Ann Patchett on Her New Book, Recycling, and Co-Owning a Bookstore

Published on: Oct 4, 2019fb-roundtwitter-roundemail-round
Ann Patchett

The name’s Patchett. Ann Patchett. And she’s next up in our Words With Author Friends series. Patchett has authored a number of books including the 2016 NYT bestselling novel, “Commonwealth.” She's also co-owner of the indie bookstore, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee. To celebrate her eighth novel, “The Dutch House,” Ann talks about book signing secrets, recycling regrets, “Charlotte’s Web," and more.

Skimm your book for us.

Danny and his older sister Maeve grow up in the spectacular Dutch House outside of Philadelphia. Due to parental re-configuring (how's that for vague?) they get tossed out when they're young. They spend the rest of their lives obsessing over the house to the detriment of their happiness.

What does your business card say?

Ann Patchett, co-owner, Parnassus Books, Nashville, Tennessee.

 Where do you write and when?

In my office across the hall from my bedroom. It's a very short commute. I write best in the morning but some days I take what I can get.

Tell us something readers don’t know about publishing a book…

They have these things called "tip-in sheets" that you sign your name on and are then sewn into the book during production. I signed 16,000 tip-ins for "The Dutch House."

You're hosting a book club: who's invited, what are you reading, and what are you drinking?

I invite everyone who works at Parnassus Books because they're the best group of readers I know. We read Kevin Wilson's new book, "Nothing to See Here." It's coming out at the end of October and bookstore people are always reading books that aren't published yet, plus we're all crazy about Kevin Wilson. I drink a lemon LaCroix because I am the dullest person alive.

Editor's note: "Nothing to See Here," is out October 29, 2019.

When you're looking for inspiration, you...

Flip through books of photography at the bookstore. I find photographs very inspiring because it lets me stare at people as long as I want.

Favorite opening line from a book?

"'Where's Papa going with that ax?' said Fern..."

Editor's note: We'll take E. B. White's “Charlotte’s Web," for $400, Alex.

Favorite word? 

Bumblebee, though I know it should be love or justice.

Least favorite word?

Several sexual, religious and racial slurs come to mind. We'll leave it at that.

How do you deal with writer's block?

I believe there are hard problems and I believe there are unsolvable problems. I don't believe in writer's block.

What does success mean to you...

My definition of success was always that some day I'd be able to pay my bills by writing. I never updated that. I suppose I should.

Hardest career decision you’ve had to make…

I was once offered a job to teach at Stanford for a semester. I didn't want to move to California and I didn't want to teach, but I desperately wanted to say I had taught at a school that never would have admitted me as a student. In the end I turned the job down because my sister pointed out that there wouldn't be room for "And she taught at Stanford" on my tombstone.

If you weren’t an author, you’d be…

I'd make dioramas. It's all world building.

Best advice for an aspiring author... 

Read widely and deeply and do it all the time.

Worst advice for an aspiring author...

Write a New Yorker story.

What would you die on a hill for?

Are we talking symbolically? Truth, justice, freedom. But if you mean who or what would I actually take a bullet for? My husband.

What story can you not stop thinking about?

The story of immigrants. Read "American Dirt," by Jeanine Cummins coming out in January. Again, bookstore people read everything in advance.

One thing you’d tell your younger self...

No plastic cups! No Styrofoam! No clamshells! Recycle your batteries! Oh, god, it never ends.

Favorite book from your childhood?

E. B. White's "Charlotte's Web." I begged for a pig for my ninth birthday and got one. I became a vegetarian.

Book on your nightstand right now?

"The Testaments." I'm a hundred pages in and a love it beyond reason. Margaret Atwood is a hero to the people.

Who’s your favorite author to follow on insta?

A great question to end with - I don't do any social media, cellphones, texting. I've never seen Instagram. I am a carrier pigeon.

PS: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. All opinions expressed by the interviewee are their own.

PPS: "The Dutch House" is editorially selected, but if you purchase it, theSkimm may get something in return. Thanks.

live smarter.

Sign up for the Daily Skimm email newsletter.

Delivered to your inbox every morning and prepares you for your day in minutes.