Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Art, Literature, Geography, Plane Mechanics, Pop Music, and Cadaver Moving All Covered in This Week's New-and-Noteworthy Roundup from Boswell.

Relatively new on our Boswell's Best is The Museum of Secrets: Art's Best Kept Mysteries, from Elea Baucheron and Diane Routex. Ingram may have it's pub date as earlier in the spring, but Prestel titles tend to roll out slowly and would qualify as a sleeper. Per the publisher, "Art and mystery collide in this fascinating look at the secrets behind some of the world's most important masterpieces and their creators. Traveling across centuries and continents, this collection of 40 enigmatic artworks and artists examines secrets that have confounded experts and amateurs alike."

Selling pretty well is The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee, from Marja Mills, the Chicago Tribune reporter who traveled to Lee's hometown after the book was the "One City, One Book" pick. Her time with Nellie (Harper is her middle name) and her older sister is chronicled in a book filled with reminiscences that has already gotten a lot of praise. The author and subject have now parted ways, at least through the interpretation of her attorney. There are at least two signed statements of support from Alice Lee, Harper's older sister, who continued to practice law until past her hundredth birthday. It's all chronicled in this Gawker article.

Continuing on the theme of the little known, another of Jason's Boswell Best picks is Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies (HMH), by Alastair Bonnett. From the publisher: "Bonnett's remarkable tour includes moving villages, secret cities, no man's lands, and floating islands. He explores places as disorienting as Sandy Island, an island included on maps until just two years ago despite the fact that it never existed. Or Sealand, an abandoned gun platform off the English coast that a British citizen claimed as his own sovereign nation, issuing passports and crowning his wife as a princess. Or Baarle, a patchwork of Dutch and Flemish enclaves where walking from the grocery store's produce section to the meat counter can involve crossing national borders." Max Winter in The Boston Globe offers that " this book is a comforting read, much like dipping into a highly intelligent travel magazine, a book that teases the imagination while remaining firmly rooted in the factual."

With the terrible crash of the Malaysian Airlines jet, Flight 232 (Norton), from Laurence Gonzalez, has taken on a new timeliness, though it was certainly not shot down by a missle in a war zone. 25 years ago, an explosion destroyed the hydraulic controls and the plane's crew made a valiant attempt to steer the plane to a landing, with more than half of the plane's passengers surviving the ordeal. From his interview in Popular Mechanics, who found the story interesting from not just a human interest perspective, but a mechanical one as well: "The whole story is a story of great human strength--spiritual, ethical, and moral strength. Everybody stepped up to the plate and did what needed to be done. The pilots kept the plane going for all that time. The flight attendants kept people from panicking and helped people out afterwards. And the people on the ground at Sioux City were just amazing..." Read the rest of the interview here.

Several new nonfiction titles have staff recs that were featured in our email newsletter. For those who don't subscribe, I reprint them here. First up is Mel Morrow's take on The Removers (Scribner), by Andrew Meredith. ""For Andrew Meredith, there was a vivid, happy 'before.' The moment bridging this 'before' and the numb void of his 'after' is brought on by his father's betrayal. Andrew goes through the motions of his twenties, sharing a house and silence with his family, flunking out of schools, and walking away from countless jobs. Then he takes the job that no one wants with the man that no one wants to speak to: he becomes a remover (of cadavers for funeral homes) alongside his father. Andrew learns while caring for the dead how to care for the living; in the lonely course of removals and cremations, he begins to recover. This is a melancholy, heartfelt tale that will resonate with all. The Removers: A Memoir provides an honest account of disillusionment, revealing a strange paradox that sometimes for those who feel betrayed by the living, it is the dead who are worth living for."

Another July title in the spotlight was Yeah, Yeah, Yeah: The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyonce (Norton), by Bob Stanley.Conrad Silverberg writes "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! is a string of pearls: songs, singers, genres, styles, bands and revolutions that stretch from the dawn of rock 'n' roll to the present. It never ceases to entertain, inform and scratch your nostalgic itch. There are plenty of instances of aha moments confirming your deepest suspicions: David Bowie was channeling Anthony Newley (duh.), that is a bolero in "Paint it Black" (duh!), Oasis did shamelessly pillage the Beatles' catalog (double duh!!). But such affirmations are rewarding and there are also many, many, many things in here that you didn't know or suspect. I'll leave you to discover those for yourself." 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Event Post: June Melby with Mel Miskimen on Tuesday, Rebecca Rasmussen on Wednesday, Brian Benson on Thursday, plus James Magruder at Outpost.

