Thursday, April 17, 2014

New Displays at Boswell Plus More on World Book Night.

1. Among the many things I haven't done in a while is update our film table. It turns out that winter is finally over, the awards have been handed out for 2013 films, and it's time to seriously talk 2014. Among the upcoming films I am most interested in hearing more about is the adaptation of Jonathan Tropper's This is Where I Leave You, or should I say it's the film coming out where I actually read the book! I have actually seen two moves this year in the theater, which is more than 2012 and 2013 put together. You should all know that The Grand Budapest Hotel is inspired by the work of Stefan Zweig (Is it on our film table? It is not!). I also saw The Lunchbox, which seems, more than anything, to be inspired by a Harvard Business School study on the dubwallahs.

2. What comes first, graduation or Mother's Day? Well, this year I mixed it up in my head and put up the graduation day display first, mostly because we had piles of those books in overstock, whereas I think Jason buys less mom-specific titles. If a woman writes a book and it comes out in April, it often finds its way onto the table. Hey, I don't come up with that practice--I see it everywhere. It's better than a table about cooking and cleaning, right? And regarding those weird mom-specific but completely inappropriately themed titles, it turns out we don't have stock on Sudoku for Mothers this year. Most of our signs are not date specific, but it gives me pleasure to come up with something new. This year's sign features animal babies and their parents.

3. Jason reminded me that he needed a Game of Thrones display for the season, as our sales do pop when during the broadcast period. Everyone asked where the plush dragons were this year, but alas, I hadn't brought them in again. Fortunately, I was preparing an order from another vendor and the had in stock the dragon from Room on the Broom, the picture book from Julia Donaldson. Who knows? Maybe we'll bring in the witch for our event with Deborah Harkness in August (yes, she's coming) Among the new releases inspired by the book/cable series, one with a particular amount of enthusiasm among our staff is the Game of Thrones: A Pop  Up Guide to Westeros.

4. Finally, Sharon noted that it might make more sense to do a display of World Book Night titles rather than running back into storage every time a giver came in to pick up their books. Our sign for this is a little cryptic, but you should be able to figure it out. Here are the 2014 selections for the United States.

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
After the Funeral by Agatha Christie
The Ruins of Gorlan: The Ranger's Apprentice, Book 1 by John Flanagan
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (regular and large-print editions) by Jamie Ford
The Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
Pontoon by Garrison Keillor
Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim
Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
Miss Darcy Falls in Love by Sharon Lathan
Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee
Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan
Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
The Raven’s Warrior by Vincent Pratchett
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
When I was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago (English or Spanish editions)
Where’d You Go, Bernadette (regular and large-print editions) by Maria Semple
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
100 Best-Loved Poems edited by Philip Smith

If you missed out on this program, try again next year. Mark your calendar to start looking for the program to take proposals in November. You should also know that we have several boxes of extra books to give out. If you have a good proposal, email Sharon at Boswell

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What the Book Club Thought of "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena."

Even before the book was released, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena had a lot of buzz. It was talked up by John, our sales rep, as one of the first breakout titles of Crown’s new literary imprint, Hogarth. The imprint had already had one hit in Herman Koch’s The Dinner, but this was another animal entirely.

The story is set in Chechnya across two wars, from 1994 to 2004. Sonja, an ethnic Russian, tries to maintain order at the hospital, but with no other doctors and one nurse left, the best they can do is treat the wounded and be a safe haven for women to give birth. Arriving there is Akhmed, an ethnic Chechnyen, who claims to have medical experience, but not much. He offers to help, as long as Sonja will provide safe haven to Havaa, the daughter of his friend Dokka, who’s been taken by the feds, and Akhmed knows Havaa is next.

Sonja’s sister Natasha has disappeared, and she really has no clue what happened. This happens once before, when Sonja was doing medical training in London, and things didn’t go well. And Akhmed? Well his village is pretty much decimated, due to the war and not helped by the fact that his other friend, well former friend, Ramzan, has become an informant for the feds, turning in folks for sympathizing with the rebels.

Ramzan lives with his father Khassan, a former academic, who is horrified by Ramzan’s actions but really has no other alternatives. And while it would be best for Akhmed to flee, his sick wife keeps him tied to the village.

So the setup will remind you of several other books. Like The Tiger’s Wife, the book is set in a war-torn country in Eastern Europe, with a doctor-like hero. Tea Obreht’s book is more post-war, and though you see the ravages of war, there’s a lot more brutality in Marra’s novel and while there’s the same sense of fanciful imagery, Obreht’s is more magical realism while Marra’s is more grounded in reality. Another book we read in the group that is drawing comparisons is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun.

