Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tuesday New and Noteworthy--What Oprah Knows and What "The Baffler" Knows are Not Necessarily the Same Thing, Plus The Impulse Society, Civil War Women, and The Beethoven Update.


I don't know if I would be highlighting the new book from Oprah Winfrey, What I Know for Sure, if it weren't also the first release in the new Flatiron Books division, headed by Bob Miller, the man who started up Hyperion and HarperStudio. This started as a column in the eponymously named magazine, revised, updated, and sorted by theme. There was lots of media attention when this project was signed up, such as this piece in The Hollywood Reporter. I'm sure the publisher hopes they get just as much attention today.

I'm not sure what Paul Roberts would say about Oprah's impulse to offer everyone in the audience a car or a trip to Greece. In The Impulse Society: America in the Age of Instant Gratification (Bloomsbury), the journalist and author of The End of Food and The End of Oil, looks at "how the pursuit of short-term self-gratification, once scorned as a sign of personal weakness, became the default principle not only for individuals, but for all sectors of our society." He's got a lot of advance quotes from social critics and environmental reporters, such as Elizabeth Kolbert, who observes that "Paul Roberts traces the country's many, disparate ills to the same source: as a nation, we’ve abandoned the common good. His analysis is smart, provocative, and timely. The Impulse Society compels us to reexamine what it is that we really want." While I find the book's premise compelling, I do question whether this is one of those "kids today" commentaries--it strikes me that selfish robber barons, wars, persecution for economic ends and all-around selfishness have had cyclical impact since time immemorial. Convince me this is new, Paul!

I'm told consensus is the enemy of No Future for You: Salvos from "The Baffler" (MIT), edited by John Summers, Chris Lehmann, and Thomas Frank, with contributions from Heather Havrileski, Evgeny Morozov, Susan Faludi, David Graeber, Rick Perlstein, and Barbara Ehrenreich. That said, Michael Patrick Brady's review in the Boston Globe shoes that there is some agreement in the arguing that "the essays in No Future for You all coalesce around a singular theme. They point an accusatory finger at a society that emphasizes the primacy of private enterprise over public investment, individual development over collective action, and 'lookingforward' over reckoning with the mistakes of the past--solutions that just so happen to benefit the entrenched, moneyed interests that work hardest to promote them." Hey, the books are more connected than it appeared at first glance.

Enough about ideology--remember when we had those burlesque dancers at Boswell? Instead of shimmying, they discussed their craft as an opener for Karen Abbott, who wrote American Rose, a biography of Gypsy Rose Lee. Her new book is Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War (Harper). From the publisher: "Abbott's pulse-quickening narrative weaves the adventures of these four forgotten daredevils into the tumultuous landscape of a broken America, evoking a secret world that will surprise even the most avid enthusiasts of Civil War-era history." It's too early for trade reviews but Kirkus's rendering: "Remarkable, brave lives rendered in a fluidly readable, even romantic history lesson." Civil War books usually mean a tour through the South for publishers, so if you want to catch Abbott, it looks like Square Books, Malaprops, and Quail Ridge are among her stops. Milwaukeeans who want to see her have several opportunities in suburban Chicago as well--check her website for more info.

Looks like our wholesaler Ingram had a run on Jan Swofford's Beethoven: Angony and Triumph (HMH), which came out at the beginning of August; they are now completely out of stock (though we do have books). It's probably due to reviews like Matt Damsker's in USA Today: "Following Jan Swafford through the thousand-plus pages of his new biography of Ludwig van Beethoven is hardly as exhilarating as listening to the music of the peerless composer. But the stately rhythm, carefully etched detailing and oceanic sweep of this ambitious book mirror the complexity and richness of Beethoven's revolutionary Romanticism. It may be hard to grasp, but surrender to it and it's easy to be swept away." Swafford is both composer and critic, having penned biographies of Ives and Brahms and The Vintage Guide to Classical Music, and as for his music, his website lists his work.

Monday, September 1, 2014

This Week's Events! Marquette's Julia Azari and Kathleen Rooney on Tuesday, Margaret Peterson Haddix and Lisa McMann on Wednesday, Marja Mills on Harper Lee on Thursday, and Julia Mary Gibson's Milwaukee Homecoming on Friday.

As I mentioned in the email newsletter, we're open on Labor Day until 5 pm. No events today, but it's a busy week this week.

Tuesday, September 2, 7 pm, at Boswell: Politics in Fact and Fiction. Kathleen Rooney is the author of the novel O, Democracy! while Julia Azari has written Delivering the People's Message: The Changing Politics of the Presidential Mandate.

