Thursday, April 24, 2014

Is it Better to Have a Book's Experiences be Alien to You or Feel Like You Might Have Lived Them? and Other Ponderings as We Ready Ourselves for Tonight's Event with Meg Wolitzer, Author of "The Interestings."

Tonight (April 24) we are hosting Meg Wolitzer for her first visit to Boswell. I've got lots of links to both reviews and interviews at the bottom of this post.  We're also discussing The Interestings for our current in-store lit group selection. It was originally scheduled for Monday, May 5, 7 pm, but now we're hosting Garrison Keillor at the same time at the UWM Ballroom (tickets available here) so I cannot attend. I'm offering the group two options--a short meeting at 6 pm (sans author this time) tonight or by all means, meet up at the store on May 5.

My other concern is that I hoped to do my "what did the book club think?" post before the event, but now I realize that logistically this did not work out exactly right. Next time I might do what we did with Geraldine Brooks, where the book club read an earlier title. But for this time, we'll have too posts, this one a pre-event, and another that is the traditional post-discussion post.

I should note there are some minor spoilers in the middle section of this post.  If you want to avoid them, skip to the next break. It's nothing you wouldn't have read in a review, but still. And then there are some of you that read the end of the book first. For you, you should have no fear at all.


One of the highest compliments you can pay to an author is to say that after you finished their novel, you really felt like you knew the characters. In this case, I really identify. I was born two years after the characters in the new novel, The Interestings, though being on the tail end of New York City's grade-skipping program, many of my friends were a year older in high school.

I flirted with various art forms. I tried out for several of our high school theater productions, sometimes winning bit parts. I played flute in the orchestra. I took various studio art courses, though I always thought my best work was an oil painting of Wilma Flintstone. I might have made all-borough orchestra, but I knew I wasn't that good. And by third year of the theater productions, I not only wasn't a featured player, I wasn't any player of all. I was in charge of sound effects.

The sad truth was, I didn't really have enough talent or drive to go far, so I stuck to my studies. Now some might say that my academic achievements didn't take me anywhere in particular either, though you'd have to admit that at least it was a longer ride. I knew kids who had that drive; we rode the same feeder bus on summer mornings to camp. I went off to the Y(MHA) for a day of sports and crafts, while the artsy kids went to Usdan, the day-only version of Spirit in the Woods, the sleepaway arts camp that figures large in  the story.

But I had friends with enough talent to keep trying. They tried out for shows, and got parts. They toured their bands. They wrote books. Interestingly enough, some people I knew made it, but they were never the people I kept in touch with. Most of the ones who stayed my friends wound up taking more traditional career paths. Was that coincidence, my doing, or theirs?

One of my closest friends had close parallels to Jules Jacobson of the novel. She continued to try out for shows thorugh her twenties. I even saw her in a few stage productions. But she wound up in the school system, first teaching and then coaching and advising. She is one of two of my friends who live on the Upper West Side with their families, part of the diminishing middle class of Manhattan, surrounded by untold wealth. I sometimes wonder how they can handle the disparity. What do you do when your kids ask you why you don't have a summer house?

If there was an Ethan or Ash in my crowd, I long lost touch with them.

So that was one reason why I particularly enjoyed reading The Interestings, but certainly wasn't the only reason I got lost in this broad canvas, absorbing novel. Wolitzer captures the barriers that come between both couples and friends, the truths we withold, the envy that builds up. There are two successes, the most organic being Ethan Figman's "Figland", a hit cartoon series that seems like a cross between The Simpsons and Adventure Time. And then there is his wife's Ash's nonprofit theater company. Her success is more traditional, less pop culture-y, but it's clear that without the family's money, she never would have been able to hold out through the money-bleeding years.

There's also a mental health subtheme going on through The Interestings. Jules' husband Dennis struggles with depression, while Ash's son is on the spectrum. And Goodman? There's clearly something wrong with him, though it's undiagnosed, in an old-school way.

There's lots more to talk about, but I'll wait till after our event. I'm also excited to hear what the group says. No matter how many reviews and interviews I ponder, our discussions always lead to ideas about the discussed title that weren't raised elsewhere.


I've been reading Meg Wolitzer on and off for a long time. She's had great reviews before, but I don't think anything has matched the impact of her newest. I read This is Your Life back when it was called This is My Life. They changed the book's name for a movie (with Julie Kavner, speaking of The Simpsons) and though the film has not really endured, the new title stuck.

I think Wolitzer set the ground rules for contmplating her new novel in her New York Times essay, The Second Shelf. It was an essay that really got people talking, and I still look at a book wondering what the cover treatment would be the genders were reversed.

Beth Kephart in the Chicago Tribune calls the book a "a supremely engrossing, deeply knowing, genius-level enterprise."

Here's the Liesl Schillinger review in The New York Times Book Review.

Suzanne Koven reviews Wolitzer in The Boston Globe.

Here's Terry Gross interviewing Meg Wolitzer on Fresh Air.

