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What now? Hardcover – April 15, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

Based on her lauded commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College, this stirring essay by bestselling author Ann Patchett offers hope and inspiration for anyone at a crossroads, whether graduating, changing careers, or transitioning from one life stage to another. With wit and candor, Patchett tells her own story of attending college, graduating, and struggling with the inevitable question, What now?

From student to line cook to teacher to waitress and eventually to award-winning author, Patchett's own life has taken many twists and turns that make her exploration genuine and resonant. As Patchett writes, "'What now?' represents our excitement and our future, the very vitality of life." She highlights the possibilities the unknown offers and reminds us that there is as much joy in the journey as there is in reaching the destination.

As Luck Would Have It: An Essay by Ann Patchett

Writing a book isn’t the kind of thing I do without knowing it. I’ve written five novels and a memoir. I’m working on another novel now. I’m closely acquainted with a process which consists of the search for a good idea followed by a lot of hard work. But the creation of What now? was more akin to finding a baby under a cabbage leaf than it was an act of labor and delivery. If someone hadn’t pointed it out to me, I feel certain I would have walked right by it.

What now? started out as the commencement address I gave at Sarah Lawrence College (my alma mater) in May of 2006. I make a lot of speeches and for the most part I talk off the cuff, a knack I picked up in high school as a forensics and debate champ. The only speeches I write in advance are the ones given for convocations and graduations because I’ve found that people like to keep a copy as part of the memorabilia of the day. I had originally composed a very dull and ponderous talk for the occasion because I wanted to sound smart (I was going back to college, after all) but as luck would have it, I ran into my friend and former writing teacher Allan Gurganus just before the big day. When I showed him the speech I planned to give, he sent me back to my desk to start over again.

Every sentence regarding this book could begin with the phrase, As luck would have it... If I hadn’t shown my speech to Allan, who hadn’t looked over my homework in more than twenty years, I would have been just another boring graduation speaker. But Allan set me on a new course, telling me to talk about myself, my work, and my own struggles, the exact topics I had wanted to avoid. I hope that I will never be too grown up or successful to disregard good advice when I hear it, and this was good advice. I went back to work. The new speech, delivered in a giant tent during a crashing thunderstorm, seemed to hit all the right notes. The graduates broke into cheering bedlam, my back was slapped many times, and I marked the day down as a good one. End of story.

Except, as luck would have it, copies of the speech started making the rounds, and it wound up in the hands of an editor who thought it would make a fine little book in the tradition of Anna Quindlen’s triumph, A Short Guide to a Happy Life. Once again, not my idea, but one worth listening to. The new format gave me the extra room that graduation speeches don’t allow (nobody likes a long-winded speaker) and Chip Kidd’s brilliant design gave additional resonance to my words. I looked at the end result with no small amount of wonder.

When the first copy came in the mail, I gave it to my 86 year old mother-in-law who was visiting from Mississippi. After she read it, she said she wanted copies for all of her friends. "We’re going through a real period of What now? ourselves," she told me. "At our age we’re all wondering what’s going to happen next. The question is always there. It’s just that sometimes you hear it a little louder."

"Wow," I said. "That’s really good. I wish we could have used that on the jacket."

It is my sincere hope that my mother-in-law is right, and this book will serve a purpose not just for graduation, but for life. Given its history, it seems that anything is possible.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Just in time, novelist Patchett's 2006 commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College has been expanded, postscripted and published in a handsome small-format hardcover volume, cleverly designed by Chip Kidd and priced to sell-making it quite possibly the best graduation present on the market (at least until Bird by Bird gets the full gift-book treatment). Personal but direct, with a warm, searching voice, Patchett (Run, Bel Canto) looks at her own struggle with the perennial question "what now?" and finds some surprising moments of revelation: a conversation with an airport Hare Krishna, a job waiting tables at Fridays and, less surprising, the counsel of friends and teachers Allan Gurganus and Alice Ilchman (the late president of Sarah Lawrence). Wise, illuminating observations abound, putting Patchett's talent for cogent, colorful metaphor to brilliant use: "Receiving an education is a little bit like a garden snake swallowing a chicken egg: it's in you but it takes a while to digest." Though Patchett's thesis boils down essentially to "one must never stop learning," every example she provides is fresh and worthwhile. A wise, generous and compact primer for life that could well become a touchstone, readers will return to this book, and probably find something new each time they do; deserves to be given often and enthusiastically.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 97 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (April 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061340650
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061340659
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #308,377 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Kindle Edition
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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Format: Hardcover
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.
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