Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rep Night #2, Part One: The Reps Strike Back (Simon and Hachette, Fall 2010).

Our second rep night was last Sunday, October 24th. Instead of two weeks, I am reporting on it in only one. What a breakthrough!

In addition to booksellers from Next Chapter, we also hosted seven booksellers from Books and Company in Oconomowoc, including Kathy, our ex-coworker from the Brookfield Schwartz. The rep night showed she is still seemingly reading every kids book that comes out, which was reassuring. Because there were a lot of new faces, we used name tags, and conveniently enough, I had bought some particularly nice ones from Girl of All Work.

The other first for this rep night is that not every store saw the same rep for the publishers presented. In the case of Simon and Schuster, we see Leah, but the other two stores were called on by telemarketing reps (and for some reason which was surprising to me, not the same one). At Schwartz, many of the reps were not known to the booksellers anyway, and I have certainly listened to presentations from reps at regionals I didn't previously know.

The Boswellians were familiar with at least two books being talked up by Leah, as we are selling books at upcoming events. Mike Birbiglia is a quirky comic who has been featured on This American Life and various Comedy Central shows. He's at the Pabst Theater on Saturday, November 13th, at 8 PM. Tickets are $29.50 and you can buy them here. These tix do not include the book, but you can say hi to us in the lobby. The book, Sleepwalk with Me, is a collection in the Sedaris style, meaning they translate well to paper, but it helps to have Birbiglia's distinctive delivery in your head.

I could spend an entire post talking about Buddy Valastro's Cake Boss, and probably will. Let's just say that we're having a signing (no talk, no talk) on Thursday, November 11th, at 12 Noon, and this is ticketed, meaning you have to buy at least one book from us. Contact us for details. The Cake-Boss-stravaganza is Thursday, November 11th, at the Riverside. Tickets in this case range from $25.50 to $45.50 (no book) and they are available here. Oh, and there's also a Little Italy pre-theater Cake Boss dinner, and those tix are available here.

Rep night? Oh, yes, Leah's a big fan and coming to our event. You don't know what a big deal that is, unlike year's past when reps came from Chicago, Minneapolis, and even Milwaukee, our reps this week were from Indiana, Kentucky, Colorado, and New York. Such is the changing territories of reps. It says something that all the reps got permission to travel, though fortunately several were able to coordinate winter sales calls at the same time.

Having read Carlos Eire's award-winning and book-club-approved Waiting for Snow in Havana, I was interested in hearing more about his new memoir, Learning to Die in Miami. It turns out that it's not easy to adjust. If you read his other book, you know what a great writer he is.

I was just talking to one of my customers about the various updates to the Joy of Cooking. He was asking me which basic cookbooks our customers buy these days. One of the books we tend to sell is Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, but perhaps his new book, The Food Matters Cookbook, will also find a seat at the basics table with its eco spin. I might go make some lentil caviar and beet tartare today, as I'm hoping not to come into the store today (Yikes!)

For kids books, I am always interested in finding out what new post-apocalyptic children's books were out there. What else could go wrong? Of the two presented, I found The Limit's premise more appealing. Families have to give up their children when they reach a certain level of debt and yes, Matt's family goes over the limit.

Randy presented books from Hachette, which for folks who don't know corporate parents, that publishers Little, Brown, and Grand Central, plus various imprints like Twelve. Randy was just in town hosting a bookseller pre-publication dinner for Benjamin Hale and The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, but that gets its own post later (I hope!)

Like Simon, several of the books presented were familiar to us from events. We had just sold books at the Riverside for David Sedaris and Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, while Next Chapter is sponsoring Simple Times with Amy Sedaris at the Turner Ballroom on Sunday, November 21st, at 7:30 PM.

Randy presented just before Keith Richards' Life went on sale, and so now my presentation is mixed up with all the other things I read about this very hot book. For kids, there were new entries from Cornelia Funke (Reckless), Pseudonymous Bosch (This Isn't What it Looks Like), and Kami Garcia/Margaret Stohl (Beautiful Darkness).

I think our favorite kids book presented was Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave, by Laban Carrick Hill with illustrations by Bryan Collier. This beautiful homage to a little-known South Carolina slave with a great talent was recently short-listed for the National Book Award.

