Musings + Essays

The Ancient Pleasure of Story.

By: Jen Shoop

For Christmas, Mr. Magpie gifted me a signed copy of This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett. He beamed at me when I opened it, flipping to the frontispiece to be sure I noticed the inscription, in Patchett’s own hand:

“To Jen Shoop,

Love and happiness to a fellow writer.

-A. Patchett”

It sent, and still sends, a thrill straight down my spine. Ann Patchett has no idea who I am, what I write, or how huge a fangirl of hers I am. But there was one moment last December where my name crossed the lintels of her prodigious mind. She might have double checked the spelling (“Jen with one or two ns?”), or thought “Shoop, like the song!,” which is what most people say when I share my last name. I’ll never know, of course, but it delights me to imagine that I am alive in a world with Ann Patchett in it, and that my husband’s tender ministrations to my ambitions as a writer and to my tastes as a reader brought our two lives together, however briefly and impersonally. (If an assistant in fact signs her books for her, don’t tell me — I’d rather persist in this fantasy.) When I think about it long enough, I succumb to that same dizzying feeling I get when I remember that there are 100-200 billion galaxies in the observable universe. I am a speck of dust, and how wildly, improbably fortunate I am to live in this galaxy, on this planet, in this millennia, and to have not only found Mr. Magpie but to also coexist with talents like Ann Patchett, and Mary Oliver (well, for a time), and all the other creatives who have nourished my hungry heart these past four decades earthside.

Take (from out of left field) Steven Spielberg. I don’t think we properly recognize how profoundly he shaped the imagination of our generation. He defined the way we think about the supernatural: dinosaurs, extra-terrestrials, ghosts, even lost cultures and artifacts. Which is to say he set the table stakes for understanding otherness, and reminded us that human stories are only a chapter of the book. I mean, E.T.! Velociraptors! The ark! It is difficult to imagine my own imagination without Steven Spielberg’s mediation.

It’s tempting to think about our minds as our own — a space where we shape things as we please, blacksmiths at the forge — but I think in reality my mind is a porous network of allusion, the constitution of which is quirky and roaming, rooted as it is in my idiosyncratic diet of literature, television, and other cultural phenomena. This is why we take children to see art. This is why we read to them at night, and turn a blind eye when their flashlights flicker in the eiderdown, and invite their interpretations of film and fabric. We are pinning the stars they will one day constellate as they search for meaning, connection, hope, or the ancient pleasure of an asterism in the night sky.


+More on living by asterism.

+A few of my favorite Patchetts: Dutch House, Commonwealth, Tom Lake. I also loved her collection of short stories, These Precious Days.

+On getting started with writing. Also, Anne La Mott has great advice on this front: “Don’t look at your feet to see if you’re doing it right. Just dance.”

Shopping Break.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through the links below, I may receive compensation.

+Love this striped nautical cardigan. Also obsessed with these linen pants in like ten of the color options, but especially the stripe! And how perfect is this gauze top?!

+FUN multicolored Naghedi.

+Love this necklace and these earrings. That blue color is calling my name!

+When I had my makeup done recently, the artist used Mario Badescu rosewater spray — a great, inexpensive alternative to my beloved Chantecaille. She insisted rose water spray is the best way to prevent cakey makeup — it hydrates and smooths the skin and any makeup you’ve applied. I’m hooked!

+Only a few left of this perfect blazer, marked down over 50% off.

+Clever produce storage solution.

+Loving this inexpensive seashell scarf.

+Fun summer sneaks: these and these (in green! yellow!)

+Seriously fun statement skirt.

+Mesh flats that are sure to sell out. Khaite is always the trend apotheosis.

+Gorgeous for a bride.

+Luggage brand Beis just released their luggage line in really fun and unexpected colors — yellow, brown! Love! More great travel gear here.

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8 thoughts on “The Ancient Pleasure of Story.

  1. I had the pleasure of meeting Ann Patchett at a book signing a few years before she opened her bookstore in Nashville, one of the nicest people/book lover you’ll ever meet. When I mentioned that my dad ran a rare and out of print bookstore her face lit up she loves to talk about books, new, old, favorites, etc. The book she signed for me is a treasure I’ll keep forever.

  2. Your husband’s gift brought tears to my eyes! For my 40th birthday, my husband got me a signed copy of Just Mercy (as a public defender, Bryan Stevenson is a personal hero, a fact we had discussed during our first conversation). He had written, “To Iris, Happy Birthday and thank you for the great work you do. With hope, Bryan Stevenson”. Swoon. The most thoughtful gift I’ve ever received. How lucky we are to be known so specifically by our partners!

    P.S. “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage” is a DELIGHT for Ann Patchett superfans.

    1. So beautiful – what a gorgeous, thoughtful gift. Thanks for sharing that. Aren’t we lucky?!


  3. What a thoughtful gift! I also like Ann Patchett and heard her speak in Dallas last fall. I have not read this book. What did you think of it?

    1. She is SO much fun in person! I got to see her in October here in D.C. and was transfixed!

      I have not yet read this one — !! — but just pulled it out to place at the top of my tbr pile. I am so behind on reading. I usually feel so guilty about this but my time to read has been displaced by my recent commitment to a fairly rigorous exercise routine. I know I’ll clip back into reading soon — possibly this summer, once I’ve finished this 12 week fitness program! I’m so excited to stretch my brain!


  4. Wow! What an amazing gift from your husband. The best part was your description of how excited he was to give it to you. Ann Patchett is from my hometown and it’s a favorite activity to visit Parnassus Books when I’m there.

    I had a question about your dress from Print Fresh. Does it run similar in size to the Mille Saffron dress? It looks very similar. I live overseas and shipping back and forth is a huge pain. You advised me correctly on Mille and La Ligne sizing in the past. My Marin sweater is an absolute favorite!!

    1. Hi Jamie! I know, it was so thoughtful and sweet. He couldn’t wait for me to open it!

      Print Fresh is similar to Mille — oversized, generous. You could go down a size and be just fine.

      Glad my other suggestions have been helpful!!

      Onward into our caftan life!


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