Ann Patchett, Edith Pearlman and the Case for the Printed Word

October 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yesterday I had one of those days of beauty and clarity all rolled into one.  It is one of the days that I consider the most special of all year.  A beautiful day devoted to beautiful words – The Southern Festival of Books.  It’s part pilgrimage, part homecoming and part relish in all things written.  For three glorious days in October, book groupies can hear the prolific to the profound writers talk and read in the most low-tech, high brow way imaginable, seated in chairs usually assigned to senators and representatives in the hallowed halls of Tennessee state government. There we sit in legislative seats voting with our presence for the written word.

I had the privilege of hearing writers like Clyde Edgerton, Walter Mosley, and Charles Frazier  read and discuss writing and their works.  I am sure it is a bit of a lab experiment for the writers, being poked and dissected like some biology specimen.  But it is very personal to their fans who have a very intimate relationship with them through words.

Ann Patchett asked to forego the usual introduction, comparing it to listening to one’s own obituary.  Not only is Ann Patchett a beloved Nashville writer but she is also gaining universal Nashville affection for bringing back an offline bookstore to my own neighborhood.   After the recent demise of both independent and chain bookstores, Nashville is currently a book culture desert.  Of course, we can order books from Amazon and download our Kindles and iPads, but the days of our beloved book friends like Stephanie Freudenthal at Davis Kidd Bookstores are gone.  Ann said she came to the Festival this year, not as a writer, but as a bookseller, defending that personal relationship that exists between a reader seeking a new book and the guide who helps them with such a find.

Ann entertained us with a wonderful new discovery – a conversation with Edith Pearlman, a small elegant woman, whose newly published collection of short stories Binocular Vision is itself an elegant treat.  But what interested me the most was the power of discovery and sharing discoveries with others.  Ann met Edith when she was editing Best American Short Stories and selected two of her stories for the 2006 annual collection.  With much admiration for her work, Ann wrote an introduction to Edith’s book which her publisher used to promote the book – not the book but the Ann Patchett preface.

Some may wonder what will happen to the printed word, but this is where the clarity comes in.  As long as there are those like Ann Patchett who believe in the important gift of discovery, the written and printed word will continue.  Oh yes, we will download some books from Amazon, but just like vinyl records have made a comeback, cookbooks are an obsession and sewing is an artisan craft, so books will remain cherished, shared and passed on to others in gestures of generosity.

I wandered around the Festival book table, hungry to pick up these 20th Century artisan products.  And to protect my literary planet, I purchased three real printed books on Saturday, my own personal vote for the continuing fellowship of readers and writers. I hope to run in to you at Ann’s new bookstore Parnassus.  Let’s hope the Muses inhabit it!

Postscript:  Ann Patchett has opened a fabulous new bookstore Parnassus Books in Nashville.  Even the New York Times covered the opening.  In my daughter’s words, “It’s a beautifully curated bookstore.”  Translation:  It has all the books I would want to read, and none of those that are not important.



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