These Precious Days – by Ann Patchett

These Precious Days is a collection of personal essays by Ann Patchett, the prize-winning author of several wonderful novels (Bel Canto and Commonwealth stand out as particular favourites) and the gorgeous memoir Truth and Beauty. She writes with such elegance and sensitivity, that no matter what topic she chooses to explore, I have complete trust in her ability to craft an interesting story about it. Her work is reliably enjoyable.

This latest collection covers subjects as diverse as piloting planes, shopping for clothes, and caring for dying relatives. A few major themes emerge, including the value of stories and literature (Patchett also owns a bookstore, and runs a charity that provides books for children in need) and the complicated relationship we have with our possessions, especially those entwined with family history and memories.

What illuminates all these pieces is her sincere love for and fascination with other people, from lifelong friends to chance acquaintances. She writes movingly about her father and two stepfathers, all of whom played a unique role in her life, and her impossibly beautiful mother (often mistaken for Patchett’s sister). In an essay on her friend, Father Charlie Strobel, a priest who has dedicated his life to serving the homeless, she reflects on what it takes to live a life of “tireless, unconditional love”.

She also recounts stories about moments of connection during her travels. While backpacking around Europe in her early twenties, for instance, she was inspired to learn how to knit: “When I dropped a stitch, I simply walked up to any female person who was older than I was and handed her my knitting … If there was a woman in Ireland or the British Isles in the summer of 1983 who didn’t know her way around a dropped stitch, I never met her”.

The title essay, “These Precious Days”, charts the unexpected events that led to a woman she barely knew coming to live with her and her husband for what turned out to be months of lockdown when the pandemic first hit, so that this woman, a long way from home, could continue to access cancer treatment at the local hospital where Patchett’s husband works. As well as being a poignant account of how she found one of the most important friendships of her life, it is a meditation on the way meaningful events can result from seemingly trivial decisions and coincidences, the significance of which we only understand in hindsight.

Ann Patchett is an author who helps me remember to appreciate the people, small moments, and everyday joys that can often slip by unnoticed unless we slow down and pay attention.

This book is available to buy online from Amazon Australia, Dymocks, Booktopia, Book Depository, and Angus & Robertson

About the Author

Megan Koch

Megan Koch is a writer and bookseller based in Adelaide. She studied English and Applied Linguistics at Flinders University. She currently writes freelance exhibition, theatre, and arts reviews. Her work can be found on various platforms, including ArtsHub and Year13.

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