Monday, January 14, 2019

Events this week: Nick Petrie with Bonnie North, Midhuri Vijay at Shorewood Library, Marie Kohler, Diane S. Forman

Here's what's going on this week.

Monday, January 14, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Nick Petrie, author of Tear It Down, in conversation with Bonnie North

Petrie, Milwaukee’s hometown hero, returns to Boswell for a special launch celebration of the latest edge-of-your-seat entry into the award-winning Peter Ash series, which he’ll discuss with WUWM Lake Effect’s incomparable Bonnie North.

Peter Ash is in Memphis to help Wanda, a war correspondent who’s been receiving peculiar threats. It seems someone has just driven a dump truck into Wanda’s living room. At the same time, a young street musician is roped into a heist that doesn’t go as planned. Now he’s holding a sack full of Rolexes and running for his life. When his getaway car breaks down, he steals a new one at gunpoint - Peter’s pickup truck. Peter likes the kid’s attitude but soon discovers the desperate musician is in worse trouble than he knows. And Wanda’s troubles are only beginning.

Bonnie North previewed the conversation on WUWM's Lake Effect: "The goal with every book is to move him farther down his timeline. And when I started all of this, I don't think I knew enough about Post-Traumatic Stress and what a big deal it is for many people. I felt I'd write one book about Post-Traumatic Stress and then he'll get better and it'll be about something else." Read more here.

Whitefish Bay-based Nick Petrie is author of three novels in the Peter Ash series. His debut, The Drifter, won the ITW Thriller award and the Barry Award for Best First Novel and was a finalist for the Edgar and the Hammett awards. His third novel, Light It Up, was just named Apple Thriller of the Year.

Tuesday, January 15, 6:30 pm, at Shorewood Public Library, 3920 N Murray Ave:
Madhuri Vijay, author of The Far Field

Lawrence University alum, Iowa Writer’s Workshop graduate, and Pushcart Prize-winner Vijay visits Shorewood Public Library to talk about her sweeping, elegant debut novel.

The Far Field follows a complicated flaneuse across the Indian subcontinent. In the wake of her mother’s death, a privileged, restless young woman from Bangalore sets out for a remote Himalayan village in the troubled northern region of Kashmir. Her journey brings her face to face with Kashmir’s politics and the tangled history. Village life turns volatile, old hatreds threaten to erupt into violence, and the wandering woman is forced to make a series of choices that could hold dangerous repercussions for the very people she has come to love.

With rare acumen and evocative prose, Vijay masterfully examines Indian politics, class prejudice, and sexuality through the lens of an outsider, offering a profound meditation on grief, guilt, and the limits of compassion.

Ron Charles raves about The Far Field in The Washington Post: "What seems at first like a quiet, ruminative story of one woman’s grief slowly begins to spark with the energy of religious conflicts and political battles. Vijay draws us into the bloody history of this contested region and the cruel conundrum of ordinary lives trapped between outside agitators and foreign conquerors."

Madhuri Vijay was born in Bangalore. She is a graduate of Lawrence University and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Her story “Lorry Raja” won the 2011 Narrative 30 Below Story Contest and was selected for The Pushcart Prize Series and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013.

Wednesday, January 16, 7:00 pm, at Boswell:
Marie Kohler, author of A Girl of the Limberlost

Director, actor, and award-winning playwright Marie Kohler appears at Boswell for a special presentation of her latest work, an adaptation of Gene Stratton-Porter’s beloved classic novel. The evening will feature scene readings and Kohler chatting about the play and the adaptation process. Cosponsored by Red Oak Writing.

A Girl of the Limberlost transports us to Indiana’s once-vast Limberlost Swamp. Meet Elnora, a 14-year-old girl with a passion for butterflies and moths. She loves the Limberlost but longs to attend high school in the city. Elnora works to find her footing at school and at home. Will she achieve her academic ambitions? Will she warm her mother's heart? Find out in this beautifully visual adaptation of an enduring story beloved by generations.

A Girl of the Limberlost is adapted from the classic 1909 novel of the same title by Gene Stratton-Porter. The JK Rowling of her era, Stratton-Porter’s novel once even out-sold Gone with the Wind.

Marie Kohler is Resident Playwright and a cofounder of Renaissance Theaterworks, where she served as CoArtistic Director from 1993 to 2012. She has been Playwright Respondent and Director Respondent at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.

Thursday, January 17, 2:00 pm, at Boswell: Diane S Forman, author of The Diane Chronicles

Milwaukee memoirist Diane S. Forman shares her account of an unexpected life with The Diane Chronicles, which tells her tale with a strong narrative voice, quiet poems, and photos that illustrate the people, past and present, who have shaped her life.

Forman found herself caught in the social upheavals and technological changes of her generation, challenges that shook the foundation of her world and enriched it. Amid the roadblocks and detours, Forman's humor, determination, spirit, and grit make her personal journey into a story universal to all.

Diane S. Forman graduated from Duke University with a degree in English, taught school, and later taught and acquired the Wisconsin franchise for Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics. She is author of Common Threads: Nine Women's Journeys through Love, Loss, and Healing and The Storyteller.

