Bookstores in the Crosshairs

Kenny Brechner - May 31, 2022

Some things involving words—intellectual thrillers and philosophical discussions, for example—benefit from complexity and moral engagement. Others—such as instruction manuals and free speech—are best kept simple. Let us consider a case in point involving bookselling and free speech: the current attempt by two Virginia legislators to have a pair of popular and highly regarded published works banned from sale at bookstores in their state.

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Tackling the Inexplicable

Kenny Brechner - April 28, 2022

How we approach the inexplicable defines us as human beings and as booksellers. This is a stern business, particularly since children’s bookselling often summons the specter of inexplicability. How could such a picture book be selling? How could such a picture book not be selling? How can a book be expected to overcome this cover? Why was my gift rep right about these atrocious fidget toys? And so forth.

Two weeks ago, we took in a display of Squishables’ incredibly adorable new line of baby and toddler plush toys, the Picnic Babies. Each one is more delightful and tactically proficient than the next, yet we have not sold one, yet which is profoundly inexplicable given the following circumstances. First of all, one must rule out possible culprits such as the placement and quality of their display. Note here that they are residing in the finest retail housing imaginable.

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Battle of the Magical Horses

Kenny Brechner - April 13, 2022

Conflict may be difficult, but ignoring it only heightens the tension. Take the case of Perfectly Pegasus and Donut: The Unicorn Who Wants to Fly. When two delightful picture books with magical horse protagonists which share themes of aspiration, discovery, and friendship are published within a week of each other, conflict is inevitable. Which of these two books is the finer story?

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Beyond the Kindness Curriculum

Elizabeth Bluemle - March 31, 2022

For the past couple of years, there’s been a surge in demand from teachers looking for books addressing kindness. Elementary schools have created yearlong curricula around kindness, and publishers have poured out numerous books — many beautiful and/or powerful, some preachy or simplistic — on the topic. And while I personally value kindness deeply, I have found myself wondering if this curriculum most effectively reaches those not particularly inclined toward kindness (whether due to temperament or environment), or if it helps children navigate difficult situations where kindness is not the key component of resolution.

For instance, let’s say two kindergartners are playing, and one deliberately knocks over the other’s block tower. We can remind the knocker-overer that her actions weren’t kind, which may or may not lead to remorse and apology. But how do we address the knockee, who is definitely not feeling kind toward her creation’s destroyer, help address the knocker, and help the two come to a satisfactory resolution?

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What Austin Teens Want Publishers to Know, 2022 Edition

Meghan Dietsche Goel - March 14, 2022

One of the great things that came back this past fall, after a long time off, was our monthly meetings with BookPeople’s Teen Press Corps. Moving from our third-floor event space to the outdoor picnic tables, it’s been so great to get together, share ARCs, talk about what we’re loving (or hating), and catch up.

Browsing new ARCs!

So, after a year off, I’m back with another round-up of rants, raves, and requests from BookPeople’s Teen Press Corps. From eighth graders through freshmen in college, our current group reads everything from period fiction to gruesome thrillers to intricate space operas. Voracious and opinionated, they jumped at the chance to share their current thoughts!

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Danger at the Iditaread

Kenny Brechner - March 10, 2022

Theodore, a Kindergartner in Ms. Goodenows class. He is participating in his first Iditaread.

It would be a hard heart indeed that did not love the Iditaread. This time-honored reading challenge takes place during the Iditarod each year at the Mallet and Cape Cod Hill schools here in rural Maine, with each classroom becoming a sled dog team which reads its way across the race to see which team can read the most books. Each team has one Lead Dog and one Spirit Dog selected by their teacher. Here is the definition for selection provided by Mallett librarian Arika Galkowski.

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Books That Help Us Talk with Children About War

Elizabeth Bluemle - March 4, 2022

With the outbreak of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many of our parent customers are asking for books to help talk about war in ways that are age-appropriate and and honest without traumatizing their children. As you can imagine, this is a delicate proposition and personal for each family. What we do know is that when we can talk with children about the confusing and often scary things they know are happening in the world—things they inevitably hear about from us, on the playground, in snatches of conversations overheard out and about in the world, and in the news that filters into their lives—we can help them also see the good and hopeful things people are doing to help one another during times of crisis, and how we can work for tolerance, understanding, compassion, and healing.

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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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