A recent survey examining the U.S. states with the most bookstores had a few notable surprises. While large states like California and Texas have the largest total number of stores, when it comes to bookstore per capita, those two states were nowhere to be found! For travelers wishing to explore more of the U.S.’s literary heritage, a glance at the list should be the first step in planning your next vacation. Rounding out the top five (with Montana coming in first) is Tennessee, which boasts 369 bookstores for about 6.5 million residents.
It’s safe to say bookstores and literary pursuits are not the first things that come to mind when thinking of the Volunteer State, so nicknamed due to the large number of Tennesseans volunteering as soldiers during the War of 1812. Instead, visitors flock to Tennessee every year for reasons musical (Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion and museum and Nashville’s many country music venues), nature-related (the Smoky Mountains) and an all-around good time (touring the Jack Daniels Distillery). While it may not seem the obvious choice for more reserved bookworms, the following stops show that for book-loving travelers there is a quieter, more literary side to the state that’s well-worth exploring!
The third-largest city in the state, and the homebase of the University of Tennessee’s legendary Vols, Knoxville boasts a locally-owned, independent gem of a store called Union Ave Books. Located in the heart of downtown, Union Ave Books offers a wide selection of fiction, non-fiction, young adult and children’s books. The store owners aim to please, going so far as to order books you might want that are not available in-store. The store also hosts a variety of local and nationally known authors for readings and book signings so be sure to check their event schedule before planning your visit. For those wishing to stay nearby and explore more of what Knoxville has to offer, the affordable and comfortable Crowne Plaza Hotel is just blocks from the store, and the bustling downtown area.
Nashville, a.k.a. Music City, almost had no independent bookstores left after the 2010 closing of independent store Davis-Kidd and the 2011 closing of a Borders located near Vanderbilt University. Thankfully for book lovers in the country music capital of the world, bestselling author Ann Patchett and veteran publisher Karen Hayes stepped in to save the day by opening Parnassus Books, an “independent book store for independent people.” Named for Mount Parnassus, the home of literature, learning, and music in Greek mythology, the store aims to provide a “refuge for Nashvillians of all ages,” with Patchett and Hayes declaring Music City to be the “Athens of the South.” With a well-stocked collection of literature, non-fiction, children, and art books as well as author events and book clubs, Parnassus Books is a must-visit for any book lover. Visitors to the area looking for affordable lodgings can check out the Holiday Inn Nashville or the Hutton Hotel, both just a 10 minute drive from the store.
If driving away from Nashville and towards Memphis, be sure to stop by Madison’s Book Attic, a beloved local establishment specializing in used and out of print paperbacks, hardbacks, and audio books. Operating since 1987, Book Attic’s staff pride themselves on having the knowledge and experience to track down any book that its customers might desire. Anyone looking to settle down nearby for the night should consider the Country Inn & Suites by Carlson, located in Goodlettsville, and just a 5 minute drive from Book Attic.
A trip to Tennessee is incomplete without visiting Memphis, one of the early homes of blues and rock and roll. A trip to Memphis is likewise incomplete without a stop by Burke’s Book Store, founded in 1875. Its current owners boast that the store today encompasses “the best of the old, the latest of the new, and hard to find collectibles.” Its kind and knowledgeable staff includes an expert devoted solely to locating out-of-print works. For out-of-towners looking to stay in the heart of the action downtown, a booking at the hip, boutique Madison Hotel (just a 15 minute drive from Burke’s) is a must.