More on Boswell's upcoming events page.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Boswell bestsellers - week ending January 12, 2019

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending January 12, 2019

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai
2. The Far Field, by Madhuri Vijay (event Tue 1/15, 6:30 pm, Shorewood Library)
3. Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
4. An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones
5. Fire and Blood, by George R.R. Martin
6. Killing Commendatore, by Haruki Murakami
7. Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver
8. Nine Perfect Strangers, by Liane Moriarty
9. Kingdom of the Blind, by Louise Penny
10. Winter of the Witch, by Katherine Arden

Just out on January 8 is the latest in what might be Boswellian Jen's current favorite series, The Winter of the Witch. Her review, which is the official Indie Next Pick review, notes: "Vasya is the kind of character you cheer for, cry with, and roar alongside. ‘Petrichor,’ the word used to describe that sweet, earthy smell after it rains, is how I would describe the Winternight Trilogy." Publishers Weekly agrees: "Arden’s gorgeous prose entwines political intrigue and feminist themes with magic and folklore to tell a tale both intimate and epic, featuring a heroine whose harrowing and wondrous journey culminates in an emotionally resonant finale."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Be Fearless, by Jean Case
2. Gift of Our Wounds, by Arno Michaelis and Pardeep Singh Kaleka
3. Becoming, by Michelle Obama
4. Letters to Our Palistinian Neighbor, by Yossi Klein Halevi
5. Frederick Douglas, by David W. Blight
6. Educated, by Tara Westover
7. Why Religion?, by Elaine Pagels
8. Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo
9. In the Hurricane's Eye, by Nathaniel Philbrick
10. Milwaukee: A City Built on Water, by John Gurda

Elaine Pagels's Why Religion?: A Personal Story came out in November to rave reviews. For example, Jon Meacham (whom we're hoping we'll be talking more about soon) wrote: "In this compelling, honest, and learned memoir, Elaine Pagels, takes us inside her own life in a stirring and illuminating effort to explain religion’s enduring appeal. This is a powerful book about the most powerful of forces.” I still recall driving Ms. Pagels around when she came to Milwaukee. What an honor!

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Kite Runner graphic novel, by Khaled Hosseini
2. Asymmetry, by Lisa Halliday
3. Requiem Rwanda, by Laura Apol
4. Hotel Silence, by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
5. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, by Kathleen Rooney
6. Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur
7. Best American Short Stories 2018, edited by Roxane Gay
8. The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris
9. One Night in Winter, by Simon Sebag Montefiore
10. Macbeth, by Jo Nesbo

Released this week in paperback is Macbeth: William Shakespeare's Macbeth Retold, from Jo Nesbo. It's part of the Hogarth Shakespeare, which includes Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl (Taming of the Shrew) and Margaret Atwood's Hag Seed (The Tempest). From James Shaprio in The New York Times: "By making addiction so central to his plot, Nesbo also makes Macbeth’s paranoia and hallucinatory visions, so crucial to Shakespeare’s play, not just believable but meaningful in a contemporary way."

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Beautiful Boy (both book jackets), by David Sheff
2. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
3. Call Them by Their True Names, by Rebecca Solnit
4. We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
5. The Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein
6. Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann
7. Birth of the Pill, by Jonathan Eig
8. Great Lakes Water Wars 2nd edition, by Peter Annin
9. Somos Latinas, edited by Andrea-Teresa Arenas and Eloisa Gómez
10. Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari

We were part of a great event with David and Nic Sheff at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts. The authors of High: Everything You Want to Know About Drugs, Alcohol, and Addiction. Missed them? You can listen to them on WBUR here. There will also be a Lake Effect interview coming.We have signed copies of High too. You can see that Nic and David's backlist sold well too, most notably David's memoir, which with Nic's Tweak, became the basis for the film starring Steve Carrell and Timothée Chalamet.

 Books for Kids:
1. High, by David and Nic Sheff
2. No Talking, by Andrew Clements
3. A Place for Pluto, by Stef Wade
4. Tweak, by Nic Sheff
5. The 57 Bus, by Dashka Slater
6. Dog Man: Brawl of the Wild, by Dav Pilkey
7. Sadie's Snowy Tu B'Shevat, by Jamie Korngold
8. Voices in the Air, by Naomi Shihab Nye
9. A Wrinkle in Time graphic novel, by Madeleine L'Engle
10. The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint Exupery

It's January and that means that we're back to schools driving sales on the kids list. Our sales of No Talking are in advance of Andrew Clemenmts visiting a school district for his new book, The Friendship War. It hasn't hit our list yet, but I bet it does soon. Publishers Weekly writes: "In the latest on-point school story by Clements (The Losers Club), compulsive collector Grace is thrilled when her grandfather says she can keep the 27 boxes of buttons she discovers in his old mill. But after she shares some of the cache with her classmates, the show-and-tell spirals out of control, and kids schoolwide become obsessed with collecting and trading buttons."

From the Journal Sentinel:

-- Matt McMcCarthy reviews Jeremy Brown's Influenza: The Hundred Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History (USA Today)

--Matt Damsker notes that Tom Barbash's The Dakota Winters reads like "a journalistic faux memoir." (USA Today)

--Mark Athitakis finds Anna Burns's Man Booker-prize-winning novel The Milkman "quite" and piercing," reflecting on The Troubles as an allegory, rather than a historical record. (USA Today)

Online only is Jim Higgins's review of Tear It Down: "I won't lie to you: Animals, people, luxury vehicles and musical instruments are all harmed in Tear It Down, the new Peter Ash thriller from Whitefish Bay writer Nick Petrie." Our event with Petrie is Monday, January 14, 7 pm, in conversation with Bonnie North. Later in the month Petrie will appear at Books and Company and Whitefish Bay Library - then he's back at Boswell in February with Gregg Hurwitz.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

What did the In-store Lit Group think about Joan SIlber's Improvement?

