Friday, July 30, 2010
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
In certain areas we blew the numbers away. A local author, a big event, a heavily marketed and hand-sold title. It was far more interesting to look at books we hadn’t done that much with, perhaps just a month in the front of the store with a print or email newsletter alert. I guessed that these were the kind of books where most of the sale was still in independent bookstores.
On the other hand, for branded fiction and nonfiction on bestseller lists, our sales percentage was tiny. At Boswell, the number is microscopic. I wanted to use a calculus reference and say that the limit was approaching zero, but my math is very rusty and I’m not sure that makes sense.
One category where we always blew the percentage out of the water was for books on books. Ah, the joys of The Uncommon Reader! This subcategory does very well in independent bookstores for several reasons:
1) Book-obsessed booksellers tend to like these books and feature them. Even if they don’t particularly like them, they know that they reinforce the business.
2) Book-obsessed customers seem more likely to shop at these kinds of stores, or at least comprise a higher percentage of said stores’ business.
3) This is partly true because other retailers are less likely to stock these titles.
A subcategory books on books that may have further reach is books on books for kids. Many parents who are not book obsessed still try to foster reading in their children because they have been told that strong reading skills will help them in their education. Plus you get a lot of teacher and librarian enthusiasm, which doesn’t seem to be as important in the adult category for these books.
And then there is another sub-category of this category, which doesn’t do quite as well, but is beloved by folks like us—books about bookselling!
So what would I think of a niche of a niche of a niche, a kids’ book about bookselling? I’m super excited, of course. It’s Louise Yates called Dog Loves Books, and it just came out. I can’t imagine a book-obsessive’s library not including this title.
Dog is one of those animals that has always loved books, and dreams (like many of our customers) of owning a bookstore. You know he’s a true aficionado as he sniffs them. And yes, we see this in the store more than you’d expect.
But it turns out, it’s a lot more difficult than it seems. He doesn’t even deal with balancing his books or receiving his cooperative advertising funds, or trying to negotiate property and casualty insurance. No, he can’t even get customers.
In a way, this has much the same message as many holiday-themed books. Dog discovers the true spirit of something, in this case hand-selling. Like a great bookseller, Dog realizes the passion that great books bring, and Dog know how to match that passion to his customers.
Plus, he’s very cute, reminding me a bit of Gene Zion’s Harry the Dirty Dog.
In the sequel, I heard that Dog has problems with a bunch of broken bookcases, and is targeted by a shoplifting ring. Plus one of his best customers, Spaniel, becomes obsessed with the new I-Pup. But in the end, Spaniel only really winds up using it on trips to the kennel.
Monday, July 26, 2010
Boy how a few weeks would have made a difference! I've noticed that for fiction, we have a lot of customers who really follow reviews. Yesterday was Liesl Schillinger's review in the New York Times Book Review. Here's just a teaser, for those who don't like to link:
"King is a beautiful writer, with equally strong gifts for dialogue and internal monologue. Silently or aloud, her characters betray the inner tumult they conceal as they try to keep themselves together, wanting others to see them as whole. Whether they’re children, teenagers or adults in their 40s, 50s and older, they demonstrate through their confusions that what we like to call coming-of-age is a process that doesn’t always end. Like people in real life, King’s characters alter their behavior each time they interact with someone different — parent, sibling, friend, lover, student, boss — exposing the protean nature of personality. Context controls character."
Read the rest of the review here.
Not enough convincing? Ellen Emry Heltzel says King's new novel is resonant of John Cheever and Barbara Kingsolver in this review in the Seattle Times.
And here's the wonderful Leah Hager Cohen's take in the Boston Globe:
"King’s great accomplishment lies in making us care about Gardiner without ever letting up on her depiction of his gross infelicities. He is a marvelously complex character: at once consistent and rife with paradox. And King is too sophisticated to offer a straightforward redemptive arc. Instead, we see Gardiner grow, and we see him revert. We see Daley root for him, and we see her question whether doing so means personal stagnation. We see mistakes repeated and hopes renewed. Ultimately, King suggests, redemption lies less in healing than in living — simply being present to what is."
