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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 23/100: This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage - Ann Patchett

Read Harder Reading Challenge Item: A Book of Essays

I have never read any of Ann Patchett's novels, nor her memoir, and I don't know whether I ever will. I knew virtually nothing about her, but I read in a review that this book contained essays about writing and marriage, and I was like, "OK, I'm in!"

Although this is the first of her work I've ever read, it's clear that she's one of those people who is a good writer because she is a close observer. I enjoyed seeing the world given meaning and shape through her description and exploration of it, and although the essays were collected from various publications throughout her career, they were arranged roughly in chronological order. So in the end I felt as though I knew something about the shape her life, even if there was not a central narrative arc to the entire collection.

I probably enjoyed this book so much because there are a lot of things that make me see the world similarly to how Patchett sees it -- we are both writers, both raised Catholic, both introverts, both in happy marriages despite a resistance to marriage. Like any anthology, some of these essays were more successful in holding my interest than others. My favorite was probably the one about her travels with her somewhat-ex boyfriend in an RV for a story she was doing -- she went into it expecting to hate the RV lifestyle and came out of it a convert. It didn't hurt that the heart of this essay took place in South Dakota, where I could so well picture both the people and the place she was describing.

Patchett's writing manages to strike an almost-perfect balance between beauty and practicality. I loved her advice about whether or not writers should get an MFA, mostly because it was so validating. And although I sometimes found myself inadvertently jealous of the "means" she often makes discreet reference to (not sure whether her money all came from her books, or whether she inherited it or came from "old money" or what), but at least she acknowledges her place of privilege. And does good things with it, like open bookstores.

Although I don't feel fired up to hunt down everything Patchett has ever written the way I often do after finishing a non-fiction piece, I'd be willing to pick her up again if the opportunity presents itself.