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75 of 76 people found the following review helpful
It's that time of year again. The advent of spring brings warmer weather, budding trees, gorgeous new flowers, and commencement exercises. Ann Patchett's "What Now?" is an essay based on an address that she delivered to a group of freshly minted graduates at Sarah Lawrence College, her alma mater.

In a postscript, Ann admits that her first draft was a disaster. She was saved from humiliation by the advice of her former college professor, who warned her that she had better start over again. Her speech should be much more personal. "It should be about me," Ann writes, "my time in college, my life as a writer. He said it should be funny." So she rewrote the whole thing after staring into space for a while (a good way to get the juices flowing, Patchett assures us).

Most of us can relate to Ann's words about the swift passage of time, the weird twists and turns that lead us down unanticipated paths, and the ingenuousness of youth. "Even if you have it all together you can't know where you're going to end up." She describes the loneliness that she felt as a seventeen year old from Tennessee during the days before email and text-messaging connected people electronically. Long-distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive, so Ann had to fall back on old-fashion methods of communication. Remember letter writing? By sending missives to her family and friends, Ann says, "I learned how to transfer the contents of my heart onto a piece of paper." This "proved as instructive to me as any writing class."

Fortunately, Ann's Catholic school background prepared her well. She already knew all about humility and reaching out to others, and these qualities helped set her on the right path. One of the first friends she made at Sarah Lawrence was Alice Ilchman, the new president of the school, and a woman whom she would grow to love dearly. Another lesson that Ann passes on is one that I, as a librarian, have known for a long time. "Pay attention to the things [you'll] probably never need to know...listen carefully to the people who look as if they have nothing to teach [you]... see school as something that goes on everywhere...." Never underestimate the value of listening. Even Ann's work as a line cook and waitress were useful in making her the person she aspired to be. At a time when so many distractions demand our attention, including our kids, our jobs, events of the world--Patchett recommends that we occasionally welcome "stillness, silence, and studied consideration." Sometimes we have to let the answers come to us rather than frantically hunt them down.

"What Now?" is a lovely little book that works because the author tells us what we know in our hearts to be true in a way that is gentle, funny, and beautifully expressed. The art consists of black and white photos of jigsaw puzzles, people standing before closed doors, individuals wending their way through mazes, footprints in the sand, and lots of road signs. This small volume would serve nicely as a gift for your favorite high school or college graduate. Let some young person know that "what now...is a declaration of possibility, of promise, of chance." I have always been sentimental at commencements, and the idea "that at every point in our development we are still striving to grow" still fills me with wonder.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2008
After seeing Maria Shriver on Oprah taling about her book, I decided to buy it. Then I stumbled across What Now? I love Ann Patchett's novels so I thought I'd try this book, too. I am so glad I did. This book makes you think back on experiences in your own life that have made you into who you are today. It makes you realize that it is not too late to make new choices each day in how you look at things, react to them and learn from them. It helped me to remember how much of an impact we can all have on each other. Plus, it made me cry . . . in a good way. Which for me, is a good thing.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
For some reason, I kept seeing What Now? by Ann Patchett; I saw it at Barnes and Noble, I saw the book on the page at Amazon where my book is sold ("customers who have bought this book have also bought...,") and so I read it.

Turns out, Patchett's alma mater was Sarah Lawrence College--just like me--and we graduated a year apart! What Now? is an expanded version of the commencement speech Patchett delivered at Sarah Lawrence College. The speech is based on the author's personal experiences and what she has learned from them. It was emotional and greatly enjoyable reading about her experiences at Sarah Lawrence and even TGI Fridays, where we both waited tables.

Patchett recounts the story about how she met and became friends with the president of Sarah Lawrence, Alice Ilchman. The unexpected encounter and subsequent friendship become an important part of Patchett's life and she shares this in her book.

She writes of the incident: "Sometimes circumstances at hand force us to be braver then we actually are, and so we knock on doors and ask for assistance. Sometimes not having any idea where we're going works out better than we could possibly have imagined."

What Now? is filled with wisdom, humor and beautifully told stories of Patchett's life. It is an optimistic but realistic look at life and should do a great job of easing any fears that young people experience when faced with the "real world" after graduation.

