Author Archives: Kenny Brechner

A Letter of Apology from the State of Maine to Lev Grossman

Kenny Brechner -- March 5th, 2015

It may surprise you to learn that the State of Maine himself has feelings. When I received a heartfelt letter from him it surprised me too.  The letter was not written for me, actually, but rather for Magician’s Trilogy author Lev Grossman, who had written an account last August of his sojourn here in Maine as an aspiring author back in 1991. His account, How Not to Write Your First Novel, related a series of events in which the bleak, empty, unremittingly harsh character of The State of Maine, which was inhabited at that time only by philistines, dank, unlit root cellars, and a handful of resentful buffalo, ultimately resulted in a bitter, soul-crushing epiphany for  the young Grossman.

stateofmaine3The State of Maine was not unmoved by this account. He took it to heart and wrote a letter in response which he asked me to post in a public place. I have done so below.

Dear Lev,

First of all, let me just say one thing: I’m sorry. People change, customs and institutions change, landscapes change, States change. I have changed. The sense of deflation you experienced, the extinction of your sense of genius and loss of faith concerning the place of artistry in the firmament of human enterprise, is entirely my fault. If Goethe had been trying to write The Sorrows of Young Werther in Ellsworth in 1991, he would have shot himself rather than killing off Werther. Instead of producing a brilliant, cathartic examination of the perils of romanticism, he would have left behind an insipid, half-completed manuscript on the fruitless yearning of an out-of-state fly fisherman for the wife of his Maine guide. Your self-regard stood no chance. You did admirably. In that furnace of personal depravity which surrounded the outskirts of Ellsworth, to have limited your descent to a few stolen pickles is a remarkable achievement.

You mention that “Maine was trying to teach me something, but I was a slow learner…. I thought that what I knew most about was myself, but I could not have been more wrong. I didn’t know the Public_Library,_Ellsworth,_MEfirst thing about myself, and Maine wasn’t going to teach me. You don’t learn about yourself by being alone, you learn about yourself from other people.” Very true, but allow me to suggest that nowhere is that more true than in rural Maine towns. The issue, which can give rise to the perception of barrenness, insularity, and resultant loneliness, is that in 1991 these communities were monolithic in nature, the town was the only game in town, as it were, and though they had different components, an art scene, snowmobilers and ATVers, they were still a complex but singular whole. To not engage with them was to not breathe the air, to be lonely, to walk around a constricted hundred acres instead of enjoying some of the finest hiking trails in the world just down the road.

image_resize.phpYet, I digress. I talked of change. And I have changed. If you were in Maine today, you would have had a Hyundai, not a Subaru. But it goes even deeper than that. In 1991 small Maine towns were islands in almost every sense. Take bookstores, for example. Rural Maine bookstores were islands unto themselves. When email came to town, even they could exist in multiple communities simultaneously: the local community, the bookselling world, and the publishing community. This growth of community has made a big difference here. It has changed my heart.

You say that “Not a single word I wrote there [in Maine] was ever published. I haven’t once set foot in the state of Maine since then.” But that is not entirely true. You have by proxy. Your books are here, and believe it or not some people living in Maine are very fond of them. There are bookstores here who promote them to the nines. In fact, I venture to say that if you did physically set foot in me again you would see things differently. You have changed, of course, but so have I. We’d be meeting each other halfway.

Sincerely yours,
Statesig

 

The State of Maine

Costume Character Advice Forum

Kenny Brechner -- February 26th, 2015

We are all aware that to better ourselves as booksellers, and as human beings, we need to try new things, to have different experiences. 20thanniversarypartyThe opportunity to follow that well-trodden wisdom presented itself to me with the offer of having a costumed character for a Children’s Book Week event. The world of costume character events is a blank portion of the map for us. True, we had done elaborate costume events for Harry Potter releases and we had all dressed as literary characters for our 20th anniversary party. Still, I’m fairly certain that everyone at the anniversary party grasped that I wasn’t really Jeeves.

