Patchett, 49, is the author of The Patron Saint of Liars, The Magician's Assistant and Bel Canto, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Orange Prize and the BookSense Book of the Year and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 2011, Patchett opened Parnassus Books in her hometown of Nashville. Last year, she interviewed J.K. Rowling at New York's Lincoln Center during Rowling's only U.S. appearance for The Casual Vacancy. We caught up with Patchett, a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, at the Writers in Paradise Conference at Eckerd College. The crowd was standing room only while she read from her most recent novel, State of Wonder, and discussed her craft with Dennis Lehane.
What's on your nightstand?
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis. Oprah Winfrey is coming to the store, and in preparation for that, I'm reading Ayana Mathis, one of Oprah's selections.
What was its biggest strength?
She's a beautiful writer. Sentence to sentence, the book is very accomplished.
Some say there should be more connectivity between the characters.
I'd agree with that. Especially since all the characters were from the same family, it would have been nice to see some of them cycle back around over the course of the book.
What's the biggest surprise at being a bookstore owner?
How much I love the store. I love everything about it, the customers, the books and mostly the people who work there. I had no idea how happy the place would make me.
How has the experience of opening Parnassus influenced your writing?
It doesn't impact my writing at all. It makes me read more, a good thing, and it takes up more of my time, a not-so-good thing, but it doesn't change how I write.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer