Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What did the book club think of Zadie Smith's "Swing Time"?

This month the In-Store Lit Group discussed Zadie Smith's Swing Time. I've been eyeing the hardcover sitting on my shelf at home and it started entering the "use it or lose it" zone. I don't know why, but I have a track record of reading every other Zadie Smith novel (White Teeth and On Beauty but not The Autograph Man and NW).

Two girls grow up in the same neighborhood. Both are biracial. Both enroll in dance class. As the publisher says, one has talent, the other has ideas. Tracey focuses on her art, but Narrator (which is what I call the people in unnamed first-person novels) is driven to bigger things by her mom, who may be an immigrant from the Carribean, but has an intuitive idea about how to appear palatable to the upper classes, while at the same time shunning striving altogether.

But N (that's short for Narrator) doesn't follow the great path of a social justice warrior. She gets a job at YTV (substitute M) and then as one of four personal assistants for Aimee, a wunderkind entertainment phenomenon. She sings, she dances, she acts! She understands people. And boy, does she appropriate. 

So Aimee has this plan to open this school for girls in Africa (Gambia). But does that mean working with a government that isn't always top notch in human rights? And what does that do to the boys who are not given the chance? When I read fiction, I kind of like books that ask questions rather than answer them, and boy does Swing Time have that in spades (a phrase which, as you know, comes from Bridge, as spades are the highest suit). 

I've said in the past that every writer has a series of plotlines they have to check off. Have I written my affair book? My historical novel? And one novel that seems to be particularly important for women writers (less so men, but Shotgun Lovesongs comes to mind) is the friendship novel. I always think of Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye as the ultimate friendship novel, but I've read many others.

The question that G. asked in the group was, were these women even friends? Were they frenemies? Would they grow closer after the book ended or was that ending scene really the end. As one person in the group noted, the end of Swing Time might be the beginning of Swing Time.

L. liked the book and like many of us, was taken with a recurring theme in the stories we discuss, the passing of information, culture, and psychology from parent to child. The mother-daughter dynamic reminded her of another book we recently read, Nicole Dennis-Benn's Here Comes the Sun. Each mother was, in her own way, imposing expectations on their children.

Jamaica also connects the novels of Zadie Smith and Nicole Dennis-Benn. In fact, I was reading this book at the Walker's Point Anodyne and one of the baristas started talking to me about Swing Time and I wanted to tell him to read Here Comes the Sun but I got cold feet. But I might go back and suggest it. M. was reminded of another book about Africa, The Poisonwood Bible. Absolutely!

In the end, the group was split, like a beat up bell curve (with the higher peak among the likers). I think the biggest complaint was that it dragged a bit (a variation of it was too long). In this way, it reminded me of The Sympathizers in that the part that could possibly be excised (the filming of the Apocalypse Now equivalent movie) was so good that how could you leave it out?

In the same way, some of the best bits of Swing Time are the historical asides, when Narrator looks at old films, revisiting racism, blackface, and the super talented singers and dancers of color who are now forgotten. A number of us turned to the internet to view clips referenced in the book. How could you not want to know more about Jeni LeGon? Here she is for the number Swing Is Here to Stay (from the film Ali Baba Goes to Town) which is analyzed in the novel. 

Folks who love Smith's critical asides are in for a treat, by the way, because her new nonfiction collection, Feel Free release February 6, 2018.

As I've said before, much of my reading is contextual. The books I read influence the future books I read, at least until I forget about the prior books. So I was influenced, in the reading of Swing Time, by two previous novels I'd read, Nicole Krauss's Forest Dark and Andrew Sean Greer's Less.

All three books fall loosely into the category of autofiction. Krauss used a character named Nicole. Greer used a character name Arthur, and to me, that's close enough, being that so many customers call me David. And Smith, she used a nameless narrator. But there are clues. While Smith was not a dancer, she did sing. And the area she grew up matches. And I think the time periods match. As many authors say to us, we are all of our fictional creations and we are none of them.

But there's another clue that there's a component to this book that makes the character a Zadie Smith in another multiverse (thank goodness for comics, so there's a shorthand for this sort of thing). Remember when Narrator needs a place to stay in New York and winds up with Darryl and Richard, two writers "in their late fifties, a couple, one white and one black"?

Anyone who closely reads the acknowledgements (like I always, always do) can figure out these are a real couple who are Zadie Smith's friends. They are not historical people being used like Abe in Lincoln in the Bardo. That's a little Easter egg that Smith is playing with us. It's her and of course it's completely not her. 

If I had any caveat, really, it was while Smith could speak critically about dance, I don't think her writing quite captured the emotional experience of dancing. I love when books about art and music and theater do that. I'm not saying it's an easy thing - the closest it got I think was the last scene. But I'm just going to say that when I read Lonesome Lies Before Us, I was completely there with Yadin Park in his creative space.

We wound up having an excellent conversation about Swing Time.   And now what's up next for the In-Store Lit Group?

Tuesday (note the day), January 2, 7 pm:
Kazuo Ishiguro, author of Never Let Me Go

Monday, February 5,  pm:
Chloe Benjamin, author of The Anatomy of Dreams
Benjamin's fabulous second novel, The Immortalists, releases January 9!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Events: M. Evelina Galang on Wednesday, Books and Brews at Cafe Hollander with kathy Flanigan and Jim Higgins on Thursday, Jennifer Chiaverini at the Lynden next Monday

Wednesday, December 13, 7 pm, at Boswell:
M. Evelina Galang, author of Lolas' House: Filipino Women Living with War, in conversation with WUWM's Bonnie North,

Boswell welcomes M. Evelina Galang, who directs the MFA creative writing program at University of Miami and is a core faculty and board member of Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (Vona). she is the author of several books and editor of Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images. This evening she will be talking about her book Lolas' House with Bonnie North, cohost of Lake Effect, aired on 89.7, WUWM.

Galang has been researching and documenting the lives of surviving Filipino comfort women since 1999. During World War II more than one thousand Filipinas were kidnapped by the Imperial Japanese Army. Lolas' House tells the stories of sixteen surviving Filipino "comfort women."

M. Evelina Galang enters into the lives of the women at a community center in metro Manila. She accompanies them to the sites of their abduction and protests with them at the gates of the Japanese embassy. Each woman gives her testimony, Lolas' House is also a book of witness, of survival, and of the female body. Intensely personal and globally political, it is the legacy of Lolas' House to the world. (Photo credit Jenny Abreu)

Our thanks to the Philippine Cultural and Civic Center for helping get the word out about this event. They have been serving the Filipino community in Southeast Wisconsin since 2000.

Thursday, December 14, 7 pm, at Café Hollander, 2608 N Downer Ave, second floor:
Holiday Books and Brews with Kathy Flanigan, author of Beer Lover’s Wisconsin: Best Breweries, Brewpubs, and Beer Barsand Jim Higgins, author of Wisconsin Literary Luminaries: From Laura Ingalls Wilder to Ayad Akhtar

Join us for a Holiday Celebration with books and brews. Wisconsin authors Kathy Flanigan and Jim Higgins will be joining us to dole out book recommendations and a great beer to pair with them. Don’t miss out on this exciting holiday extravaganza! Impress your friends and family with knowledge of Wisconsin authors and local craft beers.

Kathy Flanigan is a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and TapMilwaukee.com, for which she covers the region's craft-beer community. Jim Higgins is the arts and books editor for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where he has reported since 1983. Higgins is a two-time winner of the Sentinel staff-voted award for humor writing. In other words, should be a fun evening!

Beer Lover's Wisconsin features breweries, brewpubs, and beer bars statewide for those seeking the best beers the Badger State has to offer - from bitter, citrusy IPAs to rich, complex stouts. Written by a beer expert, the book covers the entire beer experience for the local enthusiast and the traveling author alike, including information on brewery and beer profiles with tasting notes, must-visit brewpubs and beer bars, top annual festivals and events, and city pub crawl itineraries with maps.

And in Wisconsin Literary Luminaries, Higgins explores how Aldo Leopold and Lorine Niedecker drew on their close observations of the natural world. Contrast the distinct novels that Jane Hamilton and Larry Watson set on Wisconsin apple orchards. Delve into Thornton Wilder's enduringly popular Our Town and the wild fiction of Ellen Raskin and Cordwainer Smith, who wrote like no one else. From the humble Ingalls family cabin in the woods to Ayad Akhtar's multicultural conflicts, the Badger State's stories and imagery have long inspired.

This event is free and we'll have some books for sale at the event. You'll only have to cross the street to shop more. The bar is open at Hollander, and if you want to eat, that's fine too. We'd love to do more of these events in a nearby bar setting, so if you like the idea, please come out and show your support.

Monday, December 18, 7 pm Reception, 7:30 start, at Lynden Sculpture Garden, 2145 W Brown Deer Rd in River Hills:
A ticketed evening with Jennifer Chiaverini, author of Enchantress of Numbers: A Novel of Ada Lovelace

The Women's Speaker Series at the Lynden Sculpture Garden presents Jennifer Chiaverini, author of Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, Fates and Traitors, and the beloved books in the Elm Creek Quilt Series. Her new novel, Enchantress of Numbers, delves into the world of Ada Lovlace, the mother of computing.

Tickets are $30/$25 for members and includes admission to the event,  an autographed copy of Enchantress of Numbers, and light refreshments from MKE Localicious . Please register online at: www.lyndensculpturegarden.org/calendar/jenniferchiaverini or call (414) 446-8794.

Patti Rhule reviewed Enchantress of Numbers in the Journal Sentinel, with the review originally appearing in USA Today. She wrote: "As with Chiaverini’s Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, Enchantress heralds a woman whose contributions are relatively overlooked in history. Ada Byron King was a pioneering mathematician whom some consider the first computer programmer. She overcame her unwanted celebrity as the daughter of English Romance poet Lord Byron — and the strictures on 19th century womanhood — to forge a career.

We've hosted Chiaverini for almost every book since Boswell has been open and she always pleases her audiences with fascinating insights into the characters historical context. What a great match for the Women's Speaker Series, produced by Milwaukee Reads! Just remember, this event is ticketed.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Here are the Boswell bestsellers for the week ending December 9, 2017, plus the Journal Sentinel reviews

Boswell bestsellers!

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Story of Arthur Truluv, by Elizabeth Berg
2. Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
3. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
4. Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward
5. Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan
6. Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
7. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
8. The Power, by Naomi Alderman
9. Mr. Dickens and His Carol, by Samantha Silva
10. The Odyssey, by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson
11. Future Home of the Living God, by Louise Erdrich
12. Saints for All Occasions, by J. Courtney Sullivan
13. Exit West, by Moshin Hamid
14. Hum If You Don't Know the Words, by Bianca Marais
15. Devotions, by Mary Oliver

I often extend our printed bestsellers to 15 this time of year because the sales are substantially higher, but I can't lie, in this case, it doesn't hurt that I read 60% of 11-15, a much higher percentage than my reading record for books 1-10. This is when you figure out which books are easy to hand-sell, and which ones are not. It doesn't have to be a book you've read either. We had several reads on Naomi Alderman's The Power, and telling something it's got all the reviews and best-ofs (New York Times and Washington Post top ten, our buyer Jason) and awards (Bailey's Women's Prize) and it's the book for someone to read after The Handmaid's Tale, and you've got a target audience.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. The Book Smugglers, by David E. Fishman
2. Border Country, by Martha Greene Phillips
3. Grant, by Ron Chernow
4. Leonardo Da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson
5. Obama, by Pete Souza
6. We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta Nehisi Coates
7. The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben
8. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, by Dan Egan
9. Counting Backwards, by Henry Jay Przybylo
10. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil DeGrasse Tyson
11. Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann
12. Everybody Lies, by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
13. Montaigne in Barn Boots, by Michael Perry
14. Wilderness: Essays, by John Muir (Gibbs Smith edition)
15. The Driftless Reader, by Curt Meine and Keeley Keefe

W.W. Norton should be happy with this list as they have three books in our ten ten this week. In addition to this week's event book, Counting Backwards, (signed copies available) we've got the frequently present Astrophysics for People in a Hurry and the locally grown The Death and Life of the Great Lakes (signed copies available), which has had a nice surge in year-end sales. Several of our buyers this week told me they were also going to get Dan Egan's parents to sign the book.

Hand-selling update. I have found that people are taking to Seth Stephens-Davidowitz's Everybody Lies when I tell them it's my Gladwell-Freakonomics style pick. One of our customers bought the book and read it while she did her fundraiser giftwrap shift.

Paperback Fiction:
1. Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro (In-Store Lit Group meeting Tuesday, Jan 2, 7 pm)
2. History of Wolves, by Emily Fridlund
3. Cold Clay, by Juneau Black
4. The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn
5. The Anatomy of Dreams, by Chloe Benjamin
6. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
7. The Sun and Her Flowers, by Rupi Kaur
8. The Hamilton Affair, by Elizabeth Cobbs
9. The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden
10. News of the World, by Paulette Jiles
11. Signalman, by Seth and Charles Dickens
12. Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly
13. Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett
14. The Last Painting of Sara De Vos, by Dominic Smith
15. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel (Shorewood Reads event, April 10, 7 pm)

Our customers are still hungry for fresh historical fiction (and they are listening to Reese Witherspoon) and Kate Quinn's The Alice Network is filling that desire, set in both World War I and World War II. From Jean Zimmerman on the NPR website, here's the setup: "The year is 1947. Charlie's posh Bennington College existence gets derailed by an unwanted pregnancy. Her domineering French mother hauls her off to Europe, heading for a clinic that will take care of her Little Problem, as she calls her condition throughout the novel. En route, Charlie hatches an alternative plan - to track down her beloved cousin Rose, lost somewhere in France. In Europe, 'the hangover of war was still visible in a way you didn't see in New York.' Rose is a refugee amid a horde of displaced persons, a single grain of sand on a blasted, nearly obliterated beach, but Charlie is determined to solve for X and find her."

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Mexicans in Wisconsin, by Sergio M. González
2. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
3. The Little Book of Mindfulness, by Patricia Collard
4. Two Dollars a Day, by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Schaefer
5. Cream City Chronicles, by John Gurda
6. Saving Capitalism, by Robert B. Reich
7. Citizen, by Claudia Rankine
8. Jane Austen Illustrated Quotations, from the Bodleian Library
9. How to Fight, by Thich Nhat Hanh
10. Danger, Man Working, by Michael Perry

Apparently of all our categories, nonfiction paperback is not generally the breakout zone, especially when there aren't hot regional titles. This is probably the reason why that top ten so rarely changes on The New York Times. If someone was paying attention, we'd make the paperback fiction list longer and shrink the nonfiction. It's so dry that I let some bulk sales seep into this. But that was no bulk sale driving Mexicans in Wisconsin to #1. We cosponsored a great event with author Sergio M. González at the Mitchell Street Branch of the Milwaukee Public Library, and it was great to find out that González grew up in the neighborhood.

Books for Kids:
1. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
2. Here We Are, by Oliver Jeffers
3. The Snowy Day board book, by Ezra Jack Keats (mail this book out with Snowy Day stamps!)
4. The Book of Dust: La Bell Sauvage, by Philip Pullman
5. The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, by Karina Yan Glaser
6. Good Night Stories of Rebel Girls, by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
7. Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green
8. Harry Potter: A Journey through a History of Magic, from the British Library
9. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls volume 2, by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
10. The Nutcracker, by Jessica Courtney Tickle
11. Wonder (both jackets), by R.J. Palacio
12. Snow and Rose, by Emily Winfield Martin
13. The Explorer, by Katherine Rundell
14. Better Together, by Barbara Joosse and Anneke Lisberg
15. Strega Nona board book, by Tomie dePaola

From Etsy shop to bestselling children's book writer, Emily Winfield Martin (whom we used to call The Black Apple) has another bestseller in Snow and Rose. Here's Martin talking to Publishers Weekly about how she connected with editor Mallory Loehr: " I’d done a book for Potter Craft, The Black Apple’s Paper Doll Primer, a very large paper doll book. It’s really a narrative, with all the characters and their likes and dislikes. Mallory saw it and saw that I had a narrative mind. Basically, the whole time I was making illustrations for stories that didn’t exist yet, unwittingly. I had also made a series of portraits of orphans, which was the catalyst for Oddfellow’s Orphanage, a vignette-y chapter book. That was the start of our work together." And yes, we still carry her greeting cards.

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins reviews Becoming Kareem: Growing Up on and Off the Court: "The day after leading the Milwaukee Bucks to their only NBA championship, a young NBA star surprised sports fandom by announcing his conversion to Islam. On that day in 1971, the former Lew Alcindor became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But his conversion and name change began years earlier, he reveals in Becoming Kareem, a memoir for readers 10 and older, written with his frequent collaborator Raymond Obstfeld. He discusses racism, religion and controversial subjects straightforwardly."

And the Journal Sentinel reprints Patti Rhule's review of The Story of Arthur Truluv, from Elizabeth Berg, which she calls "a novel for these contentious times."

Also on the TapBooks page, Higgins reviews An Uncommon Reader: A Life of Edward Garnett, Mentor and Editor of Literary Genius, by Helen Smith. He offers this recommendation: "For your bookish friend this holiday season, especially if that friend's an Anglophile, I heartily recommend Helen Smith's new biography An Uncommon Reader. Smith's book reminds me, in the best ways, of my favorite bookish book, A. Scott Berg's Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius." Both books began their lives as doctoral dissertations. Both profile men who found their destiny helping others succeed as writers.

On the website, another review, for Jennifer Chiaverini's latest, shows up from USA Today review as well: "Should you come upon Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini, consider yourself quite fortunate indeed. As with Chiaverini’s Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, Enchantress heralds a woman whose contributions are relatively overlooked in history. Ada Byron King was a pioneering mathematician whom some consider the first computer programmer. She overcame her unwanted celebrity as the daughter of English Romance poet Lord Byron - and the strictures on 19th century womanhood - to forge a career." Chiaverini is at the Lynden Sculpture Garden on December 18. This one's ticketed. More info here.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Events this week: the wonders of anesthesiology, Mexican Wisconsinites, North Woods canoe journals, saving the books in World War II, a holiday party with Elizabeth Berg

Here's what's going on this week with Boswell:

Tuesday, December 5, 12 pm, at Medical College of Wisconsin, 8701 W Watertown Plank Rd, Room M2050:
Henry Jay Przybylo, author of Counting Backwards: A Doctor's Notes on Anesthesia.

The MCW Medical Humanities Program in the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities at the Medical College of Wisconsin presents a special lunchtime talk from anesthesiologist Henry Jay Przybylo, author of new book praised by Kirkus Reviews as "a fascinating tour of a mystifying, unnerving, yet precious medical necessity."

Henry Jay Przybylo, MD is an associate professor of anesthesiology at Northwestern University School of Medicine. He has administered anesthesia more than 30,000 times in his career. As he also has an MFA in creative writing from Goucher College, he's the perfect person to write about one of the most extraordinary, unexplored corners of the medical world.

For many of the 40 million Americans who undergo anesthesia each year, it is the source of great fear and fascination. From the famous first demonstration of anesthesia in the Ether Dome at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1846 to today's routine procedure that controls anxiety, memory formation, pain relief, and more, anesthesia has come a long way. In Counting Backwards, Przybylo delivers an unforgettable account of the procedure's daily dramas and fundamental mysteries.

Want to know why we can't eat before anesthesia? Listen to Przybylo talk to Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air.

