Have you ever had a chance encounter that changed the course of your life?
Beloved author Ann Patchett experienced just that when she chose to read a galley of Tom Hanks’ short story collections one night, before her usual bedtime.
This choice would introduce her to a remarkable woman named Sooki, Tom’s brilliant assistant, with whom she would form a profound and life-changing bond.
In her book, These Precious Days, Patchett reflects on this unexpected friendship and explores the deeper meaning of connection, home, family, and writing in a collection of deeply personal essays.
Her writing is a literary alchemy that transforms the private into the universal, inviting us to see our own worlds with a new pair of fresh eyes.
Join us in this discussion guide consisting of some amazing book club questions for These Precious Days where we delve into Patchett’s vibrant insights and discover why she is one of the most celebrated writers of our time.
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These Precious Days Book Club Questions
- In “The First Thanksgiving,” Ann Patchett narrates the story of her first Thanksgiving alone in college. This event, which marked her initiation into adulthood, provides insight into her personal growth and development into actual womanhood. Similarly, in another essay Patchett writes about her friendship with artist Sooki Raphael, who battled pancreatic cancer with sheer willpower and nothing else.
Do you think that by recounting these experiences, Patchett provided a moving reflection on the value of friendship and the importance of living in the moment?
- In the essay “Flight Plan,” Patchett discusses her husband’s passion for flying and how it has influenced her own perspectives on life and growth. Through Karl’s experiences, with planes, Patchett explored themes of risk-taking, adventure, and the fleeting nature of life.
What’s your take on this essay serving as a reflection on the value of taking risks and living life to the fullest?
- If you read “The Paris Tattoo,” you will find out that Ann Patchett and her friend Marti had a transformative experience when they witness tattoo-covered young men in Londonderry, Ireland, during a war.
How does this experience change their perception of tattoos and the significance they hold? How does it highlight the impact of external circumstances on our interpretations of symbols or actions?
- The essay “My Year of No Shopping” was self-explanatory based on the title. Through this life experiment, Patchett gained a greater appreciation for the value of experiences over material possessions and provided a sharp contrast for the current social attitude towards consumerism – something that prioritizes the accumulation of material goods over other forms of personal fulfillment.
Based on Patchett’s experiences, discuss how consumerism has played a role in your life. Do you think there are advantages to it at all, or it only destabilizes us as humans?
- Patchett, in the book, states that grew up in a blended family and she places great importance on the value of relationships and community. Her strong and long-lasting friendships, as well as her stable and content marriage to Karl VanDevender, influences her sense of contentment and gratitude for what life offers.
Do you think it was these relationships she had with her loved ones, (both biological and chosen) that provided a supportive network eventually underpinning her positive outlook on life?
- In “To the Doghouse,” Ann Patchett talks about how the Peanuts comics, and Snoopy in particular, was an early literary influence for her. This essay suggests that children’s literature can serve as a gateway to later reading habits and the stories we encounter in childhood can shape our perspectives and tastes for years to come.
What’s your take on Ann Patchett using the essay to talk about the power of literature to inspire imagination and creativity in readers of all ages?
- In “Cover Stories,” Ann Patchett discusses the process of selecting cover art for her books.
How does she approach the collaboration with cover artists and the visual representation of her written work? What role does cover art play in shaping your perception of a book, and how does Patchett’s experience challenge or reinforce these expectations?
- Ann Patchett places special importance on love, kindness, and charity, along with emphasizing the need to take responsibility for one’s own happiness and choices. She also acknowledges the role of religion in shaping her worldview, although she does not necessarily display a strong Christian faith. These themes are evident throughout her personal essays and reflections as she draws on life experiences to explore ideas about life and the world around her.
Based on the context, what’s your take on the way how her worldview and values influence the writing style in These Precious Days?
- Patchett processes her life experiences, big and small, through writing, with this collection of essays, itself born out of such a need. She artfully connects different moments in her life to arrive at insightful realizations and makes sense of life as she goes along. Writing provides Patchett with a way to make sense of the world around her and to capture and reflect on her own experiences, as well as those of others, in a way that is both personal and universal.
Discuss how writing is an integral part of the author’s identity and shapes the way she approaches life.
- Whether it is witnessing her friend Sooki’s battle with cancer or seeing her father’s health deteriorate, Patchett emerges from these experiences with a sense of appreciation for what was written in destiny. She emphasizes staying present and finding tenderness in the past rather than becoming entangled in grief or bitterness. This attitude is influenced by her admiration for individuals like Strobel, who meet the world with love and openness despite their challenging circumstances.
What’s your take on the way Patchett approaches difficult or sorrowful experiences with a sense of gratitude and a focus on the present?
If you liked this set of questions, here are some other options to explore.
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Lessons in Chemistry: In the 1960s, Elizabeth Zott, an extraordinary chemist, defies gender norms in her male-dominated workplace. Unexpectedly becoming a single mother, she stumbles into hosting a cooking show where her unconventional methods challenge societal norms. Lessons in Chemistry is a hilarious and insightful tale of one woman daring to change the status quo.
The Lincoln Highway: In the gripping novel set in 1950s America, an ex-convict embarks on a daring journey to forge a new life with his little brother. Unexpected companions and a high-stakes plan make for a thrilling ten-day adventure. Prepare for a riveting tale of redemption, secrets, and uncharted horizons.
The Midnight Library: Enter the extraordinary Midnight Library, a realm where countless books unveil the lives Nora Seed could have lived. This gripping novel challenges her to unearth the essence of true fulfillment, igniting a profound exploration of regrets, choices, and the meaning of a life well lived.
The Vanishing Half: A captivating tale of twin sisters, their diverging paths, and the hidden truths that bind them. Spanning decades and continents, this novel explores race, family, and the powerful legacy that shapes our lives. Prepare to be spellbound by its intricate storytelling.