Tuesday, March 3, 2015

If You Are an Adult, The Craziest Bubble You've Lived Through Was Not for Tech Stocks or Real Estate, but For Plush: On Zac Bissonnette's "The Great Beanie Baby Bubble."

From the tulip bulb craze of history to the more recent financial bubbles of internet stocks and real estate, we have been time and time again been convinced that whatever is rising in value will continue to do see for the unforeseeable future. But in recent history, nothing compares, in absurdity or perceived cuteness, the Beanie Baby bubble of the late 1990s. In The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute, Zac Bissonnette, whose previous books were more in the self-help vein, but has also written for The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, and Bloomberg, now chronicles what exactly happened to turn so many thousands of people into crazed profiteers.

At the center was Ty Warner, an inveterate salesman with numerous personal quirks, some of which would aid the Beanies’ success. He just wanted to create a cheap plush with nice details and less stuffing than normal, allowing kids to have a better play experience. But the two things he did that broke the mold were retiring styles publicly, and limiting distribution to independents and smaller chains (and most notably, Hallmark franchises). What Warner never understood, was that much of what made Beanies take off was completely out of his control, and Bissonnette includes many of the key players, including the early suburban Chicago collectors who’d call around the country buying up stock, and the folks who made the guide books that spread popularity and drove up prices. I’ll never think about price guides the same way again; in the days before the internet, the price guides set the prices, and the creators knew this and kept increasing prices accordingly. Nobody wants to invest in a product (or the guides) of a collectible with stagnant or deteriorating values.

I think of myself as a cautious person and not susceptible to speculative bubbles. I didn’t invest in internet stocks, but I also didn’t have the money to invest in internet stocks. My partner and I bought a house in the real estate bubble, convinced not that it would be a great investment, but that we’d never be able to afford a house if we didn’t act. That said, they hype around home buying convinced us to make a decision that I hadn’t before considered.

But that’s nothing compared to the speculative bubble of Beanie Babies that I found myself inadvertently watching with from a very close distance, a mania that rivalled* the classic tulip bulb run-up in 17th century Amsterdam. This piece in the Economist blog argues as to whether or not this famous incident was in fact irrational, but as we can see, what seems irrational in retrospect seems perfectly legit at the time.

Ty Warner had already established his eponymous brand after leaving the once-powerhouse plush brand Dakin, when he introduced the first nine Beanies in 1993. I was the book buyer for Schwartz so I would probably not have been paying attention, but when Schwartz brought them in, I was managing the Mequon store, so I saw this strangely large shipment (we never got anything in twelves) arrive of these strangely cute, poseable plush with something like awe. I found myself immediately thinking “I am the parent to a bunch of bears, pigs, and lobsters. Folks have been asking to see a photo of me in my pony tail thirties, and here is one, arms full of Beanies. (Editor's note: I seem to not be able to get the photo ready to post. Psychological block, perhaps?)

We were probably in on the phenomenon a little early, partly because Milwaukee is quite close to the epicenter of Chicago, but eve more notably, we operated Dickens Discount Books in the factory outlet/mall hybrid called Gurnee Mills. This led to many early phone calls wondering if we had Beanie Babies, which led to us bringing in Beanie Babies.

We saw the strangely exponential growth, the order limits, and the shortages. The frantic collectors coming in, first with kids, and then without kids. We saw firsthand the misdirection by customer service, which always said that the product was just about to ship. And yes, we had a product that at one point was so valuable, that we had our product stolen from boxes on route by UPS. As the line slowed down in the Milwaukee stores (the Downer branch, now home to Boswell, probably had the least momentum of all the locations), the buyer kept them in the distribution loop, but all the product would then be transferred to our highest volume stores in Kenosha (at the Factory Outlet Centre) and Gurnee.


There’s no question that Ty put in place some of the practices that would help create the Beanie boom. By limiting distribution to specialty gift stores, working with toy chains like Zany Brainy and Noodle Kidoodle and airport stores like Paradies (unmentioned by name, but I remember seeing them there fairly early in the run), but avoid mass merchant discounters, groceries, and drug chains, and buy limiting shipments, he gave the product the appearance of scarcity, even when he was shipping out huge numbers of units. Retiring slow-selling items is a very common practice in the gift business, but he made it an art. And there’s no question that the product was very inexpensive, a good starter collectible, was cute, and had several iconic touches, like birthdays and poems for each animal. The truth, however, was that Warner got those ideas from others, and rewrote the story for his own purposes.

He also had no control over the other players in the game that made Beanies a phenomenon, the obsessive collectors, the publishers of the guides, and the media. Early players would actually buy out stock in other areas of the country and resell them in Chicago. And some things Ty did to excite collectors was completely inadvertent, like his tinkering with products, changing the faces of the early teddy bears, adding a spot to spot the dog, and most notably, changing the color of Peanut the elephant. He only did one major interview, with People Magazine, but once the story took off, the legends of price values for early discontinued or first-generation Beanies, like royal blue Peanut drove up prices for the entire line.