The novel gets an A from Entertainment Weekly, as reviewed by Melissa Maerz.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Guest Post From Gabrielle Zevin, author of "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry"

In celebration of our fifth year anniversary, we are hosting Gabrielle Zevin, author of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, on Monday, April 28. I asked Zevin for the story behind the book, especially as several folks mentioned that the book was partly inspired by Mark Gates, our longtime sales rep. Amusingly enough, our posts overlap a bit, but I hadn't read this when I wrote my own blog.

"When I sold my first book in 2004, I had no idea that publisher sales reps existed. My understanding of publishing and bookselling largely came from books I’d read about the writing life. I think of John Irving’s A Widow for One Year or Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys. Neither had mentioned that there was such a character as a sales rep and that, in fact, this person was rather important, if you wanted your book to actually end up in a bookstore.

The first of these book rep characters I ever knew personally was Mark Gates. Mark picked me up at O’Hare at 10 AM. His car smelled like cigarettes, and his voice reminded me of Harvey Fierstein. He threw my suitcase in the trunk of his compact car and started chatting with me as if he’d known me forever. I was on book tour for my second YA novel, but at the time, I was in the middle of writing my second adult novel, The Hole We’re In. Mark listened politely as I described the book I was working on: Female soldier comes back from Iraq to major financial and personal problems. Mark became uncharacteristically silent. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see his eyebrows had ever so slightly furrowed. “I just wonder who at FSG will edit it,” he said finally. And then a second later, “So, what are you planning to do for money?” Mark had known me about a half hour and he was already worried about whether I’d end up on the streets because of my foolish decision to write a deeply un-commercial, political novel. (Aside: Daniel Goldin is one of about three people in the country who seemed to like The Hole We’re In when it was published in 2010 by Grove Atlantic. I appreciate symmetry in life, and it’s a rather nice symmetry that he also wrote the blurb that accompanied The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry’s selection as the #1 IndieNext title this past April.)

Our first stop that day was Lake Forest Bookstore and Sue Boucher. I signed stock and then I listened to Mark as he ran through that year’s catalog. Much of what I know about sales calls comes from that meeting. Mark took out a paper catalog that represented the publisher’s wares for the season, and he proceeded to pitch the books within its pages. He was surprisingly candid, considering his job was to sell all of them, and the pace was fast, gossipy, a little ruthless. “This one’s not for you. This one’s heartbreaking, but it’s gonna be tough for your clientele--maybe try a box? Wait for paperback for this one. I’ll tell you, this one’s my passion! I promise you’ll sell as many as you take. This one’s… Well, you’ve done pretty well with the author’s previous work so perhaps start with a box. Between you and me, not his best work.” The book he seemed most excited about was Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader*, the novella about the Queen of England taking up reading, which was already out in hardcover. He’d flip past some pages in the catalog without even a comment. I remember being filled with a strong desire not to be an author with a book on one of Mark’s or any rep’s “flip past” pages. (I am certain I have been though.)

When I think back to that scene, it’s easy for me to imagine that the seed for The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry was planted right then. I liked watching Mark’s friendship with Sue Boucher. I liked the idea that sales reps and booksellers checked in with each other only a couple of times a year, but they had these peculiarly intimate relationships. And over books! As my character A.J. Fikry ruminates, “What, in this life, is more personal than books?”

Mark drove me all over Chicagoland--three days of modestly-to-poorly attended bookstore events and rowdy school visits and stock signings at Barnes and Nobles. He told me stories about people who were great at readings (Alice McDermott) and the one time an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show hadn’t helped book sales at all. He was certain a character in the novel I was touring was based on my editor’s husband. I remember laughing the whole time. When he dropped me off at the airport, it was suddenly so much quieter! I missed Mark and thought to myself, That guy might make a good character for a book some day.

Because he was an inspiration for the Harvey Rhodes character in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, people have the idea that I knew Mark Gates well. I didn’t. A year or so after my book tour, I read his obituary either in Publisher’s Weekly or on the American Bookseller Association’s website. No one told me, because it wasn’t as if Mark and I were good friends or even friends. I was just one in a long line of authors Mark had driven around the Midwest, one in a long line of authors whose books he’d sold with all his considerable intellect and heart"

How crazy that the bookstore visit that Zevin accompanied Mark on was the one where he sold The Uncommon Reader! But it's not that crazy that the buyer/owner he sat down with was Sue Boucher, one of my favorite people in the business. She's no longer owns Lake Forest Book Store, but she's on to her next chapter in Michigan, and not surprisingly, it involves a bookstore, specifically The Cottage Bookshop in Glen Arbor. 

Thanks, Gabrielle. See you Monday! 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

New and Noteworthy Tuesday--Nonfiction Titles For Moms and Daughters, Scientists and Black Holes, Beer and Beer Drinkers

Having recapped Mother's Day cards with Jen on Saturday, it's got me keeping an eye out on Mother-themed books too. The obvious candidate is Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today's Best Women Writers (FSG). The editors are Eleanor Henderson and Anna Solomon, with Henderson best known for her novel Ten Thousand Saints (my nephew and I were just talking about that book this past weekend) and Solomon the author of The Little Bride. I could just list the contributors whose books I read and that would fill up the paragraph: Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, Lan Samantha Chang, Julia Glass, Lauren Groff, Danzey Senna, Dani Shapiro and so forth. A lot of the supportive quotes in the front (Molly Ringwald, Mayim Bialik) say this is a great collection for the mother to be, so I'll go with that.

