Last night I skipped my frisbee game (which got rained out anyway) to go to Porter Square Books to see Ann Patchett read from State of Wonder (which I wrote about back in February). I haven’t been to an author reading in a while, and I haven’t been this excited about an author reading since the last time I saw Audrey Niffenegger (at the B&N in Union Square in NY; before that I saw her at the Printers Row Book Fair in Chicago in 2007).
And was it everything I hoped and dreamed? Yes. Yes it was. I got there early, which was good because the place filled up; all the chairs were taken, people were standing on the sides and in the back and sitting on the floor in the children’s section. Ann read the anaconda scene (p. 238-243); she said normally she read from different parts of her books when she went on tour, but she so delighted in the audience’s horrified faces and cringing that she is planning to read this scene over and over. Ann Patchett fans who are also snake-phobes, consider yourself warned.
After she read, she told a story about how the character of Easter came to be, and also about her own research trip to the Amazon. During this trip, a similar incident (a person on a boat plunging his hand into the Amazon River and pulling a 15-foot anaconda into the boat) occurred. Said Ann: “I am not a snake phobe, but, you know, I am a sensible person.”
Then there was Q&A (“Two answers, always better than one”).
She doesn’t believe in acknowledgements, because “Do you read acknowledgements?” (Audience nods.) “They’re embarrassing! Pet names, thank you to the postman for bringing the mail…You know what, nobody needs to know.” Better than acknowledgements, she believes, is inscribing a copy of the book and sending it to the person you would otherwise have acknowledged. “It’s between you and them.”
Someone asked about what kind of research she did. She told us about sending an early draft of The Magician’s Assistant to her friend and fellow author Elizabeth McCracken, and Elizabeth made clear that some research on magic was going to be necessary. “So this is why it’s important to have friends. And do research…[The Magician’s Assistant was] the book that changed my relationship to research.”
Ann is also friends with Eat, Pray, Love and Committed author Elizabeth Gilbert. Just as Ann was starting to write State of Wonder, she and Liz were speaking, and Liz told her the outline of a book she had just set aside…which closely resembled the plot of State of Wonder. Liz did not find this unusual: “Ideas circle the universe looking for someone to land on.” She had put the idea aside, and it had landed on Ann instead.
Interesting fact: “I never read my books again [once they’re published].”
Does she enjoy the process of writing? “I hate to write, I love to have written….It beats anything else I could be doing.”
Inevitably, someone asked about the epilogue of Bel Canto. Ann explained, without giving anything away for those who hadn’t yet read it, and said this: “In the moment of our own death, the person who understands us is the person who is with us.” (For a little more context: the experiences people share in near-death or other extreme situations cannot be explained to others; only the people who were there and shared the experience, and bonded during it, can possibly understand.)
After the reading and the Q&A, she graciously consented to sign books for everyone who had bought or brought them. I asked her to sign two for me, and one for a friend.
Inside Run (for the friend):
Inside State of Wonder:
And finally, inside The Magician’s Assistant, because it’s my favorite…
She drew me a rabbit in a top hat. I know she has probably done this drawing inside hundreds of books before, but you guys…Ann Patchett drew me a bunny.
Ann’s book recommendations: The All of It by Jeannette Haien; The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
What I’m reading: The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin; The Magician’s Assistant (again), Ann Patchett
What I’m listening to: Ocean Eyes, Owl City