Author Archives: Kenny Brechner

Saved by ‘Steve, Raised by Wolves’

Kenny Brechner -- August 27th, 2015

Given that Alice Cooper’s pronouncement that “school’s out for summer, school’s out forever” is only true for a month or so, it is past time for Back to School table displays to be up now. Our display is highly curated because if First Day of School books all attended the same classroom it would present an overcrowding issue. Though the table is largely populated by old standbys (our favorite remains Edda), it is our duty to scour the frontlist for great new books in this genre. Thanks to Jared Chapman’s Steve, Raised by Wolves (Little, Brown), this year’s quest for an outstanding new First Day of School book was not in vain.
Continue reading

Good Money After Bad?

Kenny Brechner -- August 20th, 2015

This week the NAIBA board, supported by a letter from their NEIBA counterparts, called for a renewed investment in the ABA’s indiecommerce website platform, and expressed pointed dissatisfaction with the current, recently upgraded status quo. The letter asserts that “the customer experience feels as if it’s at least a decade behind other online sites, highlighted by a completely inadequate search engine. We do not expect ABA to offer a site equal to that of Amazon or other online giants, but we do believe the current site is in immediate need of significant upgrades.”

Paul_Oesten_-_Les_DanaidesLet’s spend a moment thinking about how Tantalus and the Danaides spent their time in Hades. Tantalus, inflamed with an extreme thirst and hunger, looked upon a sumptuous feast that moved away from him whenever he reached out for something to eat or drink. The task of the Danaides was to fill a bathtub with water carried thereto with sieves dipped in a well some distance away, thus arriving at the tub with nothing. The strenuous attempts of the ABA, acting under a very strong mandate from members, and carried out by skilled and resourceful staffers, to invest and labor its way toward filling the online appetites and tubs of its constituents has closely mirrored the efforts of our underworld cousins.
Continue reading

Real Giving

Kenny Brechner -- August 13th, 2015

I’d own a bookstore over a giving tree any day. Real giving is, after all, not unilateral. It is a dialectical growth that enriches everyone involved. A bookstore is all about real giving.

threetalesWhat first woke me up to the power and importance of children’s books in the bookstore was having a child, 22 years ago. The bookstore has been an integral, dynamic element in our relationship ever since.

Continue reading

The Dictionary of Poetry Blurb Terms

Kenny Brechner -- August 6th, 2015

baf_02599We booksellers assume ourselves to be fluent in the language of blurbs. This is hubris. The fragility of our blurb command in particular, and our sanity in general, become apparent when we have occasion to stray beyond the fields we know and enter those remarkable meadows where poetry blurbs are found.

Poetry blurbs are clearly a language of their own. To the untuned reader, their purpose appears to be overshadowing the poetry collection they are reviewing with abstruse but athletic hyperbole. This can hardly be the case, of course, and only accentuates the layman’s lack of understanding in this uniquely cultivated world.

For example, in preparing materials for a poetry reading, I recently encountered the following sentence. “Book of thisness, book of withness, book of now.” I had no idea what any of those terms meant, and, not wanting to deprive myself of the potent pleasures which surely attend becoming fluent in poetry blurbs, I pondered on a means for achieving enlightenment that wouldn’t involve actually engaging in poetry.

Continue reading

A Treasure From the Past?

Kenny Brechner -- July 30th, 2015

opinion alert

In Clark Ashton Smith’s The End of the Story, a book-loving young man, Christophe, finds himself in the library of the learned monk Hilaire who, discovering in Christophe a rapt audience, “pressed a hidden spring in one of the library tables and drew out a long drawer, in which… were certain treasures that he did not care to bring forth for the edification or delectation of many, and whose very existence was undreamed of by the monks.