And boy, do I love this jacket!
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Here are the Journal Sentinel's picks:
Hart's Original Petpourri Vol. 1, by Robert Hart
I Has a Hotdog!: What is Your Dog Really Thinking, by Professor Happycat
It's a Dog's World: The Savvy Guide to Four-Legged Living, by Wendy Diamond
Marcy Mary: The Memoirs of a Dachshund American Princess, by Kathleen Chamberlin
From Elephants to Mice: Animals who Have Touched my Soul, by James Mahoney
Katie Up and Down the Hall, by Glenn Plaskin (available in September)
Cats' A.B.C., by Beverly Nichols
Altruistic Armadillos, Zenlike Zebras: Understanding the World’s Most Intriguing Animals, by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Read more here!
Friday, July 23, 2010
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Just to know that my spiritual guidance does not stop with Buddhism, there's another book we have on our trade paperback table that has some legs, and like several of our displayed titles, the original suggestion came from a customer. It's Rebecca Brown Taylor's An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith. It's sort of a Christian take on mindfulness, and certainly plays off of kindness as well. There's some quoting of scripture, a little walking of labyrinths. Recommendatioons from Marcus Borg, Lauren Winner, very HarperOne (formerly Harper San Francisco). And it's a very attractive package, with French flaps, rough-cut pages, and a very nice cover image.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Several weeks again, one of our customers came in to tell us about a book she had translated, from Catalan, no less. It's Jaume Cabré's book of connected stories, Winter Journey, and it came out earlier this year from Swan Island Press in Chicago.
The story connects a number of characters, a pianist, rabbi, and thief among them, and plays out in a structure akin to a work of Schubert. He's the Catalan Joan Silber/Alice Mattison!
It makes me think we have enough translators in town to do a panel. If I put something together, you'll be the first to know.
More from the Three Percent blog.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Monday, July 19, 2010
I know--boy, I know. This morning I slipcovered a ratty old couch that I'd been planning to update since the day we opened. It got worse of late--some nasty customer was pulling off the piping. How is this happening? The couch couldn't be more in plain view. How did I let this go for over a year?
Sunday, July 18, 2010
And I was not alone. Every Boswellian I showed it to felt the same, well, if they had any interest in stationery at all. (Many don't. You're shocked). I started with the basic notecards in 5 designs, plus little desk notes in two designs.
I went to create the order, and what do you know, at some time in the past, Schwartz had ordered from them, though there was nothing in the database from the past few years.
Here's a link to their site, where you can ooh and ahh over the designs. We're carrying red diamond and blue daisy in both styles, plus orange compass, spring, and terra in the notecards.
I also like stepping stones, friends, and solaris. Oh, and lichen. And lilac spray.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Friday, July 16, 2010
The postcard was of James Boswell, the iconic namesake of our store. Intriguing. On his return, Ed and I were discussing his visit, and I asked if he might write a blog post on what circumstances led to this postcard. He would.
“Alas, Madam! How few books are there of which one can ever possibly arrive at the last page…” Samuel Johnson
During recent travels to London, I adventured toward 17 Gough Square, the one time home of Dr. Samuel Johnson, author of the first English Dictionary. Lived in from 1748-1759, the Johnson house remains one of the few residences of its period, and is now surrounded by modern office buildings occupied by solicitors. The interior of the house contains period furnishings, portraits of Johnson and his friends (including James Boswell), and an extensive collection of dictionaries.
The highlight for most visitors unveils itself on the top floor, specifically the location Johnson worked on his dictionary for years. A collection of his favorite words from the thousands of books he read, Johnson’s dictionary codified definitions and spellings within the English language. Intriguingly a modern observer might be confused by the dictionary itself, as it contains many interesting editorial sayings, and quotes from contemporary authors. For example, the definition of oats reads:
OATS. n.s. [?, Saxon] A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.
