Parnassus, Nashville’s new independent bookstore, officially opened yesterday to much fanfare. It’s not surprising, given the incredible amount of advance publicity locally and nationally: a front page story in The New York Times and Publisher’s Weekly; in the November issue of Garden & Gun; in Chapter16.org; the Christian Science Monitor and NPR. This is due, partially, to the formidable star power of owner/novelist, Ann Patchett, who thumbed her nose at the Neil Van Uum’s of the world who would claim that the end of the independent bookstore is nigh by stepping up to fill the void after Davis Kidd’s closing last year. The civic shock and mourning that followed the loss of that store coupled with nearly a year without a place in the Athens of the South to buy a book is also part of the overwhelming goodwill accompanying Parnassus’s arrival. But I think there’s something else afoot, something related to the Occupy Wall Street and locavore movements. Not directly, of course, but part of the zeitgeist as we wade through the Great Recession and slowly arrive, it seems to me, at a realization that we, the 99%, can have the world we want if we invest in it. I’ll call this The Great Reclamation.
Reclamation, by definition, is the taking back of a wasteland for cultivation and all around us, it seems, the earth is scorched. Our country’s finances are a wasteland and so is our government. The Super Committee can’t seem to do its job, can’t arrive at a compromise, although you and I do it every day at home or at work. This committee exists because Congress couldn’t do its job. The punters punt to punters, Democrats to Republicans and back, for over three decades, with a nifty assist from our friends on Wall St. And so here we are.
The earth’s on its way to being a wasteland. Consider, for instance, Antarctica and what it tells us about the state of the planet and how climate change shadows the rise in carbon emissions since the Industrial Revolution or that last year was, once again, the hottest year on record. (But let’s say you don’t buy any of this scientific mumbo-jumbo, this highfalutin hokum dreamed up by tree huggers and liberals, by commie/progressive tax-and-spenders, even though you’ll take it as law when you, say, fly a plane or drive your car or take your Plavix or have triple-bypass surgery. My counter-argument is something like French philosopher Blaise Pascal’s gambit. Remember that from Intro Philosophy? Better, he argued, to convert to Christianity, even if you don’t believe, rather than risk spending eternity in hell. Better to live sustainably, I say, to put your muscle behind a Green World, than wait for definitive proof of manmade causes of climate change, since the possible alternative is no world at all.)
In The Great Reclamation, you vote with your vote and your pocketbook. Apply its logic to anything. Here’s an example: If you need a book, you call Parnassus and order it by phone and pick it up the next time you’re in Green Hills because you believe it’s important that nationally recognized authors have a place to share their work in Nashville. Because when you book shop, you’d rather talk to an informed human being who lives and breathes literature or mystery or nonfiction than be offered recommendations based on statistical analyses of your buying habits. Because, really, who the fuck needs a book RIGHT NOW any more than you need your whole library with you everywhere you go. Because you chose the red pill instead of the blue pill. Because on a plane you can keep reading a tree book during takeoff and landing and on the beach can drop it in the sand without major damage. Because you like page numbers and not percents. Because contrary to what some might say, the environmental impact of e-readers is more deleterious than tree books. Because when you read the notes in the margins of your book, the scribblings you penned a decade or two ago, you get a sense of the ways you’ve changed and grown and remain the same. Because serendipity is part of life’s magic and is more likely to occur when you go somewhere without a clue as to what you’re looking for and it finds you and feels as if it were fated. Because time, in this overscheduled hyper-active world, is to be wasted and to do so is a reclamation thereof and a rebellion against thoughtless, tyrannical efficiency.
In Ladies and Gentlemen news, I appeared on the Bookrageous podcast Episode 29. Our topic: short stories. The conversation was a hell of a lot of fun and features this month’s Garden & Gun pinup girl, Richmond, VA’s Rebecca Schinsky, also known as The Book Lady. Meanwhile, watch for my posts on the ATP finals. As I write this, Tsonga and Fed are warming up for their match. E-readers I can take or leave but not my DVR.