In April of 2011 I met Karen Hayes for the first time, and over the course of a lunch we decided we should be business partners and open a bookstore together. It would be something of an understatement to say I hadn't given the matter much thought. Nashville's other bookstores had closed, and I didn't want to live in a city without an independent bookstore. The fact that I hadn't worked in a bookstore in almost 25 years, and I didn't know Karen, and I didn't want to be in retail, were the minor details I swept away. Our city needed a bookstore, and so the solution was simple — open a bookstore. By November of that year, we had done exactly that.
When someone starts a story by admitting they acted on impulse, you can pretty much be sure that the story is going to end badly (e.g., I saw him sitting at the end of the bar and knew we'd be married by Thursday). But the story of Parnassus Books doesn't go the way of bitter disappointment. In fact, everything about the place is wonderful (except the flooring, which occasionally swells and buckles into waves). I believed I was doing something civic-minded by opening a bookstore. I never stopped to think about all the ways it would improve my life. I didn't consider all the authors, many of them my friends, who would come to town to read. I never anticipated that I would grow to love the people who worked there. I didn't remember what fun it was to encounter great books just because I was walking by them, picking them up, reading their flap copy. I had even failed to consider the very best part of owning a bookstore — that is, that I would get to make people read the books that I love.
A huge part of the joy I take in reading a great book is figuring out who I'm going to give that book to when I finish it. I'm a matchmaker at heart, but a matchmaker who would oftentimes rather curl up with a book than another human. When I see someone in Parnassus contemplating a book I love, or standing within 10 feet of a book I love, I tell them, "That's the book you want!" And they believe me. It turns out I'm a real authority figure where books are concerned (the word author is, after all, the root of authority). My desire isn't to make a sale; my desire is to make people read great books.
So when Powell's asked me to write a five-day blog to coincide with the publication of my new book, I thought, Another opportunity to tell people what to read! Call me bossy, call me passionate, I don't care. I read a lot of books and I want you to read the ones I like. The five books I've chosen are all being published this fall and are arranged by the date of their publication.
First up is Geoffrey Wolff's A Day at the Beach. I'm putting it first on my list because even though it's coming out in November, it was technically published a long time ago. It's my favorite book of essays and it's been out of print for a few years. This was a real problem for me because it's a book I'm always giving to people and I was tired of trying to hunt up old copies. So I asked the people at Vintage to put it back in print. I wrote an introduction for the reissue, and I plan to sell the hell out of it every night when I'm on book tour. This is a book that makes other books (and other authors) appear to be suffering from a bad case of anemia. While other collections of essays offer book reviews and meditations on life in Brooklyn, Geoffrey offers spies, hashish, motorcycle crashes, mountain climbing, adventures on the high seas, and having his chest cracked open. His writing and his thinking are as fiery as his experiences. It's a book that makes me want to live more fully and write more beautifully. I suggest buying copies for everyone you know. And if you haven't read The Duke of Deception, Geoffrey's extraordinary memoir about his life with his father, you're going to want to read that next.
So what kind of an idiot would go on book tour for her new essay collection and try to sell a different essay collection that is better than the one she's written? The kind of idiot who loves books and wants to make sure you get your hands on the best one possible. (Don't get me wrong; I like my own book of essays. I just like it second best.)
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