ED NOTE: The Love Letters Project is an anthology of reflections on American places by the local people that define them. Letters by the famous, infamous and eccentrically obscure will appear weekly on HuffPost Travel. Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ann Patchett is the author of eight books, including Run, The Patron Saint of Liars, State of Wonder, Taft, The Magician's Assistant and Bel Canto. She is also the author of two works of nonfiction, Truth & Beauty and What Now? She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she runs Parnassus Books.
I just read a piece in the New York Times Magazine about Jack White and Third Man Records, which is his record store-cum-performance space-cum-recording booth-cum-office. Instead of thinking, "Only Jack White," I found myself thinking: "Only Nashville." The rest of the world may be through with vinyl, but we are not the rest of the world.
We go our own way. We live in a city that thrives on independence.
Just try and get a table at Fido's (which, when I was growing up here, was our local independent pet shop). The enormous coffee bar is packed full of people who don't believe in getting their Joe from a chain. Down the street, the line snakes out the door of The Pancake Pantry and down the block. This is not because the pancakes are all that good -- I can say that, having eaten there for 40 years -- but because it's The Pancake Pantry for heaven's sake. It's where independent people go to eat pancakes.
When I opened Parnassus Books with my business partner, Karen Hayes, last November, I wanted to call the store Independent People, after the great Halldor Laxness novel of the same name. I thought it spoke to our situation here in Nashville. But, seeing as how we have a full-scale replica of the Parthenon in the middle of town and are known, at least locally, as the Athens of the South, Karen successfully prevailed upon me to give a nod to Mount Parnassus. Our compromise was the tag line: An Independent Bookstore for Independent People.
When people ask me, and they often do, why I thought it was a good idea to open a bookstore at a the time when other cities were shuttering theirs, the answer is simple: This is Nashville. Nashvillians line up outside our doors almost every morning because they want another book.
Someone who was not local, someone just driving by, might think we were selling pancakes.
Not only do the people here support their locally owned and operated bookstore, they buy copies of that seminal novel of Iceland, Independent People, which I hawk every chance I get. Copies of the latest Murakami novel, 1Q84, fly off the shelves. We're selling the Paris Review and the New York Review of Books. This is not to say we don't also enjoy tucking into The Hunger Games.
But to anyone who still suspects that country music has rendered us lowbrow, I would like to say we have put on our shoes and shaken the hayseed from our hair. You will find us presentable even as we embrace our country roots.
This is a city built on twang. The magic of the place is in the people and it seems a disproportionate number of Nashvillians can sing beautifully and play musical instruments. To prove this point we put a piano in our bookstore. People come in, sit down and play. Sometimes they sing. Sometimes people in the store start to sing. That's when I'm certain that Nashville is like no place else in the world. Other people seem to think so too: At least once a week, a slightly road-weary reader arrives, sometimes alone, sometimes with a family in tow. They tell us they were on vacation or driving across country or on their way to see a relative, and that we were only a scant 300 miles out of their way.
"We heard there was a new independent bookstore," they say. "We had to see it for ourselves."
Toward the end of the profile in the New York Times Magazine, Jack White said he wanted to open a fine mens' hat shop in Nashville.
"I would sleep better at night," he said, "knowing this town had a store like that."
There is, of course, no doubt that Jack White could pull this off, but I already know the punch line of this particular joke: The hat shop will be profitable. High end hats are exactly the kind of thing we've been waiting for around here.
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