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A Day at the Beach

In April of 2011 I met Karen Hayes for the first time, and over the course of a lunch we decided we should be business partners and open a bookstore together. It would be something of an understatement to say I hadn't given the matter much thought. Nashville's other bookstores had closed, and I didn't want to live in a city without an independent bookstore. The fact that I hadn't worked in a bookstore in almost 25 years, and I didn't know Karen, and I didn't want to be in retail, were the minor details I swept away. Our city needed a bookstore, and so the solution was simple — open a bookstore. By November of that year, we had done exactly that.

When someone starts a story by admitting they acted on impulse, you can pretty much be sure that the story is going to end badly (e.g., I saw him sitting at the end of the bar and knew we'd be married by Thursday). But the story of Parnassus Books doesn't go the way of bitter disappointment. In fact, everything about the place is wonderful (except the flooring, which occasionally swells and buckles into waves). I believed I was doing something civic-minded by opening a bookstore. I never stopped to think about all the ways it would improve my life. I didn't consider all the authors, many of them my friends, who would come to town to read. I never anticipated that I would grow to love the people who worked there. I didn't remember what fun it was to encounter great books just because I was walking by them, picking them up, reading their flap copy. I had even failed to consider the very best part of owning a bookstore — that is, that I would get to make people read the books that I love.

A huge part of the joy I take in reading a great book is figuring out who I'm going to give that book to when I finish it.A huge part of the joy I take in reading a great book is figuring out who I'm going to give that book to when I finish it. I'm a matchmaker at heart, but a matchmaker who would oftentimes rather curl up with a book than another human. When I see someone in Parnassus contemplating a book I love, or standing within 10 feet of a book I love, I tell them, "That's the book you want!" And they believe me. It turns out I'm a real authority figure where books are concerned (the word author is, after all, the root of authority). My desire isn't to make a sale; my desire is to make people read great books.

So when Powell's asked me to write a five-day blog to coincide with the publication of my new book, I thought, Another opportunity to tell people what to read! Call me bossy, call me passionate, I don't care. I read a lot of books and I want you to read the ones I like. The five books I've chosen are all being published this fall and are arranged by the date of their publication.

First up is Geoffrey Wolff's A Day at the Beach. I'm putting it first on my list because even though it's coming out in November, it was technically published a long time ago. It's my favorite book of essays and it's been out of print for a few years. This was a real problem for me because it's a book I'm always giving to people and I was tired of trying to hunt up old copies. So I asked the people at Vintage to put it back in print. I wrote an introduction for the reissue, and I plan to sell the hell out of it every night when I'm on book tour. This is a book that makes other books (and other authors) appear to be suffering from a bad case of anemia. While other collections of essays offer book reviews and meditations on life in Brooklyn, Geoffrey offers spies, hashish, motorcycle crashes, mountain climbing, adventures on the high seas, and having his chest cracked open. His writing and his thinking are as fiery as his experiences. It's a book that makes me want to live more fully and write more beautifully. I suggest buying copies for everyone you know. And if you haven't read The Duke of Deception, Geoffrey's extraordinary memoir about his life with his father, you're going to want to read that next.

So what kind of an idiot would go on book tour for her new essay collection and try to sell a different essay collection that is better than the one she's written? The kind of idiot who loves books and wants to make sure you get your hands on the best one possible. (Don't get me wrong; I like my own book of essays. I just like it second best.)

More from Ann Patchett on PowellsBooks.Blog:

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Ann Patchett is the author of six novels, including Bel Canto (winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize), and the nonfiction bestsellers What Now? and Truth and Beauty. Her latest book is This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is co-owner of Parnassus Books.

Books mentioned in this post

Ann Patchett is the author of This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

7 Responses to "A Day at the Beach"

    Barbara November 5th, 2013 at 10:19 am

    Hoorah for your work, your philosophy, and Parnassus!

    Carolyn November 6th, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    There used to be a wonderful bookstore here in Boise, Idaho called Parnassus Books. The owners were erudite AND personable, and it was a gathering place for booklovers of all ages. One of the saddest days was when they closed their doors and then when Loren, the male half of the owners, died not long after. I still see his wife Judy at cultural events, and I remember that magical place. Luckily, an enterprising ex-teacher decided to try her hand at owning a bookstore and the equally wonderful Rediscovered Books opened. Used and new books sit side-by-side, and book clubs galore gather there. It doesn't pretend to reach the heights of Parnassus, but its down-to-earthiness is comforting in a world made cold by the likes of Barnes and Noble.

    Susan November 6th, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    I love reading anything Ann has to say. Her guest stint here is wonderful, so full of the extreme love of books that brings me such joy when I hear it from someone I respect. I'm still kicking myself for not being quick enough to get that last indiespensable copy of "State of Wonder" after I wrote asking if Powells had a copy ... and even though I had already bought it when it came out, I really wanted this one. I'm looking forward to reading her new essays, as well as the books she is so eloquent about recommending!

    michael November 6th, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    First, congratulations for opening an independent bookstore, buckling floors and all.
    Second, thank you for heralding Geoffrey Wolff's "Day at the Beach" and using your
    influence to bring it back in print. I, too, enjoyed his "Duke of Deception" and what
    I think of as the companion book, "This Boy's Life" by his brother Tobias. Here's to
    the Wolffs!

    Steve Leveen November 7th, 2013 at 3:58 am

    Yeah Ann!

    This is why you're a hero to me, and so many others.

    Big hugs,


    RPS November 7th, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    “(Don't get me wrong; I like my own book of essays. I just like it second best.)”

    That is a terrific attitude. Congratulations on your book spirit, which I guess we all have (in one way or another) or we wouldn’t be hanging out here.

    Joanna November 10th, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Cheers for a terrific author who had the courage to open a bookstore in these times, when little independent ones are closing all the time! I have not heard of Geoffrey Wolff so will look for this book recommendation. I adored your book "Bel Canto", which we read in our neighbourhood book club this past year. It inspired a lot of conversation and enjoyment.

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