Christmas lurks on the back shelves at Walgreens – have you noticed? Halloween flashes its toothy smile up front, but Christmas will have the last laugh. I take the drugstore merch arrival as a challenge to get all my Christmas shopping done, and early! That makes more time for cookies, carols, adult beverages (oh, and family!) in December.
My favorite place to shop is the bookstore, and we’re lucky here in Nashville to have our beautiful hometown hero Parnassus in West Nashville (thank you, Ann Patchett and Karen Hayes) and the sparkling new Her Bookshop in East Nashville (thank you, Joelle Herr).
If you’ve been reading Bacon for a while, you know I never say too much about where to buy your books. Honestly, it’s Your Wallet. But if you take any pleasure in browsing a bookstore – even occasionally – I’d encourage you to buy your books local and indie this holiday season. Bookstores earn a big portion of their revenue during November and December. Buy a book, keep your bookstore!
Today, the owner of Her Bookshop, Joelle Herr, stops in at Bacon for a chat.
Hi Joelle! I so admire people like you who have the courage to start their own business. You spent about a year in the Shoppes on Fatherland, a community offering short-term leases and affordable rents, specifically designed to be an incubator of new businesses. What did you love about being there? What did you not love? What did you learn?
Joelle: I loved the sense of community at the Shoppes on Fatherland—and that most of my neighboring businesses were women-owned. It’s also just a very cute little development, and I adored my little nook. One not-so-favorite aspect was being tucked down one of the rows, not visible from the street. And the lack of storage space—just space in general. It wasn’t long before the shop started feeling cramped. Earlier this year, I started exploring other locations that were more on the beaten path and more (but not too) spacious, and the perfect one popped up.
Gosh, the learning has been constant, and no doubt it’ll continue. I’d say one of the biggest discoveries is that, thank goodness (and knock on wood), people still love to shop in bookstores!
How will things be different at your new location?
It’s still in East Nashville, on West Eastland Avenue, right off of Gallatin. The Eastland is a brand-new, simply stunning (in my opinion) art deco building, with three retail spaces and a restaurant on the ground floor and apartments above. The shop is still cozy, but I’ve doubled the number of books on offer—to around 3,000 titles—with our focus remaining on “beautiful” (illustrated, highly designed) books in a wide price range. One major difference, though, is that our fiction section is much larger, with both classic and contemporary literary novels. Our categories have pretty much stayed the same—we didn’t morph into a general bookstore, but just offer more of what we’ve specialized in all along.
With the additional space, I’m planning to offer more events—and my aim is to get a little creative with them, beyond the standard author readings and signings. We have a new (every other week, to start) Saturday morning storytime—this Saturday (10/28) will be led by the lovely Emily Arrow, who performs (with her ukulele, Bow) sweet, catchy, make-you-smile songs inspired by children’s picture books.
We’re also launching an approximately monthly series called Sunday Salon @ Her Bookshop, which I’ve dubbed “for the bookishly curious.” First up (10/29 at 4:00), the ladies from The Year of Agatha will lead a discussion about the Queen of Crime (Agatha Christie) and her creepiest works—just in time for Halloween. You needn’t have read an Agatha Christie book to enjoy the discussion—but you may very well leave intending to. Our second Salon will be on 12/3 and will feature multitalented Zeneba Bowers and Matt Walker, Nashville Symphony musicians and authors of a trio of award-winning foodie travel guides.
I have a few other event ideas brewing, too. Stay tuned for announcements on social media soon.
You started a popular in-store book club. How does it work?
I absolutely love Better Off Read, our bimonthly book club (in partnership with our friends at The Porch), which focuses on (usually non-blockbuster, always paperback) books that we think you’ll definitely be better off having read. It’s a little unconventional in that it’s a ticketed event with a limited number of spots. Our newsletter subscribers get first dibs on spots, and then I open them to the public the next day. Our October meeting filled up in hours, so I opened up two more spots on Instagram, and they were claimed in a couple of minutes. There are a handful of regulars, and it’s always fun, of course, to welcome new folks. There’s wine and snacks (cookies, usually), and it’s just a wonderful, bookish way to spend an hour on a Sunday afternoon.