Please note that there are some spoilers here. I try to tread as carefully as I can, but I think giving a little away of Improvement will lead more people to read it .

One of the things I was thinking about this past year was my love for interwoven stories from different perspectives and how there can be a scale of how interconnected they can actually be. I thought about three well-regarded (and at least a Boswell, very popular) novels from 2018. To be completely up front, there's no way I have time to reread or even review all three books - I read them once and now it's up to my brain to remember the details.

1. There There, by Tommy Orange. To me, it felt like every strand of this novel connected together, not just thematically, but physically. While not ever character interacted with every character, they were all linked by Oakland urban pow wow, and it felt like every protagonist was linked to at least one other protagonist in the story.

2. The Maze at Windermere, by Gregory Blake Smith. In this case, while the stories were thematically linked, the characters were not connected at all physically, as all the stories took place in times separated by decades, if not centuries. In this case, the connections were all memory-driven, and often thematic, as opposed to driven. One character from an early time period might show up in the name of a neighborhood or the author of a book later. Out in paperback 1/22.

3. The Overstory, by Richard Powers. This story is in the middle. Some of the characters are linked together, but at least one protagonist never interacts with the others, a second is connected by a newspaper article, and a third by being heard by one of the more-connected protagonists at a conference. No, in this case, the connecting tissue are the trees, and if you read the book, you'll completely understand why this makes sense.

So now we come to Improvement, the latest work from Joan Silber. I think that her book is most reminiscent of There There in the connections, but the story jumps in time like The Maze at Windermere, and uses a metaphor, a rug instead of trees, like The Overstory.

The story centers on Reyna, a young single New York mom whose boyfriend Boyd has just gotten out of prison. Her Aunt Kiki lives downtown and has been influential in her life. In her youth she went off to Turkey, fell in love with a man, and disappeared for years. She came back, said it was time to leave, and said no more of it.

Reyna's boyfriend has a scheme - he and his buddies are going to smuggle cigarettes up from Virginia and resell them on the black market without the New York taxes. But as the date approaches for one of the expeditions, their driver disappears and Reyna is asked to fill in.

Part I is from Reyna's perspective, a relatively traditional narrative. But in Part II, the perspective jumps from character to character, slowly moving away from Reyna and finally winds up with Kiki in Turkey, after which it slowly boomerangs back to Reyna. By Part III, when Reyna is back in the protagonist's seat, we know an awful lot more of the story and can look at Reyna in a completely different way. In my head, the structure of the novel was like an elongated omega - a long horizontal, a swoop up and back as the story moves away, and then back to long horizontal.

Folks who've read Joan Silber before know about her fascination with structure and connected narrative. I've read two of her other books and her connected stores or nov-stors, or whatever you want to call them, can connect in lots of different ways. One character might be reading a history book and the next story might be about the historical character. Of course you know I love these sorts of books - two of my favorite books to sell at Boswell have been Simon Van Booy's The Illusion of Separateness and Frederick Reiken's Day for Night. And then there's Alice Mattison, who has also wrote several books of this type - notably Men Giving Money, Women Yelling and In Case We're Separated. Mattison's biggest fan, my friend Bob, would highly recommend Mattison's latest book, Conscience.

One thing to also note is Silber's interest in writing about different kinds of people. There's a respectful diversity about the characters, not just in terms of race and ethnicity, but in terms of socioeconomic status. Changing the perspectives allows you to really emphasize with the different characters. And while Improvement was positioned as a novel by its publisher (not on the outside jacket but on the title page), it's clear that a number of these chapters stand alone, and the opening section appeared in Tin House (the print magazine is folding, alas so no more of these types of things) and appeared in Best American Short Stories 2015.

Like Mattison, Joan Silber left her longtime publisher, in this case W.W. Norton, for Counterpoint. I am well aware that these types of books don't sell themselves and calling someone a writer's writer may be a compliment, but it doesn't get you a big advance. That said, Improvement received not just the PEN/Faulkner Award (which I think is mostly judged by writers), but also the National Book Critics Circle Award, which someone in our group called the Golden Globes of book awards - sort of accurate, sort of not, because the critics are American, not foreign, and many critics also write fiction. The days of full-time critics are mostly a pleasant memory. But that means you can also call Silber a critic's writer. Or is it critics' writer.

I recently read Time and Again, the novel by Jack Finney about time traveling to New York in the 1880s.* In a way, it's a double time-travel novel as the contemporary story is set in in New York in the late 1960s. And I saw Improvement as a bit of a New York time travel book too, also putting it in the class of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, in the way the the novel embraces change.

We had 11 folks meeting for our In-Store Book Club and all but one either liked or loved the story. Our one naysayer definitely held back, which was very unlike last month when the folks who didn't like Hotel Silence were much more forthcoming. Isn't that an interesting thing about crowd dynamics? - had the HS enthusiasts started the conversation, I think it would have gone in a very different direction. And then I remembered back to how many readers have loved Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir's novel, and then thought that another group of people might not have liked Improvement. It happens!

