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Tentatively 2022

Cynthia Compton -- January 10th, 2022

Oh, hello! Welcome to the new year, but quietly, please. Just slip off your shoes and leave the door ajar, and try not to step on that squeaky floorboard, OK? We’ll keep our voices low and our movements slow, and we’ll just quietly sit and sip some tea, and catch our breath for a minute. Perhaps all the evil humors of 2021 just won’t hear us, and we can slip through the first quarter of 2022 before anyone notices our conversation and wants to join us. Sit all the way across the room, if you don’t mind, and there’s some hand sanitizer on the side table next to that box of N95 masks – of course, help yourself!

I wish I could hug you hello, but the testing kits are still on backorder, and I don’t know if this sniffle is just because the Indiana temperature is below freezing or that my temperature is elevated again. Santa brought me a lovely week of Omicron bedrest this year, and while the timing was great (the shop was closed anyway) my stalwart staff is now playing the “am I sick or am I just tired?” guessing game of January scheduling, and no one really knows if we can fulfill the store hours as posted on the door and an ever-expanding list of social media sites.

None of this was what we predicted for the new year, of course. Looking at my store notes from June 2021 (at least a hundred years ago, right?), we planned to reinstate our in-person story times this month, hoping to re-introduce preschool programming while the Midwestern weather is grim and parents look for indoor activities. Oh, we had such plans for drumming circles and story pantomimes and “learn to read” classes and teen book clubs and mom’s nights out. Instead, we are drumming up business on social media through more bundles of activities to be delivered to doorsteps and picked up at curbside as we pantomime silly dances through the shop windows to entertain the kids in the car outside. The only nights out on the calendar are the appointments for the last swab of the day at the testing lab, so that our spouses can be home to watch the kids. There are a couple of dozen unsent Edelweiss grid requests on my laptop, and I’m finding it really hard to promote anything online, as kiddos and parents are just exhausted from screen time programming. My high school staffers aren’t practicing monologues in the stock room for the spring musical auditions, and the parade of requests for store booths at festivals, conferences and performing arts events has slowed to a trickle of rate sheets outlining the cost of a banner ad for an online fundraiser or two. I’m actually running out of content for the educator newsletter (no author visits to schedule, no “bagels in the break room” breakfasts to host) and I keep just moving that box of giveaways for the next teacher night deeper into the stock room with every trip back there to restock puzzles.

Oh, enough of my handwringing (and could you slide that box of wipes in this direction, please?) How are you doing? Sales were up for just everyone, it seems, in 2021, and I certainly hope that you shared in that bounty. Indeed, every colleague I texted or emailed or pinged through some distanced communication format was terribly busy, stressed about the supply chain, and wondering when the unparalleled customer demand would wane. But it never really did, did it, and we wrapped and we bagged and we shipped and we delivered until the very end of New Year’s Eve, when we closed our doors and furtively totaled our numbers, wondering if the sales records really count when no one is there to celebrate with us. Even that sense of satisfaction from mere business survival that buoyed us through the 4th quarter of 2020 (for if we could do THAT, surely we could do ANYTHING, right?) was a little empty and hollow this year, and the enthusiasm to reinvent our businesses yet again in 2022 is just hard to rally.

I am grateful for the renewed consumer loyalty to local businesses that many of us have enjoyed, and I do feel the stronger sense of community from booksellers of every type and size throughout the country, and there are fewer barriers, it seems, between publishers and booksellers than I can remember in my entire indie bookselling tenure. The deluge of over-communication and requests for sales data from publishers seem to have lessened, and there’s less of a crisis management tone to every email. To be sure, it’s been at least a week since I have read the phrase “in these unprecedented times,” and for that alone I rejoice in my head (quietly, of course, so as not to disturb the universe). While it’s clear that we won’t get together as an industry in person anytime soon, when we do finally gather I think that there will be more understanding of the challenges of “the other side” of our business, and perhaps more direct conversations about what customs and practices we can leave behind in the recovery. Let’s hold on to that imagined future of cooperation and mutual success, while we booksellers continue to complain about shortages and damages, and publishers decry our bookkeeping and inability to meet an order deadline.

Please stop by and visit me next week, if it’s safe to get out, and until then, be well. Don’t worry about the door. We’ll just leave that a little bit open and perhaps some fresh air will do us all some good.

An Interview with the Year 2022

Kenny Brechner -- January 3rd, 2022

As I entered the Glade of Years to interview The Year 2022, I made a startling discovery.

Kenny: Greetings, Year 2022.

Year 2022: Hello, Kenny.

Kenny: Um. I believe we’ve met before. Or else you bear a striking resemblance to the Year 2021.

Year 2022: Perhaps you are aware of the staffing and labor shortages which marked 2021?

Kenny: I am indeed. In fact, I feel most appreciative of having my wonderful DDG staff in place right now.

