Meet Stefen

Stefen squatting near bookshelfStefen Holtrey (he/him) is one of our Brilliant booksellers in-store.  He's got a unique perspective on literature, as he's not only a reader and a bookseller, but also a writer!  Swing by to get his most recent book recommendations — or learn more about him here.


Tell us about yourself:

My trajectory brought me from Traverse City (born and raised) to Lansing (school), to Grand Rapids (more school), and back again to TC, where I live happily with my wife Megan and our tiny cat, Nimh.  I've spent my professional life in the world of coffee, which, as it turns out, actually has a lot of parallels with the world of books (I can’t stop buying either).  In my spare time, I write, mainly fiction and poetry.  I also make weird sculptures out of found materials.


You’re browsing a bookstore.  What’s the first section you gravitate toward?

The first section I go to in any bookstore is always the Scifi/Fantasy section. From there, I check out their philosophy. 


What’s on your dream bookshelf?

My dream bookshelf is the length of a single shelf, maybe 10 or so feet wide, and 6 stories tall. There’s a ladder with a comfy chair attached every other story. It has two types of books on it:  Books I’ve started but never finished (Ulysses, Moby Dick, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Dhalgren…) and books I’ve heard about but never got around to.


What are the five books you’ll never part with?

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

Perdido Street Station by China Meiville

My giant anthology “The Weird"

My mutilated copy of E.E. Cummings “Collected Poems”


Favorite bookstore event or experience to date

My favorite bookstore event has got to be when Brilliant Books hosted Garth Nix. Getting to speak actual human words to the person who wrote Sabriel was just so awesome.


If you could host a dinner party for five people, real or fictional, living or dead, who would you invite?

This one is tough because it depends on what kind of dinner party I’d want.  Gentle conversation?  Robust debate?  Fisticuffs?  For all three, I’d have to go with Marlon James, Gene Genet, Joanna Russ, Mary Shelly, and J.R.R. Tolkien.  I’m sure Russ and Shelly would have a lot to talk about, Genet would be the wild card, James would be incisive and witty, and I’d love to hear Tolkien’s opinion on contemporary fantasy.  There’s a chance everyone might gang up on Tolkien though, so if he could have one phone-a-friend, maybe he could give G.K. Chesterton a call.


If someone asked for a book recommendation, but you can only ask one question to see what they like, what would you ask?

“How weird do you want to get?”


Staff Pick Badge
Black Leopard, Red Wolf (The Dark Star Trilogy #1) By Marlon James Cover Image
ISBN: 9780735220171
Availability: Not Currently In-Store; May require 2-3 days before shipping
Published: Riverhead Books - February 5th, 2019

"Vicious, wondrous, and uncompromising in both its prose and its story, this violent fantasy debut of Booker Prize winner Marlon James proves he's out for blood. This is no "African Game of Thrones," its completely its own animal. For readers who want more from their genre fiction, and don't mind grappling with race, religion, and sexuality, this book is for you."

Staff Pick Badge
Monstress Book One By Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda (By (artist)) Cover Image
By Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda (By (artist))
ISBN: 9781534312326
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Image Comics - July 9th, 2019

"Monstress is some glorious graphic storytelling. In a world ravaged by war between Humanity and the descendants of gods, young Maika searches for the truth about her traumatic past, but her quest may threaten to unleash an even more devastating threat. This book has everything I love: weird technology, arcane sciences, elder gods, talking cats with swords. The art-style exists in a universe where H.R. Giger had an Art Deco period, but that's selling it short; its absolutely gorgeous. The care in which this world was crafted comes through on every page. I can't wait to see where this story goes."

Piranesi By Susanna Clarke Cover Image
ISBN: 9781635577808
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Bloomsbury Publishing - September 28th, 2021

Staff Pick Badge
Shadow & Claw: The First Half of The Book of the New Sun By Gene Wolfe Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250781253
Availability: Not Currently In-Store; May require 2-3 days before shipping
Published: Tor Books - June 8th, 2021