On a recent trip to Nashville, I had to make a pilgrimage to Parnassus Books, author Ann Patchett's independent bookstore experiment. Belying my imagined enraputure with an old-fashioned, overstuffed bookish haven in a vintage storefront near Vanderbilt or downtown, we found the store in a contemporary space in a mall in Green Hills, the city's upscale area.
While the bookstore met the measure of a clean, well-lighted place, the area's sterility was disappointing. Inside, a good crowd of book lovers chatted about authors and readings and looked through the shelves. The presence of such folks was encouraging, but didn't quite overcome the arid commercial feeling of the business.
The store did have a strong variety of books, better than seen these days at Barnes & Noble. The poetry section contained several books with which I was unfamiliar, or could never find in Atlanta, and I also found a long-sought work, Edith Pearlman's short story collection, "Binocular Vision," with an introduction by Patchett herself. I also found the American Poetry Review, for years common on newsstands, but which has disappeared in the last half decade or so. Parnassus' bulletin board gave evidence that it is making a good effort to foster the city's literary culture, with announcements of readings, workshops, book signings and writer's appearances.
Later, we heard about a similar experience to ours in regard to Parnassus. Our daughter's roommate said her mother, like me, had read about the bookstore in The New York Times and had to make a visit to the described literary oasis. Similar to me, the Mom had been disappointed by the sterile mall location.
Well, that's not the important thing. The books, and the nurturing of literary culture, are what matter. I salute Patchett for her effort in keeping independent bookstores alive.