Monday, November 23, 2015

Lori Fredrich with Sanford D'Amato on Tuesday, November 24, Plus Mark Your Calendars for Buy Local Gift Fair and Kevin O'Keefe on "Railroad Visions."

Tuesday, November 24, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Lori Fredrich, author of Milwaukee Food: A History of Cream City Cuisine, in conversation with Sanford D'Amato.

There's just one author event this week, what with the holiday hubbub. Lori Fredridch will be discussing her new book from the American Palate series, Milwaukee Food: A History of Cream City Cuisine. As a dining writer for and with her blog Burp, Fredrich's has been exploring the food scene for years. And who better to discuss it with than Sandy D'Amato, James-Beard-Award-winning chef and former proprietor of Sanford.

Here's a link to her interview with Fox6. She's in the Studio A kitchen with Circa 1880's Thomas Hauck, who shows you how to take end-of-season tomatoes and squeeze out some tomato water to take your cooking to a higher level.

And here's Fredrich on Central Time, talking to Rob Ferrett and Veronica Rueckert on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Saturday, November 28, all day at Boswell:
Small Business Saturday and Indies First.

We're happy to be helping celebrate small business in Milwaukee. We've been such a busy little small business for the past few months that I decided to just sell books and not fill the day with programming.

Sunday, November 29, 9 am to 4 pm, at the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory (The Domes)

--$7 admission
--free parking
--many of your favorite local shops, with a particular focus on foodstuffs

Monday, November 30, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Kevin Keefe, contributor to Railroad Vision: Steam Era Images from the Trains Magazine Archives.

From the publisher: "Seen here are legendary locomotives from famous railroads such as New York Central, Norfolk & Western, and Union Pacific and the lost world of the steam short line as well as the intimate details of railroading: gallant locomotive engineers, gritty roundhouse workers, elegantly uniformed conductors. Each photograph is accompanied by an extended caption by Kevin P. Keefe, whose long association with Trains includes stints as editor-in-chief and publisher. Keefe also has written an introductory essay about the history of the magazine and its founder, A. C. Kalmbach, and legendary editor David P. Morgan, and their impact on the field of railroad photography."

Some of you eagle-eyed observers may have noticed we switched the date on this event. This was scheduled months ago for the following Thursday, but as we got closer to the event, not one but two train-related happenings popped up in the same slot. One of them was the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train, which coincidentally is scheduled to stop in Milwaukee exactly when our event was supposed to take place. There's actually another train event in Fox Point going on. Let them battle it out--we moved out of the way!

Kevin Keefe is former editor and publisher of Trains Magazine and is now a director of the Center for Railroad Photography and Art.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Boswell's Annotated Bestsellers for Week Ending November 21, 2015

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Lake House, by Kate Morton
2. The Improbability of Love, by Hannah Rothschild
3. Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff
4. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
5. The Muralist, by B.A. Shapiro
6. The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George
7. Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf
8. Fortune Smiles, by Adam Johnson (yes, we still have signed copies)
9. Six Poets, edited by Alan Bennett
10. The Rogue Lawyer, by John Grisham

You can tell that Jane and I did some presentations this week, as two of her picks are our top two hardcover bestsellers for the week. Hannah Rothschild's The Improbability of Love is recommended by both Jane and Sharon, who called the novel "a joyful romp through the world of high-end art dealing, obsessive collectors, and family secrets." Amanda Craig in the UK Independent notes that "Part of the novel's charm is that its characters, rich or poor, are all a mixture of frailties. Like a Rococo painting, this clever, funny, beguiling and wholly humane romance is a treat worthy of its subject." It's giving The Muralist a run for its money as the art novel of fall 2015.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. In Pursuit of Beauty, by Timothy Whealon
2. Milwaukee: City of Neighborhoods, by John Gurda (event 12/2)
3. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
4. The Bassoon King, by Rainn Wilson (signed copies available)
5. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, by Sarah Vowell (a few signed copies left)
6. Three Songs, Three Singers, Three Nations, by Greil Marcus
7. Real Life Rock, by Greil Marcus (a few signed copies available)
8. Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande
9. M Train, by Patti Smith
10. My Kitchen Year, by Ruth Reichl

This is our 4th design event at the Villa Terrace, this time for Timothy Whealon's In Pursuit of Beauty, and every speaker comments on how lucky we are to have this beautiful David Adler building open to the public in our neighborhood. Speaking of beautiful buildings, the Woman's Club, which is the oldest private club in the city and the oldest woman's club in the country, according to their materials, was designed by the architectural firm of Ferry and Clas.

One of the books that Jane was recommending at our Woman's Club lunch is Ruth Reichl's My Kitchen Year, a memoir with recipes that was inspired by Reichl's life after the closing of Gourmet magazine. Who knew that the magazine at eight test kitchens and 12 full-time cooks. More from this Morning Edition piece.

Paperback Fiction:
1. White Collar Girl, by Renée Rosen
2. Washing the Dead, by Michelle Brafman
3. What the Lady Wants, by Renée Rosen
4. Lila, by Marilynne Robinson
5. A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James
6. All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews
7. The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskens
8. Americanah, by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie
9. Best American Short Stories 2015, edited by T.C. Boyle
10. Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher

To continue on this theme, the grounds of the Lynden Sculpture Garden where Renée Rosen spoke about White Collar Girl were designed by William Langford and Theodore Moreau. The current home of the JCC, where Michelle Brafman spoke about Washing the Dead, was the former home of University School, and is on the list of historic buildings in the Village of Whitefish Bay. I'm glad to see that my enthusiasm for both All My Puny Sorrows and Dear Committee Members are popping sales a bit. In addition to our two offsites together, we both chatted with a book club for about 15 minutes in the store on our way to the Woman's Club, but then we left them with Sharon, who convinced them to read The Paying Guests.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. The History of Rock and Roll in Ten Songs, by Greil Marcus
2. Educating Milwaukee, by James K. Nelsen
3. The Emotional Life of Your Brain, by Richard J. Davidson
4. Mystery Train, by Greil Marcus
5. Milwaukee Food, by Lori Fredrich (event 11/24, 7 pm)
6. The Beer Bible, by Jeff Alworth
7. Lost Ocean, by Johanna Basford
8. My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor
9. The Secret Garden, by Johanna Basford
10. Milwaukee Mayhem, by Matthew J. Prigge

Seven of our top ten bestsellers are current or former featued event titles this week. It turns out that it was touch and go whether we'd have Educating Milwaukee in time for our event. After we scheduled our talk with Mr. Nelen, the pub date moved a bit, requiring books to be drop-shipped from the printer. Fortunately all worked out in the end, and while the snow scare probably depressed attendance a bit (our club is that after the event, the store was pretty much empty), we had a nice crowd listening to the how various educational policies have fared over Miwaukee's history. Signed copies are available.

