Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ann Patchett Speaks About Snakes, Good Books, and Opening a Nashville Bookstore

I have long known that Ann Patchett is a fabulous writer. One of my favorite books (and subsequently, one of my favorite made-for-television movies) is her first novel The Patron Saint of Liars. She went on to win the Orange Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for her novel Bel Canto. What I didn't know -- until last night -- was what an exceptional speaker she is and how funny she can be.

Patchett appeared at the end of a month-long book tour for her new novel State of Wonder at the Humanities Tennessee author series Salon@615 at the Nashville Public Library last night. (As an aside, Humanities Tennessee is also the organizer of the incredible Southern Festival of Books, which I write about in the weeks leading up to the Festival each October.) Although the Salon@615 series has been ongoing for much of the spring and summer (they hosted bestselling author Erik Larson in May), I'm not sure they were fully prepared for the volume of people who attended last night's reception and reading.

We were, admittedly, a few minutes late (we had just had dessert at the original Provence in Hillsboro Village, so we weren't anxious to get to the library for the reception portion of the evening). But we had no idea that we would be sitting in overflow! Patchett is very popular across the country (I wrote just last week about the rave reviews she has been getting for State of Wonder), but especially in her native city of Nashville.

Patchett on the Big Screen in Overflow
Patchett shared so many wonderful tidbits throughout the night (and funny ones), including the fact that a Wall Street Journal interviewer asked her about "her raccoons" but never posted a correction that Patchett does not, in fact, have a house full of the animals. She also recounted a hilarious exchange between herself and a Canadian customs officer, which ended with the officer telling her that he wouldn't be reading State of Wonder because it's set in the Amazon and "has snakes." As a result, Patchett chose to read a pontoon boat section from the book which includes a fifteen-foot anaconda encounter.

Patchett stated that she had traveled to the Amazon both as research for State of Wonder and as part of an assignment for Gourmet magazine. When the piece never ran, she questioned why and was told that the same boat they traveled on had  been taken over by pirates on its next voyage. Thus, the magazine (thankfully) could not in good conscience hype it as a good travel destination for its readers. While there, Patchett met naturalist Greg Greer, who actually wrestled with an anaconda -- much as he does in this YouTube clip:

According to Patchett, Greer will be interviewed on Minneapolis NPR on Friday, and he may have an upcoming television series based on his adventures.

Patchett also discussed her plans for opening independent bookstore Parnassus Books, a partnership between the author and Random House publisher Karen Hayes. The store already has a Facebook page and had an email sign-up sheet last night for those interested in updates. The store will also sell e-books; Patchett told her audience that the publishing world is finally beginning to catch up to the technology its readers crave. She also stated that sales for State of Wonder in paper and e-book have been "neck to neck." According to Patchett, the "Kindle is the Betamax," with many more changes in book-reading technology to come in the future.

Patchett answered audience questions at the end, speaking about various topics:
  • On Oprah: "I bow at the altar of Oprah because she got people to read -- Dickens!"
  • On authorial thinking: "Anything you think about this book is as right or wrong as whatever I think."
  • On young, aspiring authors: "Read. Write because you love it and want to do it -- like the cello. [And] you have to get the junk out -- it's all about volume."
  • On her novels: "I can't read my own books [after they are printed]."
She also recommended two books to her audience, because as she said, "we want somebody to recommend a good book to us." Those books were The All of It by Jeannette Haien and Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy, obviously books that will now be added to my own want-to-read list.

Patchett signed copies of State of Wonder after she spoke. She did something smart: she had two lines. An "express" line for those who mainly wanted her signature, and a separate line for people who went to high school with her and "would make [her] cry." I hopped in the express line -- not that I wouldn't have enjoyed a lengthy conversation with Patchett. However, I don't know her, so I don't expect her to spend a lot of time with me! I was happy with hearing her read and listening to her funny stories, then having her sign my copy of State of Wonder.

Happy Standing in the (Very Fast) Express Line
Meeting Ann Patchett
The thing about the "express line" was that I still wanted a photo. My friend Caroline was conveniently with me and didn't mind snapping a quick picture. Because we were in the express line, I was nervous about doing it. The library employee beside Patchett told me it would be fine, but that I "couldn't go behind the table." I'm not sure what she was afraid I might do, but I was fine with leaning in as Patchett signed for me. What's truly funny is that because we were in the express line, I was talking through my teeth as this picture was taken. Something along the lines of: "I'm a book blogger, and I love this book so far(!), and I'm so excited that you're opening a bookstore in Nashville! Thanks!" I know, I know. I'm a dork!

If you haven't yet picked up a copy of Patchett's latest novel State of Wonder, you really want to do so. I am about fifty pages in, and it is fabulous so far. If you missed her last night, she will be at her last stop on the book tour, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, on Friday night at 5pm.


  1. I'm so jealous that you had a chance to meet her! She's my favorite living author. I'm also thrilled that she's opening a bookstore in Nashville - it will certainly be worth the drive to visit once it opens.

  2. Darn...I wish I could have gone! I knew I probably wouldn't have been able to though. Oh well, maybe we'll get to see more of her when she opens the store...which I'm thrilled about since first reading about it in Ms. Cheap's bookstore article several weeks ago. It looks like you had a great time. =O) Thanks for the Facebook link. I'm now 'liking' their page.



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