Literary giant Ann Patchett joined Zibby for a Women on the Move event with the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center to discuss her memoir in essays, These Precious Days. Their conversation spans from topics like their mothers’ glamour, the origin story of Ann’s bookstore, Parnassus Books, why writers often persevere for far longer than is to be expected in such an uncertain industry, and how this book answers the question, “What did Ann Patchett do during the pandemic?” Ann also answers questions from the event’s audience about what genre she finds harder to write, what surprising lessons she’s learned during her ten years as a bookseller, and where to find the coat from the title essay about her late friend, Sooki Raphael.


Marjorie Shuster: Good morning, everybody. I am Marjorie Shuster, coordinator of our literary events here at Temple Emanu-El. Welcome to the tenth episode of Women on the Move where we talk to well-known female authors. As always, I’d like to thank the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation for their support of this series. Today, I could not be more thrilled to welcome Ann Patchett, prolific author, bookstore owner, very charming person. We just spoke for a bit before. You will really love this interview. We have Zibby Owens moderating today. Zibby Owens is a publisher, a mom, an author herself, and a podcaster. As always, if there’s any questions, please put them in the chat. We’ll try to get to as many as we can. It is now my pleasure to welcome Ann Patchett and Zibby Owens.

Zibby Owens: Thank you, Marjorie.

Ann Patchett: Thank you, Marjorie. Wait, there I am.

Marjorie: Enjoy your conversation.

Ann: Thank you. Hi, Zibby.

Zibby: Hi, Ann. Delighted to be chatting with you today. This is so fun.

Ann: I’m so glad this all worked out. Thank you.

Zibby: Me too. I am particularly excited to discuss These Precious Days where you tell us everything from the inspiration for this beautiful painting to your innermost secrets, perhaps, to the backstory of becoming an author. You give us examples of your abundance of caring for other people in the way that you nurture someone through illness. It’s really amazing. Bravo to you for this book.

Ann: Thank you. I appreciate it. It’s so interesting when people say, oh, it’s your innermost secrets. I think, yeah, it probably is, but I don’t really have innermost secrets. My innermost secrets are pretty tame, so it doesn’t seem like a big stretch.

Zibby: I’ve spoken to other authors on my podcast, “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books,” who say that, in fact, their memoir is innermost secrets and that the essays they write do not contain them. It’s a very carefully curated extraction of the things that they want to share. Is that how you feel?

Ann: Yeah. I think that everybody understands the lines, what you can talk about and what you can’t talk about. People ask me a lot, is this okay with your husband? Is it okay with your family, your friends that you’re saying these things? I think, oh, yeah, because, one, everybody reads anything that I write well before I publish it. I ask in advance, is this all right? Then after I write it, I give them a copy and we talk about it. Everything is cleared. Everything’s up front. The secret is you only tell a fraction of what you know so that when the person is reading it, what they are thinking is, oh, I’m so incredibly grateful that she didn’t tell that story, that she picked this little, mild version of it. It’s not anything that I really set out to do, but instinctually, I know where the lines are.

Zibby: Interesting. I read your book, Truth & Beauty. That was actually the first book of yours I ever read whenever it came out. That made me follow you ever since and inhale many other things that you wrote, of course, and all your work with Parnassus bookstore in Nashville. I was really surprised in this book to hear you describe yourself as someone with low energy because from all that I had seen, I would’ve thought differently. You said in the book, “Sometimes I think about people in terms of units of energy. André Previn must have come into this world with a thousand times more energy than I did, or else he must have marshalled his resources much more effectively. I have just enough energy to write, keep up with the house, be a decent friend, a decent daughter and sister and wife.” You talk about this in your discussion of not having children. You said, “Part of not wanting children has always been the certainty that I didn’t have the energy for it, and so I had to make a choice, the choice between children and writing.” Talk to me about this lack of energy. I don’t know, I don’t buy it.

Ann: You know, it really is true. I don’t mean physically. I’m a perfectly perky person. When I look at my friends who have accomplished so much and they have children — my best friend here in Nashville is a woman named Judy Lewis who’s a biomedical engineer who has three sons. She patents brain surgery techniques for a living and does more good in the community that anyone I know. I do always look at myself up against other people. I think, I write books. I do a good bit of writing. I co-own a bookstore. That’s really nice. Then when you factor in children or a nine-to-five job or an eight-to-seven job, which I don’t have — I don’t take a salary at the bookstore. I’m there a lot, but I’m not on the schedule. I don’t have to stand behind the cash register. I look at what other people accomplish, and I feel like I’ve come up short. I also will tell you — this is something that just always makes me feel so much better. Yo-Yo Ma is a friend of mine. Now, that doesn’t put me in a small category because Yo-Yo is a friend of everyone that Yo-Yo meets. We were having breakfast one day a couple of years ago. He was doing a concert in Nashville. Then he always wants to go out afterwards because Yo-Yo can stay up and party until two o’clock in the morning, which I cannot. I said, I won’t go out with him. I did that once. I was like, I won’t go out at night. It’s too much for me. He said, “Come to the hotel, and we’ll have breakfast.” He said to me, “I am the laziest person I know.” Yo-Yo Ma, who is on the road three hundred nights a year — he’s not just playing better than anyone else, but bringing peace to the planet. He’s involved in more real and important peace initiatives than anyone I can imagine. Thinks of himself as the laziest person that he knows. I wonder if that isn’t the answer, that once you start doing a lot of things, your field of vision opens up and you just know how much more you should be doing. You know how you’re coming up short. That’s what it is.