We had mentioned earlier that Kelly Corrigan's Glitter and Glue would like have a Mother's Day pop, so I it's no wonder that other memoirs about mother-daughter relationships come out in April. Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When a Mother Knows Best, What's a Daughter to Do?, a Memoir (Sort of), by Elain Lui (Amy Einhorn/Putnam) is about a girl growing up in Hong Kong whose mom raised her using elements of Chinese fortune telling, feng shui, blackmail, ghost stories, and shame. The publisher notes that while friends received financial support from their parents, her Mom would demand, "Where's my money?" My friend from Singapore had a similar relationship with her mom. Lui is the voice behind the Lainey Gossip blog.

A variation on the mommy memoir is the menopause memoir, and that's how they are positioning The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones (Norton), by Sandra Tsing Loh. I read her first collection, Depth Takes a Holiday and thought it was quite funny. I believe I was obsessed on reading Southern California books and the subtitle was "Essays from Lesser Los Angeles." Cheryl Strayed, who has a selection in Labor Day, called this "blazingly vulnerable, socrchingly smart, and funny as hell." And while the story veers into the end of her marriage, it is also, per the publisher, a tale of her life as "a mother, a daughter, and an artist." See? We're still on topic.

After all that drama, I think at least some of my moms might want The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter (Princeton), by Katherine Freese, only to find out it's a science book about the hunt for dark matter, no less. Freese is the George E. Uhlenbeck Professor of Physics at the University of Michigan. Of her new book, Brian Schmidt, 2011 Nobel Laureate in physics says: "Freese tells her trailblazing and very personal story of how the worlds of particle physics and astronomy have come together to unveil the mysterious ingredients of the cosmic cocktail that we call our universe." This snappy looking volume still makes a smart gift for a geeky mom with its glossy blue-black jacket, hefty weight (signaling high quality paper) and would be remiss if I didn't mention that her author photo that offers a modern, science-savvy Zsa Zsa Gabor. Yes, that's a feather boa. One day when Freese writes her trade book (this is definitely hard core), she'll be running with the Tysons and Kakus.

Since we knowingly teased you in that last entry about the false presence of alcohol in that last book, perhaps The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers is Transforming the World's Favorite Drink (Palgrave Macmillan), by Steve Hindy will revive your spirits. Using the old adage, it ain't a trend till it happens in New York, Hind is the cofounder of Brooklyn Brewery, and his story is that of how new business like New Belgium and Dogfish Head have challenged the beer giants. If you're wondering if Wisconsin has a seat at the table in this story, my first pass through says nay, except as former home of many of the evil giants.  Though they are not in the index, Jason told me the story behind Minhas, who operate the former Joseph Huber brewery in Monroe

Monday, April 21, 2014

Boswell Book Company Monday Event Post, Week of April 21, 2014--Meg Wolitzer, Brian Freeman, Ann Peters, Stuart Gibbs and More.

Tuesday, April 22, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Brian Freeman, author of The Cold Nowhere.

We have been sharing events with Mystery One for over a year now, and with Books and Company since we've been open, but this might be our first double share. No, I think Joelle Charbonneau also did this for The Testing. 

Freeman's signing at Mystery One at 5 the same day as us, and then appears at Books and Company on Wednesday, April 23. Freeman comes off his best novel win at the International Thriller awards with a Duluth-based story that gives Nordic Noir a run for its money in the "chiller thriller" category. Booklist writes "The narrative moves between the point of view of Stride and that of the girl's pursuer, making this well-plotted, atmospheric thriller feel like a high-stakes chess game."

This is Freeman's first Jonathan Stride mystery published with Quercus. The previous installments, as well as one stand-alone, were published by Minotaur, while another stand-alone was published by Silver Oak, through Sterling. Our best sale to date was with his 2010 stand-alone, The Bone House, which had a great write-up from Carole E. Barrowman. Barrowman also touted Freeman's newest in a Journal Sentinel write up yesterday. Freeman rounds up some of his reviews here.

Wednesday, April 23, 6 pm, at the Oak Creek Library, 8620 South Howell Avenue, 53154: Stuart Gibbs, author of Poached, Belly Up, Spy School, and Spy Camp.

After a day of school visits (contact Jannis if you are interested in championing a school visit next fall), we whisk Gibbs due South to the Oak Creek Library, where you can learn more about Teddy Fitzroy, boy animal detective. His family works at the FunJungle (no space, two caps) animal park in Texas, and after being caught in a local bully's prank (they drop fake severed limbs into the shark tank), he becomes prime suspect in a genuin koala poaching.

Matthew Weaver in Voice of Youth Advocates writes "Also the author of Spy School, a TV and screenwriter, and a former zoo worker, Gibbs goes the extra mile in establishing the reality of FunJungle, stressing proper animal care while giving an insider’s view of the politics behind zoo exhibits and management. Even better, Teddy’s parents never doubt their son’s innocence and actively engage in his adventure. These extra details lend credibility to the caper and raise the stakes. This will appeal to animal and mystery lovers alike."