Another book this reminded me of was Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son.* Both capture a place, in Johnson’s case North Korea, that I didn’t much understand, and used the novel’s intimacy to understand what’s happened in that part of the world. They also both exude paranoia. S. noted that the story had parallels to David Gillham’s City of Women, which she was currently reading for another book club. I was also reminded a bit of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, with its four characters holed up at the end of a war.

While A Constellation of Vital Phenomena didn’t quite explode on contact the way we hoped, it’s had a very steady sale, and a number of yearend best-ofs and an assortment of awards have helped its momentum. It won the John Leonard first fiction prize from the National Book Critics Circle, the first Carla Coen literary prize (she was the longtime co-owner of Washington's Politics and Prose), and the Discover Great Writers award for fiction from Barnes and Noble. Whatever it takes!

It didn’t seem to matter that A Constellation of Vital Phenomena was a difficult, brutal, intricately woven book. The in-store book club was unified in its praise. J1 thought it was gorgeous, with realistic characters, and it really showed the human face of war.

J2 also liked it, though she warned that it was hard to read when you’re tired. The first word that came to L.’s mind was depressing, but she didn’t quite mean that in a negative way. It was well-written, compassionate, with dark humor, but there’s no way around it; the story highlights that there’s a lot of evil in the world.

S. liked it a lot. It reminded her of Jonathan Safran Foer, and she wanted to offer a special thank you to the author for not killing the dogs. G. noted it was quite dark, but liked it enough to read much of it twice. She appreciated all the research that went into the story, and liked finding out what happened to the characters, which offered glimpses of hope amidst the rubble.

C. noted she doesn’t normally read war stories but this was different as it followed the civilians, who are usually marginalized in such a story, but are often the big victims. N. probably was the one naysayer in the group. She was also depressed by the story, and was left confused by some of the plot jumps.

I was grateful that the author or publisher saw fit to put the year on every chapter heading , as there is so much time jumping going on . I also liked the small mystery element of trying to piece together what happened to both the gun and the suitcase, which each play important roles in the plot .

Of course a conversation wouldn't be complete without a word on cover treatment. For the paperback, the publisher moved away from the stars in the trees look in the hardcover and went with the bright blue suitcase in an battle-scarred field. Most of the attendees liked the paperback cover just fine. I wonder if the book wouldn’t have sold better with an emotionally charged picture of Havaa on the cover. I’d so much rather not see that, but I wonder if it would have helped sales.

The Canadian edition echoed the suitcase motif of the American paperback. Europe seemed to go with crisscrossing black sticks on a white field, with a bird and bloodlike red dots. For the paperback, the UK replaced the bird with what appears to be Havaa. The Swedish edition seems to be ebook only.

We spent a lot of time talking about Sonja and Natasha, and the family dynamics that seemed to play out between them. I wondered to the group whether the white slavery subplot was perhaps one too many horrors inflicted on the reader for one book. Their answer was fairly unanimous—it’s a part of war and should be there. Even escape is often no escape.

There is so much to talk about in this book! There are hard choices everywhere and fascinating friend and village dynamics. Life in an occupied country, life during wartime, confronting torture—there’s a lot to take in. Several of us noted the old testament parallels running through the story, most notably drawing from Abraham and Isaac, but also Cain and Abel, Leah and Rachel, and even Moses.

Is this book for everyone? No, of course not. For book clubs that are serious about discussion, however, and aren’t afraid to travel to dark places, but also need that emotional connection to help them handle the story, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is perfect.

Charles McGrath profiles Marra in The New York Times. Marra writes about his relationship with Chechnya in The Wall Street Journal.

Alas, our next book club discussion, for Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, was originally set for May 5, but when the publisher offered a visit from Garrison Keillor, how could we say no? Instead we moved our discussion to Thursday, April 24, at 6 pm, just before Wolitzer’s appearance at 7. We move back to our regular slot with Bill Cheng’s Southern Cross the Dog, which we will discuss on Monday, June 2, 7 pm.

*It turns out Anthony Marra was a student of Adam Johnson.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

New and Noteworthy Tuesday--A Few Brand-New Titles from Justin Go, Evie Wild, and a Black Francis Collaboration, Plus Recent Novels from Douglas Coupland and Ellen Litman.

