Monday, January 21, 2019

This week in Milwaukee: Anna Clark at Marquette on the lead water crisis, archivist Laura Rose Wagner at UWM, plus MLK celebrations at MLK Library. Next week: Tim Johnston!

What's going on this week?

Monday, January 21, 9 am to 5 pm at the Milwaukee Public Library Martin Luther King Branch, 310 W Locust St

While we don't have special Martin Luther King Jr. Day programming, the nearby Martin Luther King Library has a full day of activities. Per the library, it's a "celebration filled with poetry, music, dance, crafts, games and community services. Programming for the celebration is funded by the Milwaukee Public Library Foundation." More information here.

Wednesday, January 23, 5:00 pm, at Weasler Auditorium, Marquette University, 1506 W Wisconsin Ave:
Anna Clark, author of The Poisoned City: Flint's Water and the American Urban Tragedy

Marquette Forum presents award-winning journalist Anna Clark, who has covered the Flint, Michigan water scandal from its beginnings, for a talk about her account of the crisis. Register for this event here.

This event is cosponsored by Marquette University College of Arts and Sciences, and the College of Engineering, the Center for the Advancement of the Humanities, Friends and Alumni of Marquette English, and the Office of Student Development.

When the people of Flint, Michigan, turned on their faucets in April 2014, the water pouring out was poisoned with lead and other toxins. In the first full-length account of this epic failure, Clark recounts the gripping story of Flint’s poisoned water, the people who caused it, and those who suffered from it. It is a chronicle of one town, but also a story of neglect of infrastructure and the erosion of democratic decision-making. Cities like Flint are set up to fail, and for the people who live and work in them, the consequences may be mortal.

Detroit-based Anna Clark is a journalist whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Columbia Journalism Review. She edited A Detroit Anthology, a Michigan Notable Book, and was a Fulbright fellow in Kenya and a Knight-Wallace journalism fellow at the University of Michigan. The Poisoned City was named a Notable Book of 2018 by The Washington Post.

In addition to her talk at 5 pm, there is an open-to-the-public question-and-answer program with Clark at Sensenbrenner Hall at 2 pm. More information here.

Friday, January 25, 2:30 pm, at American Geographic Society Library, Golda Meir Library, 2311 E Hartford Ave:
Laura Rose Wagner, author of Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go: A Novel of Haiti

The LACUSL speaker series presents a special afternoon event in two parts, featuring author Laura Rose Wagner, archivist for the Radio Haiti project at the David M. Rubenstein Library at Duke University. Cosponsored by UWM Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the department of French, Italian, and Comparative Literature, Digital Humanities Lab, UWM Libraries, Master of Arts in Language, Literature, and Translation, and Boswell Book Company.

Part one of this event, at 2:30 pm, is titled “Bringing Memory Home: The Digital Repatriation of the Archive of Radio Haïti-Inter" and focuses on a discussion about Radio Haiti, the archive and digitization project, and the challenges of keeping memory alive. From the early 1970s until 2003, Haiti's first independent radio station broadcast investigative reporting and critical analysis in Haitian Creole. Since 2014, the Rubenstein Library at Duke University, where Wagner is an archivist, has been digitizing the audio archive of Radio Haiti.

Part two of this event, at 3:45 pm, features conversation and readings with Laura Rose Wagner from Hold Tight, Don't Let Go, her young adult novel about a girl's journey out of the rubble of the 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince.

And don't forget about Monday, January 28, 7:00 pm, at Boswell:
Tim Johnston, author of The Current

Author of the bestselling novel Descent comes to Boswell with The Current, a tour de force literary thriller about the indelible impact of a crime on the lives of innocent people in small Minnesota town. This book goes on sales on Tuesday, January 22 (tomorrow).

In the dead of winter, outside a small Minnesota town, state troopers pull two young women and their car from the icy Black Root River. One is found downriver, drowned, while the other is found at the scene, half frozen but alive. What happened was no accident, and news of the crime awakens the community’s memories of another young woman who lost her life in the same river ten years earlier, whose killer may still live among them.

A starred recommendation from Kirkus Reviews calls The Current, “deceptively thick yet brutally delicate as winter ice itself… An apt title that functions as a beautiful metaphor for all the secrets and emotions roiling beneath the surface of every human life.” And just in from Elfrieda Abba at the Star Tribune: "Pick up Tim Johnston’s suspenseful novel The Current and you risk finding yourself glued to your chair, eyes to the pages, no thought of attending to daily obligations."

