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This is the Story of a Happy Marriage

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Blending literature and memoir, Ann Patchett, author of State of  Wonder, Run, and Bel Canto, examines her deepest commitments — to writing, family, friends, dogs, books, and her husband — creating a resonant portrait of a life in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage takes us into the very real world of Ann Patchett’s life. Stretching from her childhood to the present day, from a disastrous early marriage to a later happy one, it covers a multitude of topics, including relationships with family and friends, and charts the hard work and joy of writing, and the unexpected thrill of opening a bookstore.

As she shares stories of the people, places, ideals, and art to which she has remained indelibly committed, Ann Patchett brings into focus the large experiences and small moments that have shaped her as a daughter, wife, and writer.

308 pages, Hardcover

First published November 11, 2013

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About the author

Ann Patchett

89 books16.7k followers
Patchett was born in Los Angeles, California. Her mother is the novelist Jeanne Ray.

She moved to Nashville, Tennessee when she was six, where she continues to live. Patchett said she loves her home in Nashville with her doctor husband and dog. If asked if she could go any place, that place would always be home. "Home is ...the stable window that opens out into the imagination."

Patchett attended high school at St. Bernard Academy, a private, non-parochial Catholic school for girls run by the Sisters of Mercy. Following graduation, she attended Sarah Lawrence College and took fiction writing classes with Allan Gurganus, Russell Banks, and Grace Paley. She later attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she met longtime friend Elizabeth McCracken. It was also there that she wrote her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars.

In 2010, when she found that her hometown of Nashville no longer had a good book store, she co-founded Parnassus Books with Karen Hayes; the store opened in November 2011. In 2012, Patchett was on the Time 100 list of most influential people in the world by TIME magazine.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,228 reviews
Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,656 followers
November 29, 2016
O Ann Patchett, how I adore thee. This is a marvelous collection of essays from one of my favorite writers, most of which I had never read before.

Before becoming a bestselling novelist, Patchett made a living by writing articles for various magazines, including Seventeen, Vogue, Gourmet, Outside and The New York Times Magazine. Over the years, she stacked up a significant pile of essays, and a friend recently nudged her into putting her favorites into a collection. Pieces date from the 1990s up until 2012, with topics on divorce, marriage, her dog, her grandmother, a Catholic education, opera, being a writer, censorship, solitude, bookstores, floods, Christmas, the Los Angeles Police Department, and driving a Winnebago around the American West. Something for everyone!

My favorite essay in the collection was "The Getaway Car," something every aspiring writer should read. Patchett lays down how she started writing, and gives some solid advice for anyone who wishes to be one. Another favorite was the titular essay, "This is the Story of a Happy Marriage," where she discusses why her first marriage ended in divorce and how she came to be happily married to her second husband. She has insights that any person should consider before getting married.

I struggled over which quote to share in this review, because truthfully, there are wise and beautiful sentences on every page. To pull one out of context is like plucking a rose from a flower bed -- yes, it looks pretty in a vase, but doesn't it look so much more lovely with its friends in the garden?

I finally chose a quote from "The Bookstore Strikes Back," about how she came to open and co-own an independent bookstore in Nashville after all the others had closed. She got a lot of press when the store opened, including making the front page of The New York Times.

"I have inadvertently become the spokesperson for independent bookstores. People still want books; I've got the numbers to prove it. I imagine they remember the bookstores of their own youth with the same tenderness that I remember mine. They are lined up outside most mornings when we open our doors because, I think, they have learned through this journey we've all been on that the lowest price is not always the best value ... Maybe we just got lucky. But my luck has made me believe that changing the course of the corporate world is possible. Amazon doesn't get to make all the decisions; the people can make them by how and where they spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read the book. This is how we change the world: we grab hold of it. We change ourselves."

If you are new to Patchett, this collection is a good place to start. I would also recommend her novels "Bel Canto" and "State of Wonder" -- she's written several others but those two are my favorites -- and the wonderful memoir "Truth and Beauty." Three cheers for Ann Patchett!

First read: December 2013
Second read: November 2016
Profile Image for Regina.
1,136 reviews3,014 followers
April 9, 2022
This is the Story of a Crappy Title

Once upon a time there was a brilliant writer named Ann. Ann wrote award-winning novels but also thought-provoking essay pieces for various publications to help hone her craft. The essay topics ranged from growing up in a Catholic school, to loving and losing a beloved dog, to owning an independent bookstore in Nashville. They had the power to mesmerize readers with their insights and also bring them to tears in more than one heartfelt moment.

Then one day in 2013 some people had the idea to compile the pieces into a collection. They poured over the names of the various essays with the goal of slapping one on the book’s cover. Perfectly nice titles like “The Best Seat in the House,” “The Right to Read,” “Do Not Disturb,” and “Love Sustained” were passed over in lieu of one that would make it sound like a smug how-to manual shelved in the relationship self help section.

Fortunately Ann had devoted fans that would read anything she wrote, and those devotees bought the book anyway. “Read this!” they shouted from the rooftops (rooftops of course being Goodreads and personal review blogs). And thus “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage” found its happily ever after despite its Crappy Title.

