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From Bel Canto And Beyond: A Collection of Quotes by Ann Patchett

Updated on March 25, 2017

Author Ann Patchett


Several years ago I was discussing books with a good friend. She recommended several books to me during this visit, and I distinctly remember two titles: Ann Patchett’s novel Bel Canto and Azar Nafisi’s memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran. Soon afterwards I read these volumes, and I savored them both for their clear writing and thought-provoking subjects. This was my first exposure to Ann Patchett. In the years since, I have read her memoir Truth & Beauty, her essay collection This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage, and her novels The Patron Saint of Liars, Run, The Magician’s Assistant and State Of Grace. In addition, I’ve read her slim volume What Now?, a work based on her much-praised commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College. Thus far I haven’t read The Getaway Car, her brief memoir about writing, as well as her novel Taft. What drew me to her writing style when I read Bel Canto was the believable character descriptions and her lovely, surprisingly buoyant writing. I haven’t enjoyed all her works equally, and this is one reason I have relatively few quotes from certain works compared to others. Also, at the time I was reading Bel Canto, I was collecting fewer quotes from books than I do now. I will divide these quotes based on which work they have come from. They are presented in no particular order; they are certainly not presented in the order I read them. Without further ado, I present to you a collection of quotes from the celebrated author Ann Patchett. Enjoy!

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Quotes from Bel Canto:

“The kind of love that offers its life so easily, so stupidly, is always the love that is not returned.”

“The company that had been his life, his son, had fallen away from him as thoughtlessly as a coin is dropped.”

“He was not himself. He was no one he had ever imagined.”

“Sleep was a country for which he could not obtain a visa.”

“His understanding that he would eventually lose every sweetness that had come to him only made him hold those very things close to his chest.”

"He has never been so easy inside his own skin. He thought at once he had never been so alive and so much a ghost.”


Quotes from Run:

“She prayed to stop praying, a pastime that never failed to make her feel selfish and childish, but she could not stop.”

“What would it be like to know at eleven the great thing you could do? This was what Doyle had always wanted from them, what Father Sullivan had wanted: a mission, a calling. Tip thought that he had found one in the fishes but it was nothing like this. Kenya running was pure ability: strength, grace, concentration, and the odd thing was that Tip believed her skill must be transferable. It wasn’t just that he was watching her run: he was watching who she was. It seemed perfectly reasonable to think that she could take this energy and pour it into anything.”

A quote from Truth & Beauty:

“History is strangely incomprehensible when you’re standing in the middle of it.”


Quotes from The Patron Saint of Liars:

“Forgiveness was at the heart of everything. Because I could not ask, I could not be forgiven. What would be the point in confessing a sin for which you had guilt but no remorse? Bless me, father, for I have sinned. I have lied to my husband, left him never knowing he will have a child, and would do it again in a heartbeat. Bless me, for I will continue to lie until I go the way of all the earth. Bless me in my absence of remorse.”

“But I could not pray for what I didn’t want. I was careful with my prayers, not that they had been answered.”

“But learning is easier than forgetting. The fact that my mother, that Thomas, didn’t know where I had gone or the reason, made my life easier, but I liked to think it made things easier for them as well. The world is full of things we’re better off not knowing.”

“I believe, in my better moments, that there is a plan and things go not the way we want them to, but the way they should.”


Quotes from The Magician’s Assistant:

“Having come to find there was no comfort in getting what she wanted, what she wanted now was something else entirely.”

“Magic was less about surprise than it was about control. You lead them in one direction and then come up behind their backs. They watch you, at every turn they will be suspicious, but you give them decoys. People long to be amazed, even as they fight it. Once you amaze them, you own them.”

“Winter was nothing but a long excuse for tardiness.”

“The things that went into keeping people together and tearing them apart remained largely unknown to the parties immediately involved.”

“’You wait and you wait and you wait for something to happen, and then when it finally does you don’t know what to do about it.”


Quotes from State of Wonder:

“Hope is a horrible thing, you know. I don’t know who decided to package hope as a virtue because it’s not. It’s a plague. Hope is like walking around with a fishhook in your mouth and somebody just keeps pulling it and pulling it.”

“She understood it was the business of time to move forward but she would have been glad to stay exactly in this moment.”

“’We always feel better heading home.”

“In this life we love who we love. There were some stories in which facts were very nearly irrelevant.”

“There was no one clear point of loss. It happened over and over in a thousand small ways and the only truth there was to learn was that there was no getting used to it.”


Quotes from What Now?:

“Writing is good for many things, but curing loneliness is not one of them.”

“What now is not just a panic-stricken question tossed out into a dark unknown. What now can also be our joy. It is a declaration of possibility, of promise, of chance. It acknowledges that our future is open, that we may well do more than anyone expected of us, that at every point in our development we are still striving to grow. There’s a time in our lives when we all crave the answers. It seems terrifying not to know what’s coming next. But there is another time, a better time, when we see our lives as a series of choices, and What Now represents our excitement and our future, the very vitality of life.”

“…there are some people who we grant the role of oracle in our lives, and when they speak—rarely, gravely—we are well-advised to listen.”

Quotes from This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage:

“Only a few of us are going to be willing to break our own hearts by trading in the living beauty of imagination for the stark disappointment of words.”

“Ninety percent of what I know about writing I learned that year. Write it out. Tell the truth. Stack up the pages. Learn to write by writing. Slowing down was for later, years later. We were to keep going at all costs.”


“Why is it that we understand playing the cello will require work, but we attribute writing to the magic of inspiration?”

“I believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing.”

“There are in life a few miraculous moments when the right person is there to tell you what you need to hear and you are still open enough, impressionable enough, to take it in.”


“Do you want to do this thing? Sit down and do it. Are you not writing? Keep sitting there. Does it not feel right? Keep sitting there. Think of yourself as a monk walking the path to enlightenment. Think of yourself as a high school senior wanting to be a neurosurgeon. Is it possible? Yes. Is there some shortcut? Not one I’ve found. Writing is a miserable, awful business. Stay with it. It is better than anything in the world.”

“People seem able to love their dogs with an unabashed acceptance that they rarely demonstrate with family or friends. The dogs do not disappointment them, or, if they do, the owners manages to forget about it quickly. I want to learn to love people like this, the way I love my dog, with pride and enthusiasm and a complete amnesia for faults. In short, to love others the way my dog loves me.”


“How quickly we turn from grateful to greedy.”

“Sometimes in life you’re better off not knowing what’s coming.”

“Is it possible that anxiety ends at the moment when we no longer have time for it?”

“The love between humans is the thing that nails us to the earth.”

“Sometimes love does not have the most honorable beginnings, and the endings, the endings will break you in half. It’s everything in between we live for.”


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    • Julie K Henderson profile image

      Julie K Henderson 2 years ago

      I agree completely. Thank you for commenting.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      She's got some good ones. I particularly like, "“Sometimes in life you’re better off not knowing what’s coming.” How true.

    • Julie K Henderson profile image

      Julie K Henderson 2 years ago

      Thank you very much. I am pleased I was able to inspire you to check out her writings.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Now I may have to give Ann a read, and since that's the point of your Hub, I'd say you did quite well.

      Voted up.