Our Mystery Book Club will be meeting at a special time of 6 pm, where they will discuss Johnston's previous novel Descent. If you'd like to join them, we just request that you have already read Descent. 

Tim Johnston is author of Descent, Irish Girl, winner of the Katherine Anne Porter Prize, and the YA novel Never So Green. Tim’s stories have appeared in New England Review, The Iowa Review, and Narrative Magazine, and he’s won the O. Henry Prize. He holds degrees from the University of Iowa and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

You bought 'em, we write about 'em - Boswell bestsellers for the week ending January 19, 2019

You bought 'em, we write about 'em.

Hardcover Fiction
1. Tear It Down V4, by Nick Petrie
2. The Far Field, by Madhuri Vijay
3. Kingdom of the Blind V14, by Louise Penny
4. There There, by Tommy Orange
5. The Overstory, by Richard Powers
6. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
7. Fire and Blood, by George R.R. Martin
8. Devotions, by Mary Oliver
9. Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver
10. New Iberia Blues V22, by James Lee Burke

Of James Lee Burke's New Iberia Blues, Booklist wrote: "At 82, Burke just keeps getting better, his familiar theme of an idyllic past at war with a demon-drenched present taking on more subtle levels of meaning; his storied lyricism drawing on a new range of powerfully resonant minor chords." His latest has Dave Robicheaux investigating the death of a young actress that took place near the home of a famous director, who also happens to be an old friend.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Well That Escalated Quickly, by Franchesca Ramsey
2. Becoming, by Michelle Obama
3. Educated, by Tara Westover
4. The Making of Milwaukee 4e, by John Gurda
5. The Library Book, by Susan Orlean
6. The First Conspiracy, Brad Meltzer and
7. Sweet Home Cafe Cookbook, by NMAAHC
8. How to Change Your Mind, by Michael Pollan
9. Women Rowing North, by Mary Pipher
10. Gift of Our Wounds, by Arno Michaelis and Pardeep Singh Kaleka

Clinical psychologist Piper looks at women in the transition between "late middle and old age" in Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing As We Age. Kirkus Reviews wrote: "Eloquently compassionate and sure to appeal to late-life women, Pipher’s book draws from a deep well of insight that is both refreshing and spiritually aware."

Paperback Fiction:
1. Paris by the Book, by Liam Callanan
2. Asymmetry, by Lisa Halliday
3. The Drifter V1, by Nick Petrie
4. Burning Bright V2, by Nick Petrie
5. The Milkman, by Anna Burns
6. Less, by Andrew Sean Greer
7. The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris
8. Girl of the Limberlost, a play by Marie Kohler
9. The Power, by Naomi Alderman
10. Space Opera, by Catherynne Valente

The Boswell-run book clubs own three slots in this week's top ten. The In-Store Lit Group is reading Asymmetry on March 4, but we've also seemed to have landed on one of the break-out books of the holiday season. The Sci Fi Book Club is reading Catherynne Valente's Space Opera on February 11 and the Books and Beer Book Club is reading The Power on March 18 (all the selections here with links to purchase or get more info). The Power was a hardcover hit for us, with Boswell selling just under 100 copies (that's good, especially with no event).

Note the divergent paperback publishing strategies, which used to be solidly one year until paperback. Asymmetry only took 8 months to paperback publication while The Power extended its hardcover run to 15 months.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Cali'flour Kitchen, by Amy Lacey
2. The Diane Chronicles, by Diane S. Forman
3. Beautiful Boy, by David Sheff
4. The Complete Book of Chakra Healing, by Cyndi Dale
5. Cold War Wisconsin, by Christopher Sturdevant (event 1/29 at MPL's Rare Book Room)
6. American Advertising Cookbooks, by Christina Ward (event 2/1, 7 pm, at Boswell)
7. Anxiety Journal, by Corinne Sweet
8. The Recovering, by Leslie Jamison
9. Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Kimmerer
10. Enlightenment Now, by Steven Pinker

Leslie Jamison's The Recovering only went nine months to paperback, but because of its pub date, it still got a hardcover Christmas, unlike the Nick Petrie series (see above, all four titles) which is always out in trade and mass market before the holiday season. Jamison's latest looks at artists whose lives were shaped by substance addiction and subsequent recovery. Sophie Gilbert has a nuanced review in The Atlantic: "There’s so much to consider here that you almost wish Jamison - who notes that 'the Old Drunk Legends were all men' — had sidelined their too-familiar stories to make more space for Rhys, and Marguerite Duras, and Billie Holiday. But it’s her book, and she follows the paths that intrigue her."

