These Precious Days

These Precious Days is a 2021 essay collection by American writer Ann Patchett. The 336-page book of 24 previously published essays was revised for the collection. I read this book as a Rivers Faculty & Staff book club assignment. These are my notes.

“Essays never filled my days,” Patchett writes, “but they reminded me that I was still a writer when I wasn’t writing a novel.”

I was a reluctant reader because essays don’t generally appeal to me. I had not heard of Patchett. Her recycled essays are full of well-written examples of privilege and name dropping. Reading them did not cause me to long to read her novels since I did not find any common ground, and yet a few things were interesting.

Ann Patchett and Sparky. Photo : New York Times

Essays Don’t Lie

Her process: Write total book in her head, edit, copyedit, page proofs, book tour. She feared dying while writing every novel because she held the entire book in her head.

She has always written essays for various magazines about things which are true and verifiable.

For this collection, her second book of essays, she looked back at things she wrote in the past few years, took the ones she liked best and reworked, made corrections and polished them up.

Three Fathers

Her mother married three times. She waited until all three men were dead before she wrote about them.

Her birth father did not support her as a writer until she was making a living at it. Her first stepfather encouraged her and wanted to be a writer him self.

“You are a duck, I would tell myself. This is rain.”

“I wrote and read and read and wrote.”

“…love does not need understanding to thrive…my father taught me at an early age to give up on the idea of approval.”

“Rich is a useless word, since everyone has her own definition, but in this case use mine: I had so much money I no longer knew exactly down to the last dollar how much I had. I could give money away without needing it back.”

“To be a writer, you have to like your own company.”

The First Thanksgiving

…”self-reliance and a book, which, as I would later learn, was all I really need.”

“…books can save you, those were the lessons I learned my freshman year of college…”

The Paris Tattoo

An artist’s garret ~ a top-floor or attic room, especially a small dismal one (traditionally inhabited by an artist).

Boulangerie ~ a French bakery, as opposed to a pastry shop. Bakeries must bake their bread on-premises to hold the title of ‘boulangerie’ in France.

Arrondissement ~ a subdivision of a French department, for local government administration. an administrative district of certain large French cities, in particular Paris.

“Youth is its own mystery.”

My Year of No Shopping

No-shopping year – she made a pledge that for a year she wouldn’t buy shoes, clothes, purses, or jewelry because she needed less than she had.

Draconian ~ (of laws or their application) excessively harsh and severe.

“If you want something, wait a while. Chances are the feeling will pass.”

“Not shopping saves an astonishing amount of time.”

“Once I stopped looking for things to buy, I became tremendously grateful for the things I received.”

The Worthless Servant

Hagiography ~ 1. the writing of the lives of saints. DEROGATORY 2. adulatory writing about another person. 3. biography that idealizes its subject.

“I was struck by how often the lessons we learn when we’re young, the things we could never imagine needing, make it possible to meet what life will ask of us later.”

“Homelessness is an exhausting and dangerous state of being.”

“…wake up every morning and meet the world again with love.”

How to Practice

Pouf ~ a large, solid cushion that is typically located on the ground surrounded by other pieces of furniture.

“…over time, the closets and drawers had filled with things we never touched, didn’t want, and in many cases had completely forgotten we owned.”

“This was the practice: I was starting to get rid of my possessions, at least the useless ones, because possessions stood between me and death.”

Ascetic ~ characterized by or suggesting the practice of severe self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons.

Scarab ~ 1. a large dung beetle of the eastern Mediterranean area, regarded as sacred in ancient Egypt. 2. an ancient Egyptian gem cut in the form of a scarab beetle, sometimes depicted with the wings spread, and engraved with hieroglyphs on the flat underside.

“In any practice there will be tests. That’s why we call it a practice – so we’ll be ready to meet our challenges when the time comes.

To the Doghouse

“Influence is a combination of circumstance and luck: what we are shown and what we stumble upon in those brief years when our hearts and minds are fully open.”

