Category Archives: Uncategorized

Of Mermaids and Purrmaids

Kenny Brechner -- May 11th, 2017

As you may know this week all five of us ShelfTalkers have been writing about books we’ve read for Gene Luen Yang’s Reading Without Walls Challenge. Meghan had put forward the idea and we were all excited to read something on what would be, for us personally, a road even less traveled than the one at Frost’s intersection in the woods.

The challenge asks us to read books with which we have at least one of the following relationships to.

I was interested in reading books in an area that met all three criteria for me and which represented a true gap in my reading and settled upon a genre, early chapter books written specifically for girls, which was an undeniable personal weak point. I do have go-to books there like Dory Fantasmagory, The Princess in Black, and Utterly Me Clarice Bean, but these titles are singular and exceptional. The vast rank and file world ruled by mermaids, pet clubs, rainbow fairies, magical animals and princesses I have left unsampled.

I chose two books for the challenge. The first was Purrmaids Book One, the Scaredy Cat, by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, and the second was Third Grade Mermaid by Peter Raymondo. These books clearly met all the challenge standards. As a mostly bald 55-year-old male I do not resemble either a young cat mermaid, or an eight-year-old mermaid, nor do I know much about either of their personal lives
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Reading Without Walls Challenge, Part 3

Elizabeth Bluemle -- May 10th, 2017

I love a good reading challenge! Several weeks ago, fellow ShelfTalker blogger Meghan Goel at BookPeople (in Austin) suggested that all five of us take on Gene Luen Yang’s Reading Without Walls Challenge and blog about it.

I loved the criteria Gene set out to encourage a nation of readers to read outside their comfort zones: to read about characters unlike you, to read about topics you don’t know about, and to read formats you don’t usually read. As a bookseller, it’s kind of my job to read outside my comfort zone; I have to read books across all genres and formats in order to stock the store for all of the readers who walk through the doors, not just readers who share my reading preferences. And as a human being, I’m a fairly curious beast, and open to the unfamiliar. So at first. I wasn’t sure where my areas of reading discomfort lay. But during our five-way email conversation, in which my colleagues identified their own zones of avoidance, I realized of COURSE there are books I avoid. But did they meet Gene Yang’s criteria?

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Beam Me Up, Scotty

Cynthia Compton -- May 9th, 2017

My fellow ShelfTalker bloggers have been handselling of late — not just in their stores, but to each other. It began with a suggestion from Meghan Dietsche Goel to spend a week as a group with Gene Luen Yang’s Reading Without Walls challenge, and specifically to select a title that met one, two, or three of his criteria, read it and write about the experience. Great idea, Meghan, but “YIKES!” I thought. In my on-the-floor, apron-wearing mode, I happily recommend all types of books to young readers, and read stacks of ARCs and award list titles rather indiscriminately. It’s a rare luxury, as a bookseller, in just choosing what you like to read for fun, much less to pick up something not required.

I imagine that many of our desks and nightstands and car floormats are piled with towering stacks of next season’s releases, this season’s “next up” before launch date, and the backlist offerings of our next visiting author. So much of this reading is just to put out the fire, so to speak – it’s what we MUST read next, to introduce, to review, or perhaps to hold our own at a dinner or panel. It’s often an embarrassment of both literary riches and a failure of housekeeping. It was a straightening of the spine, as my Nana would have said, to look at those shelves and think about what I should read to thoughtfully respond to Gene’s challenge: specifically to stretch by choosing something out of my ordinary in either format, character, or topic.

Fortunately, my colleagues had plenty of ideas for me, and confessions of their own about genres that were less regular in their reading rotations. (Note to self: stop asking potential new hires what they LIKE to read, rather, ask them what makes them uneasy… fascinating answers follow.)  I shared my hesitance about the science fiction section, and was offered a GREAT BIG STACK of titles. Why is it, I wonder, that so much science fiction is so FAT? Does it really take that many pages to invent a new reality? I thought technology was supposed to save time? Never mind. I’m procrastinating. Into the shelves I went to pluck Book One of the Chaos Walking series from Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go. Just in case, I took home books two and three, which effectively toppled the precarious stack next to the bed, and disturbed the sleeping bulldog.

