Ann Patchett: Background information when reading Commonwealth

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by Ann Patchett

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett X
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2016, 336 pages
    May 2017, 336 pages

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Donna Chavez

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About this Book

Ann Patchett

This article relates to Commonwealth

Print Review

Ann PatchettAnn Patchett has said that her book Commonwealth, more than any of her others, is autobiographical. It seems close given what we know about her life from various sources.

The bare bones information is that she was born on December 2, 1963 in Los Angeles to nurse-turned novelist Jeanne Ray and Los Angeles police officer Frank Patchett. She has one older sister. Her parents divorced and her mother remarried, moving to Nashville, TN – Patchett's current home – when Ann was six years old. The marriage came with four additional step siblings.

Parnassus BooksShe is the survivor of twelve years of Catholic education and credits the Church, its teachings and nuns with being a tremendous influence – for good and ill – over her life and writing. Her post-high school education includes Sarah Lawrence College and the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa. From interviews she seems to be an incredibly upbeat and optimistic person; a quality that also shines through in her novels, which virtually shimmer with the positive side of every character, despite their bad or ill-advised decisions and mistakes. She even admits that she gave her sister and their stepsiblings the benefit of better lives – ones she would wish for them – in Commonwealth.

Patchett was married at an early age and divorced by 25. She is childless by choice, and has been married to physician Karl VanDevender for many years and they enjoy VanDevender's children and grandchildren.

A believer in hard work, service and putting your money where your mouth is, Patchett, with business partner Karen Hayes, founded an independent bookshop when she discovered that Nashville lacked such an important booklovers' resource. She can frequently be found at Parnassus Books chatting up the clientele and autographing her books. She is also not above chastising customers that complain about books being cheaper on Amazon, scolding them for taking up time and space in her bookstore gathering information and then spending their money elsewhere.

Ann Patchett in ParnassusPatchett is terribly down to earth about her chosen profession and her place in the literary world, acknowledging that there may be more important things than writing novels. In a recent interview in The Guardian, she says: "If somebody said, OK, you can either write five more great novels, or you can make sure that the people who work in bookstores have health insurance and have some place to go if they need help because they're broke. At this point I might really go for the good. Nothing fuels the good of the world like happiness, and the thing that makes me feel really alive is figuring out how I can frighten other people into doing good."

Ann Patchett
Parnassus Books, courtesy of
Ann Patchett in Parnassus Books, courtesy of

This "beyond the book article" relates to Commonwealth. It originally ran in September 2016 and has been updated for the May 2017 paperback edition.

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