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This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

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This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

ratings:
4/5 (119 ratings)
Length:
361 pages
6 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Nov 5, 2013
ISBN:
9780062236692
Format:
Book

Editor's Note

The art of life…

Ann Patchett has long been beloved for her novels, but this collection of essays confirms she’s just as deft in nonfiction. From the art of writing to the LAPD, her essays are at once deeply intimate and universally apt.

Description

Written by Scribd Editors

A collection of over 20 essays blending literature and memoir, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett examines the things most important in her life, from her husband, family and friends to books and writing, creating a dynamic picture of a life fully lived.

The essays cover a broad timeframe, from her childhood to the present day, from a broken early marriage to a later happy one, covering a multitude of topics including relationships with family and friends, and captures the joy and hard work of writing and the thrill of opening her own bookstore.

Patchett has written seven fiction and three nonfiction books. She is a winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award, England's Orange Prize and the Book Sense Book of the Year. Her novels include Bel Canto, The Dutch House, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and Commonwealth, a #1 New York Times bestseller.

The work brings into focus the major life experiences and smaller moments that shaped her as a wife, daughter and writer in a highly engaging and readable way.

Publisher:
Released:
Nov 5, 2013
ISBN:
9780062236692
Format:
Book

About the author

ANN PATCHETT is the author of seven novels, The Patron Saint of Liars, Taft, The Magician’s Assistant, Bel Canto, Run, State of Wonder, and Commonwealth. She was the editor of Best American Short Stories, 2006, and has written three books of nonfiction, Truth & Beauty, about her friendship with the writer, Lucy Grealy, What now? an expansion of her graduation address at Sarah Lawrence College, and, most recently, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, a collection of essays.

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This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage - Ann Patchett

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Nonfiction, an Introducion

THE TRICKY THING about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living. My short stories and novels have always filled my life with meaning, but, at least in the first decade of my career, they were no more capable of supporting me than my dog was. But part of what I love about both novels and dogs is that they are so beautifully oblivious to economic concerns. We serve them, and in return they thrive. It isn’t their responsibility to figure out where the rent is coming from.

What I was looking for in a job was simple enough: something that would allow me to pay the bills and still leave me time to write. At first I thought the key would be to put the burden on my back rather than my brain, and so I worked as a restaurant cook and, later, as a waitress. And I was right, there was plenty of room in my head for stories, but because I fell asleep the minute I stopped moving, very few of those stories were ever written down. Once I realized that physical labor wasn’t the answer, I switched to teaching—the universally suggested career for all M.F.A. graduates—and while I wasn’t so tired, days spent attending to the creativity of others often left me uninterested in any sort of creativity of my own. Food service and teaching were the only two paying jobs I thought I was qualified for, and once I’d discovered that neither of them met my requirements, I was at a loss. Could I follow the example of Wallace Stevens and sell insurance? All I knew for certain was that I had to figure out how to both eat and write.

The answer, at least the first spark of it, came in the form of a 250-word book review of Amy Tan’s novel The Joy Luck Club. I had published several short stories in Seventeen magazine, and had asked my editor, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc—both of us twenty-five at the time—if I could have a nonfiction assignment as well. The economics were easy enough to figure: Seventeen ran one short story a month, twelve stories a year, and if I was doing my absolute best I could never hope for more than one or two of those spots. A writer of nonfiction, on the other hand, could publish an article in every issue, sometimes multiple articles in a single issue. I had finally identified a job that I more or less knew how to do that would be neither mentally nor physically exhausting.

Which is not to say that it wasn’t aggravating at times. I was asked to rewrite that book review half a dozen times, and each time I was told I had to consider yet another aspect of the novel. My word count was not increased to match these new points of interest, and more words in meant that, somewhere, other words had to come out. So I trimmed and tucked, found a single word to express five words’ worth of feeling. I explored the realm of mother-daughter relationships on the head of a pin. Once my book review was accepted, I started pitching ideas for articles to Adrian, who took the better ones to her boss, Robbie Myers. Unlike in my fiction, where I prided myself on making things up, I found these articles wanted personal experience. For every ten story ideas I came up with—Growing Up with Horses, or When Your Best Friend’s a Guy, or How to Decorate Your Locker—I would be given the green light to write one of them (without a contract or kill fee), and for every ten I was allowed to write, maybe one would actually make its way into the magazine. The one that was accepted would then be rewritten ten times as I received round after round of notes, not only from Adrian and Robbie, but from various editors in other departments and all their interns, who were honing their own editorial skills. I never felt that way when I was fifteen, read the note most regularly penciled in the margins. And while I wanted to say, Did you grow up in Tennessee? Did you go to a Catholic girls’ school? Did you stay home with your parents on the weekends and never go on a single date?, I refrained. If they wanted to see themselves reflected in my piece, I would put them there. I would find a way to wedge in every single one of them and stay within the confines of my word count.

Seventeen magazine, where I never had an office and rarely visited, was the site of my apprenticeship; I learned how to write an essay there, just as I had learned how to write fiction at Sarah Lawrence College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Whereas fiction was singularly mine—I would never have changed a short story to reflect an editor’s experience—nonfiction was collectively ours. I readjusted the slant of an article to satisfy the vision of various editors, or spiced up the action to meet the attention span of the readers. I saw my best paragraphs cut after everything was finished and agreed upon because the art department wanted more space for their illustration. I sliced a piece in half because an ad was suddenly dropped, and fewer advertising dollars meant fewer editorial pages. I was learning how to work for a magazine by shaping my writing, yes, but I was also shaping myself: it was my aim to be flexible and fast, the go-to girl.

Years later, a magazine editor called to say that they were closing the issue the next day and their lead article, a long piece about procrastination, had fallen through at the last minute. Could I write something, anything, by tomorrow? Of course I could. This was the person I had trained myself to be.

Magazine work was an uncertain business—assignments were killed on a whim, checks were late, and there was always someone who owed me expenses—but I never lost sight of how much easier it was than busing tables or grading papers. The years spent in the freelance trenches eventually paid off; I would go on to have some remarkable assignments. I’ve toured the great opera houses of Italy, gone on a mock honeymoon in Hawaii, driven an RV across the American West, all on someone else’s dime. Whenever people ask how they can get those same kinds of assignments, I recommend what worked for me: eight years writing freelance articles for Seventeen.

