"If I'm going to go to somebody else's bookstore when I'm not on book tour," says Ann Patchett, "I'd rather sell other people's books." The author of "Bel Canto," "State of Wonder," and other novels, who is also co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, is explaining the logic behind her visit to East Hampton's venerable BookHampton this weekend for a talk titled, "Ann Patchett Tells You What to Read." In conversation with Newsday, Patchett reported on the progress of her "one-woman campaign to save independent bookstores."
What gave you the idea of creating a summer reading list for grown-ups?
Coincidentally, as I was planning a visit to my best friend in Sag Harbor, [BookHampton owner] Charline Spektor said, "If you're ever in the neighborhood we'd love to have you back." I thought it would be a lot better, instead of saying, "Ann Patchett is going to come here and essentially sell you [her memoir], 'This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage,' " to say, "Ann Patchett is going to talk about a dozen books, and you can find the one that's right for you." Everybody's going to leave with a book, by God!
It's a very eclectic list, ranging from contemporary fiction like Richard Price's "The Whites" to Nobel laureate Halldor Laxness' 1935 novel, "Independent People." Were you trying to give readers a wide range of possibilities?
Not really; it's just what's on my mind right now. One that I want to add is Abigail Thomas' "What Comes Next and How to Like It," a brand-new book that I'm just nuts about. Stephen King called her "the Emily Dickinson of memoirists," and it's true. The book is not so much specifically about her story; it's about how to grow old and deal with love and loss.
Your list also includes a memoir-in-verse, Jacqueline Woodson's "Brown Girl Dreaming," and Cheryl Strayed's "Tiny Beautiful Things," which is a memoir as well as a collection of her Internet advice columns.
It's funny, because if you lined up all the genres, memoir would be pretty close to the bottom of the list of things I was interested in. But these were three books that had me by the throat; the minute I finished each, I frantically got 10 copies and started giving them to people. Because to me, the proof of the book is how desperately I want to share it.
Has owning a bookstore taken time away from your own writing?
Yes, and it also gives back huge things to my writing and my life. Before Parnassus, I was somebody who just sat around and read Thomas Hardy. Now I am current and involved and stretched; I've learned so much about literature just by being a better, wider reader. I also think it's a new world order, and writers have to start taking more responsibility for the health of the industry. We all have to participate in having the world that we want: that's exciting and empowering.
Ann Patchett Tells You What to Read
WHEN | WHERE May 16 at 2 p.m. at BookHampton, 41 Main St., East Hampton
INFO Free, 631-324-4939, bookhampton.com