January 2008

Hairdresser’s story highlights the beauty of books

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Kathy L. Patrick first began lusting for a tiara when she was 12 years old, imagining herself waving graciously to throngs of admirers while being crowned winner of the Seventh Grade International Spelling Bee. Unfortunately for Patrick, she never made it past pneumonia. But several decades later she scored another way, winning her glittering crown and national acclaim as founder of The Pulpwood Queens Book Club.

Patrick seems an unlikely person to spark a book club phenomenon. She dropped out of college to attend beauty school and spent the next several years doing hair and makeup. But her love for books eventually propelled her into a job as a publisher's representative. When corporate downsizing ended that, Patrick decided to combine her two vocations, opening the world's only hair salon and bookstore. The idea of a beauty shop/bookstore tickled the fancy of The Oxford American, a literary magazine which featured Beauty and the Book in 2000. The publicity made her shop a success; Patrick decided her next project would be The Pulpwood Queens Book Club (named for the pulpwood industry in Jefferson, Texas). Patrick decreed tiaras and leopard skin were de rigueur for all club members. "We will crown ourselves 'beauty within' queens, as we are Readers, not fading Southern Belles," she told that first gathering. Today there are Pulpwood Queen chapters around the world.

The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life is written in a breezy, conversational style, with lists of Patrick's favorite books and recipes scattered throughout. It also chronicles her difficult childhood dealing with a narcissistic mother and angry father. If my mother had on her black cat-eyed glasses and didn't have on her makeup, it was always worse, Patrick writes. The truth was she was always nicer when she had her makeup on. Most of the time she just scared me half to death, just like my father. While her memoir lacks the literary cachet of such Patrick favorites as To Kill a Mockingbird or Prince of Tides, readers will appreciate how this plucky woman turned losing a job into such a literary success story. Or as she says, If life hands you a lemon, make margaritas.

Rebecca Bain lives in Nashville and does her best to devour at least one book per day.

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