The Fallacies of Applying the UN Hate Speech Definition to Literature


Kenny Brechner - February 25, 2022

In applying the United Nations’ hate speech definition to suppress works of literature, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) and the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) are engaging, with considerable and unhappy irony, in a fictional narrative in which they are actively employing an objective standard for censoring books. The central fallacy here is the understanding of these professional literary organizations that the UN supports using its hate speech definition as a standard for suppressing speech, which it  explicitly does not. Secondarily, their exercise of censorship is marred by the fact that the UN hate speech definition is overtly intended as a standard to be applied to direct interpersonal communication, not literature.  

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Everything Old Is New Again (Maybe?)


Meghan Dietsche Goel - February 17, 2022

Like most of my ShelfTalker colleagues, I’ve taken an extended break from blogging during the pandemic, as ever-shifting dynamics at the store pulled focus and finding a minute for reflection felt impossible. Now, a little over a month into 2022, after closing out the year with a successful holiday shopping season, I feel suddenly, tentatively hopeful that we’re reclaiming some of our familiar rhythms—a bit haltingly, a bit differently perhaps, but finding a little bit of our old selves nonetheless.

Our recent evening with Stephen Harrigan – events are back!

It was such a breath of back-to-normal fresh air to see the crowds back in the store over the holidays, clearly embracing the joys of getting out, shopping local, and talking books with their friendly neighborhood booksellers (a trend that has continued with unusually strong traffic in these traditionally lighter winter months). But for a store that typically revolves so heavily around events, festivals, and partnerships, the absence of those interactive collaborations over the last couple of years left a big hole—not only in BookPeople’s business, but in how we booksellers extend our mission beyond our walls and engage creatively with the role of books in our community.

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What’s Different and What’s the Same?


Kenny Brechner - February 3, 2022

Someone recently asked me in relation to the pandemic’s formidable, sustained power “what life is like in the store these days, what’s different and what’s the same?” A singular traumatic event is more concise in its changes. The pandemic is more like reading the same book at different points in life: it casts us back upon ourselves for answers that are deceptively hard to define because we have changed ourselves. We have become unreliable narrators in our own stories.

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“If You Ever Wonder If You Make a Difference…”


Elizabeth Bluemle - January 27, 2022

Well, hello, long-lost friends of ShelfTalker! After 10 years of blogging for PW, I took a looong hiatus as we scrambled and pivoted and launched ourselves into this new world of Covid-era bookselling. It is lovely to be back—especially this week, when the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced and so many glorious books earned medals and a world of new readers. This post celebrates two Vermont winners, and then shares the most heartwarming story we’ve heard lately, from a customer involving a young person, art, and a gift inspired by Peter Reynolds.

Our own brave little state of Vermont saw two of its finest honored with multiple seals. Kekla Magoon‘s Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther’s Promise to the People from Candlewick Press has so many awards they barely fit on the book jacket: National Book Award Finalist, Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor, Michael L. Printz Honor, and Walter Dean Myers Honor.

Image from Candlewick Press via Penguin Random House’s website, with thanks!
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Tentatively 2022


Cynthia Compton - January 10, 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!

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An Interview with the Year 2022


Kenny Brechner - January 3, 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 6, 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.

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


Kenny Brechner - November 1, 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 20, 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 4, 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.