Books for Kids:
1. A Dreadful Fairy Book, by John Etter
2. Wundersmith V2: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend
3. Nevermoor V1 (paperback), by Jessica Townsend
4. Nevermoor V1 (hardcover), by Jessica Townsend
5. Dog Man V6 Brawl of the Wild, by Dav Pilkey
6. Cinderella, a pop-up book by Matthew Reinhart
7. The Jungle Book, a pop-up book by Matthew Reinhart
8. Two Can Keep a Secret, by Karen M. McManus
9. Lulu and Rocky in Milwaukee, by Barbara Joosse, with illustrations by Renée Graef
10. Max and the Midknights, by Lincoln Peirce

After the holidays, it's back to school visits making a mark on our top ten. This week sees the appearance of area educator Jon Etter's A Dreadful Fairy Book. The book got a strong review in Kirkus: "With an exasperated narrator who would much prefer a story whose fairies and plots behave the way they ought and with characters that not only question, but outright shatter the status quo to embrace difference, Etter offers readers a rich world of complexity and moral ambiguity as Shade navigates loss, betrayal, magic, and friendship in pursuit of the wonders of books and self-love. It’s difficult to give Etter credit for diverse racial representation in a world of multihued nonhuman creatures; nevertheless, this chubby brown protagonist full of flaws and wit and heart is quite welcome."

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins reviews Tear It Down, the latest thriller from Nick Petrie: "Ash, a Marine veteran of Fallujah, is a lethal warrior with significant PTSD, which he dubs 'the white static.' It makes him so restless he can barely sleep indoors. So Petrie has kindly turned him into a roving knight errant, with butt-kicking adventures to date in Ash’s hometown of Milwaukee (The Drifter), the Pacific northwest (Burning Bright) and cannabis-laced Colorado (Light It Up). For Tear It Down, Ash lands in Memphis, dispatched by his sweetheart June Cassidy to aid her friend, combat photographer Wanda Wyatt. He arrives right after someone has driven a truck into the dilapidated old house she bought in an auction. More here.

From USA Today comes a review of The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, written by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch, "a breezily entertaining account of a treasonous plot among various pro-crown figures, including some of Washington’s bodyguards, to assassinate the general and turn the tide of the Revolutionary War."

And finally, here are five books to read after Bird Box from Mary Cadden, also at USA Today.
1. The Silence, by Tim Lebbon
2. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
3. The Fireman, by Joe Hill
4. The Passage, by Justin Cronin
5. Blindness, by Jose Saramago

Our buyer Jason is a fan of Josh Malerman's work and has read several of his novels, including Bird Box.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Events this week: Nick Petrie with Bonnie North, Midhuri Vijay at Shorewood Library, Marie Kohler, Diane S. Forman

Here's what's going on this week.

Monday, January 14, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Nick Petrie, author of Tear It Down, in conversation with Bonnie North

Petrie, Milwaukee’s hometown hero, returns to Boswell for a special launch celebration of the latest edge-of-your-seat entry into the award-winning Peter Ash series, which he’ll discuss with WUWM Lake Effect’s incomparable Bonnie North.

Peter Ash is in Memphis to help Wanda, a war correspondent who’s been receiving peculiar threats. It seems someone has just driven a dump truck into Wanda’s living room. At the same time, a young street musician is roped into a heist that doesn’t go as planned. Now he’s holding a sack full of Rolexes and running for his life. When his getaway car breaks down, he steals a new one at gunpoint - Peter’s pickup truck. Peter likes the kid’s attitude but soon discovers the desperate musician is in worse trouble than he knows. And Wanda’s troubles are only beginning.

Bonnie North previewed the conversation on WUWM's Lake Effect: "The goal with every book is to move him farther down his timeline. And when I started all of this, I don't think I knew enough about Post-Traumatic Stress and what a big deal it is for many people. I felt I'd write one book about Post-Traumatic Stress and then he'll get better and it'll be about something else." Read more here.

Whitefish Bay-based Nick Petrie is author of three novels in the Peter Ash series. His debut, The Drifter, won the ITW Thriller award and the Barry Award for Best First Novel and was a finalist for the Edgar and the Hammett awards. His third novel, Light It Up, was just named Apple Thriller of the Year.

Tuesday, January 15, 6:30 pm, at Shorewood Public Library, 3920 N Murray Ave:
Madhuri Vijay, author of The Far Field

Lawrence University alum, Iowa Writer’s Workshop graduate, and Pushcart Prize-winner Vijay visits Shorewood Public Library to talk about her sweeping, elegant debut novel.