In my mind, fiction and nonfiction stayed so far away from each other that for years I would have maintained they had no more a relationship than fiction and waitressing. Writing a novel, even when it’s going smoothly, is hard for me, and writing an article, even a challenging one, is easy. I believe nonfiction is easy for me precisely because fiction is hard; I would always rather knock off an essay than face down the next chapter of my novel. But I’ve come to realize that while all those years of writing fiction had improved my craft as a writer across the board, all those years of writing articles, and especially the early years at Seventeen, had made me a workhorse, and that, in turn, was a skill I brought back to my novels. Seventeen also went a long way to beat any ego out of me. Somewhere along the line I learned to experience only the smallest, most private stabbing sensation when I watched my best sentences cut from an article because they did not advance the story. Ultimately, this skill came to benefit my fiction as well. The conversations I had had so often with magazine editors were now internalized. I could read both parts of the script. Did I think that was a beautiful scene I had written? Yes, I did. Did it further the cause of the novel? No, not really. Could I then delete it? It was already gone.

I wrote for Seventeen until I was thirty; by then I had exhausted everything I remembered about growing up. I then moved on to fashion magazines, the way a girl who has cut her teeth reading Seventeen goes on to read Harper’s Bazaar. I got new assignments not by sending out clippings and a résumé, but by doggedly following editors and friends as they advanced through their careers. Someone I knew at Seventeen went to Elle, which meant I could now write for Elle. My friend Lucy wrote a piece for Vogue, which meant I now had a contact at Vogue. When that editor got a job at GQ, I added GQ to my list of employers. In this way my career expanded exponentially. A friend of mine from college went to work for Mercedes-Benz Magazine (who knew such a thing existed?), and so I wrote articles that appealed to the owners of luxury cars. Later, my friend Erica Goldberg Schultz became the editor of Bridal Guide and made me a contributing editor, which meant I paid my bills by writing about the challenges of finding cake-toppers that resembled the actual bride and groom. As trivial as this work was, I had no intention of setting my sights any higher; I wanted to finish my article on ballroom dancing or boutique farming and get back to my novel. Writing fiction, after all, was what I did.

In truth, I wasn’t the one who decided to better myself; one of my editors did it for me. When Ilena Silverman, my editor at GQ, got a job at the New York Times Magazine, she took me with her, along with another writer she favored, my friend Adrian LeBlanc, who had long ago left Seventeen for a reporting career. Though I felt intimidated and unqualified to write for the Times, I realized magazine writing had given me yet another skill (also essential to fiction): the ability to fake authority. The first assignment I was given was a small piece on nutraceuticals. Did I know what they were? No, I did not. Did I mention that to Ilena Silverman? No again. I will never forget calling an executive at Monsanto to discuss the high-beta-carotene cooking oil they were developing. "This is Ann Patchett from the New York Times," I said to the assistant. I had never had a call put through so quickly in my life.

For the most part, I loved my editors and the brief, intense intimacies that could come from working together on a piece. I loved Ilena Silverman so much I would have written anything she asked me to, just for the chance to spend hours talking with her on the phone. Had we actually been friends who spent time together, I’m sure I wouldn’t have written for her, as her editorial style drove me mad. She never seemed to know quite what she wanted where I was concerned, but she felt sure she’d know it when she saw it. That meant I was asked to rewrite pieces from every conceivable angle so that she could say, No, that wasn’t what I had in mind. It was like having someone ask you to move the living room furniture over and over again: Let’s see that sofa under the window. No, no, I don’t like it under the window; let’s see what it looks like next to the door. Still, thanks to her intelligence and good company, I remember the pieces we worked on together with great fondness. She was trying to drag me to the smarter, better places she could see inside her own mind.

While I was still writing for the Times, I started on the best freelance job of my career: writing for Bill Sertl and Ruth Reichl at Gourmet. If the New York Times Magazine challenged my thinking, Gourmet expanded my art. What Ruth and Bill wanted to see was how much warmth and exuberance could be packed into a single piece. Working for them was like having the world’s most supportive parents. They were eager to get behind everything I wanted to do. When I was working on Bel Canto and wanted to learn more about opera, they packed me off to Italy. When I was writing State of Wonder and wanted to take a boat up the Amazon in Brazil, Bill found me a boat, though not one in Brazil. It’s in Peru, he said, but let me tell you, the jungle’s the jungle. I ate the food, made notes on hotel rooms, and participated in available tourist activities, all the while soaking up the atmosphere for my next novel. Once I called Bill after what had been months of overlapping houseguests and told him I wanted to check into a fancy hotel by myself for a week and never leave the property. Brilliant! he said. I love it. And so I took up residence at the Hotel Bel-Air. The resulting piece, Do Not Disturb, was one that no other magazine would have assigned, and it’s probably the best piece of travel writing I’ve ever done. Those were the salad days of freelance writing. I can only hope I gave back to Gourmet half of all it gave to me.

Considering the limitless freedoms of fiction (make up the people and all their problems; make their houses, their rivers and trees; decide when they’re born and when they’ll die; turn the book in whenever you’re finished), I took some real comfort from my day job. Like a soprano’s boned corset, the built-in restrictions provided both support and something to push against. I often took ideas to editors, but just as often they brought ideas to me. At times, I found myself writing on subjects I knew nothing about in a voice that was more the magazine’s than my own. Whom I should talk to and where I would go and when the piece was due were decisions that weren’t often mine to make, and that was fine. My only true obsession was with word count. I saw the length of essays as track-and-field events: the 900-word essay was the shot put, 1,200 the high jump, 2,000 the long jump. Each one had a particular pacing and shape that I understood deeply. Just write it as long as you want, some editors liked to say. We’ll cut it down later. But a 2,000-word essay that’s cut to 800 words winds up feeling irrevocably mangled to me, as if I can see the lines of stitching running between the paragraphs.

