Sunday, July 5, 2015

It's Another Edition of Boswell's Annotated Bestsellers, For the Week ending July 4, 2015

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The English Spy, by Daniel Silva (ticketed event Monday, July 6, JCC*)
2. The Knockoff, by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza
3. The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
4. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
5. The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George
6. Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson
7. In the Unlikely Event, by Judy Blume
8. Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf
9. Swans's Way graphic novel, by Marcel Proust, illustrated by Stephane Heuet
10. The Dream Lover, by Elizabeth Berg

The amusing thing about the new novel, The Little Paris Bookshop, is how many places its supposed to go in the store. Nina George's novel is slated for the Boswell Best (it's 20% off), Indie Bound, and Boswellian Jane's rec shelf. Plus we happen to have a table of books about bookstores that is selling quite well, plus we just put up a table called European Summer Vacation, which features event books about France (Christine Sneed's Paris, He Said, August 11, 7 pm), Spain (Bill Hillmann's Mozos, July 25, 5:30 pm, followed by a screening at 7 pm of Chasing Red) and Italy (Wendy Olsen's Loving Lardo, July 16, 7 pm). And yes, the novels about bookstores was also inspired by an event, for Cynthia Swansons's The Bookseller. She's coming to Boswell on July 20, 7 pm.

*Tickets online through Monday, July 6, 2 pm. Walkup tickets should be available. $30 admission gets you a copy of The English Spy.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo
2. Modern Romance, by AzizAnsari
3. Clay Water Brick, by Jessica Jackley
4. The Oregon Trail, by Rinker Buck
5. Dead Wake, by Eric Larson
6. Sick in the Head, by Judd Apatow
7. Do No Harm, by Henry Marsh
8. Daemon Knows, by Harold Bloom
9. Ally, by Michael B. Oren
10. Pirate Hunters, by Robert Kurson

Rinker Buck's The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey is the #1 pick on the July Indie Next List, a rare feat for a nonfiction book. The official rec is from Dick Hermans at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck and Millerton, New York. He writes: "Inspired by a family trip in a covered wagon in the 1950s, Rinker Buck and his brother Nick set out by wagon to discover what remains of the Oregon Trail between Missouri and Oregon. Along the way, readers learn about wagon design, mule heritage, and what pioneers needed to endure traveling west in the 19th century. This is also a moving personal story of brotherhood, endurance, and the kindness of strangers. Buck weaves fact, action, and reflection together into a page-turning delight that history buffs and fans of contemporary nonfiction will not want to miss.”

Paperback Fiction:
1. Euphoria, by Lily King
2. Recipe for Disaster, by Stacey Ballis
3. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
4. Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher
5. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
6. Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng
7. The Vacationers, by Emma Straub
8. The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante
9. Delicious, by Ruth Reichl
10. The Orphan Master's Son, by Adam Johnson

Here's Boswellian Jen Steele's recommendation for Dear Committee Members: "Jason Fitger, professor of creative writing at Payne University, is the go-to guy if you want honest, snarky, passive-aggressive letters of recommendation. He has no problem writing about his ex-wife, the university's "golden" child: the economics department, or the construction disrupting his office, all in a letter of recommendation for your prospective employer to read. Dear Committee Members had me laughing out loud, the perfect companion for an afternoon of reading."

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Find Momo Coast to Coast, by Andrew Knapp
2. Dead White Guys, by Matt Burriesci
3. Good and Cheap, by Leanne Brown
4. I am Malala, by Malala Yousafzi
5. The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
6. All Around Milwaukee, edited by Sharp Literacy
7. Mary Nohl: Inside and Out, by Barbara Manger and Janine Smith
8. Best Hikes Near Milwaukee, by Kevin Revolinski
9. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
10. Milwaukee Bucket List, by Barbara Ali

In summer, a Boswellian's thoughts turn to tourits. OK, we're no Powells or Boulder Book Store, being that all tourist organizations leave Downer Avenue and our neighborhood off maps - yes, really, the cutoff is generally Ogden, Brady, or North Avenue, but people show up anyway, and they want regional books and that's why they are at our front register table in July. One book that might be on my to-buy list is the new Falcon Guide, Best Hikes Near Milwaukee by Madison writer Kevin Revolinski. On my last day off, I walked to the airport, and that was fun, but I don't think it made the cut.

Books for Kids:
1. In Marys Garden, by Tina and Carson Kugler
2. Star Wars Jedi Academy V3: The Phantom Bully, by Jeffrey Brown
3. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews
4. Where's Waldo, by Martin Handford
5. Minecraft Blockopedia, by Alex Wilshire
6. Enormous Smallness, by Matt Burgess
7. The Adventures of Beekle, by Dan Santat
8. Home, by Carson Ellis
9. Nuts to You, by Lynne Rae Perkins
10. El Deafo, by CeCe Bell

Boswellian Jannis's recommendation for El Deafo: "Cece, a vibrant and active 4 yr. old, suddenly falls sick with meningitis and soon after discovers she can no longer hear. At first she is fitted with an awkward hearing aid but eventually she is fitted with a phonic ear, a hearing aid that allows her to hear everything around her, including her teacher's periodic trips to the restroom. Author Cece Bell has written a hilarious and touching graphic memoir retelling her experiences as she learned to navigate her new world complete with awkward interactions of people yelling at her in order to get her to hear them and new friends that don't always know how to act around her. This is perfect for the fans of Raina Telgemaier."