The first thing to do though was to determine if any of the characters on offer made sense to us. The first one on the list that caught my eye was the Pout Pout Fish. This was intriguing because it could give me the opportunity of putting my Macmillan rep, Ellen Pyle, on  the spot. Pout-Pout-FishEllen is a huge Pout Pout Fish fan and it occurred to me that I could challenge her to back that up by wearing the costume. After closely considering that scheme I decided against it, largely because she might have said yes, something that was guaranteed to be memorable but also possibly a health risk.

Our deliberations were trending downward when one of my staff, Nicole, a college student who is very adult oriented in her literature reading, announced that The Poky Little Puppy had been a favorite book of her childhood, and that she was ready to step up and represent. That had been my top choice too. We were in.

I have a lot of questions about the whole thing, though, and I’m hoping that those of you who have costume character experience will chime in and answer. Are the costumes humane to wear? Could someone in a costume read a book to kids, or participate in a read aloud somehow? What are some of the best and worst experiences you’ve had with them? Tips, cautionary tales, avowals of personal growth and character development? Lay them on us!

Questions and Answers About ‘Ask the Dark’

Kenny Brechner -- February 19th, 2015

Recommending a book outside a customer’s comfort zone is a high-risk, high-reward proposition for a bookseller. Most of the time we adopt the Wooster slogan, “safety first,” and steer clear of crossing that line. There are times, however, when we encounter a book of such power that the irony of staying in our own comfort zone as a bookseller seems markedly unworthy.

I have never felt that quandary more strongly than I did after completing Henry Turner’s debut novel, Ask the Dark, a first-person account by Billy, a rough and roughly used boy, for whom safety is a luxury which he cannot afford. When he perceives that a serial killer, targeting at-risk children, is operating virtually unnoticed in town, Billy finds himself in the unexpected role of being a detective. The extremity of Billy’s circumstances make him an excellent observer of both character and behavior, while, ironically his own character and behavior are deeply misperceived by all of the adults in his life.

In short, Ask the Dark is extraordinarily good. Everyone over 14 should read it. Yet, I am concerned that some of the very people who get the most out it, adults who harbor biases against children like Billy, and who would therefore benefit greatly from reading the book, might be put off by its dark themes, and the presence of a serial killer, thereby misperceiving the book in much the same way as the adult characters in Ask the Dark misjudge Billy. Can we, as booksellers skulk in safety when Billy showed such exemplary courage? To get some perspective on this I asked, well not the dark, but rather the author of this sensational book, Henry Turner.

KB: I’m pretty sure David Hume would have loved Ask the Dark, given its exploration of the fallibility of undeveloped first impressions. Even if dead philosophers weren’t your primary audience, was faulty epistemology something you wanted to connect with your readers about?

HT: Good question! I’d say yes – and no. I never intended any specific message with Ask the Dark –I never had what people call an agenda. What motivated me to tell the story was what I felt about Billy – how excited I got seeing him come through in the end and do what was right, no matter how badly things had been going for him. That said, I’ll tell you what I, personally, think. I think the world has dumped on Billy so much that his whole life has become one big reaction to the crummy way he’s been treated. His neighbors basically blame him for the life he’s born into – poverty and ignorance. And so far he’s been a delinquent, kicking against the world, blindly fighting back. He’s not really a criminal, because he is simply reacting; he’s not really in control of his behavior – or responsible for it. And that scares people. Because if he is not responsible and in control, then maybe nobody is! The whole fabric of society is undermined by the behavior of one kid! He seems to be saying, all you people who pick on me, you control things because of privilege, not character. But in the end, he proves he has character. Tons of it. Maybe more than anybody else!

KB: Many people seek out or choose to have experiences that have an element of extremity that suspends illusion, rock climbing, winter hiking, and so forth. Billy lives perpetually in a situation of extremity that he does not choose to have, but which nonetheless has a similar effect. He cannot afford illusions and is a very accurate observer of both character and behavior. For example, he perceives Jimmy’s character in leaving him behind in the house much more accurately than Jimmy’s father did. Is Billy’s own character separate from the extremity in his life, or is it a byproduct of it?