The Far Field follows a complicated flaneuse across the Indian subcontinent. In the wake of her mother’s death, a privileged, restless young woman from Bangalore sets out for a remote Himalayan village in the troubled northern region of Kashmir. Her journey brings her face to face with Kashmir’s politics and the tangled history. Village life turns volatile, old hatreds threaten to erupt into violence, and the wandering woman is forced to make a series of choices that could hold dangerous repercussions for the very people she has come to love.

With rare acumen and evocative prose, Vijay masterfully examines Indian politics, class prejudice, and sexuality through the lens of an outsider, offering a profound meditation on grief, guilt, and the limits of compassion.

Ron Charles raves about The Far Field in The Washington Post: "What seems at first like a quiet, ruminative story of one woman’s grief slowly begins to spark with the energy of religious conflicts and political battles. Vijay draws us into the bloody history of this contested region and the cruel conundrum of ordinary lives trapped between outside agitators and foreign conquerors."

Madhuri Vijay was born in Bangalore. She is a graduate of Lawrence University and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Her story “Lorry Raja” won the 2011 Narrative 30 Below Story Contest and was selected for The Pushcart Prize Series and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013.

Wednesday, January 16, 7:00 pm, at Boswell:
Marie Kohler, author of A Girl of the Limberlost

Director, actor, and award-winning playwright Marie Kohler appears at Boswell for a special presentation of her latest work, an adaptation of Gene Stratton-Porter’s beloved classic novel. The evening will feature scene readings and Kohler chatting about the play and the adaptation process. Cosponsored by Red Oak Writing.

A Girl of the Limberlost transports us to Indiana’s once-vast Limberlost Swamp. Meet Elnora, a 14-year-old girl with a passion for butterflies and moths. She loves the Limberlost but longs to attend high school in the city. Elnora works to find her footing at school and at home. Will she achieve her academic ambitions? Will she warm her mother's heart? Find out in this beautifully visual adaptation of an enduring story beloved by generations.

A Girl of the Limberlost is adapted from the classic 1909 novel of the same title by Gene Stratton-Porter. The JK Rowling of her era, Stratton-Porter’s novel once even out-sold Gone with the Wind.

Marie Kohler is Resident Playwright and a cofounder of Renaissance Theaterworks, where she served as CoArtistic Director from 1993 to 2012. She has been Playwright Respondent and Director Respondent at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.

Thursday, January 17, 2:00 pm, at Boswell: Diane S Forman, author of The Diane Chronicles

Milwaukee memoirist Diane S. Forman shares her account of an unexpected life with The Diane Chronicles, which tells her tale with a strong narrative voice, quiet poems, and photos that illustrate the people, past and present, who have shaped her life.

Forman found herself caught in the social upheavals and technological changes of her generation, challenges that shook the foundation of her world and enriched it. Amid the roadblocks and detours, Forman's humor, determination, spirit, and grit make her personal journey into a story universal to all.

Diane S. Forman graduated from Duke University with a degree in English, taught school, and later taught and acquired the Wisconsin franchise for Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics. She is author of Common Threads: Nine Women's Journeys through Love, Loss, and Healing and The Storyteller.

More on Boswell's upcoming events page.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Boswell bestsellers - week ending January 12, 2019

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending January 12, 2019

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai
2. The Far Field, by Madhuri Vijay (event Tue 1/15, 6:30 pm, Shorewood Library)
3. Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
4. An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones
5. Fire and Blood, by George R.R. Martin
6. Killing Commendatore, by Haruki Murakami
7. Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver
8. Nine Perfect Strangers, by Liane Moriarty
9. Kingdom of the Blind, by Louise Penny
10. Winter of the Witch, by Katherine Arden

Just out on January 8 is the latest in what might be Boswellian Jen's current favorite series, The Winter of the Witch. Her review, which is the official Indie Next Pick review, notes: "Vasya is the kind of character you cheer for, cry with, and roar alongside. ‘Petrichor,’ the word used to describe that sweet, earthy smell after it rains, is how I would describe the Winternight Trilogy." Publishers Weekly agrees: "Arden’s gorgeous prose entwines political intrigue and feminist themes with magic and folklore to tell a tale both intimate and epic, featuring a heroine whose harrowing and wondrous journey culminates in an emotionally resonant finale."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Be Fearless, by Jean Case
2. Gift of Our Wounds, by Arno Michaelis and Pardeep Singh Kaleka
3. Becoming, by Michelle Obama
4. Letters to Our Palistinian Neighbor, by Yossi Klein Halevi
5. Frederick Douglas, by David W. Blight
6. Educated, by Tara Westover
7. Why Religion?, by Elaine Pagels
8. Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo
9. In the Hurricane's Eye, by Nathaniel Philbrick
10. Milwaukee: A City Built on Water, by John Gurda

