Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Paradise that is Parnassus

Yesterday I got to spend a delightful hour at my little local independent bookstore, Parnassus Books.  It's in Nashville, across from Green Hills mall, tucked into a strip of stores right behind that crazy donut place with the neon signs.

Parnassus was started by Nashville writer Ann Patchett, whom I also love (if you haven't read her books, I suggest you start with Bel Canto, then her latest, State of Wonder, and then browse among her backlist.  Though perhaps my favorite is her nonfiction account of her friendship with Lucy Greeley, Truth and Beauty.) because, once the big, beautiful Davis Kidd bookstore closed, and then Borders collapsed, Nashville, a city of over half a million people, had no bookstore at all.  Into this appalling void came Parnassus, a tiny, perfect gem.  It has books stacked to the top of high ceilings, and wooden ladders on rails to reach them, and a wonderful, knowledgeable staff, and a perfect cozy children's section.  It has so many good books, and so few bad ones, that I have to be very, very picky when I go there, and even then I leave with a great big bag.  Which is fine, because I'm supporting my local independent bookstore.

Did I mention I live 300 miles away?  Yeah.  Tennessee's a long state.  That's probably a good thing, really.  I'd hate to think what might happen if I could visit Parnassus every week.

Did I mention they carry my books?  The very first time I went there, I gave them an ARC of Jefferson's Sons.  I told them I lived in east Tennessee and would be honored if they would carry it.

The next time I was there, they had Jefferson's Sons propped up on a little shelf all its own, face out.

Yesterday, that very same shelf carried the paperback edition, which has been for sale for less than a week.

I so love Parnassus.

I took a photo of my book on its shelf, with my phone, and I can't figure out how to get that photo into this blog.  I'm sure there is a way.  Just close your eyes and visualize, a book, a small shelf, face out, kid-eye-level high.

So here's what I bought at Parnassus yesterday:  (keep in mind: the list of books I didn't buy is much longer.  Much.)

The Three Questions, written and illustrated by John Muth.  This is the lovely man who brought us Zen Shorts.  Three Questions, based on a story by Leo Tolstoy, is another gorgeous picture book that's deeply philosophical while still child-centered.  Love it.

The Island, by Marlie and Ronald Tolman.  I don't even begin to understand this one.  It's a wordless picture book that is so visually stunning I had to take it home.  I may give it to my nephews.  I may not.

Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowell.  OK, my husband's going to disapprove of this one, for the same reason he disapproved of my reading, enjoying, and trying to tell him about the book of all the ways people have died in the Grand Canyon.  This is about all the places where Presidents have been shot.  It looks fascinating.

Magical Journey, by Katrina Kenison (signed copy).  The latest of her personal memoirs, which I think are written with honesty and grace.

The All of It, by Jeannette Haien.  The guy behind the desk at Parnassus talked me into this one.  It's a reissue of a long-forgotten Irish novel.  The guy said, "It'll take you three hours to read, and you'll wish it had gone on forever."  Something about a priest and a deathbed confession; since it's Irish, it's probably funny.

The Dark Safari: overland from Cairo to Cape Town, by Paul Theroux.  I've been to Cairo, I've been to Cape Town, and I love memoirs.  'Nuff said.

Shakespeare's Tremor and Orwell's Cough: the Medical Lives of Famous Writers, by John J. Ross, M.D.  Combines science, literature, speculation, and gossip: what's not to like?

Fortune's Children: the Fall of the House of Vanderbilt, by Arthur T. Vanderbilt II.  The Guy Behind the Desk said, "Oooh, that looks interesting."  It is: I started reading it this morning.

Then, as a special bonus book, because I have no idea how it got into my bag (I never even picked it up at the store.  I never even saw it.  I'm thinking it must have been at the checkout next to my pile?):  A Dangerous Age, by Ellen Gilchrist.  I think I read an Ellen Gilchrist novel in college.  I can't remember if I liked it.  But there you are.  Perhaps I'll like this one.

Parnassus's website is www.Parnassusbooks.net.  Not .com.  They ship signed first editions, if you're into that sort of thing.