Words of Wisdom from Ann Patchett

Last week a bought a Kindle.  I know, I know.

Now, I’ve been down this path before.  I wrote here about my brief and unfulfilling flirtation with a Nook, and this post shows another problem with e-readers generally.  I will never, ever stop buying books… but, well, let’s be honest – there’s a certain inevitability about it all, isn’t there?  I’m going back to England for Christmas and New Year and I really don’t want half of my allotted baggage weight to be books – especially since (because I can’t do otherwise) I would also have to lug them back across the Atlantic after I’d read them.  And the Kindle really is very dinky and light and all that good stuff.

But perhaps the best reason for buying a kindle is that there is now material that is only being made available to people with e-readers.  Many authors are publishing their out-of-contract back catalogs for e-readers via sites like Smashwords, and of course – if this is your kind of thing – there is always the next self-published erotic vampire novel to get your teeth into (ba-boom-tish, I’m here all week, etc.)

One of the main reasons I finally broke down and bought my kindle was because I was desperate to read an extended essay called The Getaway Car by Ann Patchett, which is only available in downloadable format through amazon.  Patchett is probably best-known for her novel Bel Canto, which I read and enjoyed several years ago – although by all accounts, her new book, State of Wonder, is better yet (the – please note – actual book is sitting next to me as I write, and I am itching to start it.)

The Get Away Car, though, is something different.  It’s part memoir, part rumination, part advice column.  Patchett offers up some of her personal memories and reflections on her career as a writer.  Anyone who is in interested in the creative process of sticking words down on paper should get their hands on it at once.  You’ll devour it in one sitting.  It is absorbing, inspiring, funny, honest, modest, and – best of all – it’s full of wise observations and advice.  Patchett writes about writing with refreshingly unsentimental candor.  Here are a few gems I pulled out more or less at random.  For each quote there were another ten I could have chosen.

First of all, perhaps the best metaphor for novel writing that I’ve yet come across:

Novel writing, I soon discovered, is like channel swimming: a slow and steady stroke over a long distance in a cold, dark sea.”

Next, an elegant description of the mountain authors have to climb every time they are confronted by the proverbial blank page:

What I like about the job of being a novelist, and at the same time what I find so exhausting about it, is that it’s the closest thing to being God that you’re ever going to get.  All of the decisions are yours.  You decide when the sun comes up.  You decide who gets to fall in love and who gets hit by a car. You have to make all the leaves and all the trees and then sew the leaves onto the trees. You make the entire world.”

This next one resonated with me especially:

As much as I love what I do, I forever feel like a dog on the wrong side of the door.  If I’m writing a book, I’m racing to be finished; if I’m finished, I feel aimless and wish that I were writing a book.”

And finally, perhaps the truest words of all:

Writing is a miserable, awful business. Stay with it. It is better than anything in the world.”

Thank you, Ann Patchett, for writing such a wonderful little book.  I’ll be returning to it time and time again.  Very highly recommended.

Comments 6

  1. Bel Canto is the only thing I’ve read by her, but I loved it. I know many believe every moment in a story must advance a structured plot, but it was those little scenes between the hostages in the book and between the hostages and their captors in the book that made it for me. And she handled it all so damned delicately that it was deceptive how good it was.

    So…I will definitely check out The Getaway Car. I’ve read a couple other [good] things about it, and I’ve wanted to check out some of the things Byliner is doing with Kindle Singles. So thanks for the recommendation that will finally get me to pick up The Getaway Car.

  2. Those quotes! It’s going on my to-read list for sure.

    I have my iPad in order to read when I travel. However, I still lug a few writing notebooks, you know, because so much writing gets done on vacation. 🙂

    And what is poor Theo going to do while you are gone?!

  3. I just (like this morning) finished State of Wonder. Oh my! Every word is so carefully chosen. Every movement and glance is so deliberately written. This was my first encounter with Ann Patchett and now I have Bel Canto on my TBR list.

    I have a Nook. Ok. Ok. But I read State of Wonder on loan from the library. Not sure you can do that on the Kindle. 🙂 But now I’m totally jealous because I don’t think I can get The Getaway Car if it’s only for sale on Amazon. I’m off to do some research. Thanks for this recommendation.

  4. What a fabulous post. Thanks for the Ann Patchett essay tip. Sounds like a must read – especially from the excerpts you pulled.

    And on a more amusing note … I have been sitting around wondering, how I am going to tell my #booksniffing group of friends that um, yes … I own a Kindle now – won from Reader Unboxed admittedly, and yes, after digging my heels in for years while my husband tried to buy me one. And how was I going to tell you that it’s not so bad? Some features are quite nice. Some features not so much (i.e. the inability to bury my nose into the folds of the book and inhale; the tactile feel of inked pages beneath my fingertips; the ability to flip back to a previous section; the inability to physically SEE where I am in the book — percentages don’t cut it for me). But for all the reasons you mention, yes, the Kindle has its virtues. Its size is so conducive to reading in bed; it stores so many wonderful words …

    I believe there is a place in my life for both… an admission I was afraid to make to my book-sniffing friends! Your secret’s safe with me, Alex.

  5. Pingback: Friday Five | Jacquelin Cangro

  6. I finally got around to Reading The Getaway Car last week, and it’s one of the best things about writing I’ll ever read.

    Thank you for the recommendation!

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