The end.

Blog: https://www.confettibookshelf.com/
Profile Image for Danielle.
809 reviews403 followers
November 14, 2020
This was not what I expected. Rather than one story, it’s a compilation of essays and life experiences. Some stories were amazingly compelling and others just kinda boring. This is a right down the middle for me.❤️📚
Profile Image for Glenn Sumi.
404 reviews1,537 followers
July 27, 2015
This is the story of a happy reader.

Ann Patchett is best known as a novelist (Bel Canto, State Of Wonder). But as she proves here and in her memoir Truth & Beauty , she’s also a brilliant non-fiction writer: sharply observant, warm, intelligent. She’s incapable of writing an awkward or dishonest sentence.

The title of this book is named after one of the essays, about her long-simmering but in the end inevitable and absolutely correct decision to marry her husband Karl, after a disastrous early marriage (and divorce). A few other pieces touch on love and marriage. But the book’s range of topics is wide: creating art while holding down a day job; caring for a dog and trying to convince annoying strangers or friends that the dog is not a child substitute; caring for that same dog during its final days; test-driving a recreational vehicle while her relationship with Karl has hit a rough patch.

Patchett's prose is simple yet elegant; her pieces draw on personal experience yet never seem self-indulgent or maudlin.

In her hands, even a nuts and bolts assignment like her introduction to the Best American Short Stories anthology in 2006 becomes something special: in this case, a tribute to one of the great storytellers of our time, Eudora Welty, whom she once met when she was an aspiring writer of 16.

In an article about the dreaded author’s book tour, amusingly titled “My Life In Sales,” filled with stories of ego, cynical publishers and humiliation, Patchett concludes with a scene about a young girl (another aspiring writer) who’s travelled hundreds of miles to visit her. The story will break your heart.

The final paragraphs and sentences of her essays are stunning. “Tennessee” begins as a nostalgic trip down memory lane, filled with vivid details that set this unchanging landscape firmly in your mind. Near the end there’s a story about helping out an old man and a woman whose car has broken down. It’s like something out of The Grapes Of Wrath.

Every word of “Dog Without End,” her essay about her beloved canine Rose, is brimming with love and affection.

Although light, there’s sharp, finely detailed writing in her essays about the Metropolitan Opera’s simulcasts of operas to movie theatres around the world (“The Best Seat In The House”), and in a visit to Los Angeles’s famous Bel-Air Hotel to find solitude (“Do Not Disturb”). In the latter, Patchett gives us this observant line:

As I pack up my room at the Hotel Bel-Air, I think the best vacation is the one that relieves me of my own life for a while and then makes me long for it again.

How true, how succinctly and beautifully put!

“The Wall” is a model of the long-form personal essay. In the wake of the Rodney King riots and a few years after her own father has retired from the LAPD after 32 years, Patchett tries out for the force. She’s staying with her father, who divorced her mother years earlier. He’s excited about the prospect. As she takes us through each step, from interviews and essay writing to a gruelling physical challenge in the hot and humid L.A. sun, she brings a novelist’s eye to the experience. Nothing escapes her as she goes on a drive-along, looks into holding cells. In the end, she gives us this simple yet heartfelt passage:

… in 2007, an editor for the Washington Post Magazine asked me for an essay about something I had done one summer, and so I said I would write a piece about the summer I tried out for the police academy. Sifting through the notes I had taken years before, I remembered the basic point behind my intentions, and all these years later that point has never changed: I am proud of my father. I am proud of his life’s work. For a brief time I saw how difficult it would be to be a police officer in the city of Los Angeles, how easy it would be to fail at the job, as so many have failed. My father succeeded. He served his city well. I wanted to make note of that.

Fans of Truth & Beauty will gobble up two pieces about the controversy surrounding that book. The second piece should be required reading for anyone thinking about censorship and freedom of expression. “The Getaway Car” is a sensible yet heartfelt essay about the writer’s vocation.

The only piece that didn’t wow me was an article she wrote about floods. It just seemed expendable.

At the end of “Nonfiction, an Introduction,” Patchett talks about her apprenticeship with writing magazine articles and how, in collecting the pieces, she hasn’t wanted to change much of the writing.

If I’m lucky, someday in the future I’ll see what I’ve written here and think how young I still was and how much more there was ahead. Until then I’ll keep writing things down, both the things I make up and the things that have happened. It is the way I’ve learned to see my life.

Please keep writing, Ms. Patchett. You make us see your life – and by extension our own – through your genuine insights and incomparable prose.
Profile Image for Frances.
1,071 reviews
August 3, 2016
Disclaimer: after meeting Ann Patchett, I am head over heels. I've loved her writing since Bel Canto, but I've gained a new level of appreciation for her since hearing her speak. She is charming, gracious, and witty. Reading her essays is like spending more time with her, and I can't get enough. I found so many things that I relate to in these essays, and a few areas where we are different enough that I gained a new sense of perspective.
Profile Image for Yaaresse.
2,028 reviews16 followers
April 13, 2018
I suspect the praise for this book comes from one (or both) of two camps:
1. Women who have read and loved Patchett's novels and are die-hard fangirls.
2. Women who desperately dream of being writers and are at that stage where they inhale any advice from any published writer that might tell them how to do it.

