Three Fathers’ is her personal reflection on the men who married her mother. Frank, her father, encouraged her writing. Mike, on the other hand, desperately wanted to be a writer himself, and Ann read at least 40 of his novels, unpublished. Darrell was ’easy’ with his cooking and gardening and going to movies with his step-daughter.
Her frank and searching account of choosing to be childless – ‘There Are No Children Here’ – underscores the attitudes and questions that the insensitive may inflict on women who are made to feel inadequate or even deprived.
‘Cover Stories’ is an insight into the choosing of book covers which often rests in the hands of the publicist rather than the author. ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ may well hold fast as advice, but a cover displayed in a bookshop certainly is designed to attract a potential reader. It is almost an art form. In fact, These Precious Days has a charming cover with a watercolour portrait of Ann Patchett’s beloved dog, Sparky. Even without knowing it is the author’s pet, the cover is eye-catching.
The essays refer to dogs quite frequently as there are her daily walks when she meets neighbours with their animals and the bookshop she operates welcomes dogs.
Karl, her second husband, slips into some of the essays and emerges gradually as an exceptional man, kind, sensitive and gentle. My favourite episode connected to him tells of the adopting mother who fears her prospective baby has a serious problem. He reassures her in the simplest and very effective way.
A piece of furniture, an old family nightstand, can suddenly bring memories and snippets of family history to life; an author, the delightful Kate Di Camille, is introduced and perhaps one of her most endearing stories is ‘To The Doghouse’. This last is a salute to Snoopy, that wonderful Charles Shultz creation, a dog who guided many through rough times with his philosophy and humour, often while reclining on the roof of his doghouse.
These Precious Days will be gifted to many, and treasured by them. It is a book to enjoy, to marvel, and perhaps shed a tear, not just with the poignancy but beauty of the writing which graces the pages. It is one to buy, not borrow.
These Precious Days
by Ann Patchett
ISBN 978 15266 4095 6