But our group did, and it was an interesting discussion as well. We discussed whether Improvement was an apt title for the book, whether the rug was an apt metaphor, and of course, who are favorite character was. Kiki won. I also noted how strange it was to have discussed novels in a row that had a subplot about smuggling antiquities (those who have read Hotel Silence know this is an important part of the story) and whether these themes would have played out in fiction 30--40 years ago. And of course we discussed the structure of the book and how else the story could have been told and how it would have changed the narrative.

Needless to say, we had a number of side discussions that didn't focus on Improvement's insides. One centered on its outsides. One member noticed that some of us had step-back covers with a yellow glossy page with reviews (first printing). Others had no step-back and no second glossy page (second printing). The first printing's jacket also had a treated finish that felt fancier than the second's. But one of us didn't like the texture. It takes all kinds!

Upcoming In-Store Lit Group discussions:
Monday, February 4, 7 pm - Friday Black, by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Monday, March 4, 7 pm - Asymmetry, by Lisa Halliday
Monday, April 1, 7 pm - The Friend, by Sigrid Nunez (in paperback February 5)

You can get all the information about Boswell-run book clubs on our Boswell-Run Book Clubs page. Our SciFi Book Club generally meets the second Monday at Boswell, Books and Beer (genre-mashing) meets the third Monday at Downer's Cafe Hollander, while the Mystery Book Club meets the fourth Monday. all mostly at 7 pm.

*I made a vow to read one book that I hadn't read previously from 1000 Books to Read Before You Die by the end of 2018.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Events 2019!: Anro Michaelis and Pardeep Singh Kaleka with Kathleen Dunn at Boswell, Rabbi Jamie Korngold at JCC, David and Nic Sheff at Sharon Lynne Wilson Center, and heads up for Nick Petrie's return, in conversation with Bonnie North

Hope you had a great winter break and are raring to hear some great authors! Our schedule ramps up tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 8, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Arno Michaelis and Pardeep Singh Kaleka, authors of The Gift of Our Wounds: A Sikh and a Former White Supremacist Find Forgiveness After Hate, in conversation with Kathleen Dunn

Arno Michaelis and Pardeep Singh Kaleka, cofounders of Serve 2 Unite, open up about their powerful friendship, between a Sikh and a former skinhead, that’s resulted in a mission to fight against hate and discrimination in this conversation, titled Forgiveness is Vengeance, and moderated by former WPR host Kathleen Dunn. On Facebook? Let us know you're coming by checking in here. It's not required but it will help us set up the space.

When white supremacist Wade Michael Page murdered six people and wounded four in a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin in 2012, Pardeep Kaleka was devastated. The temple leader, now dead, was his father. Meanwhile, Arno Michaelis, founder of one of the largest racist skinhead organizations in the world, had spent years of his life committing terrible acts in the name of white power. When he heard about the attack, waves of guilt washed over him, and he knew he had to take action and fight against the very crimes he used to commit.

The cofounders of the anti-hate group Serve 2 Unite, which is dedicated to establishing a healthy sense of identity, purpose, and belonging that diverts young people from violent extremist ideologies, gun violence, school shootings, bullying, and substance abuse, along with other forms of self-harm, Michaelis and Kaleka detail their journey to a partnership to battle hatred and violence.

Arno Michaelis is author of My Life After Hate and has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and on BBC. Pardeep Singh Kaleka has appeared on NBC, CNN, and NPR. Together they cofounded the anti-hate organization Serve 2 Unite.

Tuesday, January 8, 5:30 pm, at Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, 6255 N Santa Monica Blvd:
Jamie Korngold, author of Sadie’s Snowy Tu B’Shevat

Rabbi Jamie S. Korngold, founder and spiritual leader of the Adventure Rabbi Program, presents the seventh book in her popular Sadie and Ori Jewish holiday series. Free registration is required for this event, by emailing

Sadie wants to plant a tree for Tu B'Shevat (a Jewish holiday that begins Sunday, January 20). But it's the middle of winter! She gets a shovel, finds the perfect spot in the yard, and digs a big hole through a mountain of snow. Asking her mom to help her plant a young sapling, Sadie learns that she can’t plant a tree in the winter.

With help from brother Ori and Grandma, Sadie learns why the tree-planting holiday is celebrated in winter and finds her own special ways to celebrate it. This wonderful book provides the Jewish background for the holiday and a fun activity for kids and adults to do together.

Rabbi Jamie S. Korngold received ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and is the founder and spiritual leader of the Adventure Rabbi Program. Korngold is author of seven books in the Sadie and Ori series of picture books, as well as God in the Wilderness: Rediscovering the Spirituality of the Great Outdoors with the Adventure Rabbi.

