A Reader's Guide to Nashville Bookstores

If you're anything like me, being in a bookstore is like being a kid on Christmas morning. The very presence of books thrills, calms and enchants me, and I will read Charles Dickens and John Steinbeck and J.R.R. Tolkien to my future children every night even if they beg me to just let them go to sleep for once. Finding a bookstore in Nashville is vital for the following reasons: (a) you have to buy your books somewhere, (b) you have to buy books for other people somewhere in the event that a birthday arises and (c) some bookstores in Nashville are near donut shops and bakeries, and everyone needs an excuse to get donuts once in a while. Should you find yourself floundering in unquenched thirst for good text, here are some book nooks around town and the quirks that make them more than just stores.


1. Parnassus Books

3900 Hillsboro Pike #14
Nashville, TN 37215

In 2011, a plague struck chain bookstores across the country. Store after store fizzled and withered, leaving Nashville particularly scarred by a lack of literature. Enter author Ann Patchett and book business veteran Karen Hayes. The two banded together to resurrect the community bookstore, the neighborhood story-teller, the "mom and pop shop" where employees could bring their dogs to work (and they do, by the way - Bear is my favorite). But they weren't just successful in returning books to the city; Parnassus Books is the Nashvillian testament to countrywide local bookstore resilience following the devastation of collapsed book distribution giants like Borders.

Parnassus does not just sell books. It hosts community events, book signings, local artists and entrepreneurs who have something to say. It puts local writing on display and demands attention for up and coming writers right here in Music City. It offers book club lists and memberships to readers looking for a community of character enthusiasts, plot twist junkies and font geeks. It looks like the bookstore of your dreams with a whole section set apart for children, preserving the magic of reading and imagination for the next generation. If you're passionate about literature, this is your haven. If you aren't, you can at least go pet a dog. That's something to be pretty excited about.


2. BookManBookWoman

1713 21st Ave S
Nashville, TN 37212

Yes, it is all one word. Kind of jarring to look at, I know. But stocking over 100,000 new, used and gently loved books, this quirky wormhole of yellow pages and marked down prices has been around since 1995 and began as an overflow of two book enthusiasts' unwieldy collections. Complete with that wonderful and nostalgic "old book smell," readers and shoppers will fall head over heels for this book nook, previously voted Best Used Bookstore by Nashville Scene and Nashville Woman. Happily at home in Hillsboro Village, smushed warmly between Provence Breads & Cafe and Davis Cookware and Cutlery Shoppe & Coffee Club, BookManBookWoman is a perfect date spot, Saturday afternoon outing, errand site and hideaway.

If you need an encyclopedia of Warner Bros. films dating back to the 1920s, find it here sandwiched between the Jimmy Stewart and Anjelica Huston biographies. If you crave a leather-bound copy of Jane Eyre or Of Mice and Men, look no further because the collection of masterfully bound books on these shelves will make you cry. If you need cookbooks, fitness guides, atlases, picture books, mystery novels and psychological thrillers, falling-apart volumes of 19th-century poetry - don't hesitate to look here. BookManBookWoman stocks books in every possible category from Adventure/Exploration to Yoga. Crammed from wall to wall with titles, this store is the perfect place to get completely lost in literature, or to find just the book you need.


3. Barnes & Noble at Vanderbilt

2501 West End Ave
Nashville, TN 37203

One of the few survivors of the epidemic that wiped out several chain bookstores countrywide, Barnes & Noble stands two stories tall in an upscale shopping strip on West End Avenue. Serving a dual function as Vanderbilt University's school store and therefore making it entirely too easy for unassuming bourgeois to masquerade as members of the school's undergraduate population, this particular Barnes & Noble has a massive selection of best-sellers, old favorites and new releases. Their store brand publications of uniquely decorated and bound classics are prominently displayed on every level of the store, and if you can make it in and out without having been tempted by one of them, you may be immune to loving literature.

This store is located a walk away from P.F. Chang's and not much further from Smoothie King. It rose up just as Davis-Kidd and Borders disappeared in 2011 and took over the building Borders formerly inhabited, becoming a retail giant and a study/meeting space for college students immediately. With online order options available, expansive inventory and national appeal, Barnes & Noble is definitely a reliable book provider whether you're searching for critically-acclaimed Malcolm Gladwell publications or obscure, generally under-stocked Wendell Berry fiction. Games, cards, calendars, journals, pen collections and fancy soap are all sold here as well, so you can complete your book-buying and your gift-getting in one fell swoop.


4. McKay's Used Books, CDs, DVDs & More

636 Old Hickory Blvd
Nashville, TN 37209

Heed my words: bring. A. Water. Bottle. Because you might get sucked into a vortex of wildly underpriced books and DVDs, not realizing you've been perusing shelves for two hours, and dehydration happens, friends. Also, wear comfortable shoes. If Nashville bookstores are fish in a pond, McKay's is a whale. This oddly painted brick building just off I-40 W is a massive used media dispenser stocking video games, board games, vinyl, and most of all films, books and CDs. Books are often priced anywhere between 50¢ and $15, with movies generally being just as cheap. You can spend $20 and walk out with four books and a CD, and the selection is pretty much unbeatable.

