Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fourth Quarter Means More Stuff--and That's in Two Days

I'm putting our gift stuff out as fast as I can, in between events and well, everything else. Yesterday, Jocelyn helped me receive our Madison Park holiday cards, which are now in that big oval table in the home section. We've brought in several new vendors, so the mix should be a bit different. We brought in the designs that sold through quickly, but if it was still sitting around in December, you probably won't see it this year.

So what were the trends that I noticed? We needed a bit more religious cards, and more photography. And though I love them myself, I wound up cutting back on the cute cartoony. And yet I picked up Hello Lucky boxed and loose, which I can only describe as adorable.

Interestingly enough, though we sell a a good number of books of Jewish interest, we have trouble selling Hanukkah cards, to say nothing of Chanukah. This year we did have a few Jewish New Year's cards, also slow. I think folks buy those at their synagogue or temple gift shops. It could be an example of the not-enough-selection-to-generate-sales theory. Who knows?

Instead of putting them in overstock, we're displaying the Christmas titles on the display shelves underneath. You have to be particularly astute to catch them, but in September, you've got to be a big fan to shop holiday.

So what's next? Well, there are those 17 boxes of one of our gift vendors by the pillar. It's imposing. Hope to find some time for that soon--it was a limited-time offer that I had to take advantage of to get some good deals.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

We're Keeping Michele Norris at the Pitman. Tickets Still Available.

So today I was stressing out! We were undecided about where to put our Michele Norris event for The Grace of Silence (tickets available here), but in the end, we think we have enough folks to keep it in the Pitman. Alverno is helping with the event, so our trade is that there are some classes coming. I think it's a great topic for students, and I'm glad we could do that.

There are some great reviews coming in. Here's Carmela Ciuraru in The San Francisco Chronicle:

"The Grace of Silence" is a powerful and heartbreaking read. At one point, Norris describes black men going to voting booths, and, after waiting in line for hours, being turned away for having supposedly filled out their paperwork incorrectly. The year she's talking about is 1946.

Does this sound familiar? How far have we come as a nation, after all? "The Grace of Silence" doesn't answer that question, but it sparks a fascinating conversation - which, after reading it, you can and should continue."

Read more in the full review.

And Michael Sragow does a combo review and interview in The Baltimore Globe. After reading it, I think all interview questions should start with a quote from a novelist:

Q: F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time." Does that apply to your father? He remained patriotic all his life — even after he returned to Birmingham, Ala., a Navy veteran of World War II, and was shot by a white policeman.

A: My parents loved America even when America didn't love them back. They loved America as an ideal even when America as a reality was something that was quite ugly.

Read more in the Sun. And there's info on her Baltimore appearance, at the Baltimore Book Festival, just in case you are Marylander reading this piece.

Our event is on Thursday at Alverno's Pitman Theater, at 3401 (though I've also seen 3400--I'm pretty sure the theater is not in one of those cute bungalows across the street) South 39th Street. It starts at 7 PM. Another ticket link. And note that the ticket is 25 cents cheaper than buying the book in the store.

Tonight is Mad Men and Philosophy with James South! Tomorrow is the St. Peter and Paul book night. Friday is Michael Grant at Whitefish Bay. Next week we switch over our inventory system (Monday should be fun.)

Monday, September 27, 2010

I Promise not to Talk About Each Facebook Giveaway on the Blog, but this is our First Major One, Front-Row Tickets to David Sedaris at the Riverside.

Here's another reason to like us on Facebook. We're hoping to start offering giveaways to promote our events, and well, whatever we're excited about.

This week we're talking up the release of David Sedaris' Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, out tomorrow (9/28) with the giveaway of two pairs of tickets to the Sedaris show at the Riverside on 10/23. Wait for our offer post and then comment on whether you're more of a squirrel or a chipmunk. Feel free to expand on that. And you'll be entered. Here's our Facebook page.

The new book is a collection of animal stories. Cats at AA meetings, ducks in complaint lines, that sort of thing. Illustrations are by Ian Falconer of Olivia fame.

If you like these sorts of giveaways, we're also offering the prize tieing into our signing with Tucker Max for A**holes Finish First. I know I can write A**holes, but I l*ke writing asterisks. Plus I offend enough people as it is.

It's a copy of the book plus first place on our signing line. There are two prize winners. Friend the folks at the A.V. Club Milwaukee to get a piece of that.

Stacie and I will be posting the contest info shortly.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Networking with Changing Hands, Using Social Networking

I spent a lot of time at our IBC (Independent Booksellers Consortium) meeting with Brandon of Changing Hands of Tempe. I know the folks at that wonderful bookstore for several reasons.

1. My sister Merrill (who coincidentally visited this past weekend) lives in Tempe and it's a regular stop on my visits. I've even worked there on a few previous visits during Thanksgiving weekend. I was hoping that it might happen Thanksgiving weekend 2010, but I've wound up (surprise) scheduling too many events then. The artisan craft market is coming back, starting that Saturday, and we've booked the author of The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur to talk (and offer some shopping treats) on Sunday. You'll be hearing more about those events in the future. So alas, if I get to go to Phoenix to visit Merrill, it will have to be in the winter. (Photo courtesy of the website. This doesn't give you a sense of the size of the store, which is larger than Boswell. I also wish you could see the flooring. It's Quite lovely.)

2. A good number of my customers do some wintering time in Phoenix and are talk about the store when they come back..

3. Gayle, Bob, Cindy, and Brandon, are well, just very friendly and easy get to know, and the IBC is a lot about networking and socializing. I am very lucky to have been able to take on the Schwartz membership in this organization.

I know there are exceptions, but I think that is often part of an independent bookstore's success. In the past, not so much, but many of our old advantages have vanished, and relationships have become much more important. If you like reading newsletters, here's theirs from August. Gayle's currently recommending The Debba, by Avner Mandelman, a mystery of sorts about a Canadian who returns to Israel to try to solve the murder of his father, a playwright whose play, "The Debba" led to making a lot of enemies. Notice I'm not afraid to say "Canada" in my blog posts.

So Brandon, a social networkologist of the highest order, has given me some tips on using Facebook, some of which we've taken, and Twitter, which honestly, we're not taking as much. I try to link my blog posts there, for example, and sometimes we get some nice hits from that. Interestingly enough, though we have a large (for our size and how long the store is open) email list and get very good opens, it's hard to get folks to click through on our links. We do enough for me to keep linking, but a smaller percentage than you'd expect look at the reviews and things. The most frequent links, actually, are to our website, to look at books in more depth.