Jason noted to me this week that mid-month release schedules tend to be a bit soft, which gives us more space to highlight titles you might not know about. We were noting that in the old days, before on sale dates, a lot of books would land just about now, readying themselves for the first of the month, arriving a little early, just in case. Or sometimes not arriving early, in which case we'd complain.

One book that hs arrived in plenty of time to be promoted in the Indie Next List is Justin Go's The Steady Running of the Hour (Simon and Schuster), which I already noted looks a lot like the new Anthony Doerr jacket, and rides the midnight blue trend. The jumping off point is the story is a young American, who learns he might be the rightful heir to a fortune from a mountaineer who perished trying to climb Mount Everest. Library Journal calls The Steady Running of the Hour "a page turner" and "impressive first work." The Indie Next quote is from Nicola Rooney of Nicola's, Ann Arbor, who says "this beautifully haunting story will appeal to a wide audience of readers." And Kate Mosse, whose quote is used on the front and back cover, calls the book "emotionally engaging and ambitious."

Another book that shows up on the May Indie Next list is All the Birds, Singing (Pantheon), from Evie Wyld. It's about "an outsider haunted by an inescapable past," with Jake Whyte (a gal), living with his collie and sheep in an old farmhouse off the British coast, only her sheep are being picked off one by one, but that's nothing compared to the internal horrors of family secrets and so forth. Hannah Kent (whom I discussed with the popular Australian kids' writer Andy Griffiths last night) wrote it was one of the best books she read this year. William Boyd in The New Statesman called it "a tremendous achievement" and Carin Pratt from the Norwich Bookshop (I used to walk there when I needed to clear my head in college, only there was no bookshop, just a general store) wrote "Wyld’s writing is atmospheric, wild, and scary, but there is a sense of redemption in the end.”

One fellow whose seen front-of-store placement many times in the past, and continues with this Boswell-Best-selected novel is Douglas Coupland, whose new novel is Worst. Person. Ever. (Blue Rider). It's about a B-unit cameraman whose life has taken a downward spiral, and decides to accept his ex-wife's offer to shoot a reality show on an obscure island in the Pacific. While John Harding in the UK Daily Mail calls the story "provocative and entertaining" and Martin Fletcher int the (also UK) Independent proclaims it "riotous." That said, I should also note that Library Journal's unnamed critic warns that "easily offended readers might want to take a pass on this ironic novel, as it playfully seeks to transgress most boundaries."

One book I hoped to read but haven't gotten around to is Mannequin Girl (Norton), the first novel from the author of The Last Chicken in America, a collection of stories I really liked, which was published several years ago.  I didn't have a blog then but my friend Arsen did. Here's his interview with Ellen Litman on Kash's Book Corner. The new novel is set in a Soviet boarding school in the 1980s. Booklist called the story "strikingly lucid and affecting" while Kirkus Reviews calls it "highly readable fiction propelled by a vulnerable and crankily appealing heroine." David Cooper in online The New York Journal of Books suggests it is also good for teens.

Finally we have The Good Inn (It Books), a collaboration between Black Francis (of the Pixies), Josh Frank, and Steven Appleby*, who provided the illustrations. Jason thought there might be enough art here to be a graphic novel, but we decided in the end general fiction worked better. The novel is loosely based on the survivors of a battleship that exploded in 1907 and how this came in influence a film that was made year later, said to be the earliest-known, well, stag film.  Here's a very enthusiastic writeup from the (UK) Guardian, which calls this "a fantastical piece of illustrated fiction based on a yet-to-be-written soundtrack to a movie that doesn't yet exist." The Guardian clearly calls this a graphic novel. What do you think? How much art does a book need to cross sections?

I really liked Steven Appleby's Encyclopedia of Personal Problems. Could that have been almost 15 years ago?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday Events--Andy Griffiths at Franklin Library Tonight, Brian Kimberling and World Book Night Reception Wednesday, Stuart Shea on Wrigley Field Thursday (Plus Eric Pankey at UWM), and Lois Ehlert on Saturday Afternoon.

April 14, 6 pm, at the Franklin Public Library, 9151 W. Loomis Road, 53132: Andy Griffiths, author of The 26-Story Treehouse, sequel of course to The 13-Story Treehouse, and perhaps most famously known for The Day My Butt Went Psycho.

Fun for ages 8 and up, The Treehouse series is about kids Andy and Terry, who live in a sprawling treehouse and write books. Packed with jokes and silly illustrations, The 26-Story Treehouse will take you on an unforgettable walk on the wild side.

