Readersforum's Blog

June 14, 2013

Rise of the bookshops

Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett

| By Ann Patchett

Booksellers do not guard their best secrets: they are a generous tribe and were quick to welcome me into their fold and to give me advice. I was told to hang merchandise from the ceiling whenever possible, because people long to buy whatever requires a ladder to cut it down. The children’s section should always be in a back corner of the store, so that when parents inevitably wandered off and started reading, their offspring could be caught before they busted out of the store. I received advice about bookkeeping, bonuses, staff recommendations and websites.

While I was flying from city to city, Karen [Hayes] was driving around the South in a U-haul, buying up shelving at rock-bottom prices from various Borders stores that were liquidating. I had written one check before I left, for a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and I kept asking if she needed more money. No, she didn’t need more money.

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November 30, 2012

Writer Ann Patchett’s bookstore thrives in digital age

By Bob Minzesheimer

When novelist Ann Patchett opened a bookstore here in her hometown a year ago, she wondered if she was “opening an ice shop in the age of Frigidaire.”

One year later, Parnassus Books is thriving in an age of e-books when ordering and reading is a click away and browsing takes on a new digital meaning.

As the store celebrates its first anniversary this month, Patchett says, “People might not use ice to refrigerate anymore, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still want some ice in their scotch and in their tea. There is still a real place for ice. And when the power is out, we are mighty grateful for a bag of the stuff.”

Parnassus doesn’t sell ice. It does sell books, $2 million worth in the past year. Most were the old-fashioned kind, paper and ink.

Ask Patchett, 48, if she’s bucking a trend, and she defiantly says, “We are the trend.”

Until early last year, she had been busy enough just writing novels. Six in all, including her 1992 debut, The Patron Saint of Liars, set at a home for unwed mothers, and Bel Canto starring an American opera singer held hostage by Latin American terrorists, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award in 2001.

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August 4, 2012

The Greatest Books of All Time, As Voted by 125 Famous Authors

  By Maria Popova

Why Tolstoy is 11.6% better than Shakespeare.

“Reading is the nourishment that lets you do interesting work,” Jennifer Egan once said. This intersection of reading and writing is both a necessary bi-directional life skill for us mere mortals and a secret of iconic writers’ success, as bespoken by their personal libraries. The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books asks 125 of modernity’s greatest British and American writers — including Norman Mailer, Ann Patchett, Jonathan Franzen, Claire Messud, and Joyce Carol Oates— “to provide a list, ranked, in order, of what [they] consider the ten greatest works of fiction of all time– novels, story collections, plays, or poems.”

Of the 544 separate titles selected, each is assigned a reverse-order point value based on the number position at which it appears on any list — so, a book that tops a list at number one receives 10 points, and a book that graces the bottom, at number ten, receives 1 point.

In introducing the lists, David Orr offers a litmus test for greatness:

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May 13, 2012

Books to Give Every Kind of Mom on Mother’s Day

  By Emily Temple

Mother’s Day is this Sunday, and everyone should be thinking of ways to make the lady that gave birth to them smile. We’ve already given you a heads up on some last-minute Mother’s Day gifts that don’t suck, but if what your Mommy dearest really craves is a good book, well, we’ve got you covered there as well. We’ve limited ourselves to recommending books that have come out since last Mother’s Day (since we’re sure last year you picked the perfect book), so click through to see our picks of what books to give every kind of mom this weekend. And we know, we know — your mom probably fits into a number of these categories. Looks like you’ll just have to pick her up a whole pile of books, then. She’s worth it.

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April 29, 2012

Read It and Whine! Writers Don’t Need Prizes, They Need Ideas

Photo by Ricardo Barros

The publishing industry’s pursuit of prizes has led to an epidemic of novelistic navel-gazing.

By Chris Lehmann

Woe betide our republic of letters! The shadowy culture arbiters who serve on the Pulitzer Prize board have withheld their favor from the field of American novels published in 2011. Booksellers, writers and critics have been up in arms ever since news of the non-award broke in mid-April. In a cri de coeur published in the New York Times’s op-ed pages, novelist Ann Patchett—who also runs an independent bookstore in Nashville—decried the committee’s abstention as a cause for “indignation” and, indeed, “rage.”