Sexist? Perhaps. Maybe there are men who love her work. I just doubt there are many of them.

I picked up this book because I heard a Fresh Air interview with Patchett in which she described a touching story about caring for her grandmother and a funny story about how people kept misinterpreting her desire for (and overindulgence of) a dog for a ticking biological clock. As it turns out, those were two of the four stories in this collection that held interest for me. (The other two were the story about her father, a retired LAPD officer, and her experience applying to the LAPD Academy. I also enjoyed her essay on rural Tennessee.) She gave away half the good stuff from those in the interview, and what remained was far less interesting. The first 50 or so pages are taken up with advice to writers -- most of which comes across as self-congratulatory and certainly not encouraging. There's a thread of contempt and low-level anger throughout the entire book, but it really shows up when she shifts into "I am the writer, take heed of my wisdom" mode.

When she's writing about her father, grandmother, dog or hometown, Patchett can be funny, poignant, or amiable. (Sometimes more than one of those.) When she's writing about her career, the rest of her family or other relationships, more often than not she comes across as arrogant, defensive, entitled, and prickly. There's too much of the later and too little of the former for an entire book.

Would my opinion have been different had I first read one of her novels? I don't know. At this point, reading this book only reinforced my opinion that Terri Gross can make anyone look interesting in a Fresh Air interview; it did nothing to make me want more exposure to Patchett's other work.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,484 reviews29.4k followers
November 30, 2013
Many people ask me how I select the books I read. Sometimes they've been recommended by someone else whose preferences are similar to mine, or I've read enthusiastic reviews about them. In other cases, I've been intrigued by the title or even the cover. (Never underestimate the power of a stroll through a bookstore when you can find one.) But quite often, I choose books written by authors whose books I've come to love. There is a growing list of authors I'm constantly looking up on Amazon to see when their next book will be released, authors whose books I read sight unseen, unless they're a major departure from their usual work.

Ann Patchett is definitely one of those authors. I first became familiar with her after reading the marvelous Bel Canto, then read her earlier books and have devoured all of the books she has written since then, fiction and nonfiction. So I was intrigued to read This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, a collection of articles and other writings she has published in a wide variety of media, from The Atlantic Monthly and The New York Times to Gourmet and Granta, even her introduction to the volume she edited for The Best American Short Stories collection.

Contrary to the title, this isn't just a book about marriage, although several of the articles touch on different aspects of her relationship with her husband Karl through the years. But many of the articles touch on other relationships—her brief, disastrous first marriage; her friendship with the late poet Lucy Grealy (which Patchett so lovingly recounted in her book Truth & Beauty; her grandmother; her dog; one of the nuns that taught her in Catholic school; even her relationship with her work. And still other articles talk about her need for and love of the occasional solitary vacation; her experiences trying out for the LAPD and getting to understand the RV culture; becoming the co-owner of an independent bookstore in Nashville; and her love of short stories.

"Many of the essays I'm proudest of were made from the things that were at hand—writing and love, work and loss. I may have roamed in my fiction, but this work tends to reflect a life lived close to home."

As always, Patchett's writing is thought-provoking, humorous, and, at times, tremendously moving. The articles aren't arranged in chronological order in the book, and they're written for different purposes, so it may take a minute to get your bearings for you to realize where in Patchett's life a particular essay is taking place. (In some she's married, in others she's dating her future husband; in some her dog is a puppy and in some her dog is elderly.) But Patchett always provides context for what she's talking about so it's interesting to get so many different perspectives.

There were so many instances in which I marveled at what Patchett had to say. Her use of language is so dazzling at times I had to re-read paragraphs or sentences to get the full extent of their power. In the title essay, for example, when she recounts the tumultuous relationship she and her husband had in the years before they were married: "I try to study our happiness so that I will be able to remember it in the future, just in case something happens and we find ourselves in need. These moments are the foundation upon which we build the house that will shelter us into our final years, so that when love calls out, 'How far would you go for me?' you can look it in the eye and say truthfully, 'Farther than you would ever have thought was possible.'"

And one other example, from "Dog Without End," a beautiful tribute to her dog: "Sometimes love does not have the most honorable beginnings, and the endings, the endings will break you in half. It's everything in between we live for."

I loved this book as much as I've loved Patchett's fiction. I feel tremendously fortunate to have gotten so much insight into her life, her mind, and her heart, and I think this will help enhance my enjoyment of her future work even more. If you like her writing, definitely pick this up. It's tremendously captivating, even if you choose to read it a little at a time rather than all at once. Don't miss out.
Profile Image for Debbie.
441 reviews2,795 followers
November 4, 2014
Since “State of Wonder” is one of my absolute favorite books, I of course had to read this new book of essays. It did not disappoint; her way with words makes me feel all happy and fulfilled. She writes with candor, humor, and warmth, and she is oh so perceptive and wise.