Elaine Pagels's Why Religion?: A Personal Story came out in November to rave reviews. For example, Jon Meacham (whom we're hoping we'll be talking more about soon) wrote: "In this compelling, honest, and learned memoir, Elaine Pagels, takes us inside her own life in a stirring and illuminating effort to explain religion’s enduring appeal. This is a powerful book about the most powerful of forces.” I still recall driving Ms. Pagels around when she came to Milwaukee. What an honor!

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Kite Runner graphic novel, by Khaled Hosseini
2. Asymmetry, by Lisa Halliday
3. Requiem Rwanda, by Laura Apol
4. Hotel Silence, by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
5. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, by Kathleen Rooney
6. Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur
7. Best American Short Stories 2018, edited by Roxane Gay
8. The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris
9. One Night in Winter, by Simon Sebag Montefiore
10. Macbeth, by Jo Nesbo

Released this week in paperback is Macbeth: William Shakespeare's Macbeth Retold, from Jo Nesbo. It's part of the Hogarth Shakespeare, which includes Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl (Taming of the Shrew) and Margaret Atwood's Hag Seed (The Tempest). From James Shaprio in The New York Times: "By making addiction so central to his plot, Nesbo also makes Macbeth’s paranoia and hallucinatory visions, so crucial to Shakespeare’s play, not just believable but meaningful in a contemporary way."

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Beautiful Boy (both book jackets), by David Sheff
2. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
3. Call Them by Their True Names, by Rebecca Solnit
4. We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
5. The Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein
6. Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann
7. Birth of the Pill, by Jonathan Eig
8. Great Lakes Water Wars 2nd edition, by Peter Annin
9. Somos Latinas, edited by Andrea-Teresa Arenas and Eloisa Gómez
10. Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari

We were part of a great event with David and Nic Sheff at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts. The authors of High: Everything You Want to Know About Drugs, Alcohol, and Addiction. Missed them? You can listen to them on WBUR here. There will also be a Lake Effect interview coming.We have signed copies of High too. You can see that Nic and David's backlist sold well too, most notably David's memoir, which with Nic's Tweak, became the basis for the film starring Steve Carrell and Timothée Chalamet.

 Books for Kids:
1. High, by David and Nic Sheff
2. No Talking, by Andrew Clements
3. A Place for Pluto, by Stef Wade
4. Tweak, by Nic Sheff
5. The 57 Bus, by Dashka Slater
6. Dog Man: Brawl of the Wild, by Dav Pilkey
7. Sadie's Snowy Tu B'Shevat, by Jamie Korngold
8. Voices in the Air, by Naomi Shihab Nye
9. A Wrinkle in Time graphic novel, by Madeleine L'Engle
10. The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint Exupery

It's January and that means that we're back to schools driving sales on the kids list. Our sales of No Talking are in advance of Andrew Clemenmts visiting a school district for his new book, The Friendship War. It hasn't hit our list yet, but I bet it does soon. Publishers Weekly writes: "In the latest on-point school story by Clements (The Losers Club), compulsive collector Grace is thrilled when her grandfather says she can keep the 27 boxes of buttons she discovers in his old mill. But after she shares some of the cache with her classmates, the show-and-tell spirals out of control, and kids schoolwide become obsessed with collecting and trading buttons."

From the Journal Sentinel:

-- Matt McMcCarthy reviews Jeremy Brown's Influenza: The Hundred Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History (USA Today)

--Matt Damsker notes that Tom Barbash's The Dakota Winters reads like "a journalistic faux memoir." (USA Today)

--Mark Athitakis finds Anna Burns's Man Booker-prize-winning novel The Milkman "quite" and piercing," reflecting on The Troubles as an allegory, rather than a historical record. (USA Today)

Online only is Jim Higgins's review of Tear It Down: "I won't lie to you: Animals, people, luxury vehicles and musical instruments are all harmed in Tear It Down, the new Peter Ash thriller from Whitefish Bay writer Nick Petrie." Our event with Petrie is Monday, January 14, 7 pm, in conversation with Bonnie North. Later in the month Petrie will appear at Books and Company and Whitefish Bay Library - then he's back at Boswell in February with Gregg Hurwitz.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

What did the In-store Lit Group think about Joan SIlber's Improvement?

