My desk this morning, photo by iPhone

Looking to check out a new media format, the Kindle Single, I came across Ann Patchett’s long essay The Getaway Car.

I bought it for $3 and was reading away on my sleak Kindle Fire moments later. (Impulse purchasing = Danger!)

In this case, the purchase was well worth it. The highly regarded novelist tells her story—every writer has a different one. Patchett, in easy, conversational prose (it kind of reads like a long email to an acquaintance), traces her course from a girl who knew she wanted to be a writer pretty much since she became conscious of being conscious, through college, the Iowa writing program, skipping over a brief marriage, work as a waitress at TGIFridays where she made up stories in her head, to teaching writing, through the actual creation of her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars.

She is engaging and eminently sensible and outlines her own version of the only true thing aspiring writers need to know. You only become a writer by writing. Everyday. By sitting still and writing and if you cant sit still and write for long enough to get something done, then you can’t. It’s hard. No doubt.

We share the same opinion of “writer’s block.” Her term for it is “putting it off.” I call it a lie. Either that or cocktail hour.

Some of the best passages in the book are about her teachers, what each one taught her, eminent figures such as Russell Banks, Geoffrey Wolff (loved his memoir Duke of Deception) and Grace Paley (Patchett was damned luck to study under such good writers).

The best book on writing, by far, is Stephen King’s On Writing, part memoir, part writing seminar. I’ve yet to make it through an entire Stephen King novel, but this book is fabulous. (And fyi to aspiring food writers, here’s a post on my advice, which boils down to “First, learn to write.” Also a post on my mentor and what he taught me.)

Patchett’s experience and advice, again, is more essay than book, a perfect length for a Single. I recommend it. I won’t give anything away by quoting the final lines: “Writing is a miserable, awful business. Stay with it. It is better than anything.”

I haven’t read any of her novels, but I’m likely to now, and on my Kindle at that. Any suggestion from Patchett fans? Bel Canto? State of Wonder?

And feel free to suggest other books on writing. I love talking shop.




31 Wonderful responses to “Literary Interlude: Ann Patchett’s Getaway Car
A Review”

  • twoshoes

    I’ve been curious about ann ever since I read a review of bel canto. and my understanding is that they are both very very good.

  • Laura Kennelly

    Try reading King’s latest (11/22/63). I know he can be uneven, but he’s really got it together this time. It’s been ages since I couldn’t put a novel down; I’m so grateful. 🙂
    Patchett’s latest (State of Wonder) is also very good, I think. Love her work–all of it. Bel Canto might be easiest to start with. I liked The Magician’s Assistant too, but it’s probably best to read after the others (because by then you have a sense of just how subtle she can be).
    Books on writing? You mentioned my faves–also liked Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (it’s better than her memoirs).

    • ruhlman

      so tempted by all the reviews and my love of king’s nonfiction, but don’t want to be let down again as i was with under the dome

  • Tina

    I’m a huge Ann Patchett fan–as others said, both State of Wonder and The Magician’s Assistant are great. I’d also recommend Truth and Beauty–her lovely and sad memoir of her friendship with Lucy Grealy (a lot in there about writing as well). Glad you’ve discovered her!

  • Marcelle Richards

    This inspired me — you’re one of my favorite authors and I think of your work as a model for the type of food writing I’d like to see myself doing in my career. It’s nice to be reminded that we all start from the same place, in front of a blank page, and that the only way to be a writer is to make writing a priority, everyday. Thanks for this.

    PS – Norman Mailer’s “The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing” is another book on the topic that I found especially good for stirring up momentum.

  • lisa

    Love your post. I’ve trained and taught the craft of writing to elementary students for many years. I am passionate about writing and agree with you. If you want to be a writer, you must live like a writer, not so easy to do though. I would love to see more emphasis in early grades for our young writers. Children have beautiful voices and stories to share with the world. 2 favorites: The House On Mango Street and Tizne’s Summer Notebook (amazing!). The latter is a memoir based on a notebook the author found as an adult in his parents’ home filled with events he wrote as a child.

  • Linda

    Ann Patchett is my absolute favorite. I thought I had read all of her work, but did not know about this, so thanks for the alert. State of Wonder, her most recent, is wonderful, and my other favorites are The Magician’s Assistant and Truth and Beauty, her memoir of her friendship with Lucy Grealy.