One essay, called The Getaway Car, which I had read as a Kindle single and loved, is about writing. It grabs you and keeps you glued to the page as if it were fiction. I love the history of this essay title: She worked as a waitress and wrote a novel in her head—the novel was her getaway car. And she got away…lucky for us!

There are so many good stories, and most are page-turners. One essay is about how she lovingly takes care of her grandmother who gradually loses her sight and her mind. There are touching chapters about her dog, her bookstore, and her divorce and second marriage. She includes a convocation speech where she eloquently defends herself against the college’s claims that her book is pornography (yes, bizarre). You get to laugh along when she’s on a hilarious RV trip, and you feel her fear when she’s flying through a blizzard in a small plane.

Naturally there were a couple of essays that bugged me. I hated the essay on opera, which was full of opera titles. I have zero interest in opera and was surprised she included a relatively esoteric subject in her collection. It might have been better if she hadn’t mentioned so many operas by name—if you don’t like opera this only serves to annoy, and it made me want out (yes, I skimmed that one).

The book ends with an essay about her favorite nun. Though it’s a really good essay about an interesting woman and Patchett’s poignant relationship with her, there are a few God references, especially at the end. Patchett doesn’t talk about her own religious beliefs (which I appreciate), but still, the mention of God is always a turn-off for me. Stay away from religion is basically my mantra. I friend suggested I substitute “inner wise women” for “god” and that does help. Still, all things god send me running.

I had a minor issue with the limp title of her first essay: Nonfiction, An Introduction. It sounds like a college course title. And the fact that it’s the very first essay put a worried look on my face as I began to read. Surely she could have beefed up the title; invite me in with something snazzy. Though of course I’d never abandon a book because of a weak chapter title, it did make me nervous that I was in for a snooze. Fortunately, the title does not reflect the essay’s liveliness or wisdom.

Even though I am complaining a little, there’s no way this book doesn’t rate a 5. Besides the delicious content, the language is luscious too. I love all things Patchett and plan to read everything she writes. I’m still sighing and smiling, just thinking of these essays, which to my delight are really sticking with me. Highly highly recommend.

Added November 4, 2014:

This just made my day! Especially since I am relentlessly teased about my nit-picky editing--

Spotted on Twitter this most amazing correction from my beloved Ann Patchett to The New York Times:

Puppy Love

To the Editor:

I was grateful to see my book “This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage” mentioned in Paperback Row (Oct. 19). When highlighting a few of the essays in the collection, the review mentions topics ranging from “her stabilizing second marriage to her beloved dog” without benefit of comma, thus giving the impression that Sparky and I are hitched. While my love for my dog is deep, he married a dog named Maggie at Parnassus Books last summer as part of a successful fund-raiser for the Nashville Humane Association. I am married to Karl VanDevender. We are all very happy in our respective unions.


Profile Image for ☮Karen.
1,493 reviews9 followers
March 31, 2017
I've something of a curiosity about what makes writers tick, from where do they get their inspiration. Like Anna Quindlen, Ann Patchett not only writes tremendous fiction, she gets an A+ for her non-fiction as well. These are her personal experiences. It was great getting to know her, as I think she'd make a great friend.

This is not just the story of a happy marriage. It also covers her very unhappy first marriage, her mother's marriages, and her father the cop (the latter two being major storylines in her Commonwealth). Also, her efforts to get accepted into a police academy just to prove she could, her beginnings as a short story writer, her aging dog, her husband's heart problems, and a very sweet late-in-life friendship with one her nuns from childhood. The short stories are actual magazine articles or essays written over time. These are great and fascinating stories. She is such an admirable story teller. I recommend, whether you've read her fiction or not.
Profile Image for JanB .
1,146 reviews2,532 followers
January 1, 2017
The title is a tad misleading. This is a compilation of various articles the author has written over the years for various publications. The first few were about her experiences on becoming an author. I'm not an author, nor do I have plans to become one, but I enjoyed the conversational tone and the insights into a profession I know little about.

The remaining essays are on a variety of subjects and the author can be quite funny and self-deprecating. Nor does she leave out the unflattering stories. Others are poignant and one in particular left me in tears. I was listening to the audio as I was driving and I had to turn it off so I could see where I was going.

I do think this is best listened to or read as a chapter or two a day. Without breaks, memoirs starts to feel like just too much. But she loves dogs, nuns, books, and took such tender loving care of her grandmother in her later years that I can overlook the less than flattering chapters. I do admire her honesty.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews33 followers
May 12, 2015
This is a collection of mostly prior magazine articles that Ann Patchett had done during her lifetime. She tells us from the beginning. How fun... To collect your life essays... then gather them... (Work out the details), to create a book. Perfect for this established author.
The title story is simply one story, ( a touching story), but not the overall theme.
From the start, we read about Ann's years of working for Seventeen Magazine. She also did freelance work... And submitted essays to other magazines.