At the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins looks at The Work Family Debate in Popular Culture. He writes "Ellyn A. Lem and Timothy J. Dunn, faculty colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, don't solve the work-life balance problem in their book The Work-Family Debate in Popular Culture — no mere mortals could be expected to resolve what is a different, constantly changing conundrum for every working adult. But in calm, clear prose, they outline the issues, address the obstacles and consider possible solutions through analyzing how popular culture — primarily, movies and TV shows — depicts the struggles of women and men to have satisfying work and family lives."

The print edition also includes reviews from David L. Ulin of Karolina Waclawiak's The Ivaders and Etgar Keret's The Seven Good Years: A Memoir, reviewed by Carolyn Kellogg.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

We're Open Today, July 4th, from 10 am to 5 pm. And Since It's July 4th, a Little Event Announcement That's Perfect for Independence Day.

It's a long weekend and I'm not sure you can go without books that long. So we're open today from 10 am to 5 pm. Say hi to Jen, Todd, and Sarah, and delight in the fact that we now have two bathrooms again.

On a revolutionary note, I'm excited to the return of Sarah Vowell, whose new book is Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, where she travels around the country piecing together the story of why, in a country almost as polarized then as we are today, did we rally around a young Frenchman, a "swashbuckling teenage aristocrat" who was Washington's "trusted officer and friend."

We had a wonderful ticketed event at Boswell last time but for this book, we're doing something different. It's a free event at the Milwaukee Public Library downtown, and because we're teaming up on Saturday, October 31 (yes, another holiday, of sorts), of course we're going to have a costume contest. Details to come--I don't usually announce events this early, but the holiday has got me feeling all patriotic.

Friday, July 3, 2015

This should be the "what did the book club think?" post for Lily King's "Euphoria" but due to circumstances beyond my control (I can't find the notes), it's more of a meditation.

As I mentioned on a recent post, we recently updated our book club brochure. It was due for revision; there are a number of paperback release that have exploded in popularity in the past few months. While almost all of them hit the bestsellers lists in hardcover, several of them seem to be reaching even greater heights of success in paperback. Both Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, and The Vacationers, by Emma Straub climbed their way to the top ten, while both Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng, and Euphoria, by Lily King, bubbled under the top 15. It's so great to see quality books (well, at least from my perspective, being that I enjoyed them all) finding popular success. Of course this is all in perspective--they are a speck in the universe compared to say, an even remotely popular film.

Now we have several other favorites that have not gone top ten on the New York Times bestseller list, including several that did make the top 15 in hardcover, most notably We Are Not Ourselves, by Matthew Thomas, and Nora Webster, by Colm Toíbín. So after spending something like an hour looking at hardcover bestsellers lists, I've come to the conclusion that a slow steady climb bodes better for paperback success than a pop and drop. I think the first indicates word of mouth, while the second is the result of publicity hits. By that measure, we should see a good paperback run for Anita Diamant's The Boston Girl which at least on the lists, performed more like a scrappy underdog than a seasoned superstar. And heck, that's not a bad thing. Oh, and I also think that really long books have more trouble breaking out in paperback. Yes, I know The Goldfinch is doing fine in paperback.

Of the books that broke out in paperback, I remember Everything I Never Told You, which was a May 2014 release in hardcover, creeping up to just under the top 15 in early 2015. But I can't for the life of me figure out exactly where Euphoria got to and when. The book came out in June 2014, and we saw some nice pop in sales from the reviews in July, but it was when the book started to make all the best-of lists that our sales exploded, with year-end sales (December and January) more than double the sales from the first three months (and remembering that we're an independent bookstore, not BigMart or Books.com, we're talking about 27 copies, but for a non-event, non-bulk sale, that's quite good. But for the paperback, we're closing in on 100 copies, and the book doesn't feel tapped out at all. And that's happening all over the country. (Photo is courtesy of author website).

This is Lily King's fourth novel with Grove Atlantic, and like the example of Anthony Doerr and Scribner, this a great payoff for an author and publisher sticking with each other. And according to interviews, all the books were edited by Elizabeth Schmitz, the editor behind such works as Cold Mountain and Peace Like a River, and more recent breakouts such as H is for Hawk and An Unnecessary Woman. Grove Atlantic worked very hard on Euphoria, featuring the book and author both at 2014's Winter Institute and Book Expo. And that's just the bookseller component. I'm not saying that always works, but it certainly can, and did this time.

So sadly, what a lot of folks don't remember is that Boswell hosted King for a small event for her third novel, Father of the Rain. While it was a great was a summer event, without quite the right hook, for a book that was getting accolades--it wound up winning the New England Book Award for fiction--but just didn't have the momentum behind it. I thought I had a good recommendation, but it just wasn't sticky, as we say. A wonderful person, a passionate read, but just didn't get that sweet spot of 25+ that might have led to us getting on the King tour for the next book. Here's that passionate read, by the way.