  • Carri

    Truth and Beauty and Bel Canto are wonderful books. Ann Patchett is a true inspiration. I’m taking Molly O’Neill’s Hungry I food memoir writing class starting next week, this book by Ann will be another great addition to the reading list…thank you, Michael!

    • ruhlman

      will you do a guest post on your experience? molly is a friend and i’m fascinated by what she’s doing.

      • Carri

        I would be honored…I’m really looking forward to the class, it will be fun to share the experince.

  • Diane

    Bel Canto and The Magician’s Assistant are fabulous, but all of her books are really good. I found her by accident, and am now always hungry for the next one….

  • Liza

    I personally think Bel Canto is one of the best books out there, anywhere. I highly recommend it.

  • Stephanie Stiavetti

    I just finished Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. A very short read, but powerful. Also, Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott) – but you’ve probably already heard of that. Such an amazing resource.

    • ruhlman

      i liked the writing life but agreed with all the negative reviews it got. a little self indulgent and precious as I recall, felt written for herself, not for her readers. tinker at pilgrams creek is masterful.

  • Stacey Ellen Ballis

    The best book I ever read on writing is Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott. I read it about once a year, especially when I am prorastinating my latest deadline. It always gets me back on track.

  • Abigail Blake

    The only Patchett I’ve read is Bel Canto and I highly recommend it. And I’m loving all the recommendation in the comments. Got a Kindle for Christmas and it’s filling up quickly. Books are my most dangerous impulse buy and the Kindle takes it up several notches!

  • JC

    Writer’s Block? I though that was just when your imaginary friends wouldn’t talk to you. Cocktail hour sounds much more fun.

  • Tags

    John Gardner’s “The Art of Fiction” is the gold standard, and Peter Sinfield, former lyricist for King Crimson has some interesting things to say about songwriting on his website .

  • Ohiogirl

    Put me down as another huge fan of “Bird by Bird”. Her 1″ picture frame exercise still helps me – and I write for a living!

    But no one has mentioned an old and still alive book — “If You Want to Write” by Brenda Euland. Joyous and encouraging, she doesn’t rap your knuckles with a ruler – she inspires you. Greatly. I encourage you to check it out!

  • Victoria

    I am going back up to click on your links, but first let me recommend State of Wonder.

    I gave my 23-year-old assistant a hard copy of Twenty as well as an e-copy to read on her Kindle Fire. She will be going to graduate school in the fall, and in the meantime, we are going to try to get together one night a week to cook from it. We started off on Thursday with your Coq au Vin. It was a success! We had fun cooking together and ended up with a great dinner – as well as the remainder of a lovely bottle of wine to drink with it. Thanks, Michael. The book is excellent.

    Happy New Year.

  • Victoria

    I cannot believe I am writing a second comment. I just read your beautiful post about Reynolds Price. Last Sunday I finally started the much put-off job of cataloging the twenty-five boxes of books I have stored in the attic. In “Box One” is Kate Vaiden. I’m going up to get it now.

  • cybercita

    One of my favorite novels of all time is “The Magician’s Assistant.” I also loved her memoir about her friendship with the late Lucy Grealey.

  • Sean Craven

    Strunk — to aggressively edit for concision. From William Strunk, of The Elements of Style.

    I’d also strongly recommend How Fiction Works by James Woods. His definition of good prose is a real delight.

  • Frances

    I loved Forest for the Trees by former editor and now literary agent Betsey Lerner.

  • Karen Gaylin

    Bel Canto is a wonderful novel, but I’d also recommend her book about the late writer, Lucy Grealy; Truth and Beauty: A Friendship. Lucy suffered from cancer of the jaw as a child and underwent a series of operations which left her face disfigured (she writes about the ordeal in Autobiography of A Face). Following Lucy’s untimely death (possibly suicide), Ann wrote this loving and moving tribute to her friend.

  • Rob

    Probably one of the best books on writing that I have found is the title ‘On Writing Well’ by William Zinsser. It is a fantastic guide to writing non-fiction and I wish I was more judicious regarding it’s contents.