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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ann Patchett at Barnes & Noble

I remember falling in love with Ann Patchett's writing when I read the elegant Bel Canto, about a group of people held hostage by terrorists in a South American country at the home of the country's vice-president in honor of Powerful Japanese businessman. One of the hostages was opera singer Roxanne Cross, a truly unforgettable character in literature. I was mesmerized living in this world as I read.

Patchett recently appeared at Barnes & Noble on the Upper East Side to discuss her latest book of essays, This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage.  There was a full house of Patchett enthusiasts, many of us who dragged our extensive collections of her books for a signature. One woman brought her little dog, which drew an delightful "So glad you brought a dog!' from Patchett, who explained that they have four store dogs that hang out at Parnassus, the bookstore she co-owns in Nashville.
Ann Patchett at Barnes & Noble
This book of essays came about when Niki, a young friend of Patchett's who came to live with her and her husband, was organizing the bins of tear sheets filled with articles that Patchett had written over the years for many publications, including Vogue, Harper's and Bridal Guide. Niki told her that there was a book in there, and she set out to pull out the ones she thought would work.

Patchett wasn't sure; she re-read many of them and said "there were three or four brilliant ones, the rest were grocery lists." So she would take one of the essays out of the running, write a new one in it's place, and eventually the collection came together to stitch together the quilt of Patchett's life.

The book is marvelous. It takes us on Patchett's journey, from a young girl, a daughter of divorce, through her marriage to an older man that ended badly, getting her M.F.A., the importance of writing in her life, her best friend Rosie (her dog), through her second marriage and opening up her bookstore.

Some of the strongest essays in the book are Dog Without End, (about the end of Rosie's life and the horrible grief that Patchett went through; anyone who has lost a beloved pet will relate), The Wall (The story of her taking LAPD police academy test and her relationship with her policeman father) and the title essay, about love and marriage.

She read aloud The Bookstore Strikes Back, about her interesting journey to owning an independent bookstore. Sometimes authors read from their book and they are not exciting readers, but Patchett was a great reader, full of enthusiasm, with the listeners hanging on her every carefully chosen word.

When I came into the store, I saw some of Patchett's backlist and two other titles: Jeannette Haien's The All of It and Geoffrey Wolff's (Tobias' brother) A Day at the Beach. Patchett ended her talk by imploring us to buy these two books. She gushed over them and if I am a sucker for anything, it is an author I love telling me to but someone else's book. So of course, in addition to the two Patchett titles I didn't have, I bought these two.

This was one of the most stimulating book events I have attended. I felt smarter just being in that room with such a gifted writer.

Ann Patchett's Parnassus Books' website is here.
My review of This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage is here.


  1. What a great opportunity! I need to move a little closer to NYC.

  2. I love author events and this one sounds like it was especially fun!