Tuesday, July 22, 7 pm at Boswell
June Melby, author of My Family and Other Hazards: A Memoir with opening reader Mel Miskimen,

When June Melby was ten years old, her parents decided on a whim to buy Tom Thumb mini golf course in the small Wisconsin town where they vacationed every summer. What followed was a 30 year love/hate relationship with the charming American pastime that robbed her of her summer freedom and turned out to be far more work than anyone in the family of five could have anticipated.

At the start of My Family and Other Hazards, award-winning poet, stand-up comedian, middle child, and former mini golf concession stand operator June Melby is now an adult living in Hollywood, having flown the Midwest long ago. However, when she hears her parents will be selling Tom Thumb, she is shocked by her own panicked reaction and flies back to Wisconsin before the sale goes through, wondering if she should stop it. As the clock ticks on her last summer at the course, Melby reflects on what it meant to her both as a child and an adult, the simpler era that it represents, and the particular growing pains of losing your childhood home.

"Growing up spending summers at the Tom Thumb Miniature golf course in Waupaca, you had to learn some special skills, like how to keep the greens clean, and how to get balls that were stuck in the hazards. You had to learn how to make a good snow cone and the secret to crowd-pleasing cotton candy—the grape may taste better but everyone wants the pink stuff. Over the course of 18 holes, June Melby tells the story of her family’s thirty year adventure, with each hazard representing some aspect of life, with the wishing well representing dreams and the rotating barrels the jumping off point for rules. My Family and Other Hazards is a funny and wise story, filled with all the emotions I associate with miniature golf-- anticipation, joy, frustration, nostalgia, and yes, a bit of regret too."--Daniel Goldin

Our opening reader for this event will be Mel Miskimen, author of the memoir Cop's Kid. She will be previewing from her forthcoming memoir, The Seamus Sessions: Dog Training for the Bereaved.

Wednesday, July 23, 7 pm at Boswell
Rebecca Rasmussen, author of the novels Evergreen and The Bird Sisters

We have built quite a following for Rebecca Rasmussen (photo credit Kristin Papac), having sold close to 50 copies of The Bird Sisters, with the late Next Chapter having likely sold many more. The new book is getting a similarly enthusiastic reception.

From Boswellian Jane Glaser: "Leaving the city life of her upbringing, Eveline Le May follows her heart, marrying German immigrant Emil Sturm, and moving to the Depression-era, remote Minnesota community of Evergreen. Though the environment is harsh, the young couple is optimistic and hopeful, especially as Eveline gives birth to a son, Hux. When Emil is called back to Germany to care for his dying father, Eveline decides to stay alone with Hux, confident that her new found sense of independence and perseverance will see her through the coming days. That trust is betrayed not only as world events in Germany delay Emil's return, but also, at the hand of a stranger, Eveline is forced to into making a choiceless choice that will effect not just her, but her daughter and granddaughter as well. In the strong tradition of Midwestern literature, Evergreen shares a place somewhere between Christina Baker-Kline and Willa Cather in this tale of trial and despair overcome by resiliency that ultimately triumphs in love and redemption."

Because the new book is set more in Minnesota than Wisconsin, we're likely to get a few less media hits on the new book, in lieu of publicity from the Gopher State. Aren't we so provincial, but you can say that about anywhere? Set a book in New York and you've definitely got way more shot at a review in The New York Times, right? So yes, here's a review in the (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune from Jackie Thomas-Kennedy.

She begins: "Rebecca Rasmussen sets her second novel, Evergreen, in the North Woods of Minnesota. The town of Evergreen is a landscape of total isolation, occasionally described in violent tones — “great pines lay like injured soldiers, sap streaming from their bark like blood” — a site of assault and loneliness, but also of friendship and rescue. Rasmussen portrays several companionable marriages, but she seems most intrigued by alliances based on proximity, exploring the beauty — indeed, the necessity--of neighbors." Read the rest here.

Wednesday, July 23, 7 pm, at Outwords
James Magruder, author of the story collection Let Me See It

We're co-sponsoring Outwords Books' event with James Magruder (photo credit Miriam Berkley) on Wednesday. Let Me See it is a connected story collection that follows two gay cousins from their adolescence in the 1970s into the 1990s. The author wrote a novel called Sugarless, published by the University of Wisconsin Press, and from his theater background (he teaches both creative writing and dramaturgy), he is noted for writing the book for the Broadway musical, The Triumph of Love.