Please note: This event is free and open to the public. Check with the lobby receptionist for directions to Room M2050. Complimentary parking is available at the lot on the east side of 87 St.

Tuesday, December 5, 6 pm, at Milwaukee Public Library Mitchell St Branch, 906 W Historic Mitchell St:
Sergio M. González, author of Mexicans in Wisconsin.

Sergio M. González is a doctoral candidate in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of History with research interests in American labor, immigration, and working class history. His research investigates Milwaukee's Latino community throughout the twentieth century, focusing on the role of religion in creating interethnic and intraethnic communities, organizations, and social justice movements.

From agricultural and factory workers to renowned writers and musicians, the Mexican immigrants who have made their homes in Wisconsin over the past century have become a significant and diverse part of this state's cultural and economic history. Coming from a variety of educational and professional backgrounds, the earliest Mexican immigrants traveled north in search of better economic opportunities and relief from the violence and economic turmoil of the Mexican Revolution.

As Mexican immigration has grown to the present day, these families have become integral members of Wisconsin communities, building businesses, support systems, and religious institutions. But their experience has also been riddled with challenges, as they have fought for adequate working conditions, access to education, and acceptance amid widespread prejudice. In this concise history, learn the fascinating stories of this vibrant and resilient immigrant population.

Listen to González talk to Jan Miyasaki on Madison's WORT radio.

Wednesday, December 6, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Martha Greene Phillips, author of Border Country: Northwoods Canoe Journals of Howard Greene, 1906-1916.

Decades before Sigurd Olson or Calvin Rutstrum began documenting the wild life of the upper Midwest, Howard Greene's journals opened a window into a world at once familiar and strange, the wilderness caught on the verge of becoming the North Woods we know today. Introduced and annotated by Greene's daughter, Madison-area resident Martha Greene Phillips, these journals offer a keen eye for detail and an abiding interest in the natural world.

It all started in 1906, when this Milwaukee businessman set out with his young sons and some friends to canoe and camp in the north woods of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Canada. Howard Greene and his friends made numerous journeys over the years, each detailed in remarkable, handmade journals and documented in hundreds of large-format photographs. Reproduced here with a large selection of photographs and maps, these journals convey readers into a riverine world of outdoor adventure - a northland wilderness and way of life that were, even as Howard Greene charted their genuine charms, already vanishing.

Gerard Helferich writes in The Wall Street Journal: "What the journals lack in literary flair they make up for in immediacy, transporting us to a time when canoes were fashioned of wood, tents were sewn from canvas and human beings were innocent of world war. Greene manages to do what every writer hopes to achieve—to hook us with his narrative, introduce us to a vicarious world and make us care about his characters. Immersed in Greene’s loving detail, we take a seat around the campfire."

Thursday, December 7, 7 pm, at Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, 6255 N Santa Monica Blvd:
David E. Fishman, author of The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets, and the Race to Save Jewish Treasures from the Nazis.

The Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center's Tapestry program presents David E. Fishman, who teaches at New York's Jewish Theological Seminary. This event is cosponsored by Boswell and The Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center.

The Book Smugglers is the nearly unbelievable story of ghetto residents who rescued thousands of rare books and manuscripts - first from the Nazis and then from the Soviets - by hiding them on their bodies, burying them in bunkers, and smuggling them across borders. It is a tale of heroism and resistance, of friendship and romance, and of unwavering devotion - including the readiness to risk one's life - to literature and art. And it is entirely true.

Based on Jewish, German, and Soviet documents, including diaries, letters, memoirs, and the author's interviews with several of the story's participants, The Book Smugglers chronicles the daring activities of a group of poets turned partisans and scholars turned smugglers in Vilna, called The Jerusalem of Lithuania.

From James MacGowan in The Toronto Star: 'The Nazis,' Fishman explains in The Book Smugglers, 'sought not only to murder the Jews but also to obliterate their culture.' They also wanted to prove the depravity of the Jewish race, which involved collating thousands of rare Jewish books and documents and shipping them off to Germany, where they would be catalogued and analyzed."

Friday, December 8, 7 pm, at Boswell:
A Holiday Party with Elizabeth Berg, author of The Story of Arthur Truluv.

Join us for a Holiday party celebration with bestselling novelist and founder of the Writing Matters reading series Elizabeth Berg. Festive refreshments, including cosponsor Beans and Barley's favorite holiday cookies and Boswell's favorite, mini poppyseed cupcakes. Bring your favorite beverage from one of the area coffee shops.

The Story of Arthur Truluv is a moving novel about three people who have lost the person they love most, and must find their way back to happiness. Arthur, a widower, meets Maddy, an angry and friendless teenage girl, while visiting his late wife at the cemetery, where he goes every day for lunch. Against all odds, the two strike up a friendship that pulls them out of a serious rut. They band together with Arthur's nosy neighbor Lucille, to create lives that are truly worth living.

