Nourishing, Fulfilling and Wholesome: The Best Essays of 2021

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from Bloomsbury India. However, all opinions expressed are my own.

One of the best books I read in December, or rather, in 2021, was Ann Patchett’s latest — These Precious Days.

I had first come across the author’s work in The Dutch House, which had been yet another review copy that the kind people over at Bloomsbury had sent me. I had loved reading it then (late 2019), and the essence of it had remained in me for a long time afterward. 

I felt strangely in touch and in tandem with the emotions of the characters in a way that was unlike anything I had ever felt previously, for characters in ‘literary fiction’ works.

Flashforward to December 2021, I got the opportunity to reacquaint myself with Ann Patchett, and boy, am I glad! There is certainly a reason why this is one of my favorite reads of the year, as it was Barack Obama’s!


Synopsis

If I still haven’t convinced you enough, here is a synopsis from Goodreads:

“Any story that starts will also end.” As a writer, Ann Patchett knows what the outcome of her fiction will be. Life, however, often takes turns we do not see coming. Patchett ponders this truth in these wise essays that afford a fresh and intimate look into her mind and heart. 

A literary alchemist, Patchett plumbs the depths of her experiences to create gold: engaging and moving pieces that are both self-portrait and landscape, each vibrant with emotion and rich in insight. Turning her writer’s eye on her own experiences, she transforms the private into the universal, providing us all a way to look at our own worlds anew, and reminds how fleeting and enigmatic life can be. 

From the enchantments of Kate di Camilo’s children’s books to youthful memories of Paris; the cherished life gifts given by her three fathers to the unexpected influence of Charles Schultz’s Snoopy; the expansive vision of Eudora Welty to the importance of knitting, Patchett connects life and art as she illuminates what matters most. Infused with the author’s grace, wit, and warmth, the pieces in These Precious Days resonate deep in the soul, leaving an indelible mark — and demonstrate why Ann Patchett is one of the most celebrated writers of our time.


Essays and why I love them

There is something undefinably wholesome and at the same time, real, in the reading of essays. One knows there is an end, that arrives faster than a novel’s (which might even have a sequel); that is to say, essays are short. Unbearably so or gladly so? I cannot say for sure.

The compactness of the essay is something that has really pulled me towards essays, increasingly so in recent times. Perhaps I have evolved as a reader or I simply want to explore the shorter works of literature now — short stories, essays, and the like. But what I could not imagine when I had first started doing so, was how life-altering it would be.

Knowing that there is an end and that essays are often non-fictional works rooted in reality (in someone’s actual life), sobers me and at the same time, makes me fascinated. Is it therefore a surprise if I say that I connect more with essay writers than perhaps any character in a fictional tale?


Ann Patchett’s style

Now we arrive at the most arduous part of my review essay — to put into words the beauty of Ann Patchett’s writing. Even ‘beauty’ is too simple. 

And so I glance through the blurbs and see that words like ‘powerful’, ‘profound’, ‘kind’, ‘nourishing’ (too bad that I already used it in my title), ‘truth’, ‘pleasure, ‘master’, ‘forensic eye’, ‘humane’, ‘stunning’ etc. have been used in varying capacities to describe the way Patchett’s work made readers and reviewers alike, from all over the world, feel.

For the sake of my own peace and the feeling of accomplishment that will definitely be there if I believe I am able to describe my own emotions about the collection well, I shall at least try.

Ann Patchett writes about life. But what is special is that she brings the reader in — you are now her friend, and maybe you are penpals, the width of a country between you; maybe you are a girlfriend sipping on long island peach teas on a Sunday as you catch up, or maybe you are the favourite relative. 

You are now a cherished part of Patchett’s life and in return, you cherish being given that place of honour. I laughed, cried, felt bittersweet, inspired — but most of all, I felt understood because Patchett’s work is humane. There. I just had to use the word.

I cannot possibly not talk about this other aspect as well — how Patchett’s words are so evocative, they fill my mind’s eye. Her sentences are cozy and often quite calming in how they are delivered. The reader is at home and finally at peace.


My Favourite Essays

From the 24 pieces in this collection (yes, I shall count the Introduction and Epilogue in it), I resonated on a greater level with some of them. This was because of various reasons, including but not limited to my own journey in life — living today as I am, my convictions and ideologies, my aspirations, my relationships, and so on. Maybe you will resonate like me, with all of them, but in most probability, you will have a completely different selection (which again reflects the varied nature of the humane in Patchett’s work!)

So the essays I resonated the most with, are:

  1. The First Thanksgiving
  2. My Year of No Shopping
  3. How to Practice
  4. How Knitting Saved My Life. Twice
  5. Tavia
  6. A Paper Ticket Is Good For One Year
  7. The Nightstand
  8. A Talk to the Association of Graduate School Deans in the Humanities
  9. Two More Things I Want to Say about My Father

And here I end

I shall end my attempt at this review essay, by simply believing that a friend is reading this. So here goes:

Consider this book a gift from me to you. Think of it as a reflection of the depths of my heart, my feelings (because this book is now a part of me and I am a part of this book).

And I give you my heart, Dearest One.


Nayanika Saikia graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature and was also a Dean’s List student. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree and is also a Booktuber and Bookstagrammer. She can often be found on her Instagram account Pretty Little Bibliophile. You can support me by Buying Me a Coffee.

Published by pretty_little_bibliophile

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