Ty Warner himself is no less fascinating. A singular character, with a lot of issues, his compulsive behavior led to many fascinating stories about the way his company was run. Completely hands on, he’d spend months at the factories finding exactly the right fabric for each Beanie. He might update a Beanie by changing the stitching. But things were no less strange in his personal life, with his huge wealth only exacerbating his parsimonious nature. Despite both his long-term girlfriends being heavily involved in the company, neither owned a piece. The first only made her fortune after their breakup, after she went on to run the European division of Ty, while his second, well, she got even less. Others in the game made and lost fortunes, but Warner sunk a lot of money into hotels, and as we now know, into Swiss Banks.

Slowly the fad ended for kids, who moved on to Pokemon, but unlike say Russ Berrie’s Trolls or the more recent phenomena with Japanese erasers and Silly Bandz, the momentum kept going for Beanie Babies, almost now completely adults who were sinking their life savings into huge purchases, which they’d then encase in plastic. Bissonnette chronicles a few of these stories, most notably one fellow who was previously an actor on General Hospital. You spent how much collecting Beanie Babies?

In the end, the internet helped create the Beanie boom, not just his groundbreaking website, but also Ebay, which drove interest and sales, but in the end, it probably also contributed to its demise. Many fans blame the mass retirings of Beanies in 1999, but Bissonnette notes that it’s not unusual for folks caught up in a speculative bubble to blame an outside force for its collapse. Like multi-level marketing and Ponzi Schemes, it has to collapse eventually. You simply run out of suckers to sell products to.

What a fun and fascinating read this is! On top of a great story and larger-than-life characters, there are actually some marketing lessons embedded in the narrative. For one thing, if you are creating something collectible, you really want to have a checklist. After reading The Great Beanie Baby Bubble, do I think something like this can happen again? Not this way, much as I think it’s unlikely to see, as our buyer Jason noted, another children’s series that comes along like Harry Potter. But will there be bubbles in the future. That’s one thing you can count on.

The Great Beanie Baby Bubble goes on sale today.

*I'm sad because the world has moved on to "rivaled" and I'm still stuck on "rivalled."

Monday, March 2, 2015

Boswell Event Bulletin: Melissa Falcon Field on Tuesday, Thanhha Lai on Wednesday, Mary Doria Russell Thursday, Gina Cilento Saturday.

Tuesday, March 3, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Melissa Falcon Field, author of What Burns Away.

Boswell is proud to present Madison author Melissa Falcon Field,author of What Burns Away, in which a depressed new mom transplanted from Connecticut to Madison, Wisconsin, gives in to her latent teenage-arsonist fantasies and her first love. Christi Clancy writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "What Burns Away is that rare mix of well-written literary fiction with the suspense of a spy novel. Falcon Field asks hard questions about aging, innocence, loyalty and the importance of place, while keeping us on the edge of our seat."

A little about the story: upon relocating to snowy Madison with a distant physician husband, New England native Claire Spruce is besieged by a dark past when her first love finds her again. Breaking decades of silence, old flame Dean offers an intoxicating, reckless escape from motherhood’s monotony. Enchanted by his return, while yearning for her own mislaid identity, she agrees to repay a favor that could incinerate her marriage and her child’s well-being. What Burns Away is a story of loyalty, family and the realization that the past is nearly always waiting for us in the future.

From writer Bill Roorbach, author of Life Among Giants: "What Burns Away is a study of safety, loyalty, and heart. But it’s also the story of what happens when those things run up against boredom, when they gaze in the smoky glass of lost mirrors and see soulful shadows of passion, freedom, and risk. A new mom’s fiery first love is back, and he challenges all she's built for herself, revealing the fragility of suburban dreams—I mean nightmares. In scorching prose, Melissa Falcon Field reminds us that when trouble flies out to the far reaches of the solar system, we’d best not forget it’s coming back.”

Wednesday, March 4, 6:30 pm, at Boswell:
Thanhhà Lại, author of Inside Out and Back Again and her new book,  Listen, Slowly

Please join us as we welcome to Boswell the Newbery Honor and National Book Award winning-author of Inside Out and Back Again, Thanhhà Lại, who will discuss and sign copies of her latest young adult novel great for ages 8 and up, Listen, Slowly, an irresistibly charming and emotionally poignant tale of Mai, a twelve-year-old Vietnamese American Laguna Beach girl, who discovers that home is not found on a map but is instead made up of the people she surrounds herself with and who she calls family.

Mai has been shipped off to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is traveling there to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War. Mai’s parents think this trip is a great opportunity for her to learn more about her roots. But Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place Mai wants to be during vacation. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn’t know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive this trip, Mai will be forced to find the balance between two completely different worlds.

