Celadon White logo

The Hand Sell: Karen Hayes, Parnassus Books

The co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville shares her favorite genres, bookstores, and authors.By Heather Graham

Karen Hayes - Parnassus BooksWhat makes a great bookstore?

To be a successful bookstore, you need to know your immediate community and tailor your store to those customers. To be a great bookstore, you go beyond that and reach out to your entire city and sometimes beyond that. Great bookstores find ways to bring internationally known authors to the city. They encourage children to read by making the store inviting to them, employing booksellers that can find books that fire that love of reading and by taking authors to schools. They become a partner or support other institutions in the city that help build a literary community citywide.

What book has made the greatest impact on you?

The book that sparked my love of reading as a kid was Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Great writing, storytelling, and social commentary all rolled into one book.

What book do you recommend most and why?

Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley. This delightful book has been in print since 1917. I related to it because, before I started Parnassus Books with Ann Patchett, I was a sales rep for Random House. Like the female protagonist in the book, I was on the road selling books, albeit not in a horse-drawn cart. I thought Parnassus would be a great name for our store. I did some research on the name and realized that it came from the mountain in Greece that was considered the home of the Muses. The home of literature, art, and music. A perfect name for a bookstore in a city also known as Music City and the Athens of the South.

What’s the last great book you read?

Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl. You may know Margaret from her fabulous New York Times op-eds. In July, everyone will get to know her for this collection of beautifully written personal essays. Renkl lives in Nashville, but the buzz on this book is national. If you have lived through the loss of a loved one, or are moved by the natural world in unexpected ways, I dare you to pick up this book. You will not put it down.

What’s your favorite genre?

Literary fiction has been my preferred reading in the past, but I find myself lately leaning to historical fiction. It is nice to escape to another place and time, even if the story is a serious one.

What’s the most unique or memorable thing that’s happened at the bookstore?

The night Doris Kearns Goodwin returned to the store after a large offsite event to sign stock. She had us in stitches when she showed us a passage from Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy “memoir” that talked about the hot affair Ron had with DKG. We will love her forever for having the energy after an exhausting event to entertain us.

What are the big book trends at your store right now?

Romance is growing because there are more geared toward Millennials. Trade paperbacks with fresher covers. True Crime is doing well. And Self-help/Religion books on topics like Enneagrams, or by author Brené Brown are trending.

Who are some of the local authors you’ve gotten to know or would recommend?

There are so many of them. Nashville’s literary scene just continues to grow. I will just name the ones that have actually worked at, or are working at Parnassus. Mary Laura Philpott, River Jordan, Ashley Herring Blake, Courtney Stevens, and Ann Patchett, of course.

What’s the biggest surprise about working at a bookstore?

How much it has changed my life. I’m an introvert and the store has introduced me to so many interesting people in the Nashville community. The other wonderful aspect is how much the people who work at the store have become like family to me. All the way around my life is so much richer.

What’s your all-time favorite bookstore?

I’m not going to be able to answer that—there are way too many bookstores I love and admire.

Visit Parnassus Books at 3900 Hillsboro Pike, Suite 14, Nashville, Tennessee; online at parnassusbooks.net.

Share with your friends


Related Articles

When planning your next adventure, build your itinerary around visiting one of these dazzling bookstores from all over the world.
Nate Perkins, manager of Trident Booksellers, talks book recommendations, memorable store moments, and the literary scene in Boulder, Colorado.
Jane Estes, founder of Lark & Owl, talks about the importance of being inclusive, the power of teamwork, and shares some favorite books.

Connect with


Sign up for our newsletter to see book giveaways, news, and more!