For the entire time I was growing up in Nashville, my favorite place to go when I had some money in my pocket was a bookstore called Davis-Kidd. Heck, it was my favorite place to go even when I didn’t have money in my pocket. Many of Nashville’s bibliophiles, seeking to prove their long memory, will brag about remembering the first location Davis-Kidd had in the Green Hills mall, back in the 80s. Well, I remember even before that, when Davis-Kidd was in a little box of a building that is now an Oriental Rug Depot or somesuch thing. I remember the clerk recommending children’s books to me. As I grew, so did the store, moving to bigger and bigger locations.
By the time I was about 13, Davis-Kidd was in a glorious two-story building and my English teachers were predicting that I would be a writer when I grew up. Their assertions were almost always followed by a reference to Davis-Kidd, i.e. “I just know I’m going to see your book in the window at Davis-Kidd someday.” My dream of being an author was completely intertwined with the idea of someday reading and selling my book there. When I got my driver’s license, I would go to the store and sit on the benches between the shelves like I was in worship, which I suppose I kind of was.
At about this time last year, the news broke that Davis-Kidd was closing. My book had been accepted for publication but not yet released, and I had just received the form that authors have to fill out in order for this icon of a store to carry their book. My immediate reaction was that I had come very close to realizing a dream, only to have it snatched away. I was crushed. Eventually, this emotional reaction healed over, but I was still left with a pragmatic struggle: Here I was with a book about Nashville and there was no place in Nashville to sell it.
Over the past year, I’ve learned a lot about what’s involved in selling books. I’ve learned about publishers and distributors, and I’ve learned just how hard it is to get a box store to carry a book that didn’t come out of a major publishing house. The Barnes+Noble located not far from the events depicted in Confederate Streets won’t carry my book unless the national office approves it, which isn’t going to happen for my little collection of essays. It’s ridiculous. The whole process of trying to get any retailer in Nashville to notice my book has been frustrating and disheartening. It seems that every phone call gets routed through New York City.
This summer, some rumors about a new bookstore began circling. And, I’d be darned if they didn’t end up to be true. Ann Patchett, a Nashvillian and nationally renowned author, partnered up with Karen Hayes, a sales rep from Random House. They decided to open their own bookstore, which they named Parnassus, after the mountain where the ancient Greeks believed learning and literature lived. After a whole lot of work on their part and a lot of enthusiasm from the community, Parnassus Books opens TODAY in Green Hills. I will be there. Confederate Streets will be there.
There’s been an awful lot of talk in recent years about the death of the book (a session with just such a name was standing-room only at The Southern Festival of Books last month in Nashville), and I imagine that at least a few of you are reading this blog or my book on some sort of e-device. That’s fine, but after the year I’ve had, I can assure you that bookstores are still a vital part of any intellectual community. My friends have stepped up admirably – they’ve hosted me for readings and shared Confederate Streets with their book clubs – so the book has definitely received some momentum. However, even with that assistance and the dominance of Amazon, if a book doesn’t have a home, it doesn’t exist. I don’t even know if I would buy a book about Nashville that cannot actually be purchased in Nashville. Anyone can throw some self-published blather up on an e-book. Bookstores provide ethos.
Bookstores also provide community. As a reader, sometimes I just want to be in a place where I can browse. Sometimes, I’m in a mood and I just want to read something with a certain tone or that covers a certain topic. Knowledgable booksellers are so much more helpful than an algorithim, and it’s always more fun to be in an actual physical space than it is to browse the Internet in solitude.
As an author, bookstores are equally as necessary. Davis-Kidd closed and my scramble began. I was emailing churches, libraries, colleges, anyone. I have this book and people say it’s pretty good and would you like me to come speak about it? Well, you can’t buy it in town, but I can bring my own copies. It’s been the same with getting the media to review the book. It’s about Nashville…No, but you can buy it on Amazon. I was usually shut down. I’ve even met a couple prominent authors who were willing to give readings with me (I saw it as being the opening act to their arena-level rock band), but it’s hard to give a reading when the place that usually hosts such things has gone.
Parnassus is focusing on the local, and that will be key to its survival. Take it from me – the small neighborhood bookshop is as relevant in 2011 as it has ever been. In fact, with the all-out information blitz that assaults our senses during our waking hours, a place like Parnassus – Nashville’s new home for literature, for readings, and for browsing on a Saturday afternoon – is more necessary than ever.
The GRAND OPENING of Parnassus Books will be all day today in Nashville. I will be joining other local authors for a reception from 5-8 p.m. Parnassus is in the shopping center where Abbot Martin T’s into Hillsboro Road. (As if a bookstore opening isn’t wonderful enough, it’s opening in the same row of shops as Fox’s Donut Den!) If you live in Nashville, stop on by. If you don’t, give your friendly neighborhood bookstore some lovin’ real soon.