From National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson: “This book is at once funny, thoughtful, and stunningly engaging. I loved, loved, loved it! Can’t wait for my own daughter—and every reader who is lucky enough to get their hands on it—to step inside Mai’s two, very different, worlds.”

Here's Lai talking to Rachel Martin on NPR's All Things Considered.

Thursday, March 5, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Mary Doria Russell, author of Epitaph: A Novel of the O. K. Corral

A deeply divided nation. Vicious politics. A shamelessly partisan media. A president loathed by half the populace. Smuggling and gang warfare along the Mexican border. Armed citizens willing to stand their ground and take law into their own hands...that was America in 1881. All those forces came to bear on the afternoon of October 26th when Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers faced off against the Clantons and the McLaurys in Tombstone, Arizona. It should have been a simple misdemeanor arrest. Thirty seconds and thirty bullets later, three officers were wounded and three citizens lay dead in the dirt. Wyatt Earp was the last man standing, the only one unscathed. The lies began before the smoke cleared, but the gunfight at the O.K. Corral would soon become central to American beliefs about the Old West.

Epitaph tells Wyatt’s real story, unearthing the Homeric tragedy buried under 130 years of mythology, misrepresentation, and sheer indifference to fact. Epic and intimate, this novel gives voice to the real men and women whose lives were changed forever by those fatal 30 seconds in Tombstone. At its heart is the woman behind the myth: Josephine Sarah Marcus, who loved Wyatt Earp for forty-nine years and who carefully chipped away at the truth until she had crafted the heroic legend that would become the epitaph her husband deserved.

From Chris Foran at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Like many stories of the West, Epitaph is part elegy and part eulogy, but it's also part regret: Unlike some tellings of this story, this gunfight is not an inevitable clash between law and lawlessness, but one rooted in a pileup of coincidences, personal histories and miscalculations."

Mary Doria Russell is the author of The Sparrow, considered a classic of speculative fiction and its sequel, Children of God, which, combined, have won eight regional, national and international awards. Her third novel, A Thread of Grace, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and her fourth novel, Dreamers of the Day, was nominated for the 2008 IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize. She holds a Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology and previously taught human gross anatomy. She lives in Lyndhurst, Ohio.

Friday, March 6, 6:30 pm at Boswell:
Alas, our public event with Ted Sanders is cancelled, due to a scheduling conflict. School visits will continue as previously announced. If you'd like a signed copy of The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly, please email us and we'll get one signed for you.

Saturday, March 7, 2 pm, at Boswell:
Local Author Gina Cilento, author of Mitzi Boo and Mia, Too: Go to England

Keep Calm and Carry On—to Boswell for a talk and signing with local author and tennis pro, Gina Cilento, who will discuss her unique traveldogue-slash-kids' book in which adorable English Bulldog sisters Mitzi Boo and Mia guide readers on a sightseeing adventure across England.

Two English Bulldogs—the charismatic and ever-stylish Mitzi Boo and her even-keeled sister, Mia—journey to England after landing their first assignment for World Travel Magazine. From Stonehenge to Buckingham Palace, the two traipse across England desperate to see the Queen, sampling local cuisine, and working through sibling rivalry. Appealing to travel lovers, animal enthusiasts, and kids of all ages, Mitzi Boo and Mia, Too: Go to England is a humorous, off-beat approach to sibling stories, travelogues, and fundraising, with a portion of the proceeds from the sale of every book going to help fight against animal cruelty.

Gina Cilento has always been passionate about the well-being of animals: one of her lifelong dreams is to open a sanctuary for unwanted and abused animals of all kinds. For two decades, Gina has played tennis professionally in Oregon and Wisconsin. Still teaching and playing competitively, she’s found joy in reviving her art background as the author of Mitzi Boo and Mia, Too: Go to England, starring her two English Bulldogs, Mitzi and Mia.

Sunday, March 8, 11 am:
Story Time with Jannis!
This month, Boswellian Jannis will read Home by Carson Ellis, illustrator of the Wildwood series and The Mysterious Benedict Society series. Perfect for ages 18 months and up, this month’s Story Time is worth leaving home for! (And don't forget, Ellis will be at Boswell on Wednesday, March 25, 7 pm)

Coming up next week, Tuesday, March 10, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Cat Warren, author of What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World.

Help us welcome Cat Warren, associate professor at North Carolina State University, who will discuss her new book, now out in paperback, What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World. Warren's work is a firsthand exploration of the extraordinary abilities and surprising, sometimes life-saving talents of “working dogs”—pups who can sniff out drugs, find explosives, even locate the dead, as told through the experiences of a journalist and her intrepid canine companion.

From Patricia McConnell, author of The Other End of the Leash and beloved former host of the Wisconsin Public Radio Talk Show: “Good writing is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and this book is full of it.”