Here's a little more about O, Democracy!: "It’s late spring of 2008, and one of Illinois’ two Democratic senators is poised to become the next president of the United States. Colleen Dugan works for the other one—not on Capitol Hill, but in a Chicago skyscraper that overlooks Lake Michigan, among coworkers with little to do but field calls from angry constituents while the future of the nation gets decided elsewhere. In the coming weeks Colleen will navigate the perils of costumed protestors, thuggish union reps, vacuous interns, trifling bureaucrats, dirty tricks by the Senator’s Republican rival, and the unexpected discovery of a scandalous secret that will give her the power to change the course of the election and shape her own fate—though not necessarily for the better.

In Delivering the People’s Message, Julia R. Azari draws on an original dataset of more than 1,500 presidential communications, as well as primary documents from six presidential libraries, to systematically examine choices made by presidents ranging from Herbert Hoover in 1928 to Barack Obama during his 2008 election. Azari argues that Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 marked a shift from the modern presidency formed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to what she identifies as a more partisan era for the presidency. This partisan model is a form of governance in which the president appears to require a popular mandate in order to manage unruly and deeply contrary elements within his own party and succeed in the face of staunch resistance from the opposition party.

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, as well as a member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She is the author of six books, most recently, the novel in poems Robinson Alone, based on the life and work of Weldon Kees. She lives in Chicago where she is a Visiting Assistant Professor at DePaul University.

Julia R. Azari is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Marquette University. She is coeditor of The Presidential Leadership Dilemma: Between the Constitution and a Political Party.

Wednesday, September 3, 7 pm, at Boswell: An Evening with Margaret Peterson Haddix and Lisa McMann.

It's back-to-school season and that means we're taking authors to schools. We normally pass on doing school visits in the first half of September, but how could we say no to two of our favorite authors, Lisa McMann and Margaret Peterson Haddix, who separately done four days of events with Boswell. One thing we we were aware of is that all our public events were at public libraries, so to change things up, we decided to do the public event at the bookstore, especially because McMann was a long-time children's bookseller in Michigan before her writing career took off.

Both authors are in the midst of popular middle grade series, so we also have plenty of the first books in their series, so that kids (and adults can jump right in). But it's my job to tell you what's going on in the newest installment, so here's a little bit about Revealed, the newest book in The Missing series: "It’s morning as usual at the Skidmore household—until Charles Lindbergh, the famous historical pilot, appears in their living room. Jonah can hardly believe his eyes—and then Lindbergh grabs Katherine and vanishes again. And that’s not all. Chip, Andrea, and all the other children from the plane have disappeared too. And worst of all, Jonah’s parents and all the other adults in his town have de-aged into children. Jonah is the only one left, and the only one who can save everyone. With the help of de-aged JB and Angela, he has to collect the clues. And they lead directly back to Gary and Hodge, and a terrible plot that could mean the end of everything Jonah has ever loved. Can Jonah put the pieces together before time runs out?" Yikes!

Here's more from the publisher about the fourth installment of The Unwanteds, Island of Legends: "As Alex grows more confident in his role as the mage of Artime, he expands his skills and brings his first creature to life--with results that are both painful and wonderful. A team from Artime heads out to rescue Sky and Crow's mother from underwater Pirate Island and discovers there are more creatures than they ever imagined in the ocean surrounding the islands--and not all of them are friendly. Meanwhile in Quill, Aaron faces threats to his leadership as Gondoleery hones her rediscovered magical abilities and Eva and Liam form a secret alliance against him. But Aaron's distracted with a discovery of his own--a hidden jungle that holds a dangerous secret. His time there yields a startling truth about himself, and a potential opportunity to increase his power."

What you need to know is that Alex and Aaron are twins who were separated, with Aaron on course to be a leader and Alex to be sent to his death for being creative, only he didn't die, but instead was whisked off to a hidden school where creatives were taught how to use their powers of art, music, writing and acting almost like superpowers. No, exactly like superpowers.

Margaret Peterson Haddix previously had great success with her Shadow Children series, while McMann is also writing very sucessful books for teens, including the Visitors series and The Wake trilogy. I've been to both their events previously and had a great time, so I can only imagine what fun they'd be together.

Thursday, September 4, 7 pm, at Boswell: Marja Mills, author of The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee.

As a Madison native whose spent most of her adult career in Chicago, we're lucky enough to be in the orbit of Marja Mills and host her for her memoir of some special years in her life that she spent with Harper "Nelle" Lee and her sister Alice in Alabama. It all started with the To Kill a Mockingbird was chosen as Chicago's all-city read and Mills was sent to do a story about the town where it all happened. And that led to Mills moving to Monroeville and getting to know them up close and personal. This is hardly a tell-all, though it's been not without controversy, of course. But Boswellian Anne read the book and said it was nothing short of "delightful." I asked her about it again recently, and she confirmed how much she enjoyed The Mockingbird Next Door.

Marja Mills is a former reporter and feature writer for the Chicago Tribune, where she was a member of the staff that won the Pulitzer Prize for a 2001 series about O’Hare Airport entitled “Gateway to Gridlock.” The Mockingbird Next Door is her first book.

