Ann Patchett is the sort of person you want as a friend. A best-selling novelist and memoirist (her 2001 novel Bel Canto won the PEN/Faulkner Award), she often comes back to a theme of personal responsibility in her writing — responsibility to family and loved ones but also to strangers and to society in general. Her unusually strong sense of compassion would make her one of those friends you’d lean on in the best and worst times — and you wouldn’t be the first.
Take her essay “Tough Love,” in the late great Gourmet magazine, in which she takes it upon herself to push a friend who’s an overweight two-pack-a-day smoker to start making changes in her life. The tale of their journey together is compelling enough, but ultimately the story is much more: a practical definition of caring.
Patchett’s newest work is the Byliner Original The Getaway Car, excerpted here. It’s a memoir of her writing life, and should be required reading for anyone entering the literary life, or pursuing any passion.
Speaking of required reading: In “The Love Between the Two Women is Not Normal,” published in The Atlantic, Patchett tells the story of visiting Clemson University after the entire incoming freshman class was assigned to read her book Truth & Beauty, which is about her longtime friendship with a troubled woman named Lucy Grealy. Some of the book’s passages about sex cause quite a stir with parents and religious groups, and it ends up being no ordinary campus visit.
In “Great Meals: Just add Water,” also in Gourmet, Patchett and her husband and another couple charter a boat for a gourmet sailing vacation in the Virgin Islands. A nice conceit for a travel story, sure, but in Patchett’s hands it’s also a remarkable portrait of the husband-and-wife captain-and-cook team they meet on the boat, and a thoughtful reflection on friendship, gratitude and guilt.
Traveling for work is part of the life of a writer, and it’s not always fun. “My Life in Sales,” an essay Patchett wrote for The Atlantic, details the often grimy and humbling experience of going on a book tour — and the unexpected rewards that can come from it.
Though her work often takes her far away, Patchett’s roots are firmly planted in Nashville, where she grew up and lives still. A Novelist’s Prime Nesting Place in Nashville, from the New York Times, is a loving ode to her house and her life there. “I’ve done a lot of travel writing, and people like to ask me where I would go if I could go anyplace,” she writes. “My answer is always the same: I would go home.”