Here’s how it works: I’ll throw out a few topics for discussion, and you can write your responses about these topics (or others you’d like to discuss) in the comment section.
Discussion #1: A Glimpse into the Writing Process
Of all the descriptions I’ve read about the writing process, Patchett’s words are among the most profound and relatable. She captures both the magic and the torture of the process, and I continually found myself saying, “What? You too?” I think a lot of writers have this suspicion that writing comes easily for everyone else, so it’s a huge relief to know that not even Ann Patchett has fairy dust sprinkled over her computer. My favorite part is where she describes an idea for a novel as a beautiful butterfly that she allows to fly free in her imagination for a while, until finally she has no choice but to pin it down with words:
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. . . . Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV. What I’m left with is a dry husk of my friend, a broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s my book. . . . The journey from the head to the hand is perilous and lined with bodies.
Have you done any writing? If so, was there anything in Ann Patchett’s descriptions about the writing process that resonated with you?
Discussion #2: What Dreams Are Made Of
I appreciated the way the author describes what it takes to achieve the dream of being a writer—or of achieving any dream, for that matter. Dreams need a spark of wonder to get started, but ultimately they require steady determination if they’re going to go anywhere.
Why is it we understand that playing the cello will require work but we relegate writing to the magic of inspiration? . . . If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say.
Have you found this to be true when pursuing your own dreams? Which comes more easily for you: the inspiration or the hard work?
Discussion #3: Jumping in with Both Feet
People often have the idea that writers hole themselves up in dark rooms and emerge only on rare occasions for interviews or bathroom breaks. With her remarkable gumption, Ann Patchett defies such stereotypes. She’s willing to live out her research—almost to the extent of making her own life an experiment. Cases in point: she joined the LAPD, became a regular at the opera, and took a cross-country trip in an RV—all for the sake of a story. And just when brick-and-mortar bookstores were all shutting their doors, she decided to do her part to buck the trend and opened her own independent store (you can check it out here).
Would you enjoy having a job that allows you to experience alternate lives firsthand? Did this book make you want to visit Ann Patchett’s bookstore?
Discussion #4: Our Friend Ann
I went into this book unsure whether I’d like it or not. I adored Patchett’s Bel Canto, but I wasn’t as taken with her other titles. And not every author is able to pull off writing bothfiction and nonfiction, so I didn’t know what to expect from a collection of essays. But the tone in these pieces won me over immediately. The author comes across as warm, witty, accessible, smart, and above all, very human—like we’d certainly be friends if only we had a chance to meet. I also gained a new insight about her books when I read this. I’d always thought her novels were vastly different from one another (one about a magician, one about an opera singer, and one about a pharmacist in the Amazon jungle), but she explains that all of her books are based on the same premise: people getting thrown together in strange environment. And I have to say, reading this book made me want to read more Ann Patchett.
Did you enjoy the tone of this book? Were you inspired to read more titles by the author?
I would recommend this book to anyone who writes or anyone who wants to know what goes on inside a writer’s head. It’s like a pleasant chat with an author-friend. (I’d also mention that the title is pretty misleading—there’s one essay about marriage, but that’s not the focus of the book.) I’d give this title five stars (out of five).
How many stars would you give this book?
Remember: There will be a free book giveaway for one lucky commenter!