And from Rebecca Skloot in The New York Times Book Review:What the Dog Knows is a fascinating, deeply reported journey into scent, death, forensics and the amazing things dogs can do with their noses: sniffing out graves, truffles, bedbugs, maybe even cancer. But it’s also a moving story of how one woman transformed her troubled dog into a loving companion and an asset to society, all while stumbling on the beauty of life in their searches for death.”

Want more info? Read Cat Warren's blog here.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

What's Popping on the Boswell Bestseller List This Week, Ending February 28, 2015?

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
2. Blue Stars, by Emily Gray Tedrowe
3. The Whites, by Richard Price, writing as Harry Brandt (event Saturday 3/21, 2 pm)
4. Mightier than the Sword, by Jeffrey Archer
5. Prudence, by David Treuer

Nancy, one of our Friends of Boswell who drives to the store several times a week from Waukesha County, has several great loves. One of them is Jeffrey Archer. In conjunction with the release of his newest novel, Mightier than the Sword, the fifth entry in the Clifton Chronicles, Archer revealed in an interview (here's a piece in The Independent) that treatment for his prostate cancer surgery has left him impotent. It's actually quite common (50%) but nobody talks about it. Kirkus also praises his turbo-charged cliffhanger in the new book.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath
2. H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald
3. Believer, by David Axelrod
4. The Brain's Way of Healing, by Norman Doidge
5. A History of Rock and Roll in Ten Songs, by Greil Marcus

It's great to see H is for Hawk take off nationally, arriving with numerous international accolades, great advance American reviews, and a nice rec from Boswellian Mel. She writes: "Hawk is a shocking, brilliant jewel of a memoir about loss and determination, as well as touching tribute to the healing power of connecting with animals. Blurring the lines between autobiography, literary criticism, and eco-poetry, this book is unlike any book you'll ever read.”

 Paperback Fiction:
1. A Replacement Life, by Boris Fishman
2. Shotgun Lovesongs, by Nickolas Butler (event Thursday 4/16 at Shorewood Public Library, 7 pm)
3. Mr. Palomar, by Italo Calvino
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. Redeployment, by Phil Klay

I have heard there's been a national surge in sales for To Kill a Mockingbird with the announcement of the publication of Go Set a Watchman on July 14. As folks must have realized now, the New York Times bestseller list excludes old editions in its tabulations, which is why Lee is not on the bestseller list. Otherwise, it would probably be on and off all the time. And Italo Calvino, we've got two college classes coming in to buy Mr. Palomar.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. The Art of Having it All, by Christy Whitman
2. We Should All be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
3. Zealot, by Reza Aslan
4. Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
5. How to Sit, by Thich Nhat Hanh

The pocket edition of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's We Should All be Feminists is adopted from her TED talk, where she frames feminism in the context of illusion and awareness.

Books for Kids:
1. The Boy in the Black Suit, by Jason Reynolds (event Monday, April 13, East Library, 6:30 pm)
2. The Dragon and the Knight, by Robert Sabuda
3. Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai (event Wednesday, March 4, 6:30 pm, at Boswell)
4. Dragons and Monsters, by Robert Sabuda
5. Home, by Carson Ellis (event Wednesday, March 25, 7 pm, at Boswell)

If you continue our bestseller list another 10 places, you will mostly see more titles from Robert Sabuda. We're hoping for good crowds in March, when we have a lot of kids' events coming up, including National Book Award winner Thanhha Lai this Wednesday for Inside Out and Back Again, and Carson Ellis's appearance for Home on March 25. It's her first picture book that she's both written and illustrated, and happens in conjunction with a sold-out appearance of The Decembrists at the Pabst.

While on the subject of kids, don't forget, we're hosting Bridget Birdsall, author of Double Exposure, today (Sunday) at 3 pm, suggested for ages 13 and up. Here's a little more about the book, from the publisher. Fifteen-year-old Alyx Atlas was raised as a boy, yet she knows something others don't. She's a girl. And after her dad dies, it becomes painfully obvious that she must prove it now--to herself and to the world. Born with ambiguous genitalia, Alyx has always felt a little different. But it's after she sustains a terrible beating that she and her mother pack up their belongings and move from California to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to start a new life--and Alyx begins over again, this time as a girl. Alyx quickly makes new friends, earns a spot on the girls' varsity basketball team, and for the first time in her life feels like she fits in. That is, until her prowess on the court proves too much for the jealous, hotheaded Pepper Pitmani, who sets out to uncover Alyx's secret.

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Mike Fischer reviews Lucky Alan, the new collection from Jonathan Lethem, which can sometimes veer into cerebral experiments. Fischer writes: "His preoccupation with narrative exhibits the customary ambivalence of a writer who has also always been aware that however vital our stories can be, they also potentially confine and reduce us, limiting our ability to write something new." He marks the best story in the collection as "Traveler Home."

