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Book excerpt: "These Precious Days" by Ann Patchett

In her latest nonfiction collection, "These Precious Days: Essays" (HarperCollins), novelist Ann Patchett, author of such acclaimed works as "The Dutch House" and "Bel Canto," reflects on her life, and the writers who have inspired her.

Read an excerpt below.


Did I tell you I loved my father, that he loved me? Contrary to popular belief, love does not need understanding to thrive. My father made me laugh more often than he made me want to strangle him. We hashed out articles we read in the New Yorker. We listened to arias and tried to guess the composers. Our very happiest times were spent on the two linen sofas that faced each other in the Rossmoyne house, drinking gin and tonics and reading Yeats aloud, passing the leather-bound volume back and forth. "Who will go drive with Fergus now, / And pierce the deep wood's woven shade, / And dance upon the level shore?" "This one," he would say, and read me "The Lake Isle of Innisfree." Then he would hand me back the book and I would say, "This one."

But he also dragged us to the alley behind the grocery store at 6:00 a.m. so that we could hit tennis balls against the back wall of Ralph's. I was no better at tennis than I was at volleyball, but my sister would hit and hit and hit. Every time he sent me down the alley to retrieve the scattered balls I thought, I'll show you. I will not hit or play or join or score but I will write and I will show you.

It turns out that having a hard wall to hit your tennis balls against is what gives them bounce. Having someone who believed in my failure more than my success kept me alert. It made me fierce. Without ever meaning to, my father taught me at a very early age to give up on the idea of approval. I wish I could bottle that freedom now and give it to every young writer I meet, with an extra bottle for the women. I would give them the ability both to love and not to care.

From the book "These Precious Days: Essays" by Ann Patchett. Copyright © 2021 by Ann Patchett. Reprinted courtesy of Harper Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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