First-Person Point of View

Amy Greene and Ann Patchett may be novelists, but they have opinions, too

by Margaret Renkl

May 4, 2012 Tennessee's legislative agenda this year has earned the state unwelcome notice in a national media that too often seems downright eager for any chance to portray Southerners as stupid, lazy, and mean. Late-night comedians like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart have had particular fun this legislative season with new Tennessee laws governing what may or may not be taught—or even said—by the state's schoolteachers. So it was an especially welcome surprise to open last Sunday's edition of The New York Time and find a smart, reasoned, historically nuanced response to the current political climate by an actual Tennessean: novelist Amy Greene, author of Bloodroot.

In "God and Man in Tennessee," an essay on the op-ed page, Greene, a Morristown native and Russellville resident, responds to a new sex-education law that refers to hand-holding as a "gateway sexual activity" and to another new law that, in Greene's words, "effectively allows creationism to be taught in our classrooms."

For Greene, these laws and others are an obvious ploy to appeal to Christian voters, but her objections to the law arise not from a dismissal of Christian values but directly from her own Christian beliefs: "It’s election season, and there’s no doubt these politicians are pandering to Tennessee’s conservative Christian majority. They’re right in one sense: most of us, myself included, are faithful Christians. But by politicizing our faith, they are ignoring Tennessee’s true religious roots and threatening the liberties they claim to protect." And then she proceeds to give Tennessee politicians a history lesson in the true Christian foundations of the state. Read the full essay here.

Nashville novelist Ann Patchett, who's had her turn in the op-ed hot chair recently with controversial essays in both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, turned this week to a happier topic in the "Love Letters" section of The Huffington Post. In "Ann Patchett's Nashville," the bestselling author and now-famous bookseller, describes what she loves best about her own city:

This is a city built on twang. The magic of the place is in the people and it seems a disproportionate number of Nashvillians can sing beautifully and play musical instruments. To prove this point we put a piano in our bookstore. People come in, sit down and play. Sometimes they sing. Sometimes people in the store start to sing. That's when I'm certain that Nashville is like no place else in the world. Other people seem to think so too: At least once a week, a slightly road-weary reader arrives, sometimes alone, sometimes with a family in tow. They tell us they were on vacation or driving across country or on their way to see a relative, and that we were only a scant 300 miles out of their way. "We heard there was a new independent bookstore," they say. "We had to see it for ourselves."

Read the rest of the essay here.

Published Thursday, 3 May 2012