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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
“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?
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!
Bear Is a Bear is a rare and exceptional book which, beginning with our third sentence, we will refer to simply as Bear. Bear 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.
The relevance of first day of school books has never been broader nor more challenging than it is today—the day that the 2021 First Among First Day of School Books champion will be determined. The central themes of these books—anxiety, foundering presentiments, clashes between expectations and experience, making adjustments to adapt to an evolving communal landscape—apply to just about anyone of any age right now. On the other hand, the peculiarities and uncertainties of school in 2021 reflect the broader world more greatly than the more insular and comforting traditional first day of school experience did.
Our winner this year will best address these complexities in a warm, reassuring, and relevant manner. It is true that more is being asked of it than was called for from our prior champions such as Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School; Steve, Raised by Wolves; A Letter to My Teacher; The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!; and If I Built a School. Yet one would expect that this year’s standout would address transcending the vagaries of fate with aplomb.