Books for Kids:
1. Need, by Joelle Charbonneau
2. Hello, by Liza Wiemer
3. Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate
4. Old School V10, by Jeff Kinney
5. The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander
6. Locomotion, by Jacqueline Woodson
7. The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg
8. The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau
9. I Really Like Slop, by Mo Willems
10. The 50 States, by Gabrielle Balkan with illustrations by Sol Linero

As one of those kids who counted the number of states visited, which by the way, I consider one of the reasons why I wound up in Wisconsin, The 50 States is the perfect book for me to hand-sell for the holidays. You can see the touch of Rachel Williams, who was most recently running the Big Picture Books imprint for Candlewick, in the packaging. Author Gabrielle Balkan and Argentina-based artist Sol Linero have created a picture book that doubles as both an atlas and an almanac. More on Wide Eyed Editions here from Publishers Weekly.

Please note: our sales for Chris Van Allsburg's blockbuster event at the Milwaukee Public Library will be in next week's list.

I am remiss in running down the Journal Sentinel book reviews, so here goes two weeks of links!

1. Mike Fischer reviews The Mare, Mary Gaitskill's first novel in ten years. Her last, Veronica, was shortlist for the National Book Award. Velvet is a Dominican girl who gets the chance to live in the country with Ginger and Paul and Fugly, their horse. Fischer writes: "Ginger falls for Velvet the way the girl falls for Fugly, setting up parallel explorations of all that's good but also fraught in any attempt to connect with another, no matter how loving such efforts might be. Particularly when, in Ginger's case, one adds race and class to the mix." Fisher calls Gaitskill "remorselessly honest and clear-eyed."

2. Jim Higgins reviews Concussion, by Jeanne Marie Laskas. Her book chronicles Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist, who discovered the links between brain injury and playing professional football. The book grew out of a story Laskas wrote for GQ, and is scheduled to be a film starring Will Smith this Christmas. The story is quite shocking, as Higgins notes: "Doctors paid by the NFL attacked the quality of Omalu's science, even though none of them practiced his specialty. When NFL resistance to the subject began eroding and the league convened gatherings of relevant researchers, Omalu was pointedly excluded. The NFL hired an independent researcher to go over Omalu's work. When that doctor confirmed Omalu's findings, the NFL buried his report."

3. Carole E. Barrowman pages through mysteries.

a. Barrowman's take on Barry Maitland's Crucifixion Creek, the first book featuring Sydney detective Harry Belltree: "Harry is booted off an investigation into a series of murders (a shooting, a suicide and a stabbing) because his brother-in-law is one of the victims. He ignores orders and teams up with a journalist working a land development story that may connect to the murders." Maitland has won the Ned Kelly award and his been a finalist for several others.

b. Dark Reservations, by John Fortunato is next, a special agent with the FBI who also has an MFA from Seton Hall. Barrowman calls it "a distinguished debut rooted in a southwestern landscape akin to late Tony Hillerman's books and populated with a similarly diverse cast of men and women." The investigators are Bureau of Indian Affairs Specal Agent Joe Evers and Navajo Tribal Officer Randall Bluehorse, who uncover a conspiracy after a congressman's car turns up years after his disappearance.

c. Erica Wright's second novel featuring Kathleen Stone, The Granite Moth, is up next. This time the private investigator tries to figure out who is menacing the drag queens in New York's Halloween parade. Barrowman: "All of this makes for a lively read as Kathleen tries to bring down a drug cartel while searching for the person behind a series of hate crimes."

d. Plus a shout-out to the new Sherlock Holmes novel omnibus in a deluxe edition.

4. Patrick McGilligan's newest is Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane, and it is reviewed by Chris Foran. The author will be at Boswell on Tuesday, December 8, 7 pm. Foran writes: "You'd be hard-pressed to find a figure in American arts around whom more stories swirl with varying degrees of truthfulness — in part fueled by the Kenosha native's own love of tale-telling. So in Young Orson, Milwaukee film historian Patrick McGilligan takes a different approach: Trust (sort of), but verify. The result is a richly detailed, often nuanced study of Welles' life and work from childhood through the first day of shooting of his 1941 masterpiece Citizen Kane. It's a welcome addition to the burgeoning shelf of books on one of America's most distinctive talents."

5. Also reviewed by Jim Higgins is Robert Norrell's biography, Alex Haley: And the Books that Changed a Nation. Notes Higgins: "Alex Haley was a "working freelance writer, not an ideologue. Yet he wrot"e two of the 20th century's chief texts of African-American consciousness: The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the saa Roots. The latter was adapted for a blockbuster TV miniseries watched by a reported 130 million viewers. In Alex Haley: And the Books That Changed a Nation, Robert J. Norrell describes the making, often messy, of these seminal books and their powerful impact on American culture."

Friday, November 20, 2015

Event Forecast for Our First Significant Snowfall of the Season: Chris Van Allsburg is a Go, but Allen Eskens is Cancelled.

According to weather service reports, we are projected to have our first major November snowfall in Milwaukee in twenty years. Of course major is in the eye of the beholder - projections vary between three and ten inches.