From Patty Rhule at USA Today: "Truluv is a novel for these contentious times. We could all use a bit of Arthur's ego-free understanding and forgiveness of fellow human beings. When the inevitable happens in this heartwarming novel, good luck convincing yourself that the lump in your throat is just a sympathy response to one of Gordon’s hairballs."

Join us for this special event with a beloved author!

Sunday, December 10, 4 to 8 pm, at Boswell:
It's the annual Maryland Avenue Montessori school fundraiser and pajama party!

Join us for an evening of Holiday book fun! During this time, shoppers will have the ability to purchase some great holiday books, all while helping out the Maryland Ave Montessori School. A portion of designated proceeds (in lieu of Boswell Benefits) will be donated back for school classroom use. If you are a school that would like to host an event like this in the future, contact me at daniel@boswellbooks.com.

More upcoming events on the Boswell website.

Photo credits!
Henry Jay Przybylo: Barb Levant
Elizabeth Berg: Teresa Crawford

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Boswell's annotated bestseller list for the week ending December 2, 2017: notable books of the year and a double listing for "Pachinko"

It's time for a between Thanksgiving and Christmas bestseller list!

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
2. Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid (New York Times top 10 2017)
3. Glass Houses, by Louise Penny
4. The Rooster Bar, by John Grisham
5. Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee (this book is on both hardcover and paperback list, NYT top 10 2017)
6. Devotions, by Mary Oliver
7. Future Home of the Living God, by Louise Erdrich
8. Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan
9. Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward (New York Times and Washington Post top 10 2017)
10. The Story of Arthur Truluv, by Elizabeth Berg (event at Boswell Friday, 12/8, 7 pm)

I'm excited to note that the Los Angeles Times's fiction roundup has a few titles I read that didn't get on The New York Times, including The Leavers and Mrs. Fletcher, as well as Exit West, Sing, Unburied, Sing, and Lincoln in the Bardo, all of which are in the top 10. But what makes someone come up with a list of 19 titles?

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Not a Crime to Be Poor, by Peter Edelman
2. Lioness, by Francine Klagsbrun
3. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, by Dan Egan
4. Grant, by Ron Cherneow
5. Leonardo Da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson
6. We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
7. Obama, by Pete Souza
8. Going into Town, by Roz Chast
9. Everybody Lies, by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
10. Montaigne in Barn Boots, by Michael Perry
11. The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben
12. Promise Me, Dad, by Joe Biden
13. The Driftless Reader, by Curt Meine and Keeley Keefe
14. Border Country, by Martha Greene Phillips (event at Boswell Wednesday, 12/6, 7 pm)
15. The Book Smugglers, by David E. Fishman (event at JCC, Thursday, 12/7, 7 pm)

Sales were great this week for The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, a major work from a local author whose source material was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize (and if you order, note that our copies are signed) and didn't really need my help. On the other hand, all our sales for Everybody Lies, despite some nice reviews and features, were due to the placement of the book into a person's hand. Like my fiction favorite, Lonesome Lies Before Us, the book can't be in a New York Times notable because it didn't get reviewed. And I think the publicity made the book sound a bit more one-note than it actually is. I would read it again!

While we always have some sort of pop in sales for the National Book Award winner in fiction and generally don't have much of one in young people's and poetry, the nonfiction winner can be hit or miss. We're still waiting to see if there's a groundswell of interest among our customers for purchasing Masha Gessen's The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. Here's the Christian Science Monitor's review from Bob Blaisdell.

Paperback Fiction:
1. Cold Clay, by Juneau Black
2. Shady Hollow, by Juneau Black
3. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
4. The Other Einstein, by Marie Benedict
5. The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn
6. Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro (In Store Lit Group talk, Tuesday, 1/2, 7 pm)
7. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
8. The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro
9. Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
10. Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles

Sharon and Jocelyn's cozy mystery series, Cold Clay and its predecessor, Shady Hollow, dominate paperback fiction! We're finally seeing a book break out in a big way in paperback, and it's our own Pachinko. I'm hoping it can crack the top ten of The New York Times. We are bored with that paperback fiction list. I'm hoping to read The Other Einstein by the end of the year (dreaming big) so we can further chase sales on this historical novel that seems to have some nice word-of-mouth movement. Marie Benedict's novel has been selected as a Big Library Read last June. More details and a discussion guide here.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond (more below on this!)
2. Beer Lovers Wisconsin, By Kathy Flanigan (event with Jim Higgins at Cafe Hollander, Wednesday, 12/14, 7 pm)
3. So Rich, So Poor, by Peter Edelman
4. Bad Feminist Olive edition, by Roxane Gay
5. Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren

Sales are a little weak here, so I moved some slots over to hardcover, which has much stronger numbers. It's not surprising that folks trade up to hardcovers at gift giving time, particularly newer, more timely books. But it's also notable that we'd normally have more regional books here. Lab Girl is the next Tosa All-City Read, with most events starting in February. More info here.

