Books: On This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

Sometimes you love a book so much that you feel like it’s a travesty if everyone you know doesn’t read it right away. That’s exactly how I felt about Ann Patchett’s collection of essays, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage.


Ann Patchett, is, of course, perhaps best known for her best-selling fiction, including Bel Canto, which won both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in 2002. Here, though, she brings together an assortment of nonfiction published throughout her career, spanning from the Atlantic Monthly to the Wall Street Journal to Outside Magazine to Vogue and beyond. You get a real sense for who she is, both as a person and a writer — and she’s absolutely mesmerizing and entertaining.

In addition to writing with such wit and clarity that you feel like she’s right in the room next to you, just telling you stories about her life, the breadth of this collection makes it so compelling. You learn about, for instance, her deep devotion to her grandmother as well as her childhood growing up in Nashville after her mother divorced her father and moved the family there from California. She also tackles a controversy over one of her books after it was made assigned reading for all freshmen entering Clemson University, and in another couple of essays, you learn about her sweet dog, Rose. And yes, obviously (given the title essay), you hear about her marriage to her husband Karl.

The surprises for me, though, were a trio of essays about topics I wouldn’t ordinarily have thought I’d be interested in. In one, Patchett tries out for the Los Angeles Police Department, as both an homage to her cop father and as potential fodder for a book. In another, she writes so lovingly about opera and how she developed a passion for it that I felt I understood something about opera for the first time ever. And in the third essay, she and her husband take a Winnebago out for a trip in Montana that turns out in a much different way than she’d anticipated.

In addition to being a writer, Patchett is also the co-owner of the independent bookstore, Parnassus Books, in Nashville. One of the most fascinating essays in this collection talks about the power and importance of bookstores and how she ended up opening one. As well, one of the earliest pieces in the book discusses her philosophy on writing and contains valuable gifts for any writer or aspiring writer.

Simply put, you should read this book.

(Originally published here:

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