One of his best suggestions to build Facebook loyalty was giveaways. Our first this week, for Florentine Opera tee shirts, promoting "Rio de Sangre" in October (as well as our Florentine Opera Insights preview last week), was our practice run. We're trying another tomorrow, and it's a big deal, David Sedaris tickets to his show on October 23rd at the Riverside.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What's Cooking? Looking at the David Tanis Book and Some Other Events with Bartolotta Restaurants

We're doing a few more collaborations with Bartolotta's Restaurants in the next few months. On October 27th, there's a lunch for Mireille Guiliano for the French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook at Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro at 12 Noon. It's part of their 15th anniversary celebration. Call 414-962-6300 to make a reservation. The $85 cost includes a signed copy of the book. More at the Lake Park Bistro event page.

Then on November 9th, there's a Bacchus dinner with David Tanis, head chef of Alice Waters' Chez Panisse. His new book is Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys. We just got in an advance copy to pass to John at Bartolotta for them to create the menu. 414-765-1166 is the number to call for reservations. The cost for the dinner is $135, which includes a signed copy of the book. Visit the Bacchus event page here.

Details to come, but you can always find more on their website, which is here.

My favorite sections so far:
1) eating raw artichokes
2) how to prepare squid
3) making thai black rice pudding for dessert

I'm in the process of trying an idea we haven't done yet, though we attempted it a few times at Schwartz. It's a weekday lunch with a well-known novelist popular with book clubs. You'll get a choice of three entrees, three courses, non-alcoholic beverages, tax, and gratuities included, plus a signed copy of the book (a paperback) and a fairly intimate lunch with the author. The cost will be between $60 and $65. I'm getting pointers from my friend Sue at Lake Forest Book Store, who does these with some regularity. Do you think we can pull this off? Keep posted for deatils.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Bookseller Moment #279--The Author Stop-by on His or Her Way to Another Event. Case Study: Emma Donoghue and Room

Every bookseller in a community that has another bookstore within driving distance experiences this. The stop-by. Sometimes the publicist or author escort calls ahead of time to let you know the author is going to come by and sign books. Other times it's a surprise.

There are times when you are going through the motions. Or here's our copy. Or worse, we just sold it. And yes, that sometimes means we didn't have it in the first place. Sometimes media attention drives sales at other stores, but much of the event media is set up to drive traffic to the store hosting the talk. And the truth of the matter is that many author events don't get much attention, aside from the emails and ads and signage and social networking that the store itself is churning out.

And sometimes it just reinforces the pain that you didn't get the event yourself.

We know it's mostly to kill time in the schedule. It usually means that there are not enough interviews set up, and the author doesn't need to rest or has no plans to visit the Milwaukee Art Museum or doesn't have friends in town.

Rarely do we get an author for a stop-by where we're giddy with excitement. Yesterday, however, Emma Donoghue, author of the breakout bestseller and literary sensation, Room, stopped by in the afternoon with her author escort Bill, before her event at Next Chapter. In this case, we've had three great reads* on the book (Sharon, Stacie, and Greg) and the book has the literary and commercial momentum that will make our signed copies more valuable. For example, I think I am buying a signed copy today.

This was what a dreamy stop-by is all about:

a. We had enough stock to sign, and this wasn't one of those times that you buy five books for the stop-by and know you are going to return four of them in short order (or five. or five.)

b. She is super charming, as I remembered from a dinner a number of years ago for Slammerkin. Or was it Life Mask? I can't remember. I read the latter and really enjoyed it.

c. I also got to say I read her first novel when it came out, Stir Fry. Only I called it Scrambled Eggs at first. And Donoghue, as gracious as could be, said, "Sometimes they call it Sweet and Sour."

d. And we could even be helpful and provide space for Donoghue's phone interview with The Daily Beast.

This was just a wonderful experince and I'm very grateful. So I can only imagine what the actual author events are like. (Yes, I'm sort of kicking myself for not going, but I have a busy weekend** that I needed to rest up for.) And note to booksellers: she probably wouldn't say no to a tall latte, if you're meeting her in the afternoon.

Oh, and was I jealous that she wasn't reading at Boswell? Of course! Wouldn't you be?

*I know, not me yet. The booksellers are tired of me comparing Room to Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I read that somewhere and it worked for me. But I guess I better read it at one point, to know if it's really a fair comparison.

**Tonight, Friday, September 24th, 7 PM. Eric Puchner discusses Model Home, along with me previewing fall book club picks. Tomorrow, Saturday 25th, 2 PM, Joshua Ferris and Patrick Somerville. Then on Sunday we have a staff meeting and a rep night. So the store is only open on Sunday until 4:30 PM. Much apologies.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I Experience Wilderness at the Margins First-Hand in Utah, and in Benjamin Percy's Fine New Novel (And Yes, He's at Boswell on 10/5)

Recently I met with some booksellers at a ski resort called Alta, outside Salt Lake City. It’s only 30 miles out of town, but it is quite rustic, more so in summer, as there really aren’t a lot of people around. It’s not like we were in the middle of nowhere (there was both wifi and cell phone coverage, though it could be spotty), but being without a car and having no stores or housing or offices around us, it’s as close as I get to wilderness. I guess this is a good place to talk about bookseller issues, as there was little else we could do.

OK, it got a little more wilderness-y. We went on a wildflower walk. It was quite beautiful, but I was also intimidated. There were several moose spotted, but for me, the hunting signs scared me even more. I was wearing a black sweater. What was I going to do? Well, apparently I could stay on the right of the road, as hunting was not allowed on the left side. Seemed like a fine line to me.

It was fitting that I had just finished Benjamin Percy’s new novel, The Wilding. I thought there was probably some similarlity between Utah’s landscape and what I imagined to be Bend. The landscape of Percy’s fiction is an area that was once hardscrabble existence, that was invaded by money, from California and to a lesser extent, from the Oregon coast.

The Wilding concerns one particular family who takes a hunting trip into a canyon that is soon to be developed into a resort. Justin is bullied by his dad into going, as well as taking his son Graham. Paul (Dad) is rather an old-fashioned guy, but rather than be upset about losing his hunting area, he’s actually running the construction crew. This makes him particularly unpopular with the townspeople, and in particular, one convenience store attendant.

Justin’s having marital problems as well, particularly since his wife Karen’s second pregnancy ended prematurely. She’s getting a little attention from Bobby, the developer, and also from the locksmith, an Iraqi war vet who’s a bit shell shocked.

So the three boys are in the woods, with lots of unresolved father and son issues, and there are least two crazed men to watch out for. Oh, and a bear. It’s a fascinating story about the friction of civilization at the margins, whether it’s on the edge of civilization, or a war zone, or even masculine ideals.