There are so many great quotes about the book that I'd be remiss to not include some. Publishers Weekly, in their boxed review, stated "As she portrays the exceptional Lee women and their modest, slow-paced world with awed precision, Mills creates a uniquely intimate, ruminative, and gently illuminating biographical memoir." And writer Elizabeth Berg (who may have had a role in getting Mills to come up, for which we are grateful), says "In her first book, a journalist offers a gentle, loving portrait of a reclusive writer.... Mills portrays Nelle as a grown-up Scout, the feisty and defiant heroine of Mockingbird.... [A] charming portrait of a small Southern town and its most famous resident."

Come celebrate with Hershey's Kisses and sparkling cider. You'll understand the former if you know the story!

Friday, September 5, 7 pm, at Boswell: Julia Mary Gibson, author of Copper Magic.

When Collins contacted me about an event, she told me that she grew up in Milwaukee and was excited to be back to appear for her first book. What she didn't tell me was that she went to elementary school with one of my closest friends. By the way, that had no bearing on booking; it was already set when I found out.

Here a little more about the book: "If anyone needs magic, it’s 12-year-old Violet Blake. Her mother and little brother are gone, perhaps never to return. Violet’s morose, heartbroken father can’t seem to sustain their failing farm on the outskirts of a fading town, and summer people are invading the quiet woods. Violet unearths an ancient talisman, a hand fashioned from copper. The copper hand makes its power known. Surely it can make things right for Violet and restore her fractured family. But the copper hand’s abilities are beyond Violet’s understanding – maybe even anyone’s."

Here's a slightly different bio from Gibson's website: "For a significant chunk of my life I worked with sprocketed celluloid, as a garage animator and in various capacities in the visual effects industry. My colleagues were geniuses and magicians and sorceresses. The work was a blast (sometimes literally – catch me as Frances McDormand’s double in an awesome old-school beamsplitter shot in Sam Raimi’s Darkman*), but a time came when my own work cried out to be fostered again. I live in Hollywood, California, surrounded by my four-generation extended family of poets, thespians, dancers, filmworkers, and urban farmers."

*Darkman is the most successful screenplay of my name doppelganger, Daniel Goldin.

Here's a preview of the following week. Monday, September 8, 7 pm, at Boswell:Daryl Brown, co-author of Inside the Godfather: Never Before Told Stories of James Brown by His Inner Circle. The book is also known as My Father the Godfather. More about the book on the official website.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Boswell's Insanely Footnoted Weekly Bestseller Lists, for the Period Ending August 30, 2014.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Long Way Home, by Louise Penny
2. Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher
3. Colorles Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami
4. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
5. Written in My Own Heart's Blood, by Diana Gabaldon
6. The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd
7. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
8. The Serpent of Venice, by Christopher Moore
9. Strange Shore, by Arnaldur Indridason
10. Bark, by Lorrie Moore

1) The Long Road Home sold about much in a week as we sold life of book of 2009's release (editor's note: I clarified this), and I was very impressed then.
5) The resurgence of Written in My Own Heart's Blood is likely do to the Outlander series on Starz.
6) Just noticed that The Invention of Wings is not coming out on the winter Penguin list. This book is having a very nice, long sales track.
7) All the Light We Cannot See is a prime example of a publisher sticking by an author and an author sticking by a publisher. You just don't see that so much anymore.
10) Speaking of long sales tracks, Bark has been doing just fine. We've only had one month to date (June, oddly) where we didn't sell at least 3 copies. We're probably going to break 100 copies on this, and at least 1/4 of that will be after the event.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. The Way Forward, by Paul Ryan
2. David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell
3. The Organized Mind, by Daniel J. Levitin
4. In the Kingdom of Ice, by Hampton Sides
5. How Not to be Wrong, by Jordan Ellenberg
6. The End of Absence, by Michael Harris
7. Milwaukee: Then and Now, by Sandra Ackerman
8. The Mockingbird Next Door, by Marja Mills
9. Another Great Day at Sea, by Geoff Dyer
10. Against Football, by Steve Almond

1) Another year, another Wisconsin politician's platform. The Way Forward has a good pop on this week's list.
3) The Organized Mind debuts at #2 on The New York Times bestseller list
6) The End of Absence written up in new and noteworthy blog post (as was Levitin).
8) Marja Mills event for The Mockingbird Next Door on Thursday, September 4, 7 pm. Hersheys Kisses will be served
9) Here's Jim Higgins' review of Another Great Day at Sea in the Journal Sentinel from earlier this summer. It's Dyer's bestselling hardcover at Boswell of his last four books.
10) Our buyer Jason's a huge fan of Against Football. His first nonfiction work since Candyfreak, I think. Hector Tobar pits Against Football against Why Football Matters in the Chicago Tribune. He says both books are excellent!