Friday, January 11, 6:30 pm, at Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts, 19805 W Capitol Dr, Brookfield:
David and Nic Sheff, authors of High: Everything You Want to Know about Drugs, Alcohol, and Addiction, in conversation with Ashleigh Nowakowski, Executive Director of Your Choice

Elmbrook Schools present a visit from David and Nic Sheff, whose dual memoirs were the source material for the acclaimed film Beautiful Boy, starring Steve Carrell and Timothée Chalamet, which won the Founder's Award at the Chicago International Film Festival. David, author of Beautiful Boy, and Nic, author of Tweak, have written the ultimate resource for learning about the realities of drugs and alcohol for middle grade readers. Registration is required for this free event - we're getting close to cutoff. I cannot guarantee walk-up availability. Register at

Cosponsored by Your Choice, offering alcohol and drug prevention education, intervention, and support, and REDgen, promoting balance and resiliency in the lives of children and teens. Cosponsor Boswell Book Company will be selling copies of High and other books written by the Sheffs. While kids are welcome at this event, the talk will be targeted to parents, educators, and mental health professionals. A talk from the Sheffs will be followed by a book signing.

In their first collaborative effort, father and son draw upon their personal experience and in-depth research to create the ultimate resource for teens and tweens to learn about the realities of drug and alcohol use and addiction. High tells it as it is, with testimonials from peers who have been there and families who have lived through the addiction of a loved one, along with the cold, hard facts about what drugs and alcohol do to bodies. From navigating peer pressure to stress outlets to the potential consequences of experimenting, Nic and David Sheff lay out the facts so that middle grade readers can educate themselves.

David Sheff is author of the #1 New York Times bestselling book Beautiful Boy, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Playboy. Time named him to their list of the World's Most Influential People. Nic Sheff is the author of Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, We All Fall Down: Living with Addiction, and the young adult novel Schizo.

More at the Journal Sentinel about this event.

Monday, January 14, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Nick Petrie, author of Tear It Down, in conversation with Bonnie North of WUWM's Lake Effect

Petrie, Milwaukee’s hometown hero, returns to Boswell for a special launch celebration of the latest edge-of-your-seat entry into the award-winning Peter Ash series. His previous novel, Light It Up, just was named Apple Books Thriller of the Year. This event cosponsored by Crimespree Magazine.

Here's a Tear It Down recommendation from Boswell's Chris Lee: "This lightning-paced series continues as Peter Ash gets tangled up in the City of Blues with two new friends and two new sets of problems. This far into the series, you know you’re in good hands with Nick Petrie, and this installment is no different, with a high-wire-act plot he struts through with flair, twisting the strings of two different stories up into one big knot that rolls all around Memphis. Particular to Tear It Down is the strong sense of place and the people who come from it that Petrie translates onto the page. Peter isn’t the only one struggling with the scars of his past - all the characters in this book are, in their own ways, dealing with the good and evil they’ve inherited, from their family, from their circumstances, and from the land, and Petrie captures a particularly Southern sense of history and the way the past keeps a tight grip on present lives. His writing about the blues sings, too, sweet and gritty like a worn out, gut bucket beater guitar played on the cracked sidewalk of a crossroad where even the devil forgot to stop by."

Whitefish Bay-based Nick Petrie is author of three novels in the Peter Ash series. His debut, The Drifter, won the ITW Thriller award and the Barry Award for Best First Novel and was a finalist for the Edgar and the Hammett awards. His other novels include Burning Bright and Light It Up. Bonnie North is a cohost and producer of WUWM’s Lake Effect. She has more than twenty years of experience as director, technician, and stage manager in professional and community theaters. Prior to joining WUWM, she managed a group of linguists that provided translation services for US and NATO stabilization forces and the overall linguist program for Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Romania.

Special offer! Pre-order Tear It Down before January 14 and get 20% off.

More upcoming events at

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending January 5, 2019

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending January 5, 2019

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Kingdom of the Blind, by Louise Penny
2. The Overstory, by Richard Powers
3. The Far Field, by Madhuri Vijay (event at Shorewood Library, Tues 1/15, 6:30 pm)
4. Virgil Wander, by Leif Enger
5. The Immortalists, by Chloe Benjamin (event at Boswell, Tues 2/26, 7 pm)
6. In a House of Lies, by Ian Rankin
7. An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones
8. There There, by Tommy Orange
9. My Sister, The Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite
10. The Books of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Leguin

We think the move was accidental, but moving Kingdom of the Blind (we sold out - more on Tuesday) to November from August increased Louise Penny's sales 50%. Our first thought is that Minotaur should keep this slot for Penny in the future. Then we thought that perhaps this was offset by better placement that Penny might get at mass merchants or chain bookstores.

Speaking of mysteries, it's great to see the latest from Ian Rankin hit the list. His latest, In a House of Lies, arrived 12/31, which is a very slow date for frontlist releases. Of the latest, Susan Santa writes in Library Journal: "Newcomers to the series may be drawn in by the plot twists, pithy dialog, and dark underside of Edinburgh, but readers of the previous entries will enjoy a deeper appreciation of the intricacies of the relationships and events"

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Ninja Future, by Gary Shapiro
2. Educated, by Tara Westover
3. The Library Book, by Susan Orlean
4. Becoming, by Michelle Obama
5. You Can't Spell Truth without Ruth, edited by Mary Zaia
6. Milwaukee: A City Built on Water, by John Gurda
7. Sister Pie, by Lisa Ludwinski
8. Bird Songs, by Les Beletsky
9. The Making of Milwaukee 4th edition, by John Gurda
10. How to Change Your Mind, by Michael Pollan

I'm not sure if Lisa Ludwinski's Sister Pie is Olivia V.'s favorite cookbook of 2018, but it's definitely her favorite baking book. I asked her what recipes she was particularly hot on, and she replied with two favorites - sweet beet pie and carmelized onion, delicata squash, and sage hand pies.