A starred Publishers Weekly review raved about this collection: “In this witty, elegiac collection of linked stories, Magruder (Sugarless) traces the paths of two gay cousins, Tom Amelio and Elliott Biddler, as they grow up in the Midwest and eventually become wised-up, crisis-addled adults… this collection—especially its final, tragic entry—will leave readers moved”

Kevin Wilson, author of the beloved novel, The Family Fang, wrote: “There are few authors who write with as much sensitivity and tenderness as James Magruder; he has a way of finding something beautiful in the most heartbreaking moments . . . With sharp touches of humor, this is a marvel of a story.”

Thursday, July 24, 7 pm, at Boswell
Brian Benson, author of Going Somewhere: A Bicycle Journey Across America.

Brian Benson has a fill-in-the-blank liberal-arts degree, a million vague life plans, and zero sense of direction. So he sets off on a grandly imagined, poorly planned Latin American backpacking trip, during which he meets and falls for Rachel, a self-possessed Oregonian living and working in western Guatemala. When Rachel mentions that she's always dreamed of bicycling across the U.S., Brian asks to come along for the ride.

Going Somewhere is Brian’s affecting, adventurous account of his and Rachel’s two-wheeled odyssey from northern Wisconsin to Somewhere West. The pair push off from the lush Northwoods, infatuated with the promise of adventure and each other, but as they progress into the bleak western plains, Brian and Rachel begin to discover the messy realities of life on the road. Mile by mile, they contend with merciless winds and vivid characters, broken bikes and bodies—and the looming question of what comes next.

Needless to say, when you get a quote as good as this one from Cheryl Strayed, you milk it for what it's worth. "Going Somewhere is a tender, sexy, take-it-with-you-everywhere-you-go-until-you’ve-read-the-last-page beauty of a book."

Benson's book has definitely intrigued customers, as we've had very strong presales on this title, where the author does not seem to have strong ties (he's a Wisconsinite but not a Milwaukeean) and the book is not a national bestseller. We are currently the second best store on Above the Treeline, and #1 is likely his home store in the West region.

Next week! Sandra Ackerman at the Milwaukee Public Library for Milwaukee: Then and Now on Tuesday, July 29, 6 pm (note time), plus Matthew Gavin Frank, author of Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer, at Boswell on Wednesday, July 30 and Edan Lepucki at Boswell for California on Friday, August 1, both at 7 pm.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Boswell Sunday Bestsellers, Week Ending July 20, 2014

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Book of Life: Volume 3 in the All Souls Trilogy, by Deborah Harkness (event August 4)
2. The Heist, by Daniel Silva
3. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
4. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
5. California, by Edan Lepucki (event August 1)
6. One Plus One, by Jojo Moyes
7. Midnight in Europe, by Alan Furst
8. Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen
9. The Care and Management of Lies, by Jacqueline Winspear
10. The Hundred-Year House, by Rebecca Makkai

While I had to disappoint the customer who inquired whether Daniel Silva was coming to Boswell for The Heist*, I hoped they would take some solace in the fact that Deborah Harkness was visiting. Alas, that's not the way it works in these sort of inquiries. It's quite a short tour this time out, with stops in Houston (this past morning), Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Sand Diego. Here's a nice profile in the San Diego Jewish World, in advance of his event at the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture in La Jolla.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. The Horse Lover, by Alan Day and Lynn Wiese Sneyd
2. The Alliance, by Reid Hoffman
3. Kaiten, by Michael Mair
4. Schlitz: Brewing Art, by Paul Bialas
5. The Keillor Reader, by Garrison Keillor
6. Gapital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Piketty
7. The Mockingbird Next Door, by Marja Mills
8. The Tastemakers, by David Sax
9. Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local, and Helped Save an American Town, by Beth Macy
10. How Jesus Became God, by Bart Ehrman

So earlier this week, Pat, one of our FOBs (Friends of Boswell) came in and ordered a copy of Factory Man, only I was having trouble entering it and somehow, when all was said and done, I had ordered her three copies. Much as she was excited about John Bassett's story, and how he chose not to offshore his business (not Bassett furniture, his family's business, but Vaughan-Bassett, a smaller company he joined when he was on the outs with his brother in law), she didn't want three copies. The good news is that we had other folks who wanted the book, which was profiled in The Wall Street Journal. 