Our Friday evening events are all regularly scheduled and perhaps are happening while you read this. Our public events are James K. Nelsen at Boswell for Educating Milwaukee,  and Greil Marcus at Alverno College's Wehr Hall for a ticketed event for The History of Rock and Roll in Ten Songs, with John Langford and Sally Timms.

For tomorrow, the forecast is split. Our event with Chris Van Allsburg at the Milwaukee Public Library is still scheduled to happen at 2 pm. Activities, including a model train area, a craft area, and a Jumanji-style game, start at 1 pm. Van Allsburg is scheduled to speak on the 1st floor at 2.

Alas, our event with Allen Eskens is cancelled. The author of The Guise of Another and The Life We Bury was scheduled to drive from Madison to Milwaukee during the storm. It just seemed safer to drive in the other direction, away from the front, and back to Mankato, Minnesota. But don't worry, I'm sure Eskens will come to Milwaukee for his third novel, due out fall 2016.

Here's a link to the email newsletter we sent out today, which also includes several staff recs.

Here's a link to our book club email newsletter sent out earlier this week, before Eskens was cancelled. It also includes info on our event with B.A. Shapiro.

Here's a link to our kids' newsletter. In addition to the Van Allsburg info, it also has a lot of staff recs for kids books.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Boswell Event Post: Renée Rosen, Joelle Charbonneau, Timothy Whealon, Greil Marcus, James K. Nelsen, Allen Eskens, and Chris Van Allsburg!

Monday, November 16, 7 pm (reception), 7:30 (talk), at the Lynden Sculpture Garden, 2145 W. Brown Deer Road in River Hills:
Renée Rosen, author of What the Lady Wants and now White Collar Girl, with a book club presentation from Daniel Goldin and Jane Glaser.

After our wonderful event with Renee Rosen last year at Boswell, we thought it would be a great idea to switch it up and suggested her as a featured author for the Women's Speaker Series at the Lynden Sculpture Garden. Produced by Milwaukee Reads, the series offers a reception beforehand, featuring wine and refreshments from MKE Localicious, with a chance for attendees to meet the author informally.

Rosen's newest features another Chicago icon, the Chicago Tribune. Beth Golay of Books and Whatnot reviewed the book. She writes: "It begins in 1955 Chicago as Jordan Walsh arrives for her first day as a society writer at the Chicago Tribune. Walsh is replacing the latest in a long line of society writers who had aspirations of becoming the next Nellie Bly, only to realize their false disillusion in a man’s world, and leave to marry said men of the world." But Walsh, from a long line of editors, is not to be dissuaded, and finds a source at Mayor Daley's office willing to feed her tips. On a troubling note, her brother at the Chicago Sun-Times is killed while working on a story. Was he murdered?" In conclusion, Golay notes that "At 419 pages, White Collar Girl is not a quick read. In fact, it’s perfect for those who like to dive into period pieces like The Chaperone and The Paris Wife. It has enough grit to keep a reader engaged and turning those pages to the bittersweet end."

As part of our book club evening, we'll start things off with a presentation from Jane Glaser and myself, discussing some of the great new paperback reads for fall. You can register at the Lynden Sculpture Garden site, or by calling (414) 446-8794. Admission is $22, or $18 for Lynden members, and includes a copy of White Collar Girl.

Wednesday, November 18, 6:30 pm, at East Library, 2320 N. Cramer St., across from Beans and Barley:
Joelle Charbonneau, author of The Testing Trilogy and the just-released Need.

We're pleased to welcome back Joelle Charbonneau to Milwaukee for her latest book, a speculative YA thriller called Need. Charbonneau's Testing trilogy proved to be quite popular, and this event caps a day of school visits. As a teacher of theater and voice, Charbonneau does wonderful presentations - if you are an educator interested in hosting the author for a future visit, why not come see this presentation with some of your students and see how good she is.

 Here's a little more about the book. One by one, the teens in Nottawa, Wisconsin join the newest, hottest networking site and answer one question: What do you need? A new iPhone? Backstage tickets to a concert? In exchange for a seemingly minor task, the NEED site will fulfill your request. Everyone is doing it. So why shouldn't you?

Kaylee Dunham knows what she needs --a kidney for her sick brother. She doesn’t believe a social networking site can help, but it couldn’t hurt to try. Or could it? After making her request, Kaylee starts to realize the price that will have to be paid for her need to be met. The demands the site makes on users in exchange for their desires are escalating and so is the body count. Will Kaylee be able to unravel the mystery of who created the NEED network—and pull the plug before it destroys them all?

 More reason to read it first. You'll be in the know, as Bill Block's Merced Media is developing the book into a film. More in Variety. And here's the book trailer, featured in Entertainment Weekly.

Thursday, November 19, 5 pm (reception), 6 pm (talk) at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, 2220 N. Terrace Ave.:
Timothy Whealon, author of In Pursuit of Beauty: The Interiors of Timothy Whealon.

The friends of the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum cordially invite you an evening with Timothy Whealon, Mr. Whealon's design philosophy finds its roots in classicism; however, he approaches each project with a fresh, 21st Century eye that makes them both modern and timeless. He layers items from different periods and cultures, artfully mixing the pristine and the patinated. Each interior is unique, often incorporating custom pieces specific to the client and the environment. His work is enhanced by both his extensive knowledge of the international art and antiques market and by his team of skilled artists and craftsmen who adhere to Mr. Whealon's commitment to quality and attention to detail.

Here's a profile of Timothy Whealon in Hadley Court, featuring some of his beautiful interiors.

Admission to this event is $20, or $15 for Friends of Villa Terrace members. It includes the reception and program. Copies of In Pursuit of Beauty will be available for sale at the talk.

Friday, November 20, 7 pm, at Boswell:
James K. Nelsen, author of Educating Milwaukee:  How One City's History of Segregation and Struggle Shaped Its Schools.

Here's my take on Educating Milwaukee: "Over the last fifty years, Milwaukee has seen great change. Per Nelsen, it’s lost 80% of its manufacturing jobs while absorbing many poor African Americans into its population, at one point having the second largest increase among major cities. How does one keep a public education system stable, holding onto middle class students (mostly white, but also black) in the face of changes in educational theory, the increased costs of special education, and the rise of charter schools and vouchers, in the midst of a very segregated urban area.

