Discovering Ann Patchett

I have been an avid reader all my life, from Charlotte’s Web, Anne of Green Gables, and Little Women in childhood through classic and contemporary literature in high school and college. I loved the Transcendentalists, especially Thoreau and Emerson, and that set me on a course of looking for the meaning of life through the books I read, as well as writing about it.

When I was in graduate school, the feminist movement was reaching its apex, and for many years I read mainly women writers, including Alice Walker, Toni Cade Bambara, Virginia Woolf, Doris Lessing, Simone de Beauvoir, Emma Goldman, Rosario Morales, Toni Morrison, Louise Erdrich, Barbara Kingsolver, and so many others. I was part of a Boston-area women’s collective that researched out-of-print authors and wrote and published an annotated bibliography of women’s literature, past and present.

Over time, my interest in exploring life’s meaning became as compelling as feminism, and I began to focus on spiritual authors such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Adyashanti, Brooke Medicine Eagle, Gregg Braden, Yogananda, Sharon Salzberg, Sonia Choquette, Eckhart Tolle, Michael Singer, and Panache Desai. I had many profound experiences at retreats and immersions that expanded my awareness and understanding of life. Eventually I began to write my own books and a blog. In recent years, I have been writing more than reading. Then I discovered Ann Patchett.

About ten years ago, a friend enthusiastically and repeatedly recommended Ann’s books to me. At the time I was ensconced in spirituality, and fiction seemed not as interesting. Then last fall I heard Ann interviewed about her 2021 book These Precious Days, a collection of essays about her life. I loved what she said and immediately took the book out of the library and read it nonstop. I found myself laughing out loud at some of her descriptions and then moved to tears by the beauty and poignancy expressed in others. Next, I read her novels The Magician’s Assistant and Bel Canto, each one remarkable. I was amazed at her ability to so vividly depict both human connection and human loss. I am now reading all her books.

Discovering Ann Patchett’s writing has been one of the best gifts in my lifetime of reading. Her fiction and personal essays are so perfectly crafted that the vulnerability and inner spirit of every person described envelops the reader in a blanket of compassion, not only for those particular individuals but for all people. I am immediately drawn into the story lines and relationships, along with the mysteries that gradually reveal themselves. Her characters are alive to me, so much so that I miss them when I finish each book, like longtime friends who have moved away.

Hers is an extraordinary talent. Her genius and skill in bringing to life such an immense variety of people, places, and events with empathy, honesty, and humor is awe-inspiring. Last December, I visited Parnassus Books, Ann’s bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee, where I bought a signed copy of These Precious Days and another for a friend, who, as she read it, commented, “Everything Ann Patchett writes about becomes fascinating.” Yes.

“As every reader knows, the social contract between you and a book you love is not complete until you can hand that book to someone else and say, Here, you’re going to love this.“—Ann Patchett

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