When I got my new set of classes this semester, I was asked to take on a literature class, and while I love literature, it’s been a while since I taught it. I thought I was up to the challenge and signed on. I’m so glad I did because this particular school allows professors to use smaller works – novels, short story collections, individual plays or poetry works – to teach rather than the standard “ginormous” anthologies many schools use. So I chose five books – How to Read Poetry Like a Professor by Thomas Foster, American Ground by William Langewiesche, The Book of Luminous Things edited by Czeslaw Milosz, Flash Fiction Forward by James Thomas & Robert Shapard, and Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett. I want a course that uses creative nonfiction as an equal genre to poetry and fiction, and I hope this set of texts bears that out.
The first book we’ll be reading is Patchett’s, and I had never read the book (the curse of a short hiring timeline is sometimes having to pick texts unread), so I started right in with the reading. Then, I couldn’t stop. This memoir is perhaps the most beautiful, tragic, simple, and gorgeous memoir I’ve ever read.
The book tells the story of the friendship between Patchett and Lucy Grealy, author of The Autobiography of a Face. Patchett describes their friendship of most than twenty years and takes herself (with us in two) through the pain and edged beauty of their love for one another. Patchett is able to convey their friendship honestly without “sweetening up” or demonizing Lucy or herself. As readers, we are able to see each woman as complex, flawed, and sincere in their love for one another.
The fact that the women are both writers gave this story another layer of power and import for me, and the book informed my idea of writerly friendships, the nature of love, and the power of relationship in general. I am profoundly changed by this book in the way that great writing shifts things subtly but substantially in our souls. I only wish I could read it again for the first time.