“You may have heard the news that the independent bookstore is dead, that books are dead, that maybe even reading is dead—to which I say: Pull up a chair, friend. I have a story to tell.”
Ann Patchett, “The Bookstore Strikes Back”
You might know Ann Patchett from her bestselling novel Bel Canto. But did you know that when her hometown, Nashville TN, lost its last bookstore, Patchett and two friends decided to open their own? Named after the Greek mythological mountain home to, among other things, literature, learning, and music, Parnussus Books has proved that people still buy books. In 2011, with only a name and a business plan, Patchett set off on her book tour for State of Wonder, intending to promote the new bookstore just as much, if not more than the book.
Before Bel Canto and even before The Patron Saint of Liars, Patchett wrote nonfiction articles for magazines. Some well-respected ones, others not as much. Here’s where things get interesting. Patchett employed a tactic she learned while writing for fashion magazines. Because issues take three months to go to press, it is almost impossible to predict what the latest trend will be when the issue is finally out. Therefore, the editors just decide what the trend is and go with it. Ann Patchett decided in 2011 that trend was “independent bookstores” and go with it she did. At each appearance she hyped up bookstores and books. As she writes about in her Atlantic article “The Bookstore Strikes Back” (also published in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage), Patchett benefited greatly from the “Colbert bump” and orders for State of Wonder soared after she appeared on The Colbert Report.
While I can go on and on about Parnussus Books, another interesting fact about Ann Patchett is her relationship with the poet and memoirist Lucy Grealy. Patchett met Grealy when they were undergraduates at Sarah Lawrence, but didn’t really become friends with her until they moved in together while attending the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. After Grealy’s death, Patchett wrote a memoir of their friendship called Truth and Beauty. Lyrical and haunting, Patchett reflects on the young woman they once were and how their friendship evolved over the years.
World renowned opera singer Roxanne Coss has just finished giving a performance honoring a Japanese CEO at the Vice President’s house in an unnamed South American country. Suddenly terrorists break in taking everyone hostage except their intended target-the President. You see, at the last minute the President stayed home to watch his favorite soap opera. The CEO, Mr. Hosokawa is Coss’s biggest fan, he may even be in love with her, but then again, so is everyone at the gathering. From the Russian diplomats to the teenage terrorists, Roxanne Coss has charmed them all. The common thread is Gen, Mr. Hosokawa’s translator. We see how the hostages spend their days and forge relationships through his conversations. In time the hostage situation begins to seem normal for those involved-until, of course, the rescue operation occurs. Rich and imaginative, Ann Patchett knocks it out of the park.
A researcher at the pharmaceutical company, Marina Singh, is sent to the Amazon to investigate the death of her colleague Anders-who was originally sent to check the progress of Dr. Annick Swenson but hasn’t been heard from for a couple of years. Marina has mixed feelings about this trip; she’s upset about the loss of Anders, relieved to be getting away from her married boss turned lover; anxious at meeting Annick again. Marina had once been a resident in obstetrics under Annick-until a disastrous encounter with a patient. After arriving in Manaus, Marina has to piece together Annick’s whereabouts. She has left few clues about where in the Amazon she is and which tribe’s fertility she is studying. Marina is tenacious in her efforts and comes to startling conclusions as she closes in on Annick. Patchett has the ability to make readers forget they are not actually in the Amazon. Readers will be left in a state of wonder by the end of this novel.
Can't get enough of Ann Patchett? Here are some other works
Run - Struggling with single parenthood and a scandal that cost him his political career, Bernard Doyle fights his disappointment with his adopted sons' career choices before a violent event forces the members of his family to reconsider their priorities.
The Magician's Assistant - After the death of a homosexual magician, his female assistant journeys from Los Angeles to Nebraska in search of the man's hidden past and discovers his estranged family, as well as the love she has always been denied
Taft - John Nickel, an African American blues musician managing a Memphis bar, hires a white brother and sister even though he knows they mean trouble, as he pines to be reunited with his son.
What Now? - An inspirational primer based on the author's 2006 commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College discusses how to manage life's crossroads, recounts times of struggle from her own life, and celebrates the benefits of not knowing what is to come.
I almost became a falconer once. The ad promised you hands-on training for catching raptors, and you would be working with ones needing care, so it seemed like the perfect volunteer gig. However, our time in California was drawing to a close, so I never got to experience the drama and force of a raptor landing on my gloved hand. But, wow, did I love this book.
This memoir artfully intertwines three stories: Helen’s experience training her first goshawk, her grieving for her father, and author T. H. White’s mixed results raising falcons and hawks. All these stories are told powerfully, and the subject is so interesting that I found the book riveting.
Training the small fierce goshawk Mable (the author chose the name as something opposite of what you’d expect) for a few hours every day away took Helen from her disabling grief over her father’s sudden death on the street taking pictures for his job. At one point, Macdonald describes his last photograph--at street level, a line of blurs and a patch of sky as her father fell and died from a heart attack. Read more about H is for Hawk
The Loners is the story of a group of teens in an extraordinary situation, "When a virus deadly to adults infects their high school, brothers David and Will and the other students soon break into gangs that fight each other for survival and the hope of escaping their quarantine." Check it out if you like dystopias, adventures, or stories of survival!