With every genre from Religion to Graphic Novels to Biographies to Young Readers Fiction available, and pre-Technicolor films two aisles down from four DVD copies of last summer's blockbuster superhero flick, the only thing you won't find at McKay's is a customer walking in and out without purchasing anything. It's an inexpensive bookstore and movie market, a fun treat or family excursion, and a place to take visiting friends. A coffee truck parks faithfully outside, and food trucks of other varieties occasionally dish out their delicacies to shoppers on their way in and out of McKay's. Reassemble your Harry Potter collection in the Children's section or find classic compositions about ethics and political theory, and don't worry over your wallet for once.


5. Rhino Books

4918 Charlotte Ave
Nashville, TN 37209

4006 Granny White Pike
Nashville, TN 37204

A shelter for "rare, used and endangered books," Rhino rescues previously loved literature and gives it a new shot at finding a home. A locally owned store that also stocks vinyl for all you record collectors, Rhino sells paperbacks, hardcovers and even art prints and decor. This Nashville business has two locations, one in glamorous Green Hills and the other in subdued Sylvan Park. Known for its cozy interior and the possibility that you will find a live cat snoozing between the shelves as you sift through books, Rhino's atmosphere caters to the intellectual hunger of the sophisticated Nashville reader, the desperation of the parent determined to instill within their child a passion for reading, and the spontaneity of every compulsive book-buyer.

Rhino Books prides itself on the rare collectibles and unique books accounted for in its inventory, as well as the customer service available for anyone hoping to find a certain title or item. The historic storefront in Sylvan Park signifies a place of community and creativity, where music receives just as much love and attention as literature. In the early days of the store's operation, friends of the owner would arrive at any given time and jam on their instruments as customers meandered in and out. Known as a neighborhood hangout and familiar safe place for creative folks, Rhino Books is a unique shop with love for all the arts. And while you're sorting through books, keep an eye out for rhino decorations. Bet you can't count them all.


6. Howlin' Books

1702 8th Ave S
Nashville, TN 37203

Deceptively disguised as a mere add-on to local music merchant Grimey's New & Preloved Music, Howlin' Books is actually its own entity, decidedly settled next to Grimey's in tangible media-loving solidarity. Connected with the 8th Ave Frothy Monkey storefront, this book shop is a dream for folks whose idea of fun is a tasty caffeinated beverage and an afternoon perusing a distinct selection of books two steps away from a record store. With a diverse range of genres and an exceedingly vast number of titles about music, Howlin' Books is known for its unique selection, warm interior and resonating support for local creativity. Getting lost amidst rows of yet unread publications is easy and delightful, and if you're shopping till you drop, Grimey's is just next door.

Owned and run by an Academy-award nominated songwriter and a small business accounting extraordinaire married to a musician, the spirit of Music City is both subtle and thriving at Howlin' Books. Howlin' Books' shelves ooze passion for preserving music history and celebrating the impact of art on culture, solidifying its relationship to Nashville's artistic community and quirky consumer base. Local bands and touring musicians often play live sets in the store or its album-selling counterpart, and book signings are regularly scheduled. Children's books are abundant and Frothy Monkey's menu is delicious and fresh. Howlin' Books is a breath away from 12 South and two breaths from Downtown, so your adventures don't have to end there.


7. East Side Story

1108 Woodland St
Nashville, TN 37206

Devotion to supporting local arts meets Nashville's unrestrained uniqueness here. East Side Story is not your typical bookstore. It stocks visual art, books, clothing and more, but with a twist: everything is local. The authors are local, the artists are local, the shop is locally owned and run. East Side Story is Music City's first local bookstore with an inventory entirely Nashville-grown. Even the name was chosen from a contest calling local writers to exercise their branding chops. This quirky storefront is a local business lover's heaven. Handmade jewelry, t-shirts, pieces from Nashville painters and illustrators, and a charming assortment of books highlight the talent of writers and artists in our very own city, giving us a chance to directly support them.

Opened in 2012 after founder Chuck Beard voiced his dream to construct a place for solely local writers, East Side Story established an online and brick and mortar outlet for short story engineers, essay enthusiasts and novelists with little to no national exposure. Self-published and published writers are all welcome to contribute their work, alongside illustrators of whimsical children's tales, historians and memoir makers. Year-round online writing contests, participation in Nashville's annual arts festivals, and bimonthly showcases featuring local writers and Nashville-born musicians and bands are all opportunities for crafters of the written word and eager arts consumers to get involved with East Side Story's creativity-celebrating community.