Zibby: I guess if we measure ourselves against everybody else all the time, there will always be people.

Ann: Don’t we, Zibby? Don’t we all the time? Isn’t that the problem? Should we just talk about that for an hour?

Zibby: We could. Literally, I wrote my senior thesis on this, about social comparison theory and how it applies to eating. People just continually compare themselves to everybody else. Anyway, this is so off topic. I was trying to prove that people with more depression and eating disorders had a higher likelihood of comparing what they ate. I was always looking on everybody’s plate all the time. I still am. I’m like, what did you eat?

Ann: Actually, that is so interesting because the only time in my life that I ever had a problem with food — I come from a family that isn’t interested in food. We don’t mourn with food. We don’t celebrate with food. We’re just not really food people. When I was in college, when I was eating with groups of people three meals a day, then suddenly, I was like, what are you eating? I think I want to eat that too. That’s not good. That’s really hard. An incredibly interesting thing to study and think about.

Zibby: That’s interesting too because of how you talked about your mother being so beautiful. I think that’s a whole category of people/memoirs, women who grew up thinking their mother was so much more beautiful than they are. It’s a thing. People are still saying that, until recently, that you looked like your mother you were sisters. You had that funny line about the man who said you were doing something wrong.

Ann: Oh, that’s right.

Zibby: You said, “The man handed us back our driver’s licenses and looked at me. ‘What are you doing wrong?’ I laughed. ‘You’re supposed to ask her what she’s doing right.'”

Ann: He said, “No, no, I know what I said. What are you doing wrong?” My sister and I talk about this all the time. My sister and I are perfectly decent-looking, regular-looking humans, but our parents are really spectacular. We just had parents like movie stars. It is the case and it is still the case — my mother is eighty-four. People are still stopping her in the grocery store saying, I’m sorry, you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life. It doesn’t change. My sister and I used to sit around and say, what’s going to happen when mom isn’t the most beautiful woman in the room anymore? Is this going to just devastate her? I still don’t know because she still is the most beautiful woman in the room, but it’s great. That was actually really good for writing in a very funny way. I looked at my mother and I thought, forget it. I’m not going to compete. That is a contest I will never win. I grew up as somebody who, unlike my mother who gets up every morning and spends forty-five minutes putting her face on and picking out her clothes and looking amazing if she’s going nowhere, I’m somebody who’s never dyed my hair. I never wear makeup. It’s hysterical that I’ve worn more makeup during the pandemic because I do feel that it is important to put some eye makeup on before you get on Zoom. Then as soon as this is over, I will run upstairs and wash my face. Although, I’ve got glasses on, what difference does it make? My mother wears contacts. Why are you wearing glasses? Because I can’t see and I don’t want to stick my finger in my eye.

Zibby: Your eyes look great. You did a great job with the makeup.

Ann: If you take all of that, if you just take away beauty, as a woman, it really opens up a lot of time in the day. I like being this person, especially for the young women who come in the store. They want to be writers. They look at me and they think, well, she’s nothing special, and look, she’s done so well.

Zibby: That’s interesting. That’s funny because I’ve never — my mother, she is always put together. She’ll dry her hair for forty-five minutes, all this. I’m like, no, no, no, five minutes max to get dressed, ready, out the door. I often have my hair up in the freezing cold, wet. It’s funny how as daughters there’s so much that we do that we don’t even realize in direct reaction to whatever our moms did, whether the same or the opposite.

Ann: Right, and that it skips generations. My grandmother was very plain. My mother was very beautiful. Then my sister and I are plain. My sister’s daughter, no doubt, will spend her life worrying about beauty.

Zibby: Interesting. So I guess half of us are going to be okay. Actually, I found it super interesting that you talked to us in the book about your mom after your essay came about your three dads and how her marriages — you set up all this intrigue. Who is this woman? What was up with her that she was moving her family to Nashville and getting divorced and getting divorced again? What’s her story? Then you give us these little inklings, more and more about her as your essays go on. Was that a strategic decision?

Ann: It’s not a strategic decision because I just write one essay at a time. What’s interesting is how it does all string together because, of course, it’s all me. I’m not thinking, I’m going to put this little egg in here and then three essays later, I’ll put another egg in, but that is the way the information comes together. It becomes very cumulative. I like to say my mother is Helen of Troy. Entire civilizations were lost because of her.

Zibby: Oh, my goodness, what a character. You have said in the essays that you think your greater contribution than all of your work is how you’ve affected your community by starting the bookstore. Tell me a little bit more about that. When did that come about? How did you overcome some of the obstacles of owning a bookstore and just decide to do it? What has been the greatest part of it?

