Monday, January 2, 2017

Books of '16: Ann Patchett Recommendations

An alert reader noticed that Ann Patchett books received honorable mentions in both the fiction and non-fiction categories of my 2016 recommendations post.  She requested a full-on Ann Patchett review post.  I'm happy to oblige.  Ann Patchett is a National Treasure.

Best of the Ann Patchett Year: Non-Fiction

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, 2013

Having previously read an Ann Patchett novel (Bel Canto) and being married to a huge A.P. fan, I was intrigued by my friend Cassie Christopher's recommendation of Patchett's collection of essays.  This is one of those books that gets produced after an author has written enough magazine articles to collect them into a bound volume.  Except this may be the best.  One.  Ever.  Reading this book brought me so much pleasure.  It didn't really feel like reading.  It felt like listening to an interview - that's how completely Patchett captures her own voice in simple, straightforward, unguarded writing.  More than that, it felt like sitting in the backyard talking with a good friend one has only just met.  I loved it.  The title essay is terrific (and cagily placed towards the end, its loaded title beckoning the reader).  Also memorable were:  "My Road to Hell was Paved," which starts as a cheesy magazine assignment to rent an RV, drive around for a week and write about it.  That could be a disaster or a bore, but not in Patchett's hands.  Also, "The Mercies" about Patchett's adult relationship with her first grade teacher.  She's such an interesting person and such a fabulous writer.  This book was a joy. 

Best of the Ann Patchett Year: Fiction

Commonwealth, 2016

Paige and I got to see Ann Patchett on her book tour for Commonwealth.  On a rainy autumn Friday night, we joined a crowd of mostly older women in the lecture hall of the Carnegie Library/Museum complex.  In one of Pitttsburgh's more forgotten beautiful auditoriums, we were charmed by one of America's most subtly brilliant novelists.  When reading an Ann Patchett novel, one is in such good hands that one doesn't notice the hands.  In unadorned language, she creates characters you care about in a world that interests you.  She regularly says that she only writes one story a bunch of different ways: two groups of people are put together in one space and forced to make a community.  In Commonwealth, those two groups are family units; broken family units pasted together into a new unit.  Patchett covers a lot of ground in time and in the lives of her characters without creating an epic.  Rather, she covers that ground in a chain of moments - pearls adding up to a shimmering whole.  I was sad when the book ended. 
The author hands Paige her signed copy

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