Please note that there are some spoilers here. I try to tread as carefully as I can, but I think giving a little away of Improvement will lead more people to read it .

One of the things I was thinking about this past year was my love for interwoven stories from different perspectives and how there can be a scale of how interconnected they can actually be. I thought about three well-regarded (and at least a Boswell, very popular) novels from 2018. To be completely up front, there's no way I have time to reread or even review all three books - I read them once and now it's up to my brain to remember the details.

1. There There, by Tommy Orange. To me, it felt like every strand of this novel connected together, not just thematically, but physically. While not ever character interacted with every character, they were all linked by Oakland urban pow wow, and it felt like every protagonist was linked to at least one other protagonist in the story.

2. The Maze at Windermere, by Gregory Blake Smith. In this case, while the stories were thematically linked, the characters were not connected at all physically, as all the stories took place in times separated by decades, if not centuries. In this case, the connections were all memory-driven, and often thematic, as opposed to driven. One character from an early time period might show up in the name of a neighborhood or the author of a book later. Out in paperback 1/22.

3. The Overstory, by Richard Powers. This story is in the middle. Some of the characters are linked together, but at least one protagonist never interacts with the others, a second is connected by a newspaper article, and a third by being heard by one of the more-connected protagonists at a conference. No, in this case, the connecting tissue are the trees, and if you read the book, you'll completely understand why this makes sense.

So now we come to Improvement, the latest work from Joan Silber. I think that her book is most reminiscent of There There in the connections, but the story jumps in time like The Maze at Windermere, and uses a metaphor, a rug instead of trees, like The Overstory.

The story centers on Reyna, a young single New York mom whose boyfriend Boyd has just gotten out of prison. Her Aunt Kiki lives downtown and has been influential in her life. In her youth she went off to Turkey, fell in love with a man, and disappeared for years. She came back, said it was time to leave, and said no more of it.

Reyna's boyfriend has a scheme - he and his buddies are going to smuggle cigarettes up from Virginia and resell them on the black market without the New York taxes. But as the date approaches for one of the expeditions, their driver disappears and Reyna is asked to fill in.

Part I is from Reyna's perspective, a relatively traditional narrative. But in Part II, the perspective jumps from character to character, slowly moving away from Reyna and finally winds up with Kiki in Turkey, after which it slowly boomerangs back to Reyna. By Part III, when Reyna is back in the protagonist's seat, we know an awful lot more of the story and can look at Reyna in a completely different way. In my head, the structure of the novel was like an elongated omega - a long horizontal, a swoop up and back as the story moves away, and then back to long horizontal.

Folks who've read Joan Silber before know about her fascination with structure and connected narrative. I've read two of her other books and her connected stores or nov-stors, or whatever you want to call them, can connect in lots of different ways. One character might be reading a history book and the next story might be about the historical character. Of course you know I love these sorts of books - two of my favorite books to sell at Boswell have been Simon Van Booy's The Illusion of Separateness and Frederick Reiken's Day for Night. And then there's Alice Mattison, who has also wrote several books of this type - notably Men Giving Money, Women Yelling and In Case We're Separated. Mattison's biggest fan, my friend Bob, would highly recommend Mattison's latest book, Conscience.

One thing to also note is Silber's interest in writing about different kinds of people. There's a respectful diversity about the characters, not just in terms of race and ethnicity, but in terms of socioeconomic status. Changing the perspectives allows you to really emphasize with the different characters. And while Improvement was positioned as a novel by its publisher (not on the outside jacket but on the title page), it's clear that a number of these chapters stand alone, and the opening section appeared in Tin House (the print magazine is folding, alas so no more of these types of things) and appeared in Best American Short Stories 2015.

Like Mattison, Joan Silber left her longtime publisher, in this case W.W. Norton, for Counterpoint. I am well aware that these types of books don't sell themselves and calling someone a writer's writer may be a compliment, but it doesn't get you a big advance. That said, Improvement received not just the PEN/Faulkner Award (which I think is mostly judged by writers), but also the National Book Critics Circle Award, which someone in our group called the Golden Globes of book awards - sort of accurate, sort of not, because the critics are American, not foreign, and many critics also write fiction. The days of full-time critics are mostly a pleasant memory. But that means you can also call Silber a critic's writer. Or is it critics' writer.

I recently read Time and Again, the novel by Jack Finney about time traveling to New York in the 1880s.* In a way, it's a double time-travel novel as the contemporary story is set in in New York in the late 1960s. And I saw Improvement as a bit of a New York time travel book too, also putting it in the class of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, in the way the the novel embraces change.