Ann: We just had our tenth anniversary at Parnassus Books, which is unbelievable. The bookstores closed. We had one large independent, Davis-Kidd, which became part of the Joseph-Beth chain out of Lexington. We had a Borders. Both of those stores were thirty thousand square feet. They both closed within six months of each other. Everybody was just wailing and saying, we have to have an independent bookstore. We were left with a Books-A-Million and a Barnes & Noble that was about twenty minutes outside of Nashville. Everybody wanted a little independent bookstore. Nobody seemed to be doing it. I didn’t want to go into retail. That was never my dream, to open a bookstore. I was introduced to Karen Hayes by a mutual friend. We met on April 30th of 2011. We opened the store on November 15th. To say that we didn’t have time to think about it — it was just crazy. We had lunch. We were like, okay, let’s go for it. I said, let’s partner. I’ll pay for everything, and you do all the work. Karen is our in-store manager. She’s the owner/manager. I always say Karen and I make a decision to hire Karen to run the store. That’s the way it works. It couldn’t possibly work without her. She’s just great. She runs a tight ship. There are so many great things about it, but I never thought about it. I just was like, this has to be done. Somebody has to do it. I guess I have to do it.

I love the staff. It is like the bar at Cheers. It is the place that I can go that everybody goes where everybody knows your name. Everybody’s happy to see you. We all love the same things. We’re always talking about what books that we like. Oh, I love this little question that’s just popped up. It says, is the bookstore able to make a profit? Yes, it is. Yes, we’re doing fine. People who own independent bookstores never want to admit that they’re okay. It’s a very Eeyore group. It’s like an entire collection of Eeyores getting together because they’re so afraid to say that everything’s fine, but everything’s fine. Our bookstore is five thousand square feet. We had sixty thousand square feet of profitable bookselling retail space in Nashville. It went away. It was replaced by five thousand square feet. Nashville has gotten so much bigger in the last ten years. We’re it. There are some great used bookstores. There’s a little, little, tiny new bookstore on the other side of town. We are this great independent bookstore. I love our staff. I love having my friends in one place. I love being able to recommend books to people. All my life I have forced my friends and my family to read the books I love. I’m sure you know this better than anyone. I always say the contract between a reader and a book is not complete until you can take that book that you love and say to someone, oh, my gosh, this is the book for you. I finished reading Kate Bowler’s new book.

Zibby: I loved that book. Oh, my gosh, I recommend that a lot.

Ann: No Cure for Being Human. I’m going to be on her podcast tomorrow.

Zibby: Ooh, congratulations.

Ann: I’m such a good student that I read a bunch of Kate Bowler books in order to be on her podcast. I was talking to my friend Judy last night. I was like, oh, I’ve got to drive this book over to you. You’re going to love this book. Oh, Margaret, you’re going to love this book. That’s when a book is finally done for me.

Zibby: I underlined when you said that exact thing because I feel the same way. I think that’s why I recommend books night and day. There’s something about it that’s just so captivating. I was trying to find the exact line. It’s here somewhere.

Ann: Kate Bowler. No Cure for Being Human is the name of that book. I think that when I was young and originally got into teaching because I thought, teaching is the best way to spread the joy of literature and the love of books, to which I now think, well, yes and no — I was teaching a literature class is Iowa. Basically, if you were an English major, you automatically placed out of my class. I’m forcing people to read books they don’t want to read. It’s so amazing to have a bookstore where people come in not just from Nashville, but from all over the country and sometimes all over the world to say, hey Ann, what do you want me to read? What do you think I should read? There is nothing in the world that lights me up more than that. I can just blather on and on and on about books I love all day long.

Zibby: Yes, me too. We just should do that.

Ann: We should just do that. We have just a rapid-fire podcast episode where we’re yelling out books like playing a game of Spit in the Ocean just as fast as .

Zibby: Let’s do it. Come on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” We’ll do it that way. I’ll release this, and then that’ll be a companion. I found this section where you were comparing your love of proselytizing on behalf of books with a Hare Krishna. This is a Hare Krishna at the airport or something. “I asked him about his life, and we talked for more than an hour while we waited. He said, ‘Imagine loving God so much you’d be willing to stand in an airport day after day trying to tell people what it was like to love God, to feel so loved by him. What if this joy you felt, this love, was so great that you wanted to share it with everyone, but they all rushed right by you looking in the other direction?’ All these years later, it’s still the best description of how I feel about books. I would stand in an airport to tell people about how much I love books, reading them, writing them, making sure other people felt comfortable reading, writing them.” I love that.

Ann: It’s really true. I feel very, very moved by getting to do that. Someone is now again saying, please repeat the title of the Kate Bowler book. No Cure for Being Human.

Zibby: You can listen to my podcast with Kate Bowler if you want to hear even more from her perspective about it. Maybe I’ll put the link in the chat later or something.

Ann: Oh, please do. I would love to hear that. That’s great.

Zibby: She was great. She was really amazing. One of the things that you say in the book, also, is about your dad, which has been quoted now widely. I was kind of disappointed because I thought it was something that I had found really unique. Then I was like, ugh, The New York Times already picked this up. Your dad wanted you to be a dental hygienist and wanted you to pursue the practical, which is something that many people’s parents do still, put away the creativity and all of that. There’s this new book coming out, you’ve probably already read it, by Eve Rodsky who wrote Fair Play which was about gender and division and labor. It’s coming out, called Unicorn Space. In it, she talks about how we all have to have something in our lives where we’re pursuing something creatively that also gives meaning and you can share with the world at large. Oftentimes, we get into these jobs which are jobs. They neglect this huge side of us. People think, oh, I should be happy, but they really can’t be because they’re not accessing this place. You turned it on its head and decided, you know what, I’m bypassing that whole “should do.” I’m going to go straight for what I know I need deep down, I need to do, which I think most people consider very brave when, in fact, it’s essential that we all dip into that. What do you think?