HT: A by-product in many ways. Poverty makes his life precarious. But social instability is the worst form of excitement – so he seeks fear and danger as an alternative. It’s his way to provide for himself – danger is his toy. He thrives on “maybe getting caught.” Fearlessness is his prized possession. Most boys envy guts, and Billy is all guts, because he has little else to keep him from dwelling on his real problems. The benefit is that he can still think clearly and make close observations while under extreme pressure!

KB: I found myself thinking of him as a detective. Is that intended?

HT: I definitely thought about the boy-detective genre when I wrote it – but I tried to emphasize that while he is not intentionally a detective, going through the motions of being one staves off the pressure he feels coming at him from all sides. Billy is naturally curious, though, and he has all the instincts and abilities of an achiever – but he was born into a life where he prematurely falls through the cracks. In his own way, he loves to learn and even study  – see his expert knowledge of hardware supplies and the proper use of tools. And finally, he has to confront right and wrong with a detective’s sense of justice.

KB:  Have you considered the potential dark irony that some readers, particularly adults who harbor biases against children like Billy, and who would therefore benefit greatly from reading the book, might be put off by its dark themes, and the presence of a serial killer, thereby misperceiving the book in much the same way as the adult characters in Ask the Dark misjudge Billy? As a bookseller who feels that adults with biases against kids like Billy, who discard and discount children they are uncomfortable with, absolutely should read Ask the Dark, I am thinking hard as to how to bridge that gap, bearing in mind that pushing against a customer’s biases via handselling is a touchy, high-risk, high-reward, proposition for a bookseller.

HT: I think they are in for a great discovery, those parents who might distrust him just for what he is. They are like the adults in the book who judge him by first impressions. I wrote the book with them in mind – the people who might reject him because of how he talks or what’s he’s done. And I was very much interested in what creates a hero. Billy represents an essential aspect of human nature – the impulsiveness people have that can go either way: to good or evil. Are heroes good? Are they socially acceptable? Billy has a knack for seeing evil where others cannot. The book’s dark themes are essential to illuminate these questions. Boyhood is a tough time, and we mustn’t run from honest descriptions of it. Boys can learn from Billy – and maybe their parents can, too. Billy is a courage-teacher, teaching us the courage to change. You see, I don’t want Billy’s antagonists to merely accept him. I want them to love him.

KB: Given that Ask the Dark is most likely a stand-alone, is there anything surprising you can share with us about Billy’s future?

HT: He has long-term health problems. He gets married. The fruit stand is a success. Oh, I know all about him! I even cut some scenes that I’m thinking of putting on my website, which give a few clues about the girl he falls in love with. I am definitely going to write more about him!

The Blender in the Toaster Box

Kenny Brechner -- February 12th, 2015

We can probably all agree that packaging a blender in a box that is labeled as being for a toaster is not a good marketing decision. If attractively designed and reasonably priced these boxes will move off retail shelves as people who want to purchase a toaster buy them, it is true. One can easily see, however, that difficulties will ensue after the box is opened. This clear principle does not appear to commend itself uniformly to books, however, particularly for children’s fiction, where the nature of both the content and audience is very precise indeed.

Unfortunately, one often finds books whose covers are successfully designed to appeal to a set of customers other than the customers who would want to read their contents. While it will perhaps take a bit longer to determine the discrepancy than it would for the toaster purchaser who unpacks a blender, it won’t take that much longer and the result is much more insidious, because it is more far-reaching. The end result of the customer’s dissatisfaction will not result in a simple return but rather bad word-of-mouth and diminished long-term sales which negatively effect the author and the publisher, and a bad customer service experience that harms the bookstores relationship with its customers.

