After returning from this year’s Winter Institute, where we met hundreds of dedicated booksellers from across the country, we decided to take a virtual road trip to learn more about their stores. For the next several weeks, our interview series, Seven Questions, will spotlight some of our favorites—including Parnassus Books, Quail Ridge Books, and Hub City Bookshop, among others. You just don’t find better people than the good folks who own and work at them.
The impressive book selection at Parnassus
Parnassus Books, which opened in 2011, is named after the sacred Grecian mountain known for its poetry, song, and knowledge. And the Nashville bookstore is indeed a home for literature and learning, with regular author readings and weekly story-time events for children. Co-owned by bestselling author Ann Patchett and publishing veteran Karen Hayes, the beautiful store offers an intimate and thoughtful selection of books.
When Lookout published its debut title, Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman, in 2011, Ann Patchett was generous enough to introduce it: “Say the words Edith Pearlman to certain enlightened readers,” she wrote, “and you are instantly acknowledged as an insider, a person who understands and appreciates that which is beautiful.” We’ve long admired Ann’s fierce advocacy for authors, books, and especially indie bookstores; and we couldn’t be happier that Parnassus continues to thrive. (Special thanks to Mary Laura Philpott, social media maven and editor of Parnassus’s blog, Musing, for arranging this interview, and to Catherine Bock for answering our questions.)
Catherine Bock is the special sales manager and office manager of Parnassus Books. She also manages the First Editions Club and says, “I really like the feedback I get from members—like when they tell me that they are having their whole book club read one of our picks. Being involved in picking the books is always a fun process too.”
Whenever someone orders a book online through the Parnassus website, Catherine Bock is the human being who processes that order—whether it’s one book going out to one person or a shipment of more than three hundred books to members of our First Editions Club. She’s also the owner of Belle, one of our shop
dogs. Catherine loves working at Parnassus because she’s constantly
surrounded by books and people who love books. “It is so awesome to come
in and have multiple people who can talk about what we just finished or
what we are excited to read next,” she says. “I also love how our staff
has such varied reading preferences. It pushes me to be a more diverse
reader and to get out of genre ruts I would otherwise fall into.”
Name a book you bought for its cover.
In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides. I actually had read an advance copy already, but the finished book was so beautiful and the colors in the cover art were so rich and perfect for the book that I had to buy it. It didn’t hurt that the book was one of my favorites.
What do you see as Parnassus’s role in the community?
Nashville has long been a home for artistic people (be it literature, music, or visual art). Parnassus is a place where everyone who appreciates writing and books can gather. So, the community has always been here—Parnassus just gives people a physical, tangible place to go. Also, our events team and our partnerships with the Nashville Public Library and Humanities Tennessee (a regional nonprofit) allow us to engage with a wonderfully large audience and bring exciting authors to Nashville to meet readers. All that, and we just really love to recommend good books to people who like to read, which a lot of Nashvillians do.
Could you tell us an anecdote that captures the spirit of Parnassus?
We have a staff of shop dogs that come in to work with their humans. A lot of people think the dogs just live at the store, but they are actually pets of our employees. Belle is mine. Sparky, Opie, Bear, Gracie, and Belle are all the
regulars, and Eleanor Roosevelt would make the sixth, if she could behave. But
she sneaked out the front door after a customer and made a dash for the mall
across the street one afternoon. Our inventory manager, Tristan, followed her
across the busy four-lane road she crossed and brought her back. Now she mostly
“works from home” at Mary Laura Philpott’s house. I think you could say that
Eleanor Roosevelt’s free spirit and desire to go against the grain embody us in
some way. You have to be a little crazy to be a bookseller!
Catherine reads with her dog, Belle, one of the many shop dogs at Parnassus.
What book are you recommending
most to customers right now?
I am constantly recommending to people is Anton DiSclafani’s The
Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. It’s historical fiction that’s
just a little bit steamy with this overhanging mystery that keeps you reading.
I also just finished Mosquitoland by David Arnold, and it blew
me away. It will be my beach read recommendation for everyone this summer.
What songs are on your store’s
depends on who is working. Karen Hayes, our co-owner, is always updating her
playlist, which is on whenever she is here. Sissy, our assistant floor manager,
almost always plays some Jason Isbell. And Andy, our store manager, usually
goes for some Taylor Swift. (Just kidding. He sticks with classic rock or The
The inside of Parnassus Books (Andy’s in there somewhere, rocking out to The Beatles.)
If you could open a bookstore
anywhere in the world, where would it be?
there are a lot of readers. It would be just terrible to have a beautiful
beachside bookstore if there was no one there to discuss the books.
What do you sell in Parnassus
some Parnassus swag for sale, including limited edition posters from local
artists, totes with classic titles on them, and, of course, T-shirts. There’s a
really fun selection of journals, book-related gift items, and some
Nashville-themed gifts up front. We always have art on our walls for sale from
a local artist. (You can see a bit of our current art collection from Tennessee
artist Daryl Thetford in a recent article from our online lit mag, Musing:
“If These Walls Could Talk”).
with fellow Parnassus booksellers Miriam Mimms and Kathy Schultenover on a very
rainy day at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, TN.
Coffee or tea? tea
Hardcover or paperback? hardcover
Vowel or consonant? consonant
Highlight or underline? underline
Bookmark or dog-ear? Depends
on what I have on hand. (Sorry, book corners!)
Train or plane? plane
Cake or pie? both
Mountains or sea? mountains
Dog or cat? DOG, duh