Here's a complete map of FunJungle. Please consider setting the third installment on Monkey Mountain. Don't forget the 6 pm start time!

Also on Wednesday, April 23, 7 pm (reception, the author speaks at 7:30), at the Lynden Sculpture Garden, 2145 West Brown Deer Road in River Hills, 53217:
A ticketed event with Ann Peters, author of House Hold.

The Woman's Speaker Series at the Lynden Sculpture Garden is a partnership with Milwaukee Reads, with sponsors Bronze Optical and MKE Localicious. Tickets are $30 and include admission, light refreshments and wine, and a copy of House Hold. For Lynden members, the cost is $25.

Kirkus Reviews lauded this memoir, writing that "Nostalgia is a complicated version of love, Peters reveals in this elegiac memoir, which can threaten to fade the vivid present to a sepia-toned past."

From Booklist: "Peters ties her memories to great stories of small-town life by Edith Wharton, Theodore Dreiser, and others. Twenty years of living in New York evokes romantic notions about the city drawn from the writings of Willa Cather and Paule Marshall. Eventually, Peters buys a small house in upstate New York. All along, she ponders her constantly changing landscape, resenting changing and reluctantly conceding her participation in that change, resigning herself to living inside others' history. Peters writes beautifully of the meaning of authenticity and the need to belong."

This fluency with Edith Wharton and Willa Cather as well as the author speaking to the geography of Wisconsin explains a bit why Boswellian Jane is so fond of the book.  She's been recommending it for book clubs, which we'll rev up when the book goes into paperback.

Ann Peters is associate professor of English at Stern College, Yeshiva University, and the recipient of the 2012 McGinnis Ritchie Award for Nonfiction. She lives in Brooklyn and in upstate New York.

Thursday, April 24, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Meg Wolitzer, author of The Interestings, The Wife, The Ten Year Nap, The Uncoupling, and more. (Photo credit by Nina Subin)

I read my first Meg Wolitzer novel in 1986. Back then, I knew her as the daughter of Hilma Wolitzer, whose most recent book is An Available Man. I read Silver back in 1988 and I think this might have been the first time I had read novels by a mother and a daughter in a family. For some reason, that seemed very exciting to me. I also read the next novel, This is Your Life, which was about a comedian and her two daughters, which became a movie, but I seem to remember had Julie Kavner (Marge Simpson) in it.

Time skips. Wolitzer's fan base grows. We have some very nice sales for Wolitzer's novels at Schwartz. My coworker Nancy reads a few, and I use her quote. I'm trying to figure out whether Ms. Wolitzer ever appeared at Schwartz. Please comment below if you've seen her. Sometimes I just can't remember and other times my memory is faulty. I was convinced that Chuck Klosterman came before Boswell's 2009 appearance, but he said that was not the case.

Wolitzer had hit the national bestseller lists before, but I feel like her new novel, The Interestings, has reached a level of popularity and acclaimed she hadn't before seen. The book has had amazing reviews and hit a number of best-of-the-year roundups, including this wonderful review in The New York Times from Liesl Schillinger.

"The Interestings is warm, all-American and acutely perceptive about the feelings and motivations of its characters, male and female, young and old, gay and straight; but it’s also stealthily, unassumingly and undeniably a novel of ideas. Wolitzer has been writing excellent fiction for 30 years, and it has always been this astute. From the start, her subject has been the practical, emotional and sexual fallout of women’s liberation, particularly as it affects mothers and children. But here she has written a novel that speaks as directly to men as to women. With this book, she has surpassed herself. Just don’t call her exceptional."

Eden Lepucki rhapsodizes over The Interestings in The Millions. She compares the book to two other novels I read and enjoyed, Beautiful Ruins (which we all know) and Jami Attenberg's The Middlesteins (which we should know better). 

Suzanne Koven in The Boston Globe: "The main characters in Meg Wolitzer’s complex and engaging new novel, The Interestings, were born in 1959 (as was Wolitzer). They’re members of that shadow generation, not old enough to have participated fully in the dramatic events that dominated their childhoods, vaguely aware that when they finally arrived late to the party of adulthood, it, and they, might turn out to be less fascinating than they hoped."

My sister's friend Christine heard Meg Wolitzer speak at a fundraiser in Phoenix and told me that Wolitzer was as wonderful a speaker as could be--engaging, smart, and witty. To me, those are the three points of fabulousness. Oh, and she's a good friend of another author who has been a dear friend to the store, so we better do a good job, or else.

We've had a nice display up with the bags as well (the reissues from Wolitzer offer many design variations, but they are definitely type covers!), and we've been talking about the event a lot. I panic before every event, but several indications, like a number of book clubs who have promised me they are coming and the fact that The Interestings has been our #1 selling trade paperback fiction title for the last two weeks should allow me to exhale, at least for a minute.