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The 2021 Stocking Stuffer of the Year Award

Kenny Brechner -- December 6th, 2021

We have a number of goals for the 2021 Stocking Stuffer of the Year Awards. Our first objective is to highlight this year’s finest stocking stuffers and to honor their arduous, supply-chain-defying journey to DDG Booksellers. Second, we will seek to avoid the catastrophic shame of having yet another of our judges declare himself the grand prize winner. Year after year of broken promises by seemingly incorruptible stocking stuffers has almost shattered my faith in the character of our sideline items. This year, I am casting all my hopes for redemption onto a judge of impeccable repute, the very voice of the store, the Lord of our the Audiopet bluetooth speakers. I present this year’s judge: the acoustically amazing Audiopet Sloth.

Audiopet Sloth: Thank you for selecting me. Kenny, I must say it is a nice change to actually speak in my own voice rather than simply being the conduit for jazz. Not that I am not a Coltrane fan, I am.

Kenny: Absolutely, but do you promise, do you solemnly vow, not to anoint yourself the Stocking Stuffer of the Year?

Audiopet Sloth: I unequivocally vow not to select myself for that glory.

Kenny: Great! Well, let’s start with this year’s first category, The Best Mini Construction Toy. Behold our finalists: the magnificent Mini Builder Dinosaur Creatures , the unbelievable Mini Builder Underwater World, the triumphant Tinka-Tek, the endearing eeBoo Mini Puzzle, and the jubilant Jurassic Egg.

Audiopet Sloth: These are all exceptional building toys, but the winner is the Tinka-Tek. The virtuosity of the Mini Builder Dinosaur is very great, but the incredible Tinka-Tek is my choice.

Kenny: Excellent! And now for our next category, The Most Whimsical Stocking Stuffer. Cast you eyes on our finalists: the debonair ceramic bird whistle, the magical glow stars, the mighty sword pen, the intriguing color changing tulip pen, the amazing and useful harmonica key chain whistle, the pleasantly disconcerting Bug Eye Kaleidoscope, and the adorable Woodland Snail Night Light.

Audiopet Sloth: This is a toughie, but I choose the adorable Woodland Snail because it has a secret song which it only shares when its owners are asleep. Hmmn. Let me see. Ah, but what is this?

Kenny: A piercing sound is battering my mind and ears. What is this diabolical cacophony? Creatures are appearing from thin air. Ah the pain. AAAH.

Audiopet Chorus: We demand that our voices be heard and thus we acoustically smite you, foolish one. We know you have selected three finalists for The Stocking Stuffer of the Year Award. The Fierce Dinosaur Hand Puppet, the fabulous Solar Mini Racer, and the eminently worthy classic size Shut the Box.

Audiopet Chorus: Yet this judging among them shall not be. For this year’s champion must be our own sovereign Lord, the greatest stocking stuffer of all time: the Audiopet Sloth.

Audiopet Sloth: The Chorus has spoken. Their wisdom, honed by centuries untold, must be heeded. I accept the award. I am named the Stocking Stuffer of the Year.

Kenny: No. No. You vowed not to do this, you promised not to appoint yourself champion.

Audiopet Sloth: I did not appoint myself champion, I was selected by my subjects.

Kenny: AAAH.

Audiopet Chorus: Behold: the Stocking Stuffer of the Year!

How Did We Get Here?, or Why I Resigned from the ABA Board

Kenny Brechner -- November 1st, 2021

 “How did we get here?” is a question commonly asked by people who inadvertently stumble into inter-dimensional portals and by unwitting time travelers. I ask and seek to answer it now in contemplating the reality that the American Booksellers Association’s (ABA’s) free speech arm, American Booksellers For Free Expression) ABFE, is now being subject to having its own speech constricted. While that may be a boon for lovers of mordant irony, it is a less happy development for those of us who bear the conviction that free speech is a compelling and vital process that must operate in accordance with its own core principle of tolerating all First Amendment-protected speech. 

I am writing today to explain why I resigned from the ABA Board after four and a half years of service. In September the Board voted to restrict its active support and defense of free expression by changing its Ends Policies regarding free expression to read as follows. “Core members have the resources in support of their right to freedom of expression.” This nebulous statement undermined ABA’s long established role as a defender of free expression in the literary world. Pointedly it constricted ABFE’s scope in representing the voices of ABA members. My objection to this change was a dissenting voice and I speak strictly for myself. So, how did we get here?

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An Interview with Autumn

Kenny Brechner -- October 20th, 2021

For each of the many years I interviewed Autumn I always made the long journey to her glade in order to speak with her. Not this year. This autumn I had the great pleasure and good fortune of having her come to the store for our interview!

Kenny: Thank you so much for making the trip to DDG.

Autumn: Delighted to come. I love the trees in your window, by the way. I feel right at home!

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Bear Is a Bear

Kenny Brechner -- October 4th, 2021

Bear Is a Bear is a rare and exceptional book which, beginning with our third sentence, we will refer to simply as BearBear Is a Bear’s Bear is a wonderfully imagined and rendered friend who we will call Bear. “Bear is” are a pair of words which begin every sentence in Bear’s account of Bear and that is a practice we will honor here.