"The father-daughter relationship can offer no fewer complications than the traditional father-son one, only with sexual tension substituting for rivalry. In King’s third novel, she fuels the mix with alcoholism, bigotry, and old money. The story is structured like a play in three acts, moving from Daley Amory’s childhood (when her mom leaves the monstrous Gardiner) to early adulthood (when wife #2 Catherine walks out, leaving her holding the caregiver bag) to a last attempt at reconciliation. There are lots of disturbing moments along the way—giving up her professorship and her chance at happiness with her boyfriend Jonathan are only part of the shortlist. Badly behaved is putting it mildly. Father of the Rain is not a book to recommend to someone wanting exciting plot twists, but this quiet character study is quietly moving in its deftly-told fashion." (Daniel)

So what was different about Euphoria? For one thing, it was King's first historical novel. Of course there are many different kinds of historicals, and King chose to use the loose story of Margaret Mead and her second and third husbands, but change all the names, so that while the book was heavily researched, the history didn't get in the way of the story. We see a lot of that lately, most recently with, as I've said before, Jim Shepard's The Book of Aron and Judith Claire Mitchell's A Reunion of Ghosts. Interestingly enough, when we were reading the book for our In-store Book Club, some attendees found this freeing, while others were frustrated when the book veered from reality. No spoilers here, but there's quite a bit of veering. And yet, it didn't stop several others from reading Coming of Age in Samoa, and noticing the similarities.

One of the beautiful things about Euphoria is that it looks at anthropology, Margaret Mead's work in particular, and extrapolating the scientific method to social sciences in general, showing how fieldwork can be affected by the workers. Can you really study a tribe while employing some of them as servants. And can you really generalizations about human nature without putting your own worldview and prejudices into the construct? That's one thing we see again and again in Euphoria--the dynamics of the triangle play out in their research.

So how did our book club discussion go? Most people liked it, a few people loved it, a few didn't like it any more. Honestly, that's pretty par for the course--bell curve. While booksellers can be pretty good at predicting what books will be liked, and who will like them, there's always an outlier. I suggested to one customer that he buy The Red Notebook for his wife, and she hated it. And that's after selling lots and lots and lots of Antoine Laurain to customers that had pretty similar tastes. I never said it would win the Nobel prize (no, that was left to The Red Notebook character Patrick Modiano), only that reading the book was a lovely way to spend some time.

It's true confession time. I can't find my notes from our Euphoria discussion. But honestly, I don't think you'll go wrong if your book club picks it. I wish I had taped Jane discussing the book, but I did not. But I can tell you what the cover is--it's a closeup of the rainbow eucalyptus tree.

Coming up, the in-store lit group is meeting on Tuesday, July 7, 7 pm to discuss the as-mentioned-above Matthew Thomas's We Are Not Ourselves. We bumped the discussion by a day so I could work the Daniel Silva in conversation with Jody Hirsh event at the JCC for The English Spy. Tickets still available.

For August 3, 7 pm, we're discussing My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante. This is one of those books that people have been telling me to read by several years. It's translated from Italian and is published by the independent Europa. And if people wind up liking it, there are more novels in the series.

And then I'm going to lead a special pre-event book club discussion on Thursday, August 20, 6 pm, for Rebecca Makkai's The Hundred-Year House. The event at 7 will be a joint appearance with Makkai, appearing for her new book of stories, Music for Wartime, and Aleksandar Hemon, for his new novel, The Making of Zombie Wars.  But for the 6 pm event, we'll be talking about The Hundred-Year House. It will be a spoiler zone, so we ask only folks who've read The Hundred Year House to attend. It will be a traditional book club meeting, except that Makkai will attend for the last part so we can ask her questions, ones with spoilers, I should add.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Avin Domnitz, 1944-2015.

Honestly, the first time I met Avin might have been when I opened the receiving room door of the Iron Block branch of the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop, where he was transferring stock between locations. He pulled up to the alley in his wood paneled station wagon and we’d carry the boxes down the hall to be loaded, and then take another set of boxes that were coming from another Schwartz store.

What would I know? I was hired by my manager, and was only fuzzily aware of actual Schwartzes. In fact, when I visited the store before applying, my friend at the American Booksellers Association told me the name of the store was Dickens Books, Ltd. Once I got to Milwaukee, I could not find the Dickens store anywhere, but I was quickly set straight, that this was the incorporated name of the Schwartz stores.

This dual name would continue to haunt Schwartz, in a way that it does not seem to affect other stores with operating names differing from the actual store names. But Dickens was important; it was the result of a 1984 merger between A. David Schwartz’s two Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops in Milwaukee and Avin Mark Domnitz’s Book Nook in Whitefish Bay*, in addition to three Dickens Discount Books, located in conceptually new factory outlet centers, and a lease on an unopened store in Brookfield.

The Brookfield store opened as a Schwartz. Two Dickens Discount Books were closed, but the third thrived for many years, sometimes being the most profitable component of the company. A larger Dickens was opened in Illinois, with the idea that there might be more. There was only one problem; these stores (by then I was a buyer) really needed to be run like chain stores in order to multiply, and we couldn’t seem to shake our habit of running them as independent bookstores, constantly tweaking them for the market.

Once I moved into our Whitefish Bay offices, I got to know Avin much better – his enthusiasm and drive, his sense of humor, and most of all, his family. His mom or dad might stop by, the latter often to make copies. We’d head to his house in Shorewood for manager meetings and rep nights, with various Domnitz folk wandering the margins. Later on, his daughters worked in the Shorewood café. And yes, a whole bunch of us went to Liza’s bat mitzvah, which still stands out in my mind, and that’s coming from a guy who has done a lot of bar and bat mitzvahs. But boy did it feel special to be let into that part of Avin’s life.

