I didn’t realize when I first picked up this book that it’s a collection of essays; I thought instead that it was a memoir. But I didn’t mind — I like both genres. And, as it turns out, the essays are mostly autobiographical, so I learned a lot about Patchett’s life by reading them. Patchett is a good writer, and I liked all of the essays, some more than others, of course. The most memorable one for me wasn’t the title essay, although that was very good, but “The Bookstore Strikes Back,” about opening Parnassus Books in Nashville. The essay is partly the history of the bookstore itself, but it’s also a passionate argument for the value of bookstores, and for the demand for them. Patchett argues that people are ready to support their local, independent bookstores, and I certainly hope she is right. Anyone at all tempted to open their own store would be encouraged by this essay to give it a try, maybe foolishly, maybe not. But at any rate, her enthusiasm is infectious.
The title essay is also very good, the story of Patchett’s two, very different, marriages. There are several essays about writing and literature, and those I liked, particularly one about going on book tours. Her essay on giving a convocation speech at Clemson University over the protests of students and parents who found her book Truth and Beauty offensive is very good. Overall, Patchett’s voice is engaging, and she seems like a fascinating, vibrant person. I’ll admit I felt some disappointment at times, especially with some of the less personal essays where Patchett’s own history and personality is not the focus, but I also felt this way about the collection as a whole. I wanted more depth, more complexity, more that felt surprising. The essays were solid, but not revelatory. Ultimately, although this is a strong collection, I felt that Patchett is best as a novelist.