Writer Ann Patchett lives in Nashville, which between December 2010 and May 2011 lost both of its bookstores. You read that right: Two years ago Nashville, Tennessee, a city with a population of almost 600,000, had only two bookstores. And then it had none.
Patchett – the author of eight books, including the novels Bel Canto and State of Wonder – thought someone should do something about it. Someone else, of course: “I wanted to go into retail about as much as I wanted to go into the Army.” Then she met Karen Hayes, a sales rep for Random House.
Patchett describes that meeting in “The Bookstore Strikes Back,” in the December issue of The Atlantic:
Karen pulled a business proposal out of her bag and handed it to me.
“It’s called Parnassus Books,” she said.
I looked at the word, which struck me as hard to spell and harder to remember. I shook my head. “I don’t like it,” I said. How many people would know what it meant? (In Greek mythology, Mount Parnassus is the home of literature, learning, music, and, I think, a few other valuable things.) I had wanted a store called Independent People, after the great Halldór Laxness novel about Iceland and sheep, or perhaps Red Bird Books, as I believed that simple titles, especially those containing colors, are memorable.
“I’ve always wanted a bookstore called Parnassus,” Karen said.
I looked at this woman I didn’t know, my potential business partner. I wanted a bookstore in Nashville, but why should I be the one to name it? “You’re the one who’s going to work there,” I told her.
Patchett and Hayes did become business partners, and Parnassus Books opened on November 16, 2011. The following Saturday – the official grand opening – “an estimated 3,000 Nashvillians came through the store,” Patchett writes. Local and national news outlets clamored for interviews. A year later, customers “are lined up outside most mornings when we open our doors.”
Patchett concludes that Karen Hayes was right: “Parnassus, I could finally see, was perfectly named, as she had known all along it would be.”
Read “The Bookstore Strikes Back.” It will give you hope.