As you may know, Ann Patchett is not just an author but also the co-owner of a bookshop. Two years ago, along with former publishing rep. Karen Hayes, she founded Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee when she discovered the city no longer had a bookstore (secondhand book shops notwithstanding). Ann didn't mourn the loss of the big chain book 'warehouses' that had been in town, but she did miss the sort of small, intimate, personal shop she had known in her youth, and it was this kind of thing that she had a wild notion to replace:
"If I could have that kind of bookstore, one that valued books and readers above muffins and adorable plastic watering cans, a store that recognized it could not possibly stock every single book that every single person might be looking for, and so stocked the books the staff had read and liked and could recommend, if I could re-create the bookish happiness of my childhood, then maybe I was the person for the job. Or maybe not. I wanted to go into retail about as much as I wanted to go into the army."
In her essay The Bookshop Strikes Back, published to coincide with Independent Booksellers' Week and available in all good bookshops, Ann recounts her meeting with Karen, her impulsive decision to fund the project, how in interviews while on book tour to promote her latest novel her plans for Parnassus Books were the subject of so many questions, and how while she was travelling, back in Nashville Karen and her team were busy making those plans a reality:
"While I've spent the summer talking, Karen has taken dreams out of the air. She has made the ideal bookstore of her imagination into a place where you can actually come and buy books. I realize now my business partner is something of a novelist herself. She attended to the most tedious details, and then went on to make a work of art .... the kind of bookstore children will remember when they are old themselves."
With all the press coverage and the spotlight inevitably on her, Ann Patchett has discovered two things, firstly that she can "talk strangers into reading books that [she loves]" (if you follow her bookshop blog as I do you will know this to be true), and secondly that she has "inadvertently become the spokesperson for independent bookstores", a job she does - as this essay shows - persuasively and well.