Paperback Fiction:
1. Old Filth, by Jane Gardam
2. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
3. The Illusion of Separateness, by Simon Van Booy
4. The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert
5. Five Star Billionaire, by Tash Aw
6. Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
7. Saving Kandinsky, by Mary Basson
8 The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion
9. Augustus, by John Williams
10. Tenth of December, by George Saunders

1) In-store Lit Group discussion for Old Filth on Monday, October 6, 7 pm
3) We finally got Jane to read The Illusion of Separateness. Guess what? She loved it. Our event is Tuesday, September 30, 7 pm, at Boswell.
5) In-store Lit Group discussion for Five Star Billionaire on Monday, November 3, 7 pm
6) By being nominated, let alone winning, just about every science fiction award there is, we should be telling every person who steps within ten feet of the science fiction and fantasy cases about Ancillary Justice
8) The sequel to The Rosie Project is officially on the Simon and Schuster schedule. The Rosie Effect goes on sales December 30, 2014.
9) Our buyer Jason says Augustus is the best John Williams--way better than Stoner. Them's fighting words.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Shakespeare with Hearing Aids, by Nick Weber
2. Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand
3. Strength for the Struggle, by Joseph Ellwanger
4. The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
5. The Food Lover's Guide to Wisconsin, by Martin Hintz
6. Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
7. Dear Mrs. Griggs, by Genevieve McBride and Stephen R. Byers
8. Studying Wisconsin, by Martha Bergland and Paul G. Hayes
9. 1000 Places to See Before You Die, 2nd edition, by Patricia Schultz
10. Cat Sense, by John Bradshaw

2) Movie release date for Unbroken is December 25
5) I can't figure out why The Food Lovers' Guide to Wisconsin has been popping over the past few weeks. It came out in January; here's Bobby Tanzilo's interview with Martin Hintz in OnMilwaukee.com
6) Movie release date for Wild is December 5.
7) McBride and Byers appear for Dear Mrs. Griggs for Shorewood Historical Society, Shorewood Public Library Community Room, Monday, October (corrected date), 6, 7 pm. Note: this book is now available for puchase on our website.

Books for Kids:
1. Captain Underpants and the Tyrannical Retaliation of Turbo Toilet 2000, by Dav Pilkey
2. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar board book, by Eric Carle
4. Fiona's Lace, by Patricia Polacco
5. Four: A Divergent Collection, by Veronica Roth
6. Pout Pout Fish Goes to School, by Deborah Diesen and Daniel X. Hanna
7. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
8. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger
9. Divergent, by Veronica Roth
10. Pout Pout Fish, by Deborah Diesen and Daniel X. Hanna

1) Captain Underpants and the mystery of no books between 2006 and 2012. Welcome back. We're obviously happy about your return to form and I appreciate the opportunity to practice spelling "tyrannical" and "retaliation"; I have trouble with both.
4) Fiona's Lace Event for Patricia Polacco on Thusday, September 11, 7 pm at Boswell
6) Pout Pout Fish Goes to School storytime event with Diesen and Hanna on 9/18, 4 pm, at Oak Creek Library
8) Tom Angleberger at Boswell on Sunday, September 14, 3 pm, at Boswell for Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus.
9) Not sure why we're all Veronica Rothed out. I expected to see Gayle Forman's If I Stay again. He film had an A- CinemaScore, per the Hollywood Reporter.

In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mike Fischer reviews The Bone Clocks, which is released on September 2. I had no idea how intricately connected Mitchell's work is. Needless to say, I read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet as a stand-alone. Fischer writes: "It's a sign of his ambition and a tribute to his ability that Mitchell's own all-encompassing historical tour--spanning 10 centuries and six continents, with one character even hailing from Milwaukee--insistently prompts such questions. We may each just be bone clocks, ticking down toward death. But characters like Holly remind us that we live on through our stories--and that how we tell them as well as who they touch will inevitably shape the stories to come."

Also in the Journal Sentinel, Jon M. Gilbertson reviews The History of Rock and Roll in Ten Songs, by Greil Marcus. From the review: "Creating several counternarratives and defining rock 'n' roll in myriad ways, including as "a seemingly newly discovered form of speech," Marcus springs free of linearity and chases associations across decades and from music to books, movies and other art forms that 'at once raise the question of what rock 'n' roll is and answer it.'"

And from Hillel Italie in the Associated Press, a round-up of highly waited fall books, including Neil Patrick Harris's Choose Your Own Autobiography, Lena Dunahm'sNot That Kind of Girl (her tour is set to already be sold out) and Walter Isaacson's The Innovators. It's clear from this piece that fiction seems to be a footnote to nonfiction this fall. We'll see how it shapes up.  It's not linked in the Journal Sentinel so here's the piece in the Wisconsin Gazette, along with more info about works-from-the-dead by Dick Francis and Sidney Sheldon.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Book-Related Stories in the Milwaukee Media This Week.