I've just recently become obsessed with Melville House's "last interview" series and ask Jason to make sure we had a collection of titles in the series to make a display. Coincidentally, this week, Jim Higgins reviewed one of the newest, Lou Reed: The Last Interview in this week's book page. And what an interesting subject Reed makes. Higgins notes: "Unsurprisingly, (David) Fricke's discussion with Reed is the only truly successful journalistic interview in this collection of six; it was published a few months after the release of New York, his finest album and one Reed had a strong desire to promote. The other five pieces here can be described as interview-based encounters with Reed displaying varying levels of intransigence. Reed devotees will want to read and own this book; music publicists may want to use parts of it in professional development training."

And fortuitously timed to our event with Mary Doria Russell this coming Thursday, Chris Foran at the Journal Sentinel reviews Epitaph, which goes on sale this Tuesday. From his review: "Mary Doria Russell, who explored the making of one of the principal players in that famous shootout in her captivating 2011 novel Doc, wades into the O.K. Corral story with Epitaph. A sequel of sorts to Doc, Epitaph peels back all the layers of the events leading up to and following America's most storied gunfight, in a compelling, richly told narrative with complex characters, sharp context — and a number of parallels to today." He lauds her for breathing new life into a familiar tale.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Newish Displays: The Red Table, The Literary Road Trip Table, The Dog Table, The Spy Table, and the Fitzgerald Table.

I'm trying for four posts a week, down from six, down from seven, up from two. My goal is Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, but for obvious reasons, I'm posting our Friday post, a tour of new displays, on Thursday.

1. The red table was Sharon's idea, when I was in display desperation. We enjoyed doing the blue table so much for Christopher Moore, that...why not? I'm not sure how well books pop off a color-themed table, as there's really no call to buy, but it is pretty. The focus of the table was originally Paul Fischer's A Kim Jong-Il Production, but after that event on February 16, we switched it to the hardcover of Boris Fishman's A Replacement Life. You should note that both books are about "Reds", though Fishman would note that the North Korean government is neither Communist nor Socialist, but instead a personality cult crossed with an organized crime family. One should also note that the paperback edition of Fishman played down the red coloring. Our event with Boris Fishman, co-sponsored by the Sam and Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies at UWM, is Thursday, February 26, 7 pm, at Boswell. If you are reading this post the day it went out, that would be tonight.

2. Jane came to me with an idea for a literary road trip. But wait, we don't have an event to hook it on! But when you've got a good idea and an empty table, you've got to go for it. Several booksellers helped Jane in putting this together. The idea from this display came from Emma Hooper's new novel, Etta and Otto and Russell and James, which is recommended by Jane and Jen. Other titles on the display include The 100-Year-Old Man who Climbed Out the the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Joanasson, The Broken Road, by Patrick Leigh Fermor, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe. About Emma, Jen says " Everyone has a journey they need to take and at 83 years old Etta is finally taking hers. Leaving her husband Otto a note saying she's gone to see the ocean and will try to remember to come back, Etta sets off. She embarks on foot through the quiet farmland and dust she meets new friends and becomes some what of a celebrity through the towns she passes. Meanwhile, her husband Otto has been keeping himself busy trying out his wife's recipes, getting a pet and getting a hobby that will attract the attention of passerby. This book has heart and soul all over it."

3. Sometimes a table just screams out to be made, when events cluster together. That's the case for our two dog events, for Gina Cilento's Mitzie Boo and Mia, Too: Go to London, on Saturday, March 7, 2 pm, followed up by Cat Warren's What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World., which is scheduled for Tuesday, March 10, 7 pm. This is a change of subtitle from the hardcover, which was The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs. They also changed the breed, from German Shepherd to Black Lab. Following my rule about dog eye contact selling books, I actually like the hardcover a bit better, but we'll see if the experts outdo the bookseller. I should also mention that this summer we're hosting Momo of Find Momo. Momo is coming with Andrew Knopp for their new collaboration, Find Momo Coast to Coast. It's a similar tour to the Maddie on Things that we hosted in 2013, and just as exciting. Look, something sold off of the display!

4. For the window, we decided to help promote our event with Erik Larson by featuring narratives about boats. My dream was to somehow have a ship in the window but we settled on this painting of sailboats that somehow wound up in storage and nobody has ever picked up. Our event with Erik Larson is for his new book, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. The book goes on sale March 10 and our event is March 24, 7 pm. Our tickets are $30 and come with a copy of the book. Buy your ticket now on Brown Paper Tickets now. Boswellian Sharon enthuses: "This is what brings history alive for the reader – learning details about the actual people that lost their lives in such a horrific and unexpected manner. Even more fascinating are the circumstances that resulted in this tragedy. If even one small thing had not occurred or happened in a slightly different way, the Lusitania would have arrived safely at her destination." I should note that this event will likely sell out.

