Last Wednesday was Knoxville author Cormac McCarthy’s 78th birthday. McCarthy, not a Knoxville native but a resident of Knoxville for many years, inserted many Knoxville references in his literature and has developed something of a cult following in these parts.
To celebrate his birthday, the new downtown bookstore Union Ave Books held a reading of his works. The gathering attracted a capacity crowd, which means about 40 or so folks in the cozy little store. Refreshments included Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, grilled cheese sandwiches and watermelon, items that figure into some of McCarthy’s gritty novels.
Some of our own local celebrities were among the readers and the evening was truly inspirational. I cried during a reading about the death of a wolf. I laughed out loud during the part about watermelons (until things in the story took a bad turn, as they usually do in McCarthy’s works).
This gathering is a good example of the kinds of things Union Ave Books is committed to doing. They want to host author visits, readings, parties and meetings. They want to be a community gathering place. That’s what one of the owners, Melinda Meador, told me last night. That’s what makes them so different from the mega-bookstores like Borders, which, of course, is in its death throes. It also makes them vastly different from the on-line sources like Amazon.
Meador said there is plenty of opportunity for fun things in the future of Union Ave Books. “We are in the middle of what is called the Ashe-Nash corridor,” she said. A lot of big authors who make appearances in Asheville and Nashville will find it easy to also make a quick stop in Knoxville, she explained. And Union Ave wants to be that stop.
But guess what. In order for this to happen, Union Ave has got to make money. “You’ve got to buy books!” Meador said. “We can’t do all this if we don’t make enough money to stay open.” Unfortunately, although folks spent more than two hours in the store for the McCarthy event, sales were very few. Click here for an essay Meador wrote about this very topic.
Alan and I live in a small condo downtown and we are not likely going to buy a bunch of books to keep. We generally only buy hardcover books that are signed by the author or have special significance to us. We believe in supporting the library as well as bookstores. But so far, we’ve special-ordered a book from Union Ave (singer Rodney Crowell’s autobiography, Chinaberry Sidewalks, which we had him sign when he was in Knoxville), we’ve bought reading glasses and note cards. And we bought a book about The Beatles to educate our young digital media guy, Gavin Baker, about the Fab Four. Union Ave also has great children’s books, which we intend to give as baby shower gifts.
So, join us! Let’s support this great downtown treasure. Go to the events they have. But we’ve gotta also buy some books!