Book of the Month: These Precious Days by Ann Patchett(2021)
“The days that Patchett refers to are precious indeed, but her writing is anything but. She describes deftly, with a line or a look, and I considered the absence of paragraphs freighted with adjectives to be a mercy. I don’t care about the hue of the sky or the shade of the couch. That’s not writing; it’s decorating. Or hiding. Patchett’s heart, smarts and 40 years of craft create an economy that delivers her perfectly understated stories emotionally whole. Her writing style is most gloriously her own.”
Witchel, Alex. “These Precious Days.” The New York Times Book Review. November 19, 2021
“Did I tell you I loved my father, that he loved me? Contrary to popular belief, love does not need understanding to thrive. My father made me laugh more often than he made me want to strangle him. We hashed out articles we read in the New Yorker. We listened to arias and tried to guess the composers. Our very happiest times were spent on the two linen sofas that faced each other in the Rossmoyne house, drinking gin and tonics and reading Yeats aloud, passing the leather-bound volume back and forth. ‘Who will go drive with Fergus now, / And pierce the deep wood’s woven shade, / And dance upon the level shore?’ ‘This one,’ he would say, and read me ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree.’Then he would hand me back the book and I would say, ‘This one.’
“But he also dragged us to the alley behind the grocery store at 6:00 a.m. so that we could hit tennis balls against the back wall of Ralph’s. I was no better at tennis than I was at volleyball, but my sister would hit and hit and hit. Every time he sent me down the alley to retrieve the scattered balls I thought, I’ll show you. I will not hit or play or join or score but I will write and I will show you.
“It turns out that having a hard wall to hit your tennis balls against is what gives them bounce. Having someone who believed in my failure more than my success kept me alert. It made me fierce. Without ever meaning to, my father taught me at a very early age to give up on the idea of approval. I wish I could bottle that freedom now and give it to every young writer I meet, with an extra bottle for the women. I would give them the ability both to love and not to care.”
“The experience of waiting backstage before an event is always the same. I can never quite hear what the person making the introduction is saying, and for a moment I wouldn’t be able to tell you the name of the theater or even the city I was in. There’s usually a guy working the light board and the mics who talks to me for a minute, though tonight the guy talking was Tom Hanks. He wanted to know whether I liked owning a bookstore. He was thinking about opening one himself. Could we talk about it sometime? Of course we could. We were about to go on.
“I don’t have any questions,” I whispered in the darkness. “I find these things go better if you just wing it.” Then the two of us stepped out into the blinding light.
“As soon as the roaring thunder of approval eased, he pointed at me and said, “She doesn’t have any questions.”
“When the event was over and more pictures had been taken and everyone had said how much they’d enjoyed absolutely everything, Tom Hanks and his assistant and I found ourselves alone again, standing at the end of a long cement hallway by a stage door, saying good night and goodbye. A car was coming to pick them up.
“ ‘Come on, Sooki,’ he said, his voice gone grand. ‘Let’s go back to the hotel. I need to find a Belvedere martini.’ ”
“I hoped he would ask me to join them. I’d spent two hours on a stage talking to Tom Hanks, and now I wanted to talk to Sooki. Sooki of the magnificent coat. She had said almost nothing and yet my eye kept going to her, the way one’s eye goes to the flash of iridescence on a hummingbird’s throat. I thought about how extraordinarily famous you would have to be to have someone like that working as your assistant.”