My Parnassus Books haul (or how I decide what to buy and what to borrow).

My Parnassus Books haul (or how I decide what to buy and what to borrow).

As you may have seen on Instagram, my family and I finally made it to Parnassus Books, a thriving independent bookstore in Nashville. (For the full story on the bookstore, read Ann Patchett’s fabulous piece in The Atlantic. Worth your time.)

Most years when we’re heading home we barrel through Nashville on I-65, not even stopping for gas. But this year we were determined to enjoy the journey instead of endure it, so we planned a leisurely stop for lunch and plenty of bookstore browsing.

It was well worth it. It’s a great little bookstore—and at 2500 square feet, it is little—but it was packed with good books and people who love them. (When we stopped by, it was also full of Bee Gees fans and disco balls, because drummer Dennis Bryon was giving a reading and signing his book You Should Be Dancing.)

We browsed, we got recommendations, we snacked on the cheese and crackers from the book signing. When we left an hour later, we walked out with a stack of six books (plus one glitter diary). I mentioned this on Instagram, and was hit with questions: Why buy those particular books there? How do you decide what to buy and what to borrow?

It’s a good question. I read a ton, but I buy only a small percentage of the books I read. My default setting is to borrow: I only want to own books I love (think Marie Kondo); I hate clutter—and books can easily become clutter.

(After attending a session at BEA about the power of libraries, I’m even more convinced that I’m doing books and their particular authors a service by lending or giving the books I don’t want to keep forever to other readers. Authors want to be read. And if I loan a book to a friend who didn’t have to buy it, she could spread the words to ten more friends who might.)

“Buy or borrow?” is a question I get all the time. One version of my answer is here: I buy books I’ll return to again and again, books I want to mark up, books I want reliable, easy access to, and books that will help my kids become lifelong readers.

As for “why these 6 books?”—I’ll break it down for you:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling. All four kids are currently obsessed with Harry Potter (they were previously reading borrowed versions from Oyster), all four will read this, and one child wanted to read it immediately, on the last leg of our car trip. When it comes to bookstore purchases, timing matters.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Same as above. (It was a blessedly quiet car ride.)

Mo’Ne Davis: Remember My Name, by Mo’Ne Davis. Davis was the first female to pitch in the Little League World Series, which Jack follows closely. This was his pick. (He read half of it in the car on the way home. Again, timing.)

Rain Reign, by Ann M. Martin. This was Sarah’s pick (with a nudge from me and the resident children’s expert). She also read it in the car.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande. I would have preferred to borrow this one first, but I requested it from my library six months ago and I’m still number 100-something on the waiting list. It helps that everyone I talk to about this book tells me it’s fabulous.

We All Looked Up, Tommy Wallach. I’d never heard of this YA novel (“technically YA, but it’s for everyone” according to one employee) before I plucked it off the staff-recommended shelves, but as I carried it around the store, 3 different employees told me it was a good pick. My copy is autographed, which is fun.

I don’t usually buy six books at a time unless it’s Christmas. We bought these because the timing was right: we happened to be on a road trip, but “good timing” can also look like a new release I’m itching to read, a birthday, or a case of finding the right book at the right time. At my local indie, I’ve learned that they tend to put out hot new releases the weekend before (unless they’re contractually obligated not to) and when I’m impatiently waiting for a new title, five days early is good timing indeed.

We bought books the kids were excited about reading right then, because we want them to love reading.

I often buy—instead of borrow—to support author and blogger friends, but that wasn’t the case with any of these.

We also bought these to support Parnassus in particular and indies everywhere: I’m grateful for the beautiful store with its wood floors, tall ceilings, and clean bathrooms. (Again, road trip.) I’m appreciative of the welcoming, brightly lit children’s section that gives my kids warm fuzzy feelings about reading.

I love the opportunity to get reading recommendations from helpful employees who sell books like it’s their job, because it is.

Good spaces and good people aren’t cheap, and so we buy independent—not always, but often—when we’re at home and when we’re on the road, because we value what they do and our purchases help them do it.

Yesterday on facebook I asked what the last book you bought was, and it was so much fun to scroll through your responses.

In comments, would you tell us what the last book you bought was, and also WHY, because it’s so interesting to hear the bookish details. I’d also love to hear how YOU decide what to buy and what to borrow. 

How I decide what to buy and what to borrow. Great tips for bookworms.

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130 comments

  1. Marcy says:

    Mostly it’s based on how confident I am that I’ll like or love it. Often I buy books by authors I’ve loved in the past, or books I’ve read before and want to reread.