And oh those meetings! Avin loved books, but he also wasn’t afraid of numbers, and we’d spend a lot of time going over finances, inventory levels, cash flow. It took a long time for me to emotionally connect with the numbers (and this is coming from a math major) and while I don’t think I am half the person he is, regarding these sort of things, I do credit him with whatever I am in this aspect of Boswell.

Avin Domnitz and David Schwartz’s partnership was a complicated thing and I’m not going to lie and say they always agreed about everything and one of them never told me to do something different than I was told to do by the other one when the first one left the office. They both brought different skills to the table, but really, they had a lot of similarities. Their reading tastes were often different, but they would get behind whatever the book was that inspired them. They were both passionate, inspiring leaders. And they were both were very good speakers, very persuasive. So you can only imagine someone listening to one or the other of them, thinking, how the heck am I supposed to ever match that? Well I can’t and that’s just the way it is. I have other skills, I guess.

Avin eventually gave up doing the transfers, but his old wood-paneled station wagon lived on for a while, with the transfer job traveling to various booksellers. Eventually I used the wagon to commute to our Mequon store, which I managed for a year in the 1990s. It broke down a lot, finally giving its last breath on a highway offramp. I was able to get it off the road, walked to the store, and by the time I got there, the office was calling me wondering what happened, as the police had spotted the abandoned car. We replaced it with a more professional van, but I sort of missed driving the Avin car.


And then, after getting more involved with the American Booksellers Association, including a run as president of the board, he left Schwartz to become executive director. But that didn’t mean we didn’t stop working with Avin. I was involved in any number of panels, including being his backup bookseller for more than one presentation. And sometimes, while Avin was offering the secrets to bookstore survival, he’d turn to me and remember something we used to do at Schwartz. There is nothing like shared memories, right? (At right, Avin visited Boswell the year we opened. We called this our welcoming stance.)

Avin did great things, both for bookselling in Milwaukee, and then later for booksellers all over the country. And of course the wonderful family he raised, the people he guided. He had a number of gifts, not just his ability to lead, but to inspire and to give, and that has touched a lot of people. But perhaps the most lasting gifts are the shared memories, and the thought that when I’m in a bind, I can think to myself, “What would Avin do?”

My apologies if I got some of the details wrong! Here's the Publishers Weekly obituary.

*There were other partners too. We mostly saw them going in and out of board meetings, but generally didn't have direct contact with them. Well, except our lawyer. And one of our landlords. And Elly, our kids' buyer, for at least part of the run.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Book Club Summa! 24 Titles Recommended by Boswell Booksellers.

It's time for our summer book club recommendation list. While these books are good for anyone, we think they have a bit of extra discussability. Our rule of thumb is that for the most part, we also try to have at least one read on the book, which we can't say for other lists, like Boswell Best, Nowadays, it's almost impossible for us to have read the Boswell Best ahead of time, as we see advance copies for less than half the books that Jason has chosen.

We have a few carryover books from the last list, but only a few:
--The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin
--Shotgun Lovesongs, by Nickolas Butler
--Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald

As usual, we have six nonfiction titles:
--I am Malala, by Malala Moustafzai
--The Psychopath Whisperer, by Kent Kiehl
--How to Be a Heroine, by Samantha Ellis
--The Tastemakers, by David Sax
--The Mockingbird Next Door, by Marja Mills
--Glitter and Glue, by Kelly Corrigan

Jane brought Corrigan and Ellis to the table, while Anne's pick is Mills. While even I know that The Psychopath Whisperer is going to be tough going (I always have one of these, but really, it will be quite rewarding and discussable), I really think that a book club could really have a great time with The Tastemakers. It's Sax's journey through the world of food trends, looking at every aspect of what takes something like kale from obscurity to testing on McDonald's menus (in Southern California only, for now). He follows Peruvian chefs, apple marketing boards (there's a variety that you've never heard of that completely dominates the shelves of Canadian stores, due to different marketing strategies), conventions, and the holy grail of most food merchants for trending - I'll leave you to guess what it is.

The superstars:
--Euphoria, by Lily King
--Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng
--Nora Webster, by Colm Toíbín
--Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
--The Vacationers, by Emma Straub
--We Are Not Ourselves, by Matthew Thomas

All these books were top ten bestsellers on The New York Times, either in hardcover or now in paperback. As we know, it's always a bit of a tougher push to get very long hardcovers* into the hands of book clubs, which is partly why I think that We Are Not Ourselves didn't have the same pop that some of the other shorter works did, despite a nice run on the hardcover list; so far, it's had a week at #20. But I love a long book or two on the list. Just about every group has either a summer or winter break and why not pick a long book for that period, to discuss when you reconvene?

The Contenders
--The Book of Unknown Americans, by Cristina Henríquez
--To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, by Joshua Ferris
--Almost Crimson, by Dasha Kelly
--The Red Notebook, by Antoine Laurain
--Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald
--Dry Bones in the Valley, by Tom Bouman
--Etta and Otto and Russell and James, by Emma Hooper
--Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill
--Redeployment, by Phil Klay

This catch-all list has books that we are passionate about, many of which are selling elsewhere, but aren't necessarily at book club superstar status. We've certainly had books on this list before, like Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, which went on to have huge book club success nationally.