Here are two examples. Six Feet Over It, a delightful debut novel by Jennifer Longo. Let us look at the cover for a moment.

sixfeet

Here are the issues. The protagonist of the book is 15, not 23. She always wears the same pair of jeans and never wears anything else throughout the book. The book has a reader range of 11-15 and is humorous and snarky in tone, not angsty and dramatic. In short, the cover is designed to appeal to an entirely different audience in terms of both age and temperament than the story does.

Our second example is Donna Gephardt’s Death by Toilet Paper.

deathbytoilet

This cover would have been well designed if the book were a book of potty humor hijinks for 7 to 10 year olds. It is a good design for that. Though the book is humorous it also has a lot of depth and deals with a serious issue: the impact of economic downsizing on a middle grader, for whom the cheap toilet paper at home is emblematic of tough changes in the family fortunes. It’s an absolutely charming book and very painful to imagine it disappointing eight-year-olds who had been expecting to experience what the cover promised.

We feature both these titles at DDG and I can say that the charm of explaining to customers that the cover misrepresents the contents and why – which must be done every time we handsell the book – fades rapidly.

There is an easy fix for this. If the illustrator, or someone else integral to the cover art process, does what the covers are asking buyers to do – read and take the book to heart – this particularly unfortunate brand of failed cover art would likely disappear.

The Ultimate Binge Read?

Kenny Brechner -- February 5th, 2015

Waiting for books to come out, either the next in a series or an overdue book by a favorite author, may build, or at least strain, our character. Good for us, I’m sure, but binge reading is much more fun. Let us therefore leave the soul-testing labor of locating the Holy Grail to Sir Gawain today and turn our attention to the shallower quest of finding the perfect binge read.

Binge reads can center on a single series of  books all of which are already out, or on the works of a single author. One could go on a binge genre read too, of course, but we are seeking the perfect binge read and an astute observer once rightly defined it as “a finite number of great books.” Genre binging is clearly too open-ended and voluminous to meet our definition. Our first task, then,  is to determine whether the discovery of a single already completed series rates higher than the discovery of a newly beloved author with an established backlist.

From the standpoint of both a bookseller and a reader there is a great deal of satisfaction to be found in a single series that ends well. It should be noted, that even the very best of series written by a living author can be undone by unlooked for and unhappy additions. The classic Earthsea trilogy is a good example. The original trilogy could launch one off on a great binge read only to leave you to crash and burn in the pages of Tehanu, that ill-considered fourth book. Even when later books are only lesser than their predecessors, as opposed to abominable, as in books five and six of Chrestomanci, it still removes the series from being the perfect binge read.

For this reason Fablehaven, The Amulet of Samarkand, and Chaos Walking exemplify great binge reading, because they end cleanly and strongly. Such series are close to perfect but not quite. They are still subject to both waiting for future series by their authors and or possible disappointment with their authors’ backlist.

Given that the most perfect binge read would be “a finite number of great books,” I submit to you that the most perfect binge read is the lifework of a deceased novelist who produced a manageable body of work of uniform excellence. I submit that an example of the ultimate binge read is the complete works of Jane Austen.

One can easily form the wrong opinion of unread classics. Once the mistake is revealed the results can be truly sublime. In the case of Austen she had the foresight to write the perfect number of great novels, just enough to provide complete satisfaction. One is not left in want of any more or any less. Even the original misperception of the character of her novels is rendered amusing and ironic to the binge reader, who encounters similar foibles in the lead characters of the novels themselves.

Agree? Disagree? What do you deem to be the greatest binge read ever?

Confessions of a Galley Slave

Kenny Brechner -- January 29th, 2015

Bookseller to bookseller ARC reviews – honest, direct, and informative, divorced of vested interest – are extremely useful to frontlist buyers. With NECBA’s venerable Galley Review Project having slowed down from a spate, to a stream, to a trickle, they are very hard to come by now. The primary purpose of these reviews was discovery, as it should be, of course. Discovery is the main thing, to be sure, but what of all the sequels of the great series books you discovered? Therein lies the secret shame and source of frustration for many frontlist buyers. The pressure of discovery makes it very difficult to find time to read series sequels that you were dying to read when you finished book one.