4. Spy table! After reading the new Joseph Kanon, Leaving Berlin, I asked Jen to put a spy table together. Because we actually have an espionage section (and I have a standing rule that display books should not be from one subsection, with general fiction excepted), we highlighted a lot of true spy narratives that are shelved in history and biography. Atria booked this event early with us (Kanon is coming Wednesday, March 11, 7 pm) and it's really paid off; we've sold way more Kanon backlist off our upcoming event display than we ever have since we've opened. Thanks to Anne for picking Istanbul Passage for the mystery book club. Too bad it was zero degrees out when they met. I think Kanon's been held back a bit by multiple formats and publishers. There's not question that Alan Furst (to compare him to a comparable author whose backlist has sold a bit better) is helped by the beautiful uniform packaging. Get Kanon out of mass market and come up with a uniform design. Even with the rights dispersed, I have seen agents put this together, most notably for Elmore Leonard.

Here's my recommendation for Leaving Berlin: "It’s just after World War II and Berlin is divided into four zones of occupation; a blockade against the American and British zones has left much of the city struggling. Arriving back after 15 years in the United States is Alex Meier, a noted writer, half-Jewish, with socialist leanings, who fled when the Nazis rose to power but left America when the rise of communist witch hunts started pointing at him and the government asked him to name names. He’s been invited back by the Socialist Germans to be an artist in residence, but what they don’t know is that he’s been recruited by Americans to funnel information, in return for amnesty. What the Germans also don’t know is that the Russians have their own intelligence system and they’re not sharing information, nor have they made clear that German POWs are being used as slave labor in uranium mines. Things get more complicated when Alex hooks up with Irene, an old flame, now an actress, who is also having an affair with a Russian bigwig. Oh, and did we mention that Irene’s brother shows up, having escaped from the slave camp, dying of radiation poisoning? Alex Meier finds being a spy is a bit more difficult than he hoped. This is great intellectual espionage that held me in its grip, anxious to know what happens, but almost fearful to find out." (Daniel)

5. Fitzgerald Fever! Can you tell that the person who is picking out displays is also booking the events? You may scoff, but I these are still good display ideas and many of them sell books pretty well, bringing together titles that might not otherwise be found in the section. For this, I was inspired by the Winter Institute conversation between Stewart O'Nan, author of West of Sunset, and So We Read on: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures. Coincidentally, the conversation was moderated by Erik Larson. The reason this was held was partly because we stayed at The Grove Park Inn in Asheville, where Fitzgerald stayed for a period of time. One of the authors mentioned staying in the Fitzgerald room. In any case, the beloved Stewart O'Nan (Last Night at the Lobster and Emily, Alone have done particularly well for us) is coming to Boswell on Friday, March 20, 7 pm. Here's Elizabeth Berg talking about O'Nan, as we are hosting in conjunction with her Writing Matters event at Oak Park on March 21. "That's Stewart's great gift, getting inside the head of whoever he's writing about, and showing us what's there, and teasing out of us a genuine affection for what we might at first have called an unremarkable person. But as author Elizabeth Strout says, O'Nan is the king of the quotidian." George Saunders calls him "an icredibly versatile and charming writer." And perhaps most importantly, Stewart is a genuinely nice guy." Are you a Chicago reader? Get tickets for his appearance in Oak Park here. And I should note that we also included Clifton Spargo's Beautiful Fools in the display, the inspiration for our last Fitzgerald table.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

New Mysteries and Thrillers at Boswell: Laura Lippman, Laurie King, C.J. Sansom, Ariana Franklin (and Daughter) and Lene Kaaberbol.

We're very excited about the crime novelists who are visiting Boswell this March. There's Joseph Kanon on Wednesday, March 11, 7 pm for Leaving Berlin and Richard Price, writing as Harry Brandt, who is appearing at Boswell for The Whites on Saturday, March 21, 2 pm. If there's one author we'd love to host in the store someday, it would be Laura Lippman. All the mystery folks in town seem to be friends with her and have , which would probably expand to several more of us with an upcoming event. Even I, not the most dependable mystery reader, have read at least three of her novels, if not more. Lippman tends to alternate stand-alones with new entries in the Tess Monaghan series, but even her series books have morphed from the early days of Baltimore Blues..

Her new book is Hush, Hush, and we have a great read from Sharon Nagel. She writes: "Tess Monaghan is back, and this time she is balancing motherhood with the perils of being a private detective. She and her business partner, Sandy Sanchez, are asked to assess the security needs of Melisandre Harris Dawes, a woman who was acquitted of leaving her infant daughter to die in a hot car a decade before. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Now, she is back in town to reunite with her remaining teenage daughters, and film a documentary about the whole thing. As a mother herself, Tess has mixed feelings about working for this client, who is haughty and domineering. As frustrated as she gets with Carla Scout, her own strong-willed daughter, she cannot fathom making the choices that Melisandre has. Whether you are a new reader of Laura Lippman, or a longtime fan of Tess Monaghan, drop into Baltimore to enjoy her latest mystery."

