An interview with Sarah Arnold of Parnassus Books

What’s your favorite area of the bookstore?

Wherever our shop dogs happen to be at any given moment! We have 5 shop dogs: Sparky, Opie, Lavinia, Marlee, and Barnabus, plus a new shop-dog-in-training, Roxy. I can’t imagine the bookstore without them!

What’s the coolest book cover that you like to have facing out on the shelves?

Destiny Birdsong’s Nobody’s Magic has a gorgeous cover. I feel myself drawn to it every time I see it. Bookseller Ben beat me to picking it as a staff rec, but you can read what he said about it on Musing, our online literary magazine.

If you had a staff pick for a recent new release, what would it be? Backlist pick?

I LOVED The Verifiers by Jane Pek! It’s both a twisting locked-room mystery and an insightful social commentary on the complexities of our data-driven world. I was completely captivated.

I have so many backlist favorites, but one of the books I like to handsell most is Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore. It’s a bizarre, unpredictable read, full of magical realism and explorations of parallel realities. The first part of the book brings Jane to a seemingly unimportant decision, and the five stories that follow detail what would happen if she picked each of the five available options. It’s weird and wonderful, and I’ve never read anything else like it.

Do you have a strange customer story?

Truly so many. Interacting with the public inevitably results in some odd situations. I once had a customer ask me for a nonfiction book about dragons. I asked if she meant a book about mythology and the history of dragon lore. When she said no, I asked if perhaps a book Komodo dragons or lizards was what she was after, but that wasn’t it either. My last-ditch attempt was a couple of guide books to the dragons that appear in fictional series, like Eragon and Harry Potter. She said, “No, real dragons.” I had to give up at that point.

What author have you been starstruck to meet, or have you gotten to host a fun virtual event?

Dolly Parton, without a doubt. She and James Patterson shot a segment about their new book, Run, Rose, Run, for CBS Sunday Morning at Parnassus, and she was absolutely wonderful. Hilarious, kind, charming, everything you’d want her to be and more.

What are some misconceptions people have about working in a bookstore?

Believe it or not, we don’t get to read all day! There’s a lot that goes into working at a bookstore that folks might not realize. From helping customers on the floor, to stocking inventory, to creating social media content, to scheduling events, our staff in the front of the store and in the back office are always busy making sure that our customers have the best experience possible.

What is your least favorite bookstore task? Favorite part about working in a bookstore?

My least favorite task is probably doing inventory. Counting all of those books takes a LONG time. Luckily, we only have to do it once a year! My favorite part is being surrounded by book people all day. Everyone on staff has a unique reading taste, and I love hearing their thoughts on what they’re reading. Our customers are so interesting, and I end up learning just as much from them as I do from my own reading.

Can you recommend an underrated readalike book for one of the store’s top titles?

Ann Patchett co-owns Parnassus, so many of our top titles tend to be hers. A great readalike for Ann’s The Patron Saint of Liars is Agatha of Little Neon by Claire Luchette. Who doesn’t love a good story about nuns?

Sarah Arnold is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Parnassus Books in Nashville.