Bacon on the Bookshelf

Savory picks for the free range reader

Letter to a Bookseller


I’ve been trying to write something about Keltie Hays Peay for days as a way to honor her memory. Many of you who shop at Parnassus in Nashville know Keltie as a golden-haired goddess of a bookseller. Things you might not know about her? She graduated from Harvard back in the day. She practiced law for nearly 20 years.

I only knew Keltie for a short chapter of her life – the bookselling chapter. I have come to realize that anything I say about her might be as much about me as it is about her, which I regret. But we liked each other quite a lot, I like to think. We were more than acquaintances. We were – nearly friends.

I miss talking with Keltie about books. I regret that I did not know how much she suffered. 

This is the best I can do by way of tribute. It’s not enough. But I can’t get her off my mind. 

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Dear Keltie,

I’ve missed seeing you! You have the most beautiful, warmest smile, and you always have the BEST recommendations! Let’s plan that coffee date we’ve been talking about… we could sit outside at the Belle Meade Starbucks? Wow I wish we hadn’t postponed back in March.

I’ve always felt such an affinity with you. I love how we both went crazy over How to Catch a Mole last year! We should have been on commission for that one.

It’s interesting that we both left law practice. It’s interesting that we went to the same college and majored in the same niche thing. How crazy is that?! Harvard is both gift and – weirdly – burden. You know you’ve been given this great gift, and you want to live up to it, and it’s hard to feel that you are (at least it is for me). Can we talk about that? 

More importantly – until we get together – please tell me what to read next! 

I have some big news for you – I think I’ve found our next Mole! It’s called A Woman in the Polar Night. The author Christiane Ritter was born in 1897 in Austria and died at age 103. She wrote just this one book, and it’s never been out of print in Germany. It’s recently been re-released in English, that’s how it got on my radar.

Ritter joined her husband in 1933 for a year in the northernmost reaches of Norway, in the Arctic Circle, and that’s what she writes about. There’s a peacefulness in these pages – in the ice and snow, with the seals and arctic foxes, the Northern Lights playing above and the hunger gnawing in your belly and the days of endless light followed by endless months of darkness. It is not an easy peacefulness. There is suffering in these pages, and wonder, and a fortitude and perspective I will aspire to. It’s like Mole that way. 

Polar Night also reminds me of my favorite book of all time – West With the Night by Beryl Markham. I don’t think we ever talked about West With the Night. I reread it every decade or so. It’s about time for me to pick it up again, now that I think of it.

I forget so much of what I have read over the years. Do you think the books we’ve read and forgotten are still a part of us? (Are they forgotten but not gone? Is that possible?)

I feel like I remember more about the books I read as a kid than about most of the books I read now. I’d love to know what you loved as a kid! 

Good-bye for now, Keltie. I’m thinking of you. Like I said, I miss you. There’s so much still to talk about. 

Love, ~Jennifer


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From UVA Law School classmate Lisa Moore (originally posted on Facebook):

My dearest Keltie, you are the most beautiful, brilliant, well read Princess that I have ever met. If I had a dime for every laugh, phone call, shared glossy fashion magazine, adventure, hijink, escapade, shopping trip, gossip session, mani-pedi, late night convo, class skipped to watch Oprah, evening out on the Corner, pasta dinner in our cozy little house near the Downtown Mall, bowl of your delicious roasted yellow pepper soup, pint at Court Square Tavern, discussion about politics, musing about pop culture, dissection of the Supreme Court, celebration or teeth gnashing about a case or work matter, galavant around Charlottesville, and every other happy memory that we have from law school together and beyond I would be a billionaire. I honestly don’t know how I will carry on without your friendship and love. My heart has broken into a million pieces. You mean the world to me, to my children, and to so many people that know and love you. You are brave, luminous, loyal, hysterically funny, and big hearted. And I am royally pissed off at you right now because even though I am grief stricken and in complete shock, I can hear you in my head with your favorite quote that you always say to me when I am feeling sad “chin up Princess or the crown slips.” I love you more than anything and will do my very best to make you proud. Love, your forever Co-Princess.

For members of the 1998 Class of UVA Law, it is with profound sadness and immense regret that I share the passing of our beloved classmate Keltie Hays Peay. As you know, Keltie had a huge intellect, passion for books like none other, and a gorgeous soul. Please keep her wonderful mother Peggy, devoted sister Meredith, and adorable son Henry in your thoughts and prayers. Rest In Peace Kelt. I miss you terribly.

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Parnassus will run a post on Keltie soon and will link to BINC (Book Industry Charitable Foundation), for anyone who wishes to support it. I will link to their post as soon as it is up.


  1. I’m so sad to hear about Kellie’s passing. She was such a light when I knew her and had such a giving spirit.

  2. Your post is so beautiful, Jennifer. I’m so sorry for your loss. I wish you could have had the conversation about favorite children’s books with Keltie. I think that is a wonderful way to get to know a person.

    • It possibly tells you most of what you need to know about a person. 🙂 Not really. We all have different libraries, different exposures, as children. But my goodness it is fun to talk about. Xoxo

  3. Deeply touching, all of this. The “chin up” quote is one to live by.

  4. Beautiful.

  5. Oh – this is so moving – I didn’t know Keltie but she did help me at Parnassus. I felt like I got to know her a bit and wish I had known her from your post – and I choked up at her favorite quote…so poignant. I’m so sorry for your loss Jennifer.

  6. My condolences. Keltie sounds like she was an incredible person.

  7. Jennifer, thank you so much for your beautiful tribute to my friend, Keltie. She would love it and want to follow up on all those conversations and thoughts you suggested. You make an interesting comment about the “crown” and might be onto something. There will never be another like our Keltie. Thank you for your words.

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