While Ann Patchett is perhaps best known as a fiction writer, it is always a treat to stumble upon one of her essays in the New York Times or a favorite magazine. In “These Precious Days,” Patchett gathers an assortment of previously published works, folds in transcripts from her talks and inserts a new gem or two, resulting in a wise and gentle reflection on the precious days that make up a well-lived life.
Patchett’s essays are about, well, anything and everything. She shares her literary inspirations (Eudora Welty and Charles Schultz’ Snoopy, among others), reflects on family (her father and step-fathers, husband and her unambiguous decision not to have children) and offers glimpses of activities ranging from travel to knitting that have made her the person she has become. Individual essays stand on their own and yet, by collecting them under the umbrella of “precious days,” she elevates them to a kind of wisdom literature. In the titular essay, Patchett reflects on her serendipitous friendship with Sooki Raphael. When Patchett connected with Tom Hanks, who is a fellow author and book lover (among other things!), she developed a deep and lasting friendship with his assistant, Sooki. Sooki sheltered-in-place with Patchett and her husband — first coming to stay with them for access to cancer treatment at a Nashville hospital and then unable to leave due to COVID. Patchett captures the rhythms of 2020 pandemic life, layering it with the soothing repetition of yoga and the gift of a deepening friendship in the face of Sooki’s terminal illness. This essay alone is worth the purchase of “These Precious Days.”
Patchett goes deeper, though, when she draws on her Catholic upbringing or introduces us to the “saints” from her Tennessee community of faith and friends. In “The Worthless Servant,” Patchett sets out to describe Charlie Strobel, founder of Room in the Inn, a center for people living on the streets. To tell Charlie’s story, Patchett must touch on everyone who inspired Charlie along the way — sweet homeless men who place their trust in him, difficult homeless folks who teach him patience and compassion, and Father Dan, a priest who offers the same homily at every funeral that describes the deceased’s entry into heaven. “God is only going to ask us two questions: ‘Did you love Me?’ and ‘Did you love your neighbor?’ And we can imagine that (the deceased) will answer truthfully, saying, ‘Yes, Lord’…And then God will say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’”
Patchett marvels at Charlie’s life, while applying his guidance to her own. She writes, “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.” The rest of Patchett’s essays build on this with characters who inspire and stories that illustrate a faithful life.
Although my mom is a Kindle devotee, my children traditionally buy her a single book for Christmas — a hardback edition so beautiful that she simply must place it on her shelf, lend it to trusted friends and pick it up now and then to re-read a beloved chapter. “These Precious Days” is a book just like that.
Presbyterian Outlook supports local bookstores. Join us! Click on the link below to purchase “These Precious Days” from BookShop, an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. As an affiliate, Outlook will also earn a commission from your purchase.
Outlook Book Editor Amy Pagliarella and her family live in Chicago. She enjoys exploring the city, always with a book in hand.