In praise of Ann Patchett
I have no idea why it’s taken me so long to pick up an Ann Patchett book. After reading her latest novel The Dutch House in lockdown, I’m now bingeing on Patchett’s back catalogue (this is her eighth beautifully written novel, so plenty of fine reading to come). As well as writing like a dream, the award-winning author runs an independent book store together with publisher Karen Hayes: Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee. In an interview with the New York Times she says of the business partnership, ‘All we want to do is read and talk about books and wear flip-flops. I’m really glad we have this place together where we can go. We’re like the guys from ‘Cheers’ who sit at the bar.’
Brilliant, charming and funny. AND we were both born in December 1963. I am in awe. Apart from the flip-flops…
On the pandemic and keeping it local, Patchett, who lives with her husband Karl and her dog Sparky, writes on her blog, ‘Mine is a brain wired for cheerfulness. It’s the way I was born. These days my very nature feels inappropriate. Get gloomy! I tell myself. Yet while I’m able to manifest small intervals of dread, it fails to stick. I take Sparky for walks and everyone is out, chatting at a distance and even friendlier than usual. We’re all checking in with one another, asking how we’re doing and wondering what the other needs. If I’m going to be stuck somewhere I’m very grateful to be stuck here.’
As an ambassador for the Book Industry Charitable Foundation an organisation supporting bookstore employees against hardship, and a spokesperson for independent bookstores, my new favourite author is quite obviously passionate about books and publishing. ‘I want to be part of the ecosystem that keeps our industry alive,’ she tells the New York Times.
After The Dutch House and State of Wonder, I’m currently reading Commonwealth. Published in 2016, the story is largely based on the life of Patchett’s stepfather, Mike Glassock, a famous surgeon, ‘He had a big life, traveled the world, had three wives and four children,’ Patchett has said, ‘His achievements were spectacular, as were his mistakes.’ Encouraging Patchett to write was one of her stepfather’s major accomplishments, ‘His belief in me was epic. When I was a little kid, and I mean little, eight or nine, he would say, “Someday I’m going to open up a book and it’s going to say, ‘for Mike Glasscock.’” And he was right. I dedicated Commonwealth to him. The portrait I painted wasn’t always flattering, but Mike said he loved it. He was proud of me, and his constant encouragement and support transcended the madness of family life. Sometimes things work out.’
I will never struggle to find something to read, again. Patchett generously shares recommended book lists on her website together with video clips discussing new releases on the Parnassus Books Instagram page. She has been shortlisted for the Orange Prize three times and a winner with her novel Bel Canto. Ann Patchett will be talking about her latest novel The Dutch House at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on Sunday 11 October (free to view on the festival website). And if you have time today, Ann Patchett is in conversation with Margaret Atwood to celebrate the paperback release of The Testaments, details of the ticketed event HERE.
What are you reading right now?