My fiction, which had for so many years failed to provide me with a living wage, was suddenly able to buy me a house after the publication of Bel Canto in 2001 (in the same way I suppose a well-cared-for dog will occasionally dig up a small chest of gold in the backyard—not that mine ever did). I was free to quit my day job, and that was, of course, the point at which I realized how much I liked my day job. Still, I knew there were things I needed to change. Throughout the years when I had been supporting myself by writing nonfiction, my modus operandi had been to accept all comers, and while I found that habit very hard to break (it’s difficult to convince the freelance brain that the well isn’t going to run dry tomorrow), I tried to be a little more discerning in the assignments I accepted. No, I would not cover a country music star’s soup party in Atlanta. I would not go on a group-therapy Outward Bound trip that would necessitate authorial nudity in a natural hot spring. (You may be wondering if I’m making that up. I’m not.) I started thinking more about the stories I wanted to tell, regardless of whether any magazine wanted to buy them, and while I was still obsessed with word counts, I let some of those stories get longer. When my friend Sister Nena had to find an apartment and live by herself for the first time at the age of seventy-eight, I called Patrick Ryan at Granta and asked how much space I could have, not how much they could pay. Then I wrote The Mercies.

In the years I made my living writing nonfiction, I thought of the work I did as being temporary, with a life span that would, in most cases, not exceed a magazine’s last tattered days in a dentist’s waiting room, but the essays kept resurfacing. People would bring them to book signings and show them to me. I read this when my grandmother died. Someone gave this to me when I got divorced. They told me my story was their story, and they wondered if there was more, something they might have missed. I marveled that a back issue of the Atlantic could have stayed around for so long, or that the subjects of the articles were still resonant. The job of these essays had been to support art, not to be art, but maybe that was what spared them from self-consciousness.

Many, many years ago, in an effort to save space, I started tearing up the magazines I wrote for, keeping my articles in a big plastic bin and throwing away the other pages. I had thought in the past about putting together a collection of essays, but every time I tried to sift through what was a fairly enormous body of work, I got stuck: if writing a personal story in a magazine was like putting out a single piece of a jigsaw puzzle, then collecting those essays in a book would be like publishing the finished puzzle, which would look very much like a map to my house. I always wound up snapping down the lid again.

What finally made the difference was my friend Niki Castle, who has long taken a deep personal interest in my essays. When I continued to refuse, reconsider, and stall, she took the bin away, and later came back with a list of the essays she thought could make a book. While nothing from my earliest days of Seventeen and Bridal Guide was included (those pieces were meant only for the young and the recently engaged), she had chosen pieces from every other point in my career to date. She told me that these essays deserved the chance to sit together, and that by keeping company, they would inform one another. I claimed not to agree, but I found myself writing new essays to fill in the gaps. (After all, if there was going to be a book, there had to be something about the bookstore.) I read through the collection Niki had put together, took out some of her choices, added in nothing from the bin that she had passed over, and then got back to writing. Byliner and Audible both contacted me in the same month asking for essays that would be in the neighborhood of 15,000 words, and I said yes before I had any idea what I would write about. After a career built largely on 1,200-word pieces, the possibilities suggested by so much open space were dazzling. I had to ask myself what it was I really wanted to think deeply about. The answer was fiction writing for Byliner (The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life), and, for Audible, marriage (This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage). By the time those pieces were written it was obvious even to me that I was working on a book.

Whatever I’ve become as an essayist, this collection bears the stamp of a writer who got her start in women’s magazines: it is full of example and advice. I will never be a war correspondent or an investigative reporter, but the tradition I come from is an honorable one, and, at times, daunting. Many of the essays I’m proudest of were made from the things that were at hand—writing and love, work and loss. I may have roamed in my fiction, but this work tends to reflect a life lived close to home.

Good as I was at keeping to my assigned word counts over the years, I have in some cases gone back and made these pieces longer. This is true most notably of The Wall, because there was so much more to tell than the Washington Post Magazine had room for, and because I no longer have to worry about how much space the art department is going to requisition. For the most part, though, I’ve left things alone. I have no desire to rewrite the past; in fact, for me the beauty of this book is how it keeps the past alive: here Rose is, a puppy again, and there is my grandmother. Karl and I are meeting for the first time and we are young with no idea of what’s ahead. If I’m lucky, someday in the future I’ll see what I’ve written here and think how young I still was and how much more there was ahead. Until then I’ll keep writing things down, both the things I make up and the things that have happened. It is the way I’ve learned to see my life.

How to Read a Christmas Story

I HAVE NEVER LIKED Christmas. In my family, there were happy Thanksgivings and tolerable Easters, but Christmas was a holiday we failed at with real vigor. I blame this on my parents’ divorce. I was nearly six when my mother and sister and I left our home and my father in Los Angeles. The man my mother had been seeing in Los Angeles had moved to Nashville, and so we moved to Nashville as well. A year or so later they were married. My stepfather’s four children still lived in Los Angeles with their mother. My stepfather’s children spent their Christmases on a plane so that they could open presents in the morning with their mother in California and then open a second set of presents at night with their father in Tennessee. Thinking about this now, I realize how impossibly young they were to make a trip like that alone—a stepbrother and stepsister slightly older than I, a stepsister and stepbrother slightly younger. We were strangers but we had the world in common: they had betrayed their mother by leaving her alone on Christmas Day, just as my sister and I betrayed our father by staying in Tennessee.

Lonely and spent, my stepsiblings fell apart soon after they arrived, fighting and weeping among themselves. That was when my stepfather, overwhelmed by the presence of his children, would take his cue to recount his own unhappy childhood. He had had the great misfortune to be born on Christmas Day, and so Christmas never came without the sad reminiscence of all the years he never got a birthday cake or a birthday present because his own parents hadn’t cared for him at all. He was a sentimental man, my stepfather, and easily moved himself to tears at this memory. Somewhere in all of this my mother, crushed by everything that had fallen to her, would begin to cry as she tried to settle the six small, miserable children who were now in her care.

I might have managed all of this had it not been for the Christmas phone call from my father. My father was largely stoic in the face of his circumstances—two young daughters relocated to Tennessee—but he wasn’t stoic where the holidays were concerned. His misery at our being so far away came through the phone and sat with us like a living thing while my sister and I, virtually incapable of stoicism, went down like a house of cards.