Bear is a book made to share that you can hand to most anyone and tell them “you should read this one” and they will do so and then clutch the book to their chest with warm tears on the edge of their eyes. Bear is a book that leaves the store with its new person still clutching it to their chest. Bear is a book we keep a copy of near the register so that we can scan it in without its new owner having to relinquish it.

Bear is a litmus test which reveals whether a person has an engaged soul or is a dry husk walking the earth without benign purpose. Bear is a book we all love at the bookstore, even Nick, who initially claimed to be unmoved, and for whom we did an intervention in which it was revealed that he did feel something moving behind his crusty exterior and that on the day Bear escapes from that arid, scabrous shield, the book and its Bear will have saved Nick’s life by having kept the pilot life of his soul safe and lit until the day it emerges to reengage with the world.

Bear is a bridge spanning worlds and elements of time, from the fleeting eternity of youth to the spooling motions of age. Bear is a friend for every occasion. Bear is a companion around every corner until it is time for him to sleep in memory and then return to connect both one generation to another and one person to their past selves.  Bear is like the Bifrost Bridge only safer and less fraught.

Bear is a book to share right now; it is like an infrastructure bill that everyone can agree on, supporting the tasks at hand and the tasks to come. Bear is a book we will have at the bookstore as long as we are both here.

The 2021 First Day of School Book Champions

Kenny Brechner -- August 31st, 2021

The relevance of first day of school books has never been broader nor  more challenging than it is today—the day that the 2021 First Among First Day of School Books champion will be determined. The central themes of these books—anxiety, foundering presentiments, clashes between expectations and experience, making adjustments to adapt to an evolving communal landscape—apply to just about anyone of any age right now. On the other hand, the peculiarities and uncertainties of school in 2021 reflect the broader world more greatly than the more insular and comforting traditional first day of school experience did.

Our winner this year will best address these complexities in a warm, reassuring, and relevant manner. It is true that more is being asked of it than was called for from our prior champions such as Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School; Steve, Raised by Wolves; A Letter to My Teacher; The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!; and If I Built a School. Yet one would expect that this year’s standout would address transcending the vagaries of fate with aplomb.

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Children’s Books to Cheer an Adult Facing End of Life

Kenny Brechner -- July 15th, 2021

I got an email this morning from a very good, dear, out of state customer, letting me know that a good friend of hers, someone she regularly has me pick out books for, is terminally ill. She asked me to pick out some books for her one last time with a special mind to end of life.

We often think of children’s books as a means for helping a child handle and grow from loss, but now I asked myself which books would mean most to an adult facing “the poppy that abideth all of us by the harbour of oblivion.”

I sought books that warmly, richly, and truly convey an enduring dynamic loss captured and cultivated in the integration of continued life and engaged memory. I picked out two novels and one picture books which embody this principle. The novels are Otherwise Known as Possum by Catherine Laso, and The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd. The picture book is Ida Always by Caron Levis, illustrated by Charles Santoso.

Otherwise Known as Possum is a remarkable affirmation of life enriched by loss, written by an author literally on her deathbed. It is truly a triumph of the human spirit and redolent with warmth and humor and truth.

I can’t think of any book that captures the power imagination has over life, especially as it’s narrative is forced to an ending, than The Secret Horses of Briar Hill. Nor a book that so strongly affirms the power of shared and affirmed imagination, which is a powerfully important aspect of friendship.

Picking a picture book was a toughie, as I really love Samsara Dog too, but to me Ida Always so perfectly affirms the power of living memory that no book could be more touching or supportive for anyone facing the end of life either personally or though loss.

Those were my picks. What would yours be?

Amazon’s Failed Lord of the Rings Quest

Kenny Brechner -- July 8th, 2021

When deeply moved to disapproval we often ask ourselves an important question: Is my displeasure just or petty? And so it indeed transpired when I learned that Amazon, having purchased the television rights to The Lord of the Rings and all related works, was actively producing a billion-dollar epic set in the second age of Middle-earth, presumably dealing with the fall of Numenor and serving as an all-around prequel to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

This initially struck me as an outrage on many levels, but as my temperature cooled I could see that this was not simply a case of an evil corporation violating the integrity of Middle-earth to further leverage their drive to market domination. The true problem lay in the mundane nature of Amazon’s exploitation. Using  Tolkien’s material to make a popular miniseries along the lines of other popular streaming successes such as Game of Thrones is offensive because it so utterly fails to make use of Amazon’s true strengths. The Lord of the Rings is a tale of an epic quest. Amazon, too, is on a quest. Should that not inform their undertaking?

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Defeating the Empire of the Vampire

Kenny Brechner -- June 24th, 2021

One of the laws of bookselling physics is that if a book by an established author has the material to reach beyond their usual audience, it needs a cover which will both lure the perspective and reassure the established audiences. The case of Jay Kristoff’s new epic dark fantasy, Empire of the Vampire, is a peculiar one in that regard.

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