Ann Patchett’s new book is called “Tom Lake” for some of the same reasons her previous novel was called “The Dutch House”: She thought it was clear, memorable and would sell well in bookstores like the one she owns in Nashville. It’s the kind of calculation that may have helped both books become best-sellers but that Patchett once considered a concession.
“For just about anybody who has had a career as long as mine, you make friends with the reader. Whereas back in graduate school, there was disdain for the reader, because you were making such true art that the reader could never possibly understand you,” she said in a phone interview while on tour for “Tom Lake,” a novel about a mother unpacking a chapter of her life for her 20-something daughters. “It was like a built-in explanation for why you were failing.”
Patchett’s other calculations include drinking her salad, swimming in someone else’s pool and retaining at least one graduate school habit. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
I still write with WordPerfect. When I got my first computer during graduate school around 1986, we all used WordPerfect. I refuse to change. Anybody I know who used to use WordPerfect, when they find out that I use it, they’re like: Oh, my God, I wish I had never changed.
I love cherry pie. I can go a couple of years without making pies, and then one summer that’s all I’m doing. I’m all about the pies.
Throwing Salad in a Blender
Anything that you would put in a salad — romaine, spinach, kale, lemon, cucumber, an apple or a pear, sometimes fennel — I shove into my Vitamix with a cup of water, lemon juice and a little bee pollen. You can drink it in about 30 seconds, but if I took everything out of that blender and put it in a bowl, it would take me an hour to eat it. That’s a lot of chewing.
The Pain and Relief of Acupressure
I call my Shakti Mat my bed of nails. It has these little plastic spikes all over it, and it hurts a lot for about two minutes. Then it doesn’t hurt anymore. It just releases everything, like the best possible massage.
I own a bookstore, so all I read are galleys — books that aren’t going to be published for five months. I made a deal with myself on book tour that I was only going to read backlist. It’s such a treat. And it’s good for your brain. When I started reading Edith Wharton’s “The Custom of the Country” — which is really fabulous — for the first 50 pages, I was having a hard time kind of slowing myself down enough. I was like, Oh, I’m reading a book from 1913, just calm down and go with it.
My Neighbor’s Pool
I broke my ankle a couple of years ago, and I asked my neighbors if I could swim in their pool. I go over at 6:30 a.m., and I swim laps. There is no greater gift than to get to swim in somebody else’s pool.
Bookstores, Even the Big-Box Ones
I am all for Barnes & Noble. There was a time that Barnes & Noble was this scary big-box store, and we wanted them to go away. Now, I am very happy for any brick-and-mortar bookstore. But the indies are the stores that I love. A couple of nights ago, I was in Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, N.H. It’s an unbelievable store. Just beautiful and huge and well organized, with something for everybody.
A shop dog is a very particular kind of dog. A shop dog, obviously, cannot ever bite anyone. It cannot bark at men in hats — it can’t have one group of people they don’t like. They have to take everything from kids. A kid could run her hand all the way down my dog Sparky’s throat, and Sparky would not bite that kid.
My Dad’s Watch
My dad died eight years ago, and he left me his Girard-Perregaux watch, which was the only thing I wanted. His mom took an extra job working in the cafeteria at The Los Angeles Times to get the money to buy him the watch when he graduated from high school. He wore it every day until the day he died. It’s just a really beautiful, simple watch. I wear it every day.
My husband and I have a ton of friends, a ton of family, and know a lot of authors, so there are people staying over at our house all the time. It’s like having a dinner party and a slumber party all together. Barbara Kingsolver’s on tour, and she stays at the house. We do the event at the bookstore, we come home, we have dinner, we talk, she goes to bed, she gets up in the morning, we have breakfast, we talk. It’s great. Who wouldn’t want to do that?