My own nightstand is telling. The Whispering Skull, The Infinite Sea, and Knightley and Son K-9, stare ominously at me. “We are out now, and you have abandoned us,” they say. The Mime Order, Half Wild, The Lost City, and The Golden Specific, emanate their own brand of opprobrium. “Be fair,” I say. “Look at your neighbor, The Buried Giant, I promised Pam Kaufman I’d read it.” They are unmoved.” You said you loved us and we are unread,” they say. It really is a dilemma; not only are there the warring promises and duties, but customers ask about Book Twos all the time, customers you handsold Book One to. They have come to share your love of Book One, why haven’t you read Book Two?

Something must be done. I’m galled to the quick, I tell you. With this in mind I did four things. First, I went on a binge read of some sequels I’ve most wanted to read. Second, I came up with a sequel-oriented layout for series sequel reviews, essentially modifying the discovery oriented layout of the NECBA reviews. Third, I posted two of them here as examples.

9780670017133Half Wild, by Sally Green
9780670017133 – March 2105
Viking

Follow up to: Half Bad.

The Lowdown: Half Wild magnifies the themes and qualities of its predecessor in a masterful manner. Both the actions and the perceptions of its characters are subject to multiple perspectives and present an aggressive moral challenge to the reader. For example, lead character Nathan’s first person voice is completely honest, and yet the accuracy of his information and his impressions, as well as the nature of his character and his actions are dynamically unsettled.

The Bottom line: Splendid characters, unrelenting narrative tension, and intellectually engaging scenarios make Half Wild a stupendously entertaining read.

Anguish Level at Having to Wait for Book 3: High

The Core Audience:  Some series’ such as Hunger Games and Harry Potter,  elevated their content from book to book. This is not so of this superb series. It has been upper YA from the get-go and certainly stays there. It is visceral and violent, and its depiction of sexuality, though not graphic, is strong and emotive. Great stuff but not a go-to book for 10-year-olds reading above grade level.

Unexpected Bonus(es): One is always pleased to see one’s own personal activities get a shout-out, and Half Wild delivered a few.

  1. Appetite Suppressant:  Even Julia Child would have been put off by some of Nathan’s meals when he first exercises his gift.
  2. Hiking mountains: Nathan’s tendency to spend any down time he has obsessively doing strenuous hikes will be very welcome to any readers who happen to be hikers.
  3. Porridge. Those of us who make oatmeal for breakfast most mornings will find Nathan’s habit of making his own porridge every morning, even when fattier options are available, to be very bracing indeed. Thank you, Sally Green!

(Series Support Level Scale:

1= Book Two is even better than or just as good as Book One – must recruit more readers for Book One.
2= Book Two is wobbly but still worthy – must make sure readers of book one have got it.
3= Book Two has veered off course badly. It’s game over for the series.)

Half Wild Support Level  = 1

9781620408933The Mime Order, by Samantha Shannon
9781620408933  – February 2015
Bloomsbury

Follow up to: The Bone Season.

The Lowdown: The Mime Order follows Paige Mahoney’s development from Sheol 1 escapee to Syndicate Underqueen. The book succeeds in sustaining interest in its lead character throughout the story; however, the central section suffers from some contrived narrative devices. Shannon keeps using the same method over and over again to move Paige around to all the scenes she needs to have. Paige keeps running off, flouting Jaxon’s standing order not to do that. Jaxon is steamed when she gets back, but lets it go. Though Jaxon is seen to be steadily drinking more, this repeated device has the overall effect of making him seem static and inexplicably treading water. Good scenes certainly do happen in the middle section, but it feels like the author couldn’t figure out how to make them happen credibly. Once the table is fully laid, however, the final section of the book is really strong. The culminating scene, a scrimmage in which most of the syndicate aristocracy, Mime Lords, Queens, and Mollishers, duke it out in an arena to determine the next syndicate ruler, is sensationally entertaining and imaginative.  Even in this moment of triumphant spectacle I did find myself thinking that no ruling elite would have allowed a formal means of succession which involved essentially decapitating itself.

