The Final ShelfTalker: An Interview with the Year 2024

Kenny Brechner - December 29, 2023

I approached the Glade of Years with a tang of melancholy in my heart.

Kenny: Hello there, Year 2024.

The Year 2024: Hello, Kenny.

Kenny: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us.

The Year 2024: Not so fast.

Kenny: Eh?

The Year 2024: I understand that this is the final ShelfTalker post ever. That its long run is coming to an end today.

Kenny: Yes. That is so.

The Year 2024: In that case, I’ll do the questioning here and interview you.

Kenny: What! Hold on a minute. A little warning would have been nice. You’ve caught me entirely flatfooted and unawares.

The Year 2024: Oh, come now. Chin up!

Kenny: Oh, all right!

The Year 2024: Now then, first things first. Is there anyone you want to thank or recognize?

Kenny: Well, certainly all the ShelfTalkers should be praised. In order of advent that would be Alison Morris, Josie Leavitt, Elizabeth Bluemle, myself, Leslie Hawkins, Meghan Goel, and Cynthia Compton.

The Year 2024: Well-spotted in recognizing your bookselling colleagues! But isn’t there a mighty figure who reigns in the shadows you want to thank?

Kenny: Well, yes I do. Diane Roback, PW’s Children’s Editor, is the creator, editor, and cheerleader of ShelfTalker. She’s the smartest person I know in the business, a person of vision and integrity, and a real pal. Diane deserves a giant dollop of thanks.

The Year 2024: Yes, I have heard nothing but praise of Diane from preceding Years. So, what has led up to this moment of finality?

Kenny: I would say that the pandemic was like a slow leak in an aging tire. Though I personally continued to fling a post up once a month, the regular practice of writing by the group never reanimated.

The Year 2024: I see. And how many posts were made during ShelfTalker’s 15 year run?

Kenny: 2693.

The Year 2024: Well! And what was the most read of any post?

Kenny: The runaway winner was The Real Reason Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Is Not Here Yet, which I wrote in 2017. One should note that it is still relevant as book three continues to be nowhere on the horizon and I don’t suppose you will have any news to share of it during your tenure.

The Year 2024: You are quite wrong about that. In fact, I can now reveal that book three, The Doors of Stone, is already here.

Kenny: What?!

The Year 2024: Yes. As I’m sure you know Rothfuss recently published a duplicative tidbit of a book, The Narrow Road Between Desires.

Kenny: Yes, though why it was published baffled me.

The Year 2024: Ah. Well, it will be revealed that every word of The Doors of Stone is present somewhere in The Narrow Road Between Desires. To read book three of the Kingkiller Trilogy all you have to do is unlock the complex secret algorithm used to shrink The Doors of Stone into the tiny new book and then reverse engineer it to read book three in full. So you can see that the long wait is over.

Kenny: That’s quite a sense of humor you are sporting, Year 2024.

The Year 2024: I’ll need it. And now, returning to ShelfTalker, how many posts did you personally produce?

Kenny: 354.

The Year 2024: Indeed!  And do you have a favorite?

Kenny: Not really a single favorite, though I do  have some favorites. For example, I think The Problem with Problems was the most important. The State of Maine’s Apology to Lev Grossman is a favorite. The interview with Gail Carson Levine’s Book Covers is a favorite interview.

The Year 2024: I see. I know you wrote a number of spoofs regarding Amazon. Do you have a favorite there?

Kenny: Sure, I’ll go with A Surprising Suitor for the Amazon Headquarters II.

The Year 2024: All right then. What about the fun contests you ran from time to time? I myself was tempted to enter them, but since I had foreknowledge of the results I restrained myself.

Kenny: Hmmm… I did love The Best Behaved Blurb contest, but my all-time favorite was The Valentine for Blobfish Contest and its charming Submissions Page.

The Year 2024: Ah, yes. You also wrote a bunch on free speech and even gave your reasons for resigning from the ABA Board in a post. Any thoughts there?

Kenny: Children’s books are filled with magical mirrors of dubious character and certainly the ABA’s continuing impulse to strongly defend the speech that they agree with and feel legitimated by the support of people who agree with them leaves them in the position of being a mirror image of everything they dislike. For example, they encouraged everyone to support the ALA’s Freedom to Read statement but, steeped in their well-established antipathy to the First Amendment, they are themselves at odds with all seven of the Freedom to Read Statement’s precepts. There is no end run around the First Amendment principle of tolerating speech we are offended by that doesn’t result in censorship, hypocrisy, and autocracy. We must criticize rather than suppress written works. The harm of censoring to protect from perceived harm only escalates into a kind of harmageddon.

The Year 2024: “Harmageddon,” eh? Did you make that up?

Kenny: I did. Don’t think about appropriating it.

The Year 2024: Ah, but as Gandalf said, “Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great, for my strength. I shall have such need of it.”

Kenny: Fair enough. You do seem to be in for a rough ride. Can I ask you one thing?

The Year 2024: Sure. 

Kenny: Is there any book coming out in your year that provides a kind of counterbalance to all the travail you’ll be overseeing, Year 2024?

The Year 2024: There is, actually. Chris Raschka’s Tomorrow’s Lily. What a sweet, deep, healing book that is.

Kenny: Oh, that is a truly lovely book.

The Year 2024: Any last thoughts, Kenny?

Kenny: Presentism, the projection and superimposition of the present onto the past, is a form of narcissism that is fatal to literature. All books and their authors are creatures of a particular moment in time and each of them simultaneously adhere to and transcend aspects of their present. The flaws of a book or its author are aspects of a whole, a whole which also contains other, sometimes vitally important aspects. Books are vast interior spaces and their integrity is critical, a necessary constant in a world of variables. Defense of that integrity is crucial in order to safeguard the experiences of their readers from being made subject to autocratic suppression, the lethal hubris of presentism rooted in a mad belief that we, unlike every other generation who had the same false belief, have it right and are justified in expunging wrong from creative works.

Children’s books are the most magical portals of all, leading to enchanted schools, fabled sanctuaries, homes, friends, monsters, dangers—and other things a child, however challenging their circumstances, could desperately need. Children with terrible parents can be raised inside books. Children who can’t find hope anywhere else can find hope in their pages. Respect the power and the unique interplay of every child’s experience in the literary worlds we sell.

The Year 2024: Thanks, Kenny. Goodbye now!

Kenny: Goodbye, everyone!

3 thoughts on “The Final ShelfTalker: An Interview with the Year 2024

  1. Elizabeth Bluemle

    What a beautiful post, Kenny! I will miss Shelftalker, and learned so much writing for it for ten years. Diane is indeed a paragon of several virtues — the best of the best! I have several unfinished posts rattling around my head. Thanks for keeping Shelftalker going long after the rest of us abandoned the keyboard during Covid. You’re a champ!

  2. Sarah Julsonnet

    I am somewhat bereft to hear this news. I have been an avid reader of ShelfTalker since I graduated from library school in 2010 and started my first job. I’ve loved following the stories of all of the various booksellers on here. I always felt like I was getting to hang out with some cool friends who always had the best ideas, experiences and knowledge. You all shared your trials, triumphs and tribulations- whether it was celebrations, retirements, inventory adventures and then navigating Covid. Thank you for sharing so much of your jobs and lives with us. I shall miss you all!


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