That went much a bit longer than last time. I had originally said I would only talk about three titles from each presenter. I fear I am procrastinating working on the email newsletter. What think you?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Saturday Gift Post—Out with the Old Cards, In with the New Ones

It’s almost Halloween and we have a handle on whether our customers send Halloween cards. They do, but only a little. Our customer base sends occasion cards, but aside from Christmas, the only holidays we have decent sales on are Valentine’s, Mother’s, and Father’s Day.

Of the new stuff, our cute letterpress line sold through, but the nostalgia letterpress did not. Surprising, since we sell through the same company’s blank, holiday, and sympathy cards so quickly. We also put some old cards we inherited on clearance at 50%, pre-holiday, but we found they won’t sell at any price. After the holiday, we’ll do a short 50-75% off clearance and then off they go, to points unknown.

It’s really time for us to dump some of the old cards we inherited. We’ve also tried extreme markdowns on the Christmas stuff, but even that’s been tough. The problem is three-fold. The cards are simply neither our esthetic nor our customers, and there are too many cards that are relative specific. “Happy Birthday, Grandson-in-Law”, and “Happy Valentine’s Day, Brother.” And as I mentioned earlier, we simply don’t get traffic for the minor holidays. Boss’s Day? Administrative Professional’s Day? Passover? Somebody sends cards for Passover?

The quantities are also a bit confusing. Though we almost never order in larger than sixes, we have 8-10 units of many of the styles. Alas, that may be a function of not itemizing cards in our inventory, and thus getting duplicate shipments.

I honestly can’t figure out how the stuff got into the store in the first place, because Schwartz never did well with this kind of thing. I remember having an argument at the Chicago gift show with a gift rep and some buyers from a a small-metro gift shop where they insisted that a frame that says “Sister” would sell better than a frame that did not.

“My customer knows who their sister is. They don’t need a sign to remind them!” I almost screamed.

The truth of the matter? It’s my thought that indie stores should avoid being racked at all costs. Whether it’s study guides or map or cards or giftwrap or magazines, you always wind up with more than you can sell, and unlike with chains, it’s rarely on consignment. We wind up carrying inventory that we can’t sell, at levels we’d never buy on our own.

That said, you are usually able to exchange out racked holiday cards. The problem once the program was cut off, anything not returned did not get credited. And so we're still dealing 18 months later.

Last year, we only had about a dozen boxes of leftover cards after our clearance and they went back on the floor, already discounted. The new boxed Christmas cards are selling pretty well, and we’ve just put out our first spinner of loose holiday. Another half-spinner will go up after Halloween. And we’ll clear some space from friendship/thank you/congratulations for some more.

So what will be leftover after our holiday? I tend to be a sucker for cute, but that's only part of our market. I scaled back on that a bit this year, but couldn't resist these Hello Lucky designs.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Stories Inspired by Jane Austen, A Never-Ending Saga Continues with Allegra Goodman’s The Cookbook Collector.

If there’s one thing that a bookseller can count on, it’s that Jane Austen will inspire a contemporary novelist. Some of the novels are more derivative than others. Last year’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies launched a raft of woud-be’s, most recently Emma and theVampires. Then there are those historicals that are released with almost endless repetition. Mr. Darcy’s This, Mr. Darcy’s That—you can understand that when you’re talking romance, it’s all Darcy, Darcy, Darcy.

But it’s not all genre and gimmick. So many authors are inspired by the spirit of Jane Austen and her plots. This year’s Man Booker winner, Howard Jacobson, has been often called the Jewish Jane Austen, and the book, The Finkler Question, released in the United States on the day of the prize announcement, has been quite popular. It’s said to be the first comedy to win the prize. Could that be true? Read more in The New York Times review.

Allegra Goodman’s novel, The Cookbook Collector, is a great addition to the Jane Austen-esque library. it’s about two sisters in 1980’s Silicon Valley (really, nobody wants to set their novels now, it’s either 10+ years in the past or 100 years in the future), one the CEO of a tech company and the other a second-hand bookseller. Can the older sister get rich investing in a start-up? Does the younger sister care? And what of these cookbooks that have landed in the bookstore? It’s a comedy that casts a wide net. Reviews have been just wonderful and I have been told that I would love it. Heck, I’ve read every other Goodman, including the more obscure short story collections. But I haven’t read this yet, so I proclaim The Cookbook Collector my favorite book I haven’t read this year. Here’s a review in Slate.

