Author Archives: Kenny Brechner

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.’”
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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.
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‘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.
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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.
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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.
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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.”

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An Interview with Mrs. Perry’s and Mrs Murray’s ARC Reviewers

Kenny Brechner -- June 18th, 2015

I’ve never come away from chatting with a classroom full of kids about ARCs they’ve read and reviewed for me without some interesting takeaways. The conversation below with two Cape Cod Hill School classes, one fourth grade and one fifth grade, who had just completed our annual Galley Review Project was not an exception. Note that while kids this age like nonfiction, the use of inserting fictional elements into the narrative to create dialogue is very important to them. Here are the kids!

Kenny: What surprised you the most about the book you read?

dangerouswatersEmma Z: That seeing a unicorn in the parking lot wasn’t surprising to the people in the book. (Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures)

Brody: There was a boy who looked nice but he did something that was not nice at all.

Emma H: I read about Dolly Madison. (Women Who Broke the Rules: Dolly Madison)  I was surprised that she was a famous girl who did a lot of things and helped her husband a lot.
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‘Uprooted’: The Epitome of an Alex Award Title

Kenny Brechner -- June 11th, 2015

The Alex Awards, which “are given to 10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18,” are a source of particular interest to me. The underlying concept of the award embodies the kind of thinking booksellers do all the time in assessing the possibility of alexawardmultiple handselling audiences for a book. The how, where, and why books crossover from Young Adult to Adult (such as The Night Circus) and vice versa are both interesting and useful. The benefits of literary bridges are immense. Successful crossover books provide substantive momentum at critical points in a reader’s life. They promote multi-generational connections. Apart from any other considerations, Alex Award winners also tend to be some of our biggest sellers.

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Summer’s Reading List

Kenny Brechner -- June 4th, 2015

With summer now visible on the horizon, and summer reading  on our minds, we are fortunate that Summer herself agreed to share some of her own reading list with ShelfTalker readers.

Kenny: I know how busy late Spring is for you. Many thanks for taking the time to speak with us.

Summer: I’m delighted to do so, Kenny.

Kenny: First off I have a question for you.

Summer: Why then, unburden yourself of it.

Kenny: Well, most readers refine their literary opinions, and make their book selections, at least in part, based on interactions with other readers. I know how well read you are but do you have the opportunity to discuss what you are reading with anyone, and if so who? Do you and the other three seasons have a reading group or anything like that?
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A Group Hug for Kayla

Kenny Brechner -- May 21st, 2015
Jon and Pamela giving a talk on writing before the big Community Read assembly.

Jon and Pamela giving a talk on writing before the big Community Read assembly.

Two years ago, at a middle school community read event featuring the husband-and-wife author team, Pamela and Jon Voelkel, a passionate writer in the 7th grade named Kayla took Pam up on her invitation to stay in touch. The two of them corresponded steadily since the event, and then mysteriously stopped a few months ago. Then Pamela received an email from Kayla on a topic other than writing. Here’s Pamela:

“In a little town in Maine, there’s a teenage author whose world is falling apart. Her name is Kayla and I first met her a couple of years ago on an author visit to her middle school. She asked if I’d look at her work and that’s what I’ve done ever since. She’s at high school now, but she’s still as passionate as ever about her writing (mostly historical fantasy with strong female characters). Kayla writes and writes and writes – sometimes whole books! – and sends them to me for critiques. I hadn’t heard from her for a while and then I got the saddest email a few weeks ago, apologizing for her lack of output and explaining that her mother had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. This will be a terrible year for Kayla.

One day, she’ll be a famous author. But 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. Her school guidance counselor says that such a gesture would be greatly appreciated by Kayla’s family.

That is from a letter Pamela is sending out today to other authors and to booksellers, encouraging them to send out notes of support to Kayla. Pamela contacted me to help with the project. She shared with me that…

“My own mother died when I was a bit older than Kayla. It felt like it should have been headline news, but the world just kept on turning. I want to show Kayla that she’s in the hearts of people she doesn’t even know. She’s a writer and that means her fellow writers and booklovers will always be there for her – booksellers, librarians, editors, publishers, readers, everyone. It’s the most supportive community I’ve ever encountered and Kayla needs to feel the love right now.”

Kayla’s family thinks this would be a wonderful and supportive idea. Anyone interested in sending Kayla a note of support should do the following. (This is from Pamela’s letter; I’m not going third person on you.)

“Cards, letters, signed books, messages of support should be mailed to Kayla via her local bookseller, Kenny Brechner at DDG Booksellers in Maine. Or you can email your message to, putting “For Kayla” in subject line.  (Of course, all correspondence will be checked by Kayla’s school guidance counselor before it’s passed on to Kayla and her family.)

For letters, please put Kayla’s envelope, unsealed, in an outer envelope addressed to:
c/o Kenny Brechner
DDG Booksellers
193 Broadway
Farmington, ME 04938
If you can spread the word on social media, please use #grouphugforkayla”

A full copy of Pamela’s letter to authors is here, Thanks everyone!