I was looking at the back of the advance copy I read and was struck by what a good collection of author quotes there were. Not because they liked the book (would you put them on the jacket if they didn’t?) but because they encapsulated the mood and theme of the book, William Kitteredge and Pam Houston for the meditations on wilderness in the American West, and Dan Chaon for the creepiness of Percy’s writing. It’s a tense novel.

It’s also an excellent novel. Percy taught at Marquette before his recent stint at Iowa State. He's the author of two short story collections, The Language of Elk and Refresh, Refresh. The title story of his second collection was featured in Best American Short Stories, and was adapted into a graphic novel.

The Wilding official goes on sale this coming Tuesday, September 28th. Come here more on Tuesday, October 5th, when Percy appears at Boswell (at 7 PM). We're looking forward to his return. Did I mention it snowed while we were in August?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wednesday is Discuss Bestsellers Day--Because How Else am I Going to Write a Daily Blog Post?

I spent a lot of time on two recent novels (Mona Simpson's My Hollywood and Mary Helen Stefaniak's The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia) and so I don't have a book that I've read to meditate on, blogwise.

Also, I told Jason I would try to stick the gift posts in the weekends, but I'm not sure if I can control myself. Yesterday, we put out our displays of Blue Orange Games (a French company, mostly wood, kind of fun-goofy) and Fuzz that Wuzz (plush made out of soda bottles) and it's hard for me to control myself. The reprieve is that I left my camera-to-computer thigamabob at work. I certainly can't post this without some pictures.

Yes, I'm at home procrastinating writing another email newsletter. I was supposed to do it on my day off (yesterday) but how could I stay home when there was so much to do? Plus I had to go in for the Florentine Opera Insights presentation of "Rio de Sangre." It was just wonderful, and we had a nice crowd of 40 people. We still have samplers and refrigerator magnets. Here's how you're supposed to use them. Say you're on the phone in the kitchen--you look at your fridge and see the magnet. Then you say to your friend or mother-in-law or dental receptionist on the phone, "Say, have you heard about the world premiere opera Rio de Sangre at the Florentine? And then you pop the CD in something (your CD player, a computer, your toaster) and play some highlights. Easy, huh? Tickets are available at their website.
Here are our top ten hardcover nonfiction books last week, along with comments:

1. Wisconsin's Own, by Caren Connolly and Louis Wasserman
You've heard me talk at length about this already. Amazing event. Reorder of books should arrive shortly. Connolly and Wasserman will come by and sign stock. There may even be an encore event. Details to follow.

2. Sh*t My Dad Says, by Justin Halpern. OK, we don't exactly sell all the bestsellers well, but we're not immune to a bookselling phenomenon. And for folks who wonder how Shatner can affordably shill for the Milwaukee-area personal injury law firm of Cannon and Dunphy (like I did), these ads are packaged and used around the country. Can you imagine any other actor doing this? I can't. More info. Interested in Halpern? We're not hosting him. But I should mention Tucker Max's A**holes Finish First, if only because it's another book that involves asterisks. He's appearing October 12th at 7 PM. Breaking news--this is no longer a ticketed event! The book goes on sale next Tuesday, September 28th.

3. The Grand Design, by Stephen Hawking. Apparently not too different from his other books, except that he comes out as an atheist. It's like a celebrity saying he is bisexual, and then correcting himself five years later to bisexual, yes, but without any women involved. Reading this? You might want to try Greg Graffin's Anarchy Evolution. He's appearing at Boswell on Saturday, October 9th, at 6 PM.

4. The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson. Wilkerson's well-reviewed history of the great migration reminds me that Michele Norris's The Grace of Silence came out yesterday. We've got a big window promoting her appearance at Alverno College. Tickets are $26 and include a book or a $20 Boswell gift card. Buy tickets here. I mean, really, did you think I wasn't going to bring this up? I need to sell tickets!

5. Dreaming in Chinese, by Deborah Fallows. Hey, I wrote a blog piece on this. I don't think that's why we're selling it. Apparently she has a good "in" at NPR. I keep badgering my sister Claudia to see if she read it. And I'm convinced she could write a wonderful book about traveling to China over the last 30 years. She has these wonderful stories about how the culture (and yes, the language) has adapted. And she is credentialed too--lots of textbooks under her belt, and the president of the Chinese Language Teachers Association (or something like that). If you are publisher, you should sign her up. OK, that's the end of my pitch.

Just to be fair, my other sister Merrill has a good idea for a college cookbook on the back burner. Aren't you excited about her visit this weekend? I think you should come to our event with Joshua Ferris and Patrick Somerville and meet her (Saturday, September 25th, 2 PM).

6. Bob Dylan in America, by Sean Wilentz. Quoth our buyer Jason, on watching this book blow out of the store, "Hasn't everyone read enough about Bob Dylan?" Answer: No, and we're just about due for another book about Neil Young. Get cracking, publishers!

7. Medium Raw, by Anthony Bourdain. Somebody asked me if we're hosting him soon. We aren't, though we did sell books at his last Riverside event. Nice to see him judging on the recent Top Chef, especially when he was disagreeing with Eric Ripert. I'd be singing a different tune if we'd gotten Ripert for a Bartolotta event, but instead we have David Tanis, the head chef at Chez Panisse, who is coming for his new book, Heart of an Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys. It's a dinner at Bacchus on November 9th, and tickets are not yet available. Speaking of Bartolotta/Bacchus meals, we've got Mireille Guiliano coming on October 27th for a luncheon at Bacchus for The French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook. Tickets are on sales at (414) 962-6300. More at the Journal Sentinel. Not much more, but more.

8. The Tiger, by John Vaillant. The hunt for a man-eating tiger across Russia. I mentioned that Fran at Hickory Stick recommended this to me. Well, I also heard very good feedback from Renee, one of our regular customers.

9. Lost Dogs, by Jim Gorant. It's abook about Michael Vick's dogs. Who knew? We're having a shopping night with the Wisconsin Humane Society on November 10th, as part of our event for Linda and Allen Anderson's Dogs and the Women Who Love Them. Really, I can take any book and turn it into a pitch for one of our events. Just try me.

10. Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?, by Thomas Geoghegan. The labor lawyer imagines life lived like Europeans. Just to get a handle on his stand, he is described as a Europhile. I was just talking about this with our regular Aaron as he drove me to Lulu. I wonder if he was cribbing from the book when he mentioned that two world wars on your soil can make you a little more empathetic for the have nots.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Iraq? No, Georgia! Mary Helen Stefaniak Appears for The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia on Friday, October 22nd

If you read Mary Helen Stefaniak’s first published novel, The Turk and my Mother, you know it’s 1) set in the Bay View neighborhood of Milwaukee and 2) it’s a novel not “in” stories but “about” stories. It’s a great immigrant saga that I particularly enjoyed selling at the Schwartz Bookshop in Bay View (2005-2008). Stefaniak’s novel has stories wrapped in stories, each revealing more about one immigrant family.

So it was a bit of a surprise to start reading Stefaniak’s new novel, The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia. Set in 1938 and told through the perspective of 11-year-old Gladys Cailiff, it’s about what happens when Threestep, Georgia gets in a new teacher in the form of one Grace Spivey, a Nashville girl who has traveled the world.

Grace brings her exotic interests into the classroom, particularly her fascination with 1001 Arabian Nights. Soon she’s organizing the Baghdad Bazaar, enchanting half the town, and perhaps enraging the other half, certainly her proper-yet-shrill student Mavis Davis, and Mr. Gordon, the town lawyer and Klu Klux Klan leader.

For Miss Spivey has no tolerance for the town’s antiquated notions of race. The Cailiff neighbor boy, Theo Boykins, is clearly the smartest in town, but as an African American, is consigned to a second rate high school far away. And the idea of using his brother Eugene in the Baghdad Bazaar play? Why, the only way to do that would be to convince everyone that a genie is a kind of slave.

So the narrative continues, surprisingly straightforward, a To Kill a Mockingbird kind of thing, or to use a more contemporary comparison, Mudbound. (I’ve got one more but I’ll save it for the big finish). And then the stories start—how the camels got to Georgia, the source of the ancient copy of the 1001 Arabian Nights book, how Spivey got to Baghdad in the first place to develop her fascination with all things Arabian.

I love the way that the racial divide in the small Georgia town mirrors many Americans current relations with Muslims, only in the 1930’s, the Muslims culture is so unknown that the folks of Threestep see the Baghdad culture as more exotic than other. In a sense, this story is about bridging the divide between Muslim and non-Muslim (the town is pretty much all Christian) as well as white and black.

I won’t give you the context of the stories, as that would give too much away, but it so reminded me of Rabih Alameddine’s last novel, where the characters would tell each other stories (some contemporary, some historical, some legendary) as they sat watch over the dying patriarch in a place (Beirut) where folks of different colors and religions coexisted peacefully. Storytelling is such an intrinsic part of Muslim culture that these stories within a story in The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia make perfect sense when viewed in this context. Muslim culture finds itself seeping into the town of Threestep, which yes, does get renamed Baghdad.

So yes (wait for it), this novel is The Help meets The Hakawati. Please feel free to use this hook when you talk this novel up to others.

Stefaniak will be at Boswell on Friday, October 22nd. Welcome her back to Milwaukee (she grew up here, her mom’s from Georgia, hence the locale of the new book (and the last one). Want more? Here's Stefaniak talking about her inspiration.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Event Roundup and Preview--And I Wrote So Much About the Former, that There's Hardly Anything About Our "Rio de Sangre" Preview.

I'm not saying every event we have a doozy. I'm not going to tell you which one was more snoozy. (Nothing recently, of course. You can gossip among yourselves if you were there.) This post was supposed to be about how excited I am about Tuesday's preview of "Rio de Sangre", but it wound up being a recap of four very rewarding events last week. So here we go.

Events are as emotional as opera. Lots of highs, definitely lows. Sometimes the low is because the event didn't measure up, but other times it's just because we didn't find the audience to what was a very interesting talk or performance. Totally my fault--I'll just say that up front!

After the madhouse of Caren Connolly and Louis Wasserman at Villa Terrace for Wisconsin's Own: Twenty Remarkable Homes (the endorphins were shooting for all of us, and Connolly and Wasserman very graciously gave us a wonderful bouquet as a thank you, while the Historical Society's Melanie started dreaming up opportunities for an encore event for this sold out performance about the joys of Wisconsin architecture, and yes, I periodically spell "Connolly" wrong and I humbly apologize) and a very satisfying double event with Neal Pollack for Stretch: The Making of a Yoga Dude (a yoga class at Invivo and a talk with demo at the store*), we were brought back down to earth with our weekend events.

Saturday we hosted Paule Buhle, retired Brown professor, who spoke about Comics in Wisconsin. It was a small but spirited crowd (under ten, but enough that the event was held instead of being just chatting). I learned that much of Wisconsin comics history is the work of one man--Denis Kitchen. Fortunately we had just gotten in Dark Horse Comic's new beauty, The Oddly Compelling Art of Denis Kitchen. I couldn't tell exactly which audience we should have hit but didn't--graphic novel fans, old lefties, young ziners. It's kind of tangential to all of them, and as with all these things, you never quite known what you're programming against. Wish I'd gotten more of them--didn't help that scheduling this event took way longer than we expected...close to a year!

Sunday we doubled our turnout for our joint event with Isabel Sharpe** and Jean Reynolds Page. Sharpe is local, and had already done several events in the market, while Page is new to the state, having recently moved from Seattle to Madison (like Buhle, Madison is a fertile source of authors for Boswell. Mad props to Mad City for helping us out here.) What was nice about this event is that the authors wound up playing against each other in a very rewarding way, particularly at the Q&A. One of the fascinating revelations was that their writing styles mimicked their housekeeping styles. Has this been studied further? Who wants to get on this?

We also sort of introduced them--they met last Friday when taping WTMJ's Morning Blend interview show, and I suspect they will keep in touch. Half the battle is getting press, and I was happy that in addition to the TV gig, the Shephered Express ran an interview with Sharpe. For me, it was an introduction to Page's work, who was previously off my radar.

Tonight's (Monday, September 20th) event is with Niraj Nijhawan, a Aurora Sinai anesthesiologist (who was in medical school with my friend Bill. Hi, Bill! How's Fresno?) whose new book, Modern Medicine is Killing You, is a blunt assessment of the current healthcare crisis, with very helpful tools for getting through the maze, and using both traditional and alternative treatments to their best advantage. He's a wonderful speaker (he pretty much tested the talk on me at the store, or at least a mini version) and I look forward to the event. As we are event crazed, it's understood that some of our events will get more press than others. I guess I'll find out what broke as the day goes on. One thing we noticed is that health and fitness events are very tough to get press on. It's hard to find the right shows, and the Journal Sentinel, which is incredibly supportive and local in other areas, uses almost all wire service for their Tuesday Cue section. Did you ever notice this? (Sigh, I wish they could do more local pieces in this area, but looking at other papers, we have way more local coverage than other cities of our size).

