Almost a month ago, my roommates and I took a long weekend and headed south to Tennessee for a much-needed mini-vacation. Way back in June, I had purchased tickets to see Taylor Davis perform a show in Nashville. Davis is one of my favorite violinists of all time due to her stupendous video game and anime covers, so I knew I needed to be a part of her first-ever tour!
The show was on a Thursday evening, but we didn’t want to just stay overnight and head back to Kentucky. My roommate has a set of grandparents in Chattanooga, so we were able to spend the entire weekend exploring Tennessee and doing all the touristy things, like visiting Tennessee Aquarium, walking through Rock City, and buying some local art at Chattanooga Market.
And all of those things were amazing! But as a librarian, what I was really excited about was exploring the literary side of Tennessee. After all, it wouldn’t be a vacation without stopping into at least one bookstore, am I right? I was lucky enough to find TWO great bookstores on this trip. And who better to share this portion of my trip with than all of my book-loving friends? You’re welcome!
After checking out of our hotel on Friday morning, our first stop was Parnassus Books. If that sounds familiar to any of you, it may be because Parnassus is co-owned by author Ann Patchett, famous for novels such as Bel Canto and State of Wonder. Several years ago, Nashville had just a couple of bookstores. But both closed down, Borders due to a chain-wide closure and Davis-Kidd due to declining profits after being acquired by Joseph-Beth Booksellers. In that void, Patchett was introduced to Karen Hayes, a publishing veteran, and the duo created the audacious plan to open Parnassus.
Parnassus sits in an unassuming strip mall, neighbored by a paint store and a maternity clothing shop. The store is small, but the atmosphere is so warm and welcoming. Staff members won’t hesitate to give you a book recommendation and strike up a conversation. We all loved exploring the space, looking for Christmas gifts and checking out the YA section. What surprised me the most was that there were signed copies EVERYWHERE. I had to tear myself away from titles signed by Rainbow Rowell, Gayle Forman, and Deborah Harkness. Instead, I picked up a copy of Bel Canto. It was already signed, but I was pleasantly surprised when I went up to the register to check out and the bookseller asked me if I would like to meet Ann. Turns out, she was working at the store that day. The first thing she said to me was, “I saw you holding my book a few minutes ago, but I didn’t want to be too forward and just come up and ask if you wanted it personalized.” We talked books and Nashville for a few minutes before she got back to work and the roomies and I headed to Chattanooga. It was the dream of a lifetime to meet and chat with her – those few moments embodied old-fashioned customer service and the spirit of the independent bookstore.
I didn’t just love Parnassus because of Patchett, though. I love it because of the way it embodies the bookish community. With plenty of author events, signings, story-time events, book clubs, and more, there’s something for everyone. In fact, there was a Maggie Stiefvater event just a day before we arrived in Tennessee that I’m still a little bit upset about missing. Parnassus also offers up two monthly book subscription options, one for adult readers and one for YA. Each month, the reader receives a signed, first-edition copy of that month’s title. No fancy add-ins or upcharges. The price of the book plus shipping is all it takes. Isn’t that amazing? In today’s world of Amazon and big-box retail stores, I am amazed that stores like Parnassus are not only surviving, but are in fact thriving, as customers seek out a customer-centered, relational experience. Parnassus Books is where it’s at.
After I tore myself away from Parnassus, we headed over to Chattanooga to connect with my roommate’s grandparents. They had very thoughtfully provided an itinerary with a list of great suggestions of things to do and see. One item on that list excited me way more than anything else. That item was McKay’s Books.
McKay’s Books is just about the polar opposite of Parnassus. Parnassus is small, infused with warmth and community. A little bit upscale and very focused on all the things that make it a great independent bookstore. McKay’s is more like a warehouse. Each of its 3 locations (Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville) are equally cavernous. You walk in and there are just aisles and aisles of tall bookshelves, as far as the eye can see. Each store also has a small second floor dedicated solely to music, with a wide selection of records, cassettes, and CDs.
The thing I love about McKay’s Books is that it is sort of like Half-Price Books, but way more amazing. You can find a little bit of everything here. Whether you are looking for electronics, music, books, video games, board games, or movies, it’s all here. And the hallmark of McKay’s is that everything is so cheap! I was able to find the complete Mass Effect trilogy plus Assassin’s Creed II for a total of about $20! Christmas gift for my brother – check!
To be honest, I spent most of my time in the video game and media section. I’m learning about myself that when it comes right down to it, I don’t usually spend much money on books. I’m an avid library user, I have all the books I could ever read and more! But I do love buying games, and to find so many for such low prices…well, let’s just say I had to restrain myself.
But book lovers shouldn’t worry. That’s the main focus of McKay’s. One roommate snagged a copy of The Cuckoo’s Calling for a mere $4, while the other picked up a children’s book she had been looking for for $1. I found a couple of great novels to use as stocking stuffers as well. Regrettably, we had a bit of a time constraint, so we didn’t make it all the way through the store. But with an ever-changing selection of stock, it just cries out for repeat visits. Plus, if you have used books, media, or electronics, you can trade them in for store credit, which is a win for everyone! I do believe that McKay’s is one of my favorite bookstores on the planet!
Tell me, book-lovers! If the roommates and I head down to Tennessee again, any bookish treasures we should check out?