Books for Kids:
1. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (volume 1), by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
2. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
3. Wonder (both editions), by R.J. Palacio
4. The Snowy Day board book, by Ezra Jack Keats
5. The Book of Dust V1: La Bell Sauvage, by Philip Pullman
6. Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green
7. Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo V1: The Road to Epoli
8. Pierre the Maze Detective: The Mystery of Empire Maze Tower, by Hiro Kamigaki
9. Red and Lulu, by Matt Tavares
10. Pup and Bear, by Kate Banks, with illustrations by Naoko Stoop

Kelli and I did a Shorewood Public Library presentation on Saturday, and her enthusiasm helped several books get into this week's top 10. In addition to The Hate U Give, Kelli touted Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo: The Road to Epoli, from Ben Costa and James Parks (definitely if you or your gift recipient likes Adventure Time) and Kate Banks and Naoko Stoop's Pup and Bear, a very sweet animal story picture book. She'll continue to get books into readers' hands at her new library position in Ohio.

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins offers 10 books to read after Evicted.
--Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America, by Beryl Satter
--How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York, by Jacob Riis
--Janesville: An American Story, by Amy Goldstein
--Live and Let Live: Diversity, Conflict, and Community in an Integrated Neighborhood, by Evelyn M. Perry
--Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich
--Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century, by Jessica Bruder
--Not a Crime to Be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America, by Peter Edelman
--Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx, by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
--The Truly Disadventaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy, by William Julius Wilson
--$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer
Read more about each book here.

Friday, December 1, 2017

1 + 1 = 3: Reading Nicole Krauss" "Forest Dark" and Andrew Sean Greer's "Less."

I don't know what part of my brain obsesses over counting things, but I've long liked to know "how many" there have been of things that people normally don't count. I spoke several years ago about The New York Times Book Review bestseller game that I used to play with my colleague Nancy that tested our reading. You'd get 4 points for a front page review (though the review had to start on the front page, not just be mentioned), 3 points for a full review inside the pages, 2 points for an in short description or full page ad, and 1 point for any other ad or a bestseller appearance. I'd bring it into the 21st century by limiting the number of bestseller points to one per book (as a book can show up on the physical and ebook list), allow 3 points for a profile that's not a review but focused on that book, and a point of a book was mentioned in an essay that didn't happen to be about that particular book. 

I don't know how you play this if you read the Book Review online, because everything is not discretely arranged with boundaries. Features may pop up different days, and I think some are online only, making it difficult to determine exactly where a review belongs. Another advantage for print, albeit one that's relatively meaningless.

Another game I have started playing over the past few years is to count how many books in the 100 NYT notable list I have read. Since I started playing, my numbers have gone downhill. But this can be a good opportunity to step back and fill in a few gaps. Several of these notable books wind up being read the following year, either for book club selections or if the author visits in paperback. My goal, completely arbitrary, is to get to double digits. But it's harder than you think, because many of the nonfiction categories are not of interest to me, whereas other nonfiction categories in which I do read don't seem to qualify, and instead get ticked off in essays. It's almost as if the Times is not just saying what books are best, but first decide that writing about certain subjects is intrinsically better than writing about others. Imagine that!

The nice thing is that this year, I did much better in nonfiction than I normally do, partly because I was following my what-to-read-after-Eviction path. And that led me to prioritize a few books like Nomadland that I might not have gotten too. And with that nonfiction boost, I got to nine books. Well when you get to nine and you see double digits in the distance, there's a little extra adrenalin boost that comes out. That led me to read two more books that had been on my bookshelf since their release (actually since the advance reading copies were distributed) in succession. And that led me to my next game, which is.

Why does it always seem like when you read two books in succession, more often than not, you start seeing parallels that nobody else seems to notice? First I read Forest Dark, the fourth novel from Nicole Krauss. And then I thought, how can I not read Andrew Sean Greer's Less, with it showing up on the top ten of the Washington Post? That one I got 50 pages into as a galley, after Lee Boudreaux (really!) pitched me at a Hachette bookseller meeting. And I don't know what happened, but I said, "Not right now" and moved on to something else. Perhaps it was an upcoming event that had a reading deadline. I didn't have a deadline.

1. First and only visit to Boswell for their previous book. This would not mean anything to anyone else, but both Nicole Krauss and Andrew Sean Greer came to Boswell for their previous novels, Great House and The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells. In both cases, I also read their previous-to-that novels, The History of Love and The Story of a Marriage, as did Nancy, our marketing director at Schwartz, who did a particularly good job jump-starting bookstore-wide handselling for A History of Love. I have noticed that competition for literary authors has gotten tougher since Boswell has opened. There are a lot of book festivals out there right now. Wisconsin alone has at least a half dozen. 