It is of the grass leaved tribe; the flowers have no petals, and are disposed in a loose panicle: the grain is eatable. The meal makes tolerable good bread. Miller.
The oats have eaten the horses. Shakespeare.
It is bare mechanism, no otherwise produced than the turning of a wild oat beard, by the insinuation of the particles of moisture. Locke
For your lean cattle, fodder them with barley straw first, and the oat straw last. Mortimer.
His horse’s allowance of oats and beans, was greater than the journey required. Swift.
Following Johnson’s death, his long time friend James Boswell wrote The Life of Dr. Johnson. Although it is off the beaten path (near Temple Church), and requires payment to enter, this little house and museum remains one of my favorite parts of London. As Dr. Johnson stated, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”
Thursday, July 15, 2010
The Great Tomato Trek--Allen Discusses His (and an Industry's) Search for Flavor (We're Hosting Him on Sunday, July 25th, 2 PM)
He kept several varieties, growing the seedlings in our basement with special lights until it was warm enough to plant outside. When he harvested, he kept them along all our window sills, never refrigerating them until he cut one open.
For months at a time, he ate a salad every meal, one that was flush with the fruit (or vegetable, depending on the way you define the plant) of his labors. For a short time each year, tomatoes would be my parents’ housewarming gift of choice, and they went out of their way to warm a lot of houses.
We expect the tomatoes we see in stores to reflect that experience, though we know in our heads that this is not really the case, as much as Elsie the Cow who provided our milk is not likely wearing pearls. Heinz ketchup’s label says “Grown, not made”, even as Heinz has gotten out of the tomato farming business, ceding it to processors such as Morning Glory.
It doesn’t even really occur to me that the tomato bound for ketchup or juice or sauce has a far different journey than one meant for the produce aisle. It turns out, according to Arthur Allen’s Ripe: The Search for the Perfect Tomato, that not only is the journey very different than it once was, it can be different depending on whether you live on the east or west coast.
Journalist Arthur Allen explores the changes in tomato growing and processing that have led to portability and size at the expense of flavor. He’s not really averse to mechanization or grower concentration. He just wants answers, traveling the world to look at Italy’s branding of faux San Marzano tomatoes, or the huge growth of tomato growing and processing in China, despite a decided lack of interest among Chinese consumers. And then there’s the United States, where Florida cleaves to its market of gassed greens, despite inroads among “rin” (bred for slow growth) tomatoes in Mexico and greenhouse varieties from Canada.
At one point, Allen gets his hands dirty, spending a day picking tomatoes with a crew in Florida. It’s backbreaking work for very little money, but the crew is happy he’s there, as they figure there won’t be any abusive behavior that day. This gives weight to the labor struggles to increase the payment by fast food companies of a penny a pound to go to working conditions. The same kind of labor unrest on the west coast, however, quickly led to mechanization, not reform.
Allen is not much interested in the surge of interest in heirloom varietals. Yes, a bit contrarian, he feels they are overrated. Ripe isn't exactly an exposé, a la Fast Food Nation, nor does it necesssarily work as a business manual. It's sort of an intellectual journey with numerous detours, of course.
As for organics, Allen mostly quotes the growers, who think it’s a crock of manure, perhaps the very manure that substitutes for chemicals. On the other side stands Kanti Rawal, the dreamer, a self-described anarchist who had hopes of processing yellow tomatoes into golden ketchups, sauces, and salsas.
Allen is at his most fascinating when exploring the flavor profile of the tomato. So much of the bouquet of a fine tomato is multiple flavors working in tandem; alone, they can be downright unpleasant. And who knew that one of the most pleasing aromas comes from the vine, which is why there’s been enormous growth in the tomatoes-on-the-vine business.
There’s lot more where that came from, and you can hear about it for yourself when we host Arthur Allen on Sunday, July 25th, at 2 PM, in conjunction with our green market, which runs from 2 to 6 PM on Sundays.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Martin responded that the feature magazines have been very hot on Father of the Rain. They've really gotten great response. There's a mention of Vogue. Ah, a link to their website!