Monday, April 28, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Five year anniversary celebration with Gabrielle Zevin, author of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

As Jim Higgins wrote in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Boswell Book Company could not have picked a more fitting new book for its fifth anniversary celebration." If you skipped Friday's post about the book, you can read it now. and tear up a bit (note: not "tare" up,  but "teer" up).  And Zevin has promised to guest-write a post later this week.

Monday, April 28, 7 pm, at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, 2210 N. Terrace Ave. 53211:
Timothy Corrigan, author of An Invitation to Chateau Du Grand-Luce: Decorating a Great French Country House.  There is a $5 admission fee for this event, which goes directly to Villa Terrace. 

Folks come to us about event ideas all the time, and sadly, mostly don't work out. By the time folks know about books, the tours are planned. More than that, it's sometimes hard to understand that when the publisher author comes to us, the onus for attendance is lower than when we go to them.

So here is a textbook example of when a customer's idea can and does work. Our friends Pat and Stephanie noted that Timothy Corrigan, one of the world's most acclaimed decorators, was going to be in Chicago in April, on tour for his book, and wouldn't it be a great thing for us to be able to add Milwaukee on. Corrigan lived in Milwaukee at one time and had plenty of fans who were well-connected to bring out a crowd.

We originally had the event scheduled for another day, but a shift in his schedule made April 28 the best opportunity. The only problem is that we already had Gabrielle Zevin booked, and as a national tour, the date wasn't flexible. I just couldn't let this go, and suggested Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum. The museum was excited to be part of this--we had a very nice event for The Art Forger at their sister museum, The Charles Allis. And when we asked his people, it turns out that Corrigan had been taken by Villa Terrace on his last trip to town and had photographed it. Destiny, right?

The book is about how Corrigan purchased an 18th century chateau and restored it to its former glory.  Corrigan tells all to David Keeps in this Los Angeles Times column. Hope you'll join us for this lovely event.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Boswell Sunday Bestseller Post, for the Week Ending April 19, 2014.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin (event 4/28)
2. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
3. Shotgun Lovesongs, by Nickolas Butler
4. The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd
5. Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue

See below for the Journal Sentinel review of Gabrielle Zevin. My sister Merrill talked to me this morning and went on about how much she liked The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.  It's also nice to see Nickolas Butler and Sue Monk Kidd, former visitors, continuing to have legs. I don't think we'll see Donna Tartt in the near future, but there is a small chance that Emma Donoghue might visit Boswell for the paperback tour of Frog Music. I'm in the midst of making fall proposals, and her name came up. We'll certainly let you know.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Capital in the Twenty First Century, by Thomas Piketty
2. Jesus, by James Martin
3. Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book, by Diane Muldrow
4. Flash Boys, by Michael Lewis
5. How Jesus Became God, by Bart D. Ehrman

We got our shipment of Capital in the Twenty First Century and promptly sold through them all. The New York Times features French economist Thomas Piketty on the front page of their Sunday business section, where he notes that income equality is likely to worsen over time.

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer (event 4/24)
2. Trace, by Eric Pankey
3. Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
4. Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline
5. Saving Kandinsky, by Mary Basson (event 5/9)

We're hoping for a good showing at our event for Meg Wolitzer this coming Thursday. People are really connecting to The Interestings and we have a good number of book clubs with the book on their calendar. I'm currently reading it for our book club, which has moved from May 5 (due to Keillor) to April 24, at 6 pm, before our featured author speaks.

You may have noticed a pop in sales for Dark Eden, by Chris Beckett. This novel is an adult dystopian about a group of people called The Family who live in Eden, a group of people who must stay in the safety of The Forest and not cross into The Snowy Dark. They have to wait there until The Travelers come back for them. So of course John Redlantern breaks all the rules and you can only imagine what happens. Hey, I think I got the plot right. The book won the Arthur C. Clarke award for best science fiction novel of the year.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Wrigley Field, revised edition, by Stuart Shea
2. Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo
3. My Boyfriend Barfed in my Handbag, by Jolie Kerr
4. The Distance Between Us, by Reyna Grande
5. On Looking, by Alexandra Horowitz

After however how long (two years?), Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers hits the paperback rack. What with most publishers doing their old paperbacks, the rule of thumb about a year spread between hard and soft no longer applies. In the old days, if a book was working, the hardcover publisher couldn't delay a paperback if they sold the rights, or rather, it was very, very hard to do so. Now there's really only one thing that forces the paperback and that is the film release. That's definitely the reason for The Fault in Our Stars and Gone Girl paperbacks, even though they are both on our bestseller list for hardcover, and that's why Unbroken will likely hit paperback this fall. 

Books for Kids:
1. The Scraps Book, by Lois Ehlert
2. The 26-Story Treehouse, by Andy Griffiths
3. The 13-Story Treehouse, by Andy Griffiths
4. Lots of Spots, by Lois Ehlert
5. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

Guess who we hosted this week? If you guessed John Green, you are not only wrong, but you are dreaming. Griffiths is in the midst of a five-week tour around the United States, to hook kids on his crazy brand of humor that has become an Australian phenomenon (and yes, we chatted about our favorite Australian writers Hannah Kent (who visited last fall) and Graeme Simsion (who is coming for the paperback of The Rosie Project on June 18).

