Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Sunday, September 3, 2023

“What Now?” by Ann Patchett

Before I got started reading Ann Patchett's most recent novel, Tom Lake, I glanced at the list of her other publications and noticed I had already read all but three. Just three! Totally do-able. So I ordered copies of them, and the completist in me rejoiced. 

Once my three new books arrived, I chose to read What Now? first. This is partly because it is just a little slip of a book (112 small pages with huge print!) but it is also because I really love Ann Patchett's nonfiction, maybe even more than her novels. Or, definitely more than some of her novels, and at least as much as my favorites. I have never found fault with Patchett's writing, but she is really good at writing about reality.

It's not surprising that this book is teeny tiny, because it basically comprises a commencement address Patchett gave at her alma mater, Sarah Lawrence, in 2006. (I have just realized I have absolutely no memory of any speakers at my college graduation. I feel sure none of them were remotely as interesting, or as famous, as Patchett.)

As someone who has already found a path in life that I am happy with, this book was not something that deeply inspired me, but it was encouraging and uplifting and fun to read. It would make a nice gift for a graduate (along with a lovely check, please). The next time you are tempted to purchase yet another commencement copy of Dr Seuss's Oh The Places You'll Go, you ought to opt for What Now? instead.

I do have one tiny complaint about the book. The text is interspersed with black and white photos, all in the same vein as the one on the cover (people on paths, in mazes, leaving footprints in sand, trying to decide which direction to go), but the placement of these photos was a bit distracting. I wish they had been more like punctuation than interruption.

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