Friday, August 24, 2012

Celebrating Books in Nashville: WaterCooler, Parnassus & the Southern Festival of Books

For the past three years, WaterCooler has been hosting events that highlight the hidden gems in Nashville, some old and some new.  Over the past year, we have tried be more programmatic in our events, tying them to cultural happenings in the city.  For us, these are some of the reasons Nashville is a great place to call home.
The most recent example of this was the WaterCooler hosted at Parnassus Books, on August 19. We heard from Serenity Gerbman of Humanities Tennessee, which hosts the Southern Festival of Books, among other programs; Karen Hayes, Co-Owner of Parnassus; and the award-winning novelist, Ann Patchett, who happens to co-own Parnassus Books with Karen. 
These speakers gave us insight into all the opportunities to be a reader in Greater Nashville.  Parnassus has a program called the First Editions Club, which is like a coffee-of-the-month club, but which delivers signed first editions of books, hand selected by the folks at Parnassus, 10-12 times a year.  They’ve also got something called the Founders Rewards Program that, in exchange for showing your support in an independent bookstore, provides fringe benefits ranging from invitations to high-profile artist receptions to personal use of the store after hours – pretty cool place for a date, if you ask me.
Serenity Gerbman, who is Director of Literature and Language Programs at Humanities Tennessee, helps oversee programs including the Southern Festival of Books: A Celebration of the Written Word.  It’s scheduled for October 12-14 at Legislative Plaza.  This is actually the 24th anniversary of the Southern Festival of Books.  It’s completely free and there are no advanced registrations.  Just like WaterCooler, if something interests you, show up and it’s first come first serve.  Serenity said that they are still looking for volunteers to host the rooms in which the various authors will be speaking and presenting.  So, in true WaterCooler fashion, we’re always looking for ways invite people to plug into our community, and this is an easy opportunity. 
For me, the most fascinating part of this WaterCooler was hearing the amazing line up of literary talent coming to Nashville in the next few months, including Caroline Kennedy, Molly Ringwald, Patricia Cornwell, Barbara Kingsolver, and Jon Meacham.  All of these authors are part of Humanities Tennessee's Salon@615 program,
Another great option is to attend the Authors in the Round, the fundraising dinner that kicks off the Southern Festival of Books, where diners are paired with well-known authors.  If you love schmoozing with writers, and hate dancing and silent auctions, this fundraiser is for you.  This year, it will be held on October 12 at the historic War Memorial Auditorium.  If you’d like an invitation or for more information, visit their website.
In wrapping up at WaterCooler, Ann Patchett said something that everyone in the audience appreciated.  She said that Parnassus's staff is what sets them apart from online book vendors.  She compared Parnassus to an old fashioned hardware store where you bring in your broken parts and the employees tell you exactly what you need.  Same thing with Parnassus: walk on in, tell them what you’ve been reading, and they can recommend your next favorite book.  But, if you come into Parnassus, take advantage of the recommendations from the staff, and then go home to buy it on for $5.00 cheaper, Ann says you’re “just flat not welcome.”  Everyone in the room loved the straight shooting.  For a group like WaterCooler, which promotes locally-owned businesses, we couldn’t agree with you more, Ann.
Follow the Southern Festival of Books on Twitter at @SoFestofBooks.
Follow Parnassus Books on Twitter at @ParnassusBooks1.
Follow WaterCooler on Twitter at @WaterCoolerNash.

Follow me on Twitter at @StephenZralek.