What Now? advises to listen to other people and to do so without judgment, for wisdom comes from everywhere and everyone and can happen at any time. She writes, "the secret is to keep adding voices, adding ideas, and moving things around as you put together your life. If you're lucky, putting together your life is a process that will last though every single day you're alive."

I will be giving this book to my oldest friend's daughter (along with Just Who Will You Be?: Big Question. Little Book. Answer Within. (ROUGHCUT) who will be graduating college this Saturday, but I recommend it to people of all ages.

By the author of the award winning book, Harmonious Environment: Beautify, Detoxify and Energize Your Life, Your Home and Your Planet.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2013
While I think this might be a good book for other upper middle class college girls. As a college speech, I'm sure it was well received, as it was well written and targeted to other girls who could afford to attend her alma mater.

What totally spoiled the experience is her dismissive, and almost embarrassed, tone about "menial jobs for the common people." Seriously. Good writers aren't created in college, they're created in those menial jobs that she seems to think of as hitting bottom for someone of her fine education. That just ruined the whole book for me.

I would recommend this book for college students and recent graduates. But it just doesn't fit as its being marketed, for everyone. It would make a lovely graduation gift.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I found Ann Patchett's short essay "What Now?" in the library and wanted to give it a read. Patchett is the author of the successful novel "Bel Canto" and several other books. "What Now?" is an expanded version of the commencement address Patchett gave in 2006 at her alma mater, Sarah Lawerence University. Far from graduating and setting out to work, I have just retired from a lengthy career of over 30 years. Thus, although not part of the specific audience for Patchett's essay, I am again at something of a crossroads of the type Patchett describes. I face the question "What Now?" many times as people ask me what I plan to do in retirement. And I respond, as Patchett did when she heard the question herself with something of frustration. The question marks in the title of this review are meant to be appropriate. They show better than anything else, with the possible exception of the many photos accompanying the text, the nature of the book and the open-ended character of the question. Patchett uses the question marks repeatedly in separating out the various sections of her essay.

Drawing well on her own experiences, Patchett shows how people face the question, "What Now?" at various apparent turning points of their lives: where will you go to college? what will you do after graduation? when should I change my job? and of course "what will I do when I retire"? The essay gives a good sense of how this question can be frightening, invasive, and befuddling. She also shows how the question can be parried or redirected. Sometimes a person needs to wait and reflect and take life in the moment. An individual changes, life moves on, and direction is taken unobtrusively, not only in seemingly critical moments of choice.

Learning is continuous and comes in unexpected places. Patchett describes an encounter with an adherent of Hare Krishna years ago at a Chicago airport. While Patchett was leary of the man and his sect, his goal was not to convert or to seduce. Rather, the Hare Krishna adherent wanted only to talk and to help Patchett with the mundane task of moving her heavy baggage from one section of the large airport to another, destant part of the terminal. Patchett learned from the young man's eagerness to talk and from his devotion to God, as he understood God, in the life he had chosen at least for that moment. The Hare Krishna adherent had answered the question "What Now" by his life. In other episodes, Patchett shows how she unexpectedly spent time after her graduation from Sarah Lawrence in simply wandering, and in working as a waitress at a chain fast-food restaurant. She seemed far from her goal of becoming a writer but learned things in unexpected ways from people she would not have thought had anything to teach her. She came to her dream in a circuitous way. Other people develop their dream as they go along.

I do not feel especially stressed at retirement or at thinking about what to do. But I did feel stressed much of the time as a younger man as I faced the "What Now?" choices Patchett describes -- college, Law School, career, advancement, and the possibility of uncertainty and disappointment. There undoubtedly was much to learn as I faced these "What Nows?". Patchett's essay is simple and wise. There is something to be said for both change and patience. And people find what they need in unexpected places.

