Ann Patchett is happy at home.
The best-selling novelist is publishing her second book of essays, but she has no plans to go on a traditional book tour — perhaps again. Instead, she is happy to meet readers and reporters from her home in Nashville, where she has largely stayed since March 2020, when the pandemic forced her to cut short a tour for her latest novel, Dutch House.
“I am very happy to know at the end of each day that I am not going to sleep at the Marriott,” she said on the Zoom call, comfortably perched on a fabric-covered chair in her den. high windows; “And I will eventually talk to a lot more people.”
Patchett will meet with the Los Angeles Times Book Club on December 9th—around, of course.
In “These Precious Days,” Patchett traces her influences and inspirations from her birth in Los Angeles to her childhood in Nashville and education at Sarah Lawrence College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her mother, a nurse, and father, an LAPD detective, separated when she was five, and she was raised largely by her mother and stepfather, a physician and aspiring novelist who buried gold coins in the yard and stashed guns throughout the house. She has seen her father annually on return trips to California, and his strong moral duty (she describes him as “the liberator”) has had a lasting influence on her work, including her brilliant novel “Bel Canto” and a semi-autobiographical “Commonwealth”. “
Widely known for her literary and non-fictional stories, Patchett won the American Academy of Arts and Letters, among other awards. But don’t look for steamy sex scenes in the work of a writer who one critic once described as having “unrelenting kindness.”
“As a writer, I am first and foremost my father’s daughter,” Patchett writes. “I found a lot of the things to write about weren’t smoking, swearing, or sex. With the extra time and energy they had, my characters got out and saw the world.”
Patchett’s kind nature appears in full in the title essay for her new book, a portrait of her friend Suki Raphael, personal assistant to Tom Hanks.
Patchett met Raphael when she and Hanks appeared together at an event in Washington, DC, the novelist who interviewed the actor, who recently published a book of short stories called Uncommon Type. The narrative of how the actor’s personal assistant slowly revealed itself to Patchett is moving powerfully. It is a story of a deep friendship late in life forged in the severe isolation of a pandemic and Raphael’s treatment of cancer. Raphael lived with Patchett for three months while she was being treated at a Nashville hospital.
Although she’s never lost sight of people suffering from the pandemic, Patchett and her husband, Carl, feel lucky to be stranded at home with a wonderful stranger who came to love him so much. “The luck and fortune in my life have been so overwhelming,” Patchett says. “The key is that she was with us when she could have been with 100 other people who wanted her. She could have sank on their island, somehow sank on our island, and we all felt very lucky.”
Patchett says she learned early on that she wanted to write about her friend. The resulting article, the longest in the book, was published this year in Harper’s Magazine. Cover title: “An Essay on Tom Hanks, Hurricanes, Library Management, Taking Mushrooms, Making Art in Quarantine, Endless Stories, and An Unexpected Friendship.”
“It meant a lot to her,” Patchett says of Raphael. “She couldn’t believe that was the way I saw her. Somehow, I was drawing a picture of her. And then she gave it to all her friends, and they all said, ‘No, that’s exactly what you are.'” This is how we see you too. “
Patchett paints other memorable images in the book, beginning with the opening essay, “Three Fathers,” a group portrait of her and her parents. She reflects on literary influences as diverse as Eudora Welty, children’s author Kate DiCamillo, and cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. She recounts her year not shopping, and her later quest, inspired by the plague, to rid herself of some worldly possessions. She writes about her decision not to have children, and notes the often insensitive to people who cannot understand such a choice.
Patchett has a unique viewpoint in promoting books as an author who also co-owns a library. Patchett and business partner Karen Hayes opened Parnassus in Nashville a decade ago, calling the project one of the greatest accomplishments of her life. “I think I have done more in favor of culture by opening Parnassus than by writing novels,” she wrote in an essay based on a speech to the graduating deans—one of the funniest books. “You have made a place in my community where everyone is welcome.”
While the pandemic has been brutal to many small businesses, Parnassus has been able to focus on online sales, sidewalk photo shoots, and virtual events. “Libraries persevere,” Patchett says. “Based on bookstore owners I know across the country, everyone has been fine.”
Not only did Parnassus survive financially, but Patchett and Hayes were able to continue to support all of their employees, without layoffs, throughout the pandemic. “I had such a sense of purpose,” says Patchett, “that, well, I can’t save a lot of people, but I can care.” Mine people, and I do everything I can do – which is a lot – to make sure this business doesn’t go unnoticed. To be able to keep these people employed and insured. That was great.”
to go forward, Patchett hopes to see the emergence of a hybrid book tour The form, as some authors who did not necessarily come to the library in person via Zoom, continue to appear. Patchett, who has said she has started work on a new novel, has no plans to resume appearing in person for the foreseeable future.
“I’m an introvert,” she says. “And I’m an introvert working from home. So I feel like I’ve been coaching this person my whole life. Tell me I can’t leave my house? Oh yeah, I’ll be fine with that.”
Patchett says the pandemic has changed her, perhaps in a way she wanted to change. “I don’t really think I need to go anywhere anymore.”
Eudora Welty has gone nowhere. Emily Dickinson has gone nowhere. “The value of my life is that I can write books, and I will write many more in my home—and I have a great imagination.”
Book Club: Anne Patchett
What: Ann Patchett Discussing “These Precious Days” with a columnist in The Times Steve Lopez In the LA Times Book Club.
when: 6 p.m. PT, Dec. 9.
where: This virtual event will be live on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Sign up and order signed books on Eventbrite.
the news: Join the Book Club: latimes.com/bookclub