It wasn’t that everything about the holiday was bad. The school part of Christmas that the nuns were in charge of—the door-decorating contest, the advent calendar, and the Christmas pageant—packed in all the joy and anticipation the occasion was billed to have. When we went to the chapel and sang Rejoice! Rejoice! I felt it. I landed the role of the Archangel Gabriel two years running because my mother had made me such a transcendent pair of wings out of cardboard and gold foil wrapping paper. But by December 20, school had ended. There was no other option but to go home and wait it out.

No matter how the members of my reconfigured family suffered through Christmas year after year, all we ever thought to change were the details. There was the year we made our own ornaments, strung endless garlands of popcorn and cranberries and baked sugar cookies in the shape of stars to hang on the tree. We were living in the country then, and though it had taken us a week to make the decorations, the mice shut us down in a single night. There was the year we decided to exchange only homemade gifts. My stepfather gathered up his first wedding ring, his various class rings, and all the gold fillings he’d had taken from his teeth and had them melted down. Then he made wax casts of rings and pendants and earrings and had them cast. I still have a big, lumpy A that hangs off a chain. The other girls all had their ears pierced and so received post earrings—H for Heather, P for Patchett. There was the year my mother thought to move Christmas to early January so that we could celebrate the Feast of the Magi and my stepfather could finally have the 25th to himself, but even with the birthday cake and birthday hats none of us was fooled. That year when our father called, we said it was our stepfather’s birthday and that he should call again on the Feast of the Magi. He told us to put down the phone and go open our presents.

Because Christmas and presents are inseparable, I have never liked the presents either. Christmas was a bad day for expectations and heart’s desires. My father’s presents were always the saddest because they were so consistently wrong. He sent me clothes I never liked and dolls that were big and artistic and creepy. The year I very much wanted a pair of boot roller skates, he got me a pair in black. At recess, all the girls skated around the convent parking lot wearing white boot skates. I was disappointed to know that I would spend another year not skating, but more than that I was shaken by how little my father understood the circumstances of my life. On the phone I thanked him and said they were perfect. I never put the laces in.

Then one year my father called me late on Christmas Eve. This was unusual, because my father’s time to call was after he went to Mass on Christmas morning. In my memory I was already in bed, although it seems more likely that I went to my mother’s room and lay down on her bed to talk since that was where the phone was. I will say that I was twelve but in truth I have no idea how old I was. I was a child. My father called because he wanted to read me a short story that was in the newspaper. My father’s newspaper has always been the Los Angeles Times.

If I was twelve that Christmas Eve, I already knew I wanted to be a writer. That knowledge goes back as early as six, as early as the start of school and maybe even before that. I may at times forget the details of my life but I remember the stories I read. Plots, characters, entire passages of dialogue are stenciled on my brain. They are softened now but for the most part legible. Authors—poor authors!—are gone completely. It was much, much later that I took any notice of who was doing the writing.

I am certain this is the only time my father, or anyone else for that matter, ever read me a story over the phone. I closed my eyes in order to give myself over completely to the pleasures of listening, the phone against my ear like a conch shell. The narrator of the story was a grown woman who was remembering a Christmas Eve in her childhood. She had grown up in a Catholic orphanage and every year each of the girls received a single, disappointing gift that had come to them by way of charity. The gifts were given out in a random sort of lottery and for years the heroine had received a pair of gloves or a package of underwear, some article of necessity that might have been appreciated had it not been masquerading as a Christmas present. But on this particular night her luck changed dramatically. She received a tin box of colored drawing pencils that she had desperately wanted. The narrator planned to be an artist and so not only was the gift delightful, it was actually her only shot at having a future. She both loved the pencils and needed them, and she took them to bed with her in a cold room with a good blanket where she slept with the other girls, and she was happy.

Christmas morning in this story came early. The nuns woke the girls up before it was light and told them that during the night a large group of gypsies had come to sleep in the field on the other side of the woods from the orphanage. The gypsy children had no presents at all, and no breakfast, and so the nuns told the girls that they should think about giving up their gifts to the poor children.

This is the only detail of the story that I puzzle over: Did the nuns tell the girls they had to give up their presents or did they suggest the idea and leave it up to them? Morally, of course, it’s more interesting to give the girls the choice, but I’m certain the nuns where I went to school would have made us give the presents up.

Bundled in their coats and scarves, the girls went through the woods towards the gypsy camp in the darkness, carrying not only their presents but their breakfasts. The gypsy children were poor and thin and shivering in the cold, and the narrator was beautifully brave as she gave her colored pencil set to one of the little gypsy girls. She was glad to do it, because at that moment she recognized all that she had—a place to sleep, food, an education, nuns to look after her. She knew how lucky she was to be the girl who had something as extraordinary as colored pencils to give away. They walked back to the orphanage as the sun was coming up and it seems to me that there was singing, by the nuns or the orphans or the gypsies, though the singing may be my own embellishment, so great was my happiness by the time my father drew the story to a close.

Though there was no talk of it during this particular phone conversation, my father wanted me to be a dental hygienist. Unlike my sister, I wasn’t shooting the lights out in school, and he thought it was essential that I have a practical skill to fall back on. A career in writing seemed about as likely to him as the chances of my inheriting Disneyland. My father thought I should be realistic.

But my father was a great reader who had a real appreciation for stories. He wouldn’t have read me a bad short story no matter how moral it was, and I’m certain that he read me this one as much for its simple and lovely construction as for its messages—there’s always someone who’s worse off than you; it is better to give than to receive; and, most of all, listen to the nuns, who are bound to steer you towards your best self.