"Nelsen chronicles the various solutions of busing, school choice, magnet schools, charter schools, and vouchers, noting that even among African Americans, there has been a split between integrationists and nationalists. Do you make a school better in a bad neighborhood by making it competitive, or do you focus on serving the neighborhood? In some ways, it’s as much about economic segregation as racial segregation, with the middle classes voting with their feet if their child’s school experience isn’t the equal of the best suburbs. And some of our policies have clearly led to a lose-lose situation: kids traveling long distances to go to bad schools. It’s easy to be a critic, but Nelsen shows how one reformer after another has struggled with success. For what might be a dry topic, Nelsen does a great job keeping it interesting, and aside from his clear unhappiness with private vouchers, stays about as impartial as you can get, considering how polarizing education policy can be."

James K. Nelsen is a high school social studies teacher at Golda Meir School.

 Friday, November 20, 8 pm, at Alverno College's Wehr Hall:
Greil Marcus, author of The History of Rock and Roll in Ten Songs, with Jon Langford and Sally Timms of The Mekons,

Greil Marcus’ The History of Rock and Roll in Ten Songs omits almost every iconic performer and ignores the over-explained and the obvious. Instead, in a daring stroke, Greil selects ten songs recorded between 1956 and 2008, and then proceeds to dramatize how each embodies rock ’n’ roll as the animating force of our lives. Greil Marcus is at the forefront of the first generation of rock critics, the baby boomers who around 1965 invented the genre from scratch, but none of his peers can rival his imposing body of work, including his four major books, Mystery Train, Lipstick Traces, Invisible Republic, and The Shape of Things to Come. Rock legends Jon Langford and Sally Timms (the Mekons) join Greil in the conversation and perform each of the Ten Songs (including "To Know Him Is to Love Him," "Money (That’s What I Want)," and "In The Still of The Night."  Tickets for this event are $30, and are available here.

 The History of Rock and Roll in Ten Songs, and the just released Real Life Rock: The Complete Top Ten Columns, 1986-2014. And yes, Marcus will sign books.
Boswell will be selling Greil Marcus's books at this event, including

 Central Library, 814 W. Wisconsin Ave. in downtown Milwaukee:
Saturday, November 21, 1 pm (activities), 2 pm (talk), at
Chris Van Allsburg, author of The Polar Express 30th Anniversary Edition.

All Aboard! Celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Polar Express with a visit from the author and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg. Before and after the author presentation, take part in Van Allsburg-inspired art stations including an art activity led by Artists Working in Education (A.W.E.) and model trains presented by the Lionel Railroad Club of Milwaukee.

Who doesn't know the story of The Polar Express? But for three if you out there who missed it, here's the scoop: "Onee Christmas Eve many years ago, a boy lies in bed, listening hard for the bells of Santa’s sleigh, which he has been told by a friend do not exist. Later that night he hears not bells but a very different sound. He looks out his window and is astounded to see a steam engine parked in front of his house! The conductor invites him to board the Polar Express, a train filled with children on their way to the North Pole.

"The train takes the children to the center of the city, where Santa and the elves have gathered for the giving of the first gift of Christmas. The boy is chosen to receive this first gift. Knowing that he can choose anything in the world, he decides on a simple gift: one silver bell from Santa’s sleigh. Santa cuts a bell from a reindeer’s harness and the delighted boy slips it into his bathrobe pocket as the clock strikes midnight and the reindeer pull the sleigh into the sky.

"When the children return to the train, the boy realizes the bell has fallen through a hole in his pocket. Heartbroken, he is returned to his home. In the morning, his little sister finds one small box with the boy’s name on it among the presents. Inside is the silver bell! The boy and his sister are enchanted by its beautiful sound, but their parents cannot hear it. The boy continues to believe in the spirit of Christmas and is able to hear the sweet ringing of the bell even as an adult."

Please be aware of signing restrictions on this event. You may bring up to two books from home to be signed, with purchase of a new book, with a limit of four books signed per person. Mr. Van Allsburg will personalize, but there are no inscriptions (messages), posed photos, or signing of memorabilia.

Saturday, November 22, 2 pm, at Boswell:
Allen Eksens, author of The Life We Bury and The Guise of Another.

Last year it was particularly exciting to have hosted two nominees for the Giller Prize. This year the award we hit the mark on was the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. First Ashley Weaver, nominated for Murder at the Brightwell, came to Milwaukee, and now it's Allen Eskens turn. The Life We Bury was not only a finalist for the Edgar as best debut, but also was shortlisted for the Barry Award for best paperback original, as well as the Minnesota Book Award.

In its starred review, Publishers Weekly called The Guise of Another "equally compelling." Here's the setup: "Toiling away in the fraud unit while a grand jury investigates charges that he stole drug money, Rupert happens upon a case that he believes could return him to the department's good graces: a man who faked his death 15 years earlier in a boat accident off Coney Island has just died for real in a Minnesota car crash. Rupert wants to know who James Putnam really was and why he staged the coverup.

How does he do it? Well Eskens been a criminal defense attorney for twenty years. He honed his creative writing skills through the MFA program at Minnesota State University as well as classes at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.

 Boswellian Anne McMahon is a fan of The Life We Bury, having hand-sold over 50 copies of that book to grateful readers. The mystery book club is reading The Guise of Another the following Monday. Please note the author will not be at the Monday event!

 Edgar winner William Kent Krueger writes that "Allen Eskens (photo credit David Dinsmore) has conjured up a marvelously black spirit of a novel. It s a taut, intelligent, heart-ripping story that explores the darkest places in the human psyche. After each unexpected twist, you ll tell yourself things can t get any worse. And then they do."

