Notes from Ann Patchett: Planning Ahead

In case you don’t yet know me well, I LOVE Ann Patchett. I’ve read all of her books, reviewed all her books, hand-pressed copies into people’s hands and generally swooned over her very being.

My husband and I have talked about a trip to Nashville and truly, my primary reason for wanting to go is the chance to visit Parnassus Books. Whether or not Ann is there, I want to step into her space and financially support her endeavor.

Anyway, that’s all an introduction into why I’m sharing Ann’s latest post on the Bookstore’s blog, Musing, which, by the way, I also follow.

Ann writes about the books that excite her, new releases, author interactions — you know, all the great stuff I’d hear if I were her real-life friend and not just a cyber-groupie.

In Notes from Ann: Planning Ahead, Ann not only gets me excited about some fall releases but reveals that she and I share an intense love for Colum McCann’s novel, Let the Great World Spin. (Swoon again.)

Notes from Ann: Planning Ahead

#BookADay Day 4 – Least Favorite Favorite

Continuing the #bookaday challenge posted by Borough Press. Today’s challenge to name your least favorite book by a favorite author has stirred up some Twitter and blogger controversy, and, really, what does the social media world like more?

I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. Authors, even the best ones, are only human. They make mistakes. They fail. They grow better with practice. I have go-to authors and favorites. All of them have, at some point, published a book or story that disappointed me.

Let’s keep perspective here. Authors themselves would be the first to admit all books are not equal. When I saw Jonathan Tropper in person he told the story of wanting to “un-write” his book Plan B. (He also told all of us who had not read it not to bother. I’ve chosen to take his advice.)

And so…My least favorite book by a favorite author is The Magician’s Assistant by my beloved Ann Patchett.the magician's assistant

This is a perfectly lovely book. Patchett tells an interesting story about women suffering with loss in unusual circumstances. It just doesn’t live up to the strong writing I see in Patchett’s other books.

Keep in mind that I love Patchett so much that I decided to read all of her fiction and some non-fiction in 2012. I called it my Ann Patchett Project and I had to come to terms then with my disappointment in this book. You can read all about it here.




A November Reading Wrap-Up

I did post an individual review of my favorite book in November (actually my favorite book I read this year), Tell the Wolves I’m Home, but I managed to complete quite a few more novels. Here’s a wrap-up of what I read in November.

Harry Potter Prisoner of AzkabanHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (audio)

4 stars

My sons and I have been listening to the Jim Dale audio versions of the Harry Potter series and this one did not disappoint us. I love how Rowling tackles the trials and tribulations of a boy growing up. Of course Harry’s world is fantastic and dangerous and full of wizards and magic, but at its core, this entire series is a coming-of-age saga. The four of us experience the books each in our own way. That’s an achievement in itself – the fact that my sons want to sit in the car just to listen to more is astonishing.

“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

GoldGold by Chris Cleave

3.5 stars

I was so eager to read Cleave’s follow-up to Little Bee that it’s no wonder I was slightly disappointed. I loved the high stakes world of Olympic cyclists and I have to say that Cleave really understands how to write broken, wounded women, but I was never 100% invested in either of the protagonists. Gripping while it lasted, but didn’t stay with me long.

“Love wasn’t supposed to require the constant reassurance. But then again, love wasn’t supposed to sit watching its own reflection in a dead TV while temptation rode a blazing path to glory.”

LLots of Candlesots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen (audio)

4 stars

Listening to Quindlen read her own essays was an easy pleasure. I admit there were moments when I felt “too young” to totally identify with her, but how can I complain about a book that makes me feel too young? Seriously though, I loved the prompt to think about where I am in my life — both what’s behind me and what’s ahead. Quindlen has a remarkable way of bringing me in tune with myself. There are no huge revelations of life-changers in this collection, just an interesting collection of thoughts from a very strong writer, woman and mother. I’m a little jealous.

“One of the useful things about age is realizing conventional wisdom is often simply inertia with a candy coating of conformity.”

The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

4 stars

I almost feel bad about how much I liked this coming-of-age novel because it’s all so obvious and melodramatic, but I loved it. I fell right into this dysfunctional world of overwrought and seriously damaged teenagers and didn’t want to come out. Nothing subtle about Chbosky’s writing, but I didn’t expect anything else from YA. What he did successfully was capture that very particular moment in teenage-dom when you are both cynical and naïve.