Paperback Fiction:
1. A Piazza for Sant'Antonio, by Paul Salsini
2. Falling to Earth, by Kate Southwood
3. Quality Snacks, by Andy Mozina
4. D'Mok Revival: Retribution, Volume 2, by Michael Zummo
5. The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert
6. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
7. The Cuckoo's Calling, by Robert Galbraith
8 .Americanah, by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie
9. Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent
10. The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers

With seven of our top ten being former event books, you'd think we'd be cocky about conquering the entire top ten, but while J.K. Rowling's odds are one in a jillion (basically winning some contest), I actually think we're likely to see Chimananda Ngozi Adichie before we see part-time Wisconsinite Neil Gaiman (we need to start entering contests for this one too). I tell myself what I told the customer who complained about us not hosting Daniel Silva above--we are so lucky to host the wonderful authors we get, whether it was the full house of Elizabeth Gilbert or the you-should-kick-yourself-for-missing it gathering of early fans for Hannah Kent's Burial Rites. She was both smart and engaging, with a wonderful sense of humor. This week we just passed the 100-copy mark for Hannah Kent's first novel. I wouldn't be surprised if we get to 200.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Everything that Remains, by Joshua Fields Millburn with notes by Ryan Nicodemus
2. Minimalism, by Joshua Fields Millburn
3. Risking Everything: A Freedom Summer Reader, by Michael Edmonds
4. The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
5. Going Somewhere, by Brian Benson (event 7/24)
6. The Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, by Jill Lepore
7. Those Angry Days, by Lynne Olson
8. Enrique's Journey, by Sonia Nazario
9. Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon
10. Riverwest: A Community History, by Tom Tolan

Speaking of events we're grateful for, this week we had 240 fans for The Minimalists' memoir, Everything that Remains. Interestingly enough, the authors in some ways reminded me of Elizabeth Gilbert--all three had very intense relationships with their fans and there was a lot of hugging. There were thoughts that this might be one of the more lightly attended events, and I can't compare those numbers, but in terms of sales, we are, with just the northwest and part of Canada left to go on the 100-city tour that's been going on since January (or before), we are the #1 location for sales on Above the Treeline for the new book.

Books for Kids:
1 The Giver, by Lois Lowry
2 The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
3. Four: A Divergent Collection, by Veronica Roth
4. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
5. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
6. Count to Sleep Wisconsin, by Adam Gamble
7. The Secret of Platform 13, by Eva Ibbotson
8. The False Prince: Volume 1 of the Ascendance trilogy, by Jennifer Nielsen
9. Where's Waldo Magnificent Mini boxed set, by Martin Handford
10. Allegiant, by Veronica Roth

Following up on Good Night Wisconsin (and Michigan and Chicago and San Antonio, and so forth) is Count to Sleep Wisconsin, once again by Adam Gamble, Mark Jasper, and Joe Veno.  Apparently we count cheeseheads, cranberries, Milwaukee Brewers, and other state icons.

What's reviewed in today's Journal Sentinel? Jim Higgins reviews The Novel, by Michael Schmidt, a massive reference that has already shown up on our weekly bestseller lists. Unlike buying the book, when you review it, you actually have to read it, and that takes longer. He writes "Michael Schmidt's massive new book, The Novel: A Biography, covers nearly 700 years of prose and hundreds of writers. At 1,200 pages, it is much longer than Moby-Dick and nearly as long as War and Peace. Although it's not necessarily the last word on any given novel, as a resource, reference and stimulator, it's a bargain and a worthy addition to your home library." Read the rest of the review here.

Also from Mr. Higgins is his take on June Melby's My Family and Other Hazards. "Nerdily, I most enjoyed the passages of the book that focused on running the course and how the family coped with a routine as daily as farming, only with more night hours. June had to learn the special patience people in service and leisure jobs need to cope with customers," he writes. I was particularly taken by the ins and outs of making Sno Cones and cotton candy. Melby appears at Boswell on Tuesday, July 22, 7 pm.

From Mike Fischer is a review of Tiphanie Yanique's Land of Love and Drowning, a family saga that combines her Virgin Islands background with South American stylings. He writes "There are many parallels between Yanique's novel and Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. Their magical realism. Their often radical temporal shifts within a seemingly straightforward narrative (Yanique continually foreshadows what's to come). Their symbolic use of color (especially blue and red, here). Their markedly similar openings. Their devastating hurricanes." My sister Merrill is also reading it.

*I've now taken to telling the honest truth when someone requests an author so close to or event after pub date. I used to say they'd need to help me get the numbers and sales I need to make the event work, but I now cut to the chase and say that book is budgeted out at this point, and the odds are that the only thing that would probably turn heads is full coverage of hotel, flight, author escort, and incidentals, which is likely to run around $1000, and that's if the author waives honorarium.

