All bookstores are a bit magical, but there’s something special about Parnassus Books. Maybe it’s the owners – Karen Hayes and writer Ann Patchett, known for award-winning adult fiction like The Patron Saint of Liars and The Magician’s Assistant. Maybe it’s the atmosphere, cozy and warm. Maybe it’s the shop dogs.
Or maybe it’s their dedication to young adult fiction.
Located in Nashville, Parnassus sells hundreds of young adult novels. They’ve played host to dozens of incredible YA authors over the years. They offer the Young Adult First Editions Club where Stephanie Appell, the Manager of Books for Young Readers, handpicks a book she loves for subscribers each month.
“I love that Parnassus is a place of connection,” said Appell. “We get a lot of people who visit us from all over the place, and many of them are initially kind of surprised that we’re located in a pretty nondescript strip-mall-ish kind of shopping center. It’s safe and clean, sure, but on the outside, it’s not some beautiful architectural monument to the independent bookstore. But Parnassus to me is a little bit like the TARDIS. So what I really love when people come in the door for the first time and they go, ‘Oooohhh.’ Because it is somehow bigger on the inside, and for me it’s just imbued with the memories of all these moments of connection, the times when Ann’s been spotted by delighted fans, the echoes of hundreds of rounds of ‘The More We Get Together’ from storytime, the rapt hushes of author readings, the cheers at book launches, the two in-store weddings – one for humans, one for dogs. Those moments of connection are the reason we all show up for work every day, and so that our little 3,500 square feet somehow holds all of, that plus several thousand books, is pretty magical.”
Appell stumbled into her career as a bookseller. Hired for her background in graphic and web design, Appell joined the team to help manage events and marketing, but when they realized her passion for children’s literature, her role evolved. “I think some of the best writing in publishing today, period, is being written for young readers. Anyone who’s not reading it is missing out.”
But Appell isn’t one of those people. She went from helping with the website to taking over for Mary Grey James, the previous Manager of Books for Young Readers. James founded the YA Signed First Editions Club in February 2013. The club was one of the first things Appell noticed when she joined Parnassus, and choosing the books now is one of her favorite parts of her job.
Introducing the latest member of the Parnassus Books family: Mary Todd Lincoln Coffman. She’s getting settled in, learning the ropes, and meeting the other shop dogs. Look for an update with tons of photos in #shopdogdiaries on MUSING in a couple of weeks! #bookstore #shopdog #dogsofinstagram #welikefirstladies #whatcanwesay A photo posted by Parnassus Books (@parnassusbooks) on
“I would have loved being a member of something like that when I was a teenager, so the best part of it for me is hearing from club members not just that they like the books, but when they tell us, “I never would have picked up that book if you hadn’t sent it to me.” There’s definitely some high-fives happening in the office when we hear things like that.”
Appell just announced the September selection for the YA Signed First Editions Club: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, a contemporary about a girl allergic to the world and the boy she falls for next door.
“I truly love every single one of our YA Signed First Editions Books. Selecting those books is agonizing sometimes, because picking one book means not picking another, but one of my criteria for the club is, ‘Do I love this book so much that I almost have trouble talking about it?’ The selections for the rest of the year are so amazing. I can’t wait to reveal them. I hope our members are as excited as I am when they find out.”
“My hands down desert island favorite YA author is Tamora Pierce. I’ve been reading her books since I was ten years old, and now I think there’s a whole generation of young women like me who grew up on her books, who are out there kicking butt and taking names because as girls we had stories like Alanna’s and Daine’s and Kel’s. I think Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta is a masterpiece. The first time I read The Book Thief, I closed the last page and sobbed for ten minutes – no exaggeration, I actually looked at a clock. Erin Bow’s Plain Kate, Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest, and Victoria Schwab’s The Near Witch are three of my favorite standalone fantasies. Mattie, the protagonist of Jennifer Donnelly’s A Northern Light, is up there with Jo March and Anne Shirley and Cassandra Mortmain in my canon of bookish literary heroines. I laughed out loud so much and so hard while reading Andrew Smith’s 100 Sideways Miles that my boyfriend threw a pillow at me.”
For Appell, the best part of her job is clear: reading and recommending the books she loves.
“I want them to know that Parnassus is a place where they can come and discover books recommended by living, breathing people, not algorithms, people who get excited when you buy a book they love and even more excited if you come back and tell them you loved it too. I want them to know that this job is literally the dream job that I didn’t even think existed until I stumbled into it, and now that I’m doing it, I am trying as hard as I can to be as awesome at it as possible. Every time I see parents and little kids reading together in the picture book room or a group of teens come in and start exclaiming over the signed YA books on the YA display table, I cannot stop myself from grinning. I pinch myself all the time.”