The Bottom Line: Though it wobbles a bit, the book does carry the core story forward and manages to sustain readers’ interest throughout. Big action scenes, evocative imaginative flourishes, and strong romantic currents will deliver what readers of Book One came back for. Book Three will be life and death for this series.

Anguish Level at Having to Wait for Book 3: High

The Core Audience:  Though published as adult, this is clearly a 16 and up crossover book.

Unexpected Bonus(es):

Great names for syndicate leaders:  The Pale Dreamer, the White Binder, The Hare, the Rag and Bone Man, The Wicked Lady, The Bully-Rook, and many more.

(Series Support Level Scale:

1= Book Two is even better than or just as good as Book One – must recruit more readers for Book One.
2= Book Two is wobbly but still worthy – must make sure readers of book one have got it.
3= Book Two has veered off course badly. It’s game over for the series.)

 

Mime Order Support Level  = 2

Fourth: I put forward right now that booksellers should find a means for producing and sharing series sequel reviews either on local regional listservs, ABC, or some other platform.

The Rhyming Couplet and Quatrain Epitaph Contest

Kenny Brechner -- January 22nd, 2015

Have you heard  that rhyming couplets in picture books are about to be revealed in a prominent medical journal as a serious health hazard? That being, umm, true, it is time to take stock of this soon to be extinct genre. It is time for the Rhyming Couplet and Quatrain Epitaph Contest.

Caution-Biological-HazardFirst of all, though, you may possibly wish to know more about the medical hazards posed by rhyming couplets and quatrains.  Here is what I can reveal at this time. This information is based entirely on what was leaked to me by a contributing scientist who has insisted on remaining nameless at present because “this is the most hazardous research I have ever been associated with. We simply didn’t use enough safeguards, and it is still unknown whether the cognitive deterioration exhibited by our entire team will prove to be reversible.” I’m sure you can understand her reticence. All right – so here is what we know so far.

  1. Rhyming Couplets and Quatrains In Picture Books (RCQIPB) has been  directly correlated  o a neurological disorder in readers called the Bappity Syndrome (BS). BS is marked by the dissociation of words from meaning and context, not only during the reading of the book but for a prolonged period afterwards. Adult readers with a saturation point exposure to RCQIPB were 278% more likely to have automobile accidents resulting from confounding traffic signs, 317% likelier to purchase food they didn’t want to actually eat because it rhymed with something already in the shopping cart, and 9,178% likelier to hug inanimate objects like rugs and mugs.
  2. RCQIPB has been firmly established as a form of malign hypnosis which makes its readers susceptible to the sort of latent behavioral triggers made famous in The Manchurian Candidate. RCQIPB therefore constitutes both a national and a global security crisis.
  3. 53% of subjects given prolonged exposure to RCQIPB experienced catastrophic cognitive decline marked by the gradual subsuming of all verbal and written communications in a nonsensical sub language the researchers termed Ippity, which is marked by communication devoid of meaning in both structure or even purpose.
  4. The findings regarding the effects of RCQIPB on children were found to be far, far more egregious but ultimately reversible if successfully exposed to Harriet the Spy.

These are, apparently, only some of the findings to be revealed in the prominent medical journal. If the article fails to appear that would certainly make this matter all the more poignant, as we would have to assume that these intrepid researchers had succumbed to the effect of BS, and were constitutionally unable to complete their paper.

In the meantime one feels that it is certainly time to write the epitaph for RCQIPB, something along the lines of .

Oh rhymes of which we must henceforth refrain
Think now of all the books of which you were the bane
Find peace and be just at your long overdue fate
Consider how even this rhyming epitaph does grate

And so forth. Post your entry below and be eligible for a sensational prize!