This is not to say you shouldn't ask, but you should understand that asking implies a financial committment, and sometimes it pays off. Veterans for Peace asked me about David Finkel, the author of Thank Your for Your Service, and we were able to add a Milwaukee date onto a midwest visit for October. The book was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle award and the Los Angeles Times book award too, plus was a top 10 book of the year for The Washington Post. He'll be at Boswell on Wednesday, October 22, 7 pm.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Next Door Foundation Books for Kids Drive at Radio Milwaukee/Stone Creek Coffee, Now Through August 3, 2014.

Back when Jen and I were attending the Independence First dinner for Christine Ha, we started chatting with a member of Next Door Foundation. She wondered if we'd one day host a book drive, and probably, one day we will. But there's one going on now that I wanted to call your attention to, a joint effort between Next Door Foundation, Stone Creek Coffee, and Radio Milwaukee.

The drive's going on at the Stone Creek in the Fifth Ward, 158 S. Barclay Street, 53204, where they are accepting new or gently-used children's books, most notably infant-toddler picture books. That means specifically board books and hardcover and paperback picture books.
More on the program: "The Next Door Foundation's Books for Kids program was established in 1990 with the hope that all children in Milwaukee's central city, regardless of family income or education levels, could have books to call their own. Books for Kids distributes over 50,000 books each year!"

"Since its inception, the program has distributed more than 1,700,000 books in the Milwaukee area. Placing books into the hands of Milwaukee's central city children is essential because low-income families have few children's books in their homes."

Stone Creek is open 6:30 am through 9 pm. If you'd like some suggestions of appropriate titles, please come by and chat with a bookseller.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Post--A Roundup of Bookish Links on Local Radio and Press

This week's Book Preview in the Shepherd Express is June Melby's My Family and Other Hazards. Jenni Herrick called it " a nostalgic look back at Melby’s experiences and the inevitability of letting go of one’s childhood." As I've mentioned, Ms. Melby will be jointed by Mel Miskimen, author of Cop's Kid, who is previewing her newest memoir.

Reviewed in the Shepherd Express is Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World (FSG), by Amir Alexander. Critic Dave Luhrssen writes that Alexander "asserts that Protestant England rose to world prominence because it was faster to adopt the new mathematics than Roman Catholic Europe, thereby becoming 'a model for political pluralism and economic success.'"

Kathleen Dunn talked to Scott Cowen on Tuesday, July 15 for an hour about New Orleans. Scott Cowen's book is The Inevitable City: The Resurgence of New Orleans and the Future of Urban America. As of today, we have a copy in stock, though for some reason, it's not registering on our website. I'm sure many of you are primed to read about urban comebacks after that New York Times Magazine story on Detroit.

Those of you who are reading the apocalyptic fiction (like upcoming authors' Edan Lepucki's California, appearing on August 1) might be interested in the potential real deal from Erik Conway and Naomi Oreskes. Their handy The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future is just $9.95 from Columbia University Press and is discussed by Dunn on the Wednesday, July 16 show.

On Thursday, July 17, Kathleen Dunn talked to Michael Edmonds, the editor of Risking Everything: A Freedom Summer Archive, along with Peggy Rozga and Portia Cobb. Edmonds appeared at the Milwaukee Public Library last Saturday. The exhibit moves to the Racine Public Library on July 21 and Edmonds is set to be doing a talk there during the run.

Also on Wisconsin Public Radio, Joy Cardin spoke with Paul Greenberg, the author of American Catch on Monday, July 14 (Cardin was particularly fascinated by the idea that we import most of the fish we eat and export most of the fish we catch) and on July 17, she interviewed Mayra Hornbacher, in conjunction with the reissue of Wasted, her memoir of anorexia and bulimia

Steve Paulson talks about books with Rob Ferrett on Thursday, July 18. His picks? On the Run, by Alice Goffman,The Island of Knowledge, Marcelo Gleiser, and My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante. I'm sure you've noticed by now that Wisconsin Public Radio generally links books to Amazon, but I've switched it up and linked to a different Wisconsin bookstore for each book. Once again, I should note that we also stock On the Run, even though our website says we don't. Hmmm...

Today (July 18) on Central Time, Rob Ferret interviews Nancy Andreasen about the genius of Kurt Vonnegut. Andreasen wrote a book called The Creative Brain: The Science of Genius, some years ago. We don't stock it, but it it is available for order.  Here's the link. It should be live, well, after the show is recorded.

On WUWM's Lake Effect, Paul Salsini appeared on Monday, July 14 to discuss his new novellas, A Piazza for Sant'Antonio. On Tuesday, Lynn Wiese Freyd discussed The Horse Lover and Mary Basson appeared for Saving Kandinsky. Wednesday's show featured Jim Landwehr for his memoir of the Boundary Waters, Dirty Shirt. On  Thursday, July 17, one of the stories on Lake Effect is about the new bicycle exhibit at Old World Wisconsin. It uses as a reference the WHS book Wheel Fever: How Wisconsin Became a Great Bicycling State.