On Saturday, my niece and nephew and 80-odd other fans came to see Lois Ehlert for her new book, The Scraps Book. This is our third event with Ehlert (four if you include one at MPL) and it was more than twice the attendance we've had before. Both of us wondered whether the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter was a good time for an event. It turned out it was.

In the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins reviews The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, which he calls "a big wet kiss to readers and bookstore people." I'm not going to go on too much about the review here, since I just yapped on about the book on Friday, but if you need more incentive to pick up the book, Higgins offers even more reasons why the book is worth reading, including highlighting many of the vibrant secondary characters who populate the story. Don't forget, our event is April 28, and we'll have a little something extra--a little talk, a little nosh, a little toast--to celebrate our fifth anniversary.

Plus Carole E. Barrowman's monthly mystery roundup:
The Intern's Handbook by Shane Kuhn is a "twisty and twisted comedic thriller" about a killer intern (this temp agency hires younguns to off corporate honchos who have it coming) relating his cases as he tells of his last case before his mandatory retirement at 25. "Imagine Dexter working in The Office."

The Long Shadow, by Liza Marklund is Barrowman's return to Nordic Noir after reading too much "gratuitously and graphically mtilated women" Here, Annika Bengtzon investigates the murder of Swedish hockey star and his family on the Southern coast of Spain.

Aunt Dimity and the Wishing Well, by Nancy Atherton is the latest adventure of "a Miss Marplish spirit who communicates with her niece, Lori, to solve the peculiar and the puzzling." The newest concerns the death of the village recluse, and the unintended consequences of a wishing well being found on the estate. This one has "an especially witty and wonderful Agatha Christie vibe."

The Cold Nowhere, by Brian Freeman is the latest "superb psychological thriller" featuring Jonathan Stride, this one death on a giant ore boat and "a homeless teenager seeking refuge with Stride." Freeman is visiting Mystery One on Tuesday, April 22, at 5 pm, and Boswell at 7, and then on Wednesday at Books and Company, also at 7 pm.

Blood Always Tells, by Hillary Davidson, is "a striking departure from her series with travel journalist Lily Moore. This one tells of a woman trying to get even with her two-timing boyfriend who winds up in a blackmail scheme which leads to a kidnapping. Barrowman says the plot is "engrossing."

And also Mike Fischer reviews In the Light of What We Know, by Zia Hander Rahman. He notes that even though the book can be summarized as a "classic bildungsroman" moving from Bangladesh to Great Britain to the United States and then to Asia, "there's nothing simple about this dense, sprawling and thrilling ambitious debut novel, which relentlessly calls into question how much we should trust paragraphs like the one I've just written--or more generally, the stories within which we live an d through which we lull ourselves to sleep."

Collette Bancroft of The Tampa Bay Times reviews On Reading the Grapes of Wrath, by Susan Shillinglaw, on the 75th anniversary of The Grapes of Wrath, which also has an anniversary edition. She writes "Longtime Steinbeck fans and first-time readers alike will find much to enrich their understanding of The Grapes of Wrath in Shillinglaw's book.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saturday Gift Post--Daniel and Jen Discuss Mother's Day Cards.

This week we realized that we used the 48 pocket spinner for our graduation and the 24-pocket one for Mother's Day, only to realize that most graduation celebrations are taking place after Mother's Day. We had plenty of cards for both, so Anne switched it up, and now just about all our Mother's Day cards are on display. I think we're at the point where we're not going to have two cards left on the Saturday before the holiday. We'll see.

Jen and I were sorting through cards and we realized that we had a lot to say about the selection. We each picked out several that we could chat about.

Daniel: First off are these two peacocks. What do you think is up with that?

Jen: Don't you think peacocks are a symbol of Hera, the Greek goddess? She represents women, marriage, and birth, which seems mother-y to me.

Daniel: Oh!

Jen: I also like the colors in these cards. They are not all pinkish.

Daniel: These cards are kind of domestic, but they aren't too stereotypical. I really love the teacup card, partly because I like tea and these seem like such authentic illustrations. You can see the personality behind the person who would have each cup.

Jen: I agree. Doesn't Mom really need to relax and have a cup of tea (sometimes from Long Island)? I like the imagery of the card on the left because it has a real vintage art feel. I also like the colors.

Daniel: Many of us love the Ghost Academy cards (below left) because their aesthetic are at once funky and sentimental. Plus the block printing technique is unique.

Jen: I'm a sucker for book art, which is why I like the one on the right, even though it is pink.

Daniel: It's the card I gave my mother. How could I not?

Jen: The card on the left below is the one I gave my mom, mostly because I can be an ass. Ha ha!

Daniel: Yes, I thought that it had a good combination of graphic pop and authentic sentiment. The one on the right reminded me of myself at a young age. There's a story of me crying all the way home from Manhattan on the subway. I should send several cards to my mother just to make up for that.

Jen: Moms should do more boxing. I may be an ass sometimes (see above), but my mom kicks ass (below).