Our email newsletter featuring events for the first half of September went out today. If you don't get our email newsletter, you can read it here. Why not sign up? We certainly don't oversend.

It's time to wrap up Milwaukee's week in book. In the Shepherd Express this week, the featured review is for A Scrap of Paper: Breaking and Making International Law During the Great War, from Isabel Hull. Critic David Luhrssen writes that "A Scrap of Paper is a luminous account of war and international law with implications for recent and ongoing world conflicts."

Guest critic "Anthony Steven Lubetski" tackles Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors: Faith, Power, and Violence in the Age of Crusade and Jihad (FSG), a brand-new book from Brian Catlos. The review notes that "rather than follow the path of previous historians, Catlos points to an issue that is still relevant in politics today: the constant struggle for power and self-interest, regardless of religion, as the root of conflict in the Mediterranean."

David Luhrssen also reviews Valentio Di'Buondelmonte: A Tragedy in Five Acts, by Haig Khatchadourian. Luhrssen acts the question "Why write an Elizabethan tragedy in the 21st century—and accompany it with your own translation into contemporary English?" and UWM philosophy professor emeritus tries to answer it in this Firenze tragedy set on the cusp of the Renaissance.

Thanks to the Shepherd for giving a shout out to our Politics in Fact and Fiction event on Tuesday, featuring Kathleen Rooney and Julia Azari. The featured Book Preview event is a Woodland Pattern evening of poetry tonight (Saturday), August 30. CM Burroughs, Tony Trigilio and Soham Patel are featured.

Monday's Lake Effect, on WUWM, offers an appropriately back-to-school-inspired interview between Mitch Teich and Sarah Carr, who had a big success with her book, Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America's Children. Carr notes: ""Even though a lot of these changes occurred much quicker and at a much more wholesale rate in New Orleans than in other places, it really is illustrative of the kinds of debates and tensions being felt across urban America."

Here's a reprise of the interview with Jim Landwehr, author of Dirty Shirt: A Boundary Waters Memoir. The book is on a print-on-demand publishing platform, meaning it's short discount and nonreturnable. I know the author has probably placed at Martha Merrill in Waukesha, so if you like printed books in traditional bookstore, you should get Dirty Shirt there. We can also order a copy for you--I should note it's pre-purchase, nonreturnable, just to make things particularly complicated.

James Magruder came to Outwords in Milwaukee for his short story collection, Let me See it, and knowing his theater background, he made a good match for Lake Effect's Bonnie North. He comments: "I think fiction is much harder, at least for me, because there’s certain things that theater takes care of that you the writer don’t have to. So I don’t have to say, in a play, her narrow face was framed by chestnut curls. The actress, whoever you cast, does that."

Over in Wisconsin Public Radio, Kathleen Dunn interviewed Martha Ackmann, who wrote Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone the First Woman to Play Professional Baseball in the Negro League. While the book came out four years ago, the topic is still timely. From WPR: "The number of African-American players in Major League Baseball is declining, and the excitement around Mo'ne Davis as a young woman pitching in the Little League World Series highlights the gender barrier that exists as well. Kathleen Dunn investigates why that is, and learns about women and African-Americans who have overcome the obstacles."

Wednesday's guest was Dr. Jan Pol, author of Never Turn Your Back on an Angus Cow: My Life as a Country Vet, and starring in the fourth season of The Incredible Dr. Pol, which airs on the Nat Geo Wild channel. The show follows the rural veterinarian and his family on the daily duties of his clinic and on nearby farms. I would have picked this as a Larry Meiller guest. You WPR hosts never fail to surprise me.

Mike Rose is one of Thursday's guests. The featured book is 2004's The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker, but the author has also penned 2014's Why School?: Reclaiming Education for All of Us. The show's promotional copy argues that "testimonials to the American worker often celebrate the physical labor, dignity, economic and moral value, but rarely the intellect."

Monday's Larry Meiller show featured recent Boswell visitor June Melby, whose My Family and Other Hazards chronicles the family's Waupaca mini-golf course. Larry talks about playing mini golf with his daughter all over the country. He really liked the book!

Wednesday's show features another Boswell favorite, Martha Bergland and Paul G. Hayes for their Increase Wisconsin, Studying Wisconsin. From the WPR site: "Increase Lapham was Wisconsin's Renaissance man. Larry Meiller visits with the authors of a comprehensive biography of the man considered to be Wisconsin's first great scientist and the Father of the U.S Weather Service."

Thursday's guest is Jay Ford Thurston, whose Spring Creek Reward chronicles a life of wild trout fishing. Boy, a lot of books that get press in Milwaukee on print on demand!

Yet another textbook for Joy Cardin's guest on Thursday. Robert Lichter discusses his book, Politics Is a Joke!: How TV Comedians Are Remaking Political Life. Lichter "discusses the effects that David Letterman, Jay Leno, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and others have had on political institutions, politicians, and the behavior on the voting public."