What's this week's book featured in Urban Milwaukee's Dial? Will Stotts, Jr. reviews a book a week. Recent selections have been Francine Prose's Lovers at the Chamelon Club, Mona Simpson's Casebook, and Colson Whitehead's The Noble Hustle. And in Urban Milwaukee, I spoke to Lisa Bonvissuto on the state of Boswell. Here's the article.

And finally yesterday in the Journal Sentinel, Mary Louise Schumacher reviews a new book from Coffee House Press, The Artists Library: A Field Guide, a survey of how artists and librarians can work together. The authors, Laura Damon-Moore and Erinn Batykefer, are both graduates of the information science (library) program at UW Madison. And yes, we also have a copy of this in stock (though it might be on hold for someone else at this point--that's something I can't figure out on our computer system).

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Planning Our Event at Purple Door Ice Cream on August 12, with Mitch Teich Interviewing Jeff Miller, Author of Scoop.

Today Mitch Teich and I met with Steve Schultz of Purple Door Ice Cream, to plan out our event with Jeff Miller, author of Scoop: Notes from a Small Ice Cream Shop. The event is at Purple Door Ice Cream, Mitch will be interviewing Jeff for Lake Effect, and Boswell will be providing the books.It happens on Tuesday, August 12, 7 pm. Seems simple, right?

The first thing that happened was that I marked the date wrong for the meeting. Better for a meeting than an event, right? That's ok, Jannis and I brought back a pint of Juniper Lime ice cream. And we stopped by Indulgence Chocolatiers' new shop next door. Julie the owner was there. I had a salted caramel chocolate, at Jannis's suggestion. It was a giant pop of flavor and it made me quite happy, almost forgetting my error.

Then today I went back and was greeting by a cool chalk drawing of Waldo. Yes, Purple Door is one of our destinations for the Find Waldo Local. So is Indulgence, but at the Shorewood location.

Their new location is just beautiful, with clean lines and an easy-to-read flavor board and a very simple ordering board. There's enough purple to reinforce the brand and a whimsical wall of ice cream spoons that attracts the eye. but it's the flavors that really tell the story.

Before I left for the meeting, several of my booksellers were buzzing about the garlic ice cream. The ice cream is made in small batches so who knows if the flavors I mention will be there when you visit. Among the selections I pondered were fig and black tea, blackberry quark, graham cracker, and tropical sorbet . I mentioned to Steve that I've seen some talk of avocado ice cream, and Steve mentioned that this was a trending flavor.

After looking at the space layout, we decided it would be better for most attendees to stand, much like Amy Stewart's Drunken Botanist event at Great Lakes Distillery. We decided we didn't need a mike. Jannis can sell books off of one of the eating tables. Heck, Jen and I have been selling books at fundraiser dinners off of tiny cocktail tables! Because we have another offsite at the Milwaukee Public Library (J.A.Jance! at 6:30), we'll have one dedicated person at each offsite and I'll go back and forth between them. Alas, unlike the last time I did this in Elm Grove, the parking might be a bit trickier. Perhaps I can roller skate?

There were a few more details to be worked out. I agreed to have an 11x17 version of our sign made. And then I brought back a scoop of lemon cardamon by request for Amie.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What Did the Book Club Think of Dara Horn's "A Guide for the Perplexed?"

Dara Horn’s A Guide for the Perplexed is the story of Josie Ashkenazi, a software developer who has found success with a program called Genizah, which effectively stores memories. It’s a bit artsier than the normal program, with digital doors leading to the sights, sounds, and data of whatever life you are curating. She herself has created one of her daughter Tali. In addition to her husband Itamar, her chief programmer, she also employs her sister Judith, older but a bit of a lost case, having burned through numerous jobs and even more numerous relationships. There’s no way around it; though Josie finds Judith a bit of a burden but otherwise doesn’t have strong feelings, Judith burns with jealousy for Josie’s life.

So Judith convinces Josie to accept an invitation to go to Egypt and help rebuild the storied Alexandria library, this time as a digital archive. Things do not go well and she is kidnapped, and well, Judith is left with the company, the husband, and the daughter. And Josie is ransomed, but there’s a problem with that, and then another opportunity arises for the kidnappers.

