Parnassus cover

These Three Nashville Bookstores Will Rekindle Your Love of Books

On a cold winter’s day, what could be better than curling up with a good book by the fire, or finding a cozy corner in a local neighborhood bookstore? If you’re like me, whenever you visit another city you’ll hunt out just such a place to spend a few hours. Nashville almost lost its literary heart when two major bookstores closed two years ago, but thanks to novelist Ann Patchett, once again the independent bookstore is alive and well, returning revenue back into the local community.


It’s Saturday morning and a bundle of excited kids have gathered at Parnassus Books in Green Hills for Storytime, eager to meet the capricious characters in the book. A local author will be reading and signing books at noon, and at 4 p.m. the once monthly Jazz by the Book program will feature a local live Jazz performance. For one delightful hour you can listen to jazz while browsing the shelves, dipping into carefully selected titles that differ from the mass collections found in the mega bookstores. Staff familiar with many of the titles are happy to recommend what book you should read next, or point you to the signed copies by local authors.

parnassus chalk calendar

This is what independent bookstores are all about. They become part of the local community, a place to meet friends, bring your kids, get lost in stories of mystical far away places, join a book club, or relax with a little jazz and wine.

Parnassus was born two years ago when best-selling author Ann Patchett and publishing veteran Karen Hayes were introduced by veteran bookseller Mary Grey James, and formed a partnership. They are the passion behind their phenomenally successful bookstore, and Mary Grey willingly divulged some of their secrets.

“Ann Patchett’s connections in the book world allow us to bring in mega authors we otherwise couldn’t get,” she said. “Events make all the difference.” It may be for intimate signings in the bookstore, or off-site events for several hundred, partnering with the downtown Nashville Library or local schools. DSC_0190

“We did over 250 events last year,” she added. “We have children’s storytime twice a week, book signings, musical events.” In the Kid’s Room, youngsters are sprawled out on the floor reading while others play at the train table.

As a child I was so entranced with books that I would read long past my lights-out time, hiding my current novel deep under the bed covers and reading by flashlight till the end of the chapter. Or the next. Or maybe just one more…

The friendly intimacy of Parnassus is only part of the story. They may not carry large quantities of titles but if you order a book by noon, it will be miraculously delivered next day perhaps even personally by one of the staff. All this is thanks to their relationship with Ingram, the country’s largest book wholesaler located in nearby La Vergne, Tennessee.

The only thing missing is the coffee.  The signature swirl of foam on a fresh-brewed latte, savored in the company of good books. Perhaps on our next stop? DSC_0475










Bookman Bookwoman

In the heart of historic Hillsboro Village, we squeezed in the doorway of Bookman Bookwoman for a totally different experience.  Jammed floor to ceiling with an extensive selection of more than 100,000 used books, the store has grown out of the personal collection of Larry and Saralee Woods. Overflowing their space at home, the couple’s addiction for acquiring secondhand books evolved into a flourishing business, including many valuable first editions. DSC_0479

The selection of new books is relatively small, but you’re guaranteed to find the tightly packed aisles of every imaginable category quite overwhelming. This is sensory book overload. People camp out in tiny alcoves on odd collections of chairs, books open on their laps. Someone perches on a stool reading, another sits on the floor beside a stack of books. Bargains are everywhere, but they’re not all giveaway prices. The Woods know the value of their books and continue scouring the country, buying up collections and bargains from estate sales, auctions, college professors and individuals. DSC_0489

One complete corner of the store is stocked with books on Tennessee history and titles by local authors. If you’re looking for a specific book, chances are you’ll find it at Bookman Bookwoman. Online website sales are linked with Al Libris.

And don’t worry if you’ve run out of room on your bookshelves at home. Trade in your excess books for store credit or cash and take home some new titles. Barnes & Noble

The illusive coffee is still calling. We could venture into our local mega bookstore, where I have whiled away many a pleasant hour sipping on an aromatic brew with book in hand, or explore further afield to another of Nashville’s legendary bookshops.

McKay Used Books is our last stop on this tour. The huge warehouse-style building off Old Hickory Boulevard in Bellevue is more like a clearing-house than a typical bookstore. Customers carry in boxes of books to trade for cash or store credit, where they’re loaded onto a conveyor belt for assessment and valuation by research staff. DSC_0197The store is a bargain hunter’s paradise, selling not only books, but vinyl records, CDs, DVDs, movies and games, and has an inventory in the millions. McKay’s originated in North Carolina in 1978 as a free enterprise library, where people could trade books they’ve read for books they haven’t, and educate themselves along the way. It’s obviously working well, and you can count on a constantly changing inventory of titles on a long list of topics.

But I have to admit…I’m still looking for that perfect, intimate bookshop with a gourmet coffee bar, here in my hometown. If you find one, let me know!

Hi! I’m Dayle Fergusson. As a transplanted Aussie living in Middle Tennessee since 1986, I have been a freelance travel...Read on



    Saralee Terry Woods

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