I was familiar with the trilogy, and could recite a couple of good “hooks” from staffers for customers, but had never handsold the books with the passion of a first-hand reader. I had sold A Monster Calls by the stack, but that is such a stand alone novel that I never went back to read the author’s crossover debut. The Chaos Walking series has all the imagined foreboding qualities of science fiction that make me skip to the next title in the pile: the books are lonnnnggg, presented in a trilogy format (which can be like agreeing to a prom date before Valentine’s Day, as you just don’t know how you’ll feel by spring break) and an (imagined) introduction of detailed futuristic technology to set the story. I was wrong about that third assumption, as I was about many of my generalizations about the genre.  The book launches from a perfect first sentence for a technophobic reader (“The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say”) to the introduction of a society filled with the NOISE of every person’s thoughts. As I turned off my phone (must remember to silence that buzz announcing emails) and pushed the laptop over to my spouse’s side of the bed (no, I don’t want to watch the video with the duck and the dog best friends), I flew through the first 100 pages, completely connected to young Todd, and knee deep in the swamps around Prentisstown. I was alternately shocked, frightened, amused, and altogether riveted by a story that races along, and fulfills that “just one more chapter before I turn out the light” that moves a title from shelf talker status to emotional handsell.


While the novels are clearly science fiction, the story transcends genre in the best of ways, through heart-stopping, sleep-preventing adventure, cheer-worthy heroes and shocking evil hidden by societal norms. I find myself still haunted by themes of this trilogy, published in 2006, that seem all too 2017: the incessant noise of a constantly broadcast stream of consciousness masquerading as information, the ease of manipulation of a large group of people, the role of guilt in controlling behavior, and the struggle to come of age in a society with a distorted view of adulthood. Like many good books, this one will need rereading in different times both in our customers lives and experience, and as reflection on changing times in our politics and society. Ohhhh… I get it, Mr Yang. We must read the strange to see the familiar, and look inside the cover to see further what’s outside. Let’s take down a few more of those walls in our bookshelves, to start. Two to beam aboard.




Reading Without Walls (Part One)

Leslie Hawkins -- May 8th, 2017

In April, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Gene Luen Yang formally launched the Reading Without Walls Challenge. Inspired by his official platform, the challenge encourages readers to explore books of diverse voices, genres, and formats. My ShelfTalker colleagues and I chatted about the initiative all through April and decided to take turns writing about some of our experiences. Looks like I’m up first! Continue reading

‘This Is Not The End’!

Kenny Brechner -- May 4th, 2017

Turning the last page of Chandler Baker’s This Is Not The End I found myself wishing that were true. It’s a story you don’t want to leave. In the world of This Is Not The End, every citizen, on her 18th birthday, can apply to resurrect one, and only one, person. Resurrection not only restores a body to life but heals its physical defects in the process. With her best friend and her boyfriend dead in a car crash, her resurrection choice already spoken for within her broken family, and the days until her 18th birthday ticking away, Lake Devereaux is in a tight spot by any standard.

This Is Not The End uses the abundant drama of Lake’s predicament as a powerful fulcrum of self exploration and revelation. Chandler took the story in several directions I hadn’t foreseen, delivering a rich story that is both a taut thriller and a satisfying, multifaceted love story. As I see it, the book, which comes out in August from Hyperion, is not only terrific, but also exceptionally promising in the sales department. I asked its author to weigh in here on some spoiler-free topics from its pages.
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13 Reasons Why We Read, and Why We Must Talk About It