Join Andy and Terry in their newly expanded treehouse, including a skate ramp, a mud-fighting arena, an anti-gravity chamber, an ice-cream parlor with 78 flavors run by an ice-cream serving robot called Edward Scooperhands and the Maze of Doom—a maze so complicated that nobody who has gone in has ever come out again… well, not yet, anyway. What are you waiting for? Come on up!

Did you know that Andy Griffiths is one of Australia’s most popular and well-loved children’s authors? He has written more than 25 books, including short stories, comic novels, nonsense verse, picture books, plays and a creative writing guide for students and teachers. Over the last 20 years Andy’s books have been New York Times bestsellers, adapted for the stage and television, won more than 50 children’s choice awards and sold more than 5 million copies worldwide.

We're excited to let you also know that among our school visits today for Andy Griffiths is one to Mitchell School in Racine, where a fire heavily damaged the school earlier this year. Hannah helped spearhead a fund drive for books, and we along with Griffith's publisher Macmillan, donated 34 sets of the Treehouse library to the school. More in the Racine Journal Times.

Wednesday, April 16, 7 pm, with a reception at 6:30 pm, at Boswell:
Brian Kimberling, author of Snapper, as part of our pre-World Book Night Reception.

If you don't know about World Book Night, here's the time to find out. Here's the official info. Every year on April 23 (Shakespeare's birthday, 30- 35 books are chosen by an independent panel of librarians and booksellers. The authors of the books waive their royalties and the publishers agree to pay the costs of producing the specially-printed World Book Night U.S. editions. Bookstores and libraries sign up to be community host locations for the volunteer book givers.

After the book titles are announced, members of the public apply to personally hand out 20 copies of a particular title in their community. World Book Night U.S. vets the applications, and the givers are chosen based on their ability to reach light and non-readers. The selected givers choose a local participating bookstore or library from which to pick up the 20 copies of their book, and World Book Night U.S. delivers the books to these host locations.

Givers pick up their books in the week before World Book Night. On April 23rd, they give their books to those who don’t regularly read and/or people who don’t normally have access to printed books, for reasons of means or geography. Come tonight and learn a little more about World Book Night so you can volunteer for 2015!

We're suggesting that folks come this Wednesday evening for a short reception and an appearance by Brian Kimberling (photo credit Benedict Brain), author of Snapper, one of our favorite books of last year, now out in paperback. I think we had six staff recs on this book altogether, and even Margaret Atwood is said to have tweeted out her approval.

I came to Snapper with some misconceptions. For one thing, I thought that Nathan Lochmueller’s story was completely tied up with bird identification, when it turned out that not only is much of the book not set in the field, Nathan loses his gig before the end of the story when someone pushes him down a flight of stairs and his hearing is impacted.  My other mistake was thinking that Snapper is a collection of stories, but his paperback publisher insists it’s a novel, and it surely does revolve around one protagonist, with Nathan making a mess of his job, searching for birds and nests in the Southern Indiana forests.

Nathan is trying to stay tight with his old friends, but the relationships are sort of splintering, either because they are growing up or well, going crazy. And he’s got this slow burning love for Lola, whom he knew from high school, but started dating in college. The problem is that she’s almost always got another boyfriend somewhere. It’s not going to end great with her, you just know it, but it might end ok. So though I might quibble with calling this a novel, there’s a narrative arc and some conflict resolution, and when it’s combined with such a good-natured, observant, and often funny story, that’s enough for me.

Thursday, April 17, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Stuart Shea, author of Wrigley Field: The Long Life and Continuous Times of the Friendly Confines.

When Boswellian Jannis told me about the revised edition of the new Wrigley Field book, written by an old friend of hers, we jumped at the chance to put something together. How could we not celebrate the stadium's 100th anniversary? Wrigley Field is a hallowed piece of baseball history!

Wrigley Field: The Long Life and Continuous Times of the Friendly Confines is packed with facts, stories, and surprises that will captivate even the most fair-weather fan. From dollar signs (the Ricketts family paid $900 million for the team and stadium in 2009), to exploding hot dog carts (the Cubs lost that game 6–5), to the name of Billy Sianis’s curse-inducing goat (Sonovia), Shea uncovers the heart of the stadium’s history. As the park celebrates its centennial, Wrigley Field continues to prove that its colorful and dramatic history is more interesting than any of its mythology.

Stuart Shea is an editor and contributor to The Baseball Encyclopedia: The Complete and Definitive Record of Major League Baseball, The Emerald Guide to Baseball, Who’s Who in Baseball, and SABR’s Baseball Research Journal. He lives in Chicago, twenty-four blocks north of Wrigley Field.