Paperback Fiction:
1. Asymmetry, by Lisa Halliday (In-Store Lit Group discussion at Boswell, Mon 3/4, 7 pm)
2. Hotel Silence, by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
3. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, by Kathleen Rooney
4. Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward
5. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman
6. Snowblind, by Ragnar Jonasson (Mystery Book Club at Boswell, Mon Feb 25, 7 pm)
7. In the Midst of Winter, by Isabel Allende
8. Russian Winter, by Daphne Kalotay
9. The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris
10. The Milkman, by Anna Burns

There were a lot of out-of-stock issues with publishers this holiday season but the thing that was interesting about Asymmetry was that it was a paperback, which usually makes things easier. Not as much concern about paper quality, no special bindings or rough cut edges. In a way, it was this year's Pachinko - a book that got great reviews in hardcover earlier in the year and came out in paperback just as the year-end best-of were being announced. I feel like the book really needs to explode for this to work - if you just do ok, you might as well stay in hardcover, as many people will trade up during the holiday season. Also, you have to have copies to ship. Katy Waldman wrote about the book in The New Yorker in a piece called "Why Asymmetry Has Become a Literary Phenomenon." I think that was an early call - maybe in Manhaklyn it was - but maybe these things are more measured by social media postings than actual sales.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann
2. Call Them by Their True Names, by Rebecca Solnit
3. Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari
4. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
5. The Deepest Well, by Nadine Burke Harris
6. Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari
7. Brick Through the Window, by Steven Nodine, Eric Beaumont, Clancy Carroll, David Luhrssen
8. Evancelicals, by Frances Fitzgerald
9. The Making of Pioneer Wisconsin, by Michael E. Stevens
10. We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

It's a double listing for Yuval Noah Harari this week. Who does he think he is - Rupi Kaur? Of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Joe Thornhill writes in The Financial Times: "Few forecasters have the audacity to write like that. Fewer still have the intellectual firepower and literary skill to carry off such a monumental sweep of history, philosophy, religion, science and technology." Thornhill also writes about the lates book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century in The Financial Times.

Books for Kids:
1. Brawl of the Wild V6, by Dav Pilkey
2. Winter Is Here, by Kevin Henkes, with illustrations by Laura Dronzek
3. Lulu and Rocky in Milwaukee, by Barbara Joosse, with illustrations by Renée Graef
4. Chomp Goes the Alligator, by Matthew Van Fleet
5. The Third Mushroom V2, by Jennifer L. Holm
6. A Is for Activist, by Innosanto Nagara
7. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls V1, by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavullo
8. National Parks of the USA, by Kate Siber, with illustrations by Chris Turnham
9. A Parade of Elephants, by Kevin Henkes
10. The Snowy Nap, by Jan Brett

It's not exactly a pop up book (there is a pop component) but Chomp Goes the Alligator was definitely one of our interactive hits of the holiday season. This hungry alligator chomps their way from one to ten, identifying animal names and colors too. As Boswellian Barb says, this is an interactive book with pizzazz!" Van Fleet has a long way to go before Chomp Goes the Alligator reaches sales domination (our best numbers in our system are for Tails)

From the Journal Sentinel:

For those who were waiting for The Years of Lynden Johnson to wrap up, Robert Caro has a surprise - his next book is a memoir, Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing, which publishes in April. (Associated Press)

Per Morgan Lee, Rudolfo Anaya collaborates on a picture book, Owl in a Small Hat. I bet Amie and I will hear more about this book when we go to New Mexico for ABA's Winter Institute bookseller conference in a few weeks. (Associated Press)

Jim Higgins previews some of the new releases in winter and early spring, with a few event picks as well. What have the Nicks (Petrie and Butler) been up to anyway? Find out here.

Charles Finch (USA Today) writes up his picks from fall:
--Forever and a Day, by Anthony Horowitz
--My Sister the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite
--Jeeves and the King of Clubs, by Ben Schott
--The Witch Elm, by Tana French

--From Anyssa Johnson, a profile of David and Nic Sheff's appearance at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center on January 11 for their new book High, which goes on sale Tuesday. Register here. Read the story here.

Monday, December 31, 2018

December 31 is Lillian Boxfish Day

Those of you who shop at Boswell, or subscribe to Boswell's email newsletter, or follow Boswell on social media, know that a number of us are fans of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. This was one of Jane's favorite books in 2017 and definitely her favorite paperback to hand-sell in 2018. While it sold quite respectably in hardcover, it definitely had not reached its potential, and working with Kathleen Rooney to do some book club talks at area libraries in late spring definitely helped jump-start renewed enthusiasm. Jane and I made a vow that we would sell 200 copies of the book and while we actually did achieve that goal if you include the hardcovers, I really think our goal was 200 paperbacks. Hey, we got to 185 copies and there's one day left. Can this blog sell 15 copies at Boswell in one day? Probably not, but I'm writing it anyway.

This "let's sell x many copies of this" is something I've done since the Harry W. Schwartz days when we had a bunch of reads on the same book that wasn't exactly exploding in the national marketplace, like Linda Olsson's Astrid and Veronika or was selling but not at bestseller levels, like Nicole Krauss's The History of Love. A lot of this energy came from our old Schwartz marketing person Nancy, who is now at Schlitz Audubon Nature Center. If she were a bookseller, she would be leading the charge for Lillian, which at least as of September, was still her favorite book she read in 2018. I haven't had a final update. In fact, she's still sending folks to Boswell to buy the book.

