Book of the Week: This is the Story of the Happy Marriage – Ann Patchett

I love this book. Nominally a collection of essays, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage is much more than the sum of its parts, ultimately taking on the weight of memoir. While it does indeed cover marriage (two of them), it is also about friendship, family, the writing life and even Patchett’s decision to own a bookstore. To me the most memorable essay is the one that closes the book—about a lifelong relationship Patchett had with a Catholic nun who taught her as a child. Closing the book, thinking about Patchett’s commitment to that relationship, I realized that this isn’t a book about “marriage”—it’s about how one person grows up and becomes fully engaged with—“married”–to the world. A great holiday gift, in my estimation.

Advance reviews and we expect a lot of media coverage at on sale including the NYTBR, Washington Post, Harper’s Bazaar, More Magazine, Glamour, Real Simple, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, Daily Beast, Seattle Times and USA Today. I’ll be interested to tune in for Ann’s hour on NPR’s On Point on 11/4/13.

[A] retrospective set of 22 sterling personal essays…form an episodic, piquant, instructive, and entertaining self-portrait. She reflects on her family, life on a Tennessee farm, literary discipline and inspiration, and her failed first marriage. Her second marriage is central to her hilarious account of an RV road trip, and the full measure of Patchett’s toughness and daring surfaces in ‘The Wall,’ a riveting account of her father, a captain when he retired after 30 years on the Los Angeles police force, coaching her as she takes the grueling admission test for the Los Angeles Police Academy.…Patchett is a commanding and incisive storyteller, whether her tales are true or imagined.”
Booklist (starred review)

“[Patchett] has an authoritative, straightforward voice in exploring some of the milestones of her life, such as her deep love for her dog, Rose (not to be confused with the desire for a baby), learning from scratch how to love opera in order to write her bestseller Bel Canto…The public addresses she made after the publication of Truth & Beauty, a memoir about her friendship with the deeply tortured writer Lucy Grealy, form the most telling and moving selections, especially her compelling speech (‘The Right to Read’) given to the Clemson University student body in defense of academic and artistic freedom. Early on, her writing teacher Russell Banks had warned Patchett of being too ‘polished’ and ‘just getting by,’ urging her to take risks, and certainly many of these selections reveal a candid, evolved self-reflection.”
Publishers Weekly

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Side note: Wearing her bookseller hat, Ms. Patchett writes a blog (she prefers to call them “book reports”) on the Parnassus Books website. I recommend it. My favorite recent quote:

“I can love a book passionately, recommend it to everyone, and then forget about it.  It’s called getting older and reading too many books. When I suddenly remember the book again I’m thrilled. It’s my own lost-lamb-returns-to-fold moment.”

Indeed!

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This is the Story of a Happy Marriage (9780062236678) by Ann Patchett. $28.99 hardcover. 11/5/13 on sale.

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