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Boswell's Annotated Bestsellers for the Week Ending November 14, 2015

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. The Bassoon King, by Rainn Wilson
2. My Life on the Road, by Gloria Steinem
3. Milwaukee: City of Neighborhoods, by John Gurda (event 12/2)
4. Destiny and Power, by Jon Meacham
5. The Food Lab, by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
6. The Flavor Bible, by Karen Page
7. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, by Sarah Vowell
8. The White Road, by Edmund De Waal
9. Knitting Pearls, edited by Ann Hood
10. Black Earth, by Timothy Snyder
11. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, by Carrie Brownstein
12. Beyond Measure, by Vicki Abeles
13. Dear Mr. You, by Mary-Louise Parker
14. M Train, by Patti Smith
15. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Folks who loved The Hare With Amber Eyes has now published The White Road: Journey Into an Obsession, a history of porcelain. Bill Marvel of The Dallas Morning News wrote: "It comes as no surprise that a potter obsessed with the beauty and utility of his work would make something extraordinary of such a tale. In prose as shapely and well-turned as any cup or urn, de Waal follows the quest for the secrets of porcelain to the court of the Sun King at Versailles, to the kilns of Quaker entrepreneurs in England, to the hills of the Cherokee Nation, to the workshops of post-Mao China, and finally to the Dachau work camp where slave laborers fashion plates and cups for SS units."

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Welcome to Night Vale, by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
2. The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss
3. Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff
4. The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss
5. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
6. Wise Man's Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss
7. The Promise, by Robert Crais
8. The Muralist, by B.A. Shapiro (event 12/1 at Boswell)
9. Kitchens of the Great Midwest, by J. Ryan Stradal
10. 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories, edited by Lorrie Moore

The newest novel from Robert Crais is The Promise, featuring Elvis Cole, Joe Pike, and Maggie the police dog - it's a collision of characters from different series who collide together in this story of of a killer with enough explosives to destroy Echo Park. Jacksonville's Florida Times-Union has a nice review from C.S. Foster: "Crais, a master of fast-paced patter, keeps the pages turning with short chapters from the various character’s viewpoints; the most appealing coming from Maggie."

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Sacred Ground, by Eboo Patel
2. Acts of Faith, by Eboo Patel
3. Why Haiti Needs New Narratives, by Gina Athena Ulysse
4. Soulpancake, by Rainn Wilson
5. First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, by Jessica Hopper
6. Milwaukee Food, by Lori Friedrich (event 11/24)
7. How to Sit, by Thich Nhat Hanh
8. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
9. The Great Escape, by Angus Deaton
10. Yes, Please, by Amy Poehler

The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality is the book from Angus Deaton, this year's Nobel Prize winner in economics, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of Economics and International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Economics Department at Princeton University. The book originally came out in 2013, but the paperback dd not come out until 2015. David Leonhardt wrote in The New York Times Book Review: "Economic nostalgia can have a strong appeal, especially following more than five years of a financial crisis and its aftermath. In the United States, people talk longingly of the mid-20th century, when the middle class was growing and upward mobility was the norm. In Europe and Japan, many hark back to the 1980s, before the euro was born and the Japanese bubble burst. Even in China and India, two of the world’s more dynamic economies, some like to celebrate a time when life did not revolve around breakneck growth. The biggest accomplishment of Angus Deaton’s Great Escape is to bring perspective to all this wistfulness."

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss
2. A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James
3. Wise Man's Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss
4. The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd
5. Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng
6. Washing the Dead, by Michelle Brafman (event today at 4 pm at the JCC)
7. Julia's Daughters, by Colleen Faulkner
8. Saga V5, by Brian K Vaughan
9. Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Joe Hill
10. Shady Hollow, by Juneau Black

Sharon Nagel and Jocelyn Koehler's Shady Hollow series had a nice write up in the Milwaukee Record. Here's Koehler describing the book: "I think the main audience is people who do love cozy mystery or just quirky little books. So we’re aiming it at adults, since we include some rather adult themes (murder, adultery, SO much coffee…). But it’s also very much in the vein of Agatha Christie, where the emphasis is on the sleuthing and the characters, not buckets of blood. The only grit is at the bottom of the coffee mugs. Did I mention coffee is a major element? True." And people have been asking if kids can read the books, and I have to mention that I was reading Agatha Christie by the time I was 12, and I'm sure I was in good company.

Books for Kids:
1. Hello?, by Liza Wiemer
2. Old School V10 by Jeff Kinney
3. The Day the Crayons Came Home, by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers
4. Whisper, by Pamela Zagarenski
5. Princess in Black and The Perfect Princess Party, by Shannon Hale
6. The Marvels, by Brian Selznick
7. Winter, by Marissa Meyer
8. The Sword of Summer, by Rick Riordan
9. I Really Like Slop, by Mo Willems
10. Princess in Black, by Shannon Hale

Boswellian Todd has a very nice rec for Pamela Zagarenski's The Whisper. Kirkus offered a starred review, which calls it "a magical book on loan from her teacher loses its words on the trip home, so a little girl spins her own stories for each enchanting picture...Surreal, staggering mixed-media paintings make traveling across such beautifully varied and bizarre storyscapes exhilarating"

I'm planning to link to the Journal Sentinel reviews, but that blog will post separately. I'm thrown off by closing on Saturday so that I could move another person to close Thursday so we could have an extra pair of hands at Rainn Wilson's event at the Pabst.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What Did the Book Club Think of Brian Morton's "Florence Gordon?"

Florence Gordon was recommended to me by Jane Glaser. This is the second time I've worked with a big Brian Morton fan, but since the last book was 2006, for that one it was Nancy at Schwartz.

The novels:
--The Dylanist (1991)
--Starting Out in the Evening (1997)
--A Window Across the River (2003)
--Breakable You (2006)
--Florence Gordon (2014)

He does not rush things.

So Florence Gordon was part of Jane's women of autumn last year, and after hearing about the book for the umpteenth time, and knowng that I was still hanging onto Morton's last novel, still unread, it was a must for us to schedule for the in-store lit group. And I'm so glad we did. The book turned out to be a big hit among the attendees.

Florence Gordon is an academic, a feminist, and a bit of a crank. She's serious, and she speaks and acts to the point, doing so much as to leave a surprise party for her 75th birthday, so she can return to writing her memoirs.