2. Quest. Nicole Krauss's novel, Forest Dark, runs, like The History of Love, on two tracks. Up first is Jules Epstein, a sixty something lawyer and philanthropist, divorced and restless. He is convinced by (no, he's skeptical but goes along with) a rabbi who is gathering a reunion of descendants of David. He heads to Tel Aviv and this leads him to another unusual opportunity. At the same time, there is Nicole, a woman struggling with an impending divorce who, on a trip to the Tel Aviv Hilton, is confronted by a gentleman who claims that Kafka didn't die young, he emigrated to Palestine, and Nicole has to tell his story.*

As for Andrew Sean Greer's Less, the story is of Arthur Less, who, upon being abandoned by his younger lover Freddy for another man, decides to skip their wedding, and book an around the world tour, paid for by speaking engagements, award ceremonies, and teaching gigs, plus one vacation camel ride in the desert. As he deals with major (his publisher passed on his most recent book) and minor (he's supposed to appear in costume to talk to a science fiction writer and he doesn't have a costume) setbacks, he has to figure out what to do with his life. And maybe he can rework that book so that somebody wants to buy it. 

So on the surface, you can see that both Forest Dark and Less are both crazy quest novels.

3. Humor. Less is clearly a comedy and reviews have painted the book as one of the funniest books of the season. I felt that in many cases, Greer's novel was being pitted against Tom Perrotta's Mrs. Fletcher, as they were both comic novels that came out in the summer.  I thought they were running neck and neck, but Less made the top ten of The Washington Post, as well as The New York Times 100 notable, whereas Mrs. Fletcher did not. But Mrs. Fletcher seemingly also lost to Matthew Klam's Who Is Rich?, which I didn't even know was in the running (but I'm sure is great)*. And I can't even have this conversation without talking about Lonesome Lies Before Us, because Don Lee's book couldn't hit the 100 because The New York Times didn't review it, despite raves from The Washington Post and Chicago Tribune.  As I mentioned to Peter Edelman at an event this week, the review hole keeps shrinking. It's like we're in a science fiction movie.

Forest Dark doesn't wear its humor on its sleeve, but compared to the mournful Great House it certainly has its humorous moments. And then I thought about how crazy the plot twists were in the story. Krauss doesn't write for laughs, but there's a lot of zaniness here, despite the somber tone. I'm all about the funny-sad, so kudos to Krauss for that.

4. Autofiction (not my term). Krauss has a character named Nicole whose life mirrors the author's own. And one can definitely see this book as author (Nicole) in search of subject (Jules). Several critics noticed the parallels to Jonathan Safran Foer's Here I Am, which I wound up not reading. Both had couples in deteriorating marriages and both sent their characters to Israel for answers. Read a few reviews and you can see more parallels. I can't imagine they were discussing this with each other. But that's sort of like reading The History of Love and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close together. It's almost like they were companion novels with their overlapping themes, but to my knowledge, they weren't working together or even sharing material. 

So Andrew Sean Greer's book is not about a person named Andrew Sean Greer, but there's a precedent for substituting a person whose name begins with the same first letter. Could Andrew = Arthur? I wouldn't be having this meditation if the protagonist was named Xavier. Like Krauss's novel, Less is about a writer in search of a subject. In this case, he has a book, only it's not working. And while I don't know the details of Greer's own life, one should note that his last novel's protagonist was a woman (The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells) and the one preceding that featuring a Black man (Story of a Marriage). And having met Mr. Greer, I would say that the ebullient humor that runs through Less is much more in the spirit of Mr. Greer.

5. Canon. Since identity is a crazy popular subject for fiction nowadays, the author protagonists of both novels struggle for where they fit in their respective literary canons. At one point, Arthur Less is scolded for being a bad gay (OK, now I'm convinced he's a stand-in for Andrew Sean Greer), and is told to basically write different books. He's even called out at an award ceremony because in his first book, the protagonist returns to his wife. "But it's The Odyssey" appears to have no sway on that particular critic. So what of Less? I just heard from two friends who finished the book, a former bookseller colleague and a college friend, and both were enthusiastic. It's like the golden age of gay fiction of the 80s is back, and now everyone can read it. But of course I wonder for Greer, where does that leave him for his next book? 

Krauss's Nicole, on the other hand, is beloved by Israelis, and I think that stands in for Jews in general. She's stopped by a woman in the supermarket who praises her for her work and to keep doing what she's doing. Oh good, only the fate of the Jewish people depend on your writing. It strikes me that being accepted or shunned by the National Board of Identity comes with its own special problems. And I think that this might be a reason why Great House and Forest Dark do not seem to command that same sort of emotional connection that The History of Love does. There's something very satisfying that the two tracks in History connect together, but I well understand that there's something soft in that as well. It's almost like the author vowed, after the reception she had for History, "No hearts will be warmed in the writing of my books!" 

In a way, it's sort of like a bookstore being slammed for not being academic enough, and also not doing a good enough job with genre. You can't be everything to everyone, but that doesn't stop people from complaining.

I am convinced that the Forest Dark and Less were more interesting to me by reading them together. I'm now reading Zadie Smith's Swing Time. I'm not sure how it ties into either of these books, but it probably does. 

*Yes, it's all a competition isn't it? But of course Boswell didn't make the semifinals for the latest best bookstore list