The Best I Read: April 2022
This is an Ann Patchett appreciation post
These Precious Days by Ann Patchett
Every time I read Ann Patchett, I’m reminded that great writing feels like floating down a river on an innertube, drink in hand, sun shining. Minimal effort and lots of reward. Easy like Sunday morning. It makes me wonder why we put up with writing that prioritizes syllables over clarity. I’m not a fan of fussy, and neither is the immortal Moira Rose.
These Precious Days is anything but fussy. It’s a welcoming collection of moving meditations on friendship, family, and ultimately the things that matter most. In the standout essays Patchett settles into comfortable humor, making wry observations about the little moments that form a life.
The title essay, which is superb, begins with Patchett meeting Tom Hanks which leads to an unexpected friendship with his magnetic assistant, Sooki. Ann and Sooki’s friendship quickly blooms over email (which, speaking of Tom Hanks, is very You’ve Got Mail) and soon Sooki is living with Ann in Nashville: getting treatment for pancreatic cancer, wading through the early days of the pandemic, and finally committing to her art. In the wide-ranging narrative Patchett explores everything from the pleasure of daily routines to the gift of friendship, and in the end she has profound gratitude for both:
“As it turned out, Sooki and I needed the same thing: to find someone who could see us as our best and most complete selves. Astonishing to come across such a friendship at this point in life. At any point in life.”
So much good stuff this month! Truly #blessed by the long-form gods, who I assume feast on writer’s block and beef jerky. A small selection of my favorites:
I Lived the #VanLife. It Wasn’t Pretty. by Caity Weaver in The NYT
To suggest that the worst part of vacationing in a van is sleeping in a van is not fair to the other aspects of the endeavor, which are also all the worst part — but it is cramped, slovenly and bad. It is impossible to make a bed while already sprawled atop it. If you are sharing a vehicle that does not have rear doors on both sides, as ours didn’t, the portside sleeper will be effectively trapped on their half of the bed from the moment they enter it, as I was.
Vaughn glances at me. He is still underselling his abilities. By his count, it is actually 37 more languages, with at least 24 he speaks well enough to carry on lengthy conversations. He can read and write in eight alphabets and scripts. He can tell stories in Italian and Finnish and American Sign Language. He’s teaching himself Indigenous languages, from Mexico’s Nahuatl to Montana’s Salish. The quality of his accents in Dutch and Catalan dazzle people from the Netherlands and Spain.
Stop feeding Joe Rogan’s trolls: Progressives must reclaim the politics of pleasure. by Amanda Marcotte in Slate
If liberals can’t use this moment to remind the public that we’re the ones who want you to get laid and enjoy a good book, then truly, we deserve to lose.
Last Girlboss Standing by Courtney Rubin in Bustle
Looked at one way, the tech debacle was another story of a startup pivoting and losing its way. Looked at another way, the layoffs were a sign of Glossier’s — and Weiss’ — maturity. The beauty company was giving up on its biggest dreams in order to double down on its attainable ones. Caution, after all, is how a CEO avoids becoming a cautionary tale who chases vaporware at the expense of their core business — and ends up the subject of a streaming mini-series. But Glossier’s reality check raised another question, one which still hangs over Weiss, now age 37, and her cohort of mediagenic millennial entrepreneurs: Can a startup grow up without losing its magic?
Started Out as a Fish. How Did It End Up Like This? by Sabrina Imbler in The NYT
Although the Late Devonian was a dangerous time to be prey, it was also a place of mental peace — a time before self-awareness and embarrassment. “Everyone is, like, only barely conscious of the idea that they’re alive,” Mr. Otoo said. “It’s great, just vibes.”
The Greatest Traveler You’ve Never Heard Of by Katherine LaGrave in AFAR
To date, J.R. has circled the world some 13 times. He has taken more than 50 multi-week trips in many of the most pristine places on the planet: the Andes, the Amazon, the Adirondacks, Alaska’s Yukon, Greenland, the Arctic Circle, Tasmania, you name it. Wherever he goes — however he can — he embeds with the local population, bunking in homes that will have him and breaking bread in a language not his own. Otherwise, he is almost always alone. It is no stretch to call him one of the world’s most prolific living solo explorers.