Going back in time a bit is Laurie King's series, featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. Everyone loves Sherlock, because he is public domain, thought the heirs are still fighting this out. The argument is that his personality was augmented in later works that fall past the 1923 copyright cutoff. I'll let you decide the case on that one. But Dreaming Spies, the latest case of Mary Russell, also known as Mrs. Sherlock Holmes takes place on a steamer to Japan, with travel on to California afterwards. S.H. recognizes the Earl of Darley said to be a blackmailer. And then there is Haruki Sato, a young Japanese girl who offers to teach the couple haiku, but M.R. thinks she's hiding something. The results are shocking, "involving international extortion, espionage, and the shocking secrets that, if revealed, could spark revolution—and topple an empire" say our friends at Bantam.

Is every mystery writer with a new book named Laura? No, there's also C.J. Sansom, whose Sheldrake series, whose Sheldrake series started with Dissolution in 2003. For some reason, there was a four-year break between entries five and six, but he's back with Lamentation. The new book finds King Henry VIII on his death bed (it's 1546) and Catherine Parr, his sixth wife, under attack by Catholics. Parr is Sheldrake's one-time memoir, so he helps her recover a stolen manuscript, only one page has been found, clutched in the hand of a murdered London printer. I don't know what the context is, but Kate Atkinson is quoted as calleing Sansom "one of my favorite writers," while the late P.D. James branded C.J. "among the most distinguished of modern historical novelists." Alfred Hickling writes in the UK Guardian that "his interpretation of history is always strongly substantiated and frequently provocative."

These historical/mystery hybrids are quite popular, particularly in, as you'd guess, Great Britain. The late Ariana Franklin, author of Mistress in the Art of Death, has had her new book finished off by Samantha Norman, her daughter. Set in the 12th century, the book is called The Siege Winter, or if you are outside the United States, Winter Siege? Huh? Doesn't reviews from The Economist and Financial Times and all these websites like the Guardian and Independent make it more important than ever to keep titles across territories, especially when the change is inconsequential? Civil War has divided the country, as King Stephen vies for the crown with Empress Matilda. Who? It would have been nice if my high school or college coursework touched on English history beyond the Magna Carta. So in this book, a young peasant girl is attacked and left for dead, but she finds a protector, who dresses her as a boy, and  well, together their story converges with the two factions vying for dominance (plus I assume she has to take vengeance on her awful tormentor). Lots of great reviews on this, plus a quote from the obviously comparable Sharon Kay Penman.

And finally, Doctor Death, the start of a series, from Lene Kaaberbol. It's 1894 in Varbourg and little Madeleine Karno wants to grow up to be a pathologist, which we know from P.D. James is an unsuitable job for a woman, except of course in books. A young girl is found dead, the family won't permit an autopsy, and Karno and her father find a clue, a parasite only found in dogs in her nostril. And then the priests who held vigil over the girl's body is brutally murdered. Kaaberbol writes another series with Agnete Friis, which started with the popular The Boy in the Suitcase. In her native Denmark she's was previously known as a fantasy writer. The starred Publishers Weekly review offers: "Deftly exploring such themes as the struggles between mind and body, science and spirit—without detracting from a gripping plot—the novel transcends its period to contemplate the eternal." Here's a question-and-answer session with the author on the My Bookish Ways blog. The questions are strangely generic, but that's coming from a man who completely paraphrased the publisher copy to write this round-up post.

Completely paraphrased! But the silly asides are totally original. But here's something you won't find on the jacket--Doctor Death was translated by Elisabeth Dyssegaard.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Boswell Presents: Emily Gray Tedrowe on Tuesday, Feb. 24, Robert Sabuda at MIAD on Wednesday, Boris Fishman Thursday, Plus Melissa Falcon Field on Tuesday, March 3.

Tuesday, February 24, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Emily Gray Tedrowe, author of Blue Stars

Chicago writer Emily Gray Tedrowe has written a graceful and gritty portrayal of what it's like for the women whose husbands and sons are deployed in Iraq. The author has a champion in UWM professor Liam Callanan, but he's not the only writer who's a fan.

“A strikingly nuanced portrait of military family life, Blue Stars examines the battles women face when reunited with their soldiers. Emily Tedrowe opens up a world of spouse support groups and ‘mandatory fun,’ acronyms and hierarchies, maxed-out credit cards and hospital waiting rooms, relationships that last the long separations and those that don’t. Her characters are gutsy, flawed, and incredibly real. If you’ve ever wondered what happens when wounded service members return, read this book.”
–Siobhan Fallon, author of You Know When the Men Are Gone

“This heartbreakingly beautiful novel by Emily Gray Tedrowe colors in the often shadowy voices of the women on the homefront during wartime. Layered with the love, mess, fear, bravery and grief that lurk in the back end of war, Tedrowe’s crisp clear voice weaves a haunting tale of the unvarnished intricacies of the human spirit and the very dear price we pay for human conflict.”
— Lee Woodruff, author of In an Instant and Those We Love Most

I was looking over Tedrowe's list of events, and I saw she was reading at one of the two remaining Womrath's bookstores, in Bronxville, New York. In my childhood, this chain (or was it a franchise, I never knew) had several locations that I knew of in Manhattan and one in Fresh Meadows Queens, down the block from the Bloomingdale's. When that store closed (replaced by a K Mart), the Womrath's seemingly closed an hour later. They operated not just bookstores but book departments and rental libraries. The other store is in Tenafly, New Jersey. One operates under womrath.com, the other under womraths.com.

