Brief Interviews is a new series in which writers discuss language, literature, and a handful of Proustian personality questions.
Ann Patchett is a novelist, essayist, and owner of a Nashville-based independent bookstore, Parnassus Books. Her 2001 novel, "Bel Canto," a story exploring the minds of high-power hostages and their captors, won both the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the Orange Prize for Fiction. Her latest book, "This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage," [Harper, $27.99], is a collection of previously-published essays about her Catholic upbringing, her unsuccessful first marriage, her beloved pet, and, of course, the craft of writing.
What is your most prized possession?
Is a dog a possession? Not exactly, but Sparky is greatly prized.
Who (or what) do you envy?
Elizabeth Gilbert and her husband own an amazing store called Two Buttons. She always gives great gifts from Indonesia. I think that would be wonderful to always have an assortment of small carved gods at your disposal.
Where do you like to read?
Anywhere. I'm about to get on a plane and I will be happy to read on that plane. Frankly, I'm also pretty sleepy at the moment so I would like to be reading in bed.
What did you want to be when you grew up (besides an author)?
I never had a plan B. I wanted to be a writer when I was five.
What bothers you most about the English language today?
"Like, oh my God." Billy Collins wrote a brilliant poem about this problem.
What's your favorite word?
Which word do you hate?
If you could have any 5 dinner guests, dead or alive, who would they be?
Again, I'm in an airport, I'm tired, but the thought of dead dinner guests is sort of depressing. I'd like to have a girlfriend party - Liz Gilbert, Donna Tartt, Maile Meloy, Jane Hamilton, and Erica Schultz. Erica is my best friend from college and all my writer friends love her.
What word or phrase do you overuse?
What is the first book you remember reading?
"The Lonely Doll," by Dare Wright. It's a fantastically weird and beautiful book.
Who are your literary heroes?
Grace Paley, because she was both literary and a real American hero.
Which books are you embarrassed to have never read?
I still mean to read "War and Peace." I probably don't mean to read "Ulysses." I don't feel any embarrassment at all about this. I read a lot.
If you could only recommend one book, which would it be?
"Independent People," by Halldor Laxness, the great Icelandic novel of sheep and black coffee. It's not for everyone, but I've given it to people who love it above all other books.
Print book or e-book?
I own a bookstore.
What, if anything, do you read while you're working on a project?
When I was young there were all sorts of things I couldn't read when I was writing, but there's nothing I stop reading now. My own voice doesn't get drown out anymore.
Do you have a favorite sentence from a book? What is it?
Get a copy of Grace Paley's "Collected Stories" and open it to any page. You'll find a favorite sentence of mine.