Why is December 31 Lillian Boxfish Day? New Year's Eve 1984 is when Lillian sets out for dinner at Delmonico's Steak House and winds up taking a ten-mile walk around Manhattan. It's a flâneuse novel, as Jane would say, a contemporary take on stories of women walking. We've actually been keeping copies of Lauren Elkin's Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London next to Lillian on our book club table. It actually had a nice paperback Christmas this year, and we're #4 in Treeline sales - that's the inventory service where we can compare our sales against other unnamed independent bookstores. By the way, we're #5 for Lillian, and that's pretty good, because we're neither in the city where the book takes place (New York) or where the author lives (Chicago). But the key here is that the contemporary thread of the story takes place in one night.

Lillian's walk is the framing device for a historical novel, which reaches back to 1920s New York. And if you know anything about the book, it's based on the life of Margaret Fishback, considered the most prominent woman in advertising at the time. She made her mark at Macy's in New York, and then went on to successfully freelance. Don't get her confused with the other Macy's copywriter, Bernice Fitz-Gibbon. Fishback was also known for her light verse - the Ogden Nash of her day, so to speak, and published four books of poetry. She also wrote one etiquette guide and a parenting manual. Here's a Poetry Foundation link. Rooney decided to change Margaret Fishback to Lillian Boxfish because the 1980s part of the story is completely made up, but the historical part is straight from the Fishback archive at Duke.

When I think about Lillian Boxfish Day, I think about Bloomsday, which is celebrated on June 16, especially in Dublin, and commemorates the day that James Joyce's Ulysses takes place. I believe that Webster's Books (which was in our space in the 1980s) celebrated it and particularly after we closed, there was one bus driver who would ask me why Schwartz did not celebrate Bloomsday. I did not have an answer for him. You'd think this would stop after one conversation but they did not, and I eventually started avoiding his bus routes. I guess he'd be sad to know that we only sold two copies of Ulysses in 2018, though we sold more in 2017. Or that I I've never read Ulysses, though I did finish both Dubliners and A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. Both were school reading.

The starred Booklist review of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk itself had some sparkling sentences: " Her delectably theatrical fictionalization is laced with strands of tart poetry and emulates the dark sparkle of Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Truman Capote. Effervescent with verve, wit, and heart, Rooney's nimble novel celebrates insouciance, creativity, chance, and valor." And here's the Chicago Tribune review from Beth Kephart.

So what is it about Lilllian that has struck a nerve? Somebody asked me, "Will you still like the book if you're not a fan of New York novels?" Of course, desperate to sell it, I said yes. Boxfish is a powerful character in her own right, a proto-feminist who must learn to adapt to changing times. There is also the Man Called Ove "don't be afraid of different-ness and change" that weaves through the contemporary story. But really, it is a New York novel and it reminds me of many times taking long walks in New York. And of course it is a department store novel, and I am known to like these sorts of things. I did, after all, buy a copy and read the recent Thank You for Shopping: The Golden Age of Minnesota Department Stores cover to cover.

I really didn't think about this initially, but I've been contemplating the hold that Lillian has on me, and I would note that there's been a Lillian in my life who also loved to take long walks in Manhattan. Not only that, but in her twenties, she worked in a small advertising agency, and then at Grey Advertising, which still exists as a division of WPP. The fact that they are even still using the name, when so many others have disappeared, is shocking to me. My mom talked about working at the ad agencies well into her eighties - it was a memorable time in her life, I guess, because it might have been the first time that she had a modicum of independence. She didn't write poetry or ad copy, but it is said she wrote wonderful letters, and sometimes I think there was untapped potential in her ability. Our Lillian went back to college and then grad school after I was born and wound up teaching in the New York  City public school system. She died in April without being able to read Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. But I think she would have liked it.

So happy Lillian Boxfish Day to you. Boswell is open 10 am to 5 pm on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. We open late on Friday, January 4 (approximately Noon) for our annual inventory, and then it's regular hours for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Boswell bestsellers, week ending December 29, 2018

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending December 29, 2018

Hardcover Fiction:
1. There There, by Tommy Orange
2. Kingdom of the Blind, by Louise Penny
3. The Overstory, by Richard Powers
4. Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver
5. The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai
6. The Immortalists, by Chloe Benjamin
7. The Winter Soldier, by Daniel Mason
8. My Sister the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite
9. Paris by the Book, by Liam Callanan
10. Transcription, by Kate Atkinson

I am pretty sure that I've never been in a situation where I've read 8 of our 10 hardcover fiction bestsellers (as well as #11, Tayari Jones's An American Marriage), but I'd like to do one better and say I read 9, so I just started The Overstory. Don't think that we're selling them because I read them, but more than I'm reading books that we're more likely to sell - in the case of Transcription and My Sister the Serial Killer, I read the books because customers (and in the latter case booksellers) were talking about the titles. How could I pass up a book that showed up on the top ten of both Jim Higgins and Carole E. Barrowman? If you look at the ABA's Midwest Bestseller List (compiled from stores in the MIBA and GLIBA sales regions - we're on the border - you'll see a lot of overlap and recognize most other titles from previous weeks. The weakest title for us in their top ten was The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawka (and sales there were still respectable) - I bought a copy, hoping to get into it, but it didn't click with me at the time. Maybe later!