Thursday, April 17, 7 pm, at the UWM Hefter Conference Center, 3271 North Lake Drive, 53211:
Eric Pankey, author of Trace and Dismantling the Angel.

Boswell Book Company is proud to be the bookseller of note at this year’s Boudreaux Reading featuring celebrated poet Eric Pankey. The Boudreaux Reading is sponsored by the New Orleans-based Boudreaux Foundation, which is committed to bringing an important American poet to UWM every year. The recipient of several awards including Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, and the author of nine collections of poems, Eric Pankey has released not one but two books of poetry in the past two years, Dismantling the Angel and  Trace, a gorgeous and inspirational journey of the soul through depression to recovery with the keen poetic eye for which Pankey is known.

Eric Pankey was born in Kansas City, Missouri and holds an MFA from the University of Iowa. The author of nine collections of poems, Pankey’s first collection, For the New Year, won the Walt Whitman Award. His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared widely in such journals as The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The American Poetry Review, and The Kenyon Review. He teaches in the Master of Fine Arts Program at George Mason University, where he is Professor of English and the Heritage Chair in Writing.

Saturday, April 19, 2 pm, at Boswell:
Lois Ehlert, author of The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life.

About six months ago, I said hello to Lois Ehlert at Boswell, and she told me her next book was going to be very special. I couldn't wait to find out what that would be. And special it is--The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life is the closest thing to a memoir that she's written. Many years and many books after her parents first encouraged her to make art with her own two hands, Ehlert’s The Scraps Book opens the doors to her studio and her life in an inspiring glimpse of her colorful world.

Illustrations from some of Ehlert's previous books are interspersed with new collages, sketches of ideas and book layouts, and photographs of Ehlert as a child and adult, of her studio, of objects that have inspired her work, and of her various collections of artistic and natural items. The simple text could easily be read aloud to a group or read alone by upper primary or middle graders, especially as a pleasant and accessible addition to a unit on artists or writers for the same age group. Part fascinating retrospective, part moving testament to the value of following your dreams, this richly illustrated picture book is sure to inspire children and adults alike to explore their own creativity.

“Ehlert offers a highly visual presentation of her roots as an artist and her process as a writer and illustrator of picture books… [s]imply written and inviting, the text leads readers to understand her approach to creating books as well as her hands-on involvement with art throughout her life… visually riveting. Creative children will find inspiration and encouragement here.” — Booklist, starred review. Plus here's a great review in Publishers Weekly.

Lois Ehlert has created numerous inventive, celebrated, and bestselling picture books, including Snowballs, Fish Eyes, Rrralph!, Lots of Spots, Boo to You!, Leaf Man, Waiting for Wings, Planting a Rainbow, Growing Vegetable Soup, and Color Zoo, which received a Caldecott Honor. She is also the illustrator for Bill Martin's Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Photo credit by Lillian Schultz.

Sneak peak at Next Week!
Tuesday, April 22, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Brian Freeman, author of The Cold Nowhere.

On the heels of winning Best Hardcover Novel for Spilled Blood at the International Thriller Awards, master of the psychological thriller and best-selling author Brian Freeman returns this spring with the sixth installment in the popular Jonathan Stride series, The Cold Nowhere, which marks the much-anticipated return of Duluth PD Lieutenant Jonathan Stride, one of Brian Freeman’s signature characters.

Lieutenant Stride goes home to his cottage on the shore of Lake Superior, where he is confronted with a crime he cannot ignore. He discovers a young woman, Cat Mateo, hiding in his bedroom, scared and dripping wet from a desperate plunge into the icy lake. The girl isn’t a stranger to Stride; she is the daughter of a woman he tried and failed to protect from a violent husband years ago. When Cat asks Stride for protection from a mysterious person she claims is trying to kill her, Stride is driven by guilt and duty to help her. As Stride investigates Cat’s case off the record, a single question haunts the void between them: should Stride be afraid for—or of—this damaged girl?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Annotated Bestsellers from Boswell, Week Ending April 13, 2014.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Visitors, by Patrick O'Keeffe
2. In Paradise, by Peter Matthiessen
3. Can't and Won't, by Lydia David
4. Shotgun Lovesongs, by Nickolas Butler
5. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin

Lydia Davis had an early New York Times review, which led to several folks coming in to find Can't and Won't (FSG). In the Sunday NYT review, Peter Orner wrote "To read Davis is to become a co-­conspirator in her way of existing in the world, perplexity combined with vivid observation. Our most routine habits can suddenly feel radically new." And in that daily review that came out on April 1, with the book scheduled for April 8, Dwight Garner noted "Lydia Davis’s short stories are difficult to describe, but people like to try. A friend of mine likens them to mosquitoes. Some you swat away, he says. Others draw blood."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Astoria, by Peter Stark
2. Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book, by Diane Muldrow
3. Living with a Wild God, by Barbara Ehrenreich
4. Jesus, by James Martin
5. Wisconsin Supper Clubs, by Ron Faiola

Some may remember that our 2009 Barbara Ehrenreich appearance was our first try at a ticketed Alverno College event. For her new book, Living with a Wild God (Twelve) this author-journalist-activist chronicles her quest to make sense of the universe. Slate write Hannah Rosin ponders the packaging that appears to recall Wild and Proof of Heaven, but Ehrenreich, as NPR notes, is "nonbeliever (who) tries to make sense of the visions she had as a teen." Here's her Fresh Air interview.

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Interestings, by Meg Woliter (our event is April 24)
2. Second Person Singular, Sayed Kashua
3. Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline
4. Dancing Arabs, by Sayed Kashua
5. Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

I'm so excited that folks are getting as excited about our upcoming event with Meg Wolitzer for The Interestings, on April 24. We're hoping to get a lot of book clubs to come; Jane and I just made a presentation to club on Friday who got the bug to come together and then discuss the book. One of the books that Jane presented was Orphan Train. I noted that the book was a paperback original, and the publisher in Publishers Weekly credited Target for helping break the book out. They have a monthly pick similar to the Pennie's Pick at Costco. I was curious as to what their current pick is, but I can't quite figure out what it is from their website.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. The Empathy Exams, by Leslie Jamison
2. The Girls of Atomic City, by Denise Kiernan
3. 101 Things to Do in Milwaukee Parks, by Barbara Ali
4. 12 Years a Slave, by Solomon Northrup (Penguin Classic edition)
5. The Austistic Brain, by Temple Grandin.

How nice to see the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize winner pop in sales, and that's why you see The Empathy Exams (Graywolf) at the top of her nonfiction chart. I thought maybe this was a bulk order, but I looked it up and all sales were individual. The sales pop was not just limited to us as the publishers are out of the book everywhere. The jumping off point for Jamison's book is her life as a medical actor. She also had a novel called The Gin Closet, which won the Art Seindenbaum First Fiction award. Olivia Laing called the book "extraordinary and exacting" in The New York Times Book Review.

Books for Kids:
1. Hollow Earth, by John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman
2. Noggin, by John Corey Whaley (pizza party on April 30)
3. The Gospel of Winter, by Brendan Kiely (pizza Party on April 30)
4. When I was the Greatest, by Jason Reynolds (pizza party on April 30)
5. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
6. Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo
7. When Audrey Met Alice, by Rebecca Behrens
8. Bird, by Crystal Chan
9. Under the Egg, by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
10. The Hunt for the Golden Book, by "Geronimo Stilton"

It's always nice to see continuing sales for authors' books post event, like we did for Crystal Chan and Rebecca Behrens, where one school chose When Audrey Met Alice (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky) for their book club, after one of the teachers saw the author speak at Boswell. Even Lydia Kang's Control (Dial)( had a pop of sale last week, and our event with her was all the way in Oak Creek, and we were just the bookseller of record for that one.

In the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins gives a thumbs up to Mona Simpons' Casebook. Of course the review writer doesn't write the headline (no, journalism hasn't come to this, but the writers are more responsible for copy editing than they used to be), but "novel finds humanity in boy spying on his mother" seems like a nice description. Simpson's novel is on sale Tuesday, April 15.

From Hector Tobar, originally in the Los Angeles Times, comes a review for Roosevelt's Beast (Henry Holt), a new novel from Louis Bayard. Using inspiration from the famous "river of Doubt" expedition, which also became a nonfiction book from Candice Millard, Tobar notes "Bayard's linguistic gifts are ample and on display repeatedly in Roosevelt's Bearst. Those readers willing to suspend belief in the name of adventure will likely enjoy the wild ride on which he takes them." Did you know Bayard appeared in Milwaukee for his second novel? Roosevelt's Beast is his seventh. Several of us had dinner at Albanese's after. Ah, memories!