Interestingly enough, they do put content on the site, but the closest I can get to info about a book is the movie version of The Girl Who Played with Fire (opens this Friday at the Downer Theatre). Other movies, yes. Music, yes. Market research must have indicated that book pieces aren't worth posting. In any case, I don't find it. They probably put up content later, after the magazine sales are over. That seems to make sense to me, but a lot of news media seemed to think it was ok to post the Rolling Stone piece on Robert Gates in its entirety because they hadn't put it up themselves (because they wanted to...sell magazines.) Pinch me. Anyway, it's up now.
I check Elle. Sit through an ad for Estee Lauder night cream. No, that's creme*. I found it! Here's Rachel Rosenblit's teaser of an opening.
"You know that moment when the ingénue in the horror movie heads downstairs to check the radiator, and you’re screaming, dumbfounded, at the screen? That’s the sort of protective rage you feel for Daley Amory, the narrator of Lily King’s novel Father of the Rain. . . . "
And here's where she brings it all home...
"King is brilliant when writing from the eyes of a tween, all self-conscious curiosity but bright and hopeful as a starry sky. And as Daley grows up and learns how to trust and to love in spite of herself, King cuts a fine, fluid line to the melancholy truth: Even when we’re grown and on our own— wives, mothers, CEOs—we still long to be someone’s daughter. The dream of an absent ideal father is like a thick, soft blanket; find one to burrow under, and enjoy.” —Rachel Rosenblit, Elle (You can read the full review if you follow the link.)
Hey, I can use this!
Magazines, who'd a thunk it? (Note: our magazine sales are up over last year, though they took a big drop in the changeover as we cut out a vendor and some display space, to make room for our book club/meeting table. Sharon's been bringing in new titles regularly, from Art News to Christianity Today. Oh, and yes, I requested a few more puzzle magazines. I believe that obsession gets its own post.)
Here are some more great excerpts from magazine reviews.
“Spellbinding . . . Marvelous . . . A story of high drama in he court of Nixon-era New England aristocracy . . . King brilliantly captures the gravitational pull of the past and the way it can eclipse the promise of the present. . . . You won’t be able to stop reading this book, but when you do finally finish the last delicious page and look up, you will see families in a clearer and more forgiving way.” —Susan Cheever, Vanity Fair
“Luminous . . . Uplifting . . . Fresh, with vividly drawn characters . . . and a clear eye for the details of their singularly messed-up relationships.” —Karen Holt, O, the Oprah Magazine
“King infuses soul into this tale of a family torn apart by abuse.”
—Marie Claire (Summer Reads)
More from me about Father of the Rain in this Father's Day post.
*Interestingly enough, if you look for the definition of "creme", most sites lead you back to "cream." The only English reference is for "creme de la creme." So then I check my leatherette desk edition of the Webster's New World Dictionary (one of several dictionaries still lying around the house) and "creme" means either "cream" or "thick liqueur." But why doesn't anyone tell you when you use "creme" and when you use "cream" because I know they are not exactly the same. But I still thought the print edition was more clear.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Monday, July 12, 2010
