Notes From Ann: Love, Loss, and What I Read

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Bookstore Wedding - Stella Dolce Photography

Let’s start with love.

I’ve known Niki Castle since she was 19. When she was a sophomore in college she used to babysit for my sister Heather’s children. Everyone in my family was attached to Niki right from the start, and it’s an attachment that has served us well over the years. Not only is she now the Events and Marketing Director at Parnassus, she’s also the person who decided I should write a book of essays, and badgered me and nagged me until I came up with This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Niki and I have a deeply symbiotic relationship, which is to say we help one another and count on one another. So when Niki asked me if I would throw an engagement party for her and her fiancé, Andrew Coffman, at Parnassus, I said yes, of course, but on one condition — I wanted them to get married at the engagement party. I wanted to throw them a surprise wedding.

Stella Dolce Photography
Stella Dolce Photography

Why a surprise wedding? Well, many years ago I used to write for Bridal Guide, and the whole wedding industry is one I don’t have warm feelings for. Weddings, though sometimes joyful, are also ridiculously expensive and filled with pressures and expectations and burdensome traditions. In short, they are often more work than they are fun. Niki and Andrew are fun people, and I wanted them to have a fun wedding. So the three of us decided to keep the secret, telling only Brenda Wynn, Nashville’s beloved County Clerk who would perform the ceremony, and the brilliant Sharon Glassmeyer, who attended to all the details of the party so perfectly beautifully. On February 22, after the store closed, Niki slipped into the back and put on a wedding dress her mother made, while Andrew was making a toast to a crowd of family and friends and booksellers. (click here for a video clip of the toast!) Five minutes later they were married. The guests cheered and clapped and cried. They were not only surprised, they were thrilled to have witnessed such happiness. We are so grateful to Niki and Andrew for letting us have that beautiful memory be part of the history of Parnassus.

Which got me thinking about great love stories, stories in which characters who are loving and kind and appreciate one another and find each other and do not die or go insane. Love stories that are both intelligent (ah, there’s the catch) and happy. It’s a small subset of literature. Even though things work out for Kitty and Levin, they don’t go well for Anna and Vronsky. I can come up with the titles of brilliant, tragic love stories all day long, but that’s not what I want for Niki and Andrew. I think it’s why so many of us love Jane Austen, because her books allow us to be both smart and romantically fulfilled. If it’s been awhile since you’ve read Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, or Sense and Sensibility, I suggest you go back and read them again. And while you’re at it, pick up a copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. Now there’s a love story for you.

* * *


My sister Heather’s husband, Bill Herrick, died at the end of January. There aren’t any words for our sadness. Bill was irreplaceable and none of us have figured out what we will do without him. Every time I walk in the store I think about Bill. He made the community bulletin board and chalk board you see when you first come in the door. He made the coffee bar, which wound up being the gift wrap table because we never got coffee. He made our display tables, and, most importantly, he made the entrance to the children’s section, a spectacular open book that he carved and rested on top of two pillars. Bill was talented, generous, smart, and endlessly self-effacing. I will miss him every day of my life, but I’ll also be glad that his work helped shape Parnassus.


After Bill died I read Pema Chodron’s classic, When Things Fall Apart. Chodron is a Buddhist nun and teacher, and the advice she gives in this book should not be reserved for times of tragedy. It’s about how to live more fully, how to deal with what comes to you, and how to keep your heart open. It’s helped me a lot. I’ve also been thinking about the books I’ve read in my life that have made me cry. There aren’t many. The wonderful writer Willy Vlautin was in the store last week, and the two books of his I’ve read, Lean on Pete and The Free both made me cry because they’re so compassionate, so willing to look at the kind of lives that are rarely portrayed in literature. Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Everything is Illuminated made me cry and it also made me laugh out loud, which is a pretty amazing feat. Charlotte’s Web made me cry every single time I read it. I could pretty much cry just thinking about Charlotte’s Web. Sometimes you want a book that’s as sad as you are. It’s a comfort.

* * *

Along with the love and the loss, we’ve also had some straight-up good news this month. You’ve probably seen in the newspapers or heard on the radio that the author James Patterson has pledged a million dollars to independent bookstores around the country. His primary goal is to make sure kids are reading, but the money is given with no strings attached. It can be used in any way the booksellers see fit. And while the money is nice, I think the real benefit is that Jim Patterson is out there talking about bookstores and reading and the importance of keeping stores healthy and thriving in our communities.

Mary Grey
Our dear Mary Grey

Patterson and I were co-chairs of World Book Night last year and the national kickoff was held at Parnassus, so he knows our store and has been a friend to us. We were thrilled that Mary Grey James, who does such a great job managing the children’s section, took the initiative to write a smart and moving proposal about getting books out to low-income children. In doing so, she won a grant for Parnassus. We are all grateful and so incredibly proud of her. Please give her a pat on the back the next time you’re in the children’s section.

Karen and I get a lot of credit for all the good things that happen in the store, but we’re just two pieces of an extensive mosaic. What the store really is is a conglomerate of smart people bringing the best parts of themselves to their jobs. Whether it’s Niki organizing the terrific event with Malcolm Gladwell last week, or my brother-in-law Bill making the entranceway to the children’s section, or Mary Grey using her talents to write such a heartfelt proposal about the importance of children reading, this store is something that we’re making together. We have a new employee, Amy Shepard, and we look forward to seeing what she’ll add to the mix.

If for some reason you missed the reference in the title of this book report, be sure to pick up a copy of my friend Ilene Beckerman’s book, Love, Loss, and What I Wore. She deserves full credit.

Come in soon.  There’s sure to be a dog somewhere in the store in need of a tummy rub.

* * *

Read along with Ann:

ISBN-13: 9781565124752
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 4/2005

ISBN-13: 9780062236678
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Harper, 11/2013

ISBN-13: 9780141439518
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Penguin Classics, 12/2002
ISBN-13: 9780141439662
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Penguin Classics, 4/2003

Persuasion (Paperback)

ISBN-13: 9780141439686
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Penguin Classics, 4/2003

Emma (Paperback)


ISBN-13: 9780141439587
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Penguin Classics
ISBN-13: 9780307389732
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Vintage, 10/2007

ISBN-13: 9781570623448
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Shambhala, 1/1997

Lean on Pete (Paperback)

ISBN-13: 9780061456534
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Harper Perennial, 4/2010

The Free (Paperback)

ISBN-13: 9780062276742
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Harper Perennial, 2/2014

ISBN-13: 9780060529703
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Harper Perennial, 4/2003
ISBN-13: 9780064400558
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: HarperCollins, 5/1974
ISBN-13: 9780316101691
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Little, Brown and Company, 4/2012

ISBN-13: 9780316206976
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Little, Brown and Company, 12/2013