So this whole thing was a wind-up to talk about Tuesday's event, our Florentine Opera Insights with Corliss Phillabaum and the Florentine Opera Studio presentation of the World Premiere "Rio de Sangre." Don Davis, the composer, has a storied career, and though you'd best know him for the score of all three of "The Matrix" films, he's done so much that I lazily link to him here.

The Florentine Opera events are a hidden gem, a chance to enjoy the emotional resonance of opera with someone helping you along. The singers are great (Scott Johnson and Julia Hardin are back, joined by Matthew Richardson and Erica Schiller), and we've even been told that we have particularly good acoustics! The show is in October (get your tix here and yes I know we have perfectly wonderful events during their performances, but weren't going to attend all of our events anyway, but it does make it sad for me, as I can't go) and once you hear the show, both the Florentine and I are certain you will tell some friends about the wonderful experience.
For book people, Cindy at the Florentine told me the experience is much like reading South American magical realism. So hey, if you like Gabriel Garcia Marquez...

Hey, then we have two days of no events, then my book club preview with Eric Puchner of Model Home fame (wonderful Journal Sentinel write up here) and then our double bill of Joshua Ferris (Then We Came to the End and The Unnamed) and Patrick Somerville (The Cradle, Trouble, and the forthcoming The Universe in Miniature in Miniature) on Saturday 9/25 at 2 PM. If I don't get a crowd for this one, I may have to rethink some of these Saturday afternoon events. You said you wanted 'em. Now you have to come to 'em. Plus you can meet my sister Merrill, who is back in town for another visit.

*One point of satisfaction is we had substantially more people than a certain city towards which we're rather competitive. Eh, we're competitive with all of them.

**In other parts of the country, they talk about football widows, but in Wisconsin, women seem much more likely to be football fans themselves. Downer was definitely the least footballish of the Schwartz stores (circa 21st century) but I still always think about who might not have shown up because of the game. Of course I also think about who might not have shown up on Saturday because of Yom Kippur observance. It's one of these tricky things--especially when you have a lot of events, they fall where they fall and you hope for the best.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Gift Post--The Story Behind our Matryoshka Table

I love gift trends. I love them. It's my secret vice, that since I've become the book buyer, I've put to good use. (Though it's not that different from "It's time we expanded our yoga section" or "I'm going to put a book about opera in our gift guide.*"Now not every trend works for us, but it's interesting to see the way these sorts of things grow, just like color trends.

Last year, I noticed a growing interest in nesting doll iconography in graphics. One trendy card line turned their card image into gift wrap. In the spring, another stationery line started using Russian dolls in their cards and a new line of coasters. And then it seemed one of our trendy gift vendors was all over the icon--nesting glasses and plastic measuring cups and key caps.

We did a cute little display in the spring that proved to be very popular. But what were we missing? Real matryoshkas. One vendor had a line a gimmicky plastic ones (mostly licensed) but license doesn't usually work for us very well.

I had found a good website, but it looked like it was more for retail. And then I found a vendor at the Chicago gift show, with reasonably priced, high quality dolls from Russia. I love them, and wanted them all. Knowing our limitations, the ones we brought it a nice selection of miniatures, all priced at $15.95 and $16.95. That said, our hit item still seems to be the measuring cups (not pictured--come to the store and see them!)

Best news of all--we filled the table with Russian fiction and culture, and books are selling off the table! My favorite? Elif Batuman's The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them.
*For those who'd want us to put a book about opera in our gift guide, you can't beat the Florentine Opera Insights world premiere preview for "Rio de Sangre" this Tuesday, September 21st, at 7 PM. It's free and it's wonderful. More on this later.

Friday, September 17, 2010

It's Book Blogger Appreciation Week; I Wrote a Piece for the Folks Involved, and They were Okay with me Printing it Here Too.

Amy Riley of My Friend Amy contacted me about writing a post for Book Blogger Appreciation Week. And though I often find myself putting off such requests, this one came to me pretty easily. So thanks, Amy, for letting me reprint it here.

I won’t deny that I had dreams of writing in my past, and I still have the piles of journals in a storage bench to prove it. Early every morning, I’d walk to the Heinemann’s….Too (as opposed to the other Heinemann’s coffee shops that dotted Milwaukee) and write four pages before heading to my job as the backlist buyer at Milwaukee’s Harry W Schwartz Bookshops. W didn’t stand for anything. Harry just liked the idea of middle initial.

At the time, I was reading a lot of fiction, way more short stories than the average consumer, and a peppering of personal essays. I had become quite enamored of Philip Lopate’s Against Joie de Vivre, published by Ann Patty at her legendary Poseidon imprint (for a year or so, it seemed like I was reading every Poseidon book published, years before these similar Amy Einhorn and Reagan Arthur challenges). I wound up several other Lopates (unusual for a bookseller, who tends to be overwhelmed by the new book pile) including Being with Children and Bachelorhood.

Let’s just say the writing thing didn’t pan out the way I expected. I simply didn’t have the focused imagination it takes to be a fiction writer. And who would want to read my ramblings on what happened in the store yesterday or an angry rant on white matte covers, and how quickly they get dirty? And I didn’t want to give up bookselling to go to graduate school.

Good thing that technology caught up to my limitations. For in a way, my daily blog is not that different from my old journal entries, only I leave out various crushes and try to temper my angry rants.

It’s been great for helping me build my relationship with customers as I transitioned from Schwartz to my own Boswell Book Company on Downer Avenue in Milwaukee. And while other bookseller blogs tend to be industry focused, I try to remember that my core reader is my customer, and steer clear of publishing battles, unless of course it’s interesting to our Boswell shoppers. I also try to avoid making it a dry events page—we’ve got a website and an email newsletter for that, so though I do discuss events, I try to give it a twist, making it an interesting read for non-attendees.

As these things go, I have figured out that only half of the folks who read the blog are Wisconsinites. Publishers, sales reps, booksellers and family/friends account for why my readers come from New York, Illinois, California, and Minnesota. But why I got 46 hits from Canada and 34 from the United Kingdom, I have no clue. (I can account for half the hits in Australia from our friend Denise, who visited with the store with my sister over the summer.)

Very fun. But really, what makes me happiest is when a customer comes in who I don’t know and starts talking about the blog. Of course sometimes they mean the email newsletter, but that’s okay too.

I follow a number of independent book bloggers, many (but not all) of them are booksellers, but the blog is not part of their job. I also follow some official bookstore blogs, and those written by bookseller owners. Sadly, of late, several have fallen off posting. I think some of moved to Facebook, Twitter, or maybe even Foursquare, in the great desire to be king of their local bagel shop. Though our store does try to keep up with these social networks, I have not taken to them with as much enthusiasm because they don’t really seem…like writing.

