Ann Patchett was already the best selling author of such books as “Bel Canto” and “State of Wonder” when she and her business partner Karen Hayes opened Parnassus Books in their hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. Patchett knows well the plight and pleasures of indie retailers — for three years she’s received two letters per year from Left Bank Books on Church Street in Belfast, pleading with her to come do a reading and signing.
This year, Patchett was actually able to accept the offer, as she’s giving a lecture with Maine author Richard Russo this week at the University of Southern Maine, and as she said, she has no problem sticking around Maine for a few days during the summer. Patchett’s event kicks off Left Bank Books’ summer reading series, which includes acclaimed Maine poet Richard Blanco on Aug. 2, Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout on Aug. 9, and naturalist and writer Bernd Heinrich on Aug. 16.
Patchett will give a reading at 3 p.m. Friday, June 13, at the First Church in Belfast, and then she will sign books at 4 p.m. at Left Bank Books, just down the street from the church. Space is limited for the talk, and those with reservations will be admitted first. To reserve a seat, call 338-9009.
The Bangor Daily News talked with Patchett last week about books, books and more books.
Welcome to Maine. Any fond memories of previous visits?
Actually, I applied for a job in Maine a really long time ago! I was probably 23 years old. It was at the University of Maine, I believe, way up north. It was much easier to get a job in academia back then. You could get a job based on a few published stories. I remember [the school] seeming way out in the middle of nowhere.
That’s Orono. It’s not that far! At least, it doesn’t seem so to us.
Well, I remember having a very profound experience while I was there, because it was really beautiful and really quiet, and it was around the Fourth of July, and everyone I met told me what they did for the Fourth. I eventually asked someone if they were really diehard patriots, but everyone said ‘Oh, that’s just summer.’ It’s not about the flag waving, it’s just about it being a wonderful warm day where you sit outside and maybe go for a swim. That stuck with me.
You’ve become a poster child for independent bookstores. Do you get a lot of store owners or readers coming to you for advice, support, reading suggestions?
What I get is exactly what I get from little stores like Left Bank Books — they write to me, pleading with me to come do a reading and bring crowds and help them out. It’s so hard, because it’s really difficult to go to out of the way places on a book tour. And once you do one, another bookstore a few miles down the road asks you, too, and then it snowballs. No good deed goes unpunished! It’s kind of like having the pope come bless your bookstore. As for advice, anyone who is actually in the book business doesn’t ask. They already know.
What are some small bookstores you’ve encountered in your travels that are among your favorite?
There was a book that came out not long ago that asked writers to write about their favorite bookstores in America. I chose McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoski, Michigan. There are also some wonderful stores in the south, like Alabama Booksmith in Birmingham, Alabama. I went there on my last book tour and had a wonderful time.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading “Babbit” by Sinclair Lewis, and I’m loving it. It’s terrific. I’ll tell you why I’m reading it; because I wanted to read “The Republic of Imagination” by Azar Nafisi, who wrote “Reading Lolita In Tehran,” and it’s about three books that define America. She chooses “Huck Finn,” “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” and “Babbit.” It’s a magnificent book.
There are so many books that just aren’t discussed these days. High school kids don’t read “Moby Dick” for the summer anymore. Sinclair Lewis has fallen totally out of fashion, but it’s an incredibly satisfying read. The same thing happened when I read “Act One” by Moss Hart not long ago. There’s nothing else like that book out there, and nobody reads it! One of the things I love about bookselling is that I don’t feel in any way like I have to read what’s coming out this week. There’s so much else out there.