Kathy Space: Penguin Kids Inside Sales Rep Extraordinaire

Kenny Brechner -- January 15th, 2015

I wanted to take a moment today to recognize someone who has been an outstanding industry colleague of mine for many years, my Penguin Kids inside sales rep, Kathy Space. Kathy has been my rep at Penguin for her entire tenure there, 17 years. My Penguin inside sales reps have all been good, but Kathy has been exceptional. Always passionate about her job, always focused, effective and personal in her outreach, Kathy has been a consummate professional.

kathyspace

That’s Kathy in the middle on the right. When I was NECBA co-chair, back in the day, and was putting together an education program for the NEIBA trade show called How to Make Publishers Love You, we invited Kathy to be on the panel. A few of her NECBA buyers went out to dinner with her afterwards. None of us had met her in person before. Even the napkins were excited to get to meet her in person.

The depth of her professionalism has never been more evident than in this last year. With the Penguin/Random House merger the clock has been ticking on Kathy’s time there. Rather than coasting to the end, Kathy continued to be an enthusiastic and dynamic proponent of Penguin’s children’s books every day of her last year there. She continued to work with me on all my recent schemes to promote any favorite books that happened to be Penguin.

Over the years I worked with Kathy on all kinds of DDG educational outreach programs, in-store promotions, and institutional purchase order researching issues beyond number. We had a lot of fun and sold a lot of books by working together. When I first had the idea to bring a class set of ARCs for review in 2003 it was Kathy I called. Through Wereworld campaigns and Common Core price quote marathons, Kathy was my go-to rep.

Things change, as you may have had occasion to notice yourself. Things come to an end. The PRH merger means a new rep for me. It doesn’t mean my new rep won’t be great. It does mean, however, that it is time to take a moment to recognize someone who’s been a terrific book industry colleague to many of us for many years. It does mean that is time to say a goodbye, and the best wishes ever, to Kathy Space.

An Interview with the Year 2015

Kenny Brechner -- January 6th, 2015

Another Year walks among us now and I am pleased to offer her insights into what lays ahead in this exclusive interview!

Kenny: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

The Year 2015: Don’t be silly. It’s my pleasure, Kenny.

Kenny: I’m curious about your portrait. You appear to have just received some profoundly good news. Had you just heard about your appointment as the Year 2015 from The Council of Years?

The Year 2015: That was a grand moment too, but the scene captured in my portrait occurred last week, when I received the letter back from the Upper Council concerning the Damocles Edict. I was so pleased!

Kenny: Hold on a moment. I’m a bit out to sea. The Upper Council? The Damocles Edict?

The Year 2015: Well, Kenny, the Council of Years is a subcommittee which operates under the aegis of The Upper Council. When a new Year is appointed one of our first tasks pertains to making a submission regarding the Damocles Edict, which is then reviewed by the Upper Council.

Kenny: I see. Can you tell us about this Damocles Edict? I mean, I’m familiar with his sword and all.

The Year 2015: Yes, it is the same idea but on rather a larger scale. Actually, you may not want to know about this.

Kenny: I think I do.

The Year 2015: Hmmm. Well, many members of the Upper Council take rather a dim view of humanity. An edict for your destruction was passed in the Year 1520. However the incoming Year 1521 made a case on humanity’s behalf and the edict was revised so that each incoming year must submit one human artistic production made during the current year to The Upper Council. The chosen production should be of such a character as to show humanity’s ability to both perceive what is of fundamental importance and to work toward attaining it. Humanity was given an abeyance of ten years by The Upper Council. If the annual submission is not deemed worthy the number of years until destruction is then reduced by one. If the submission is particularly strong the Council will sometimes raise the counter back upward!

Kenny: Unbelievable. That’s terrifying.

The Year 2015: Yes, you can see why the edict was renamed The Damocles Edict. In any case my submission was of particular importance as the number was down to one.

doryKenny: *Gasp*. I guess the fact that we are holding this conversation indicates that you chose well. What did you send the council?

The Year 2015: I sent them a copy of Dory Fantasmagory. They absolutely loved it and raised the number all the way back up to 10! Unprecedented!