In some cases, like with Almost Crimson and The Red Notebook, the hurdle is that the books are from independent publishers. Having read them both, I wouldn't say they have too much in common except that while not comedies, both authors have a good sense of humor. I guess Kelly's novel might have more in common with The Book of Unknown Americans, as both are coming-of-age stories, the first from an African American perspective, and the second from a Latino angle. Reading these books along with Everything I Never Told You (about a biracial Chinese-American family) would jump-start a book club that wants a little more diversity in the offerings.

I should also note that The Red Notebook is my pick for book clubs that just want to make sure that everyone reads the book. It's short, funny, romantic, and Parisian to boot. It's great for that month when everyone complains that they didn't have time enough to get to the selection, like in January.

It's always nice to have an older book in the lineup, and Jane is still plugging the work of Penelope Fitzgerald. I thought we might switch to The Bookshop on its release, but she has stuck with Offshore, a novel inspired by the author's own experiences living on a houseboat in the Thames. would love to see a year of book club selections where all the books use the trope of a

We also try to have at least one mystery on our recommendation list, but this can be tricky. It's hard to pick the middle of a series unless the book really stands alone, and many series improve and don't start coming into their own until, say, book three or four. Dry Bones in the Valley is an exception. Anne has been pushing Tom Bouman's book set in northeastern Pennnsylvania since its release, and now she's validated with its capturing of the Edgar Award for best first novel.

A few books on the list have hurdles that require a little extra convincing. It takes a special book club to tackle Joshua Ferris's To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. It's the kind of book many clubs will only gravitate to if it wins a major award, the way a good number of groups are reading Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North. It's dark and funny and discussable, but the lack of a plot (I'm pretty much quoting the author here) holds some groups back. But heck, it was one of the first two American novels to shortlist for the Man Booker (along with the aforementioned Karen Joy Fowler) and won the Dylan Thomas Prize, so I'll keep pushing it.

I don't know what the groups would think of Ferris, but I have test-marketed Dept. of Speculation and even though it's structure (stream of consciousness fragments) throws some people off, it actually has resonated well with groups and many have been glad to tackle something different. But that's part of the reason why, despite a pretty similar level of critical love, Euphoria, which is more of a straight-forward fictionalized historical, exploded while Dept. of Speculation simmered.

I started with Redployment in the superstar category, but then moved it to sleeper. While it won the National Book Award, (and had a bestseller pop) Phil Klay's Redeployment of course has the short story hurdle. I think it is wonderfully discussable, and while there are a few stories that are, for some reason, extra difficult for some folks to surmount (an unlikable narrator, a story filled with acronyms), together the stories come together nicely in a middle ground between disparate and novel-in-stories.

While the trend was definitely in the camp of historical novels with real people, I notice that at least for literary novels, the winds are pushing towards fictionalizing the characters' identities. This year alone I've read Euphoria, Jim Shepard's The Book of Aron, and Judith Claire Mitchell's A Reunion of Ghosts, all of home clearly did research on real people and events but in the end chose to change the names, allowing the authors to go where there novels needed to go, instead of being forced to hew close to history's storyline. The good news is that the history is still there, and we have had more than one book club participant read Coming of Age in Samoa in readiness for a Euphoria book club presentation.

If a blog post doesn't do the trick, we have very nice fliers recommending our 24 picks, as well as six more hardcovers that are coming out shortly, including three that will be fall events - Richard Ford, Marlon James, and Nina Revoyr. And of course if you're book club is picking books for the year, we'll do a presentation to five or more of you, as long as you promise to buy a good amount of books from us. Due to scheduling, we can generally only do these on weekday afternoons, but because we have less author events in the summer, July and August evenings are also possible.

That's one good reason to do a year at a time instead of month-by-month picking. But if you do month-by-month picking, here's a suggestion that will help both your participants and your local bookstore - pick two months ahead. Give us a month to get the book in, and give some of your group extra time to read the book. We find it makes for a happier book club that is more likely to have read the book.

*That is not really affecting sales of The Goldfinch in paper, but that has really transcended size to be a must read.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Boswell Events! Matt Burriesci Tonight, Tina and Carson Kugler on Mary Nohl Wednesday at 3 pm at Shorewood Public Library, Jo Piazza's "Knockoff" on Thursday, Plus Daniel Silva in Conversation with Jody Hirsh Next Monday, July 6, 7 pm (ticketed).

Monday, June 29, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Matt Burriesci, author of Dead White Guys: A Father, His Daughter and the Great Books of the Western World.

Boswell welcomes Matt Burriesci, former executive director of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, who also served in various capacities at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, known to bibliophiles as AWP.

Boswellian Jane Glaser says it best: "A devoted father rediscovers his love for the great works of western classics as he packs his 54 volume collection away to make room for a nursery for his newborn daughter. Excerpting thoughts from his favorite thinker Plato along with others as diverse as Plutarch, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Jefferson, Adam Smith, etc., the author partners their words of wisdom with love letters of life lessons to his daughter for her to read on her eighteenth birthday. Reminiscent of Rebecca Mead's My Life in Middlemarch and Anna Quindlen's How Reading Changed My Life, this thought provoking book is perfect for readers who love the endlessly yielding power of the written word!"

