Early this year when the book tour idea was sprouting, I pulled out my paper map and began plotting our driving route. Knowing the tour would be in November, I shied away from the Northern states. Wintry weather and pulling a trailer don’t mix! And heading west is better left for airplane travel than driving. But a big loop around the Southern states seemed like the perfect itinerary to hit a lot of great cities (and great weather!) during our three-week road trip. Our first out-of-state rendezvous will be with the great state of Tennessee, and there’s no better person to guide us straight to the sweet spots than Tennessean, friend, and book agent, Martha Hopkins. Take it away Martha!
Ever since Amanda started planning her book tour, I’ve been beaming with a bit of Tennessee-girl pride. My name is Martha Hopkins-I’m Amanda’s book agent-but I’m also a born and bred Memphian.
Some people are under the (mistaken) notion that Texas is a Southern state. It is not. Texas is Texas, and that’s all fine and good. But there’s nothing Southern about it. (Test #1: What’s a meat and three?) So while I thoroughly enjoy living in the vibrant city of Austin, I am beyond thrilled that the Sprucettes will be driving through the very lovely state of Arkansas and rolling into Tennessee on November 5, and then continuing on to a slew of other certified Southern destinations for some rollicking-good upholstery events.
Tennessee, for those that haven’t looked at a US map since the advent of Google, is a long, thin state, just about two hours high and almost eight hours long, speaking in road-trip terms. Memphis is tucked into the bottom left-hand corner of the state, welcoming visitors from Arkansas as they cross the Mighty Mississippi into downtown.
Memphis, some say, is a gritty city. It is, but it’s in the best sense of the word. For me, it’s beautiful, authentic, without pretenses. It’s filled with good people, an almost equal mix of all types, all trying to make their way together. While we can’t all agree on whether the county and city school system should be combined, we can all agree on a few things:
Central Barbecue rocks. When you’re in Memphis, you have to eat barbecue. Like when you’re in Paris, you have to see the Eiffel Tower. Or when you’re in Austin, you have to drink kombucha. The choices are endless and scores of our BBQ joints are well above average. But if you can only go to one place, go to Central, order hearty, and grab a bag of home-fried pork rinds to go.
There’s nothing as cool as Propcellar Vintage Rentals in Austin. I can’t make this up. Amanda’s teaching two classes—one bench class and one on lampshades—at this vintage rental store in Memphis. Had I had access to this place for my sausage & biscuit party last year, I think I would’ve been written up in Garden & Gun by now for my entertaining and design skills. Fair warning, you DIYers: register early. I’m giving two friends the bench class for a Christmas gift, so that means there are two less spots for you.
Nobody’s gonna shut down our independent bookstore. In the early 80s, Davis Kidd Booksellers opened in Laurelwood, a great location right in the heart of the city. This independent bookstore captured the hearts of the whole town with their vast magazine collection, well-chosen selection of books, vibrant children’s area, great wrapping paper, and delicious bistro. The big chains were just moving into town, but for a city used to B. Dalton’s in the mall, Davis Kidd was a new experience, and we absolutely loved it. Fast forward to 2011, with Amazon chomping on the heels of every independent in the nation, and Davis Kidd had to file for bankruptcy. The business went up for sale and the highest bidder was a liquidator. The horror! In a last minute deal, with the judge literally waiting on the bench, one of the original owners was able to swoop in and buy back the store and keep the same staff. The store reopened as the Booksellers at Laurelwood and this, my friends, is where Amanda will be signing books on November 5 at 6:00 pm.
Alchemy in Memphis. Photo courtesy of Gallivant.
If the Sprucette’s aren’t too tired after class, I’m taking them to Alchemy. I just met John Littlefield, the owner, and his awesome wife Adrienne, an interior designer, at Southern Foodways in Oxford, Mississippi last week. (Billy Reid was there! I wish he’d given me a coupon towards these. So was Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin. Nice person.) I’m a longtime fan of John’s other restaurant, McEwen’s, and all my friends are raving about Alchemy. Sounds like just the place for after-class nourishment. I sense a Gincident in my future.