So is it a job? Sort of. Am I the next Philip Lopate? No. Is that okay? As long as people keep coming in Boswell, it will do.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What Section has Malcolm Gladwell, Chuck Klosterman, Naomi Klein, and perhaps Greg Graffin's New Anarchy Evolution

During my visit to Brookline last month, I was doing my obligatory time at Brookline Booksmith, when I came across the section Modern Inquiries. What is this? It's sort of like Boswell's social criticism section (a hold-over from Schwartz, though I we are more into carving up beast into subsections), only I spot books from our business section, urban planning, and even pop culture.

While buying my book purchase (see earlier blog), I stop to talk to Mark, who sort of maybe recognized me from his year's at Barbara's. He explained that this was a new incarnation of their cultural studies section (we had one of these too, back during the first years of the Shorewood Schwartz), but also encompassing subsections like sociology.

I'm more of a subsectioner than an emcompasser, though my grand plan for more fiction sections has hit some philosophical roadblocks. Philosophically speaking, Greg Graffin's Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World Without God could as easily go in the Modern Inquiries section as it could in religion, philosophy, or science.

I've always felt like anti-religion books do not belong in religion, as much as anti-environment books don't belong in the green section. I'm not making a statement about that; it's just like thinking like a merchant, the advocates for these books are not likely shopping that section and the folks shopping the section are only irritated.

Certainly since Boswell started, but even before that, we've been trying to make sure our atheism books go in philosophy, but it's been on the table to have a small subsection, as there are clearly enough books out there to make a decent shopping experience, with Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens (and now, apparently Stephen Hawking) driving sales.
So sort of to mark Greg Graffin's appearance for his new book, Anarchy Evolution, we have sectioned out the atheism books (the code is RPA), still as a part of philosophy.

Graffin's event is very special, for several reasons:

1) It's at a special time, Saturday, October 9th, at 6 PM, before his show

2) We're asking questions to be limited to the book only. Questions will be submitted to a moderator.

3) He's signing the book only; no other stuff.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The De-Coddling of the American Child--Today's Kid Fiction, and my Read on Michael Grant's The Magnificent 12 (at the WFB Library on 10/1)

Let me just remind everyone before I start this post that I know nothing! Less than nothing, really.

But I’ve been thinking lately that the 20th century is more and more looking like the era of the sanitized fairy tale. Before that, in the stories collected by Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and others, there was plenty of violence and death.

In the books that come out lately, the same. And usually a moral, just like classic stories. Doesn’t it seem time to return to the expurgated versions, where grandma, or even Red Riding Hood, is eaten by the wolf?

I think about this a lot as folks tell me a lot about the plots of kids books. I read them too, sometimes, particularly when we have an event coming up. I find myself more attracted to the middle grade tales than those for young adults and teens. I think that’s because the violence tends to be toned down. And more than that, they are more likely to be humorous.

Most recently, I finished Michael Grant’s The Magnificent 12: The Call, which I bought at The King's English on my recent trip to Salt Lake City. It’s the story of David “Mac” MacAvoy, an ordinary 12-year old with parents who don’t pay attention to him. Maybe not totally ordinary—he’s got a very long phobia list, which includes the usuals like spiders, dentists, and getting shots, as well as some unusual fears, such pupaphobia. That’s a fear of puppets.

Slowly, he learns that he’s one of the chosen, a group of 12-year olds that are going to have to save the world from the Pale Queen and her daughter, Ereskigal. He learns this from Grimluk, the last surviving member of the original Magnificat, who put the Pale Queen out of commission for thousands of years. Mac and Grimluk’s story alternates.

And how will Mac’s family handle his disappearance? Well, they won’t even know, because a Golem is taking his place. Or course, being made of clay, he’s not too bright and has trouble with things like eating, but he’s hoping to keep in touch with Mac via text messages.

It’s a fun and exciting first entry in to a multi-book series. Mac (and his protector, the former head bully in his high school) has to find 11 other kids to fight the villains, and we’ve only found one so far, in Australia. And now I know there are many kinds of eucalyptus.

The book is a veritable world of adventure, and thus, like many kids books, there’s an interactive website, that goes well beyond plot summary and author bio.

Both animals and people die in the book, though nobody particularly close to the protagonist, and mostly in the historical segments. There was one point where one adult was seriously harmed but survived, and I wondered if, in a teen series, that character would have survived.

Why are middle-grade series not only less violent (which I get) but also likelier to be funny (which I can’t even fathom?) Are there guidelines for what you’d put in a book for kids who are 12+, as opposed to ones for middle graders (8-12)? I’d probably have to ask Michael Grant.

And lucky us, he’s coming to the Whitefish Bay Library Community Room on Friday, October 1st, at the special time of 6:30 PM. The event is co-sponsored by Boswell and the Library, and we’ll have copies, not only of Magnificent 12, but also of his series for older kids, including Gone, Hunger, and Lies.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My Dad Would be Very Excited if He Knew Boswell was Co-sponsoring a Yoga Class (with Neal Pollack, Friday, September 17th, 5:30 PM)

If you follow this blog, you may have already heard that my father was a seeker. No, he wasn’t looking for spiritual truths, though he may have inadvertently found it through his search. What he seemed to be doing in his middle years was finding some sort of meaning in his life after he realized he was not going to get it from his work. Shepherding a family business and trained as an accountant, the first failed, and the latter was used only after hours, where he doubled as a bookkeeper at night, in addition to working as a cutter during the day at the Willow Coat Company.

This successor to his family business also eventually failed, and he went on to do bookkeeping for my uncle, posted at a law firm and a maker of bridal accoutrements, but he’d already bailed, at least emotionally. From the 1970’s on, his purpose in life seemed to be to find the physical activity that made him happiest (Note: he was also quite fond of his family). He started jogging, he dabbled in tennis (too competitive), attempted the martial arts, turned casual bicycling with his children into an obsession, took to the water with swimming (though always with fins), and then became an avid folk dancer.

In the middle of this, he also took up yoga. The Eastern Queens Y (they took Queens out of their name some years after to attract more folks from Nassau County) has free classes at the time, and he became quite fond of one teacher (Was that Alice? Or was she his swimming mentor?) The only problem was, he was incredibly stiff (as I am now) and had some arthritis issues. He could barely complete any pose, save one. The head stand, which I guess is called salamba sirsasana. He didn’t call it that.