Note, there can only be one of these at a time. Once the events slow down, I’ll have to choose a new pretender to the throne.

As we just received our restock of plush Jane Austens, to go with the Austen action figure, which was by far the best selling of the line, it seemed time to do another Austen table. We haven't had one in...weeks.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Recommendations from Nicole Krauss, Inspiration from Our Customers.

Thanks to everyone for braving Tuesday and Wednesday's wind storms. They didn't seem to do as much damage to our events as say, a snowfall, but Amie lost part of her car port and the ladybug building lost some windows.

Considering, we thought we had a great turnout for Nicole Krauss and her new book, Great House. Needless to say, the book has had amazing reviews in The New York Times, and from Mike Fischer in our own Journal Sentinel. Oh, and was shortlist for the National Book Award.
On our sort-of six month anniversary, 800-CEO-Read's Carol Grossmeyer introduced Krauss, and spoke warmly of discovering History of Love. Krauss herself spoke of remembering the Schwartz competition to see who could sell the most books. Krauss last appeared at the Shorewood Schwartz, and was happy to hear that our store had staff from both the Shorewood and Downer Avenue shops.

The reading was wonderful, and I was only sad that I'm only on page 100.

And now, some suggestions from Nicole Krauss. I normally listen to these and hear a lot of classic authors. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but there's not much you can do with that info. Another author likes Dostoevsky? I don't know if that would make a difference in sales. When you get these out-of-the-box and very passionate kinds of recommendations, you can't help but pass them on. So here are Ms. Krauss's gems:

1) The Loser, by Thomas Bernhard. Well, here's a book to recommend to all those authors who love Dostoevsky. It's about three pianists (including Glenn Gould) who study with Vladimir Horowitz. It's brilliant, complex, one of the best novelists of the 20th century--sorry I left out the quotes. George Steiner also compares to Kafka and Canetti. And it's translated from German, so you get double points for reading it.

2) The Last Samurai, by Helen Dewitt. This is a novel that comes up periodically in passionate love poems written by readers to books. It's about a young woman and her child prodigy and mixes in math and Kurosawa (I think at one point the book used the title, The Seven Samurai, but was changed--perhaps over movie confusion). It's a book that has stuck with Krauss for a long time--wouldn't you want to read a book you were still thinking about years later?

3) The Last Jew, by Yoram Kaniuk. A sweeping saga of history seen through the eyes of one family. Compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Writes like a European master! Krauss could not say enough abou this author, and sadly, it had just bleeped by me. The author is Israeli, and I'm pretty sure the book was translated from Israeli by Barbara Harshav. All you folks reading David Grossman's To the End of the Land should be thinking about this one. Wow!

We did a little Facebook contest to help promote the book, where readers shared the object in their life that could inspire a novel (sort of the way the desk does in Great House). I found the answers so interesting that I thought I'd post them here:

1) Mary Catherine's father's fiddle.
2) Melissa's husband's doll from New Orleans.
3) Katie's E.T. lamp. This lamp could either inspire a horror novel, or perhaps slapstick comedy.
4) Michelle's grandmother's glass.
5) James' 1902 edition of Leaves of Grass that he found at Seven Mile Fair.
6. Jennifer's grandfather's pocketknife.
7) Sharon's family photo album dating back to 1850.

Hey, this is not a bad writing exercise. Perhaps someone can be similarly inspired at our NaNoWriMo orientation section, hosted by Rochelle Melander this Saturday, November 30th, at 2 PM.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Footnotes for Posterity at Boswell--From Cleopatra to Clinton.

I don't think I will ever get used to being surprised at books coming out without me knowing about them. I can browse through catalogs and Edelweiss (the electronic catalog that many publishers are using), read Publishers Weekly and Ingram Advance, but it just seems like without doing the actual buying, books seem to show up in the store, fully formed.

