Notes from Ann: Shelter


I had meant to write a post about my adventures on book tour, but book tour just isn’t interesting anymore. A lot of things that seemed attention-worthy up until the evening of November 8th have fallen flat for me. I’m wracking my brain trying to figure out what I should be doing now, today, in order to be helpful to my country and my community. I would like to be useful and loving. I would like to fill my toolbox with decency, kindness and respect, patience and bravery. You know, live by example. What to do? What to do?

When I dream of some tiny step to counteract the current madness, I think about how nice it would be to make a safe place for myself, my family, my friends, and total strangers, a place that is quiet and cheerful, a place that welcomes everyone exactly as they are, while at the same time encouraging them to be better, smarter, and more curious. A place that celebrates different points of view (and yes, in different I include the free and respectful exchange of political points of view that are not my own). I would like to build a place where people would feel cherished for their life experiences, where people could learn from history and be comforted by art. A place where babies are welcome, children can play, and teenagers feel respected. A place where people who are pulled in a hundred different directions can find a moment’s peace, and old people would be offered a comfortable chair to sit while they read a book.

You see what I’m getting at here.

Parnassus Books co-owners Ann Patchett and Karen Hayes, with store manager Andy Brennan and two of the shop dog crew, Opie and Sparky. (Photo: Heidi Ross)

After days of wondering if I should sign up for Teach for America or join Green Peace or, heaven forbid, run for some small local office, I thought the thing I would actually most like to give people at this moment is a bookstore. Here at Parnassus — and at bookstores all across the country — we are offering shelter from the storm. Not only do we promise a culture of intellectual freedom and intellectual expansion, we promise dogs who love without judgement.

Love without judgement, people. Try topping that.

At Parnassus we specialize in books, and books, along with dogs, have been the greatest comfort of my life. Karen Hayes and I opened the doors five years ago and since then Parnassus has been a vital part of Nashville’s community through good times and bad. Regardless of whether or not you see this as a good time, a bad time, or just another moment in history’s larger picture, we’re here for you now. Come in and pull up a chair, pull a dog into your lap (Opie is big but he can be a lap dog in a pinch) and take heart. I’ve made a list of a few books that can offer instruction in this present moment. Many of them I’ve recommended in the past but I promise you all of these suggestions bear repeating.

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush Cover ImageDestiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush

Jon Meacham called me not long before this book came out. He was down to two possible titles was polling people to see who liked which one better. One was Destiny and Power, and the other was The Last Gentleman. I voted for the second choice. It seemed like a no-brainer to me. But in the end Destiny and Power won out, in part because The Last Gentleman was the title of a Walker Percy novel. Now is the perfect time to read about the last gentleman of the Republican Party if you haven’t already done so. It’s just out in paperback.

Brother, I'm Dying Cover ImageBrother, I’m Dying

I’ve mentioned the books of Edwidge Danticat before, particularly Brother, I’m Dying, which is my favorite memoir. Maybe you listened to me and maybe you didn’t, but I’m going to nudge you again. Read her books. Read this book. It tells the true story of two brothers, one who leaves Haiti to immigrate to the United States and one who tries to stay in Port-au-Prince.

What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng Cover ImageWhat Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng

When you’re finished with the Danticat, read What Is the What by Dave Eggers, a lightly fictionalized account of the Lost Boys of the Sudan and one of my all time favorite novels. While there are plenty of other worthwhile choices, these two books will give you some insight into the immigrant experience. Reading builds empathy. That’s one of the many reasons we read. It allows us to experiences situations we could otherwise never imagine, and, if we’re lucky, makes us more compassionate citizens.

The Handmaid's Tale Cover ImageThe Handmaid’s Tale

Did you read this a couple of years ago when it was Nashville’s citywide pick for Nashville Reads? Maybe you missed it. Maybe now would be a good time to pick it up. How we speak of women is reflective of how we view women. How we view women engenders the laws by which women are governed. It’s a slippery slope, and it starts with such silly little things that might not seem important at the time. I can think of loads of books in which the oppression of women comes to no good end but I think Atwood makes the clearest and most indelible case.

Underground Airlines Cover ImageUnderground Airlines

While you’re at it, pick up a copy of Underground Airlines by Ben Winters. I trust that you’ve already read Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad because it’s going to sweep all the literary awards this year and because it’s brilliant, but read Underground Airlines too.

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate Cover ImageThis Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

I love it when the subtitle does all the work. I’m just saying this might be a good moment to think about the climate of our planet, this one planet we all have to share. And if you missed it when it was first published in 1962, be sure to read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring as well. It still holds up.

The Angel of History Cover ImageThe Angel of History

One book that’s new that I read while I was book tour and found to be completely brilliant was Rabih Alameddine’s The Angel of History. (That, by the way, is also the title of a book of poetry by Carolyn Forché about the various political atrocities of the 20th century that rocked the world of pretty much every writer of my generation when it was published in 1995. Further proof that sometimes two great books can share a title.) I will admit that when I read Alameddine’s book in that distant country known as two months ago, I wondered whether or not to recommend it. As good as it is, it’s rough, and I tend to err on the side of being PG-13 in this post, but in this case I’ll say if you’re feeling up to it you should read this. It’s about a gay Arab immigrant living in San Francisco in the height of the AIDS epidemic. It’s about Satan and Death and their discussion over the narrator’s soul. Consider yourself warned. Consider this book recommended.

Forgive me for being less than sunny. We all have to play the hand we’re dealt. I’ll write again soon with a holiday round-up and I promise to meet that task with greater cheer. Until then, I’m glad we have a bookstore.

And books.

And dogs.

And each other.

– Ann

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(Click any title in Ann’s note to toss the book into your online cart and read along.)