While reading these essays... about Ann's life... what's most important to her, her process in becoming a writer... ( since early childhood), her sharing about her life: what she hates....(Christmas... I smiled... because I share the same feelings)...
Her love for dogs, a time in Paris with Karl, her husband, her first marriage..(the divorce)...
Why she wanted no children, her tenderness towards her aging grandmother, her relationship with her sister...,etc .....
We get the opportunity to know Ann as a *person*. I enjoyed reading about Ann's life...(this book allowed us to see her vulnerability, her warmth, and her humor), yet I still prefer her fiction books....
I like Ann's creative storytelling... and writing skills to match.... which is why mostly I look forward to her next fiction book
Bel Canto is still my favorite novel.... yet, I've enjoyed something in all of them.
Being invited into Ann's life... ( when we already have loved her novels)....makes this book that much more special.
Profile Image for Debra .
2,295 reviews35k followers
June 14, 2017
This is OFFICIALLY my favorite Ann Patchett book!!!!! (I put "OFFICIALLY" in BIG print thus making my statement really official!)

I am actually surprised that I liked this book as much as I did. I am not a short story, essay, article type of gal. I like novels - novellas are fine but I'm not a short story or article reader. Having said that, Ann Patchett may have changed things for me because as I mentioned, I loved this book i.e. collection of articles/essays. I love how she blended the events of her life with literature.

This book consists of essays/articles that have been published elsewhere. The essays can be read in any order the reader chooses. Previous books I have read by Patchett have earned 3 to 4 star ratings from me. This book has eclipsed the other books I have previously read. I love that this book deals with the real person- with her life. This book feels more "real"evicting words such as "honest" and "raw". We see her as a child, then at college, on a book tour, being married, her dog Rose, her bookstore, to name a few of the times she lets the reader into her life. Don't let the word "Marriage" fool you in the title...this book is about her two marriages but it is also about so much more. This book also deals with friendship, writing, family, loss, working, having a pet, etc. The result of this look back on her life is moving, entertaining, enlightening, and insightful (who knew she tried out for the LAPD police academy?). We not only get to see and digest her words, we get a glimpse into her life through her perspective.

I really enjoyed getting to "know" this Author a little better. I wish I could thank her for allowing me to walk down her memory lane. Not only is it quite lovely to learn about her life, the reader gets to do so in such a wonderful way! Patchett has a gift. Her writing seems effortless. Her prose is beautifully, emotionally moving and actually puts the reader into the action. Her writing is succinct and thought provoking.

See my reviews at www.openbookpost.com
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,398 followers
February 20, 2021
While I was reading this, I was already anticipating giving the book five stars, with four stars based on the book's merits and one star based on the fact that I'm kind of obsessed with Ann Patchett and want to be her friend. However, by the time I got to the title essay, I'd decided the book deserved five stars regardless of my slightly demented feelings toward its author. After all, I'd already read one of the book's long-form essays, "The Getaway Car," in electronic form and gave it five stars all on its own--it's one of the best texts on fiction writing out there, in my opinion. Just having that in a print form I can hold in my hand makes the whole book worthwhile. I cried a little while reading the title essay, a fact that will surprise anyone who knows about my decades-long skepticism about marriage (Ann shares those feelings, which makes her story of how her mind was changed more persuasive for me than I was expecting). I also cried a lot at "Dog Without End," a fact that will surprise no one who knows me and my own experiences with pets. Her essay about the controversy Truth & Beauty caused at Clemson University, and her convocation address at that school, are extremely valuable (not to mention interesting), and her piece on her bookstore, which I'd already read online several times and will probably never get tired of, is heartening for anyone who likes bookstores and actual physical books. Really, every essay in this collection is valuable--there are no weak links. I do wish she had included her cute article about her mother's publishing her first novel and immediately attaining the sort of commercial success that up until then (pre-Bel Canto) had eluded Ann--maybe the paperback version will have room for a few more essays? But that's just greed--the book is perfect as is. I feel like I'm a better person for having read it (too much?). Would make a fabulous holiday gift for the book lovers on your list, too--there's something here for everyone. What I'm trying to say is, I liked it.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
748 reviews87 followers
January 3, 2014
How is it possible that Ann Patchett and I are not BFFs? Reading this book of essays was like catching up with a girlfriend over a glass of wine and several pounds of cheese. My intention was to read this sparingly, interspersed between other books like a palate cleanser, but instead I kept saying, "I'll just read one more...". Ann (I feel like we should be on first name basis at this point) has certainly lived a life. I loved the story of her bid to get into the police academy - not only because of how interesting the process was but I loved how the relationship with her father was so tightly woven into the fabric of what she was doing. And the idea that someone would put so much effort into trying something like that just to write about it was amazing to me. I even contemplated learning to scale a 6 foot wall for a few minutes but I've already put that thought aside…
Her grandmother, Rosie, Sister Nena all brought tears to my eyes. And I loved reading about her new role as an independent bookseller. A great book to start the new year.
Profile Image for Lorna.
683 reviews366 followers
May 1, 2020
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage is an anthology of short stories and essays by one my favorite authors, Ann Patchett. There are articles that were published in Vogue, Seventeen, Harper's Bazaar, Gourmet, the Times, and the New York Times. These delightful short stories, basically vignettes from the life of Ann Patchett were so engaging. All of these were delightful essays that link many of her books to her life experiences but I have to say that the essay that was closest to my heart was the endearing summer that she spent in California with her dad, a retired captain from Los Angeles Police Department. As research for a story, Ann Patchett, applied for the Los Angeles Police Department, spending an entire summer immersing herself in the life and career of her father as she was researching a story. Her takeaway was a new found respect and awe of her father and the ability to scale a six-foot wall, an ability she still retains. Ann Patchett, just keep writing. I am looking forward to reading it all, and one day I look forward to coming and indulging myself in your lovely bookshop Parnassus Books in Nashville.

"Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing."

"There are in life a few miraculous moments when the right person is there to tell you what you need to hear and you are still open enough, impressionable enough, to take it in."

"The quality of a life is defined not by its length, but by its depth, its actions and achievements. It is defined by our ability to love."

"If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read the book. This is how we change the world: we grab hold of it. We change ourselves."

"Sometimes love does not have the most honorable beginnings, and the endings, the endings will break you in half. It's everything in between that we live for."
Profile Image for PorshaJo.
453 reviews659 followers
January 11, 2014
I loved this book. So many different essays here and after reading them I think I know a lot more about Anne Patchett. I had to think about my rating on this one. Anytime I read anything by this author I always compare the book to Bel Canto, which is an amazing book and one of my favorites. But I must stop doing this. This book was so different and you just can't compare the two. I think my favorite story, which is was hard to choose one, was regarding the police academy. The wonderful thing about a book of essays is that you can bounce around the book reading different essays in any order and perhaps read other books during the same time and not loose context here. I think anyone who is a fan of hers will love this book.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,050 followers
October 25, 2020
Posting about this is a little like time traveling because I heard about it from a podcast guest on an episode nobody has heard yet (upcoming) but I went and listened right away. The collection of essays spans quite a few years, including one that came from when Patchett's book was the freshman read at Clemson and was a huge controversy; that's just down the road from me. I loved hearing Patchett's thoughts on writing, family, and friendship. Her voice sounds so much like Laura Linney! And it's in hoopla for those with access.
Profile Image for Holly R W.
343 reviews33 followers
December 19, 2021
Compiled in 2013, this is a collection of essays that Ann Patchett had written for various publications throughout earlier years. Viewed together, they form a collage of her life during this period. Patchett had supported herself during her early writing years by authoring free-lance articles on a variety of subjects. As with her most recent essay collection, These Precious Days: Essays, Patchett's writing drew me in, inviting me to share in her experiences.

Patchett shared her observations about: her writing life, being a child of divorce, loving the opera while living in Nashville and being surrounded by country music, rescuing a small dog she named "Rosie" who became one of the loves of her life, caring for her grandmother in the throes of her dementia, wanting to write about the L.A.P.D. by applying for a position on their police force, and how she became the co-owner of her independent bookstore in Nashville, called "Parnassus".

The standout essay in the collection and the title for the book is, "This is the Story of a Happy Marriage". Patchett's parents' and grandparents' marriages ended up in divorce. Her own first marriage was short-lived and ill-conceived from the start. So, she determined that marriage was not for her. This is why Patchett dated her husband Karl for eleven years before agreeing to marry him.

She wrote: 'All I felt was the wondrous luck that he had found me. "Just think," I say to Karl, "every night we come home to the same house and we sleep in the same bed with the same dog, and of all the houses and beds and dogs in the world we hit on this combination." '

I felt enriched by getting to know Ann (Patchett) through her writing.
Profile Image for Melanie.
Author 6 books1,203 followers
December 4, 2013
Wonderful four-star collection that gets five stars because of the essay "The Getaway Car" (a must read for all writers out there). This book made me want to read all of Ann Patchett's previous works, especially "Truth and Beauty" and "State of Wonder". I'm also dying to visit her famous Parnassus bookstore in Nashville.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,416 followers
January 25, 2015
More than halfway through this collection of essays I begin to think that one of the most important characteristics for a successful memoirist must be good humor. Patchett wrote most of this collection of nonfiction essays earlier in her career for different publications. She supplemented those with a couple longer, deeper pieces written later: “The Getaway Car” and “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage,” “Dog Without End,” and “The Mercies,” all stories about the great loves in her life.

Together the essays comprise a history. We meet her dog, her grandmother, her husbands, her father. She recalls Lucy Grealy, the subject of her story of friendship called Truth and Beauty. We keep reading because she is a nice person and we like her. She writes well, but that isn’t all. She is irrepressible. She has character.

I am finished with the book of essays now, and I have to say I am relieved. I am relieved that her title story, “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage,” is in fact, not only about her happy marriage, but also of her earlier failed marriage, a marriage that shook her—shook some sense into her. I used to be sad that such spectacular failures were necessary, but most of us have them hidden away in a closet somewhere, ready to be unearthed and examined again for any further shards of wisdom. Mine doesn’t hurt as much now, but there is usually still an involuntary tightening of my lips before I smile, with chagrin.

Which makes me think again of Ann Patchett and her good humor. The stories she tells in this collection remind us that there are moments in a life we wish we could share with others. Patchett is not just sharing her story, she is showing us how it is done. Readers, real readers, are always going to be interested in writers. We yearn to know how they do what they do, even if it would never occur to us to do the same. But Patchett is so generous with what she knows and what she does that we can see how she does it. One thing that runs through the whole book, every essay, is that she does not take herself too seriously. She takes her craft seriously, but she tends to forgive herself and others when we don’t quite live up. Or she makes a funny joke about it.

When she mentions her mother was beautiful, the kind of beautiful that made people stop her in the street to compliment her, I had to find a photo online. I feel like I haven’t seen beautiful, naturally beautiful, in such a very long time I don’t even trust myself to know it when I see it anymore. Her mother is beautiful, it’s true. She has the kind of effortless-looking beauty that doesn’t pain one to look upon. But it didn’t make her nicer or wiser than anyone else. None of us gets it all.

Oh yes, Ann Patchett can write. This is a magnificent collection, and I recommend it heartily to everyone, anyone. It is for teens, it is for adults, it is for readers, it is for writers. It is the condensation of a life into vivid prose.
Profile Image for Sarah Beth.
925 reviews34 followers
September 4, 2013
I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from HarperCollins.

I've read one of Ann Patchett's novels, Bel Canto, and her first memoir, Truth and Beauty, and know her to be someone capable of both smart and beautiful writing, so I was naturally excited for the chance to read her latest memoir, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. The title led me to believe that this would largely focus on her marital relationship, but instead this is a very personal look at the mainstays of Patchett's life, the people and things that make her who she is: her writing, her marriages, her family, her dog. Rather than a continuous work, it is a collection of short essays that were mostly published elsewhere first including in the Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Vogue, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post Magazine, and others.

Patchett's intro to the book entitled "Nonfiction, an Introduction" does a great job of tying all the essays of the novel together, and give background on her own life and her history of writing articles to make a living for, as she says, "The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living. My short stories and novels have always filled my life with meaning, but at least in the first decade of my career, they were no more capable of supporting me than my dog was" (1). So I suppose we have the slow take off of her fiction to thank for this wonderful collection of essays written over the years, that perfectly illustrate who Ann Patchett is and what she lives for.

Although I'm not a writer myself, I especially loved the portions of this book to describe her process of writing and her own advice to other writers (i.e. don't go into debt to get a MFA). In the same way that I was captivated by Annie Dillard's description of her own writing process in The Writing Life, I loved hearing Patchett's version of events: "Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV. Everything that was beautiful about this living thing - all the color, the light and movement - is gone. What I'm left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled. Dead. That's my book" (25). I was also struck by her ability to distance herself from her books and recognize that, in the end, they are what the reader makes of them. "Chances are I can explain, in the course of a Q&A, my novel's dissatisfying ending or my character's cloudy motivations, but who's to say I'm right? Once the book is written, its value is for the reader to decide, not for me to explain" (168).

But in addition to her writing revelations, I was enamored by the person Patchett appears to be, someone who cares for her grandmother until the end of her life, who reunited with the nun who taught her grade school and was her arch enemy and ends up caring for her in her old age, how she isn't afraid to also reveal her faults - the mistakes that led to the end of her first marriage, how she conned a little girl into giving her the puppy that became her beloved dog Rose. Patchett is wise about love - "Sometimes love does not have the most honorable beginnings, and the endings, the endings will break you in half. It's everything in between we live for" (284).

I was impressed by Patchett's ability to convey herself and her life's passions into the written word. And to do so in a way that does not come across as self-indulgent or cliche. Instead she sounds like a flawed individual who is learning from her mistakes and wants to share both her triumphs and defeats with the reader in a very honest, direct way.
Profile Image for Cher.
801 reviews275 followers
March 26, 2016
4 stars - It was great. I loved it.

Much like with her fiction, in this memoir-ish collection of essays, Ann Patchett has a truly lovely way with words. The book starts off with a heavy focus on writing and being an author. While that is not a career I am particularly interested in, I still found those essays to be interesting. From there, however, the book branches off into much more fascinating topics, primarily relationship dynamics of all kinds.

Prior to reading this I did not know that she was child-free by choice, but now that I do, I find that I am even more interested in reading some of her other works. Thus far I have only read State of Wonder, but hope to get to Bel Canto soon.

Favorite Quote: Sometimes love does not have the most honorable beginnings, and the endings, the endings will break you in half. It’s everything in between we live for.