Ann: In fact, also, it’s really stupid. I have thought so much about this when I’ve been doing interviews because a lot of people have brought that up. Your dad wanted you to be a dental hygienist. It’s a laugh line. The more I talk about it and think about it, my dad came from such a poor family. His parents came over. His mom was Irish. His father was English. They came during the Depression to California to look for jobs. If you can think of anything sadder than that — they were like Okies but from another country. They had seven kids. My dad was the first kid to be born in this country. My grandfather was a machinist at Columbia Pictures. He lost his job during a strike. After that, he was the janitor at the LA Times. My grandmother worked in the lunchroom at the LA Times. My father worked in a liquor store until he finally got a job as a police officer. They weren’t safe. They were poor. My father wanted me to be safe. I have to say when I meet a kid who says, I’m going to be a writer or I’m going to be a movie star or I’m going to be a ballerina, there is part of me that’s like, I want you to be safe because I know what the odds are on this. Even if you’re the best, it is so hard to make it in this career. What it takes is so much more than talent. It takes the ability to just get kicked and get up, and get kicked and get up, and to realize that no one cares. You’re going to have to do it because you love it and you want to do it.

We have a young woman who works at the bookstore, Lindsay. Lindsay came to us out of college. She tried to go to graduate school. She wanted to get an MFA. She applied to a ton of schools. She didn’t get in. The next year, she and I worked on her stories. All year, she worked so hard. She applied to all these schools. She got into one school. She went away. She wrote a novel. She sent it to all of these agents. No agent would take her on. She rewrote the novel so many times. She ended up coming back to Parnassus, back to work for us, which has got to really be hard, to have all these dreams, make this full circle back to your job out of college. She got an agent. She got one agent. She just sold her book to Doubleday. I could cry when I think about it. I said to her, “All the people that knew you along the way are going to say, oh, Lindsay, she wrote her first novel and sold it to Doubleday. They’re never going to know how many times you got kicked and nobody cared, but you cared. You pulled yourself up. You listened to what people said. You did the revisions. When that didn’t work, you listened again. You did the revisions.”

I’ll tell you, those are the people that make it. Those are the people. When I say that thing about approval, that you just need to give up on approval, that’s what Lindsay did. All these places, all the schools and the agents and the publishers that rejected her, you’re looking for approval. They’re saying, no, I don’t approve of you. I don’t like your work. I don’t believe in what you’re doing. No, not interested. Then she says to herself, but I’m still interested, and not because I want to be a writer, but because I am a writer. I’m going to keep writing. I’m going to keep doing and being who I am. How terrifying would it be to have a child who was doing that? How painful would it be to see your child kicked again and again? You can’t help them. Yeah, you would want them to be a dental hygienist. You’d want them to be safe. Somebody just asked what the name of Lindsay’s book is. I won’t tell you because it’s not coming out until next year. It hasn’t been announced yet. I want to tell you because it’s a really good title, but I’m not going to tell you.

Zibby: I had that same situation. I mentioned to you before we got on, it’s taken me twenty years to sell this memoir I’ve been working on. It’s finally coming out. I have had many crying on the floor, literally having to push myself off the floor, and being like, it’s just not going to happen. It’s just not going to happen for me. I guess it just won’t. Then getting back to it because what choice is there? This is what I do.

Ann: That’s right. The world doesn’t care if you publish your memoir. The world doesn’t care if I ever publish another book. It really doesn’t. People are like, when’s your next book coming out? I always think about, what about To Kill a Mockingbird? We got along just fine with one book. Anybody who’s involved in literature, it’s privilege. It is a privilege. If you are writing books, it means that you have food and shelter and you’re okay. If you’re crying on the floor and I’m crying on the floor because it’s painful and impossible and our feelings our hurt, no one cares. The only person who has to care is us because it’s our privilege to make this work.

Zibby: It’s true. You’re absolutely right. I didn’t mean to sound all “woe is me” about it.

Ann: No, no, but, oh, woe is us. Many, many days, woe is us. Woe is Lindsay. So what? You just have to keep getting up. Actually, that was something that my father was really terrific at teaching. My father was from that school. He was somebody who just got up and went to work. He was tough as nails. That was my inheritance and not, you are a beautiful flower. You are making art in the world. Your dad applauds your creativity. He was just like, get over yourself. Get off the floor. Get back to work. That’s what you need.

Zibby: It’s true. It’s the combination. Nobody wins a contest they don’t enter. You have to just keep entering over and over in any way.

Ann: Actually, I love that. I always say, you don’t play, you don’t win. No balls, no hits. You’ve got to just keep pitching it out there.

Zibby: True. Sometimes easier said than done.

Ann: Always.