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Becoming, by Michelle Obama
2. How to Change Your Mind, by Michael Pollan
3. The Making of Milwaukee fourth edition, by John Gurda
4. Educated, by Tara Westover
5. Gmorning Gnight, by Lin-Manuel Miranda
6. Frederick Douglass, by David W. Blight
7. Lets Go (So We Can Get Back), by Jeff Tweedy
8. These Truths, by Jill Lepore
9. The Library Book, by Susan Orlean
10. Ottolenghi Simple, by Yotam Ottolenghi

As we see books coming back into stock (we got a shipment of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat that quickly were allocated to special orders - we don't really have copies for general sale, and no, we don't have Ottolenghi Simple either), there could be some changes in the lists but it feels like new releases start up later than they used to. There was a time where we'd see a fresh shipment of books in early January, but it appears that the first major pub date in the new year is January 15. Not worth looking at the Midwest list when the top ten is filled with The Great Minnesota Cookie Book*, but even on the national indie bestsellers, there are books that didn't pop as well for us as they did in other stores. I was particular surprised to see The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck at #3 on the national lists - the book sells steadily for us but it's been quite a while since we sold it in quantity.

Paperback Fiction:
1. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, by Kathleen Rooney
2. Less, by Andrew Sean Greer
3. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
4. Hotel Silence, by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
5. The Milkman, by Anna Burns
6. The Drifter, by Nick Petrie (both paperback editions)
7. Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward
8. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman
9. My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante (both paperback editions)
10. Light It Up, by Nick Petrie (both paperback editions)

If we combine the regular and movie-tie-in editions of books for bestseller numbers, it sort of makes sense that we would also look at trade and mass market editions of a book together as one paperback listing. Our mass market sales are minimal, confined mostly to classics, cozies, and school adoption. We did, however, decide to stock both editions of Nick Petrie's thrillers, partly because Chris has a fondness for the format as well as the author's books, and that gave us two Petrie books in the top ten, with The Drifter for the second week running, and Light It Up, his newest, making an appearance as well. It's hard to cite, but Apple Books named Light It Up the thriller of the year. And yes, Nick's at Boswell for his next book, Tear It Down, on Monday, January 14, 7 pm, in conversation with Bonnie North.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, by Dan Egan
2. Call Them By Their True Names, by Rebecca Solnit
3. The Cooking Gene, by Michael Twitty (event at MPL Mitchell Street Branch, Mon Feb 18, 6:30 pm)
4. A Child's Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas
5. We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
6. Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann
7. The Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein
8. On Tyranny, by Timothy Snyder
9. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
10. The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve, by Stephen Greenblatt

Post-Christmas, the list gets substantially issue-ier and less regional-ish. One thing I noticed during the holiday season is that happy was in, probably signified best the nostalgic hunger for Becoming. One book that doesn't necessarily take a stand (though I'm sure some gift receivers would like it more than others) is Stephen Greenblatt's The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve, an unusual December paperback release. The book did not sell the way we hoped in hardcover but maybe will find its audience now. Reviews were mostly strong, but there was one pan from Marilynne Robinson in The New York Times Book Review, a review organ that generally balances bad reviews elsewhere with relatively positive ones from peers. But Robinson is not a peer - she's a fiction writer, albeit with strong views on the subject, who probably doesn't worry about retribution on a later book.

Books for Kids:
1. Brawl of the Wild V6 Dog Man, by Dav Pilkey
2. Lulu and Rocky in Milwaukee, by Barbara Joosse, with illustrations by Renée Graef
3. Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi
4. P Is for Pterodactyl, by Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter, with illustrations by Maria Beddia
5. Metldown V13 Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney
6. Crimes of Grindelwald V2 Fantastic Beasts, by JK Rowling
7. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
8. Winter Is Here, by Kevin Henkes, with illustrations by Laura Dronzek
9. National Parks of the USA, by Kate Siber, with illustrations by Chris Turnham
10. Dinosaur, a photicular book from Dan Kainen

Sales are up for Dog Man's latest, Brawl of the Wild. It turns out that releasing a book on December 24 helps a retailer a lot more than releasing a book on December 25 (which is when the last Dog Man December release was). On the other hand, we're feeling a slowdown of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, with Meltdown with a 20% drop in first-season sales for Meltdown over the last two. It could well be an anomaly or a particularly strong marketing push from another retailer or website, or perhaps it's a trend. On the other hand, sales for Dan Kainen's Dinosaur, though not at levels we were seeing five years ago for these photicular titles, are more than double what we sold for the last year's Wild. You know kids and dinosaurs!

Over at the Journal Sentinel
--Jim Higgins finds useful tips in Martha Stewart's The Martha Manual: How to Do (Almost) Everything. You can read this story here
--Oline H. Codgill reviews Val McDermid's Broken Ground, originally from the Associated Press
--Patty Rhule from USA Today finds a purl or two in Ann Hood's Knitting Yarns.

Have a bestselling 2019!

*Our regional equivalent of this Minnesota cookie book is given out free by We Energies at Miller Park and other locations throughout the state. Maybe they will look at this success and do an omnibus trade edition for fall 2019.