The novelist and Nashville bookstore owner Ann Patchett’s latest book is a collection of essays, “These Precious Days.” It’s anchored by the long title piece, which originally appeared in Harper’s Magazine, about her intimate friendship with a woman who moved to Nashville for cancer treatment just as the coronavirus pandemic started. On this week’s podcast, Patchett talks about the collection, and about where writing essays fits into her creative life.
“I write essays while I’m writing novels too sometimes, but it’s wonderful to have something you can finish,” she says. “I can start a novel and it will take me three years sometimes to finish it, and no one reads it as I’m writing it. So if I write an essay, it’s almost like sending up a flare saying: I’m still here, I’m still alive. I’m a very project-oriented person, and somehow writing an essay feels closer to, say, making Thanksgiving dinner than it does writing a novel. It’s like, I’m going to do this and it’s going to take me a couple of days. But it’s not going to take me years.”
Corey Brettschneider, a professor of political science at Brown University, visits the podcast to talk about the Penguin Liberty series, a group of books he’s editing about modern issues in liberty and constitutional rights. He says he wants the project to be used in schools, but also hopes it will find a much broader audience as well.
“I certainly would hope that professors would use this, but really I think if we’re going to continue on as a democracy — and I don’t think that, as we learn about Jan. 6, that this is hyperbole, I think that we are under threat when it comes to a very different idea of what government is supposed to look like that’s prevailing in much of the public right now. And how are we to combat it?” he says. “I think in order to really take seriously the idea that we’re going to defend liberty in any defensible, robust sense, we have to know what it is, and that means that citizens have to think about these things.”
Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Dwight Garner and Alexandra Jacobs talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host.
Here are the books discussed by the Times’s critics this week:
“Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks, 1941-1995” edited by Anna von Planta
“On Consolation” by Michael Ignatieff