TW Hardcover Fiction
1. THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET, by David Mitchell (major reviews)
2. GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETS NEST M3, Stieg Larsson (doubled sales over #2)
3. SPIES OF THE BALKANS, by Alan Furst (Jim Higgins' Journal Sentinel interview)
4. SECRET LIVES OF BABA SEGIS WIVES, by Lola Shoneyin (2 recs w/an email plug)
5. ASHES TO WATER, by Irene Ziegler (event #3)
6. PASSAGE V1, by Justin Cronin (ex event, big bestseller, a staff rec)
7. REMARKABLE CREATURES, by Tracy Chevalier (staff rec)
8. MR PEANUT, by Adam Ross (front page NYTBR)
9. PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE, by Aimee Bender (reviews + staff rec)
10. TO KILL A MOCKINBIRD 50TH, by Harper Lee (lots of publicity + display)
TW Hardcover Nonfiction
1. COOKS JOURNEY TO JAPAN, by Sarah Marx Feldner (a very successful event)
2. LAST WORDS OF THE EXECUTED, by Robert K. Elder (a very respectable event)
3. BASEBALL CODES, by Jason Turbow (an event tonight!)
4. SH*T MY DAD SAYS, by Justin Halpern (#1 bestseller, all a-Twitter)
5. LOST CYCLIST, by David Herlihy (tomorrow's event)
6. HITCH 22, by Christopher Hitchens (most tour dates cancelled due to illness)
7. NINE LIVES, by William Dalrymple (Indian travel lit! Who knew?)
8. OPERATION MINCEMENT, by Ben McIntyre (the buzzy nonfiction book, hearing lots of word of mouth from customers)
9. WOMEN FOOD & GOD, by Geneen Roth (Oprah etc, consistently selling for us too)
10. LIFE IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT, by Peter Buffett (sales continuing after visit)
Two Harmony books really selling well, having been in our top sales for multiple weeks. In paperback, it's Stieg, Stieg, Stieg, with another pop to come when movie #2 opens down the block on July 16th (this Friday!). Little Bee sales popped again, and it was nice to see our in-store book club folk pick up Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger. Nice first week on Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire--we should have this on our new paperback table, shouldn't we? Right now, it's just in kids. I'll fix that immediately.
Our pal John E. came in and said that David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Groet was the best book he's read this year. And customer #1 Dennis thought the jacket is amazing. Props to the art director. Also the editor, who is David Ebershoff, one of my favorite authors. I hear he's also a champion pole vaulter.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Saturday, July 10, 2010
He's a short excerpt from the Richmond Times -Dispatch's review of Ashes to Water:
"Annie Bartlett grew up on a lake near DeLeon (read DeLand), Fla. When she was 9, her mother committed suicide by drowning in the lake. Neither Annie nor older sister Leigh got along with their dad, and both left as soon as they could. Annie's now 28, a photographer in Michigan and engaged. When she gets a call that her father has been murdered, she travels to Florida intent on a quick funeral and a quicker departure.
"But that's before she learns that the main suspect is her father's girlfriend, Della Shiftlet, who claims innocence and asks Annie for help. And before Leigh -- beautiful, addicted Leigh -- blows into town. And before Annie runs into old boyfriend Pete Duncan, Della's court-appointed lawyer."
Read the rest of the review here.
Anne, our bookseller who read the book (but had a standing trip to the Shakespeare festival on this date so she can't attend) told me that "Ziegler's off to a very promising start. The story was good, the characters were interesting. It was a very good read, well above the summer beach-read-level. I want to read her again, just to see where she's going..."
Here's the rest of the tour, as currently booked:
July 13, in Richmond, VA
Fountain Bookstore, Inc.
1312 E. Cary Street.
July 21, in Richmond, VA
Page Bond Gallery
1625 West Main Street
July 30, in Seattle, WA
Seattle Mystery Bookshop
117 Cherry St.
July 31, in Portland, OR
Murder By the Book
3210 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd.
August 12, in Scottdale, AZ
Poisoned Pen Bookstore
4014 North Goldwater Boulevard
August 19, in St. Petersburg, FL
St. Petersburg Public Library
August 21, in DeLand, FL
The Muse Book Shop
112 South Woodland Blvd.
August 27, in Smithburg, MD
Smithburg Branch Public Library
66 West Water St.
Sept 12 (or 14, TBA) in South Pasadena, CA
1118 Mission St
Sept 18, in Fredericksburg, VA
721 Caroline St.
Read this interview with Ziegler on Thrillerwriters.org.
Friday, July 9, 2010
Ian’s got a girlfriend Anya, a Romanian short story writer, who’s been invited to read at the KGB’s Literal Stimulation, the edgy, acclaimed reading series sponsored by The Stimulator. She’s in the sights of literary luminaries, but she also might be in the sights of Blade Markham. Ian doesn’t have much, but whatever he does have seems on shakey ground. Then there’s Faye, his fellow employee, an artist who turns forged paintings into artwork in their own right. Is this just friendship or something more?