First Sentence: The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living.
Profile Image for Snotchocheez.
595 reviews322 followers
January 3, 2014
(This really shouldn't have been a shock to me, given two of my GR friends extolling its virtues, but)

I have not really been a avid Ann Patchett "fan" per se, but I liked the three novels of hers I've read so far (her first, The Patron Saint of Liars, Run and her most recent State of Wonder) and thought I'd give this collection of essays a try. Let's just say I can now say after reading This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage that I am unquestionably a fan, and plan to read all of her back catalogue.

This is not a "happy marriage" primer, as the title might lead one to believe. It is chock full of observations on a writer's life, lived in full. Culled from an array of magazines she's been published in over the last two decades or so (from Gourmet Magazine to Vogue, from the New York Times Magazine to the Atlantic Monthly), there's a smorgasbord of delights, and not really a clunker in the bunch: topics like opera, dog ownership, RV culture, her Catholic/Tennessee-by-way-of-Los Angeles upbringing, and the dearth/death of bookstores in Nashville are all discussed. My favorite of bunch (by far), "The Wall", recounts her experience in going through the LAPD Police Academy, the efforts for which were intended as research for a book, but become a heartfelt, eloquent homage to her police officer father. There's even two convocation addresses to freshman students at two different universities included, one particularly relevant after religious-right activists inanely tried to block her Truth & Beauty memoir from being offered as part of the curriculum.

I encourage anyone (whether you are familiar with Ms. Patchett's writing or not) to give this a try, especially book lovers or those with a writerly bent. It's wonderful.
Profile Image for أحمد سعدالدين.
Author 1 book2,361 followers
March 17, 2021
مجموعة مقالات جميلة. نبرة كتابة هادئة ومتهملة وطيبة. كأني قاعد مع خالتي في البلكونة بنشرب شاي.
Profile Image for Karin.
1,362 reviews9 followers
March 12, 2022
This was an interesting read, but as is so often the case, it has changed how I'll see Patchett's novels forever. Almost inevitably this happens if I do this--peek too far into an author's life. It's much better to read all of her novels first and then learn about the person who wrote them. That way I'm not distracted by thinking about what she was doing in her life when she wrote the book. I have this trouble whenever I watch my brother-the-actor on screen; I can never fully immerse myself in the movie or TV show. I also have this trouble with most actors if I know too much about their personal lives.

Back to the essays, etc. Most of these appeared in national magazines. A few were speeches or from other spoken forms. All were biographical to one degree or another, or at least that's how I remember it now. I read this over a week and was reading fiction at the same time and also listening to an audiobook while driving. This gave me ample time to forget if there was one or two in there not about her life or her dog.

It was interesting to learn about how she became a writer, of course, and many other things. The title essay comes near the end. However, I didn't love this book the way I loved the two novels I have read of hers.
Profile Image for Alena.
868 reviews221 followers
November 28, 2013
Already a huge Patchett fan, after reading these essays I want to get in my car, drive to Parnassus Books and convince her that we should be great friends. And, yes, I know it's a little creepy, but that's how much I love her non-fiction voice. These essays cover the gamut, from books to friendship, to relationships and religion -- all my favorite topics. She inspired me to add some titles to my to-read and reminded me why I fell in love with her in the first place.
Just a fine, fine read.
Profile Image for Lisa Montanaro.
Author 2 books132 followers
April 2, 2017
This is the sixth Ann Patchett book that I have read, and the second one that is nonfiction. She has an extraordinary gift for writing both fiction and nonfiction, and is, quite simply, my favorite author living today. I feel like she writes only for me, which I know is ridiculously silly, but feels like the truth when I'm devouring the words nonetheless.

"This is the Story of a Happy Marriage" is a compilation of personal essays written by Ann over many years, spanning various subjects, including marriage, divorce, friendship, writing, religion, censorship of books, canine companions, and more. And I loved every word! It felt like visiting with a good friend and enjoying a glass of wine together, while she proceeded to share intimate stories that revealed as much about her, as they do about you.

My favorite part of this book, by far, is how much detail and insight Ann gives about her journey as a writer and published author. As someone who has published nonfiction and is now trying my hand at writing fiction for the first time, I felt like I got a glimpse into a private world that afforded me an insider's view. What a gift! And when that insider happens to be your favorite writer to boot, it's magical.

Thankfully, I've still got some Ann Patchett books left to read and some of her essays and articles to explore. I look forward to it!
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,738 reviews14.1k followers
November 7, 2013
3.5 I have read Ann Patchett's books for a long time now, long enough that I can see her improving in her craft, book by book. This grouping of essays cover a wide range of subjects that she has written throughout the years.

So interesting how she started her writing career and how she approaches her writing now, the care she puts into her research. Very informative Marriage, her Catholic faith, RV travel, and of course her dog Rosie. Loved how she talked about her dog, can tell she is madly in love with the pooch. Marriage, what it means and the importance of this in her life.

Of course, her bookstore Parnassus in Tennessee, which I hope to get to one day and her unsolicited quest as the head of the movement of the independent bookstore. This book made me feel that I knew her much better, more in depth, a little up close and personal. I enjoyed reading these essays and think she has many interesting things t say.
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