On Saturday I decided to give my desk a good clean out. I have two desks in my home office. One is a super simple small Ikea computer desk. The other is an old-fashioned slant desk with drawers and cubbies where I often shove the non-urgent I’ll attend to this later stuff that crosses my path.
Tucked into one of those cubbies, I found Ann Patchett’s pamphlet, “The Care and Feeding of An Independent Bookstore: Three Instructive Essays.”
On Goodreads I wrote:
I purchased this pamphlet back in 2016 at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT and read it before bed last night. It’s a beautiful nonfiction bedtime story for adult bookworms that’ll give you sweet dreams.
It’s true, I slept well after reading this 38-page love letter about independent bookstores. But this pamphlet isn’t really a bedtime story. The three essays by Patchett were put together and published by California Bookstore Day Publishing as a special purchase for Independent Bookstore Day in 2016.
The essays are meant to inspire and celebrate. Even the grease-covered former restaurant that Patchett and co-owner Karen Hayes visit as a potential bookstore location doesn’t really bring to mind the sticky stinkiness of a place that was disgusting even back when Ann ate there as a child. Patchett is such a good writer and keeps the focus so tightly on the positive that even the traumatic memories from my own time as a bookseller didn’t begin to gurgle up as they sometimes do during talk of bookselling.* Upon finishing this pamphlet, happy bookstore memories danced around my head like cute colorful birds in a Disney movie. I drifted off to sleep on a fluffy cloud of bookstore love.
Patchett tells the story of how her store, Parnassus Books, got its start. The lead essay, “The Bookstore Strikes Back,” was originally published in The Atlantic Monthly in November 2012 and was widely shared on the internet by bookworms. It’s about how Patchett’s dismay over Nashville suddenly finding itself without a bookstore inspired her to start thinking about and then talking with people about opening a bookstore. She was dissuaded by friends, but the Universe was listening and before she knew it Patchett was the co-owner of a forthcoming new bookstore.
It makes me and everyone else who reads the essay want to visit her bookstore. My Mom made it a point to visit Parnassus when she was in Nashville on a road trip from Chicago. (I got a postcard and some other goodies. Thanks, Mom!)
The second essay, “Things No One Told Me About Owning a Bookstore,” is about the joys of owning a bookstore — from a hipster couple reverentially stopping her in Whole Foods for advice on how to get their non-reading daughter into books, to bookstore dogs, amazing employees, customers, fellow writers, and expanding the breadth of her own reading, which is a nice segway into the final section.
The third essay, “Booksellers Love to Recommend Books (It’s Who We Are),” is really a list of reading recommendations. 52, to be exact. The subtitle is, “52 All-Time Favorite Books From The Year I Turned 52.”
Hey, I’m 52 now! Perhaps that’s why I waited two years to finally read this gem.** The Universe knew I should wait two years to read it. Does this mean I can blame the Universe for my messy desk?
* Bookselling IS retail work and all that that entails, but this pamphlet is celebratory so I take no issue with Patchett’s focus on only the good.
** The Universe also had me wait until this, my 52nd year, to read Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Clarissa Dalloway is — wait for it — 52 in the novel! Whoa.