Bookpage offers this recommendation: "Burriesci’s reading tour skews toward the ancients (the book is nearly half done before he gets to St. Augustine), with Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch and Montaigne getting the lion’s share of consideration. Shakespeare is represented singly by Hamlet, and, by necessity, there are many other omissions: Thomas Aquinas, Chaucer, Dante, Cervantes, Kant and Freud, among them. Indeed, with the exception of Hamlet, the book steers away from fiction and drama entirely, focusing instead on philosophical and political works."

Wednesday, July 1, 3 pm, at Shorewood Public Library
Tina and Carson Kugler, author and illustrator of In Mary's Garden.

From the Shorewood Public Library: "Meet Tina and Carson Kugler, authors/illustrators of In Mary's Garden, the picture book about the life of Mary Nohl and her now famous garden. After the presentation, participants will have a chance to create their own unique artwork. Enter a drawing to win an autographed copy of the book. Books will be available for purchase and signing. This program is co-sponsored with Boswell Book Company."

From the Mary Louise Schumacher profile in the Journal Sentinel, from back in March: "The Kuglers met at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where Tina studied film and Carson art. They married and moved to L.A., where they both worked in animation. When they started a family, though, they moved back to Wisconsin for a time. It was when the couple started taking their own boys to see Mary Nohl's house that the idea of a children's book surfaced. They took their first son to see the place when he was still a baby."

And here's a bit more about the book, from Horn Book magazine: "The authors embellish their picture-book biography of artist Mary Nohl (1914-2001) with touches of whimsy -- her dogs Sassafras and Basil assist beyond the bounds of ordinary canine capacity, for example -- reflecting their subject's own outsized imagination. The illustrations -- digital collages of scratchy, affectionate paintings on an assortment of papers -- mirror this sense of wonder; careful readers will see a variety of friendly creatures swirling amid the clouds and hiding in tree trunks."

The Shorewood Public Library is at 3920 N. Murray Avenue, just south of Capitol Drive.

Thursday, July 2, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Jo Piazza, co-author of The Knockoff.

One never knows how an author will wind up in Milwaukee. For Matt Burriesci, it was a family function in Lake Geneva. For Jo Piazza, it's the home of her future in-laws. This is why it's not just enough to have great authors and illustrators living in the Milwaukee area, it helps if people are family and friends of great authors, even if the authors themselves live elsewhere.

Publishers Weekly's take: " In this modernized All About Eve plotline, the maniacally driven Eve goes up against her too-kind boss in ways both large (stealing Imogen's ideas) and small (insulting her lack of tech knowledge), leaving Imogen feeling out of step. Throughout, readers are constantly reminded of the ubiquity of technology and its potential pitfalls. This breezy, behind-the-scenes tale offers a fresh, modern take on a classic tale of rivalry."

Liz Matthews in Town and Country calls The Knockoff the only beach read you should be reading. "Sykes and Piazza cleverly satirize this recent marriage of the fashion and tech industries, and have managed to craft a strong plot with a few unforeseen twists." Glamour also put it on the "best books of summer" list.

In Time magazine, Jo Piazza writes a little about what led to The Knockoff. "I’m almost 35, which means I straddle that weird line between Generation X and millennial. I recently wrote a novel with former-magazine-editor-turned-techie Lucy Sykes, who is 45, about this generational divide in the workplace." Her essay has a lot of good advice.

We've had a great read from Boswellian Scott Espinoza, who found it both enjoyable and engaging enough to have questions for the author at our event on Thursday evening, 7 pm.

Monday, July 6, 7 pm, at the JCC:
a ticketed event with Daniel Silva, author of The English Spy, in conversation with Jody Hirsh. Buy your tickets here. (Daniel Silva photo credit John Earle.)

From the Silva website: "He has been called his generation’s finest writer of international intrigue and one of the greatest American spy novelists ever. Compelling, passionate, haunting, brilliant: these are the words that have been used to describe the work of award-winning #1 New York Times bestselling author Daniel Silva."

Silva knew from a very early age that he wanted to become a writer, but his first profession would be journalism. Born in Michigan, raised and educated in California, he was pursuing a master’s degree in international relations when he received a temporary job offer from United Press International to help cover the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. Later that year Silva abandoned his studies and joined UPI fulltime, working first in San Francisco, then on the foreign desk in Washington, and finally as Middle East correspondent in Cairo and the Persian Gulf. In 1987, while covering the Iran-Iraq war, he met NBC Today National Correspondent Jamie Gangel and they were married later that year. Silva returned to Washington and went to work for CNN and became Executive Producer of its talk show unit including shows like Crossfire, Capital Gang and Reliable Sources.

