A Passion for Patchett and Parnassus

One of the things we did in Nashville last month was visit Parnassus Books, the bookstore that Ann Patchett co-owns. It was our first visit to the store, although Barry remembers a bookstore in that same location when we lived in Nashville. Alas, I remember paying our cell phone bill in the plaza but nothing else about it.

I trust his memory more than mine any day. I blame my lack of memory of the store on not have the extra funds for books when we lived in Nashville. Don’t pity us too much — we had access to all of the branches of the  Davidson County library system and could and did have books from them all shipped to the branch closest to us.

Our daughter was into physics at the time, and she would order stacks of books that I found admirable but incomprehensible. (The pictures of fractals were mesmerizing.)

Barry and I were homeschooling both of the kids, so I ordered texts for Zack’s schooling from the library as well. Many an afternoon Zack, Mia, and I sat around (poor Barry was usually at work) and took turns reading aloud the book of the hour, usually classics or Harry Potter.

Along the way (beware an oncoming, tenuous segue), I had somehow missed Patchett’s books until Sena Naslund, the beloved co-founder and director of  Spalding University’s MFA in Creative Writing recommended Bel Canto to a group of us in a novel writing workshop. (Crawling back under my rock now.)

When I got home from that workshop, the book was lurking on our library’s secondhand books shelf, and I bought it for fifty cents. I have this rule: if someone mentions a book to me and I come across it right after or see/hear about it three times, I not only get it and read it, I read it right away. So I did. Swoon.

I have another rule: I don’t discuss the writing of living authors publicly UNLESS there’s a special reason to. Ask me privately and we’ll dish. I will recommend books online all day long; that doesn’t break my rule.

*Singsong voice* I’m about to break my ruh-ule!

This post isn’t meant to be a love letter to Patchett’s writing, and yet it can’t help but be at least a love Post-it. Let me hold off a bit longer, though.

While Barry and I waited for the eclipse on the 21st (we were at Percy Warner Park EARLY), we discussed what to do after it. I mentioned Parnassus, and he immediately started Googling, though we both figured it would be madness to travel anywhere but where we needed to go after the magical sun/moon tango.

My husband is an adventurous driver. I don’t even like to ride in a car, much less drive one. But because he’s the vehicularly brave one, we ended up at Parnassus. Actually, the traffic wasn’t that bad. Until later. That’s another story, and I have the photos to prove it.

We did the geeky, touristy thing and took photos of ourselves outside of the store.  IMG_6032IMG_6033

Once inside, I became overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by being in the very space where authors I know and love lecture and sign books. I sat at the desk and Barry took a photo of me, though by that time I was so overcome it was hard to sit still. (My makeup had long since melted from being in the sun and I’m wearing an eclipse tee shirt, but whatever. I hadn’t anticipated this opportunity. Note the book I’m holding!!)

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And the book I’m holding comes from another delightful surprise. Honestly, I think I discovered this but it may have been Barry who pointed it out. Not sure:

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Sweet Sena’s marvelous Ahab’s Wife recommended by, gasp, Geraldine Brooks.  That along with everything else totally caused me to have a full-blown Stendahl’s Syndrome reaction. Remember that thing I wrote about years ago where when you are overwhelmed by art you feel dizzy and disoriented ? It’s the first time it’s happened to me in a bookstore.

 

 

Suffice it to say that before we left Nashville we bought three Patchett’s books. Did you know that all of her books for sale in her store are autographed? (Insert clapping emoji here.)

Oh, and we went to Grimey’s after lunch, which is one of Nashville’s best vinyl and more music shops. Just an aside, but an important one to us.

(Below: photo of a window in a nearby Chinese restaurant where, regrettably, we ate lunch after our visit to the bookstore. Because it was close, because we keep thinking there’s more than one place that can do General Tso right. There isn’t. But this sign amused us because it reminded us so much of the tortured English we often saw in China.)

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Now, my belated tribute to Patchett.

One of the books we bought was Truth and Beauty, a memoir of her friendship with the late author Lucy Grealy. As amazing as Patchett’s fiction is, this book had me crying more than once. Even though I don’t know Patchett personally (Despite my peering into every office in the back of her bookstore when I went to the restroom, I did not find her. Trust me when I say I do not EVER celeb stalk, so that tells you something about my regard for her.)

Especially if you’re a writer, or if you want to hear about the greatest capacity for love and endurance in a friendship outside of maybe David and Jonathan in the Bible, read Truth and Beauty.

Once home, I read The Magician’s Assistant. I have one burning question for Patchett: did she do any research for it? Because it’s hauntingly beautiful and incredibly convincing. Lyrical. There’s a bit about the main character doing a trick with an egg that I can still feel in my hair as if she did it to me. So specific. So inventive.

It describes a nontraditional marriage that works spectacularly, and a woman who discovers she’s capable of so much more than she ever suspected. It’s about love in unexpected places, too. Gorgeous ideas.

Ah, and then there’s her most recent novel, Commonwealth. It begins with an illicit kiss that destroys two families but creates, (SPOILER ALERT) in the end, a novel. Or that’s my take on it.

Patchett has admitted that it’s her first real autobiographical novel. Though it’s a departure from her usual style, it works. In ways large and small, from the out-of-order storyline to the information tantalizingly left out that somehow ends up saying more than it otherwise could have, what prevails is a real sense that people, regardless of society’s expectations and labels for relationships, can care about whomever they want, for as long as they want.

And perhaps most importantly, that it’s fine, even desirable, to be human, in every sense of the word, to recognize and accept love wherever you find it.

Ok, enough. So much more I could say, but this is not meant as a review but as a way of memorializing a moment in our lives, a day of celestial wonder that will forever now be tied with our first visit to Parnassus Bookstore, a place that I, for one, wish we lived closer to. Isn’t it a good thing that we have her books, portals of a sort to that mind that conceived not only lovely literature, but Parnassus Books?

 

 

 

 

 

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