What would you say to high school girls OR boys who might one day dream of opening their own business?
Work hard to develop your expertise, and be patient. Expertise doesn’t happen overnight. I worked in publishing as an editor for twenty years before I opened my shop. Having a thorough knowledge of books—everything from what goes into making them to a familiarity with the different publishers out there—provided me with a solid foundation. I often still feel so utterly green when it comes to business matters, but I know books. My confidence in that expertise is, without a doubt, what gave me the courage to give this whole thing a go.
I’d also love to ask you about your life as an author.
Your latest publication is A Far, Far Better Thing to Do: A Lit Lover’s Activity Book. This looks like fun! I’d love to hear about the journey to its publication…
Thank you! I pitched the idea of an interactive literary activity book to Running Press early last year, when I was still freelancing and opening a shop was the furthest thing from my mind. There was some back and forth on the direction of the book over the subsequent months, during which I also had my opening-a-bookstore epiphany. I got the official acceptance of the book a few weeks before the shop opened. I was elated, of course, but also a little panicky. I do not recommend writing a book under deadline during the first six months of owning and running a bookstore all on your own. It was stressful, but I’m not complaining. Going into the shop every day is a complete joy, and, gosh, as a lifelong booklover, I can’t tell you how fun it was to develop and write the book. There’s a Bloomsday maze, a Dickens crossword, an O’Connor word search, a War of the Worlds drawing activity (you draw the Martian!), and lots of literary quizzes and matching games.
Your other works include The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen and the Jane Austen Kama Sutra. What’s your journey with Jane? The Kama Sutra, by the way, is the most charming and subversive piece of Austen-inspired work I’ve ever seen!
I first read Pride and Prejudice in high school and, like so many, fell in love with the world Austen created, her keen wit, and, of course, Mr. Darcy. I went on to read her other works for various classes, some on my own. Reading Persuasion for the first time in college was a revelation. It’s her last work (published after her death), and I think it is pretty much the most perfectly crafted novel. Her humor, precision with words, expert plot development . . . and Captain Wentworth. (Swoon.) I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read that one, and my 25-year-old paperback copy (complete with notes, underlining, and highlighting from various readings) is among my most treasured books.
When Cider Mill Press approached me to develop The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen, I jumped at the opportunity to immerse myself in her life and novels. I am so glad to hear that you enjoyed The Jane Austen Kama Sutra! It’s been fun watching folks respond to that one in the shop. It’s definitely subversive (not to mention naughty), and I had a blast mining her works for double-entendres.
Also: You’ve written a series of playful tiny books that include Charles Dickens: The Complete Novels in One Sitting and William Shakespeare: The Complete Plays in One Sitting. (Also featured – James Joyce, Mark Twain, Thomas Hardy, and War and Peace.) What inspired you?
The publisher approached me to write them, actually. Charles Dickens was the first one, and I was definitely intrigued by the challenge of summarizing all 20 of his novels in around 15,000 words. And challenging it was! But also a fun crash course in everything Dickens. I wrote two of those books a year over the course of three years. It is all a bit of a blur!
Finally: what are you reading right now? And what will you read after that?
I just finished Broken River by J. Robert Lennon, our most recent Better Off Read selection. It was the top Indie Next pick when it was first published back in May, and the book club discussion last weekend was lively and thoroughly enjoyable. Last night, I started Claire Messud’s The Burning Girl and was hooked from the first line. There are so many delicious books coming out this fall. My to-read stack is definitely teetering!
Mine is too, Joelle – including some new books I picked up at your store! I loved the time with you!
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Most interesting books spotted at Her Bookshop:
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Gloved hand photo copyright here.