But it’s right from the epigraph, Milli Vanilli’s “Girl You Know it’s True, ” that you know this isn’t a simple tale of a young innocent caught between two women, or a first novelist overcoming the villains of publishing or perhaps being undone by fame. No, the twists and turns beckon, like when you hear the screams of the folks ahead of you when they take their first drop on a rollercoaster. No, more confusing than a rollercoaster, maybe a tilt-a-whirl.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
I loved, loved, loved the book, a story that totally captured the angst of high school, and at the same time, had fascinating things to say about the human nature in general, and 70s teenagers and their parents, in particular. Alas, the book is currently out of print.
After hosting a modest event for the paperback in one of the Schwartz bookshops, I mentioned in passing that had the book been set in New York, it would have landed on the front page of The New York Times Book Review. Eventually Langer released just that, a wonderful novel called Ellington Boulevard. Not only did it not receive the coveted front-page spot (ok, maybe I’m not too good at predicting that, as I have to account for short-discount books from Oxford in the mix), it was rather quietly received and just as hard for me to sell.
“Sorry, kid, branded sports drinks aren’t in your budget anymore.”
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Blah, blah, blah, you've heard this all before, but how else do I introduce my book club selection roundup?
But as soon as you start reading Black Water Rising, which by the way, was shortlisted for an Edgar and named one of the top books of the year by the Los Angeles Times, you know it’s not an ordinary thriller. The writing is so sharp, the characters are so developed—there’s nothing sloppy about it, no staccato dialogue, no “this feels like a rewritten screenplay.” Hey, maybe it is a rewritten screenplay. But more likely, Locke decided she was absolutely not going to write a movie at all, like David Benioff’s City of Thieves.
The story revolves around Jay Porter, a struggling lawyer who only seems to get cheapo lawsuit cases or earnest pro bono work with no payoff. He’s left behind his life as a student activist, and lost some friends in the process. On a moonlit birthday cruise for his wife on the Buffalo Bayou (well, more like hot links and grape soda on something not much nicer than a barge), they hear a woman’s scream. Do they help? The answer has serious repercussions.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
I am reminded of this as I get ready for our event with Justin Kramon, author of the new novel Finny. The book goes on sale July 13th, and our event is on Friday, July 23rd, at 7 PM. Finny is the story of Delphine “Finny” Short, daughter of a socialite and academic, coming into her teen years, but more secure about who she is not than who she is. She finds herself attracted to Earl, a neighbor boy, and starts to see him under the guise of taking piano lessons from her father. The ruse is discovered, and she is sent to boarding school.
Wherever Finny goes in life, she finds dynamic personalities, sometimes good, sometimes bad, often a combination of both. With each episode, she discovers a little bit more about herself, and learns that the world is far more tinged with gray than she ever imagined.
As I read Kramon’s novel, the thought went through my mind that the structure and voice and episodic quality of his novel was referencing something, but I had no idea what it was. Desperate to know and having a few other questions to ask, I approached Kramon, and he was gracious enough to reply.
Goldin: I was curious about your inspiration. There were periods when I was reading it when I thought you were doing some sort of homage, only I didn't know the source. My literary vocabulary can be somewhat limited.
Kramon: Dickens was a huge inspiration, and the original idea for the book was to do a reimagining of David Copperfield, the great Dickens novel, and that's where a lot of the references come from. I also had a couple other great coming-of-age books in mind: The World According to Garp, Great Expectations, The Adventures of Augie March, and several others. I love their intricate and suspenseful plots, the slightly-larger-than-life characters, the humor, and the sense of bigness and adventure I get from even the opening sentences. I feel like these classic novels are treasure chests of funny characters and surprising moments and beautiful insights about the world.
But one thing I noticed about a lot of these books is that they’re about young men. So I was interested in what it would be like to tell one of these big classic stories about a young woman coming into the contemporary world. And that’s how the idea for Finny started.
