What now? by Ann Patchett

You will recall that I am a sucker for short books.  My life has become quite hectic with two small children and a job that is unpredicatable.  Throw in the normal distractions and commitments to church, friends, etc.  and it gets harder and harder to make the time for a long read.  I still do it on occasion because I love the experience, but  I also love short books that I can read in one sitting or a couple of night’s bedside reading.

It is for this reason that I first picked up What Now? while at the local library.  My career is also in a bit of flux and so I can relate to titular question.  Upon reading the inside cover flap I found out that the slim book was based on a 2006 commencement speech the author gave at Sarah Lawrence College – her alma matter.

I am not familiar with Patchett’s best selling novels, but it was short enough that I decided to read it.  It turned out to be an that rare thing: an honest to goodness potential graduation gift that would be enjoyable to read and have a chance of being read.  So if you have a graduate to buy for this season, you could do a lot worse than What now?  It is miles better than mst of the hockey and gimmicky things you see on “For Graduates” display tables in bookstores.

But it isn’t just a book for graduates.  It is essentially a meditation on those moments of transition in life when we might be asking that question “What now?”  Pratchett shares snippets of her experiences, from both high school to college and from graduate to career and beyond, to think about the attitudes and actions that might help us think about and prepare for the choices we face.  About how friends and family prepared us for the places we find ourselves in and how even strangers can help us see the world differently.  She finds that life might not play out in a straight line but that even the detours can be important; that being willing to listen and learn is critical.

Even writing this I find myself dangerously close to cliche and truism, or maybe having crossed the line, but reading Pratchett doesn’t feel that way.  She comes across sincere and laid back; not wanting to preach but willing to say what she thinks and letting the reader decide if it is applicable to their life.

I am not arguing that this is a life changing book full of deep wisdom or anything.  But Pratchett brings a fresh and generous tone to the essay that makes it enjoyable and thought provoking at times.  And the way she tells of her own experiences has a way of reminding you of things you probably already knew but that can easily be forgotten in the stress and bustle of daily life.  It might not be life changing but it might change your perspective or bring a little clarity or insight.  And in such a short book, that isn’t too shabby.

So if you have a graduate to buy for, know someone who is in a transition period in their life (or are in one yourself), or if you just enjoy well crafted personal essays this is a book worth checking out.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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