It's a rare thing when I can say to Jason, "Oh the Keith Richards memoir, Life, seems to be everywhere, and our customers are talking about it too." I told him it was more Bob Dylan than Motley Crue, whatever that means. If you look at lists from various sources, their group memoir, The Dirt, still sells quite well, but it for us, it seems like we could carry Bob Dylan's Elementary School Social Studies Notebook: The Annotated Edition and sell 15 copies. In any case, we went back for more (of the Richards, not of the Dylan, which doesn't exist, sadly).

This week I noticed there was lots of new history and bio on our featured titles. First Family: Abigail and John Adams, by Joseph Ellis, caught my eye, partly because the implication was that it was "first", partly because I continue to wonder how there can be so many John Adams books, and partly because I wanted to see whether a notes and index were included and how long they were--the book's about 300 pages, including 40 pages of notes. Oops, Mr. Ellis cancelled his event at Rainy Day Books in Kansas. I'm not sure why. He's still signing at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, on November 26th.

Another historian with good commercial sales is H. W. Brands, and his new book, American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900, is sort of a group biography of the robber barons of the late 1800's (Rockefeller, Carnegie et al). The book is 614 pages with about 50 pages of notes and index. Yes, I have a customer who asks us by phone how long books are before she reserves them. Amity Shlaes in the Wall Street Journal had some issues with the book because it perpetuated the myth of robber barons. Democracy v. capitalism--why can't you both get along?

Thomas C. Holt's Children of Fire: A History of African Americans is...(trumpets) a history of African Americans. The author is a professor at the University of Chicago, and has gotten some amazing advance praise on the book, comparing it to Roots (William Ferris) and being pronounced "a field-transforming book that will reshape our understanding of African American lives for generations to come." On the heels of Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns, and with the continued success of Annette Gordon-Reed's The Hemingses of Monticello (I replaced a copy yesterday on our MacArthur Genius Grant display. Yes, we have one, but it's pretty small), there is clearly a strong market for this scholarship. Most of all, it's 438 pages, and a full 73 pages of notes and index!

Michael Takiff's A Complicated Man: The Life of Bill Clinton as Told by Those Who Know Him, by contrast, is 496 pages, but only 56 pages of notes and index. Just kidding--that's plenty. Didn't I hear publishers were asking authors to eliminate the notes and make readers access them on line? I just think leaving them out makes a book seem less serious. Takiff is an independent scholar, which I would someday like to put on a business card. He uses interviews with more than 150 figures to create a picture of our former president. I did notice that at least one of the blurbs on the back jacket seemed to be reviewing Bill Clinton more than it was the book. Takiff is currently blogging for Huffington Post.

And though it is not on Boswell's Best, I would like to give a shout out to Cleopatra, a Life, by Stacy Schiff, who has been heavily lauded for past works. I had said to Jason that this was a a great figure for Schiff, both accessible and timely (I think she wrote a Franklin book after three or four other books had come to market successfully, and hers was a little smaller in scope.) Little, Brown knows who to get quotes from--accolades on the back jacket are from Joseph Ellis, Ron Chernow (his Washington: A Life has been out for several weeks now), Jon Meacham, Evan Thomas, Afar Nafisi, and Tracy Kidder. I love the endpapers, but the jacket looks too much like a novel to my taste. At 365 pages and 60 pages of notes, I think this would be the book of the five that I would most likely read. So guess what? Maybe that novel-like cover is a smart thing. I'd normally link to a review here, but why not mention that they sold the movie rights to Scott Rudin, and guess who will play the lead?

Of course, shortly after I made the pronoucement about Cleopatra not having a great bio in recent years, John presented the new Adrian Goldsworthy, Antony and Cleopatra. I sometimes worry that multiple books on the same topic leads to group reviews, which means the smaller book is more likely to get reviewed, but the larger book seems somehow less prominent. This is just one of my ridiculous theories, so please ignore me.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Kostova Braves Wind Storm for Great Reading at Boswell

Neither rain nor sleet nor crazed wind storm warnings kept away fans of Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Historian. We had a nice turnout of 40 people for the paperback release of The Swan Thieves. I was convinced to buy a copy, and it is definitely a great pick for visual art teachers. Yes, I recently did a talk that focused on reads for art, music, and gym teachers.