Kenny: Phew. Well spotted! It is a sensational and wonderful book, and I can certainly see how it would save humanity from extinction. Can you share with us some of the other books written last year that you considered submitting?

The Year 2015: Sure! First of all, bear in mind that books which essentially explore and describe the fallibility and quandaries of humanity, however poignantly, do not make for wise submissions to the Upper Council. Hence such books as All The Light We Cannot See, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, or Deep Down Dark, regardless of their excellence, are not quite the thing here.

Kenny: Point noted. Though I would think that lines like this one from Deep Down Dark, “The mine is like him: flawed and neglected but worthy of respect and love,” might be persuasive.

The Year 2015:  That is a marvelous passage, but the Upper Council would have found it to be affirming of their prejudices rather than redemptive. All right then. Two books I did give a great deal of consideration to were The Glass Sentence and The Magician’s Land. Maintaining personal integrity amidst a fractured world, the ability to grow and be strengthened by gnosis, to achieve responsibility and unfettered atonement seemed fruitful to me. I would have felt confident submitting them to the council. Two others I gave thought to were Vanilla Ice Cream, and Julia’s House for Lost Creatures. Those are both books which I felt would have turned the Council’s thoughts in a constructive direction.

Kenny: One last question. If your submission had failed and the Damocles Edict had fallen, would you have died or ceased to be along with humanity?

The Year 2015: No, but I would have been out of a job.

Kenny: Gotcha. Thanks so much, both for taking the time for this interview, and for saving humanity.

The Year 2015: It was my pleasure on both counts, Kenny.

The Oddest Week of the Year

Kenny Brechner -- January 2nd, 2015

georg-wilhelm-friedrich-hegel-german-philosopherIf Friedrich Hegel had been a modern-day independent bookseller, the period between Christmas and New Year’s would have been his favorite time period. It is the most dialectical week of the year, I mean to say. Consider the sudden extinction of momentum, followed by the retrograde motion of reflection and exhaustion arcing back around and then upward toward restoration and re-invigoration. Consider also the spiraling vortexes of inventory taking and replenishment, alongside the retrograde action of accounting and tax preparation. It’s Reason in History made flesh, and I’m certain Hegel would have loved it. Speaking for myself, I cannot claim to be so lofty. I find it to be the oddest, most disorienting week of the year. That being so I sought some guidance from Friedrich Hegel himself.

Brechner: One thing I wonder about is whether to bring Plenty More back in with numbers. Normally cookbooks don’t sell much outside the fourth quarter but that one is just so exceptional.

Hegel: Oh indeed. I think you should. Eating vegetables is hardly a seasonal event, and the book’s novel organization, aligned with its stunning graphics, give it every indication of being a world historical cookbook.

Brechner: Thanks. Was there any strong seller this season that you do think was very holiday-specific despite not having an overt holiday theme?

hegelHegel:  This may be hard for you to hear but I’m going to speak of Crap Taxidermy. I know you did wonders with it but with the holiday season gone by it will go back to being a fun thing to flip through at the store and cease to be the perfect gift for anyone with a sense of humor.

Brechner: I hear you. But what about the bigger picture, that subtle sense of transition, of the store’s identity shedding a skin and needing to be slightly reinvented at the very moment one feels most inclined to coast and preserve its culminating annual moment? How does one embrace the annual mundane year-end pressures when one is least disposed to them?

Hegel:I can understand your sentiments, but movement has no sentiment.  And whether you direct it or are simply subject to it is your province. But think, does the helmsman ride the storm only to run upon a reef in calm waters the next day due to inattention?

Brechner: Good point. Well, thanks for sharing your perspective with us.

Hegel: Not at all. And do bear in mind, as you move forward, that our epoch is a birth-time, and a period of transition. The spirit of man has broken with the old order of things hitherto prevailing, and with the old ways of thinking, and is in the mind to let them all sink into the depths of the past and to set about its own transformation. A very happy New Year to all of you.