The list of nominees for the 2016 Eliot Rosewater award are also available. Start reading now and then vote for your favorite! You could help decide next year's winner!
SNL star and honorary Hoosier (it’s okay to call her that, right? Is any fictional character a better example of a Hoosier than Leslie Knope?) has gifted us with a collection of biographical essays and comical observations. In them we learn about Poehler’s start in improv with the Upright Citizen’s Brigade and her reoccurring role as Andy Richter’s little sister Stacy on the Late Night With Conan O’Brien Show. When recounting her rise to fame, Poehler is filled with humility and praise for those around her. While there are plenty of laugh out loud moments in the book, a strong message of empowerment permeates throughout. Not a self-help book, but at times it feels like Amy Poehler is your own personal cheerleader.
Written by Amy Poehler’s real life BFF and fellow SNL alumna, Fey’s book is also a collection of humorous stories but also includes thoughtful observations about being a woman in charge in a field primarily dominated by men. Through the more personal essays we see Fey’s transformation from an awkward, intelligent little girl to a writer and star of SNL. Protip- listen to the audiobook! Fey’s delivery is priceless!
Hilary Winston was perusing a Los Angeles bookstore when she stumbled upon the newly published book by her ex-boyfriend. Against better judgment she picked it up to read the summary-and found it shockingly familiar. As in it was a fictional account of her relationship with him, and fictional Hilary was referred to a number of times by an unsavory nickname. Winston, a writer for the TV shows Community and My Name is Earl decides to write her own book-and filled it with stories of doomed relationships, awkward situations, stories about the Olive Garden, and cats.
You may recognize Kaling as Kelly from The Office or from The Mindy Project. Is Everyone… is a tour of Kaling’s life through stories, anecdotes, lists and pictures. Fun fact: Kaling rose to fame after portraying Ben Affleck in an off-Broadway show titled “Matt and Ben.” More a conversation than a memoir, Kaling’s book is quirky and pleasant and a great way to spend an afternoon. Highlights include: “narcissistic Blackberry” photos; Irish Exits; and why do men put their shoes on so slowly? Look for Kaling's next book Why Me later this year!
Sloane Crosley doesn’t work in television-though she has appeared on an episode of Gossip Girl, but her collection of essays are on par with the hilarious and talented women mentioned above. Crosley focuses on the oddity and selfishness of adulthood. Her essays are highly entertaining and relatable, especially for those who grew up in the late 80s/early 90s. Highlights include: The Oregon Trail (computer game not historical event); an out of control My Little Pony Collection and despoiling a butterfly exhibit at the Natural History Museum.
This quiet introspective read is not for everyone. In it, British novelist Rachel Cusk, examines relationships and self-identity in a series of ten conversations that make up the book. The action occurs in the span of one week while a narrator travels to Greece for a week long writing seminar that she is teaching.
Caveat: this is one of the most unusual novels I have ever read. The author’s voice is sure, steady, and at times mesmerizing. It’s not an action novel in any sense, but rich with everyday life in a way that recalls Virginia Woolf’s works. Philosophical with wry humor and a deep sense of what makes people tick.
The first dialogue begins on the plane with her seatmate, a wealthy Greek, who is twice, make that thrice divorced. As happens so often in life, the two passengers share many secrets about their lives. We learn that the Greek has a disabled brother and disabled child. His ex, the mother of his son, wanted to institutionalize the boy, but the Read more about Outline
The Martian has taken the literary world by storm. It has become such a hit that the movie based off the novel will be released in November of this year. While you're waiting for your copy of the Martian to come in, why not give one of these titles a try.
A team of six astronauts is in the beginning stages of their mission on Mars when a dust storm unexpectedly interrupts their work on the surface of the Red Planet. Three of the astronauts see Mark Whatney hit by debris and assume he is dead. They can’t recover his body and save themselves so they leave him on Mars while they make the long journey back to Earth. Unfortunately for Mark, he was only knocked unconscious and now has to figure out a way to survive on the unforgiving planet for four more years until the next mission is scheduled to arrive. Told mostly through diary entries written by Mark, this science fiction (emphasis on science) novel is funny, suspenseful and fast-paced. Weir is able to explain highly technical and complex processes in language that novices can understand and keep up with. This is the ultimate novel about survival in harsh and lonely conditions.
Robert Neville is the last man-living man that is, on Earth. An incurable plague that somehow Robert is immune to, has taken over the planet and turned every human into a vampire. Robert spends his days in hiding and his nights hunting down the non-living. He teeters on the edge of sanity as he grapples with the meaning of life and survival when he is the only one of his species left. A stressful and intense short story, I Am Legend is an essential story of survival and a testament the human drive to survive.
French naturalist Dr. Aronnax begins an expedition to hunt down a sea monster but upon discovering the Nautilus- a futuristic submarine, he becomes of prisoner of its creator, Captain Nemo. Together Dr. Arronax and Captain Nemo explore the majesties of the ocean. A futuristic novel of many years past, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is a fantastical story of exploration and survival.
Into the Wild isn’t Science Fiction. Instead it’s the real life story of exploration and survival. Chris McCandless was a young man who gave his possessions away and embarked on a journey into the wilds of Alaska-and whose body was found a mere four months later. Investigative reporter Jon Krakauer pieces together McCandless's journey and delivers a haunting and thought provoking account of one young man’s adventure.