On Central Time, A Baraboo-area writing instructor involved in the the second community-penned novel, Dr. Vertigo’s Circus Spectacular, talks about the book, and the process and challenges of having multiple writers all working on the same novel.

Robb Ferrett talks to Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, a pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine at the , who notes that books and reading are a vital part of children's health. He's also an occasional children's librarian! His program is called "Reach out and read."

Here's Rob Weiner, who takes about the best fictional places in literature.

In the Thursday Journal Sentinel, Patricia Sheridan talked to Gayle Forman, the author of If I Stay, now a "major motion picture." This interview originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Also interviewed in the Journal Sentinel is William Kent Krueger, who talks to Laurie Hertzel. This profile originally appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Windigo Island is the 14th Cork O'Connor novel. A young Ojibwe girl's body washes up on the shores of Lake Superior, and that leads to the discovery that her friend has also disappeared.

Monday's Morning Blend featured a talk with Stacy Springob, whose CreateSpace book published last April is called What I learned from Never having a Boyfriend. The show writes: "Stacey Springob was eating lunch with her friend during her freshman year of college. Her friend was complaining about her boyfriend, and said to Stacey, 'You have it made, because everything you do doesn’t have to be given the OK by a guy; everything I do has to be cleared by my boyfriend.'" And so the book was born.

Here's a story to get you in the mood for Banned Book Week. WTMJ4 reports on Waukesha West High School's decision to not pull two books from the library that a group of parents considered too racy. The two titles? Chris Crutcher's Chinese Handcuffs and Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner. A group previously tried to ban John Green's Looking for Alaska.

And finally, Jim Cryns' novel Bite Me, a Milwaukee-based Vampire novel that David Luhrssen compares to the work of Quentin Tarantino, was also featured in the Shepherd Express. He's reading at the Cedarburg Library and the Anodyne in Walkers Point. The book is also published on Amazon's CreateSpace platform, and was published last March.

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Peek Under the Covers: The Mockingbird Next Door Cover Change.

Next Thursday, September 4, 7 pm, we're hosting Marja Mills, author of The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee, at Boswell. The book has been out for a few months, and has gotten very nice reviews and a recommendation from Boswellian Anne McMahon, who called it "A delightful look in to the life of one of America's notable authors. No startling revelations here, but an insight in to the world that remained private so long. I really enjoyed it!"

The book has stirred up a smidge of controversy (what book hasn't? Did I mention we're hosting Rick Perlstein author of The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan , on November 6 at the Golda Meir Library?) as Nelle, that's Harper Lee to those who don't follow these things, made a statement that she did not endorse the book and was, well, tricked into participating it. This statement contradicted a 2011 statement that seemed to indicate support. 

Because we stocked up on The Mockingbird Next Door in anticipation of the event, we got a surprise when the new books came. The cloth jacket changed color, from burnt orange to mustard yellow. While McSweeney's has been known to change jacket colors with printings, with striking effect, as said books are often paper over board, it is far less usual for a cloth jacket to change color when it is covered by a dust jacket. Our thought is that both colors match the tone of the photo on the dust jacket, better than we've seen on other books. So what led to the big switcheroo? My guess? They went to another printer and they didn't have the first color in stock.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Math Fact, Math Fiction--First with Jordan Ellenberg, and Next with Stuart Rojstaczer (Appearing September 10, 7 pm, at Boswell)

One of the nice things about hosting events in Milwaukee is that we can draw on authors from Chicago and Madison, and in most cases, this can be done without a lot of expense, meaning the publishers are more likely to go for it if we make a good pitch. It's still not a slam dunk--a first novelist is likely to be rather enthusiastic about the possibility, while a nonfiction academic generally needs more convincing. The irony here is that in most cases, the nonfiction academic, in many fields at least, is likelier to have the more successful event.

I'm still dancing on a cloud from our wonderful mathy event with Jordan Ellenberg, author of How Not to Be Wrong. Perhaps the feeling is lasting longer because I'm still reading the book--how can one not remember what a good time one had when one is holding the book in one's hands? But we're now approaching September and that means a whirlwind of authors, some of whom will be equally exciting. But my mind always thinks about the strange cosmic connections between events (perhaps that's just a function of re-reading The Illusion of Separateness, per yesterday's blog).

For one thing, we've got Stuart Rojstaczer coming, the author of The Mathematician's Shiva, on sale on Tuesday, September 2. Now Ellenberg has no connection to Rojstaczer, but after all, the novel is about mathematicians in Madison (just like Ellenberg is a mathematician in Madison, get it?). Its the story of a famous female mathematician, Rachela Karnokovitch, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin, and her son, a professor of climatology (embarrassingly practical from a mathematician's viewpoint) in Alabama. After she passes, the family gathers in Madison. But not just the blood family--literally hundreds of mathematicians want to pay their respect, and a number of them demand to sit shiva with the family.