Wednesday, February 25, 6 pm, (doors open 5:30) at MIAD, 273 E. Erie Street, 4th floor:
Robert Sabuda, discussing "The Art and Craft of Paper Engineering", as part of the MIAD Creativity Series. His most recent book is The Dragon & the Knight: A Pop-Up Misadventure. 

Robert Sabuda is a #1 New York Times best-selling children’s book creator, leading children’s pop-up book artist, and paper engineer. He began his careerafter graduating Summa Cum Laude from the Pratt Institute in New York City. His interest in children’s book illustration began with an internship at Dial Books for Young Readers while attending the Pratt Institute. Initially working as a package designer, he illustrated his first children’s book series, “Bulky Board Books.” He enjoyed wide recognition after he started designing pop-up books for children.

From the starred Kirkus review: "Highlighted by a dragon head that lunges out at viewers with a gush of paper 'flame' as the spread opens, the pop-ups are, predictably, gobsmacking assemblages that whirl into multilevel scenes or rear up to seemingly impossible heights. 'Want to play again?' asks the knight. The invitation is well-nigh irresistible.With Sabuda, it’s hard to set expectations too high or wide, but here he rides triumphantly roughshod over them anyway."

MIAD Professor Christiane Grauert says, "Robert Sabuda persistently pushes the boundaries of what is feasible within pop-up design. He will provide an insight into his challenging negotiation of artistic vision and engineering considerations."

Robert Sabuda's visit is sponsored by Eileen and Barry Mandel. Reservations are requested, by emailing Carol Davis.

Thursday, February 26, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Boris Fishman, author of A Replacement Life.
This event is co-sponsored by the Sam and Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies at UWM.

A Replacement Life was featured on the front page of The New York Times Book Review and shortlisted for the National Jewish Book Award. I should note that he lost to David Bezmozgis's The Betrayers, who also read at Boswell, as did another finalist, Joshua Ferris, author of To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. The winner of the debut fiction prize was another Boswell visitor, Stuart Rojstaczer, author of The Mathematician's Shiva.

Yevgeny Gelman, grandfather of Slava Gelman, "didn't suffer in the exact way" he needs to have suffered to qualify for the restitution the German government has been paying out to Holocaust survivors. But suffer he has--as a Jew in the war, as a second-class citizen in the USSR, as an immigrant to America. So? Isn't his grandson a "writer"?

High-minded Slava wants to put this immigrant scraping behind him. Only the American Dream is not panning out for him--Century, the legendary magazine where he works as a researcher, wants nothing greater from him. Slava wants to be a correct, blameless American, but he wants to be a lionized writer even more.

Slava's turn as the Forger of South Brooklyn teaches him that not every fact is the truth, and not every lie a falsehood. It takes more than law abiding to become an American; it takes the same self-reinvention in which his people excel. Intoxicated and unmoored by his inventions, Slava risks exposure. Cornered, he commits an irrevocable act that finally grants him a sense of home in America, but not before collecting a price from his family.

Listen to this interview with Fishman on NPR's Here and Now.

and coming up next week:
Tuesday, March 3, 7 pm, at Boswell
Melissa Falcon Field, author of What Burns Away.

Good wife, good mother. That's all Claire Spruce is trying to be, but the never-ending snow in this new town and her workaholic husband are making her crazy. Even the sweet face of her toddler son can't pull her out of the dark places in her head. Feeling overwhelmed and alone, she reconnects with her long-lost high school boyfriend, Dean, who offers an intoxicating, reckless escape. But Dean's reappearance is not a coincidence. He wants something from Claire-and she soon finds that the cost of repaying an old favor may lead to the destruction of her entire life.

From Christi Clancy in the Journal Sentinel: "What Burns Away is that rare mix of well-written literary fiction with the suspense of a spy novel. Falcon Field asks hard questions about aging, innocence, loyalty and the importance of place, while keeping us on the edge of our seat. Lou Reed once said, 'I don't like nostalgia unless it's mine.' Yet Claire's nostalgia is so thoroughly documented and explored in What Burns Away that Falcon Field masterfully makes Claire's nostalgia feel like it is our own, and through Claire, we have the guts to go back in order to move forward.