Goldin: Well, that’s a bit embarrassing, as I read David Copperfield a little more than a year ago. But now that you mention it, of course!
I’m always curious about this, but since you have a female protagonist, it makes the question a bit more interesting. Is there anything autobiographical in the story? Did you identify more with Finny or Earl?
Kramon. There are a lot of things I draw from my life -- scenes, characters, traits, ideas -- but there's not a whole lot of autobiographical material in this book. I wanted to be able to move way outside of myself with this book, and create a point of view on the world that's different than mine. I've lived or traveled in the places where Finny lives/travels (Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Paris, Boston), but my experiences there were very different. I identified with both Finny and Earl, and felt for them both, but I have a special feeling for Finny. She made the book come alive, and it couldn't be there without her.
Also, I've always enjoyed writing female characters. I'm not sure why -- maybe because I'm only about 51% male. But I think it also has to do with the kind of fiction I want to write. If I talk about friendships and relationships and sex from the point of view of a woman, it helps me to cut myself out and universalize the experience -- or at least bring up some useful observations about it.
Goldin: Many of your side characters have exaggerated mannerisms or distinguishing tics. Were you thinking more along the lines of character shortcut, or were they more exaggeration of type? I didn't really see the book as satire, but I didn't notice the correlation between inner and outer beauty, which, in the case of this novel, is pretty much invesed. The most attractive folks tended to be the most shallow (and sometimes villainous), whereas the eccentrics tended to have noble stuff about them. Did I read this right? Care to comment?
Kramon. The exaggerated mannerisms and distinguishing traits you notice are part of the tribute to Dickens -- who was the master at creating these slightly-larger-than-life characters, accentuating traits or themes he saw in people in his own life to bring closer attention to them. I wanted to try to blend that style with a more modern approach to psychology and interior thoughts and character.
The moral center of the book -- and the correlations between inner and outer beauty -- are also big themes in Dickens, but as you said, I wanted the correlation to be not completely straight-forward. I don't think there are any characters in the book who are noble all the time. Even Finny puts the note under Poplan's door and neglects to tell her brother about Judith's history, partly because of her infatuation with Judith. Those moral issues are all part of the theme of coming-of-age in the book, but I hoped there wouldn't be clear answers to every question.
Goldin: In Finny, there are some characters, such as Sarah Barksdale and Dorrie, that felt like they were more developed in your head than what you saw on paper. Was the book originally longer? If so, what did you have to cut?
Kramon: The book was originally longer -- closer to 500 pages. I slimmed it down a lot, in order to emphasize only the most important plots. I wanted the book to be densely-plotted, so there are still a number of story lines, since that's the nineteenth-century style I was writing in.
You're right that some characters originally took up more space. It just turned out, as I revised, that I didn't feel their stories were as essential to Finny's story.
Goldin: Sylvan and Finny's relationships with Judith and Earl somewhat parallel each other, to the point where in each case. the boyfriend or girlfriend seems to cheat on our heroine or her brother. Yet Judith is ultimately cast as a problematic partner in a way that Earl is not--twice Finny overcomes Earl's infidelities. Did you think Earl was ultimately a different character at the end of the book? In a similar way, Earl chose his mother over Finny, and only really broke away from Mom after she died.
My intention was for the ending of the book to hit a kind of questioning note -- to have some ambiguity in it, along with affirmation. I think Earl is not a perfect person, and there are questions in Finny's mind all the way to the end. To me, that's part of the growth in the book: the ability to accept those questions and move forward without necessarily resolving them.
And to me, that’s one of the big differences with a modern and historical Dickens. I am not an expert on this, but I think Dickens felt at the end that his characters were essentially good or bad, and anything that made readers think otherwise during the course of the reading was essentially literary camouflage. Kramon, like so many modern writers, sees the good in the bad, and vice versa. I suppose I am falling victim to moral relativism, but that should be a shock. Thinking back to my days obsessing with Myers Briggs, I was a pretty strong F.
