These Precious Days by Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett has made a habit of keeping me company over Melbourne lockdowns. In March 2020, as the world began to shut down, I immersed myself in her multilayered family saga, The Dutch House. In our second lockdown I decided that I missed the novel’s characters so much, I picked up the audiobook, my aimless little walks now narrated by Tom Hanks. When I remember this surreal time, I’ll think of Patchett’s skilful, melancholy words, and Hanks’ familiar narration. Then Patchett’s essay ‘These Precious Days’ was published in Harper’s. The magazine said the piece was ‘about Tom Hanks, tornadoes, running bookstores, taking mushrooms, making art in quarantine, stories without endings, and an unlikely friendship’. It is about all these things and so much more: what it means to be truly seen by another person, and how we might find joy in the days that we have. It almost feels to me like no one else needs to reflect on the pandemic, as Patchett has done it so satisfyingly here.
We are truly lucky that this essay prompted Patchett’s latest nonfiction collection, the miracle of a book that has kept me company through our latest lockdown. The titular ‘These Precious Days’ was so important to Patchett that she wanted to build a solid shelter for it, so she has gifted readers these 24 distinct essays (all rewritten, even those previously published). Some are distinctly personal – the essay about her three fathers is a standout, as is Patchett’s reflection about the decision not to have children.
Others offer a glimpse into her writing and reading habits, or the importance of knitting. ‘Again, and again, I was asking what mattered most in this precarious and precious life,’ she writes. In sharing her specific experiences, Patchett offers us something profoundly relatable. These Precious Days is a gentle pleasure to read, but by no means a shallow one. Patchett is a master of humour, honesty and vulnerability, and I could not recommend a collection more highly.