We had 11 folks meeting for our In-Store Book Club and all but one either liked or loved the story. Our one naysayer definitely held back, which was very unlike last month when the folks who didn't like Hotel Silence were much more forthcoming. Isn't that an interesting thing about crowd dynamics? - had the HS enthusiasts started the conversation, I think it would have gone in a very different direction. And then I remembered back to how many readers have loved Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir's novel, and then thought that another group of people might not have liked Improvement. It happens!

But our group did, and it was an interesting discussion as well. We discussed whether Improvement was an apt title for the book, whether the rug was an apt metaphor, and of course, who are favorite character was. Kiki won. I also noted how strange it was to have discussed novels in a row that had a subplot about smuggling antiquities (those who have read Hotel Silence know this is an important part of the story) and whether these themes would have played out in fiction 30--40 years ago. And of course we discussed the structure of the book and how else the story could have been told and how it would have changed the narrative.

Needless to say, we had a number of side discussions that didn't focus on Improvement's insides. One centered on its outsides. One member noticed that some of us had step-back covers with a yellow glossy page with reviews (first printing). Others had no step-back and no second glossy page (second printing). The first printing's jacket also had a treated finish that felt fancier than the second's. But one of us didn't like the texture. It takes all kinds!

Upcoming In-Store Lit Group discussions:
Monday, February 4, 7 pm - Friday Black, by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Monday, March 4, 7 pm - Asymmetry, by Lisa Halliday
Monday, April 1, 7 pm - The Friend, by Sigrid Nunez (in paperback February 5)

You can get all the information about Boswell-run book clubs on our Boswell-Run Book Clubs page. Our SciFi Book Club generally meets the second Monday at Boswell, Books and Beer (genre-mashing) meets the third Monday at Downer's Cafe Hollander, while the Mystery Book Club meets the fourth Monday. all mostly at 7 pm.

*I made a vow to read one book that I hadn't read previously from 1000 Books to Read Before You Die by the end of 2018.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Events 2019!: Anro Michaelis and Pardeep Singh Kaleka with Kathleen Dunn at Boswell, Rabbi Jamie Korngold at JCC, David and Nic Sheff at Sharon Lynne Wilson Center, and heads up for Nick Petrie's return, in conversation with Bonnie North

Hope you had a great winter break and are raring to hear some great authors! Our schedule ramps up tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 8, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Arno Michaelis and Pardeep Singh Kaleka, authors of The Gift of Our Wounds: A Sikh and a Former White Supremacist Find Forgiveness After Hate, in conversation with Kathleen Dunn

Arno Michaelis and Pardeep Singh Kaleka, cofounders of Serve 2 Unite, open up about their powerful friendship, between a Sikh and a former skinhead, that’s resulted in a mission to fight against hate and discrimination in this conversation, titled Forgiveness is Vengeance, and moderated by former WPR host Kathleen Dunn. On Facebook? Let us know you're coming by checking in here. It's not required but it will help us set up the space.

When white supremacist Wade Michael Page murdered six people and wounded four in a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin in 2012, Pardeep Kaleka was devastated. The temple leader, now dead, was his father. Meanwhile, Arno Michaelis, founder of one of the largest racist skinhead organizations in the world, had spent years of his life committing terrible acts in the name of white power. When he heard about the attack, waves of guilt washed over him, and he knew he had to take action and fight against the very crimes he used to commit.

The cofounders of the anti-hate group Serve 2 Unite, which is dedicated to establishing a healthy sense of identity, purpose, and belonging that diverts young people from violent extremist ideologies, gun violence, school shootings, bullying, and substance abuse, along with other forms of self-harm, Michaelis and Kaleka detail their journey to a partnership to battle hatred and violence.

Arno Michaelis is author of My Life After Hate and has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and on BBC. Pardeep Singh Kaleka has appeared on NBC, CNN, and NPR. Together they cofounded the anti-hate organization Serve 2 Unite.

Tuesday, January 8, 5:30 pm, at Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, 6255 N Santa Monica Blvd:
Jamie Korngold, author of Sadie’s Snowy Tu B’Shevat

Rabbi Jamie S. Korngold, founder and spiritual leader of the Adventure Rabbi Program, presents the seventh book in her popular Sadie and Ori Jewish holiday series. Free registration is required for this event, by emailing

Sadie wants to plant a tree for Tu B'Shevat (a Jewish holiday that begins Sunday, January 20). But it's the middle of winter! She gets a shovel, finds the perfect spot in the yard, and digs a big hole through a mountain of snow. Asking her mom to help her plant a young sapling, Sadie learns that she can’t plant a tree in the winter.

