It was November of 2011 when two women in Nashville did what everyone said was impossible (or at least crazy): they opened a bookstore while bookstores everywhere were closing. Introduced by mutual friend Mary Grey James, novelist Ann Patchett and publishing veteran Karen Hayes became friends and business partners when they decided to work together to fill the hole left by Nashville’s shuttered bookstores. They named their new venture Parnassus Books.
Five years later, not only is the store still here, it’s thriving. And all of us here have you to thank. That’s right, book-lovers, our special holiday is coming up: the anniversary of the day we came into each other’s lives. Let’s reminisce.
You may not know this, but we spent a LOT of time getting all dolled up for our first date with you. (Click any image to scroll through the album.)
Remember the day we met? We’ll never forget it. Nearly 3,000 people come through these bookstore doors on November 16, 2011. Our store is still a cozy, intimate space, but back then it was much smaller. We hosted a puppet show; had a book signing in the afternoon with multiple guest authors; and in the evening, we threw a cocktail party with more local authors. It felt like the entire city of Nashville passed through the store that day!
“When I look back on all this now, I’m dizzied by the blitheness that stood in place of any sort of business sense, like the grand gesture of walking over to the roulette table and betting it all on a single number,” Ann wrote in her essay about our founding, The Bookstore Strikes Back.
Karen recalls, laughing: “We opened during the holiday season and I remember trying to order to keep up with the demand. So many books would come in daily and then the shelves would just empty out — it was like the store was a set of lungs that inhaled and exhaled books daily.”
GETTING THE WORD OUT
We were still getting our feet under us in February 2012, when Ann Patchett went on The Colbert Report to speak with Stephen Colbert about her new novel at the time, State of Wonder. She urged everyone to order the book from Parnassus, after which we experienced the phenomenon known as “the Colbert bump.” (And all our staff experienced the phenomenon known as “working a lot of overtime.”)
PARTNERSHIPS & EVENTS: BRINGING AUTHORS TO NASHVILLE
Sometimes it feels like one big party around here — especially each fall, when we put up the big bookselling tent at the Southern Festival of Books, the stunning event hosted by Humanities Tennessee downtown on Nashville’s legislative plaza, attracting hundreds of nationally known authors and thousands of avid readers.
And what on earth would we do without the Nashville Public Library? In many cities, bookstores and libraries see each other as competition. Not here in Nashville. We work together with our wonderful library to put on events including the Salon@615 series. We owe huge thanks to our partners in this venture: Nashville Public Library Foundation, Humanities Tennessee, and Bookpage. Together, we’ve brought more than 100 big-name authors to town for this series, including these in the 2016 season:
More times than we can count, Nashville readers have showed up and packed our store to the walls, leaning on shelves and perching on counters to get a look at a visiting author. Remember when David Sedaris came and we sold so many tickets that we had to set up a tent in the parking lot?
There’s no way we could have pulled off some of our largest events without the collaboration of Nashville’s most impressive venues: Blair School of Music, War Memorial Auditorium, Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Belmont University, The Children’s Theatre, OZ Arts, local schools that open up their auditoriums and gymnasiums — not to mention Rivendell Writers Colony for our reading retreat and The Porch Writers’ Collective for our collaborations at the Skillery. Just this year, Stephen King sold out one of Nashville’s most iconic places of all, Ryman Auditorium.
We were thrilled to join with Salon@615 to bring political and historical luminaries to town, including Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, Colin Powell, Caroline Kennedy, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Who could forget Doris Kearns Goodwin discussing presidential history with Jon Meacham? (Those of us on staff will certainly never forget her reading aloud to us from the Ron Burgundy “biography” in the stockroom afterward.)
Much to the delight of local readers, Kathy Schultenover, who ran the book clubs at Davis-Kidd Booksellers, came on board at Parnassus to resurrect the gatherings Nashville readers had so sorely missed. Among the biggest crowds for book club so far have been the author-led sessions, when readers got to discuss books with the people who wrote them: Ayad Akhtar (American Dervish), Laura Moriarty (The Chaperone), Anton DiSclafani (The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls), Amor Towles (Rules of Civility), Nickolas Butler (Shotgun Lovesongs), and Lily King (Euphoria). Kathy even brought back Classics Club, which invites readers to take another look at classic works of literature.
We’ve made beautiful music together, don’t you think? Speaking of music: from our Jazz by the Book series presented by the Nashville Jazz Workshop to special events for songwriters and singers-turned-authors, we’ve really enjoyed being Music City’s bookstore.
“I remember having Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck in the store for a Humanities Tennessee fundraiser,” Karen says. “There was a moment during the evening when the audience was singing along and you could hear the beautiful harmony of Rhiannon Giddons, who was sitting in the crowd.”
Another moving musical moment: Patti Smith was in Nashville to discuss her book M Train and entertain a relatively intimate crowd of 500 people at OZ Arts on November 13, 2015, when we all heard the news of the Paris terror attacks. In response, Smith began singing “People Have the Power,” and the crowd sang along.
We want to thank you not only for opening your hearts and minds to this indie bookstore, but also for having such welcoming laps. Our shop dogs are an integral part of this establishment, and you’ve treated them with such kindness.
Which brings us to another special note of appreciation: You’ve been there with our staff through our ups and downs — our joyous additions (new staff! new puppies!) and tearful departures (beloved booksellers moving away, sweet shop dog Lexington passing on to the big bookstore in the sky). You’ve taken your senior pictures here, gotten engaged here, celebrated new jobs here. You’ve seen our interns go off to college and our booksellers Tristan and Lauren fall in love and get married. We, in turn, have watched your children grow from babies to preschoolers, from little kids to teens, as they’ve graduated from the picture book section to chapter books and young adult literature.
And just when we thought things couldn’t get any more magical between us, you helped us take the next step, again and again:
- In 2014, we launched Musing, our very own online magazine — so that we could broadcast Ann Patchett’s blog, Shop Dog Diaries, staff recommended reading lists, and exclusive author interviews to readers beyond Nashville and around the globe.
- In 2016, another little dream came true when our bookmobile, Parnassus on Wheels, hit the road.
- Also in 2016, our wish for a wee bit more space was granted, as we expanded into the retail space next door and nearly doubled the size of our footprint. How lucky are we to be situated in the beautiful Green Hills neighborhood of Nashville? You couldn’t ask for better neighbors (or a better landlord in Brookside Properties here at Greenbriar Village)!
We couldn’t be more grateful. So, please — won’t you join us in celebrating five years together? We want to thank you personally, from the bottoms of our hearts.
TWO-PART ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
Saturday, November 12, 2016
Doug the Pug visits at 2 p.m. (details and tickets here)
Special sale all day: Buy any 5 books, get 1 to grow on free!*
(* Valid in-store. Come see us! The lowest priced book of the six will be free.)
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
16% discount on all hardcover books, all day
Plus: giveaways, prizes, and snacks throughout the day . . .
Champagne and cake from 5-6:30 p.m.!
Meanwhile, we’ll close on Ann’s final note from The Bookstore Strikes Back:
“Maybe it’s working because I’m an author, or maybe it’s working because Karen toils away like life depends on this bookstore, or because we have a particularly brilliant staff, or because Nashville is a city that is particularly sympathetic to all things independent. Maybe we just got lucky. But this luck makes me believe that changing the course of the corporate world is possible. Amazon doesn’t get to make all the decisions; the people can make them, by choosing how and where they spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read a book. This is how we change the world: We grab hold of it. We change ourselves.”
COMING UP – Check out the big names coming to Nashville, all before Thanksgiving!