But this is not the whole story. A Genizah is also a room in a Jewish house of worship where you put books and papers with the word of God on them. You can’t throw them away, so this is a way station before they are buried. About a century ago, a very important Genizah in Egypt was discovered that didn’t just have old prayer books, but pretty much anything written in Hebrew. The chronicle of Solomon Schechter (he whose name graces the name of day schools run by Conservative Jewish congregations) is also told in the pages of Dara Horn’s novel.

But wait, there’s more. Among the papers discovered are those of Moses Maimonides, the well-known Jewish philosopher. How did his writing get into this Genizah? Yes, his story is also told. And just to bring it around, while Josie is in captivity, she is in possession of Maimonides book, which of course is also entitled A Guide for the Perplexed.

So what did the In-Store Lit Group think of A Guide for the Perplexed?

We discussed how the book is a modern day retelling of Joseph and his brothers, with an updated setting and a reversal of genders, with Josie standing for Joseph and Judith being the brother Judah who sold his sibling into slavery. Joseph’s wife Tamar became Josie’s husband Itamar. Horn set herself a big challenge with one contemporary and two historical narratives, but even the contemporary story has to fit in the box of the original Biblical narrative.

So one thing most of us wound up agreeing on is the book wound up being more of an intellectual read than an emotional one. C. couldn’t help but compare it to Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State, another recently released novel about a kidnapping. Having read both books, I agreed that Gay’s novel had a different kind of intensity, and certainly was more graphic in terms of the sexual violence. For a kidnapping, Josie was the subject of a beating, but there was a chasteness about the story that several of us were surprised at.

Sibling rivalry (or as C. felt it was more appropriately, “sibling discord”) is a strong theme in Horn’s novel that plays out over every set of characters. It’s most notably in Josie and Judith’s relationship, which stems back from their childhood, where Josie is clearly the chosen child in the family, an Judith at one point leaves her stranded in a pit, siding with her friends (yes, another Biblical parallel). But one attendee was frustrated that Josie seemed to learn nothing from this relationship, being oblivious to the implications. At one point Itamar tells Judith that Josie didn’t like her, but one wondered whether that was true or just acting out in a difficult moment.

G. loved the idea of siblings as folks who share a past but not a future. Several folks mentioned that they liked Josie but never could warm to Judith, so I had to chime in that G., who read the book but was not able to attend, had mentioned to me when I told her that I hoped Judith would develop some redeeming qualities “She will. She’s the hero of the story!”

After a number of folks mentioned feeling mixed about the novel, B. made a passionate ringing endorsement for the novel. She loved the exploration of memory, what it was traditionally and what it means today and in the future. J. also thought the book was interesting, and liked the dual themes of forgiving and forgetting that played out through the story.

One roadblock was that oft-recited complaint, "I didn’t like the book because I didn’t like the people." It came up a few times. I got on my usual soapbox about how we judge men and women characters by different standards and one has got to view Judith as the anti-heroine, and what’s wrong with reading about flawed characters? But C. noted that it’s not that she didn’t like them, it’s that they just didn’t seem developed enough. This led to some attendees feeling like the characters were pawns on a chess board. But other folks wondered if this was bad if the author had something interesting to say? 

We returned to the subject of memory. Judith clearly had trouble remembering the past clearly, but you could say that of several of the characters. The Genizah of course would fix that, but is that a good thing? One recalls the stories of the folks Marilu Henner with eidetic memory, the ability to recall the past in unusual detail without mnemonics. You recall the good and the bad, and the bad is without the gauze. Life is hard enough as it is, right? And of course reality is subjective, isn’t it? War history is told by the winners.

O. liked the parallels to the Arabian Nights. The stories were about control, but S. followed up that while she liked the Jewish flavor and philosophy, she thought there might be too many stories. It’s certainly an ambitious undertaking. but which story would you leave out? They collapse upon each other like Russian nesting dolls, don’t they?

We discussed the ending. D. liked the book but found the ending a bit neat and tidy for his tastes. The rest of the group addressed this question. Without creating a spoiler situation, could the situation have been resolved any other way? And what of the repeat of the relationships that is revealed at the very end of the story. There’s no question that the group was divided on this.

Some folks didn’t like Tali being the last voice. O. didn’t want the sibling issue to continue into the future, but C. thought that made the novel stronger, and she loved the way that Tali was losing her memories, losing her command of English, playing into another theme of the novel.

For more background, there is a short story floating around about Josie and Judith's mother called "String Theory." And here's a piece on the book in the Jewish Daily Forward.  I thought it was a very good conversation, but later on, one of the folks who didn't attend told her the conversation had a lot of downtime. My memory recalled otherwise!

Our next discussion is for Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites on Monday, August 4, 7 pm. We’ll likely be meeting in Starbucks, due to Boswell’s event with Deborah Harkness in the store. I will probably be in and out, as we expect our Harkness event to be a full house.

