It’s early Sunday morning. An article in which the author Ann Patchett has decried guns — all of them, “not only the AK-47s but the pretty little silver .22s as well” — has just landed on doorsteps. On the floor of a darkened bedroom in Tennessee, a phone lights up with Twitter notifications.
Not Ann Patchett’s phone, mind you — my phone. I am the social media director at Parnassus Books, the bookstore Patchett co-owns in Nashville, which means I’m the person behind the wheel of our Twitter.
Across an ocean, the phone of a woman in Bradford, Britain, probably lights up as well. At least, I guess that’s where she is — that’s what it says on her profile, where she uses the handle @AnnPatchett, presumably because that is her name. That Patchett, the British one, has just been informed by a gentleman who goes by the online moniker “Hound Dawg” that he vehemently disagrees with the article. I don’t know whether she has seen the tweet. I know she tweets occasionally and seems to have a sense of humor about the fact that she gets the social media version of a knock on the door and “oops, wrong house” quite a bit.
You really can’t blame Hound Dawg for his confusion. There are enough opportunities for mistaken identity here to populate a Shakespearean comedy. While @AnnPatchett is not the author Ann Patchett, neither is @Ann_Patchett, with an underscore, even though the newspaper that ran Patchett’s article — the New York Times — tagged that account on Twitter. Not only are neither of those Ann Patchetts the Ann Patchett who writes books, @ParnassusBooks is not the Parnassus Books owned by Ann Patchett, nor is it the Parnassus Books store in Ketchikan, Alaska, which happens to share a name but is otherwise not related to our store at all. From what I can tell, someone who does not own a bookstore at all claimed the @ParnassusBooks handle years ago and still sits on it. You’ll find Patchett’s Nashville bookstore on Twitter at @ParnassusBooks1.
As a reader myself, I understand the desire to tell the author how much you adore or hate something they wrote. When tweets from people enjoying Patchett’s books show up in our Twitter notifications, I’ll usually tap the little red heart. We are a bookstore, after all; we love book-love.
When I tweet as @ParnassusBooks1 I speak in a version of my own voice mixed with how I imagine our store’s voice sounds. I use “we” to make clear that it’s the collective bookshop family speaking. I do not respond to specific questions directed at Ann Patchett. I am sorry that you’re upset about her choice to kill off this or that character, but who am I — or who is this store? — to say why she did it?
I know people may still assume that Ann Patchett has some hand in our tweets. She does have a new novel coming out in September, “Commonwealth,” and we’re selling it, although we’d be doing that even if she didn’t half-own the store. But she does, so I keep in the back of my mind the guideline that I must not tweet anything as the store that Patchett herself truly wouldn’t stand for. But as I ask myself WWAPD? I also ask, what would Karen Hayes, our other co-owner, do? What would Andy, Sissy, or any of our other booksellers do? Sometimes, when we receive a request for a recommendation — “I liked this book, what should I read next?” — I poll the booksellers on duty to gather suggestions. That’s the strange thing about voicing a nonhuman entity run by humans: I speak for all of us and as none of us in particular. Mostly I speak for the shop itself, as if it were a living thing — a magical talking library, a fairy-tale mirror. Bookstore, bookstore, there on Twitter, what books set your heart a-flitter?
Ann Patchett has spoken and written about the reasons for her online reticence (sometimes on her blog, which she writes and I post). Even as someone who finds the conversational and connective aspects of social media great fun, I can understand why she has decided not to dip even a toe into the Internet current. She chooses to experience the world the way she likes it: in real time, in the parcels of actual space around her or imagined spaces in her mind, without 140-character distractions from strangers ticking past her peripheral vision 24/7. Would her thought processes change if she opened her eyes to the stream of online chatter? Beats me, but I enjoy the books she writes while Internet-blind. I say, Ann, don’t change a thing.
So, to recap: @AnnPatchett is not the author Ann Patchett, nor is @Ann_Patchett, because Ann Patchett, the novelist, is not on Twitter at all; @ParnassusBooks1 with a “1” is the store owned by Ann Patchett, but she’s not the one tweeting. I am. If all this seems terribly confusing and you still want to tweet how you feel about her books, or any books for that matter, please go ahead. You’re not yelling into a void, I promise. I’m here. We’re all here — readers, writers and book-lovers — and we’d love to hear what you have to say. Just remember that the Twitter “we” includes humans, robots and assorted other characters you may not realize are listening.
Mary Laura Philpott is the author of “Penguins with People Problems,” as well as the social media director and online content editor for Parnassus Books. She lives in Nashville.