In 1995 he confessed to Jamie that his true ambition was to be a novelist. With her support and encouragement he secretly began work on the manuscript that would eventually become the instant bestseller The Unlikely Spy. He left CNN in 1997 after the book’s successful publication and began writing full time. Since then all of Silva’s books have been New York Times and international bestsellers. His books have been translated in to more than 30 languages and are published around the world. He is currently at work on a new novel and warmly thanks all those friends and loyal readers who have helped to make his books such an amazing success. (Jody Hirsh photo credit Nathan Harimann)

We're excited to be co-sponsoring a very special ticketed event with Daniel Silva, whose latest novel is The English Spy, in conversation with Jody Hirsh, Judaic Education Director at the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center on 6255 N. Santa Monica Boulevard. Tickets are $30, and include admission and a copy of The English Spy. Due to the structure of this event, there is no gift card option, but if you love Daniel Silva's work as much as we know you do, you'll agree that a copy of his book also makes a great gift.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

What's Selling This Week at Boswell, Plus the Journal Sentinel Book Page.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
2. The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
3. Festival of Insignificance. by Milan Kundera
4. In the Unlikely Event, by Judy Blume
5. Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf
6. A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson
7. Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie with illustrations by MinaLima
8. The Jesus Cow, by Michael Perry
9. The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi
10. Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson

Isn't it funny how Hulu streaming Seinfeld has led to any number of media stories, even ones like Nathan Rabin's in the Los Angeles Times about how Seinfeld's comedy is not changing with the times (though I should note that it is not only old White guys who are making this statement; Chris Rock said it too)? Well, here's the strangest connection yet; Jason Sheehan at NPR compared Milan Kundera's new novel, Festival of Insignificance to Seinfeld, because it is also about nothing. And sort of like Seinfeld, he writes that"The Festival Of Insignificance is, in the best possible way, like perusing the operating instructions for a civil society."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. American Mojo, by Peter D. Kiernan
2. Pirate Hunters, by Robert Kurson
3. Strong Inside, by Andrew Maraniss
4. Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari
5. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo
6. The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough
7. Hold Still, by Sally Mann
8. The Road to Character, by David Brooks
9. On the Move, by Oliver Sacks
10. Sick in the Head, by Judd Apatow

Speaking of comics and white books with little line drawings on them, Judd Apatow's Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy has also been getting a lot of attention. Jason Zinoman in The New York Times called the book "a love letter to stand-up comedy" (correction, that's Zinoman's headline writer) though Apatow hasn't performed stand-up in more than two decades (or because I was just reading an American history book, a score).  Steve Donoghue lays out the land of the book in The Washington Post, that some of these interviews were conducted back when Apatow was at Syosset High School on Long Island.

Paperback Fiction:
1. Euphoria, by Lily King
2. Etta and Otto and Russell and James, by Emma Hooper
3. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
4. We Are Not Ourselves, by Matthew Thomas
5. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
6. The Martian, by Andy Weir
7. The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd
8. The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton
9. Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng
10. Grey, by E.L. James

E.L. James's newest, Grey, telling the Fifty Shades of Grey story Christian's perspective, has been quite the phenomenon, though it hasn't hit the momentum at Boswell that Fifty Shades of Grey had in its heyday, making me think that the book might not have legs. The Independent writes about the huge early success of the book, and the psychology behind it and other bestsellers. And let's not smirk at this as a quirk of the masses only? Who among you has bought and not read Capital in the Twenty-First Century? We have a customer who keeps coming in to buy a used copy because "surely someone who bought it is going to figure out that they don't really want it."

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Find Momo Coast to Coast, by Andrew Knapp (event today at 3 pm)
2. Milwaukee Mafia, by Gavin Schmitt (event MPL Central 7/13, 6:30 pm)
3. How Not to Be Wrong, by Jordan Ellenberg
4. Dead White Guys, by Matt Burriesci (event Monday 6/29 at 7 pm)
5. Shadow Divers, by Robert Kurson
6. The Grapes of Math, by Alex Bellos
7. The Opposite of Loneliness, by Marina Keegan
8. Find Momo, by Andrew Knapp
9. The War That Ended Peace, by Margaret Macmillan
10. Loving Lardo, by Wendy R. Olsen (event July 16, 7 pm)

While its not unusual to have upcoming events on our bestseller list (we work hard to presell copies, and there is a lot of display surrounding the books), it might be a bit odd to have six of the top ten being future appearances. A run in the second half of the week left us a little short for Momo (today at 3) and Matt Burriesci (tomorrow at 7). But one author we're not having is Alex Bellos, whose new release is one of two math books in our top ten. The Grapes of Math: How Life Reflects Numbers and Numbers Reflect Life, touches on similar themes to How Not to Be Wrong, "turning the most complex math into an educating read." His last book was Here's Looking at Euclid. You gotta love it!

Books for Kids:
1. In Mary's Garden, by Tina and Carson Kugler (event 7/1 Shorewood Library, 3 pm)
2. The Thickety: A Path Begins, by J.A. White
3. The Book with No Pictures, by B.J. Novak
4. Where's Waldo Magnificent Mini Boxed Set, by Martin Handford
5. Saint Anything, by Sarah Dessen
6. One Family, by George Shannon
7. Tell Me What to Dream About, by Giselle Potter
8. Crown of Three, by J.D. Rinehart
9. I'll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
10. Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson

The younger sister wants a story before bedtime and the older sister obliges, only younger sister translates flights of fancy into gloom. That's the concept behind Tell Me What to Dream About, by Giselle Potter. Publishers Weekly writes: "While the pacing is a series of bumps and starts as fancies are proffered and dismissed, the sisters’ bickering will be instantly recognizable. And Potter’s dream worlds, a feast of beloved fantasy elements, will lure readers back for more."