THIS—> “I have lived with many dogs I considered my equals, and a couple I knew to be my betters. The times I’ve lived without a dog, the world has not been right, as if the days were out of balance.”

(I miss living with a dog!)

Eudora Welty, an Introduction

I have not read any Welty. This essay did not cause me to want to read any Welty.

Fabulist ~ 1. a person who composes or relates fables. 2. a liar, especially a person who invents elaborate, dishonest stories.

Verisimilitude ~ the appearance of being true or real.

Flight Plan

Patchett’s second husband was a collector of airplanes.

“Repetition was key to learning.”

“Find the good and praise it.”

How Knitting Saved My Life. Twice.

Knitting was a task that was essential to female adulthood in Denmark, Belgium, France and Ireland.

Tavia

“…life is a game show.”

Discomfited ~ make (someone) feel uneasy or embarrassed.

“She had managed to peel off other people’s expectations in order to see what a life that was entirely her own would look like.”

There Are Not Children Here

“…rarest of birds — a commercially successful literary author. “

“Flexibility was what writers got instead of health insurance.”

“People want you to want what they want. If you want the same things they want, then their want is validated.”

A Paper Ticket Is Good For One Year

“It mattered less where we are going and more who we were with.”

The Moment Nothing Changed

“For as many times as the horrible things happens, a thousand times in every day the horrible things passes us by.”

The Night Stand

“I didn’t write in drafts. I worked on one chapter, one page, one paragraph, a single sentence, over and over again until it is right, then I move ahead.”

“…Pandora’s lesson: don’t lift the lid.”

“Foxed” ~ age-related deterioration of paper

“I keep pens in the drawer of my nightstand now, scratch pads, a tiny book light. I’ve found that when some thoughts wakes me, writing it down is my best hope of going back to sleep.”

A Talk to the Association of Graduate School Deans in the Humanities

“All children were feral in the seventies.”

“…manual labor is hard and should not be romanticized.”

“Teaching made me a better reader and a better thinker. I became more conscientious about how I expressed myself, which in turn made me a better writer.”

Eviscerate ~ disembowel (a person or animal).

“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.”

“…if you want to save reading, teach children to read.”

“…the essence of a liberal arts education is the ability to be flexible and curious…”

Cover Stories

“The covers of literary fiction were almost always printed on matte paper, while the covers of commercial fiction were glossy.”

Ann Patchett and Katie DiCamillo at the bookstore Patchett owns in Nashville. Photographer unknown

Reading Kate DiCamillo

“…there was something emotionally satisfying about being able to read a book in one sitting.”

“I marveled at the resilience of children for their ability to survive their own childhoods with joy.”

Sister

People assumed that she and her mother where sisters as they both aged.

These Precious Days

“Curiosity is the rock upon which fiction is built.”

“People are not comprised entirely of their facts.”

Derecho ~ Spanish for straight, direct

Misunderstanding is a sin

“When you’re young, you’re getting high, and when you’re old, you’re using plant medicine…”

Coat of Arms ~ reads QUALITY OF LIFE, LIFE-MEANING, OPTIMISM

A year ~ “…an unimaginable unit of time in the life of a child.”

Two More Things I Want to Say about My Father

“I will tell you: as a writer I am first and foremost my father’s daughter. I didn’t operate out of desire to please him so much as a desire not to offend him, and the truth is that the constraints did my work little harm. I found plenty of things to write about that weren’t smoking or swearing or sex.”

What the American Academy of Arts and Letters Taught Me about Death

This essay is full of the names of creatives who are members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, mostly white and mostly male — 250 at a time and they are replaced as they die. The only interesting thing in the essay is that Gordon Parks, Langston Hughes and W. E. B. Du Bois were members. That made my wonder what other Black folks got picked.

A Day at the Beach

The epilogue of the book tells of the last days of Sooki Raphael.

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