Zibby: Now I want to ask you the question that — I am curious if you’re writing something else, but it’s only because I think when there’s such a good thing, you just want more of it. You just want to know, what else can come out of this typewriter or this mind — not the typewriter anymore — that’s going to entertain me? I think the question is actually, when people ask it, it’s more of a selfish thing. When can I ingest your content? Not like, what are you up to?

Ann: When people say, what are you writing now? my answer is, what am I writing now? I’m writing my name. I’m signing my name. That’s what I’m doing. I am signing my name. When I leave here today, I will go back to the bookstore because we just got in 642 books that have to be signed today. I’m writing my name. I have signed this book, either the physical book, tip sheets, or book plates, somewhere between twenty-five and thirty thousand times, I have signed my name since this book was in preproduction. A friend of mine of in Bozeman, Montana, sent me a picture the other day of her holding up a book in her tiny store saying —

Zibby: — Mine is signed too. I don’t even know how this is signed. It just was.

Ann: There it is. That’s a tip sheet. That is a tip sheet. I signed twenty thousand of those. They come in boxes. I sit there and sign my name until I vomit. Then I mail those boxes back. Then they put them into the books. The tip sheets are sewn into the books. This is so crazy. The interesting thing about me is I am this weird intersection of every angle of publishing. I’m a writer. I’m a bookseller. I know everything about the business. Hey, the book hit the list at number seven, New York Times. Woo-hoo. Great, right? Does that have to do with me writing a great book? No. That has to do with me signing my name twenty-five to thirty thousand times because if you want to order a copy of Ann Patchett’s new book — you own a little bookstore. You want to order a copy of the book, but you want one that’s signed. You can’t get it unless you order a carton of twelve. Normally, a little bookstore would order two copies of an Ann Patchett new book, but they want them signed, so they order a carton. That, my friend, is how your book hits the list, not because you’ve written something brilliant, but because you’ve signed them in advance. The stores are willing to take a chance to get the signed copies because people like to buy signed copies, especially around the holidays.

Zibby: Wow, oh, my gosh.

Ann: It’s dirty. It’s really just not what you think.

Zibby: I started my own publishing company called Zibby Books. We have to talk.

Ann: We have to talk.

Zibby: I need all of your tips. I need all of the secrets. That was amazing. That’s the thing about the book industry right now. You have to also be a marketer. You have to always be thinking. Why do you think people like signed copies so much? What is it about that?

Ann: What is it about signed copies? Yet I fall for it. I bought a signed tip-in copy of Sophia Loren’s memoir several years ago. I don’t know why. I had this moment. I was like, Sophia Loren touched this book. It’s not even that I’m some rabid Sophia Loren fan. I just thought, oh, that’s really cool. There is something about it. It is wrong. It is absolutely wrong because anything that’s good or interesting about me, you’ve already got it. It’s in the book. There is that connection. Somebody just put that up. It gives us that feeling of connection. It is really true. You just think, oh, this is a little bit special. However many times I might think, I’m not doing this anymore, the time comes and you’re like, okay, yeah, I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it. A signed copy is part of you, I know, but the better part of me is actually in the book.

Zibby: My mother just wrote that, by the way. That was my mom who said that.

Ann: Good job. Very good daughter. Good mothering on your part.

Zibby: We have so many questions. I don’t want to monopolize your time. Let’s go to some of these. Deborah asks, how do you determine whether you’re going to next write a book of fiction, essays, or memoir?

Ann: I am a fiction writer. That’s what I’m going to do unless something very specific happens in my life that makes me want to write nonfiction. I say this is my fourth book of nonfiction. Although, one of them was so tiny, it doesn’t even count. They all came out of something very specific that was going on in my life. I am looking forward to writing a novel next. I know what the novel’s going to be about. As soon as all of this is done, then I will go into the witness protection program and I will write the novel. Oh, wait, I want to answer this question. Is that the painting of The Dutch House — yes — behind me that my friend Noah Saterstrom did? It’s spectacular. It’s beautiful.

Zibby: It is. It’s amazing. Karen asks, have you gone back to pre-COVID life, speaking engagements in person, or still only via Zoom? Will you ever write about these times with the pandemic? Well, you did write about them in here.

Ann: I did, right. We call it These Precious Days for a reason. This is my “what I did during the pandemic” book. Will I go back to life in person? Not in the same way. I think that for so many of us, we were on the hamster wheel. No matter what your life was, you’re just running as fast as you can to keep up. Then the pandemic gave us a chance to stop and step back and, one, think, well, we’re going to die. Maybe of the pandemic, but maybe not. We’re going to die of something. Everybody had to face their mortality during the pandemic and the mortality of the people that we love. When you do that, then in my mind what you see is how beautiful your life is and how precious the people that you love are and what you really want to do. I don’t think that I am going to get back on the wheel in the same way. I don’t like sleeping in Marriotts for a third of my life, which is what I’ve been doing my whole professional life. It’s just crazy. Every now and then I’ll do something in person. Also, what we’re doing right now, I love the democracy of this. I love the fact that other people can tune in and see this. You don’t have to be there. If you’re sick, if you’re at home, whatever, you can watch this on Zoom. We can have these great conversations. There’s a lot of benefit to being in person, and there’s a lot of benefit to doing this.

Zibby: Very true. Look at us and all these hundreds of people. Where is everybody? I don’t know. It’s pretty cool.