“I can’t imagine there was ever a year when we were so in need of the excitement the [fiction Pulitzer] creates in readers,” Ms. Patchett wrote.

It’s easy to miss, amid Ms. Patchett’s vehemence, the patent condescension that prize-dependent marketing visits upon American readers. In her distinctly arid account of readerly engagement, news of a prestigious laurel is what’s needed to generate “the buzz,” as she puts it, “that is so often lacking.” But the question is far better turned on its head: If an entire industry must rely on aloof prize boards to gin up sustained interest, then the trouble would seem to be the industry itself, rather than the prize boards or the consumers.

This was, after all, the identical argument that publishing executives trotted out in favor of Oprah Winfrey’s relentlessly middle-brow book club when Dame Oprah threatened its retirement, and when Jonathan Franzen sullied it with his sniveling high-brow criticisms: If we sacrifice Oprah’s market-making might, then surely the sky will fall! the collective wail then went; without patient tutelage from the sovereign of daytime talk, it was thought, Americans would revert to simply using books to squash bugs or prop open their outhouse windows. In reality, of course, publishers survived the withdrawn patronage of the Big O just fine—and far from being starved for reliable advice, readers can glean literary recommendations, opinions and argument from a wider range of sources than ever, thanks largely to the explosion of online literary sites.

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April 18, 2012

Three for Bloomsbury on Orange shortlist

|By  Lisa Campbell

Ann Patchett

Bloomsbury has three titles on this year’s Orange Prize shortlist, while novels published by independent publishers account for five of the six nominations.

The Bloomsbury titles are Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles and Georgina Harding’s Painter of Silence. Two other indie titles come from the Canadian author Esi Edugyan with Half Blood Blues, published by Serpent’s Tail, while Cynthia Ozick’s Foreign Bodies is from Atlantic Books. The sole entrant from a Big Four publisher is Irish author Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz, which is published by the Random House imprint Jonathan Cape.

Miller is the only début novelist on the shortlist and Ozick is the most published of the runners: Foreign Bodies is her seventh book.

 

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April 3, 2012

Ann Patchett earns nomination for Time magazine’s influential list

Ann Patchett is nominated for magazine's list. / GEORGE WALKER IV / FILE / THE TENNESSEAN

Nashville author earns nomination for ‘Time’ magazine’s annual list.

By Jessica Bliss

Oprah. Angela Merkel. The Obamas. George Clooney. And … Ann Patchett?

To have her name mentioned among so many influential people makes the Nashville author laugh. “The humor of it is not lost on me,” she says.

But, whether it’s about her bookstore, her latest best-selling novel or the author herself, Patchett pandemonium seems to be everywhere.

Soon, it could be in Time magazine, too.

Patchett, co-owner of Parnassus bookstore in Green Hills, is nominated for inclusion in Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2012. The nominee list is a who’s who of world leaders, artists, innovators, icons and heroes, which — in addition to the U.S. president and the chancellor of Germany — also includes the Queen of England, Lady Gaga, Hamid Karzai and Rupert Murdoch.

The complete Time 100 list will be chosen by magazine editors and revealed April 17 on Time.com. Right now, people can visit the website and vote among the list of nominees for who they think are the world’s most influential people. Voting ends Friday, and the poll winner will be included in the Time 100 issue.

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March 15, 2012

As chain bookselling contracts, independents see an opening

Small is big
By Rosemary Zurlo-Cuva

Long before Borders closed its doors last summer, the accepted wisdom was that bookstores — and even the printed book — were well on their way to extinction. Bricks-and-mortar booksellers couldn’t compete amid online discounting, the rise of e-books and the economic downturn, the thinking went. There was also a widely touted belief that an increasingly distracted populace no longer takes the time to read books.

