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Ann Patchett Opens Parnassus Books In Nashville

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
November 16, 2011

The world of independent bookstores has a new member: Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tenn., opened its doors on Wednesday. The store has a marquee name behind it — it is co-owned by best-selling novelist Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and State of Wonder and many others. Patchett talks with NPR’s Melissa Block about first-day jitters, and why she decided to open a small, independent bookstore at a time when similar stores are closing:

On what the bookstore looks like on opening day

“It is beautiful, Melissa; I wish you were here. The ceiling is incredibly high, and it’s pale blue, and the walls are very warm, and we have floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. It’s opening day, but we’re still doing a lot: We’re filling up the card rack right now and the magazine rack and learning how to use the cash register. It’s exciting. It’s crazy.”

On how little the store is, and why small size matters

“Compared to the two bookstores that closed here in Nashville in the last year — Borders and Davis-Kidd [Booksellers], which were both over 30,000 square feet — yes, we are a shoebox of a bookstore [at 2,500 square feet]. But this is the way bookstores used to be. This is the bookstore of my childhood, and I feel fantastic being back here. …

“People are really coming all the way back around to the beginning of the [big-small bookstore] cycle and saying: I want the little store. I miss the little store. And I think there are a lot of small stores that can really thrive in this environment.”

On being confident about the future

“I feel nervous like first day of school, not nervous like I’m embarking on a business venture that might go bust. I actually think this is going to go really, really well.”

On making a hefty financial investment in the bookstore

“I think of this as my gift to the city: This is what I want to see in Nashville, and if I want to live in a city with a bookstore, then I’m willing to pay for it. … The big work of the store is really being done by my partner, Karen Hayes. It’s easy enough to put your money into something, but she’s putting her back into it. That’s what’s really important.”

The best advice she got from a bookstore owner

“Put the children’s section in the farthest back corner of the store, so if the kids run away and make a break for it, you have plenty of time to catch them before they get out the front door.”

The really best advice she got from a bookstore owner

“In a smaller store … you are the person making the choices to get really good books. You are the one who, by your intelligent ordering and good reading, is sort of cutting through a lot of the junk and bringing books that people really want to read. … We’ve all had the experience of going into a three-story Barnes & Noble and saying, ‘I didn’t really find anything I wanted read.’ But you can go in to a small store with an intelligent staff …. [and] well-displayed, well-chosen books, and come out with five books that you’re dying to read. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

On the story behind the name “Parnassus”

“It is that mountain in Greece where literature and music and poetry were born. We are the Athens of the South here in Nashville — we have a full-size replica of the Parthenon. And so we wanted to be part of that great tradition of our city.” [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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