Karnokovitch's dream of course is winning the Fields Medal, the highest honor a young mathematician can get. But of course she is passed over each year, until she no longer qualifies, and this leaves her a bit bitter. So the question that the mathematician's have is that it might be possible that Karnokovitch might had solved a major mathematical puzzle, one that has had huge amounts of time and resources dedicated to it. And of course it's also the story of a family or Russian-Polish emigres, with all the craziness that can bring.  I really enjoyed the story and it reminded me of the math gossip I used to hear back in college. Really, I was a math major. I don't believe it either.

Publishers Weekly writes: "The ostensible mourners rip up floorboards, hold séances, and even read meaning into a 40-year-old parrot’s squawks, all the while discussing the charms and pitfalls of Eastern European identity and the perpetual shock of life in America. Counterbalancing their antics are flashbacks to Rachela’s childhood flight from Poland during WWII. These passages, presented as excerpts from her memoir, add depth to an already multilayered story of family, genius, and loss."

In a timely turn of events, a woman finally won the Fields medal this year, Maryam Mirzakhani. You can read more about it in this All Things Considered story.

Our event with Stuart Rojstaczer, a native Milwaukeean, was himself a hydrologist, a geologist, and now consults on water policy, or so says his CV. Our event is co-sponsored by the Sam and Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies on Wednesday, September 10, 7 pm, at Boswell.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What Did the Book Club Think of Simon Van Booy's "The Illusion of Separateness?" and How Excited are They that He's Coming to Boswell on September 30, 7 pm?

This week was our annual "move the in-store lit group meeting out of the way of Labor Day" event.  After a number of years, the easiest way to accomplish this appears to be moving it to the last week in August, and as long as I don't schedule an event, the lit group can meet in the back of the store while the mystery group meets up front.

(The illustrations for this blog are the various international editions, which is always fun when a book gets a strong international publication. I am always interested in how each publisher represents the story--in a few cases, I kept the jackets a little larger to spot the details).

For the second month in a row, I selected a book that I'd already read, but the great thing about Simon Van Booy's The Illusion of Separarateness (well, one of the great things) is that I could actually find time to re-read the novel before we met. (Note: at right is the final jacket for the American edition. Is this Amanda? Harriet? I can't tell.)

The book starts with Martin, who helps out at an assisted living center. He's lived in California for many years, though he still has a trace of a French accent. His wife has died. His sister still runs his parents' French cafe. He's good with the residents, and he's curious about the new fellow, who has been brought in by a big-time Hollywood director. What he first notices is that the man is terribly disfigured. And then, making his way to the cookies, the man collapses and dies.

And then we jump back and see that man, Mr. Hugo, thirty years previous, and how a Nigerian woman befriends him, so that he can take care of her son while she works. And then an air force pilot shot down over Europe. And then a blind curator on Long Island. The story pivots on a fateful World War II scene, and the rest of their lives channel outwards, with several fates changed by a moment of kindness.

So what did the book club think? We've got four big fans on staff (and at least one more ex-bookseller who championed the book), so we know we like it. But does the book hold up to scrutiny? We had about 15 folks show up for Monday's book club meeting and I'd say about 2/3 loved it, while the other third liked it with caveats, and some had more caveats than other. (The British cover at right chose the Paris setting for the story. I guess it tries to capture the spiritual essence of the story. I think a previous cover focused on a World War II embrace. I  may have the order wrong).

One bone of contention was the style. Mr. Van Booy employs short,sentences, almost staccato, and the effect is rather poetic. Some people loved this style, but a few did not. D. wanted a different voice for each character, but it's my contention that there really only needs to be two voices, one for Amanada the blind curator, as she is telling her voice in the first person, and another for everyone else, as the story is all third-person omniscient narrator.

Then there's the length; C1 wanted the story to be filled out. It's my feeling that I'm not sure the writing style would have worked as well over 500 pages, or even 350, and one of the things I liked about the book was the white space, the details left unfilled in. (At left is the American hardcover jacket, rendered in what I think is Dutch. I like the jacket but I never quite knew what scene that was.)

C2 enjoyed the spiritual angle of the book and thought it was the one of the best endings of all time. She was reminded of Diane Arbus, but perhaps the inverse, where the artist saw the grotesque in the ordinary, Van Booy sees the humanity in the grotesque.

N, for all the coincidences in the story, found it plausible. She enjoyed the gentle nature of the story, and thought it was beautifully written.

J1 liked the book, and found it deceptively simple. She found the war scenes depressing, but unless you are writing propaganda, at least one side if not both sides of a war story are going to be pretty sad.

