INDIE BOOKSTORE DAY is a one-day national party that takes place at indie bookstores across the country on the last Saturday in April. Support independent bookstores instead of ordering on line. Instead, call your local bookstore and buy it from them! This can even work for self-published books!
(Originally published in November 2013)
Making a literary pilgrimage while traveling is one of my favorite things to do. If you love to read, I highly recommend touring author’s houses, or places associated with them. I’ve been to Voltaire’s manor house in Ferney-Voltaire, France; the Goethe House in Frankfurt, Germany; and the real Slaughterhouse 5 in Dresden, Germany, where Kurt Vonnegut sheltered during the WWII bombing. In England, I’ve been to theJane Austen house in Bath, William Wordsworth’s house in Grasmere, Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, and Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst Castle in Kent. In London, the homes of Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf’, and John Keats were delightful.
I’ve also had tea at Edinburgh, Scotland’s Elephant House, the coffee/tea shop considered to be the “birthplace” of the Harry Potter novels. There, author J.K. Rowling wrote in the back room overlooking Edinburgh Castle.
It’s also quite meaningful to take a trip to a place you read about in a book. For instance, Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun inspired me to visit Tuscany and to spend four days in the Italian village of Cortona, where she lives.
While I was in Nashville, I had to make a literary pilgrimage . . . to a very special independent bookstore. Parnassus Books is named for a mountain in central Greece where the Muses lived—and it’s known as the mythological home of music and poetry, so you know it’s got to be good.
Parnassus isn’t just any bookstore, it’s one that’s owned by one of my favorite authors, Ann Patchett, who opened it in 2011 right when independent bookstores—and even bookstore chains—were dropping like flies.
Ann is probably best known for her incredibly gripping Bel Canto and her most recent bestseller, The Dutch House. (Yes, I think of her as “Ann,” a friend and kindred, bookloving spirit—even though I’ve never met her).
By becoming a bookseller, Ann wanted to prove that people still love to read—and love to buy books in a place where they can interact with other book lovers and authors. She was concerned by how many good books were going out of print and wanted to start a store featuring the books she cherishes. It didn’t hurt that she’s incredibly well-connected with boatloads of fantastic authors.
Between the Covers
Located in one of Nashville’s more classy strip malls along Hillsboro Pike, Parnassus isn’t large, but it’s thrilling! I was so excited walking up to its display windows filled with new titles that I could barely contain myself. (I suspect more than a few visitors display this giddiness as they walk through the door. Are you one of them?)
Inside, the walls are lined almost to the high ceiling with wooden bookshelves. I felt wonderment, felt like a kid in a candy shop. I felt at home.
I browsed for a while, drawn especially to titles that Ann recommends on her blog. There’s also a special “Ann Recommends” shelf that displays her current favorites.
A cheerful bookseller asked me if I had questions, and before I could say “Kurt Vonnegut,” she was bubbling over about the books she loves most, and offered a few of her own suggestions and other titles popular with Parnassus regulars.
With five books in my arms, I sat down in a leather chair and read a few pages of each, just to get a sense of them.
I wanted to buy them all—but alas, I would have exceeded the 50-pound checked-suitcase weight limit had I done so. So I pledged to go home to the Boulder Bookstore (another fabulous independent shop) and buy them there instead.
I did purchase one light volume: the hilarious Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. I definitely wanted to do my bit to support Parnassus—and to take home a piece of its literary magic. Long live Parnassus Books!
—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor
P.S. If you’re visiting Nashville, you should know that Parnassus Books is just up the street from Bluebird Café, another not-to-be-missed site for music lovers and songwriters. Read about my unique experience at the Bluebird: “Guitars in the Parking Lot.”
Read an inspiring piece about coronavirus and Parnassus Books, written by Ann Patchett for The Guardian newspaper.