We're in the middle of what I call our 3000-page week. Yes, that's how many pages you'd have to read if you got through all the books we've hosted from last Saturday to this Friday. Tomorrow we have our lunch with Mireille Guiliano at Lake Park Bistro at Noon, and then Nicole Krauss at 7 PM. And check out our Facebook page for folks commenting on the object in their life that would most inspire a novel.

Monday, October 25, 2010

It Sometimes Takes a While for Me to Get My Thoughts Together on These Things--Thoughts on Carla Cohen.

Over the years, one of the highlights of the Book Expo convention has been a dinner for booksellers put together by FSG. Even though I have seemingly abdicated my space for our buyer Jason (one year I didn't go, the next I inadvertently RSVP'd to another dinner first), I have very strong memories of the evenings that have convinced me that I have never missed one in thirty years. (Yes, my memory is shaky enough that I can be talked into something as ridiculous as that. Note--I was in college 30 years ago, not attending publisher dinners.)

At one dinner, I sat next to Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, and asked him to write a note on my paper table setting for one of my fellow booksellers. At another, I asked Chris Adrian, the author of Children's Hospital, if I he would write a note on...a paper table setting. Yes, I only have a limited number of ideas on how to make conversation with dinner companions. Sometimes there would be authors; other years there would be editors. I remember one particularly enjoyable dinner with Rebecca Saletan. She was friends at the time with our beloved FSG sales rep, the late Mark Gates, a man who was well known for making good introduction. Gates wound up connecting Saletan with Dean Bakopoulos, whose first novel, Please Don't Come Back to the Moon, was a staff favorite, and whose next book, My American Unhappiness, arrives in June 2011.

Much of the fun of the evening, however, was in getting to spend time talking to other booksellers. It is generally a great bunch of people, well-read (of course), opinionated (of course) and a little loud about it. And one of the booksellers I got to know through these dinners was the co-owner of Washington D.C.'s Politics and Prose, Carla Cohen, who recently passed away.

I was rather nervous about our first interactions. Cohen was not afraid to argue that a book I had just praised was absolute crap. I'm the sort that would probably hedge it in niceties, unless I know you very, very, very well, and maybe would still need a glass of wine. Over these dinners, I was of course interested in hearing about books that Cohen loved, but unlike some other interactions, I looked forward to the ones she hated.

We had a few other times to chat. I think we shared a cab to a dinner in L.A. with Jhumpa Lahiri and sometimes I'd run into her at the booths, where she was taking a rest from the hours of walking the aisles.

Cohen was one of the first people (outside of our Norton rep, and an early read from a Schwartz coworker) to rave about Nicole Krauss's History of Love (can I mention again she's coming to Boswell on Wednesday 10/27 for Great House?) and I have vivid memories of her introducing me to Andrew Sean Greer, who turned out to be a friend of her daughter's, and in short order convinced me to read The Story of a Marriage, which went on to do very, very well for us in paperback at Boswell.

I can't forget another interaction, which may have actually had an effect on Milwaukee bookselling. Cohen approached me to complain (are you shocked?) that Lanora Hurley, who had previously worked at Politics and Prose, wasn't being fully utilized at Schwartz. We had recently brought in an outside manager instead of promoting Hurley when the job came open. I'm happy to say that the next time the opening came, Hurley was promoted, bringing new life to the location. The move positioned Hurley to be able to buy the assets of the Mequon shop that became Next Chapter when Schwartz closed.

What a weird scattering of memories. I wasn't in a regional with her, or on an ABA committee, so I didn't really talk that much. The couple of times I visited the store were a late weekday evening and a Sunday afternoon, where I didn't recognize any of the staff. And then I missed a couple of dinners, and And then I missed a couple of dinners, and yes, Carla complained to Spenser about it.

That said, when I started Boswell, Carla was one of the booksellers who gave me some good feedback on our early programs. She noticed our photos were a little distorted and I learned to resize them before I placed them in Constant Contact. She offered concern that our in-store book club suggestions were a little cerebral, and I offered a few more mainstream selections (not too mainstream, mind you). And she occasionally told me that a book that I was touting was actually kind of crappy.