Daniel: I love my mom but it's hard to imagine her fighting. Her reflexes have always been a bit slow, and moreso now that she's 90.

Jen: Doesn't matter. Mom's are always in your corner fighting, just sometimes it's not literal. Regarding the card on the right, we've all had those moments where we realize we sound like our Moms.

Daniel: You could definitely give this card with Kelly Corrigan's new book, Glitter and Glue.

Daniel: We have 38 more pockets of Mother's Day cards on display, plus about five more to come out as these sell. If you come on May 10, not so much.

Jen: That's all, folks!

Friday, April 18, 2014

On Gabrielle Zevin's "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry," Bookseller (and Sales Rep) Love, Five Years of Boswell, and a Toast on April 28.

Today is day 1842 of Boswell being in business.

It's not unusual to have early buzz from booksellers about a book from Algonquin; this is the publisher of Water for Elephants, A Reliable Wife, and The Art Forger, after all. That said, 2013 was a quiet year. The lead titles for the spring and fall books were more well-known authors, Jill McCorkle and Lee Smith, and even though McCorkle had the #1 Indie Next Pick, tied with the identically titled Kate Atkinson, neither book successfully got to that "everybody's reading it" stage of handselling, at least at our store.

So it's late 2013 and that means spring 2014 is coming, and in the case of Algonquin, this meant that the buzz was building on some book or other, with advance manuscripts (probably paper and electronic both) making the rounds. I'm not great about advance-advance reading, so I don't always make said first round, but lo and behold, by the time I do get an advance copy, it's accompanied by something like thirty recommendations from booksellers for The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

Alas, this blew me away the first time I saw such a thing, but after seeing it a bit, my emotional reaction was, once again, that I am not on that list because I'm reading a book for an event that is next week. Darn that towering pile and my limited reading abilities! That alone would have gotten me to read the book.

But then I got another note from Craig Poplears, the man who makes this stuff happen. He had done an advance mailing of the book to sales reps. Really? And still I didn't get anything? Is my early reading reputation that bad?

Now sales reps are really busy, and almost all of them spend their reading time pouring through their own lists. I find that many of the best sales reps read outside their lists as well. They are often more aware of what works and what doesn't. And some of them are just amazing readers. So it turns out that two of the responders were either current or former sales reps of mine, both of whom I liked, but more than that, both of whom had taste that not only resonated with me, but also with our customer base.

So I read letter number one about The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (called The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry in the UK, which often feels the American title is quite right, though honestly, what's the difference?) from my old friend Johanna Hynes. I've gotten permission to reprint it here.

"Two weeks ago I was walking out the door to sales conference, when my mailman put a package in my hand. I was late and so just shoved it in my bag and made my way to the airport. It wasn’t until we were ten thousand feet in the air that I looked carefully at it and realized it was the package I was desperately waiting for from you.

"I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say I will remember reading this book for the rest of my life. I read it every moment I could spare during a busy week of sales conference- waking up early to do so, and crawling into bed after a long day of listening & schmoozing to spend just a bit more time with AJ. When I got to the end, I wept and wept and wept, and the only thing I could think to do to fill the ache in my heart was to start the book over again. So I did. And when the end came around again, I closed the book, went for a walk, then came back and began it yet again.

"There is the old cliché that books find you at the right time. Having recently switched publishing houses, and having the great fortune to work this summer at Carmichael’s Bookstore, I fell in love anew with the publishing industry. With connecting people to books that will change them forever- both as a handseller on the bookstore floor, and as a publishing rep making sure stores have those gems on their shelves. I have not read a book before that illuminates all the glorious pieces of bookselling so vividly, and with such precision.

"I hope you will forgive my belated thank you. I wanted to begin to find the words for how deeply this novel has moved me. As you know I originally wanted to read it because of its connection to the man in publishing I most adored and revered, which it so lovingly pays homage to. But beyond that personal connection, I found it is a book to read and reread to be reminded of why so many of us have given our lives over to the pursuit of literature.

"Please let me know of anything I might do in my small capacity to help evangelize for this novel. I am committed to making sure this book finds its way into the hearts of thousands of book lovers like me.

"And so, thank you. The galley you sent was a gift beyond measure."

So Johanna has always been one of my favorite people. We are sort of bonded by several things--our love of books, our work commitment, and perhaps a tendency to gossip a bit. Its a strange bond--we were meeting together the day of the World Trade Center bombings. We listened to the news, we cried, but in the end, I wound up continuing to buy books for Schwartz as news came in about the New York tragedy. 

We shared a lot of books together, and Johanna is one of those folks who read lots both in and out of her bag. She wound up being one of the early readers to bond with me over Chris Cleave's Litle Bee. I will never forget the message I received on my answering machine after she read the book. But we also bonded over that person that A.J. Fikry sort of pays homage to, our late sales rep, as beloved a figure as you could possibly be in Midwest book circles.