He so loved standing on his head that he would spend ten minutes every night in our basement upended, comfortable on the mats he had made at the factory. Yes, we had nice gym mats. Sometimes we did it together.

So you can only imagine my reaction when I got the new poster for our co-sponsored yoga class and saw Neal Pollack in salamba sirsasana. Pollack is making a special appearance at Invivo Wellness and Fitness on Humboldt, just south of North. They are hosting a special class on Friday, September 17th, at 5:30, with instructor Biz Casmer, and Pollack, who will tell a bit about his yoga transformation, all the while stretching and doing the downward dog and that sort of thing. This special class is donation based; you can register at 414-265-5605.

Have you been to Invivo yet? I went to visit the yoga studio and it's beautiful, with views of the Milwaukee River. It's less than five minutes from Boswell by car, and I found it a lovely walk (my form of exercise).

Afterwards, Neal will head over to Boswell for a traditional talk and signing at 7 PM. You may remember that the last time Pollack was in town, Schwartz sold books at a bar, where his band played. Who knows what's next?

Hope to see you at both.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Nanny Culture--On Nanny Books, Particularly Mona Simpson's, Who'll be at Boswell on Thursday, October 21st

Wow, was it really eight years ago since The Nanny Diaries came out? That book really took me by surprise. Wasn’t nanny culture something that was for New York, Los Angeles, maybe Washington? Did we really have nannies in Milwaukee (and environs, of course)?

A quick search finds lots of nanny listing services, but no articles about the state of nanny-hood. But in the book world, nanny stories with Wisconsin ties have made a bit of a splash. Just last year, Lorrie Moore's novel, A Gate at the Stairs, was one of the most prominent novels of 2009. It's the story of a nanny in a Madison-like city who found herself witness to a deteriorating marriage. The book is now in paperback and is making a strong showing with book clubs.

Milwaukee’s own (well, she doesn't live here anymore but why not? Let's claim her anyway) Lori Tharps has a new novel called Substitute Me that looks at a white mom and her African American nanny in a hip Brooklyn neighborhood. I’ll have to ask my friends at Greenlight whether they have many kids who come in with their nannies.

(Now elderly people and their caretakers, that I’ve got. I’m waiting for the novels to come out).

This brings me to Mona Simpson’s new novel, My Hollywood, a fine new novel that alternates between the voice of a struggling work-from-home composer, and her Filipino nanny. Simpson has some Wisconsin ties (she was partly brought up in Green Bay) but the story is pure SoCal. Claire’s husband is a sitcom writer, working 80-hour weeks while he tries to get his pilot picked up. The nanny is his solution to Claire’s inability to work with her son at home. “Go to your studio and shut the door,” Paul says (paraphrased, of course), but that’s easier said than done.

The other voice is Lola, mother of five, who juggles a Monday to Friday gig with another job on weekends. She’s sending the money home to get her kids through graduate school. It’s the struggling immigrant and the American dream, but she has no intention of staying stateside; she has plans to return home to retire, only when will that be—her kids are already in their twenties.
Lola is friends with Ruth, who runs a sort of halfway house for immigrant nannies, stepping in when the women lose their jobs, or in one case, need to escape from an American sort of enslavement, with threats and even beatings. Claire’s voice is not unlike the struggling writer that you’ve probably read before, but Lola’s voice is not often heard, smart and authentic and conflicted. There’s dialogue, but it never falls for that clunky dialect thing that can turn me off.

In some ways, the story reminds me of The Space Between Us, that wonderful story of two women, one middle class, the other her servant, in modern India. And I can't end a nanny post without mentioning Francine Prose's wonderful novel of a New York au pair (French for "nanny", apparently), Primitive People. (Note to authors--if you are in Chicago for a few days and think you're going to get bored, Amtrak is $22 each way.)

So what’s the state of nannies in Southeast Wisconsin? I’d love to know.

Mona Simpson will be at Boswell on Thursday, October 21st, at 7 PM. I will buy any nanny/au pair who shows up for the event coffee from next door (yes, even a fancy one).

Here's Ron Charles' wonderful video review of Mona Simpson's My Hollywood.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Our Email Newsletter--Straight from Us To You (Actually, There are Something Like Three Different Technology Companies also Involved)

Having trouble getting our email newsletter? No problem, here's the latest.

If you signed up and aren't getting, please check with us. It's possible we entered you incorrectly, or that your server is having a fight with our server. That's technical talk!

Just a sample--Anne's take on Bad Boy, Peter Robinson's latest. If you are a mystery reader and haven't yet discovered Robinson, you are just punishing yourself to not indulge.

Bad Boy, a novel by Peter Robinson, (William Morrow).
"The title could describe the man DCI Alan Banks' daughter has become involved with, or it could describe Banks himself, as he has never hesitated to bend rules to the breaking point if it will help him solve his cases. This time he is trying to find and save his kidnapped daughter. As events unfold, he begins to question many things--including his desire to be a policeman. Love this author, love this series! He never fails to satisfy."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

So Much Poetry News that My Head is Spinning, Swirling, Levitating...Including Poems from Keetje Kuipers & Paul Scot August Today (9/11) at 2 PM

1. Keetje Kuipers new book of poetry from BOA Editions, Beautiful in the Mouth is out, winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. It's beautiful, but dirty beautiful, which is like describing April Johnston's punky baby doll resort outfit that won Project Runway this week.

Kuipers is reading at Boswell today (9/11) at 2 PM, along with local fave Paul Scot August. I know there's a lot to do, but that rain has clearly eliminated 2/3 of your options. So this seems like a good alternative.

2. I don't write poetry. But maybe you do. And that's why I should remind you that is having a poetry contest. Poems can be any length of form, and must have something to do with Milwaukee. The three winners will receive gift cards from Boswell, Woodland Pattern, and People's Books. More details here. They will also read their poems as part of our event with UWM poet Rebecca Dunham. That date is still to be finalized.

3. Speaking of Dunham, if you can't make our event, she's also reading at Woodland Pattern on September 22nd, for the release of her collection, The Flight Cage. And one of the judges, Derrick Harriell, will be reading at Woodland Pattern on October 20th, for the release of his new book. We are carrying both titles, and hope to host Harriell at Boswell (he read here in 2009) sometime after his Woodland Pattern event. (Here's how this works--you go to the Woodland Pattern Event and it's so great that you tell some friends, who come to his Boswell event. That's the theory, at least.) More on their website.