Cohen recently died at 74, of a rare form of cancer. There are a lot of obituaries out there, as Cohen touched a lot of lives. Here is Politics and Prose's website. Contributions are welcome at Jews United for Justice, Washington DC Literary Council or Community Hospice

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hardcover Bestsellers--Russian Classics and Paralyzed Detectives

Here's how things are going on our hardcover fiction bestseller lsit

1. The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia, by Mary Helen Stefaniak. This lovely event was a mix of family, friends, and fans. We're her fourth home, after Iowa City, Nebraska, and wherever Pacific University is. Oh, yes, I think it's in Washington state.

2. Great House, by Nicole Krauss. People are already buying books for our event on Wednesday, October 27th.

3. My Hollywood, by Mona Simpson. An underrated event with a nonetheless strong sell-through. Who couldn't buy the book after an evening with Simpson?

4. Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen. First we only had non-Oprah editions. Now we have Oprah editions. But some of them came in signed!

5. Room, by Emma Donoghue. Stacie is still recommending this to everyone.

6. Fall of Giants, by Ken Follett. With Adam Levine coming on Monday for The Instructions, and Elizabeth Kostova appearing for the paperback of The Swan Thieves, I officially pronounce October 24-30 National Big Fat Book Week.

7. Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak. The new Pevear/Volokhonsky translation is getting a lot of attention, and it doesn't hurt that one of our best customers has been buying multiple copies for gifts.

8. Vestments, by John Reimringer. A decent turnout for this first novel. We had a great time hosting one of the two authors on this list writing about St. Paul.

9. Coming Back, by Marcia Muller. We always have a hot mystery out, and this is the one with the pop for this week. Sharon McCone has almost near-total paralysis, but still needs to find her missing physical therapist. That calls for an exclamation point!

10. Against all Things Ending, by Stephen Donaldson. It's the penultimate entry in the Last Chronicles of the Thomas Covenant.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Saturday Gift Post--Coccinella Septempunctata!

I have clearly been developing a ladybug obsession. That's ladybirds, for my European friends.

You always want it more after it's gone, I guess, and I long for those red gentle bugs from Europe that are slowly being pushed aside by the more orange aggressive Asian beetles. But I know nothing about this. You should really be visiting an insect info site if you want facts!

Conrad suggested a count the spots to determine whether I like them or not.

We're currently out of the ladybug calculator, and a kitchen timer I tried to bring in seems to have vanished into the backorder ether, but everything else is in stock.

1. Ladybug finger puppet.

2. Dancing ladybugs thumb puppet. Also comes in bumblebee, and one other bug--clearly not memorable, maybe an ant.

3. "Happy Little Things" ladybug notecards.

4. Strawberry girl matryoshka with ladybug on her forehead. I bought one of these for myself.

5. Wind up ladybug, that won't fall off the edge of a ledge.

6. Ladybug earbuds. The bee is also in stock. It has tiny wings. I bought a set of these, and use them in the office.

7. And yes, that's Eric Carle's The Grouchy Ladybug underneath, irascible as ever.

So a standard ladybug has seven spots--it's in the Latin name. But most of this stuff has six spots. I also might note that my calculator has mammalian eyes and a big smile. So what's my point?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why No Post Yesterday? Offsites, Collapsed Shelves, and More

I started the morning at 6:30 AM at the Pfister for a breakfast offsite with Tempo. They are a women's leadership organization, that just to confuse you a bit, includes men. Yesterday's presentation was for Gary Bradt's Ring in the Rubble, an inspiring book about coping with change. Everyone involved was very nice, sales were good, and I got a good rate at the parking garage. What could be better?

I needed a good day, as the day before was kind of tough. We lost our event with Charles Baxter event for Gryphon--the pub date was pushed back a bit and that let to him having less time before he starts at Stanford for spring semester. In the end, I was a little worried as the event was a Saturday in January, and UWM, where he is taught with almost religious fervor, was still on break. We also lost the Shepherd Express Best of Milwaukee to Half Price Books (though, admittedly, we got Critics Choice) and I heard some bad news about another indie retailer I like. I'm hoping to figure out how to help with that one in some way, but I can't talk about it. The good news was I booked T. C. Boyle for the next novel, When the Killing's Done. