Post Road Magazine #31

Ann Patchett

Kim Ablon Whitney

"What's your dream job, Mom?" My nine-year-old son asked the other day.

I had to think about it for a while, wondering if I should have taken another path than the one I did. Then I concluded, "Writer."

"So you have your dream job?" he said.

"Sort of," I replied. "I guess in my dream world I'd see people on the T reading my books. I'd be a much more popular writer."

"Like Rick Riordan?" he asked.

"Yeah, like Rick Riordan."

"So in your dream world, you'd be Rick Riordan." This was a statement, not a question. Even at nine, my son appreciates the difference between still-need-a-day-job author and New York Times Bestselling author.

As for me, I could definitely imagine being Rick Riordan. He's written many commercially popular books for kids, thereby keeping kids reading (especially the ever difficult boys) and made a good living along the way. That all sounds pretty appealing to me.

This got me thinking, though. If I could actually be any writer, who would I be?

I'm not talking have their life exactly, but write their books. Sorry Rick, I think you're great, but it wouldn't be you.

I'd choose Ann Patchett.

The first book I read of Ann Patchett's was Bel Canto. I wasn't dying to read it because I knew it was about opera, which didn't appeal to me at all. But someone passed along a copy to me and I knew it had gotten really great reviews and won awards so I turned to the first page.

I started it and was blown away. It was about opera, but it made opera interesting to me. And it wasn't only about opera, of course. It was simply a great story.

After Bel Canto, I read every book Ann wrote. Turns out they're all great, from the Patron Saint of Liars to State of Wonder. Some writers tend to write similar stories and that's not the worst thing. But I think it's entirely cool that each of Ann's books explores a completely different world. I'd like to know how she gets the ideas for these books and how, for that matter, she brings those worlds to life. How does she pull off opera, an unwed home for mothers, and medical innovation in the Amazon rainforest?

She seems to have mastered one of the hardest things in the world of books—she writes beautifully and at the same time has books with plots that move and keep the reader turning each page. She bridges the widening gap between what people call fiction and literature. She rightfully wins literary awards and probably makes a living off her sales to boot.

Turns out she also does non-fiction amazingly well. I devoured Truth and Beauty, about her friendship with Lucy Grealy, This is a Story of a Happy Marriage about her family and marriage, and her slimmer ebook The Getaway Car with advice on writing.

After all this, I found out that Ann even started her own bookstore in Nashville. Wait, maybe I want her whole life after all.



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