‘Here,’ he continued, ‘are three odes by Catullus which you will not find in any published edition of his works. Here, also, is an original manuscript of Sappho — a complete copy of a poem otherwise extant only in brief fragments; here are two of the lost tales of Miletus, a letter of Perides to Aspasia, an unknown dialogue of Plato and an old Arabian work on astronomy, by some anonymous author, in which the theories of Copernicus are anticipated. And, lastly, here is the somewhat infamous Histoire d’Amour, by Bernard de Vaillantcoeur, which was destroyed immediately upon publication, and of which only one other copy is known to exist.’”
Continue reading

You’ve Never Seen Everything

Kenny Brechner -- July 23rd, 2015

Tipping-PointWhen you’ve run a bookstore for 24 years you are as certain of thinking you’ve seen it all as you are of being wrong about that. Though that realization is often preceded by something one might prefer to make unhappen, there are also moments of sublimely unexpected charm for which one would gladly endure a hailstorm of previously unimaginable incivilities.

One of the most charming instances I can remember just happened recently. I was approached by the parents of a voracious but exacting nine-year-old reader. The lad in question was on the floor engrossed in assessing potential candidates. This was a vacationing family I had not met before. The boy’s mother asked me if I had anything to suggest for him involving mythology. I handed her the first books in The Ashtown Burials and the Fablehaven series, giving her an outline of why they were worthy of consideration.
Continue reading

‘Go Set a Watchman’: Customer Voices at the Counter

Kenny Brechner -- July 15th, 2015

Two customers taking care of business.

In recent memory, nothing has brought the power of editing more sharply into focus than the complex relationship between To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman. As early reviewers have pointed out, Go Set a Watchman must modify our understanding of its predecessor, most particularly in our understanding of Atticus Finch. Complicating that notion, however, is the fact that Go Set a Watchman was not edited into a state of continuity with To Kill a Mockingbird. Inhabitants of alternate universes, they are intimately related and yet filled with discontinuities. The degree and nature of their connection to one another is nuanced, to say the least.
Continue reading

A Recipe for Young Readers

Kenny Brechner -- July 9th, 2015

We’re having a very busy summer at the store this year. Huzzah to that! Vacationing families browsing in the bookstore are always an instructive pleasure. There are three main reasons for vacationing families to spend time together in the store. Some families are directed by parents who want their children to have books. The children are happy to be here but the choice to come was made by their parents. Other families are here because they have an established internal culture of reading. They all read, always share books among themselves, and consider the merits and demerits of various previously consumed titles to be an important and ongoing conversation topic.  Coming to the store was a no-brainer.
Continue reading

The Once and Future Whirl-O

Kenny Brechner -- July 2nd, 2015

You might think that shallow people miss out on a lot of the things which they are insensible to: faith, long-term conviction, the pursuit of a lofty goal, and so forth. You most likely also believe that it is obvious to outside observers that shallow people lack these things because, as Voltaire observed of himself, “I’m as small streams; they are transparent because they are shallow.”

It turns out that shallow and mordantly secular booksellers are not wholly immune to experiences of that sort. We feel loss and injustice. When the signature wrap of our store is discontinued, or a go-to handsell is not filled on an order because it has been placed out of stock indefinitely, we feel pain at the insensibility and injustice of the world in a manner not unlike our deeper colleagues.
Continue reading

37 Is Just The Right Amount

Kenny Brechner -- June 25th, 2015

Goldilocks-bedsThanks to Goldilocks we can all grasp the concept of an amount being just right. But knowing what that right amount might be is harder to figure out in advance than it is to recognize after the fact. Money, love, fame, attendees for author events, the exact right amount is always clear retrospectively.  Success and failure clarify everything wonderfully.

So when Pamela Voelkel and I plotted to do some outreach to book people on behalf of a prolific ninth grade writer whose mother was dying of cancer (read the full story here), we weren’t quite sure of our goal. We knew we wanted to make a difference in Kayla’s life. But we didn’t have a clear idea of how much participation was needed or if what we were asking was impossible. The main thing was that, as Pam put it “right now, she’s out of words. Which is why I think she needs a group hug from her fellow authors and booklovers. We can’t rewrite Kayla’s story, but maybe we can give her strength for what she has to face.”

Continue reading