Sonja Bolle writes this week's paging through young adult books column, which originally appeared in Newsday. Based on her selections, including A Snicker of Magic (Scholastic) and Ghosts of Tupelo Landing (Kathy Dawson), she should become friends with Hannah. Her other choice is Lauren Oliver's Panic (HarperCollins). I knew Bolle back in my publishing days, when she worked at Publishers Weekly, and always enjoyed talking to her. I suspect if we shared a meal somewhere, that restaurant is also out of business.

Finally, don't forget that Chris Foran had a dual book review that appeared in the Journal Sentinel's Thursday Cue section. It's The Little Girl who Fought Great Depression, a Shirley Temple biography from John F. Kasson, paired with John Wayne (Simon and Schuster), by John Eyman. The latter seems to have had a bit of a sales pop, as one of our wholesalers was completely out of books. It could be from this Peter Bogdanovich review in The New York Times.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday Short Post--Custom "Signed by the Author" Labels.

When I worked at the Harry W. Schwartz downtown in the 1980s, one of the things I found amusing was that our assistant manager was obsessed with the Schwaab stamp store on Michigan Street. Every month he thought of some new thing we should stamp with a new message. We had a lot of stamps! Schwaab is still still in business, on West Burleigh. One day I'll drive out there and figure out something I need to stamp.

What my ex-colleague was to stamps, I am to labels. Kenco Label and Tag is another local business, and they do our orange bargain and green second-hand labels. They do our embossed silver labels we put on wrapped packages and the one inch white labels that go on our gift card envelopes. I experimented with a markdown label, but it just didn't seem necessary, plus we don't use it that much.

That said, we've been buying standard autographed copy labels since we've been open. About a year ago, I started thinking we should have our own, and half-designed it. One of my pet peeves is that I think people say "signed copy", not "autographed." We probably had room for the Boswell logo or Bos, the James Boswell image, but not both. In the end, I decided on Bos alone. 

I also contemplated having a colored logo, picking a shade of purple I never see on books--this way it would contrast with everything. In the end, I saved a little money and solved the problem of whether to use white or black type. Most folks the black better but I thought the white had better contrast.

The rolls came in today, just after I reordered the stock labels (that's ok, we go through a lot) and I showed Jason, wondering out loud if there was a custom Schwartz label at one point. In fact there was; Jason had just processed a second-hand book with a autograph label on it. If anyone had asked me, I would have said the name of the store is too small, but that's my typical hindsight.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Four Cover Trends.

Wandering around the store today, procrastinating writing my fall event proposals, many of which were due today, I noticed several cover trends popping up.

1. On the edge of night.
Not black, not blue, but a midnight blue cover which connotes the evening sky seems to be all over the place of late. It's most noticeable in the May Indie Next List, where two titles from Simon and Schuster not only share a dark blue sky, but a typeface as well. I featured the Indie Next #1 pick jacket for All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. The other book, not pictured, is The Steady Running of the Hour, by Justin Go. Other books in this trend include the appropriately titled And the Dark Sacred Night, by Julia Glass, Vivian Shotwell's Vienna Nocturne, and Olen Steinhaur's The Cairo Affair.

2. Nothing beats a handwritten note.
Whether these are real hand-lettered covers, or computer-generated typefaces, handwriting is the new typeface. I have five examples here, including Maggie Shipstead's Astonish Me, Francesca Marciano's The Other Language, B.J. Novak's One More Thing, Michelle Huneven's Off Course, and one leftover from last year that is still selling, Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. Interestingly enough, all authors have been published by the Knopf Publishing Group at one point. I like this trend, but don't let that give you the idea that I like the B.J. Novak cover. I hate it; it looks cheap to me.

Boswellian Sharon Nagel wrote a recommendation for The Other Language. This seems as good a time as any to feature it. "The Other Language is a collection of nine beautifully written stories about people who have left their native country for various reasons, and are struggling to find their place in a foreign land. One of my other favorites is 'Roman Romance,' in which an Italian woman is reconnected with a man from her past, a now internationally famous rock star, known for a song that chronicled their love. Each story is a microcosm of fully realized characters, conversations, and complexities. They are strung together like pearls on a chain, each beautiful on its own, but something more when taken as a whole."

3. Iconic Images.
This is a trend that never seems to go out of style, but used to be particularly popular for commercial writers like Sidney Sheldon, and is still the model of choice for Danielle Steel. This batch includes Flash Boys, from Michael Lewis, Jesus:  A Pilgrimage, by James Martin, Glen Duncan's By Blood We Live, and Kate Mosse's Citadel. I guess Duncan's is more of a triple icon. Also note that there are a lot of white covers out there, even though they get scuffed up in bookstores and look washed out on websites. Surely someone loves them!