Mark is sort of the sales rep who has disappeared at the beginning of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, with the new rep taking his place. Always knowing what book to recommend, he also had the ability to enchant the most cantankerous buyer. He was every bookseller's buddy, wowing the staff at our rep nights, and getting us all behind titles. I remember when he sold me Alan Bennett's An Uncommon Reader. We just kept chatting about it until we came to the same conclusion--not only are we going to sell a ton of The Uncommon Reader, but we're going to make a lot of people very happy when they read it. And it turns out that was a case--we wound up selling well over 500 copies, and to this day, one of the book clubs who registers at Boswell has the name "The Uncommon Readers."

And why do I find this so funny? Because when Dave Mallmann, my other longtime colleague turned sales rep, read the book, this was completely his instinct. This is what its like when a buyer comes across something he just knows is going to work, when everything comes together, like when Johanna sold us Nicole Krauss's A History of Love many years ago or when Dave said to me, you must, must, must, must read Beautiful Ruins. Here's what he wrote about Zevin's novel.

"Well, this morning (just a few minutes ago, actually) I finished it. What can I say? As a bookseller for 18 years and a Sales Rep for just over 18 weeks, I found The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry absolutely irresistible. All of the characters were perfectly drawn, the writing style was effortlessly charming, all of the story elements--the various relationships, the mystery element, the constant references to literature old and new, the ending--came together so flawlessly and worked so well, I was astonished. It's not often that you read a book in December and say, "that is one of the best books I read all year," but that is certainly the case here for me. As a bookseller, I would be thinking about how to place this book. Certainly in multiple locations: in the section (faced out, of course), on a prominent New Release Table, at the front counter, and almost certainly on multiple booksellers' [Insert Name Here] Recommends shelves. As a rep, the first question I would ask is: what is the carton quantity? Because that's how I'd sell this book in to bookstores: by the carton."

I don't want this to become an homage to Mark Gates post, mostly because I just don't think I could do him justice. For one thing, I think he already go one when Dean Bakopoulos published My American Unhappiness, with its character Mack Fences. Based on the lives Mark touched, there will eventually be more than two characters in novels inspired by Mark Gates, if there aren't already. The connection Mark made with booksellers is the connection that Island Books in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry makes with customers. And that's probably why booksellers like the book so much.

So I read the Gabrielle Zevin's novel. And I'm not going to lie--this is a sentimental story. Very sentimental. But you know what? When it comes to the places we love and our best memories, a little sentiment is ok. Emotion is the connector; it's the emotion that gets us through the hard stuff, right? It often depends on where your head is at the time, what we're being sentimental about, and how the sentiment is drawn. I read this book and thought, not everyone's going to love this book, and I know exactly the kind of critic that's going to not like it. And I also know the kind of person who's going to love it.

Sentimental or not, life can be like this, if not at the time, it can certainly seem that way in retrospect. After all, it's just about ten years ago that my old mentor David Schwartz died, and can it be possible that we got news of his death while several of us booksellers were driving home from the Book Expo America convention where Schwartz was honored as PW bookstore of the year? Talk about highs and lows. And then I think of Beverly Segel. Oh, how Bev would have loved this book!

I send in my quote, and I turn around, and the April Indie Next List comes out and no surprise, the book is #1 for the month. And there my quote is. And the first thing is, hey, I wrote the Indie Next quote for the last Gabrielle Zevin novel, The Hole We're In. People are going to think we're friends, or that I run the Gabrielle Zevin fan club. I wrote to Mark at the American Booksellers Association, and told him this coincidence, and that maybe he should change me out. And he wrote back, and said that he looks for the quote that best personifies the book, and apparently if I really love Zevin's next book, I might still be in the running for the bookseller quote.

Oh, here's what I wrote: "Fikry is a bookseller with a small shop in a sleepy island resort town off the coast of Massachusetts. He’s a bit cantankerous, but with good reason: his wife, the ‘people person’ of the relationship, has recently died and his prized possession, a rare copy of Tamerlane, has gone missing. Despite those losses, there’s one strange addition, a baby girl left on his doorstep with an explicit request for Fikry to take her in. Zevin’s novel offers the reality of both death and rebirth, held together by the spirit of the bookstore. It’s a romantic comedy, a spiritual journey, and if you include the chapter openings, a collection of short story criticisms as well. In short, it’s a celebration of books and the people who read them, write them, and sell them.”

I've yet to have a baby on my doorstep, but now, as we've turned five, I have continued to think about my own bookstore and the function it serves in the community. Needless to say, I am continuously worried, but at Gabrielle Zevin's event for The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (that's the Canadian edition, at right above) on Monday, April 28, I'm going to stop worrying for a second and just celebrate our anniversary.

First I'm going to go to the reception at Villa Terrace for our other event for Timothy Corrigan (we couldn't say no when the event was moved to that date from the 30th) for An Invitation to Chateau Du Grand-Luce: Decorating a Great French Country House ($5 admission to Villa Terrace, event starts at 7 as well, details on our Facebook page) and then I'm going to toast again at Boswell. It might be a long toast--I'm going to say a few words about the state of the store before we start, but I promise there will be toasting accoutrements.

 But if you aren't able to come to either event, and you are a supporter of Boswell, I wanted to thank you again. As I say at the end of each author event, we wouldn't have a bookstore without you, and I mean it. On to day 1843.