And I got all of that, but in the kind of explosion of understanding that sometimes happens in childhood, I got more and more. My father loved to cut the newspaper apart and mail his favorite articles to my sister and me, and even now it strikes me as tender that he called to read this one to me over the phone. There was no gift that could have made me feel my father really knew me the way that story did. I loved the bright portrait of Catholicism at its best: as much as I

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  • (4/5)
    Didn't realize it was a book of short stories.
  • (5/5)
    This collection of essays from one of my favorite authors covers a wide variety of topics, everything from working at TGIFridays to dogs. The way Patchett writes makes any topic interesting. She is truthful and blunt at times, even when discussing sensitive subjects like grief, censorship, and divorce, but it’s this honesty that makes it easy for a reader to feel connected. Her passion for different things come through in her writing and you find yourself getting sucked into stories about seeing MET opera productions in her local theatre, taking a book tour or staying in a hotel and doing nothing.Most of these articles were published in various magazines (Atlantic Monthly, Wall Street Journal, etc.) over the years, but all of them were new to me. She also included a few new pieces to round out the book. She spent years making ends meet with her freelance work for magazine and that experience is evident in the structure of the essays. They flow smoothly, each one a self-contained piece that stands on its own, but also adds to the neat arch through her life that the book traces. One of my favorites was a piece on her bookstore Parnassus in Nashville. I had the opportunity to visit it last year and I loved hearing more about the history of its creation. I also loved her pieces about her dog Rose. As a dog lover it’s easy to immediately relate to those. BOTTOM LINE: Each essay offered the reader another glimpse into the writer’s world. I don’t know if I would have loved it so much if I wasn’t already a huge fan, but I am, so this was a treat all the way through.
  • (4/5)
    This is the first nonfiction book of Ann Patchett's that I have read, and I picked it up after seeing her in conversation with Richard Russo. I was charmed by her in that interaction and anxious to read the book. I found the book less charming and actually a little confusing. In the talk she mentioned that one of her college teachers/mentors had said that you can't be a good writer if you are not a good person. The picture she paints of herself in the book is certainly not entirely the picture of a good person! It's not that all of us don't do mean or selfish things, but the "good" part of us usually indicates some remorse, or "firm purpose of amendment," as the Catholic version goes. There were two points in the book (or maybe three) where she exhibited behaviors that could be considered mean, selfish, but no real sign of regret. One of the episodes was so shocking that I recounted it to my family. My son said, "Why would she tell that story on herself?" Good question - probably because she doesn't go to confession any more.That being said, there are other signs of nobility in her steadfast care of her grandmother, and her acute talent for friendships. The last chapter I read aloud to my husband. It is one of those passages that will stay with both of us, I think.I read Richard Russo's "Elsewhere," and I came away liking him better as a person. Not so much with this book, though it confirmed her amazing skill as a writer. And in a way it gives the lie to the belief of her college professor. I am not sure I see her as a good person but she is a most formidable writer.
  • (5/5)
    Ms Patchett is one of those authors who can write about almost anything and I'll be interested. This is a diverse collection of essays, many of them auto-biographical, on topics such as pets, marriage, coping with natural catastrophes, Catholicism, and helping loved ones die.
  • (5/5)
    I love Ann Patchett's fiction, so I approached this collection of essays with anticipation. I didn't hurt that several of you have written glowing reviews of this book either. And I wasn't disappointed. Ann Patchett has a unique, straightforward voice. In these stories of her life, her relationships, her decisions, she not only makes the personal universal, but she captures the nuances of each experience with so much precision and insight that I'd find myself nodding along. I liked the essays about her grandmother best because I felt like she was writing for me too. That's exactly how it was when my grandmother got dementia. But even when she entered territory that in no way resembled by own, such as when she tried out for the LAPD, I found myself drawn in, identifying with the way these events shaped her life. These essays were originally written for various publications as a way for Patchett to support herself while she wrote novels, and that may have given them their clear voice. Patchett reflects, "The job of these essays had been to support art, not to be art, but maybe that was what spared them from self-consciousness." Patchett convinced me that writing about it is a good way to see a life clearly, as she does with her relationship with her husband:"There are always those perfect times with the people we love, those moments of job and equality that sustain us later on. I am living that time with my husband now. I try to study our happiness so that I will be able to remember it in the future, just in case something happens and we find ourselves in need."This is a beautiful collection of essays. Highly recommended!
  • (4/5)
    I read Ann Patchett's [This is the Story of a Happy Marriage] last night as an audiobook, narrated by the author. This is a collection of essays written over the past decade or so with most of them published elsewhere. Most of them are memoir material, having to do with growing up as a child of divorce, attending Catholic schools, the perils of MFA programs, dogs (one in particular, Rose), divorce & marriage, and the founding of Parnassus books. Much of the first part of the book is of interest to aspiring writers. Having read several of her novels, I was interested in hearing more about how the author thinks, reads, and approaches writing. I was not disappointed. I gave it 4 stars.
  • (5/5)
    A wonderful collection of essays on a wide variety of topics including how to succeed in writing, the joys of watching opera in HD at the local movie theater and the author's unexpected enjoyment camping in a Winnebago. We meet her first and second husbands, her beloved dog Rosie and a Nun and a very special grandmother who have been central players in her most interesting life. Ms. Patchett has a freshness and vibrancy both in her writing and the way she perceives the world that makes this a very special book.
  • (4/5)
    A collection of essays (and a speech) that is Fine from beginning to end. I had only read Ann Patchett's second novel, Taft, before. Most of her fiction has not called to me, based on descriptions, and even enthusiastic reviews by readers I respect. HOWEVER, having read all these pieces, many of which spoke directly to my heart and soul, I know I have to trust Ann Patchett to tell me a good story, even if it isn't one that seems to be "my kind of thing" on the face of it. When she described her 7th grade self's brief but lovely encounter with Eudora Welty at a book signing, I found myself hugging the book, and there might have been a tear in my eye over her final observation about that: "For the sheer force of its heart-stopping, life-changing wonder, I will put this experience up against anyone who ever saw the Beatles." Also, she has forced --forced, I tell you--me to buy two books, a collection of Grace Paley's short stories, and the 2006 edition of Best American Short Stories, which Patchett edited and for which she wrote a wonderful introduction (included in This is the Story...October 2017
  • (4/5)
    This is a very short audible book read by the author herself.
    This is an extremely well-written biographical snippet discussing relationships and how things go wrong, how things went wrong in her own life and how she finally found a relationship that worked long term and how she finally found a partner she wanted to spend the rest of her life with.
    Intelligent. Touching.
  • (5/5)
    I have been entranced by Ann Patchett’s books ever since a book club I was in chose “Bel Canto” as the monthly pick. I was NOT thrilled with that choice. A novel about an opera singer? Hmm. So I put it off as long as I could…and once I finally picked it up – I fell in love with the sound of the words, the beauty of the images. After finishing that book, I read all of her backlist and have been a fan ever since.“This is the Story of a Happy Marriage” gave me a chance to see behind the curtain, to see more of the person behind the words. Many of the essays are about Patchett’s life, and all of them involve her in one way or another. I liked them almost as much as I adore her fiction – possibly because she does not hold back when the subject matter calls for brutal honesty. The reader learns about her first marriage (and her divorce), her relationship with her grandmother, her relationship with her dog (both of which are beautiful and heartbreaking), and about some of the most difficult times of her life.There is also the added benefit of getting a taste of her sense of humor. She is funny and self-deprecating and isn’t afraid to let the reader see her at less than her best. The stories about her week-long trip in a motor home, her experience taking the qualifying tests for the LAPD police academy are funny and fascinating.And yet, the sections I enjoyed the most were the ones about writing. About her love for, frustration with and passion surrounding her craft. For one who always dreamed of being a writer, who went to college to study creative writing and one who loves books, this was almost akin to learning the secrets of a master magician – without any resulting disillusionment.“This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life. It is the greatest novel in the history of literature, and I have thought it up, and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see.”“And so I do. When I can’t think of another stall, when putting it off has actually become more painful than doing it, I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page.”And: “It’s a wonderful thing to find a great teacher, but we also have to find him or her at a time in life when we’re able to listen to and trust and implement the lessons we are given. The same is true of the books we read. I think that what influences us in literature comes less from what we love and more from what we happen to pick up in moments we are especially open.”All of these fascinating, beautifully written, emotionally honest essays were a delight to read. And last but certainly not least? Reading about an author who then buys and promotes an independent bookstore (every reader’s dream – come on!) when the two big bookstores in her town close? Icing on the delicious and well-crafted cake.