In the Journal Sentinel, the newest from former Time magazine movie critic Richard Schickel is reviewed by Chris Foran. Keepers: The Greatest Films--And Personal Favorites--Of a Moviegoing Lifetime. From Foran: "There aren't a lot of surprises in Keepers: Schickel celebrates such inevitables as Casablanca and Citizen Kane, as well as generally accepted classics such as Children of Paradise, the French fantasy shot during the Nazi occupation" but he does dismiss The Seventh Seal and The Maltese Falcon.

From Carole E. Barrowman, her monthly roundup of mysteries and thrillers!

--The Evvidence Room, by Cameron Harvey, set on the Florida Bayou. "Among the cypress 'dripping with Spanish Moss' and the bayou's 'shoreline choked with pitcher plants,' the compelling characters in this atmospheric mystery eventually must confront their shadows in unexpected ways."

--New Yorked, by Rob Hart, a hard-boiled novel told from the perspective of the son of one of New York's finest who responded after 9-11. "I loved this novel. It may be the most quixotic hard-boiled I've read in ages. With clever nods to Chandler (including giving Ash a fedora) and lots of muscular metaphors ('The two of them looked at me like I'm calculus'), Hart has written an achingly lovely farewell to one man's past."

--Let Me Die in His Footsteps, an "impressive Southern gothic" from Lori Roy. "Roy's narrative moves with measured suspense between Annie's story (as a teen) in 1952 and Aunt Juna's in 1936. Roy is masterful at teasing out tension and dripping dread across this novel. Like Annie, we, too, know something bad is coming." I don't think this is the first time that Barrowman has recommended Roy and it probably won't be the last either.

--The Convictions of John Delahunt, by Andrew Hughes. Set in 19th century Dublin and based on a true story, this is told by a killer on death row, who "is forced to have his head examined. Literally. A phrenologist examines the shape of John's scalp to determine the psychological motives for his crimes." It's hard to take a snippet of these recommendations, so my apologies for over-quoting: " I was enthralled with this historical thriller. Gallows humor and Dickensian details permeate its twisty narrative, one that takes readers to the dark heart of a series of real crimes in Victorian Dublin where shadows loom everywhere."

--and finally, Marry, Kiss, Kill, by Anne Flett-Giordano. This funny mystery is written by a writer from Cheers, "set in Santa Barbara during a film festival awash in A-list celebs and the hoity-toity of town." It's zingy!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Midsummer Mishaps! Andrew Knapp and Momo Rescheduled for Sunday, June 28, 3 pm, While Mary Alice Monroe is Cancelled.

While authors and publishers fret about touring in winter, it turns out that every season has its own mishaps. Last year we lost a good chunk of our audience for Jonathan Lethem's Dissident Gardens appearance due to bad storms about an hour before start time. One couple told me that they were on their way, but had to turn around when a tree was blocking the road.

Last night we worried about similar storms for Andrew Maraniss and Strong Inside, but the second round wound up going south of Milwaukee. Even with some overly cautious folks staying away, we had a nice showing of folks coming out to hear about Perry Wallace, the African American college student who integrated the SEC basketball conference while playing for Vanderbilt, a school that itself had only been integrated for two years. In an amusing aside, two attendees arrived thinking that David Maraniss was speaking. I'm glad they stayed for the talk anyway, partly because it was so good, and partly because they got to meet the elder Maraniss anyway, who came out to see his son. Signed copies available, of course.

No such luck for Mary Alice Monroe, who had to cancel her Illinois and Wisconsin dates for The Summer's End, the concluding volume of her Lowcountry Summer trilogy. Alas, doctor's orders as she broke her wrist. She'll probably be back in the area for a future book, so keep up with our schedule. 

Better news for Andrew Knapp and Momo, who are touring the country by car for Find Momo Coast to Coast. Car trouble forced them to delay some events, and so our Wednesday appearance has now been rescheduled for Sunday, June 28, 3 pm. In a way, that's great, a little more family friendly. And what with our gearing up for the Find Waldo Local program in July, the Find Momo books will get you up to speed for the eye coordination to spot Waldo at 30 local retailers. 

Momo, a six-year-old Border collie first came to fame on Instagram. As he told Buzzfeed, he was inspired by “having a handsome dog, a phone in my pocket, and social media.”

And as Laurie Hertzel wrote in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "Momo’s passion is playing hide and seek, something his owner, Andrew Knapp, discovered one day during a game of fetch. Knapp’s book, Find Momois a Where’s Waldo? of photographs — sweeping vistas, urban landscapes, factories, playgrounds — and in each one, Momo is hiding, peering out of something or from behind something, just his intense eyes and the white blaze of his snout visible. Sometimes you can find him only by the bright red collar around his neck. Sometimes you can’t find him at all, and then the key in the back of the book comes in handy."

How can you not love Momo? As one executive director of a major animal welfare nonprofit said to me, "I have such a crush on this book!" So say hi to Momo and his human companion Andrew Knapp on Sunday, June 28, 3 pm.

Yes, I know this is pretty similar to yesterday's event post, but like a good novel, it has a lot more obstacles to overcome. Plus I'm worried about folks showing up on Wednesday in error. Help us spread the news. Sunday is now Momoday.