It had been nearly 20 years since I had been in a bookstore in a capacity other than as a customer, and I have to say it felt good.
Thanks to the renown of co-owner Ann Patchett, Parnassus Books is probably the most celebrated new bookstore in America. The grand opening was less than two weeks ago and already they have sold through half their opening stock of books. I stopped by last Tuesday and was greeted by Mary Grey James, general manager of the store, and the newest bookseller on the staff, Karen Davis. (Mary Grey and I worked together at Ingram for many years where she had served as the lead children’s buyer, and Karen Davis was the co-owner of Davis-Kidd Booksellers, where I had begun my life in book marketing. When I heard about the overwhelming success of Parnassus and spied the many boxes in the back of the store, I offered to come in the next day and help shelve the new inventory. Mary Grey took me up on the offer.
I arrived at the store around 8 a.m. the next day and co-owner Karen Hayes put me to the task of straightening the children’s section. I happily settled in front of the Easy Reader section and got to work.
As one would expect from a store managed by a former children’s book buyer, Parnassus boasts a larger children’s section than most bookstores its size. It can be accessed by a secret door just for kids; larger humans may walk around a strategically placed wall to see its full glory. The small entrance is adorned by columns that seem to be a reference to the mythological Parnassus, the home of the muses and to Nashville’s status as the "Athens of the South." Fittingly, the columns are topped by an open book. Needless to say, children find this entrance irresistible. Many adults do, too.
As the store doors opened and I continued my alphabetizing and organizing, the magnetic power of children’s books began to draw people to the rear of the store. Children began spilling through the door and adults swept around the wall, enjoying a store that not only sold books but celebrated them, too.
I fielded some questions and luckily did not disgrace myself. The first sale was definitely a softball: did I know a good book for a very busy three-year-old boy who could not sit still? And his name is David? "Why yes, ma’am, I have the perfect book for you!" She was amazed and delighted at No, David! Another little boy entranced with the wooden toy train set provided by a friendly neighboring toy store prompted a grandfather to ask if we had any books about trains besides Thomas the Tank Engine. He was Thomas-friendly, but felt the young man needed to expand his horizons a bit. I would be willing to bet that Donald Crews’s Freight Train has probably been read a dozen times in that home since Wednesday.
More than anything else, I was delighted to see how downright happy people were just to be there. They wanted to be supporting a locally owned independent bookstore. And they did not just come from Nashville. During the few hours I was in Parnassus, I talked to people from both Atlanta and North Carolina who had read about the bookstore and wanted to experience it for themselves. I completely understand their feelings. I reveled in the sight of families exploring the wonderful books, the sounds of mothers and fathers reading to their children, and even that wonderful new bookstore smell of fresh sawed wood and ink on paper.
Parnassus and its success has reminded us what an independent bookstore provides beyond the book. It gives us not only a place to find and build upon our dreams and experiences but also a physical place where we can share and discover books with like-minded people. That’s why I was happy to spend a few hours of my Thanksgiving holiday bringing books and readers together. And it’s why I am thankful to Ann Patchett, Karen Hayes and Mary Grey James for Parnassus Books.
Myrick began her bookselling career in 1988 at Davis-Kidd Booksellers and has been marketing books ever since.