She's been laboring in public obscurity, thought she has enough of a cult following to ensure that each of her works has been published, championed by her longtime editor. She's read enough to be recognized by younger women's studies students, but as we learn in the book, sometimes they recognize her, but haven't quite read her.

So the book chronicles the ups and downs of Gordon, long-time denizen of the Upper West Side. Many of the ups and downs are small, but two are major. On the upside, she is brought out of obscurity by a major front-page review of her latest book in The New York Times Book Review. But on the downside, she's having some physical problems, not yet diagnosed.  I have the urge to link to Martha Nussbaum's review, but I have to remember it never happened - Morton references a number of real-life writers and academics in his fictional story.

Gordon has a tenuous connection to her son Dan, a police officer, and his wife Janine, a big fan of Florence's who nonetheless finds her mother-in-law keeping her distance. The family (there are also two kids) has mostly lived in Seattle but they find themselves in New York for some time. While Janine has trouble breaking through Florence's facade, the granddaughter Emily slowly connects with Florence. This connecting of the generations is the heart of the story, and by far the most interesting relationship.

Of the son, he is mentioned and discarded. I wasn't sure what he was there for - he felt like a ghost character to me, in that he might have had more space in the novel, but was edited out.

So what did the book club think?

Lily echoed many of the group when she said, "I loved the book and wish I knew Florence personally."

Linda also spoke for many when she focused in on Florence and Emily's relationship. She found it a bit slow until then.

Albert was told by his wife Joyce that this was a woman's book and not to expect much (I should note that she loved the book), but he wound up really liking it as well. He found the short chapters compelling (Yes, absolutely recommend this book to folks who like All The Light We Cannot See, when they focus on the structure and not the historical fiction angle). He had become convinced it was not written by a man.

Caroline was particularly suspicious of the story. As the story of a feminist of a certain age, she could certainly identify. And yet, she wound up liking it. It completely surprised her.

And yes, this was a theme that came out again and again - Brian Morton is a man who can write a woman's voice. And so, from hereon forth, whenever we have a member who throws a fit that men don't know how to write women, we can summon forth Brian Morton and Florence Gordon and move on.

Nancy told us that Florence Gordon reminded her of her aunt. Gail thought the book did a great job highlighting problems faced by an older generation. One of the most poignant scenes is when Florence went out to check on an old friend, who wanted to maintain her independence, but was having trouble with everyday things like, well, keeping clean.

There were only two attendees (out of 14) who didn't really take to the story. Calista thought there'd be more gentle satire in the story, while Mo found it more sad than engaging. She just didn't connect to Florence like some of the others.

I find it interesting that we're always discussing the likability of heroines and whether that is a valid criticism of a novel, and how women seem to confront this more than men. So here's a novel where you're not really supposed to like the protagonist, but maybe get to understand her by the end, and lo and behold, just about everyone is completely in love with her.

And once again we hit spoilers. I've decided not to say anything about it, but I will say we discussed the ending, which had a bit of an open-endedness to it. Not that we didn't know what happened - we did - but there was some question as to how it came about.

Several people noted that New York City, or in particular, the Upper West Side, the only liberal and often Jewish quarter of the city, is a character in the book. Very New Yorky. We'll return to that in a moment.

Florence's many relationships were interesting. Her son Dan seemed so different from her on the surface, but so similar inside. Her estranged husband Saul she put up with, but in the end, did she have to confront him directly in order to help him long-term?And Janine, her daughter in law? Was she in fact acting similarly to her daughter Emily, but because of their differences in ages, what was appropriate for Emily was a bit sad for Janine. Not that we asked for her to be singled out, but several readers took a dislike to Janine. Personally I think they were being to judgy. And when someone mentioned that Dan had a better relationship with Emily than Janine did, I thought that was an unfair reading of the text - Emily clearly did a lot with Janine at an age when she did not have to. It wasn't explored much, but they had some sort of bond.

So as I was doing research for our conversation, one thing I noticed was that a very high percentage of folks who reviewed the book loved it. This is as opposed to several other higher profile books who had the coverage, but many of the reviews were, well, civilized, rather than enthusiastic. These reviews, when they are positive, are nothing short of enthusiastic. It made me think that there are fans of this book in high places who simply missed out.

Interestingly enough, the worst major general-interest review was from Randy Boyagoda in The New York Times Book Review: "Morton traffics too much in this kind of familiar cleverness, as well as in obligatory left-liberal disappointment riffs about Barack Obama, coupled with sitcom-smart family dialogue and writing-kit-quality takes on life in New York." He also felt like the book would have been helped with at least some of Florence's writings. This was not an issue for any of the other critics, and it's my feeling that it would have hurt the book, but I always enjoy a contrary take and I think the author made a number of valid points.

The daily review in the NYT for Florence Gordon was an in short that was more-or-less a plot summary.

For better takes on the book, see:
--Maureen Corrigan for Fresh Air (glowing!)
--Elizabeth Taylor in the Chicago Tribune
--Yvonne Zipp in The Christian Science Monitor 
--Kirkus, starred, a finalist for the Kirkus Prize
--Malena Watrous in the San Francisco Chronicle
--Arielle Landau in the New York Daily News
--Margaret Sullivan in the Buffalo News

Please note that this is actually a fine list of reviews and the publisher should be proud. It's just that the people who reviewed the book were generally ecstatic, with many of them putting it on their best-of-the-year lists. And it's just ironic that Margaret Sullivan, who actually works at The New York Times, gave a review for the Buffalo News that was far more glowing than either of the reviews in the actual paper.

I have to quote Corrigan here: "Why spend time in Florence Gordon's severe company? Well, as one of her simpering admirers who's just been verbally assaulted by Florence tells her, "You're brutal. ... But I appreciate it." Florence Gordon is one of those extraordinary novels that clarifies its readers' sense of things, rather than cozying up to our conventional pieties. Morton's ending is straight out of a Chekov story: It's up in the air and brave; a closing vision of a life in all its messy contradictions, just limping down the street."

