Recently, I was France, where I spoke at the American Library in Paris. The auditorium was filled with over 120 Parisians, and American and British ex-pats who wanted to listen to an American fiction writer discuss how to write about Paris. In April, I will head to another city, rich in cultural history, that of music.
I’ve visited Nashville a few times before. I love Southerners, great food, music and a town with a strong presence – and an independent bookstore. Nashville has it all.
In Paris, there are more independent, English language bookstores than in most American cities. The French love books, the ones printed on paper. The French people and their government support bookstores through various tax incentives and price regulations that deter predatory pricing.
France has over 3000 independent bookstores. In Paris alone, there are 370 legitimate independent bookstores (not counting the many kiosks, stationary stores and newsstands).
Going from Paris and soon to Nashville, I thought a lot about the differences between France and America, at least as they pertain to books and bookshops. I think we all would love to have the things we want for free – or at least at the very lowest price possible. But I sense the French understand that you often have to pay for what brings you value. To them, the ability to shave a few dollars off the price of a book is not worth the loss of the bookstores they frequent, the booksellers they consult, and the authors who must live off of a small portion of the price of a book.
I don’t go to book signings to sell books. Unless you’re James Patterson or Ann Patchett, most authors can’t sell enough books at a store signing to justify their travel expenses. I go to meet readers and the booksellers – and to support the independent bookshops who bring value to their customers. I hope to add to what they can offer their customers by being there.
Nashville and Parnassus Books represent our last stand, the turning point, I believe, where America will push back the predatory invaders – eCommerce, and the big boxes who specialize in groceries and electronics – not books.
There is a terrific bookshop in Kent, Connecticut, The House of Books. It’s right on the main street and is owned by a great young lady, Robin Dill-Meade. I’ve had three signings there. At the last one, I mentioned that I’d be doing an event in Nashville – at Parnassus. She asked me to send her pictures. She said, “Wow. That’s the ultimate bookshop.” I think all independent booksellers look at Parnassus for what it is, the leader in the fight to prove wrong all those who say Americans don’t read. When I saw Robin’s excitement I knew I had done the right thing by committing to go to Nashville.