Ann: Plus, you can see our living rooms.

Zibby: Exactly. There you go. Judith comments — oh, this is from before. This is why I love and admire you. I had no idea how connected you are to the classical music musicians. I am a retired violin teacher.

Ann: That’s Bel Canto. I have so many important musician friends because of Bel Canto. That book opened the door into that world. Renée Fleming, one of my best friends, why is that? Twenty years later, I am completely mystified and thrilled.

Zibby: Pamela comments, I don’t have a question, but just want to note that I appreciate Ann’s humanity that she shares with us with each of her books. There you go. Another comment, Naomi, I grew up in Elkins Park, and you nailed it in The Dutch House. Lois is asking, I grew up in Elkins Park and loved The Dutch House. Did you spend time there? When?

Ann: Yeah. When I was in college — I was from Nashville. I went to Sarah Lawrence. Erica Buchsbaum was my best friend. She lived in Wyncote. Because it was too far to go home to Nashville, I would go to the Buchsbaums for all vacations, holidays, weekends, long weekends. The whole Jenkintown, Elkins Park, Cheltenham, that whole area, an area I know really well. I became very close to Erica’s parents and to her two sisters. That was incredibly handy because then when I was writing the book, I could call them and say, where would Danny go to school? The basketball team would play what basketball team? They gave me a lot of pointers. Then they all read the book before I published it to make sure everything was right. There is actually no real Dutch house. I just made it up. Although, the house that Roz Buchsbaum still lives in on Washington Lane certainly is an inspiration, part of the story.

Zibby: Next one. Lisa asks, do you find crafting nonfiction or fiction more challenging? One thing that struck me when I finished reading These Precious Days was that I wished parts of this book were fiction if only so that you could change the ending. That’s interesting.

Ann: Man, that is heartbreaking. Me too. Fiction is so much harder for me. Fiction just kills me. Nonfiction is easier. Not for everybody. That’s not a universal. When I write a novel, I have to figure out who the people are, what the story is, what the arc of the narrative is. Who’s telling the story? When does it start? When does it stop? What are the settings? Those are all things that I already know going into nonfiction. If I start an essay, it’s because something has happened that seems like an essay. I think, oh, this really has the shape of an essay. Then I know when it starts, when it stops, who the people are, what the arc is, where it’s set. It’s just, like I say to myself, so much work doing nonfiction.

Zibby: Next one. This is from Sue. Did your mother ever tell you to wear makeup, fix your hair, etc., if that is something that’s important to her?

Ann: Yes, she did, but she gave up really, really early and was nice about it. Actually, I think that my father was more distressed by — everybody in my family is very distressed by my hair color, which we referred to in my family as dead mouse. I had beautiful, bright blond hair when I was young. This is what happens when you don’t keep up with your bright blond hair. It turns into something that we call dead mouse. They just accept it. They do their best. They fought me on it when I was fourteen, sixteen. Then they pretty much just gave up. There was nothing to do. They started saying things like, you have nice skin.

Zibby: Oh, my goodness. Patty says, interesting about the discussion is on appearance and food, two pressures women experience. Susan says, I don’t see Patchett as plain. She’s beautiful.

Ann: Thank you.

Zibby: Judy asks, Zibby, can’t stop looking at the bookcases behind you with books organized by color. Are they actual books, or is this book-like décor? I’ve never seen a reader whose bookshelves look like this. These are real books. These are my books. I had COVID back in February and was in my bedroom across the way for almost nine days. When I got out, I stumbled into here. They go all the way around. I took every book off every shelf. I organized them by color. It took me two days. I haven’t touched it since.

Ann: How do you find your books? They look amazing, but how do you find them?

Zibby: Thank you. I see things in color anyway. That’s how I find them everywhere. I’m like, oh, that cover was yellow, so I have to look around for the yellow cover. That’s just how my brain works.

Ann: Can I just say — this is going to be a very good link back to the book. That’s what my friend Sooki — that’s who she was. The title essay, These Precious Days, was about my friend Sooki Raphael who was a painter. She saw everything in terms of color. That is exactly how she would have organized her books. She was really kind of nonverbal in a way. The whole world, every experience she had was about color. She remembered every color. She not only painted the painting on the front and the back of the book, but she chose the colors in the background. It’s red on the front and pink in the back. It’s very subtle. Harper kept printing up test copies. She’d be like, it’s not exactly right. She’d go back to the pantone wheel and figure out, that red needs to be a little more this. The way it crosses on the spine — that is the way she experienced the world. I’m very happy to see your books organized by color. If that’s how your brain works, then that is how you find things.

Zibby: Thank you. Your essay about her was just — oh, my gosh. I wanted to buy the coat. Can you find a way for us all to buy that coat she had?

Ann: Yes, I can. This is so interesting. Her daughter just sent me a picture of all of the women in the family wearing that coat. I was like, what? She said, “We found the link where Mom ordered the coat, and we all ordered the coat.” I’ll ask Allie to send me the link. I didn’t ask her because I had this moment of thinking, do I want to own that coat? I don’t think I do. I think it would kill me a little bit, but it would be fine if you owned the coat.

Zibby: Okay, I’ll own it for both of us.

Ann: I’ll find it.