  • (3/5)
    Free from Audible to members. I found this essay to be quite engaging and interesting as a child of an unhappy marriage eventually followed by divorce now trying to figure out how to have a happy marriage without having seen one.
  • (5/5)
    I love her writing. Hoping if I read this often enough I'll become a better writer. It does work that way, right? The selection of essays has an interesting range of topics, sometimes surprising, always good.
  • (4/5)
    Patchett is a nice person to spend some time with, even if you are personally not interested in learning more about the craft of writing. She's a good companion to listen to during a car ride.
  • (5/5)
    Love the author so am biased; however, most of these stories gave more details on subjects I already knew something about in relation to her. When I like an author I like to know them "personally" and Patchett allows us access. Her story (book title) about her marriage is wonderful and, to me, gave much to think about afterwards because I felt somewhat the same as she about marriage (or not).
  • (4/5)
    Funny, interesting essay.
  • (4/5)
    I have read Ann Patchett's books for a long time now, long enough that I can see her improving in her craft, book by book. This grouping of essays cover a wide range of subjects that she has written throughout the years. So interesting how she started her writing career and how she approaches her writing now, the care she puts into her research. Very interesting. Marriage, her Catholic faith, RV travel, and of course her dog Rosie. Loved how she talked about her dog, can tell she is madly in love with the pooch. Marriage, what it means and the importance of this in her life.Of course, her bookstore Parnassus in Tennessee, which I hope to get to one day and her unsolicited quest as the head of the movement of the independent bookstore. This book made me feel that I knew her much better, more in depth, a little up close and personal. I enjoyed reading these essays and think she has many interesting things to say.
  • (4/5)
    44. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (2013, 306 page Hardcover, Read July 22 – Aug 3)I'm having a tough time reviewing this. I just can't seem to figure out whether I liked it disproportionately to it's quality, or how to express that with the right amount of imprecision. I loved the collection. The quality is at least good, if not great. I mean Patchett clearly has some skills in writing personal essays (the essays are all about her life). She excels at bringing the reader in and making us interested, not dragging the essays along, and leaving the reader moved, sometimes in only a few words. As these are all personal essays, cumulatively they work as something like a biography. She covers childhood experiences with divorced parents in two states, half siblings, grad school, bad marriages, affairs with the like of David Foster Wallace, dogs, aging, relationships, writing, her odd experience with freedom of expression, and how she has accidentally become the voice of the independent book store. For all she has accomplished, it was her book store, Parnassus in Nashville, TN, that got her on front page of the New York Times and on the Colbert Report. I found I liked pretty much every essay. They were originally supposed to stand on their own, and they do. The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life is a short manual on how to write, or at least how she writes. It's quite brilliant, I think. How to Read a Christmas Story is simply about her dad telling her a Christmas story over the phone on Christmas day. But it's not a simple story. Thanks to her parent's divorce, her father calls Tennessee on Christmas Day from California where he spends the day alone...and just little details like that make this actually a fairly complex story that does a lot to the reader in a few pages. For me, clearly the best essay was the title one, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Maybe I like this so much because this is where she talks about her relationship with David Foster Wallace (who she merely names David). But also it's just a great fairy tale version of her life. There is naivety, a tragic beginning, a terrible sin, variations of romance, and various snares and adventures that all lead up to a happy ending of sorts. And it was not till afterward that I started to think about how many different elements of the story captured me, or about all those distracting details that were stripped off, to keep simple, if you like. Anyway, for what it's worth, I got a lot out of this.
  • (4/5)
    In this book of essays, Ann Patchett discusses her writing career, her relationships, and her life's lessons. It's probably very difficult to put together this many advice and memoir essays without coming off as self-righteous at least part of the time. That said, the lessons she imparts are worth learning. The book opens with essays about Patchett’s writing career: how she got where she is today and what that place actually looks like. This was my favorite part of the book, because the essays focused on working hard, trying hard, and having a lot of luck. You only get better at writing by doing it, something I need to be reminded of when I get distracted by other "obligations" in my life. I was inspired by how she built stories in her head while waiting tables and how she came up with a million ideas for magazine articles, just hoping that something would stick. In her essay about book tours, she brought up a lot of points I hadn't considered, since I haven't had the privledge to do that (yet).The personal memoir essays were also interesting and could be very touching. That said, Patchett's life comes off as some sort of Writer Fantasy World that's hard not to envy. By coincidence, I was reading Allie Brosh's Hyberole and a Half (book) at the same time, and that served as a much-needed contrast. It was like switching between Lesley Knope and Liz Lemon.; you sort of need one to balance out the other. So maybe my dog, as much as I love him, will never be the perfect specimen of dog that Patchett's Rose was. He's a lot closer to Brosh's Simple Dog, actually, which made me laugh. And maybe I'm an aspiring writer who hasn't worked and tried hard enough to get a paid fellowship to write my first novel. At least I got off the couch and showered today, and that's pretty alright. I should also add that this is the only writing of Patchett's I've (knowingly) read. I'm not sure why that would matter, especially considering that the writing-advice essays were my favorites, but from skimming through other reviews, it seems to matter a lot. I picked up this book because of the "Fresh Air" interview, and then I thought it was going to be a full memoir, not essays. As it turns out, I probably liked this format better. I recommend This is the Story of a Happy Marriage for writers and for die-hard Patchett fans. But keep in mind that for every Lesley Knope, there's a Liz Lemon out there setting the bar at a reasonable standard for the rest of us.
  • (5/5)
    This is a book of fine essays by one of the best writers around. I love Ann Patchett's fiction (Bel Canto, State of Wonder) but had not read any of her magazine articles until now. Truth and Beauty was also non-fic, the biography of Ann's dear friend Lucy Grealy, whose cancer of the jaw left her physically devastated but with a brilliant mind and soul. One of the essays here defends Truth and Beauty and Autobiography of a Face, Lucy's book, which were assigned freshman reading at a Southern college where parents of students attempted to censor the project. Ann's speech to the freshman class is her Gettysburg address of defense of literary freedom, though oddly enough, she repudiates the speech as pretentious later on.Ann's deliciously complex marriage is the subject of the longest story and maybe the best. Everything here is grade A+++ choice. Don't miss it.
  • (5/5)
    This is a compilation of Ann Patchett short stories and articles, which have been published in various magazines over the years. There are also several speeches included from university commencements. The chapters are each distinct and cover topics ranging from marriage, writing, pet ownership, and family obligations. Ann is such a wonderful writer and it is easy to feel that you know her well after reading these glimpses into her life. I found it particularly enjoyable since I had read "Truth & Beauty," which covered a specific period of Ann's writing career and her friendship with Lucy Grealy. A very enjoyable collection, although not particularly about marriage.
  • (5/5)
    This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage is a collection of 23 essays (including the introduction) written by Ann Patchett between 1996 and 2012. The stories not only showcase some of the nonfiction she has written, but they serve as a genuine introduction to the person of Ann Patchett. It is a well-known fact that Patchett is an excellent writer. How she approached this pinnacle of success is well documented in the introduction and the subsequent essays bear the truth/fruit of her efforts.

