These Precious Days by Ann Patchett is a grace-filled, insightful compilation of narrative essays of her literary life. They are deeply personal, self-revelatory articles tackling themes recognizable and relatable to readers. Most of the essays have been previously published elsewhere, some appearing in the “Notes from Ann” and “Shop Dog Diaries” section of Musings, the online publication of Parnassus Books, the Nashville-based bookstore owned and operated by Patchett. The title essay was first published in the January 2021 issue of Harper’s Magazine with several reproductions of Sooki Raphael’s paintings used as illustrations. One of these paintings, a rendering of Patchett’s shop dog, Sparky, now adorns the cover of the collection. 

The briefer essays are cheerful personal bonbons for the soul. Others are encapsulated memoirs that peel back layers to reveal particular moments in time for the writer and the people who matter most to her, including close friends, many of whom are fellow authors. Reading these essays is like attending the best author talk one could imagine as they are powerful, openly honest and real.

STANDOUTS AND SENSITIVITY

Two of the essays stood out as most relatable: “My Year of No Shopping” and “How to Practice,” as they both concern the easy accumulation of excess belongings and the task of practicing minimalism (books excepted). The latter begins with Ann’s experience of helping her oldest and dearest friend, Tavia, to clear out her deceased father’s cluttered condominium. It prompted her and her husband, Dr. Karl VanDevender, to begin their own excavation and extraction of unused items, which they gave away freely, bringing happiness to themselves and the recipients.

“Eudora Welty, an Introduction” is another standout as it recaptures the excitement of a 17-year-old Ann who attended a rare reading from The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty by the legendary author in Nashville at Vanderbilt shortly after its publication. Miss Welty kindly signed her copy while gently instructing Ann to always sign the title page. 

The longest and title essay, “These Precious Days,” is about the development of an unlikely and cherished friendship. Ann had only briefly met Sooki Raphael, Tom Hanks’ personal assistant for over two decades, at an author event, but after learning Sooki was in treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer and hoping to be included in a proposed Los Angeles clinical trial, the author devised a plan. A similar medical trial would begin months earlier in Nashville. Ann’s esteemed physician husband helped to expedite the process of enrolling Sooki, and the couple extended a generous invitation for her to move into their home for the duration of this lengthy experimental procedure. The adage of “three days for guests and fish” holds true for many, but Sooki’s extended stay was very much welcomed. Ensconced in the couple’s lower-level apartment, Sooki shared meals, regular yoga practices and long conversations with Ann. The couple even provided materials and space for their houseguest sufficient to freely express her artistry in painting, a passion that had long been neglected. It was a selfless, warm, loving gift of an opportunity to extend a lifetime.

A GUIDING LIGHT ALONG A LITERARY ADVENTURE

Patchett is the doyenne of Nashville’s vibrant literary society — a guiding light and leader in this mecca for authors and readers. Patchett, her business partner, Karen Hayes, and the staff members of Parnassus Books Patchett are hands-on and financial supporters of the annual Southern Festival of Books. She and her team have partnered with the Nashville Library to present Salon 615 with regularly scheduled free author talks. While many of these events are held in the bookstore itself, major ticketed events are held at larger venues such as the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. 

World-class music, museums, historic homes, sports franchises, fine universities and great restaurants (Nashville’s even home to Goo Goo Clusters) are among the city’s many attractions. Parnassus Books, a short distance from downtown, is located in the Green Hills neighborhood opposite upscale shopping malls. Through their perfected art of hand-selling books, the bookstore has doubled in size (now 5,000 square feet), in just ten years, and boasts a huge children’s section. (Reluctant readers are encouraged to read to one of the many kid-friendly shop dogs.) During the months of lockdown, the store continued to offer virtual events and retained staff with increased shipping and curbside pickup. Patchett and loyal Sparky spent days packing boxes, printing labels and readying them for shipping. 

In this collection, readers will find humor, optimism, abundant joy and acceptance of loss, along with moments of laughter sprinkled with tears. Death is inevitable for all, so celebrate the precious moments with a sense of adventure, good books and great conversations with family and friends. These Precious Days would be a great gift for any bibliophile and essential for Ann Patchett fans. There is plenty of fodder for book discussion groups in this ostensibly simple yet profound book that has quickly become a recent favorite.


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ANN PATCHETT is the author of seven novels and three works of nonfiction. She is the winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award, England’s Orange Prize, and the Book Sense Book of the Year, and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. She is the co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, Karl, and their dog, Sparky. Find out more at annpatchett.com.