“I guess what I’m saying is it all feels familiar. But it’s not mine to be familiar about. I just know another kid has felt this…all the books you’ve read have been read by other people. The songs you love have been heard by other people. The girl that’s pretty to you is pretty to other people. You know that if you looked at these facts when you were happy, you would feel great because you are describing “unity.””

taftTaft by Ann Patchett

3 stars

Definitely not my favorite Patchett. As I expected she sets an incredible scene (in this case Memphis) and gives the readers a multitude of interesting characters, both black and white, trying to balance life’s joys and challenges. There are peaks of drama and a whole lot of internal monologues. All typical Patchett stuff. But this story, this setting, these characters never really captured my interest. Looking back on the body of her fiction work, I can say that her books just keep getting better and better.

“As a state, Tennessee was nearly as screwed up as Texas, in that a man’s allegiance wasn’t to the whole state, just that little part he comes from. People got stuck in the mountains. But in Memphis there’s a river running through the middle of things. It takes people out, brings other ones in. That’s why mountain people kept to themselves and delta people make love in alleyways.”


Flight BehaviorFlight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

4 stars

Kingsolver returns to the citizens of rural Appalachia, which she writes so well. Still socially responsible (and even a little preachy at times) she still drew me in to Dellarobia’s world. From the very beginning with its description of a flame-haired woman ready to throw away her life for a moment of rapture, I was hooked. Dellarobia’s natural intelligence and wit, combined with her desire for something more out of life, was a winning combination. Add to that a thought-provoking treatment of the global warming crisis, and I had a winning book.

“…and understood that he had become himself, in the presence of his wife. With the sense of a great weight settling, she recognized marriage. Not the precarious risk she’d balanced for years against forbidden fruits, something easily lost in a brittle moment by flying away or jumping a train to ride off on someone else’s steam. She was not about to lose it. She’d never had it.”


It’s W…W…W…Wednesday. For me, it’s also the start of a 5-day weekend. Looking forward to tucking into some good books. What about you? To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading? • What did you recently finish reading? • What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading? Reading the final pages of Taft by Ann Patchett. Earlier this year I endeavored to read all of her books by December. This is the last novel on my list. In typical Patchett fashion, I’m caught up in the people and the place. Not her best piece of work, but a good read. Listening to Dennis Lehane‘s Live by Night. This is a follow-up (sort of) to his novel The Given Day in that some of the same characters show up. This story is more Boardwalk Empire than historical fiction, but I’m loving it nonetheless.

What did you recently finish reading? I absolutely fell in love with Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. (See my previous post for my rave review and then, please, read it yourself.) On the other hand, I had to give up on the audio version of All the Pretty Horses. Cormack McCarthy remains one of those great authors I’ve never read.

What do you think you’ll read next? Next up, one of my favorite authors. I just got Barbara Kingsolver‘s new novel, Flight Behavior. I also have a new short story collection by Alice Munro.

What are your W…W…W… titles?


It’s Wednesday. Some say Hump Day. Some say Halloween. I say it’s time to play a little book game. Just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading? • What did you recently finish reading? • What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading? Just started Chris Cleave‘s Gold, which has been on my list for some time. Listening to the last disc of Fool by Christopher Moore. It’s his raunchy retelling of King Lear. So funny, so clever, plus the bonus of narration of Euan Morton. A true delight.

What did you recently finish reading? Finally finished The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli. I loved her book The Lotus Eaters but couldn’t quite get in the groove of this one. Some excellent writing, but I never connected to the two main characters. Took me a full week to read. That could have been because I paused to read the excellent short story collection, Astray, by Emma Donoghue. She took tidbits from historical documents about immigrants and castaways and created moving and interesting stories about them. I highly recommend for short story or historical fiction lovers.

What do you think you’ll read next? I’m planning to start the audio version of Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen. I own the book version but never got to it so I’m hoping the audio will be a good one. Next in hardcover, the completion of my Ann Patchett Project. I finally have a copy of Taft.

What are your W…W…W… titles?

My Ann Patchett Project: The Magician’s Assistant

Could I be tiring of Ann Patchett? Or could it be that The Magician’s Assistant just doesn’t live up to the magic of Patchett’s other books?