Robin Friedman
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2013
Super short - after all, the "book" is based on the commencement speech, so it's <100 pages, with lots of pictures, and very big fonts. But it isn't the quantity that matters, it's the quality. It isn't bad per se, but Patchett is no Steve Jobs, and her words just don't resonate as impactful. It's nice and interesting to hear her stories, but it just doesn't have the "stay hungry; stay foolish" kind of power that makes me want to embrace death, or take on the world for the things I love as Jobs suggested. I think one needs a special kind of personal experience to give a great commencement speech, and sorry Patchett just didn't have it. And it doesn't have to be Steve Jobs. For example, Charles Wheelan's "10 1/2 things no commencement speaker has ever said" is a lot funnier and has a lot more depth.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Imagine attending a graduation and actually being inspired by the
commencement address.

That happened not too long ago at Sarah Lawrence College when
author Ann Patchett spoke to the graduates . . . her remarks
became the basis for WHAT NOW? (see also Section 2), an
inspiring essay that got me thinking about some of the
directions my life has taken--and will continue to take as I
approach retirement.

They key is for me to do the same thing that Patchett
recommended:

* To pay attention to the things I'll probably never need to know,
to listen carefully to the people who look as if they have nothing
to teach me, to see school as something that goes on everywhere,
all the time, not just in libraries but in parking lots, in airports, in trees.

I need to also be more receptive to learning, wherever it takes
place--much along the lines of this following passage:

* Receiving an education is a little bit like a garden snake swallowing
a chicken egg: it's in you but it takes awhile to digest. I had come
to college from twelve years of Catholic girls' school. At the time
I thought that mine was the most ridiculous, antiquated secondary
education in history. We marched in lines and met the meticulous
regulations of the uniform code with cheerful submission. We bowed
and kneeled and prayed. I held open doors and learned how to write
a sincere thank-you note and when I was asked to go and fetch a cup
of coffee from the kitchen for one of the nuns I fairly flushed at the
honor of being chosen. I learned modestly, humility and how
to make a decent white sauce.

Lastly, I liked gaining insight into the author's mindset while
writing:

* I came to understand that fiction writing is like duck hunting. You go
to the right place at the right time with the right dog. You get into
the water before dawn, wearing a little protective gear, then you
stand behind some reeds and wait for the story to present itself.
This is not to say you are passive. You choose the place and the day.
You pick the gun and the dog. You have the desire to blow
the duck apart for reasons that are entirely your own. But you have
to be willing to accept not what you wanted to have happen,
but what happens. You have to write the story you find in the
circumstances you've created, because more often than not the ducks
don't show up. The hunters in the next blind begin to argue,
and you realize they're in love. You see a snake swimming in
your direction. Your dog begins to shiver and whine, and you start
to think about this gun that belonged to your father. By the time you
get out of the marsh you will have written a novel so devoid
of ducks it will shock you.

WHAT NOW? is only 97 pages in length, including pictures . . . but
don't be put off by that fact . . . you'll enjoy it . . . also, the book
will make for an ideal holiday gift.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2009
As luck would have it, I was heading out of the public library when I glanced at a table near the exit. There was a display of CD boxes of audio books, most of them of no interest to me, when I saw "What Now?". I avoid most unabridged audio books because they take hours to listen, but this single CD set requires only an hour. I've never heard of Ann Patchett but on an impulse, I added it to my borrowing.

While driving to my meditation session, I played the CD in my car. When I reached the carpark, I found to my horror that I was unable to get out of the vehicle until I've at least heard her finish narrating her encounter as a 20-year-old girl with a Hare Krishna devotee in an airport.

Her story is both hilarious and serious, and hits me with a long-forgotten truth: that it pays to listen to people, even first-time strangers.

Like Steve Jobs' 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford, Ann's essay offers many home truths that are given out in the guise of life's stories. I didn't know until today that waitressing is such a noble profession!

Post Script: Another important reason to get the audio book is the sheer beauty of Ann's soft voice. I just fell in love listening to her.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 1, 2008
This Book is a very motivating read... went through it quickly. The speech has some very important message for all of us at any stage of life. It really does spark deep thought!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2008
Ann Patchett is one of my favorite authors. I loved her description in this book of how she discovered how to be one. Learning to stare figured into that and the now habit of staring also delayed her decision to get married for many years. "I just couldn't imagine living in a house with another person when so much of my life was spent sprawled across the sofa eyes wide open, saying nothing at all."

This book is short, but full of words to live by with thanks for those who have guided her way. It is delightfully highlighted with many photographs.
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