This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (#20BooksofSummer book 7)

(Note:  This book was NOT on my original list for 20 Books of Summer.  Nor was it on my REVISED list.  Ha ha!  I just really felt like reading it, so it’s going to bump off one of the books on my revised list.  I can do that, right? Sure I can!)

41tMa5BmZ2L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This is one that’s been on my TBR forever.  I am a big fan of Ann Patchett, especially Bel Canto and her memoir about her friendship with the late Lucy Grealy, Truth and Beauty.  I hadn’t read that one in a long time and I’d forgotten just how good Patchett is at writing nonfiction.  She excels at it, in my opinion.  I haven’t read a whole lot of essay collections, and the ones I’ve read usually are hit or miss.  But This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage is stellar.  There were just a few instances where I shrugged after I finished. Mostly, I stared contentedly into space and said, “Wow…”

This wide-ranging collection reads like a loosely structured memoir.  The reader learns much about Patchett’s parents’s doomed marriage, her Catholic school education, her early days as a writer, and her own disastrous first marriage.  We learn about her dog, Rose, and her grandmother, Eva.  We get a glimpse of the (ridiculous) controversy over Truth and Beauty when it was assigned reading for freshman at Clemson University in South Carolina, and we discover the genesis of Parnassus Books, the successful independent bookstore she co-owns in her hometown of Nashville, TN.  Patchett comes across as fiercely dedicated to the craft of writing and fiercely loyal to those she loves.  She is frank about her own shortcomings, both professional and personal.  She is not exactly a warm presence but there is an unsparingly honest and wise quality to her writing that is appealing.

Forgiveness.  The ability to forgive oneself.  Stop here for a few breaths and think about this because it is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life.

My favorite essay was “The Wall,” which was about Patchett’s father, who was a police officer with the LAPD for over 30 years.  Patchett got an idea to write a nonfiction book about the LAPD during the horrible time of the Rodney King riots.  She wanted to show a different view of the LAPD, the one that she was privy to as the daughter of a cop.  She decided to train for and take the test to be admitted to the Police Academy.  She details her self-styled training regimen (she was 30 at the time,) complete with clearing a six-foot wall, one of the biggest hurdles for women trying to enter the Academy especially.  Her account of the physical, written, and oral exam process is fascinating. The whole time she’s doing all of this, her father doesn’t exactly believe her when she says she’s only doing it for the book.  Part of him hopes she’ll actually go through with it and become a cop.  As I read this I was reminded of my favorite contemporary detective series, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books, which are set in the LAPD.  Part of me marveled at Patchett’s dedication to her craft and part of me wondered, “Why are you wasting all these peoples’ time?”

This was a collection in which I wanted to read multiple essays at one sitting; when I had to put it down, I was eager to get the chance to pick it up again. There is a lot of hard-earned wisdom here, a life in which mistakes have led to a deeper understanding and a greater sense of compassion, both for herself and for others.  If you’re a writer or enjoy reading about the craft of writing, I say pick this one up.  (“The Getaway Car,” another of my favorites, is a fantastic glimpse at the writing process.)  If you’ve ever deeply loved a pet or a relative, you’ll find gems here.  (Warning: I did cry a couple of times, as one might expect when reading an essay about a beloved pet or relative dying.) This was a terrific read, and even if you’re generally not into reading essays, I say give this a try.

Have you read this?  Are there essay collections you’re particularly fond of? I’d love to know your thoughts.

 

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30 thoughts on “This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (#20BooksofSummer book 7)

  1. I also liked her memoir of living with Lucy and you make me think I might like this one. Some of my favorite essay collections are by Barbara Kingsolver; she does earnest better in the essays than in the novels, and she can be succinct there.

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  2. Your reviews always tempt me to try out new things like genres that I never usually read. Now its essays. I can’t reacll ever reading and essay but I am intrigued. I like how you described your reading experience. I love it when a book makes you pause and think or as you say, stare contentedly into space:-) Wonderful review.

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    1. Aww, thank you Diana! I hope you do give essays a try! There are some very good ones out there besides Patchett, like Barbara Kingsolver’s essays, as Jeanne mentioned below. Also some funny ones, like David Sedaris, and more serious ones by Leslie Jamison. Enjoy!

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  3. I loved this one too. In general I prefer Ann Patchett’s nonfiction to her fiction, though I did enjoy Commonwealth very much.

    Other essay collections I’ve liked were by Julian Barnes, Geoff Dyer, Margaret Atwood, Adam Gopnik and Anne Fadiman — though I don’t know your taste well enough to say whether you’d like them too.

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  4. I don’t read that many essay collections, but I love Diana Wynne Jones’s one, because I love Diana Wynne Jones, and I love Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman and SORRY BUT TRUE I love David Foster Wallace’s essay collections as well. They’re funny! Oh, and Janet Malcolm anything, she’s wonderful.

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  5. Thank you for taking a detour from your list, Laila. Yaay! 🙂

    I have read Patchett’s ‘Bel Canto’, and I have been a fan since then. I am a wee bit afraid to read her ‘Truth and Beauty’ because it was recommended by a friend with whom my relationship is now estranged. Now I tell myself that I should try to detach art from hurt and sentiments. But it is hard, isn’t it?

    This sounds like an amazing book. I am surely going to read it. Thank you, Laila. 🙂

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  6. I’ve read most of Patchett’s fiction, but none of her non-fiction. I own Truth and Beauty – I just haven’t read it yet. This one sounds amazing. I can’t believe she went through all that police training just to write a book!

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  7. Wow- this sounds amazing! I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Ann Patchett, but I know that I’ve checked several of her books out at the library! :p I’m adding this one to my TBR.

    I really liked the quote about forgiveness – I wrote it down in my planner!

    Also, you know my saga with wordpress reader. I think I finally have it working, but it will mean clicking on my profile and re-following AGAIN! I’m sorry to be such a pain, but I am so relieved to have it working again 😀

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      1. It was an audio book on overdrive and AVAILABLE! I scooped it right up. I have been listening to audiobooks and doing puzzles at night to distract myself from all of the crazy news, so I can’t wait to start listening to this. Thanks for the recommendation!

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      2. I think you’re brilliant to take a twitter break. It’s the most stressful website out there. I unfollowed some of the more stress-provoking people that I’d been following, so that’s helped some. I miss you on there though!

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  8. I really love essay collections– I didn’t realize that Patchett had one. This will now immediately go on my TBR. I really enjoy reading them for some reason. Particularly essay collections on a theme or memoir-style essays. My favorites have been Shrill:Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West and Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson. I find the raw emotion tangled up in life experiences comes out much more easily in essays. I don’t know why that is, but I find them so powerful.

    It sounds like there are many moments like this in Patchett’s essay collection as well. I’m so glad they were engaging and kept you wanting to return. I haven’t read any of her other books, though. How does this compare? Do you think this is an acceptable place to start with Patchett’s works?

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  9. Laila, you’re the biggest crier over books I’ve ever met, and it makes me feel all squishy about you 🙂 I’ve heard that Mary Carr’s nonfiction books about being a writer are really good, too, if you’re looking for similar works. Ann Lamott wrote that she is happy to call people or businesses and ask questions as part of research for a book, but Patchett’s devotion is a whole other level!

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