Want to continue the conversation? Come to our event for Finny on July 23rd at 7 PM. And being that the book is a paperback original, Kramon is very interested in talking to book clubs. Want to set something up? Contact me and I can put you in touch.
Here's a rave about Finny on the Galley Cat blog.
Monday, July 5, 2010
Sunday, July 4, 2010
For me, it has other significance, for July 4th is the day I officially stop restocking our outdoor kids stuff and start worrying about sell through. OK, if it's really great and I can see someone using it through fall, I might bring it in again. Like the pop out sunglasses--they were just too coll to be out of. Our pal Melissa bought two pairs yesterday for her kids, one fish and one starfish.
Themes repeat a lot in our collections, especially because most of our items come from three or four vendors, which leads me to wonder how motifs become more and less popular over the years. Frogs have been very hot for a while--right now we have frog games, pull-along toys, brand-new flashlights, and at least one magnifying glass left.
The popularity of frogs sort of surprise me, because the same folks I work with that always point to the frog-themed item as a must have for Boswell don't strike me as the kind of folks who in their day, went frog and toad hunting in the woods. On the other hand, they are probably not waddling with penguins either.
But who knows? I did, and you might not expect that. I don't think I actually saw many frogs, but I was quite the hunter of toads, which as you know, are friends with frogs.* I was a gentle sort, so don't worry, no amphibians were harmed, except perhaps emotionally. I did hold a few, however. OK, I might have made one a pet for a bit. I think that didn't end well. And now, all I have are the warts.
*Arnold Lobel, Frog and Toad are Friends, HarperCollins, 1970.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
Friday, July 2, 2010
The wonderballs are filled with water and light up when you bounce them. The booklights also light up, but there appears to be no liquid. Each product is from different vendors.
Now I know that a lot of this is basic color story and trend that all these consumer products companies use, but that said, it made a great photo.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
We're Eating and Drinking Our Way from Pastiche's France to Sarah Marx Feldner's Japan with my Sister and her Australian Friend
For the last few years, they have been meeting up in the United States during an annual conference. And this year when they were deciding where to go, her friend suggested they visit Milwaukee to see the bookstore.
Really? But I need to schedule another carpet cleaning. It looked so good, and in the past month, we must have had a half dozen coffees spill. And we still can't figure out how to change these floor tiles.
We're going to Pastiche tonight, that wonderful new restaurant in Bay View. Casoulet! Duck breast with chorizo! Locally raised trout amandine! (Merrill is a pesco-vegetarian). And yes, we remembered to make reservations.
Well, of course we had to make sure we had an interesting event during their stay, but they did't make it easy, being that it's the July 4th weekend. On Saturday we're hosting Joseph Caldwell (July 3rd, 2 PM), author of The Pig Did It and The Pig Comes to Dinner, but they are doing Chicago on Saturday.
I hoped for them to stay for Robert K. Elder's Last Words of the Executed, an oral history of capital punishment (Thursday, July 8th, 7 PM), but alas, they had to leave. Elder, who did some time in Milwaukee, is now a journalism professor at Northwestern. It's going to be a great event, and we'll have more info in our next email newsletter.
Finally we had just the right event! It's for Sarah Marx Feldner, the author of the beautiful A Cook's Journey to Japan: Fish Tales and Rice Paddies, 100 Homestyle Recipes from Japanese Kitchens. It's filled with soups, salads, hot pots, noodle dishes, and even desserts.
We're co-hosting the event with Rishi Tea, who will be offering samples of Japanese tea. In addition, each purchase or signed copy of A Cook's Journey to Japan receives a take-home sample of Japanese green tea, courtesy of Rishi Tea.
Fun, huh? My only concern is that she's looking for exotic Americana, but for Australians, Japan is relatively pedestrian.
Want to read more about Feldner's book? Here's a piece from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Here's Rishi Tea's blog on harvesting tea in Kagoshima, and an interview with Mr. Nishi-san.