Zibby: You can come visit it when you’re in New York in my closet.

Ann: Now that we are best friends, yes.

Zibby: Now that we’re best friends, you can just come over to my closet anytime. Carol wants to know, what is your process for writing? Do you write longhand or by computer, cut and paste with yellow legal pads, computer with cut and paste? Does technology make it easier? What are you reading now?

Ann: I write on the computer. I write in the morning. Everything I do in my life, I wake up at the top of my game and I go steadily downhill all day. I will cut and paste certain things on the computer. I don’t write longhand. Also, I don’t know how to type, which is super weird. I never took typing. I hunt and peck. I type really fast. I look at my hands. Now everybody wants a link to the coat.

Zibby: I’m sorry. I’ve started a mutiny.

Ann: No, it’s hysterical. I love it. People who make that coat, they’re going to be like, what the hell’s going on with this coat? Anyway, that’s how I work. In terms of what I’m reading, I’m reading a book by Richard Rhodes called Scientist, which is a biography of E.O. Wilson. I also made a decision back in July when I broke my ankle that my friend Kate DiCamillo and I decided that we were going to read one John Updike story a day until we had read them all. It’s a super weird project. I read so many things that I don’t like because I am constantly reading galleys. I’ll get twenty, thirty, fifty, a hundred pages in a book and think, I don’t want to read any more of this. I thought, I’ve got to have something that I feel like every single day, I’m reading good writing. Even if I don’t love the stories always, they’re always brilliantly written. Every day, I’ve been reading one John Updike story. I will still be doing that, actually, for several more months. It is a very, very long project.

Zibby: Wow, that’s neat.

Ann: Oh, and let me just say, everybody, read The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo. You should also get Kate DiCamillo to come and talk to you because she is our greatest living children’s writer. This new book, it’s amazing to read a book and think, people are going to be reading this for generations to come. It’s an amazing book.

Zibby: That’s so nice. You spoke so highly of her in the essays. I’m going to read Mercy Watson in a whole new way now. Maybe you could also touch on, in the book, as a throwaway line, you said, I don’t have any drafts. I work and work and work on a sentence until it’s perfect. Then I move on. Is that really how you do it?

Ann: Yeah, or I work on a paragraph or a page or a chapter. I can’t move forward if something’s wrong. It puts a total roadblock up. I’ll fight against it. I’ll just think, oh, this isn’t wrong. This isn’t wrong, but I get so stuck. Then if I look at the reason why I’m stuck, it’s because I’ve made a mistake. It’s a really handy way to work. My metaphor is, if you’re building a house and you spend so much time, you’ve got to get the basement right because the house sits on top of the basement. If the basement is wrong and you put the house up anyway, it’s really hard to change the basement once you got your house up. It’s much better for me to fix things as I go along.

Zibby: Interesting. Audrey asks, we have owned the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago for fifty years. When you became a bookdealer, were there any surprises?

Ann: So many surprises. How hard it is to order, how hard it is to predict what you’re going to need, especially this time of year, especially with supply chain problems. I think the volume of business and books that you never see as a hit, books that come in and out of print, it’s really excruciating right now. There’s that James Lapine book that came out this summer about doing Sunday in the Park with George with Stephen Sondheim. It came out in July. I can’t remember what the name of it is. Somebody find it and put it up in the chat. It sold out instantly. It just got good press. Because it was a big book on slick paper with a lot of photographs, it had been manufactured in China. That’s how it works for those kinds of books especially. Oh, Putting it Together. Thank you very much, Deborah. You can’t get a good turnaround on those kinds of books, especially now where there’s no fast turnaround on anything at all. The book sold out. Nobody could get the book. They finally got it back into print. They got those copies. I swear to you it was three days before Stephen Sondheim died. Stephen Sondheim died. Book’s gone. You cannot get that book again. Poor James Lapine. I think he must just be tearing his hair out to think he’s written a semi-obscure book, a book that’s definitely for a niche audience, that twice, the whole world has wanted and twice, it isn’t there. I bought a copy of it for a friend of mine in the three days that we had in the store again. Then Sondheim died. I was like, I feel so incredibly glad that I got my hands on that book.

Zibby: Amy asks, as an avid reader, this COVID time really feels like the perfect storm that brings us to a golden age of writing and books. Do you agree?

Ann: For some people, yes. For some people, no. I think that there are a lot of people whose concentration was destroyed by COVID. They felt anxious. Basically, I think it all comes down to an introvert/extrovert issue. I think that the introverts were like, we’ve trained for this our whole life. We’re ready. Leave us alone. We’re going to go home. We’re going to read books. Publishing, definitely an industry that came through this time really well. Bookstores came through this time strong. For people who are extroverts, I think that they were stuck in their house feeling like, I should be reading. I know I should be reading. Ahh, what am I going to do? It just made them feel worse about themselves. It depends. That’s true for writers and for readers. Somebody is asking me the name of a book about Brazil. What you’re thinking of is State of Wonder. That’s the name of the book.

Zibby: Barbara is asking, I read that you don’t do any social media and don’t even have a cell phone. Is that true?

