Comedian Stephen Colbert returned to the airwaves Monday night, and he didn’t waste any time taking a few cracks at founder Jeff Bezos.

Award-winning author and Parnassus Books co-owner Ann Patchett was the guest, telling the story of why she opened a 2,500 square-foot independent bookstore in Nashville following the closure of two large brick-and-mortar book retailers.

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What ensued was some great comedy, and also some insightful dialogue about the state of the book publishing business and’s growing power. (Watch the full segment above, and read a partial transcript below).

It all started when Colbert — in his typical sarcastic style — asked Patchett why a retail store was necessary in the era of Here’s more from the chat:

Colbert: “Haven’t we already had this battle: In the movie “You’ve Got Mail,” OK. You are Meg Ryan in this, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon is Tom Hanks. And, in that, Tom Hanks crushes Meg Ryan, and then … she falls in love with him.”

Patchett: “That was the 80s. This is a whole new era. We’ve had the cycle. Little bookstore does well, and it gets bigger, crushed by the super store, Barnes & Noble and Borders chains. They were then crushed by Amazon, and now we have cycled all of the way back. Suddenly people are waking up and going: ‘But I want to have some place to take my kids for story hour on Saturday and I want to have some place to go to book club and see an author read.’ The bookstore is gone, but they miss it. This is a tale of redemption.”

Colbert: “It is?”

Patchett: “It is. Yes.”

Colbert: “OK. It could be a good book.”

Patchett: “Absolutely.”

Colbert: “You say story time, book club — what are the things that I can get from a local book store that I am not getting from shopping online?”

Patchett: “Smart people.”

Colbert: “Hey, hey, what are you talking about? The Internet is full of smart people.”

Parnassus Books in Nashville

Patchett: “I mean ones you can go in and talk to. We have so many smart people working in our store. You come in, you tell me what you just read, and I’ll tell you what you should read next.”

Colbert: “No, they already have that. They already have that. People who bought this book also bought a socket wrench set. One of the rare times that I read books is to escape, so I don’t have to talk to people.”

Patchett: “Right. But, if you never, ever talk to people, and you meet all of your needs on the Internet, you wake up one day and you are the Unabomber.”

Colbert: “That’s a strong argument. But you understand that I have a couple books coming out this year, and I can’t agree with you because Jeff Bezos at Amazon, he’s a vindictive man. He clubbed the owner of Borders to death with a tire iron.”

Patchett: “Just like a baby seal on the ice flow.”

Colbert: “He did. He did. And the guy from Barnes & Noble, he slashed his tires. Aren’t you afraid of — you are an author. And if you are trash-talking these online people, aren’t you afraid that they won’t sell your book?

Patchett: “I am so beneath their notice, I am not a pebble in their shoe.”

Colbert: “Of course you are on their notice, you are on The Colbert Report. You are getting ‘The Colbert Bump’ right now. Here is the book: State of Wonder. I want this to register on Amazon tomorrow, we are bumping this right now. No. I won. I just won.”

Patchett: “No, I want it to register at, where if you buy State of Wonder, you can get it signed.”

Colbert: “Really?”

Patchett: “Now, listen this is what I want from you. When your book comes out, I want you to come to Nashville. You can see your friends Jack White and Al Gore, we will have a party for you…. We will have the Goat Rodeo guys to play at the store as your warm-up, you’ll sign and you will have such as great time. And then the next week, you will take your Sharpie, you will go to the warehouse at Amazon, they will cut the boxes open for you, and you can sign all day. You see which one you like better.”

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  • Bob Mayer

    Interesting.  Another take on Amazon:

  • Guest

    Keep in mind that this is Steven Colbert the fictional character, not Steven Colbert the man, talking. Bing “Steven Colbert (character)” to find out more on this dichotomy.

  • Beowuff

    Can I get her book on my kindle?

  • Arlene

    Nowhere in this piece is the word ‘PUBLIC LIBRARY’ mentioned.  The PUBLIC LIBRARY is the place where Story Hours and Book Signings and Author Visits take place.  The PUBLIC LIBRARY is the place where people can seek information from professionally trained librarians who have Masters Degrees in Information Science – and there is NO expectaion on the part of any PUBLIC LIBRARY of making a sale.  I really wish, when books, authors, story hours, and information are discussed people would remember the PUBLIC LIBRARY – the true university of the people and the most democratic of all American institutions.

    • Allan E. Ansorge

       While I am a proponent of the PUBLIC LIBRARIES as an author it is disconcerting that very few of them welcome authors to their facilities for signings and the number of them who acknowledge local authors by  carrying their books are few and far between. If you are an author whose books are only available in paperback many libraries will not shelve them.

      • Arlene

        I am sorry that has been your experience, Mr. Ansorge.  That is certainly NOT the case with the public libraries in my consortium.  Author visits are something I have been promoting for six plus years in in initiative I call ‘Invite an Author’.  Every month I highlight one author who agrees to visit either in person or via Skype at no charge to the library.  Hundreds of visits have taken place because of this initiative.  Additionally, we are happy to add local authors to our catalog.  We have done two book festivals with over 100 authors at each and 2,000 attendees…many of the authors were local.  We value and promote our local authors.

    • Sally Brewster

      It is a story about an author who opens up a bookstore. Why would she mention libraries???????

      • Arlene

        Because, Sally, the sorts of events that Ms.Patchett described are done in America’s public libraries every day and are a part of the fabric of what libraries do and there was simply no mention of it.  It seems to me reading this transcript that Ms. Patchett thinks her bookstore is THE place to go for these wonderful happenings (and it’s very nice that she is doing literary events in her store) when in fact you can walk in to almost any public library and get a calendar of equally wonderful literary events, if not better.   Our libraries don’t have the PR monies or media opportunities that many authors do to speak out about all the fabulous things taking place in them so I decided to get on my soapbox.

    • Eric

      let the woman try to sell her book. christ.

      • GlennKelman

        I think libraries help authors plenty.

  • Jerry A. McCoy


    Bless you.

    Jerry A. McCoy
    DC Public Library

  • ‘Red’ Russak

    Parnassus Books succeeds….Amazon buys Parnassus ;-) How’s that for an exit strategy?

  • Eileen

    Thanks, Arlene, as usual for pointing out the value of libraries. I work in a small library in Bergen County, NJ and we feature authors as often as we can. We feature local authors as well as bigger names. Our latest local author visit was from Steve Frimmer who wrote and self-published “The Man Who Found the Maya: John Lloyd Stephens” because it was so important to him. We also featured Pulitizer Prize winner Junot Diaz. It is all a matter of who is willing to visit with us and who isn’t. During 2011, my library presented over 500 programs and most of these catered to readers of one age or another. Arlene’s point is well taken, libraries do it all, have lots of smart people on staff,  keep up with technology while fostering literacy, providing ESL education, helping people with their job searches, etc. Book stores are great but they didn’t invent readers’ advisory, storytime, author visits.

  • Neophytenovelist

    Amazon is a soulless corporate machine, its essentially the Saddam Hussien of booksellers.

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