Due to the Labor Day holiday, we’ve moved our September meeting to Monday, August 25, 7 pm. We’ll be discussing Simon Van Booy’s The Illusion of Separateness. The paperback goes on sale July 29 and Van Booy is visiting the store on Tuesday, September 30.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

New in Paperback Cover Changes, Plus Several New Mysteries (Mostly New in Paperback) from Claude Izner, Peter Lovesey, Anita Nair,

July 15 is an auspicious release date for paperbacks, as it brings back a lot of memories to Boswellians. Three of our major fall 2014 event books arrive in softcover today: Chuck Palahniuk's Doomed, Amy Tan's The Valley of Amazement, and Paul Harding's Enon. Amy Tan's paperback jacket does a font adjustment, Palahniuk's just strengthened the contrast (whoever did the hardcover of this will like our new yellow bag) while Harding's switches up everything (from cloth-like preference for setting to paperback preference for person), flips the author and title, but interestingly enough, keeps a consistent color palate.

In terms of original releases, the slate is rather quiet, so in honor of finally nailing down the details of our co-sponsored event with J.A. Jance at the Milwaukee Public Library on Tuesday, August 12 (she's coming for her new Joanna Brady novel, Remains of Innocence) and I should note that the event begins at 6:30, I thought I'd check in with the new mystery case to see what's out of late. Register at (414) 286-3011.

The book that Anne is most excited about is Dry Bones in the Valley, by Tom Bouman. Though it takes place in Pennsylvania, folks are saying it has the feel of a Western. Here's Annes' take: "This is the first in a projected series of four mysteries; the sense of place is strong and wonderful. Bouman's characters are like people we might know--at once simple and complicated--as they struggle to cope without side influences that are changing a rural way of life which has existed for generations in northeastern Pennsylvania. Officer Harry Farrell is someone I look forward to meeting again."
--Anne K. McMahon

Long-time readers of the blog will remember our runaway success of Murder in the Eiffel Tower. Now we're six books into the series and Claud Izner (a pseudonym for sisters Liliane Korb and Laurence Lefevre, now give bookseller and amateur sleuth Victor Legris a particularly gruesome case, that of a well-dressed (but it turns out poor woman) left strangled in the abbatoir district, with an odd unicorn pendant left at the scene. Ah, but when two more victims appear, and both are members of The Black Unicorn Society, clues begin to emerge. The starred Publishers Weekly review called Strangled in Paris (now in paperback) the sixth and best yet.

For what is said to be her first crime mystery, Anita Nair hooks up with the independent Bitter Lemon Press for A Cut-Like Wound, in which Borei Gowda investigates a series of murders in the bazaars of Bangalore, capturing the world of the hijiras (the marginalized communities of trans or third-gender folk). Nair's novel has received strong praise including this from India Today: "This is not just a story of another smart cop on the trail of another serial killer. It is more an exploration of the mind of a killer, that tempts the reader to sympathize."

For a short moment, we thought we might get on the tour for the legendary Peter Lovesey, but we weren't able to make it work. His newest, out in paperback today, is The Tooth Tattoo. This 13th installment in the Peter Diamond series finds him investigating the murder of a woman found in a canal, with an odd distinguishing characteristic of a music note on one of her teeth. As I write this description, I recalled probably writing this book in hardcover. From Marilyn Stasio in The New York Times Book Review: "These erudite and wondrously witty books are unlike any police procedural you've ever read. The Tooth Tattoo is a case in point.... The murder investigation provides the structural framework for a group portrait of the eccentric members of this captivating ensemble and the music they play with such rapturous devotion."

And wrapping it up with another international mystery, Chris Ewan's fifth featuring thief and author Charlie Howard is The Good Thief's Guide to Berlin. I love the Booklist review opening: "Charlie Howard is enjoying Berlin, mainly because there's so much to steal, which keeps his mind off the problems he's having with his latest book." So this time Charlie is blackmailed by a crooked embassy staffer into trying to recover a valuable item, and is charged with breaking into the four suspects' homes. He's told he'll know it when he sees it. When in doubt how to end a mystery review without revealing the ending, my fallback is "complications ensue" and they do. Adam Woog in the Seattle Times calls this book and the entire series "delightful."

As Jason noted in a letter to booksellers this morning, there is nothing bigger coming out today than Deborah Harkness's The Book of Life. We're hosting an event with her on Monday, August 4, 7 pm. It's free and open to the public, but we will close doors to the talk if we hit capacity, so come early.