Determined to read all of Ann Patchett’s books during 2012, I never thought to read them in order of publication. I went into this project already loving State of Wonder and Bel Canto. These are high benchmarks to be sure. It’s no wonder that her early work doesn’t reach the standard of these two later titles, but this particular book almost feels as if it were written by someone else.

The Magician’s Assistant is the story of Sabine, left adrift after the death of her beloved Parsifal, the Magician. Parsifal was in fact her husband, despite the fact that he was gay and desperately in love with (and later grieving for) is life partner, Phan. After Parsifal’s death, Sabine discovers that the family he told her was dead and gone is very much alive and they want to meet her. She ends up moving in with them in Alliance, Nebraska, where she uncovers the truths of Parsifal’s childhood and the damaged people left behind.

Does it sound melodramatic? It is.

But, and this is a big but, Patchett is a good writer. Despite episodes of histrionics, she keeps the plot and characters on this side of reality. In some ways the book feels dated, very much the product of the 1990s. On the other hand, Sabine feels very real to me. I understand her grief and her need to live among Parsifal’s childhood possessions, as if meeting him anew.

But the plot developments once Sabine is in Nebraska felt forced. I just wasn’t buying the actions of Sabine or Parsifal’s family. And, surprisingly, I never felt anchored to that location. Whereas Patchett normally excels in her descriptions of setting, I could never really get anything but snow from the second half of the novel.

I have to say this is my least favorite of all the Patchett I’ve read. I’m glad it wasn’t my first novel of hers.

More posts from my Ann Patchett Project:

My Ann Patchett project: Truth and Beauty

Cover of "Truth and Beauty: A Friendship&...

Cover of Truth and Beauty: A Friendship

Having now read Ann Patchett’s honest look into her inspiring and unhealthy friendship with Lucy Grealy, I feel I have a greater understanding of the complex female relationships in her works of fiction. She delves deeply into what it means to be a friend, what it means to love unconditionally, and what it means to lose yourself in someone else’s pain. I felt like a fly on the wall of their 20 year relationship.

Patchett tackles this memoir unafraid to expose both herself and Grealy. From the very beginning, we understand that she is unapologetic about this relationship. She will present it honestly, warts and glories.

…after all, what novel or poem or play in an Introduction to Literature class couldn’t benefit from a truth-and-beauty discussion?”

Knowing nothing at all about Grealy, but feeling deeply familiar with Patchett, I tended to wonder how the two got entwined so deeply. It seems one of those inexplicable attractions when the solid, grounded anchor (Patchett) attached itself to a flighty, yet dynamic bluebird (Grealy).

I love that Patchett is willing to let Grealy look bad, really bad. Grealy is selfish and angry. She spends any money she has and continually “borrows” from her many friends.  She must, at all points, be the center of attention and, on the surface, does not seem to return Patchett’s loyalty and dedication. And yet…I too grow to love her, to understand her fierce talent and deep longing.

About Grealy’s desire for one true, all-consuming love, Patchett compares her need to the scale of Grand Central Station. She talks about first filling it with Grealy’s friends and lovers which might fill one restaurant. Next you could add her fans and those who have read her book and it might look like a smattering of bodies against that immense space. But, ultimately, Grealy could not find enough people/happiness/love to fill the space.

You could pack in thousands and thousands more people, and still it wouldn’t feel full, not full enough to take up every square inch of her loneliness.”

That image just about broke my heart and I immediately understood Patchett’s deep love and devotion. Not that she tries to portray herself as a saint. Just like with Grealy, she writes her own strengths and flaws with precision. It’s no fun to always be the anchor and she tries (unsuccessfully) to shed her own persona. But, as Grealy points out to her,

It’s your blessing and your curse. You’re always going to be fine.”

More than a memoir about two talented, engaging women, Truth and Beauty is an ode to friendship. Patchett celebrates the deep love these women share. Despite the tragic outcome, the reader comes away with the feeling that Patchett would not have done it differently.

Whenever I saw her, I felt like I had been living in another country, doing moderately well in another language, and then she showed up speaking English and suddenly I could speak with all the complexity and nuance that I hadn’t realized was gone. With Lucy I was a native speaker.”