4. Another poet we've had the honor of hosting is John Koethe, author of Ninety-Fifth Street and other fine collections. * Koethe has just been awarded the Lenore Marshall Prize for the year's most outstanding book of poetry. Here's what John Yau said about Koethe:

"John Koethe's candidness is unique among contemporary poets. In remarkably direct and transparent language, he writes about familiar things and ordinary moments that the reader will almost certainly have no trouble recognizing. 'For that's what poetry is—a way to live through time / And sometimes, just for a while, to bring it back.' In Ninety-fifth Street, his eighth book, the poet visits his childhood, being a student at Princeton, his friendships with fellow and elder poets, living in Berlin, as well as contemplates 'randomness and age.' Any sense of nostalgia suffusing through the poems is sharply tempered by Koethe's acute awareness of time's constant pressure, its relentless tug: 'Meanwhile life regresses / Towards the future, death by death.' Borne along by time, and knowing what ultimately awaits him, 'the aging child of sixty-two' doesn't try to seek sanctuary from what he knows to be true, which is that time shapes him, as it does us all. Instead, he ruminates on this understanding of reality with an unparalleled thoroughness. He interrogates what it means to be alive."

Read more here. Congrats to Mr. Koethe. If you would like to send your congrats, feel free to let me know and I will tell him when he next comes in the store!

5. And don't forget, we're hosting Wisconsin's poet laureate Marilyn Taylor on October 19th, along with the rest of her writing group. Slightly early to be talking it up, but it's never too soon to mark your calendars. More on this later.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Autumn Colors Arrive Early at Boston Airport

You might remember last spring when I noted the preponderance of book jackets in various shades of blue. There was even a blue-turquoise competition.

Well, six months on and things have changed. I was at a Boston airport bookstore and noted the striking absence of blue in their new paperback displays. In fact, it's mostly red and yellow. Red has been a classic book jacket color since time immemorial, but bright yellow seems more of the moment.

Perhaps publishers hope to match clothing and home trends, or just blend in with the foliage.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tea at the Boston Public Library's MapRoom Cafe, and a Visit to Their Travel Poster Exhibit

A trip to Boston wouldn't be complete without a visit to my friend Michael at the Boston Public Library. We had tea and scones at the MapRoom Cafe, but a glance at the next room made me wish I was having high tea at their Courtyard restaurant. There is also a beautiful outdoor garden, where I'm told they schedule concerts.

If you search the internet, I guess the restaurant used to be called the Novel Cafe. I suspect (no, I'm pretty positive) that the operation is leased, and they must have changed operators in the last few years.

They usually have two exhibits running from their archives. I missed the postcard exhibit, "Greetings from Boston" at the new building, but I was lucky enough to catch "Away We Go", the vintage travel poster collection at the McKim (old) building. I love those stylized posters. Here are a few of my favorites.
A lovely outside banner. Imagine us doing something like this outside the store? How much do you think it would cost? Probably outside the budget, no?

Portugal. For some reason, I am reminded of the Sloane Crosley essay on visiting Lisbon in her new collection, How Did You Get this Number? I definitely wanted to visit half the places in the exhibit. I don't think I'll be going anywhere for the rest of the year, except for maybe another family weekend.

I included Tasmania for my niece Jocelyn. She studied there. Says it was quite beautiful.
Here's their upcoming event schedule. I'd get there early for the Jonathan Franzen. They are likely to fill up.

And Eric, you need to go to Boston to see the postcard exhibit, don't you think?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

On Buying Dani Shapiro's New Book at Brookline Booksmith, so I Can Be Better Prepared for the JCC Jewish Book and Culture Fair

So I'm in Brookline with my mom, and of course I do what I do whenever I'm in Brookline--head to the Brookline Booksmith. As a good indie bookseller, I try to buy something. This time I picked up Dani Shapiro's Devotion; Shapiro is the opener for the JCC Book and Culture Fair, which runs throughout November.

All events take place at the Harry and Rose Samson JCC
6255 N. Santa Monica Boulevard in Whitefish Bay.

Monday, November 1st, 7 PM
Dani Shapiro, Devotion, a memoir.
My friend Fran at the Hickory Stick in Connecticut tells me Dani Shapiro is just a wonderful speaker. More on this when I finish the book!

Wednesday, November 3rd, 7 PM
Myla Goldberg, The False Friend.
Dorene at the JCC has been reading this and loves it. And who didn't love The Bee Season?

Wednesday, November 10th, 7 PM
Joel Hoffman, And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible's Original Meaning.

Thursday, November 11th, 6 PM
Laurel Snyder, Baxter, The Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher.
Stuffing yourself with kosher pickles and challah might do the trick...

Monday, November 15th, 7 PM
Lousia Shafia, Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life.

Wednesday, November 17th, 7 PM
Daniel Levin, The Last Ember.
Jody tells me this is a very good thriller, perfect for Daniel Silva fans.

Sunday, November 21st, 7 PM
Joel Chasnoff, The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah.

Tuesday, November 30th, 7 PM
Thanassis Cambanis, A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah's Leginos and their Endless War Against Israel.

Tickets for all events are $5 and are available pre-sale JCC or at the door. Such a deal!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Larry Ashmead, 1932-2010

When I was working at Warner Books in the mid 1980's, an editor named Larry Ashmead was hired. It was rather rare to get new blood at that time, but he came with a storied past, which means he had lots of stories.

Of course he acquired many books in his tenure, but what I most recall was his picking up the mass market rights to Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, in 12 volumes. Not the sure-fire hit you say, particularly as it was still available in four trade paperback volumes? No worries--those were the days when the mass market channel could take on anything. I'm not sure it took on Powell that well, though I did get my Mom and my sister Merrill to read the entire cycle (I never did). Larry's secret, which I now pass on to you--start with volume 3.

He told me how to publicize a few other books (I was a publicist) to no avail; I wasn't exactly cut out for that life (my stomach was constantly in knots) and I moved to Milwaukee to sell books.

I crossed paths with Larry again when I was at Schwartz. He was an editor at Harper now, and had pretty much launched Simon Winchester in the United States with his acquisition of The Professor and the Madman. He hit it off with John, our other buyer (someday I'll describe the complicated by balanced way that we divided up the buying in the mid-nineties) and for years afterwards, John would receive his annual collection of funnies.

The funnies were photocopied cartoons, in shorts, and silliness, sort of a pre-internet precursor to that aunt who puts you on her forwarded joke list. Come on, you have one!

I never got on the list, which sort of made me jealous. Then Bertha Venation came out. Then I read about his passing in The New York Times. Then the memories came back, like you've lost a bunch of files and then someone pulled out a drawer and they all fell on the floor and now you're putting them back and saying, hey, you had an effect on a lot of people. I guess that's the way things go. You'll be missed.