So one thing I didn't really get is that this was perceived in the market as a Jewish novel. There's really little mention of religion in the story but it's feet are grounded in Jewish dirt. More reviews: ------Adam Kirsch in Tablet
--Tobias Carroll in The Forward
--Anna Swartz in Heeb

The other negative review I found was in the Haaretz, that complained that the book wasn't Jewish enough. Gerald Sorin writes: "A reader may wonder why the novel has so little explicit Jewish content, even if only to show us why, unlike so many other Jewish social activists, Florence Gordon has no interest in things Jewish." I am not a scholar of these things, but I questioned his thesis that just about all social activists who are Jewish obsess over their Jewishness. Please discuss among yourselves and let me know.

I think the paperback cover is an improvement on the hardcover. The cloth treatment was a generic New York scene, albeit one with a reflection repeated atop the title, while the paperback gets to the heart of the story's quirkiness.

Jane sure can pick them. This book is sort of book club gold - a relatively fast read, a good chunk of things to talk about and a crowd pleaser that is nonetheless well written.

Next up, the book club takes on another eponymous heroine, Lila, by Marilynne Robinson. This discussion is scheduled for Monday, December 7, 7 pm, at Boswell. As always, newcomers are welcome to join.

And by popular demand, we're having a bonus discussion of Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies, on Tuesday, November 24, at a special time of 2 pm (yes, the afternoon.)

Monday, November 9, 2015

Coming This Week: Welcome to Night Vale with Patrick Rothfuss, Jessica Hopper, Rainn Wilson with Victor DeLorenzo, Eboo Patel, Gina Athena Ulysse, Michelle Brafman, Renée Rosen.

Tuesday, November 10, 7 pm, at the Turner Hall Ballroom:
Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, authors of Welcome to Night Vale, in conversation with Patrick Rothfuss.

Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, the creators of the #1 podcast, Welcome to Night Vale, have written a novel, also called Welcome to Night Vale, that plays off the podcast, featuring two of the recurring characters, Diane Clayton and Jackie Fierro. This novel has become a huge hit, reaching top five on The New York Times bestseller list.

We're so excited that fantasy star Patrick Rothfuss is appearing with Cranor and Fink, moderating a conversation that gets inside the creation of the story, offering insider details and perhaps a few heretofore unknown secrets about the mysterious town called Night Vale. Charles Barton in the Los Angeles Times perhaps said it best: "Night Vale depicts the sort of place where government conspiracies and unexplained phenomena aren't just possibilities, they're a part of life. Think of A Prairie Home Companion filtered through the anarchic paranoia of Art Bell's Coast to Coast AM with a generous helping of David Lynch.

Tickets are still available for the show, which is at Turner Hall Ballroom on Tuesday, November 10, 7 pm, with doors opening at 6. The cost is $22 plus taxes and fees, and it comes with a copy of the book. Post event, the authors will be signing, as will Rothfuss. You can purchase tickets here. I might come early and hangout, as the neighborhood will be bustling, what with the Republican debate going on at the Milwaukee Theatre nearby.

And yes, we'll also have books from Patrick Rothfuss for sale, and he'll be part of the signing afterwards.

Wednesday, November 11, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Jessica Hopper, author of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic. This event is cosponsored by 88Nine, Radio Milwaukee.

You've read her work in Pitchfork, The Chicago Reader, Spin, LA Weekly, and several volumes of the Best Music Writing series from DaCapo. She's a music consultant for This American Life. And now Jessica Hopper's new collection is called The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic and while one of our music-loving booksellers begged to differ, Hoppers title calls out the lack of diversity in this testosterone-fueled field.

As the publisher has said, Jessica Hopper's music criticism has earned her a reputation as a firebrand, a keen observer and fearless critic, not just of music but the culture around it. Spanning her punk fanzine roots to her landmark piece on R. Kelly's past, this compilation is not merely a selection of two decades of her most engaging, thoughtful and humorous writing;it also documents the last 20 years of American music making and the shifting landscape of music consumption.

Championing her work is Boswellian Carly Lenz, who wrote this about The First Collection of Criticism by a Female Rock Critic: "Known for her years of brazen music and culture writing, and especially for her work with Pitchfork, Jessica Hopper's new collection not only offers a series of reviews and commentaries on legendary albums and contemporary artists, but also ruminations on the culture and mores that envelop music and the people active in the industry.. Hopper does not shy away from unpacking artist controversy and scandal, sexism in genre, persona construction, and flagrantly flat records, and her honest writing dazzles with hard facts and compelling detail."

Thursday, November 12, 7 pm, at The Pabst Theater:
Rainn Wilson, author of The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith and Idiocy, in conversation with Victor DeLorenzo, with opening act Nineteen Thirteen.

Tomorrow is the release day for Rainn Wilson's new memoir, The Bassoon King. Jim Higgins noted in his profile in the Sunday Journal Sentinel that the book has many Wisconsin connections. His mom grew up on a farm in Weyauwega, and two of the folks on his list of greatest TV sidekicks are The Fonz from Happy Days and Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley. But perhaps the most notable local shout out was to Victor DeLorenzo and The Violent Femmes. So it seemed natural to ask Mr. DeLorenzo to be part of the conversation, with his current band Nineteen Thirteen, opening for Wilson.

The Bassoon King is at once a rich and warm anecdotal memoir of the making of an actor. From a geeky kid who knew how to work Model U.N. to a teenager who, while embracing punk and new wave music, found his own voice through theater. And it's also the story of a kid, brought up in the Baha'i faith, who went through some spiritual struggles as he tried to find himself, and found the answer in the religion of his childhood.

It appears that Mr. Wilson might wind up meeting all of his musical idols by the end of this book tour. Here he is in USA Today talking about Elvis Costello with Jaleesa M. Jones: "I was up there shooting a movie (The Shimmer Lake) and he was doing a book signing so I went by and I got my book signed and got to tell him that he was featured in my book and what a big fan I was. I was kind of nerding out but that was very exciting. I’m going to have to go with "Mystery Dance" off of his first album because that was the song that I performed in front of my acting class and that’s when I knew I wanted to become an actor. I made the whole class laugh just being my normal goofball self."

