Saturday, November 1, 2014

Just Jennifer

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (Harper Perennial,reprinted October 2014)

There is probably not a book group today who has not read &discussed one of Ann Patchett’s lyrical novels, most likely Bel Canto or State of Wonder, but anyone who has not read her essays is missing out on something special, especially when they are personal essays as they are in this collection.  Patchett, co-owner of the independent bookstore Parnassus in Tennessee, freely admits that for any writer, non-fiction, including essays, can often be the bread and butter of their existence, allowing them money to pay the bills but still time for writing what is their true passion.  But Patchett’s essays, mostly published in other places, do not feel as if they were written “to pay to bills” but rather to pay homage to the people, places and events in Patchett’s life that are so dear to her, whether or not she recognized them at the time.  In “The Best Seat in the House” Patchett describes her introduction to the Metropolitan Opera in 2007 when performances began being simulcast in movie theatres throughout the country, including Patchett’s hometown of Nashville.  Not only, as Patchett describes, was the performance on a larger scale (screen) than it would have been had she been at the Met, allowing her to see minute details, but during intermission there were interviews and behind the scenes features rather than the usually long lines for the rest rooms or jockeying for a glass of champagne.  After finally getting a chance to view an opera live at the Met, Patchett realized that while the details were lost, and admittedly some of the scene to an ill-placed tree on stage, she felt the magic in the proximity and intimacy of the experience, but deemed the experience equal to, though different, to watching the production on a big screen.  Patchett also includes her address to the Clemson Freshman class in 2006, challenging them to consider the reasons they chose college, remembering that they are no longer here because it is required by the law nor are they surrounded by people who are demographically similar to them, being drawn from a geographic area such as a school district.  She reminds the incoming class that they are adults and have made adult decisions, but now have the responsibility to act as adults if they expect to be treated as such.  Whether reminiscing or challenging, Patchett’s essays never lose sight of her passion for the written word and what her final words of benediction to the Clemson class are “…keep reading.”

No comments: