Patchett inspires Wilmette readers with State of Wonder talk
Author Ann Patchett, who wrote State of Wonder, describes a research trip to the Amazon to a full house at Wilmette Junior High School as part of Wilmette's "One Book, Everybody Reads" 2012 campaign Sunday. | John Konstantaras~For S
Who: Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder
What: State of Wonder is the seventh annual “One Book, Everybody Reads” selection by the Wilmette Public Library
Updated: July 1, 2012 12:49PM
Hundreds of Wilmette and Chicago area readers abandoned television, chores and family gatherings Sunday, instead traveling to Wilmette Junior High School to hear author Ann Patchett talk about her novel, State of Wonder, joke about the creative process, and field questions from a packed audience of admirers.
Her visit marked the culmination of this year’s “One Book, Everybody Reads” campaign, during which more than 600 people checked out State of Wonder, read it and took part in book discussions and book-related activities organized by the library.
Patchett’s appearance also filled the WJHS auditorium nearly to capacity, making the event the largest of the seven annual “One Book” campaigns run by the Wilmette Public Library and funded by Friends of the Wilmette Public Library.
Once onstage, the Nashville native eschewed the podium, choosing to stand and chat with the audience as if she’d invited them into her own living room to learn more about how and why she writes.
Her breezy and humor-infused presentation ran through preparation (“I do the research in the middle of the book because research is fun and writing isn’t. If I researched before I wrote … I’d never write. So I write it wrong, then get the facts and write it right. It’s efficient.”) and writing itself – she hates writing, she said, but has to write the stories she wants to read, even if she never reads her books after completing them.
Patchett let listeners in on some sometimes surprising tidbits, including the fact that she took one particularly harrowing scene in State of Wonder, involving a very large anaconda, almost directly from an incident she watched while traveling on the Amazon.
The question and answer session was equally lively; she knows her characters, and the way her story will end, well before she completes it, she said. She said that all her stories in some way mirror Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain (“A phenomenally brilliant, incredibly boring book that I absolutely love.”)
“That story is also the core of The Poseidon Adventure, and about 25 percent of western literature,” she joked.
And Patchett confessed that one very young, very popular character in the book was created in the image of her dog, not a real child: “I don’t have children. To be honest, I don’t like children. To me (the character) was kind of a joke.”
She delineated what she thinks of the as the difference between good commercial fiction and good literary fiction. The first, she said, “puts you in the back seat of a limousine, and takes you to the end. It can be fun, but there’s no place for the reader to enter the story. We all go on the same journey”
Good literary fiction, on the other hand, leaves room within its world for readers to enter with their own beliefs, allowing each to experience the story differently.
Patchett also had serious messages for her listeners.
She praised libraries and dismissed the idea that books or libraries would, or should, ever disappear.
“I feel like the library is our country at its very best. Anyone can come to the library and get equal access to knowledge and services … We will always need them. They are the centerpieces of our communities,” she said, prompting a vigorous round of applause from her listeners.
Patchett, whose opening last year of a bookstore in her hometown “has completely changed my life” also urged people to support their local independent bookstores.
One of Patchett’s greatest fans might have been Evanston native Geri O’Keefe. The former teacher told Patchett “your style, your ability with language is so compelling … you’re the best author I’ve ever read,” earning her a “Bless you!” from the writer.
O’Keefe expanded on that after the talk, saying Patchett’s use of language in State of Wonder imbued the story “with meaning well beyond the meaning you first see in the words.”
This year was the first time Wilmette resident Andrea Yelin took part in the “One Book, Everybody Reads” program, and she said she loved State of Wonder. She led a group discussion on the book. She said later she was impressed by how many people had turned out for the event.
“It’s so great to see how much of a community of readers we have here in Wilmette.”