Article worth discussing: “These Precious Days” (Ann Patchett)

Good magazine articles are a perfect length to share with friends. This one would be perfect to read and discuss over a shared meal. It is written by a superb novelist and tells a fascinating story of what happens when one’s home is opened in warm welcome.

“These Precious Days: Tell me how the story ends” by Ann Patchett in Harper’s Magazine (January 2021).

Ann Patchett is a bookstore owner and a novelist—if you haven’t read Bel Canto (2001), please do so. The novel is charming, delightful and beautifully crafted.

In “These Precious Days” Patchett tells of meeting Tom Hanks and his assistant, Sooki, how one thing led to another, as things do, with Sooki coming to stay with Patchett and her physician husband while she received medical treatment in Nashville. If this sounds like name-dropping or the celebration of celebrity, it is not. It is story about ordinary people whose lives intersect in warm hospitality until they are no longer strangers but friends. It’s true that Patchett’s ordinary is not mine—I don’t move in circles where meeting Tom Hanks is a possibility. Patchett does.

She has a very busy schedule, writing, lecturing, traveling, running Parnassus. But she also makes time to listen to people, and to open her home in warm hospitality. “This wasn’t the first time I’d invited someone we didn’t know to live with us. I once invited the daughter of a woman who ran a lecture series in Pittsburgh to live with us when she found a job in Nashville and couldn’t find an apartment. Nell stayed for six months and we loved her. My friend Patrick, who lives in a tiny apartment in New York, spends a couple of weeks with us every year, writing in our basement, which, for the record, is nothing like a basement. He uses the library table to spread out his papers. Writers who do readings at the bookstore are often stashed in the guest room.” Part of what is so freeing about Patchett’s story is the fact is that this is a not a project for her, but a way of life. The natural unfolding of life and friendship and conversations and meals is not merely permitted but eagerly sought—this is not technique but life, not an attempt to do good but to live well, a desire to flourish as a human being and help others flourish too.

This lovely, fascinating essay explores Patchett’s creative process as a novelist, invites us into a story that is allowed to unfold naturally, and in the process demonstrates how community and hospitality are not optional, but essential to what it means to be human. Our expression of the same gifts will look different with different guests, of course, but the deeper, more mysterious meaning of the encounter will be identical.


Photo credit: Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash