Yesterday marked the first official open day of Parnassus Books (i.e. “Ann Patchett’s Bookstore”, as everyone in town seems to be calling it.) I found it eerily coincidental, given that yesterday I was in a particularly mournful state over the loss of Davis-Kidd. I hadn’t known until late in the day that Parnassus was actually opening NOW and so I blame the Jungian Collective Field for bringing the whole thing to mind in the first place.
Nashville needs an Independent Frontlist Bookstore* desperately. This is such a wordy town, driven by love of language. We have Universities, Publishing Houses, and printers galore. For us to not have an Indie Frontlist Bookstore was akin to there being no steak house in Dallas. It just made no cultural sense at all.
But here’s the thing. When I was reading coverage about the opening, I read several places where Patchett and/or her partner were emphasising how important it is for Nashville to shop there. I started to feel like there was a gun to my head; either I pay extra for books I can’t even read** from Parnassus or I don’t deserve to have a bookstore. I was reminded of George W. Bush exhorting all America to shop, shop, shop and combat the terrorists with their wallet.
Parnassus also offers a sponsorship program like the type more commonly seen in museums and public broadcasting. Contribution categories range from the Basic level ($75) to the Mountain Top ($5,000). Goodies for contributors include tote bags, Hatch show prints, and–for the big money–an after hours private shopping event.
So much of what I see about Parnassus thus far runs very contrary to my point of view on books in general. I don’t think books and reading are an elite thing. I think writing and reading are the most accessible magic in the universe, meant for everyone. I campaigned heavily a decade ago for an increase in taxes to build the new library and bolster our library infrastructure because even though I’m a libertarian I do believe that if we don’t make books accessible to everyone there is no point at all in being any sort of society. I’m willing to pay extra to get books in the hands of everyone, to make sure each subcommunity within our larger area has a place for people to go and read, gather, learn. That’s my philosophy.
When I look at Parnassus in its infancy I see a store in an upscale part of town with very limited parking. I see a store that says flat-out that shopping there will be more expensive. I see a store that makes reading seem like an activity for the Ladies Who Lunch or the platinum-card wielding classes.
I really do love the idea of a new bookstore in town, and I’m sure I’ll find a way to be parted from my money while there. But I find it sort of ironic, in these days of the Occupy Movement, that Nashville has a new bookstore for the 1% and I find myself meekly saying “that’s okay…the 99% have the library.”
*We’ve got scads of Indie bookstores that specialise in used books. Elders, Rhino, Bookman/Bookwoman.
** By this I mean that my disability precludes me from reading most print-and-bound texts; I have to use an e-reader as an assistive device.