Cynthia Compton -- May 3rd, 2017

It’s a terrifying subject, teen suicide, and it’s in every newspaper this week. Our own state of Indiana ranks ninth in the country in adolescent suicide, according to the latest Kids Count report, and as high as in the top five of states for teens who have considered self harm. The release of the Netflix adaptation of Jay Asher’s novel 13 Reasons Why has created a storm of comment, controversy and concern from school administrators, counselors, parents and the media. Copies of the book, with its newer cover featuring the actors from the series, are selling more than other movie cover in recent memory or POS report. As booksellers, we are grilled by parents in the aisles: “have you read it? have you seen it? what do you think?” and kids who slide a copy across the counter, prompting this shopkeeper and mom to try to catch their eye and somehow discern in a glance whether they need a helping hand or just a bag and a bookmark.
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The Best Comfort Books

Elizabeth Bluemle -- May 2nd, 2017

Books are magical, and bookstores are houses of magic. There’s something indescribably hopeful about being around all those stories and information on every conceivable interest or need—shelves and shelves of possibility jacketed in beautiful art. Familiar books are friends, while others are potential beloveds. Bookstores tend to be colorful, cheerful places, energetic but also soothing, restful, reassuring. I’ll bet my fellow booksellers can attest to the numbers of people who confide that they’ve come in for a little comfort after a hard week or a difficult loss. Sometimes these customers are seeking a book to help themselves or others through a painful time; at other times, they just want to soak up the warm papery goodness of being around so. many. books. Bookstores are like a literary bakery.

Because so many people look to bookstores for a little TLC, I’m always interested in discovering what others consider a comfort read. Here are a few of my own favorite books to revisit in times of trouble:

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Inspired Wandering

Meghan Dietsche Goel -- April 28th, 2017

Entering the Blanton Museum of Art takes you into a peaceful atrium of serene blue walls and striking sculptural drama. Dangling from the ceiling, the immense Siphonophora immediately catches your eye—a beautifully strange sculpture inspired by a sea creature that simultaneously functions as one entity and as many. When we entered on our way into the galleries in the quiet morning, the space evoked feelings of peace and connection to the natural world. But over the course of the day, as I saw the space fill with yoga mats and then the chatter of children on field trips, it transformed from an environment of stillness to one pulsing with energy. And I think that reflects my evolving understanding of the role a museum like the Blanton fills in our community.

I was there last week to launch a new collaboration between BookPeople and the Blanton to bring thoughtful illustrators like Javaka Steptoe into conversations about the role of art in picture books—and then use those conversations as a jumping off point for further art exploration. The Blanton uses books to facilitate art interpretation in their field trips already, so adding the voices of some of the illustrators seems like a natural and exciting next step. Continue reading

The Real Reason Rothfuss’ Kingkiller 3 Is Not Here Yet

Kenny Brechner -- April 27th, 2017

One thing many booksellers have in common is a weariness of answering questions about the publication date of the third book in Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller trilogy. It is a weariness shared by others connected to the book as well. The author is sick of being asked about it, the publisher is sick of being asked about it, and readers are sick of asking booksellers about it. It has been over 11 years since my former Penguin rep, Peter Giannoni, mailed me an ARC of book one,The Name of the Wind, telling me that he thought I would like it (true) and that the author had written all three books while he was in grad school so there wouldn’t be a wait involved beyond the usual one year between each release (not true).

At this point, seven years out from when I read book two, Wise Man’s Fear, it seemed time to get some hard facts about the cause for the continuing absence of book three. The way I decided to approach this was to pull together a list of possible causes, and then ask someone who would know for sure if any of them were true. Fortunately Bast himself, one of the book’s characters, agreed to review the materials and give his assessment. First of all here’s the list.
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The worms crawl in and the worms crawl out…

Cynthia Compton -- April 26th, 2017

It is mud season in Indiana, as evidenced by my store floors, my dogs paws, and the spectacular crop of dandelions in our front yard that is still a bit soft to mow. The area farmers are out making huge piles of debris in the corners of fields that are too wet for plowing, so most late afternoons there’s a haze of smoke as they burn the sticks and branches blown down in spring storms.  We’re not quite ready to open the swimming  pools or drag the patio furniture out of the garage, but we’re all ready to be outside. Its a perfect time for kids and their grown ups to put on some boots and go investigate the crawly things under rocks and logs, and an even better time for a store display about worms.

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