With help from brother Ori and Grandma, Sadie learns why the tree-planting holiday is celebrated in winter and finds her own special ways to celebrate it. This wonderful book provides the Jewish background for the holiday and a fun activity for kids and adults to do together.

Rabbi Jamie S. Korngold received ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and is the founder and spiritual leader of the Adventure Rabbi Program. Korngold is author of seven books in the Sadie and Ori series of picture books, as well as God in the Wilderness: Rediscovering the Spirituality of the Great Outdoors with the Adventure Rabbi.

Friday, January 11, 6:30 pm, at Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts, 19805 W Capitol Dr, Brookfield:
David and Nic Sheff, authors of High: Everything You Want to Know about Drugs, Alcohol, and Addiction, in conversation with Ashleigh Nowakowski, Executive Director of Your Choice

Elmbrook Schools present a visit from David and Nic Sheff, whose dual memoirs were the source material for the acclaimed film Beautiful Boy, starring Steve Carrell and Timothée Chalamet, which won the Founder's Award at the Chicago International Film Festival. David, author of Beautiful Boy, and Nic, author of Tweak, have written the ultimate resource for learning about the realities of drugs and alcohol for middle grade readers. Registration is required for this free event - we're getting close to cutoff. I cannot guarantee walk-up availability. Register at

Cosponsored by Your Choice, offering alcohol and drug prevention education, intervention, and support, and REDgen, promoting balance and resiliency in the lives of children and teens. Cosponsor Boswell Book Company will be selling copies of High and other books written by the Sheffs. While kids are welcome at this event, the talk will be targeted to parents, educators, and mental health professionals. A talk from the Sheffs will be followed by a book signing.

In their first collaborative effort, father and son draw upon their personal experience and in-depth research to create the ultimate resource for teens and tweens to learn about the realities of drug and alcohol use and addiction. High tells it as it is, with testimonials from peers who have been there and families who have lived through the addiction of a loved one, along with the cold, hard facts about what drugs and alcohol do to bodies. From navigating peer pressure to stress outlets to the potential consequences of experimenting, Nic and David Sheff lay out the facts so that middle grade readers can educate themselves.

David Sheff is author of the #1 New York Times bestselling book Beautiful Boy, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Playboy. Time named him to their list of the World's Most Influential People. Nic Sheff is the author of Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, We All Fall Down: Living with Addiction, and the young adult novel Schizo.

More at the Journal Sentinel about this event.

Monday, January 14, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Nick Petrie, author of Tear It Down, in conversation with Bonnie North of WUWM's Lake Effect

Petrie, Milwaukee’s hometown hero, returns to Boswell for a special launch celebration of the latest edge-of-your-seat entry into the award-winning Peter Ash series. His previous novel, Light It Up, just was named Apple Books Thriller of the Year. This event cosponsored by Crimespree Magazine.

Here's a Tear It Down recommendation from Boswell's Chris Lee: "This lightning-paced series continues as Peter Ash gets tangled up in the City of Blues with two new friends and two new sets of problems. This far into the series, you know you’re in good hands with Nick Petrie, and this installment is no different, with a high-wire-act plot he struts through with flair, twisting the strings of two different stories up into one big knot that rolls all around Memphis. Particular to Tear It Down is the strong sense of place and the people who come from it that Petrie translates onto the page. Peter isn’t the only one struggling with the scars of his past - all the characters in this book are, in their own ways, dealing with the good and evil they’ve inherited, from their family, from their circumstances, and from the land, and Petrie captures a particularly Southern sense of history and the way the past keeps a tight grip on present lives. His writing about the blues sings, too, sweet and gritty like a worn out, gut bucket beater guitar played on the cracked sidewalk of a crossroad where even the devil forgot to stop by."

Whitefish Bay-based Nick Petrie is author of three novels in the Peter Ash series. His debut, The Drifter, won the ITW Thriller award and the Barry Award for Best First Novel and was a finalist for the Edgar and the Hammett awards. His other novels include Burning Bright and Light It Up. Bonnie North is a cohost and producer of WUWM’s Lake Effect. She has more than twenty years of experience as director, technician, and stage manager in professional and community theaters. Prior to joining WUWM, she managed a group of linguists that provided translation services for US and NATO stabilization forces and the overall linguist program for Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Romania.

Special offer! Pre-order Tear It Down before January 14 and get 20% off.

More upcoming events at