And yet in spite of the general forecast, stories keep popping up that offer a different picture. In August, the Association of American Publishers reported that publishers’ net sales were up 5.6% over the period 2008-10. According to the American Booksellers Association, over 65 independent bookstores have opened in the last two years, five of them in Wisconsin. One of those Wisconsin stores, the Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, has been profitable in its first two years, and its owner, Daniel Goldin, is credited with supplying valuable advice to author Ann Patchett as she prepared to open her own independent bookstore in Nashville last November.

Closer to home, A Room of One’s Own, the downtown independent founded in 1975, announced that it would be merging with Avol’s and effectively doubling its square footage by moving this summer into the Gorham Street storefront once held by Canterbury Booksellers. More recently, manager and co-owner Sandi Torkildson reported that sales in the last year had exceeded expectations, thanks in part to a request that went out to the store’s patrons to pledge to buy five more books at the store during this calendar year.

While the picture for booksellers is still not exactly rosy, there is growing evidence that smart, adaptable independent booksellers like Goldin and Torkildson may continue to find enough customers to stay afloat.

Madisonians Conor and Molly Moran believe that a boom of independent openings is on the horizon. They’ve been exploring the viability of opening a bookstore here and have developed confidence that it could work. (They are careful not to say yet just when they might open their store, or where.)

Acknowledging that chain bookselling operations have not been able to compete very well in the current market, Conor points to Boswell Book Company’s success in Milwaukee, where the multi-store Schwartz’s had failed. In addition, he says, “Madison is a good place for indies because of its large community of avid readers and a strong sentiment toward buying local.”

Before returning to Madison in 2010, the Morans lived for three years in Washington, D.C., where Conor was a manager and assistant events coordinator at longtime independent Politics & Prose.

“They were thriving” Conor says, and sales actually increased over the period of his tenure there. With events almost every night, he and Molly saw in practice that an aggressive and well-organized events strategy can enhance not only sales, but patron loyalty.

“Local bookstores provide community space,” Conor asserts, “a public forum in which to meet and share ideas.” He adds that good booksellers must make themselves experts at editing choices with the community in mind, highlighting those titles that will be of interest to their specific clientele, and offering events that cross a wide range of topics.

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February 2, 2012

The Greatest Books of All Time, as Voted by 125 Famous Authors

By Maria Popova

Tolstoy holds a 11-point lead over Shakespeare in these literary opinion polls.

“Reading is the nourishment that lets you do interesting work,”  Jennifer Egan once said. This intersection of reading and writing is both a necessary bi-directional life skill for us mere mortals and a secret of iconic writers’ success, as bespoken by their personal libraries. The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books asks 125 of modernity’s greatest British and American writers—including Norman Mailer, Ann Patchett, Jonathan Franzen, Claire Messud, and Joyce Carol Oates—”to provide a list, ranked, in order, of what [they] consider the ten greatest works of fiction of all time- novels, story collections, plays, or poems.”

Of the 544 separate titles selected, each is assigned a reverse-order point value based on the number position at which it appears on any list—so, a book that tops a list at number one receives 10 points, and a book that graces the bottom, at number ten, receives 1 point.

In introducing the lists, David Orr offers a litmus test for greatness:

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November 22, 2011

Nashvillians Flock to Patchett’s Grand Opening

Filed under: Bookshops — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 4:10 pm

By Shanna Sanders

In an opening celebration this past Saturday, Nashville, Tenn. was introduced to Parnassus Books, an independent bookstore co-owned by best-selling Nashville author Ann Patchett (State of Wonder) and Karen Hayes, a veteran of Random House and Ingram. Nashville has been suffering a dearth of quality, new-title bookstores after losing its two major book outlets, Davis Kidd and Borders. With the shuttering of Borders, and the nearest Barnes & Noble 20 miles out of town, Nashville native Patchett decided to fill the breach with a small, community-centric bookstore, which quickly became one of the most hotly-anticipated bookstore openings of the year.

“I wanted to recreate the kind of bookstore that I went to when I was growing up,” Patchett told PW at the grand opening event. “No fluorescent lights, not a superstore, no escalators. Where the emphasis is on staff instead of square footage.”
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