Tickets to this event are $26.50 plus taxes and fees and include a copy of The Bassoon Artist. There will be a signing following the event for those who wish to wait.

Also on Thursday, November 12, 7 pm, at the UWM Student Union:
Eboo Patel, author of Acts of Faith and Sacred Ground.

The Distinguished lecture series presents an evening with Eboo Patel, activist, author, and advocate of interfaith cooperation. He is the founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a Chicago-based international nonprofit that aims to promote interfaith cooperation. IFYC was founded in 2002, when Patel saw a need to create an organization that worked with youth and brought together the ideals of diversity, service, and faith as essential components of civic life. He was inspired to create IFYC based on his own experiences as an American Muslim from Indian descent. The driving belief behind his work is that religion is a bridge of cooperation rather than a barrier of division.

Patel's two books are Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation which chronicles his own story, and Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America, which offers his platform of interfaith cooperation. Paul Chaffee, editor of The Interfaith Observer, wrote in the Huffington Post: "This short book goes down like hot chocolate on a cold night. Eboo is a master storyteller, framing his heavy-duty agenda with his own personal story, full of passion, good humor and a transparent vulnerability."

Tickets for this event are free for UWM students with a sliding scale of $8-14 for other attendees, with a discount for UWM faculty and staff, and another discount for buying your ticket in advance at the UWM Box Office. For more information, contact (414) 229-5780 or email

Saturday, November 14, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Gina Athena Ulysse, author of Why Haiti Needs New Narratives: A Post-Quake Chronicle.

Like any city, Milwaukee chases a lot of conferences, and like many bookstores, Boswell takes advantage of these meetings to bring feature talks from interesting authors. With the National Women's Studies Association meeting this week, we are able to host Gina Athena Ulysse, a feminist artist-anthropologist-activist and a self-proclaimed Post-Zora Interventionist, as well as author of Why Haiti Needs New Narratives: A Post-Quake Chronicle.

The thesis of Ullysses's book is that the Haitian earthquake of July 2010 offered news coverage the opportunity to spotlight Haiti, but in the end, they reproduced and upheld long-standing stereotypes and narratives of Haiti and Haitians. Why Haiti Needs New Narratives is a collection of articles that she wrote in response.

Armed with an ethnographic lens, Ulysse delivers a critical analysis of culture, geopolitics, and daily life in Haiti in a series of dispatches, op-eds, and articles on post-quake Haiti. Her aim is to explain how the nation and its subjects continue to negotiate sovereignty and existence in a world where, according to a Haitian saying, "Tout moun se moun, men tout moun pa menm," which means "All people are human, but all humans are not the same." Join us Saturday, November 14, 7 pm, at Boswell.

Sunday, November 15, 4 pm, at the Harold and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center:
Michelle Brafman, author of Washing the Dead.

In the new novel from Michelle Brafman, three generations of women confront family secrets. Washing the Dead examines the experience of religious community, the perilous emotional path to adulthood, and the power of sacred rituals to repair damaged bonds between mothers and daughters. It begins in a wealthy Milwaukee suburb, where Barbara and her family lives their lives as baalei teshura, Jews who have returned to Orthodoxy. But behind this facade, she discovers that her mother has a secret, and it's only years later that she learns the truth about her mother's actions.

Brafman's novel has won raves from many writers. Amy Bloom offered this praise: "Intimate, big-hearted, compassionate and clear-eyed, Brafman's novel turns secrets into truths and the truth into the heart of fiction." And David Bezmozgis writes: "Heartfelt and genuine, Washing the Dead never betrays the complicated truths of family and tradition." There are plenty more recommendations, from writers such as Susan Coll, Faye Moskowitz, and Robert Bausch.

There's nothing like a Packers game to get us to come up with new, creative start times for events, which is why Brafman is appearing at the Harold and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center on Sunday, November 15, at 4 pm, after the game is over. Brafman will be in conversation with Jody Hirsh, director of Judaic Education, as part of their Tapestry: Books and Ideas program. The JCC is located at 6255 N. Santa Monica Dr. in Whitefish Bay.

Monday, November 16, 7 pm reception and 7:30 program, at the Lynden Sculpture Garden:
Renée Rosen, author of White Collar Girl.

We had a great time last year with Renée Rosen last year when she came to Boswell for What the Lady Wants, her historical novel about Marshall Field, the store and the man. Previous to that, she chronicle the Chicago mafia in her novel Dollface. Now, as she slowly becomes the go-to novelist for Chicago historical fiction, her new book, White Collar Girl, goes inside the Chicago Tribune in the 1950s.

Here's a little more about the book. Jordan Walsh, coming from a family of esteemed reporters, wants to be the one to dig up the major stories of Chicago. But it s 1955, and the men who dominate the city room of the Chicago Tribune have no interest in making room for a female cub reporter. Instead Jordan is relegated to society news, reporting on Marilyn Monroe sightings at the Pump Room. But Walsh's struggle to be taken seriously once she establishes a secret source inside the mayor's office, and gets her hands on confidential information. But even if she lands on the front page, there's no guarantee she'll remain above the fold. That's a newspaper joke!

As she has for previous books, Rosen has prepared a wonderful presentation that looks at the fact behind the fiction of White Collar Girl. And because we think White Collar Girl will make a great book club selection, Boswellians Daniel Goldin and Jane Glaser who've each been working with reading groups for over twenty years, will be preparing a lively entertaining presentation on great new books that are perfect for book club discussion.

Tickets are $22 ($18 for Lynden members) and include a copy of White Collar Girl, wine and light refreshments from MKE Localicious. There's a short reception at 7 pm, followed by a presentation at 7:30. The Lynden Sculpture Garden is located at 2145 W. Brown Deer Ave. The Women's Speaker Series is produced by Margy Stratton of Milwaukee Reads, with sponsorship from Bronze Optical. See you on Monday, November 16.