An Evening with Ann Patchett

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending an event with Ann Patchett hosted by Women and Children First bookstore in Chicago.  The event was held in a lovely intimate old church in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood.  And my mom was kind to accompany me so long as I drove.

I have been a huge Ann Patchett fan for years.  Her latest novel, Commonwealth, was recently released and she was on tour promoting the book.  I have to confess that I have not yet read the book (expect it to be one of our upcoming monthly book picks) but now I have my very own signed copy to enjoy.  I am not sure which Ann Patchett novel I read when I first discovered her.  It may have been Bel Canto because when it was first released there was a huge amount of buzz about it.  I then went back and read her previously written novels, The Magician’s Assistant and The Patron Saint of Liars as well as a non-fiction memoir Truth and Beauty: A Friendship and have eagerly awaited each subsequent release.


The event was packed which means there must be a lot of Ann Patchett fans in Chicago.  Before the event, I enjoyed eavesdropping on my fellow attendee’s conversations.  This is the thing with these events.  The people attending love and are passionate about books, just like me.  I can talk books for hours if you would let me.  For us bibliophiles, attending an author event is akin to some attending their favorite concert.

Ann Patchett was interviewed by the host of The Nerdette podcast.  They talked a little about Commonwealth.  It is loosely based on Ann’s own family.  Ann said her mother describes the book as “None of it happened and all of its true.”  That tagline has me a bit intrigued.  They did not discuss the book in detail which was a happy development for those of us who had not yet read it.

The bookstore Parnassus Books in Nashville is an independent bookstore owned by Ann Patchett.  So she spent a fair amount of time selling us on other’s books and talking about the book business.  I took notes on some recommended reads.  She said that she only gives a book 1 to 2 pages to decide if it grabs her enough to keep reading.  As a bookseller she does not have the time to read those things that are not worth it for her.  However, she also acknowledged that for some books the timing is not right for you to read them right then and that at a different time it might be the perfect book for you.

There was a lot of discussion about independent bookstores because there has been a concern that they are a dying animal.  Even as a bookseller, Ann acknowledged there is a space for Amazon and libraries because people are then reading.  However, one point she did make is that you cannot use all the wonderful resources of an independent bookstore and then not buy books there.  I would be so happy if an independent bookstore opened near me but alas there is none within probably 20 or 30 miles.

One of the funniest moments is when she was discussing the making of the book Bel Canto into an opera that was performed by the Lyric Opera in Chicago.  She had nothing to do with the writing or production of the opera and saw it for the first time on its opening night.  She recalled as the opera was coming to its conclusion and she knew where it was leading she whispered to her husband, “I ought not to have killed them all.”  As she said it is very different to kill all the characters in a book when you are sitting at home and quite another when you have to watch them all die on stage.  If you are looking to see the opera, it is supposed to be on PBS this winter and there are some clips on the PBS website as well.


The writing process always intrigues me because writers all have different approaches to writing.  In Ann’s case, she maps out her novels in her head first.  Not specific dialogue or details but big characters and the scenes and story arc.  She then writes one chapter and has it almost perfect before she moves onto the next.  Therefore, she does not have to do a little of rewrites and multiple drafts of her novels.   This approach speaks to me because I spend a lot of time writing blog posts and all of my unwritten books in my head.  It is only when I have the big ideas figured out that I can then start to write things down.

All in all, Ann Patchett was charming and down-to-earth and at times funny.  I was so happy to be there and left feeling renewed in my love of reading and writing.  And if anyone wants to “talk books” with me, either in person or virtually, let me know.  –June

“Reading fiction not only develops our imagination and creativity, it gives us the skills to be alone. It gives us the ability to feel empathy for people we’ve never met, living lives we couldn’t possibly experience for ourselves, because the book puts us inside the character’s skin.
Ann Patchett


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