G1 loved the book. She saw herself in the characters, which of course is one of the nicest things you can say about a story. She was reminded of Tinkers. (the Italian and German covers are probably the most literal, focusing on the World War II story at the core).

S liked it, but had to make a chart to get some of the details straight. She's concurrently reading Dave Eggers' A Hologram for the King, and noted some similarities in the stories, mostly the World War II characters' escape through Europe on a bicycle, but also the presence of beagles, and a few others which I won't list here, as I didn't write them down.

From  G2: "The world needs this book." She also found herself wanting to ask Mr. Van Booy questions about how he went about writing the story.

C3 liked it, once she got into the staccato style. She found the Thich Nhat Hanh inscription at the beginning of the story telling, and came back to it several times during her reading.

J2 really enjoyed putting the puzzles together. She said she came at the book almost like a mystery reader. I'll have to ask Anne about that one. She was surprised when C3 had not made a connection at the end. (Yes: Outre-Atlantique is how the French translated The Illusion of Separateness. I had to read the copy to make sure. I am attracted to this cover. It definitely captures more of the spirit of the story rather than any details.)

I mentioned that I read the book a second time to prepare for the discussion, and several folks seconded that they reread the story, including L1. J1 wanted to read the book again, and J2 felt she had read the book again, as she wound up rereading many passages to find the connections. "Humming, I remember humming" is just one hint that really doesn't give away too much but will please thought who caught this moment.

L2 thought that Amelia was the strongest character, and was the glue that held the story together.

It's my feeling that this book is certainly accessible to the masses, and it strikes me as the kind of story that, with the right champion, cold be a huge bestseller. That said, I wondered how I'd feel about the book if I'd come to it as a phenomenon rather than our own private treat. Well, I can only hope that the book is such a huge success that I tired of it.(The Australians have a very similar cover to the Germans, but this very contemporary typeface--you see a lot of retailers using a variation--gives it a bit of whimsy, as opposed ot the more traditional gravitas of the German version. I am almost reminded of Life of Pi, which is actually not a terrible idea.)

D raised the issue of whether these were, in fact, connected stories, noting that Mr. Van Booy had several previous story collections out. It was my contention that unlike several other books of this sort, most of these chapters could not stand on their own. But could they be a story cycle, a la Alice Mattison or even Joan Silber? I tried to imagine reconstructing the novel with each character having a voice, and I'm not sure you could pull it off. Another thing to ask Mr. Van Booy.

In an unexpected detour, the conversation turned to Hemingway. Philosophically I thought the authors could not be more different, but several of the attendees noticed a similarity between the two authors' styles. I remembered someone else had made the Hemingway connection--it turned out to be an unattributed quote from a New Hampshire Public Radio reviewer who said "Van Booy writes like Hemingway but with more heart."There was some talk of which Hemingway books hold up best and so forth.

We also discussed Max Gendelman's book A Tale of Two Soldiers, which actually has at its core, a similarity to Mr. Van Booy's story. It's pretty well known that the pivot scene at the heart of the story is based on his wife's grandfather, Bert Knapp, who flew B-24 bombers in World War II. Having read both books, D confirmed that yes, there are similarities in the stories. And of course the amusing thing was that several us knew Gendelman's daughter, Nina Edelman, and of course had not before known about the connection. The Illusion of Separateness indeed!

Mr. Van Booy has written three philosophical nonfiction books--Why We Fight, Why Our Decisions Don't Matter, and Why We Need Love. You can see that influence in the story, which hinges in the concept of unknown connections. There was a lot of feeling that with the problems going on in the world now, The Illusion of Separateness is a book that a lot more people should be reading.  Maybe we'd act differently if we had that consciousness that the person I hurt could be someone connected to me.

Needless to say, I think The Illusion of Separateness makes a great book club discussion, especially for a month when folks are stressed for time, or when you're finding that the group is not reading the books. In particular, what a great book to read in November or December, when you're both feeling both time-crunched and also in need of some inspiration.

And of course your book club can have a nice night out by seeing Simon Van Booy when he visits Boswell on Tuesday, September 30, 7 pm. And before our event, I might just read the book a third time.

Upcoming discussions:
Monday, October 6, 7 pm: We dig into Jane Gardam's Old Filth.

Monday, November 3, 7 pm: The topic is Tish Aw's Five Star Billionaire.

Past discussion addendum: Daniel, why didn't you talk about the group's discussion of Hannah Kent's Burial Rites?

The problem was that we decided to keep our discussion in the face of a very large event with Deborah Harkness, who was at Boswell for The Book of Life. As a result, I wasn't really part of the discussion. The one interest dynamic I noticed was that while just about everyone loved the book, one person hated it. And I don't mean quibbles, I mean hated. And at one point he said something along the lines of, I'm not going to be happy until I convince all of you why this book was bad. It actually was pretty funny. And in the end, he was a failure, as the rest of the attendees were still huge fans of Burial Rites.