    But my last purchase was none of those. It was Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. I was at Powell’s Books in Portland and wanted to give myself a treat. (They’re doing so well, they hardly need my support, I think.) But I also really enjoy reading books on my Kindle, and some of the tempting books I saw make more sense to me to read that way. Then I saw Nimona, a graphic novel I’ve heard recommended several times. I don’t want to read a graphic novel on my Kindle. Perfect! I sat down to wait for my sis-in-law to finish browsing (also because I’m 32 weeks pregnant and was tired), started reading, and laughed several times right away. Warm, fuzzy feelings. Perfect! I bought it, sat down, read some more. 🙂

  2. Kristina M. says:

    There are two books that I’ve really wanted to buy lately. The first is Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. I borrowed it from the library and LOVED it, I think about it all the time and wished that I could reference it. The second is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I use to the first (American) edition of every Harry Potter. Then I moved 1,000 miles away and somehow managed to lose only that book, which by the way is my favorite in the series. Figures. Anyways, I’m holding out on HP GoF until I find a first edition at the Goodwill or a used book store. Wish me luck.

  3. Mary Alice says:

    The last book I bought was the Marie Kondo book because I was 700+ on the waiting list. Very glad I bought it. I have one wall in my sons old room covered in book shelves and one stand alone shelf for children’s books. If they are full no new book comes in unless one goes out.
    One grandson, who is a bibliophile too, gets a gift card to the bookstore for his birthday and then we go together. It takes us about an hour or so to discuss the pros and cons of his choices. Then we make our purchases and get hamburgers and milkshakes while we read and discuss what we bought. I hope he never out grows this.

  4. Marilyn Bronson says:

    My most recent purchase was a pre-order of the new Louise Penny book “The Nature of the Beast.” Our local indie, McIntyre’s Books near Chapel Hill, is hosting her world release of this latest Inspector Gamache mystery later this month. McIntyre’s is a wonderful bookstore with awesome employees and a warm, homelike atmosphere. Thanks for all your inspiration and reading lists from which I have gleaned some gems.

  5. Laurel says:

    I purchase books for exactly the same reasons you stated, including indulging in some rather impulse purchases when on vacation just so I can enjoy something right away while I am relaxing. If I purchase novels that I enjoy but won’t read again, I try to pass them on to others who I think will enjoy them too.

    The last book I purchased was The Highly Intuitive Child which you recommended. I attempted to get it at my local library but they didn’t have a copy, and I’m likely to re-read as this is something I will be engaged with for a while.

  6. Jen D says:

    I just bought Jen Hatmaker’s newest book, “For the Love”. I bought it mostly because I love her and this is the 3rd of her books that I own/read.

  7. Heather says:

    When I was single I had a huge number of books and was always willing to buy more. I moved a lot in those days and was teased endlessly at the number of boxes of books I drug from place to place! Now that I am married with two wee children space is at a premium, and, even before reading Marie Kondo I knew something had to change. There simply was not room for another bookshelf! Now I am much more strategic in my purchase/ borrow choices. I only keep books that I know I want to read over and over, and only buy books that have a similar staying power. The only exception is my library’s annual used book sale! (I am a sucker for cheap books 😀- and it almost feels like borrowing as I will probably donate them back when I am done!). Whether I am purchasing or borrowing I am also picky about which books I read digitally vs hard copy vs audio. They are such different experiences and some books demand to be held and savored!

  8. LadyWoman says:

    My family often stopped at bookstores on vacation. Partly because they were fun, partly because we were voracious readers. I still remember specific books: Mr. Popper’s Penguins bought on a trip to Monterey, Nancy Drew The Search for the Silver Persian in New Mexico.

    The last book I bought was Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans because I adore her. For the past few years to save money/space I only buy books I’ve read before and will read again unless (1) it’s by one of a small handful of favorite authors, or (2) it’s next in a series I’m thoroughly enjoying. Once in a great while I’ll buy a book I’m unfamiliar with, and funnily enough this is often on vacation! A few years ago during a trip to New Orleans I bought Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and now I own/love the whole trilogy.

  9. donna says:

    Absolutely loved this post, Anne! Earlier this year, I found myself buying books that I would end up selling to the used bookstore as soon as I finished reading them. So I finally got a library card.
    Since then, I only buy books I am sure I will keep returning to.
    Books I’ve bought recently:
    Louise Penny’s Inspector Armand Gamache series box set. I ran out and bought it after burning through ‘Still Life’.
    Also just bought ‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir because the library wait list is a mile long. I’ll be reading this one in the fall.

    I plan on buying the new one from Todd Henry ‘Louder
    Than Words’ and reading it in the fall as well.

    Happy reading!

  10. Kari Ann says:

    I am in Nashville in a couple weeks for work and am planning a visit to Parnassus Books. I am really looking forward to it!

  11. Sarah A says:

    I clicked through to this post from today’s Kindle deals where you mention “We All Looked Up” as a book you had bought at Parnassus. I haven’t read that book, but I AM reading The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley (also a Kindle deal), sequel to Parnassus on Wheels. I love that there’s a book store named after those classic stories! I am on the west coast, but if I ever make it to Nashville, Parnassus will be on my list of places to stop! (Incidentally, the only time I ever stayed overnight in Nashville, I spent the evening reading at a Barnes and Noble. Wish I’d known about Parnassus back then!)

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