    Some of these essays originally appeared in some form in various magazines: Atlantic Monthly, Audible, Gourmet, Granta, Harper's, New York Times, Vogue, and the Washington Post Magazine. Others were written for a venue with this collection also in mind.

    Actually, I'm hard pressed to pick favorites from her essays since I found strong points in each one. They all deal with commitments, whether it is to a spouse or a dog or a grandmother or a state or a vocation or an idea. But what all of these essays excel at is tutoring and illustrating how it should be done for would-be-writers. All of these essays are just as compelling as any short story and prove the point that a good writer can write about the ordinariness of everyday life, like caring for a loved one, and make it interesting, honest, and poetic.

    All of these essays have something to say. The writing is outstanding... simply superlative. Patchett is able to accurately describe scenes and people in such an extraordinary way that you will feel a connection to the writing. While this is a collection of essays, in many ways it also functions as a memoir, an incredibly literary and beautifully rendered memoir with insightful vignettes and heart-felt disclosures.

    Fans of Patchett's fiction should do themselves a favor and purchase this collection asap.

    To Patchett I just want to say: Thank you for giving me a small glimpse of some of the things composting in your humus. The brief scenes and insight you chose to share have widened my perspective of your work and given me an even greater appreciation of your talent.

    Very Highly Recommended


    Contents:

    Nonfiction, an Introduction explains the fact that a writer has to earn a living too. It covers how Patchett not only paid her dues as a freelance nonfiction writer, but also how this helped her become a better writer.

    How to Read a Christmas Story is a recollection of various Christmas memories and her first happy Christmas

    The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life - is another great essay for those who want to be writers. Two thoughts to share:
    "I am a compost heap, and everything I interact with, every experience I've had, gets shoveled onto the heap where it eventually mulches down, is digested and excreted by worms, and rots. It's from that dark, rich humus, the combination of what you encountered, what you know and what you've forgotten, that ideas start to grow." (pg 41)

    "I believe in keeping several plots going at once. The plot of a novel should be like walking down a busy city street.... All manner of action and movement is rushing toward you and away. But that isn't enough.... Many writers feel that plot is passe' - they're so over plot, who needs plot? - to which I say: Learn how to construct one first, and then feel free to reject it." (pg. 48)

    The Sacrament of Divorce is about her very short, first marriage. "Honey, I know. Things happen that you never thought were possible." (pg. 65)

    The Paris Match - is about a trip to Paris and a word game.

    This Dog's Life - is the story of how she found her dog, Rose.

    In The Best Seat in the House she explains how she satisfies her love of opera.

    My Road to Hell Was Paved is about renting a Winnebago to explore RVing in the American West for an article.

    In Tennessee she reflects on some of her experiences living in the state.

    On Responsibility is about caring for her dog and her grandmother.

    The Wall is about the time Patchettt went through the written and physical tests to try out for the police academy in Los Angeles.

    Fact vs. Fiction is the Miami University of Ohio Convocation Address of 2005.

    In My Life in Sales Patchett reflects on going out on book tours to sell her novels.

    "The Love Between the Two Women Is Not Normal" discusses a protest at Clemson University over Patchett's nonfiction book Truth and Beauty, a memoir about her friendship with writer Lucy Grealy.

    The Right to Read is the Clemson Freshman Convocation Address of 2006.

    Do Not Disturb discusses Pachett checking into the Hotel Bel-Air for some peace and quiet in order to get some work done.

    Introduction to The Best American Short Stories 2006 (self-explanatory)

    Love Sustained is a moving tribute to her grandmother.

    The Bookstore Strikes Back explains how Patchett came to be co-owner of an independent bookstore in Nashville, Parnassus Books.

    This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage is the story of her family history of failed marriages in comparison to her now successful relationship.

    In Our Deluge, Drop by Drop, Patchett reflects on flooding.

    In Dog without End she is faced with her faithful companion Rose's decline in health.