Ann: Yeah. I don’t do any social media. I have a cell phone that plugs into my electric Chevy Volt because you had to have it in order to get the little screen map. I’ve got one. It just exists in the car. It’s never been activated for text function. It doesn’t ring. Nobody has the number. Yes, if I was in some desperate situation, there is a phone, it’s about the size of a credit card, that is plugged into the glove compartment of the Chevy Volt, but I don’t ever carry it. I have never looked at social media, which is so funny because, I don’t know if you know this, I’m an Instagram star. Do you know this, Zibby?

Zibby: I was going to say, I feel like I tagged you on this on Instagram.

Ann: Not me.

Zibby: Who is the Ann Patchett on Instagram?

Ann: Parnassus Books. It’s the Parnassus Books Instagram. During COVID, we started doing these things. I was racking my brain because people will buy Ann Patchett books. People will buy Barbara Kingsolver books, Louise Erdrich books. People will buy the books that they know. The question is — let me see if I have it. Oh, yeah, this is a galley that just came in. What I did during Instagram is I would put on a cocktail dress and red lipstick. I would hold my dog in one arm, and then I would make out with the book for thirty seconds. I would say, this is The Last Affair, a book by John Searles. By the way, you can’t get this. It’s not coming out until next year, so don’t even ask me about this book. I haven’t read it. I have no idea if it’s any good. I would snuggle with the book. Then we found, okay, if Ann snuggles with the book, we sell that book. Then we started this thing called the Tuesday Laydown Diaries. All books are published on Tuesday in that same way that all horses must leave the gate at the same moment in the race. It has to do with sales and The Times list. Here we’re closed. Nobody knows what the new books are that are coming out on Tuesday. We started this video where I hold up the new books and talk about them on Tuesday. Became a very big thing.

Now people come up to me in the grocery store and they say, I follow you on Instagram. It freaks me out because, of course, I have literally never seen Instagram. I’m like, you follow me where? You follow me how? A lot of people are buying my book now because they’re like, well, I follow Ann on Instagram. I love seeing Ann and Sparky on Instagram. I am the beneficiary of social media. My dream in life, friends, if you want to fulfill my dream in life, I want a teenager to sob over one of my books on TikTok. This is my dream. My friend Madeline Miller, Emmy Miller, who wrote Song of Achilles and Circe, a group of teenagers started making TikTok videos in which they’re sobbing holding up her books about how hard they cried. Please, if you have a teenager at home, have them read one of my books. A lot of them are very sad like Magician’s Assistant, Bel Canto. Get a teenager to cry on TikTok over one of my books. Emmy, she’s on the top of the best-seller list for years ten years after her book came out because of TikTok.

Zibby: I have two teenagers who I will force to cry for the rest of the day over your books.

Ann: Really? Just say something horrible to them.

Zibby: I will.

Ann: Say, girls, I’m going to take your phones away from you if you don’t start crying. Go.

Zibby: If you don’t start crying, you will be TikTok-free for a month. They’ll be sobbing.

Ann: Sobbing, that’s what we want.

Zibby: Okay, good. Marjorie, you popped back up.

Marjorie: I just came back to thank you both. Zibby, do you want to ask a couple of final questions?

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, there’s so many that came up that we didn’t even get to. Sandy wanted to know, have you ever thought about writing for children? Needed.

Ann: Oh, yeah. I have two published children’s books, Lambslide and Escape Goat, which I did because I am in love with Robin Preiss Glasser who brought us Fancy Nancy. We met at the bookstore when she was on Fancy Nancy tour. I mean to tell you, our eyes met across a crowded bookstore. She is my soulmate. She said, “Would you ever write a children’s book for me?” I was like, “If it meant that I got to hang out with you, sure.” Yes, we have two picture books out. We have a new series that I’ve written that Robin is going to illustrate. It’s about the Verts, a brother and a sister called the Verts, Estee Vert and Ivan Vert. It came out of the pandemic, if you have one kid who’s an introvert and one kid who’s an extrovert. Then it turns out that everyone I know is in a marriage in which there is one introvert and one extrovert.

Zibby: If you want the behind-the-scenes of the children’s books, read These Precious Days. There you go.

Ann: Yeah, exactly.

Marjorie: I want to thank you both. We do this every weekend. This was one of the most entertaining and interesting and informative — as I was sitting here behind the scenes, I’ve got a lot of texts and emails from our regulars. Everybody really, really enjoyed this. You’re very real, Ann. It was very lovely to hear you speak. We all feel like we’re chatting with a friend.

Ann: I have to say, I give Zibby all the credit for that. As someone who interviews people constantly, interviews authors constantly, I know how much work it is. It is, really, ungrateful work a lot of times. I just appreciate, Zibby, so much, you putting in the time and the effort and playing badminton with me. I do really, really want to be on your podcast in which we do nothing but scream the titles of books at each other for an hour. That would be so much fun.

Zibby: I’m in. I’m totally in. Thank you. This was no work at all. It was all a joy and a pleasure. Thanks for asking me, Marjorie. I’m delighted. Anytime.

Marjorie: Great. Thank you very much. Thank you, everybody, for being with us today. Next week is our final Women on the Move for this semester. We have two fabulous authors, Laurie Gelman and Jenna Blum. That is really going to be fun as well. Thank you, everybody.

Zibby: Thank you.

Ann: Bye. Thank you.



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