If Memphis is the kid stuck in the corner, Nashville is the pretty little girl with blond ringlets belting out Carrie Underwood, I mean, Patsy Cline. Nashville and Memphis have long enjoyed a bit of rivalry. We’re Elvis and Stax Records; they’re Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks. Any Nashville readers are likely protesting my limited description, and to be fair, they should. Nashville is a beautiful city, and it is well worth a visit for anyone who has not been.
It has trees and hills and charming homes and good food and cool shops. It’s filled with people dreaming of making it big, college kids at Vanderbilt, Belmont, and 20+ others, and growing, happy families. All this youth, it does a city good. The Sprucettes’ first stop, for instance, will be Fort Houston, a creative shop space for freelancers and artists to mold their wares when their studio apartment can’t hold another bag of fabric trimmings or their landlord isn’t taking too kindly to their kitchen welding project. On November 8 and 9, you can learn to make your own lampshade or bench, or join Amanda et. al for a book signing and party at Fort Houston on November 8 and check what other artists are doing in this way-cool workspace.
Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville. Photo courtesy of Visit Flyover Country.
If you have time, make the drive out to Cheekwood, Nashville’s kick-ass botanical gardens. Bruce Munro’s LIGHT exhibit is an indescribable experience. Remember the first time you saw a full Chihuly exhibit before he totally jumped the shark? Remember the extraordinary way it made you feel inside? How magical it was. Same here. Do not miss it. It ends November 10. Swing by the Frist, too, which gives any modern art gallery a run for its money. You can add valuables to your LP collection from Grimey’s or buy anything ever produced or recorded by Jack White at Third Man Records. Go for the photo booth if nothing else. Oh, that and the wax Mold-O-Rama.
For a taste of down-home cooking, you can depend on the Nashville Biscuit House for outstanding biscuits and gravy. (Texans: See, too, their reference to meat and three on the sign.) On the east side of town, my favorite restaurant is Margot’s and their crack-like homemade potato chips and aiolli, with a drink first in the back gardens of Rumours East. En route, you must stop at Idea Hatchery, a great little incubator of new and vintage shops. Local at its best.
Author Ann Patchett, co-founder of Parnassus Books. Photo courtesy of CNN.
On the other side of the tracks, or the river, to be more accurate, make a beeline to City House. It always looks like they’re overbooked on reservations, but they keep quite a few seats open for walk-ins. So just do it already. You won’t regret it. You won’t regret, either, a stop at Parnassus books. They’re another tale of the little indie that could, in this case thanks to a NY Times‘ bestselling/esteemed author and her friend in the book business who decided to open up shop. Amanda will be signing books there on November 10th, and we couldn’t be happier to be connected with an organization like Parnassus.
When you leave Nashville, pretty as it is, then you start to get into the really pretty part of Tennessee. The eastern side of the state is Appalachian country, home to Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, which really do look blue. Tennesseans mainly think of Knoxville as the home of UT. (That would be Univerisity of Tennessee—the Vols, not Bevo.) But what we think of when we hear Knoxville is HGTV, the network that first inspired many of us to make our first Roman shades instead of buying them at the store. Amanda is now writing a regular upholstery column for them, which she kicked off with a slightly insane, super cool finished door that involved a gazillion nailhead tacks. In fact, we will enter you in a drawing for a free signed copy of the book if you can guess the number of nailhead tacks harmed in this blog post. I’m not kidding. Register your guess here.
Now before you go off on the Ocoee for those Level IV rapids or start your hike on the Appalachian Trail towards New York, do me a favor: try some fresh buttermilk. Set aside your preconceived notions and pick up a glass bottle of Cruze Dairy Farm’s award-winning drink. If you like yogurt or kefir, you’ll love this and may wonder how you ever lived without it. Bring your buttermilk and come on over to Union Avenue Books on November 12, where Amanda will be signing copies of Spruce and answering your most perplexing upholstery questions. Once that wraps, the Sprucettes will be leaving my fair state and heading to Asheville, just on the other side of the mountains, where many more good things await. Safe travels, girls! I hope you enjoy Tennessee.