    In The Mercies Patchett helps Sister Nena, a Sister of Mercy and former teacher, move into an apartment by herself for the first time at age 78.


    Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from HarperCollins for review purposes.
  • (5/5)
    After my experience with Patchett's Bel Canto and State of Wonder, I snatched this up at the library without knowing anything about it. Turns out to be a collection of short stories (some shorter than others). Now, short stories are not my thing - I like big books, I cannot lie - but the writing is so beautiful and honest, that I'm reconsidering that position. It's like eating a box of chocolates, and each little bonbon is not only your favorite, but impossibly even more delicious than the one before.
  • (5/5)
    Such a wonderful writer she is. The chapter on writing should be read by all writers; the chapter on her marriage should be read by all married people! How she manages to craft such beautiful sentences is beyond me.
  • (4/5)
    I love Ann Patchett. Truth and Beauty is my favorite, and this book is right up there. I enjoy Ann's essays that give me some insight into her life and the experiences that formed her. It was fun to find out the story of how her indie bookstore came to be.
  • (3/5)
    This is a collection of essays which I listened to in audiobook form. The narrator was Ann Patchett herself, which is a nice bonus. There's something about listening to the author tell you stories about her own life that just makes it a lot more immediate-seeming. The essay topics range from writing and going on book tours to the title one about marriage (spoiler: it's about an unhappy marriage as well as a happy one), to a couple of ones about her dog.The best ones for me were "The Getaway Car," which was about writing, and "The Wall," which was about her attempt at the tests for the LAPD police academy. An odd thing happened while I was listening to the various essays, though, and that is that I began to like Ms. Patchett less and less. I can't point to exactly why that is, although her references to her long-time boyfriend/eventual husband seemed so unemotional that they were offputting. Also, her essay about her friend, writer Lucy Grealy (subject of Patchett's book Truth and Beauty, which I haven't read) just struck me as odd at points. In searching around for more information on the book, I found out that Grealy's family was not entirely happy that Patchett wrote that book, or with the timing and contents thereof.So I guess what I'm trying to say is that by the end of the audiobook, I was listening with a certain amount of distance I didn't have at the beginning. I'm sure Patchett would be a great companion for dinner, but I don't know that I'd want to spend much more time with her than that. However, her advice about being a writer (which applies to any creative field, and probably to a lot of others as well) is spot-on and well-stated. It boils down to: Sit. Write, or don't, but don't get up or do anything else until you've written something or decided that you're not going to write.
  • (4/5)
    I have read quite a bit of Patchett's fiction over the years and I was lucky enough to hear her talk when she accepted the WNBA Award this past spring. Having enjoyed her fiction, her lovely non-fiction tribute to a friend, and delighted in her acceptance speech, I was definitely curious to read this collection of nonfiction, culled from her years of writing for magazines. I don't know what she left out of the book, but this is definitely a best of the best kind of collection and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Almost all of the essays in the book have been previously published in a wide variety of magazines, which might lead you to think that there is no unifying thread to the works but you'd be far wide of the mark. No matter how diverse the subject matter appears to be, each of the essays adds a small piece to the puzzle of who Ann Patchett is as a person. It might seem odd to suggest that there are snippets of bared soul in essays like living in an RV or trying out to enter the LA Police Academy, and less odd to suggest that additional private glimpses come through in essays about her love for her small, found dog, her relationship with her failing grandmother, and her friendship with an aging nun who once taught her in school, but all of them, as well as the rest of the essays, are equally personal and revealing in weaving the story of her life. The essays are linked by the importance of commitment and relationship and explore the things about which Patchett cares deeply. She addresses marriage and divorce, the parent child relationship, the power and disappointment of writing, and the negative reaction to Truth and Beauty, her beautiful ode to her late friend Lucy Grealy. Most of the pieces are short; they were written for magazines originally, after all. But the length is immaterial given the heart that shines through them in this uniformly strong collection. Patchett doesn't present only the heartwarming and positive in her experience but she chronicles the real and the difficult and the not so pretty, the arguments and the failings and the less than admirable moments that make up a real person. And in compiling the collection she has, she has made herself accessible to her readers in a new and different way. You'll close the cover to these stories feeling as if you'd be privileged to be Patchett's friend.
  • (3/5)
    I've decided I just don't love ann patchett that much. I loved bel canto, but I'm scared to reread it since it could have just been thr subject matter and the timing of my reading. I thought state of wonder was appallingly dreadful. I thought Truth and beauty portrayed her in an arrogant light. Some of these essays came off that way- the getaway car often gave backhanded compliments to less successful mentors. Some essays were more interesting - like the one about her interest in the met hd, or the one about her book store in Nashville- but that's pretty much it. They didn't leave me shaken to the core, or with a new perspective on the topic, I just felt glad that she was writing about something I enjoyed. Her writing just doesn't move me. One exception was "Love Sustained" about her relationship with her grandmother. Worth an independent read.
  • (5/5)
    Ohhh---ten stars at least! I LOVED this! It's almost becomes a memoir rather than just her essays and how wonderful to see inside Ann Pachett all at once in one place. I was just sorry to come to the end of the book but at least I have already gathered up one of her earlier novels to read that I missed.......
  • (4/5)
    A collection of personal essays from throughout Patchett's career, this book avoids being hit or miss, with every essay in it striking a chord with me. I did enjoy some of them more than others, of course, but the whole collection was wonderful. My favorites were "The Wall," about trying out for the LA police academy; "The Right to Read," an address to the Clemson freshman class of 2006 amid a brouhaha about one of Patchett's books; and "The Mercies," about Patchett's friendship with a nun. Recommended.
  • (5/5)
    This was a collection of Ann Patchett's non-fiction essays, most of which have previously appeared in Vogue, The Atlantic etc, but which are ordered here in a chronology to read like a memoir or autobiography. I enjoyed some more than others, but they were all warm and thought-provoking. For reasons I don't fully understand I particularly enjoyed the chapter where she applies to the LAPD academy and has (but this is a very small part of that chapter) to dumb down her language skills to pass the written exam. I was inspired by the chapter where she opens an independent bookstore (a shame my town already has an excellent independent bookstore) and I would endorse the message of the chapter about her happy marriage: "Does he make you a better person?"