4. Down with stock photos.
There was a time when we'd see the same stock image used on several jackets, but now that I'm not the buyer, I don't spot these as frequently. I was also listening to a few authors talking about their experiences with covers. Customers still think they have a see in what happens, but they rarely do. They are often particularly surprised to find that the photo on a memoir is not of the author, but just a stock photo.

I picked these books because if I were a customer and didn't have a dozen upcoming event books to read (let alone the half dozen way in advance galleys that publishers begged me to consider before the Indie Next deadlines, which I mostly miss), I think I would buy these books, based on their jackets. Really this all came down to me loving the jacket for the center title, Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet, by Amara Lakhous, but I also love Kevin Brockmeier's A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip (which I already wrote up on the blog) and Marc Maron's Attempting Normal. I much prefer it to the photo covers you usually see for celeb books (including his hardcover)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

It's New Display Wednesday--Peter Matthiessen memorial, Calendar Markdown, Andrew Carnegie Medal Finalists, and Lots Moore.

1. For a while we had a rotating series of memorial displays, with as many as four going as once. Of course not every author's death spurs an interest in sales, plus the display can also be a bit of a downer. Not everyone is Nelson Mandela. That said, I think Peter Matthiessen's passing will drive increased interest in his work, especially because he had a new novel come out this week. I love factoids like the one for Matthiessen; he's the only writer to win the National Book Award for both fiction (for Shadow Country) and nonfiction (for The Snow Leopard).

As Jason was checking stock, he wondered if folks would be buying the individual books that make up Shadow Country, as well as the trilogy that was substantially rewritten enough to win the award we just mentioned. At the time, I found the whole thing a bit odd. As I remembered, we didn't sell the second two books well, but we had a good sale at Schwartz for Killing Mr. Watson.

2. We waited a little longer than usual to mark down our calendars from 50 to 75%. We've only got half a table worth, and that left room for a clearance display for gift items. I believe the sign has a shopping bunny.

It's an assortment of things that sold pretty well, but the last one or two have trouble moving, and things that didn't sell so well, like our tiki boxes. The whole tiki display idea was a bit cursed. Half the mugs I brought in came broken, and the pens, which were the only items that moved decently, had several broken (they were made of resin) by a customer who knocked them off the desk with her purse.  For that reason, and also because at least one resin bookend broke pretty quickly, I am now trying to avoid resin bookends, and keeping to ones that are made of metal and wood. They are more expensive, so they turn even more slowly, but at least I know they are going to last longer.

3. While the midwinter American Library Association meeting is where all the major kids' awards are announced (most famously the Newbery and the Caldecott), it's the summer ALA where they give out the adult prizes, the Andrew Carnegie medals for fiction and nonfiction. We've never featured them on a display before, but hey, I see a good list of recently published books and that to me says "display" with two exclamation points.

The fiction nominees: Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Claire of the Sea Light, by Edwidge Danticat
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

And here is nonfiction:
On Paper, by Nicholas A. Basbanes
Five Days at Memorial, Sheri Fink
The Bully Pulpit, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

If I were a bookie, I guess the long odds would be on Edwidge Danticat, who didn't show up on as many best-of lists as some other contenders, and the Basbanes, who is still an idol in my book for quoting David Schwartz extensively in one of his volumes.

4. I bought some Shakespeare air fresheners and bandages to tie into the new Christopher Moore book, The Sepent of Venice, and goodness if that didn't seem display opportunity.

Our event with Moore is Thursday, May 1 and cost $28, including a signed book and admission to the event. We cover all taxes and fees. Why not buy your ticket now on Brown Paper Tickets?

I should also note I've gotten a sneak peak at the finished book. I  wondered whether Morrow could turn back after giving us a beautiful package for Sacré Bleu, and it turns out they couldn't The Serpent of Venice has a beautiful marine blue stain around the book's edges. The book is also printed in blue ink with the chapter headings in red. It just looks great!

One of the baristas next door has been plowing through the complete Christopher Moore ouvre, in anticipation of the event. I love how Moore fans get giddy when talking about his books. It's quite gleeful.

Anne noted we also have our Shakespeare finger puppets but ran out of the plush. I'll work on that! And when is Unemployed Philosophers Guild going to do a Christopher Moore plush?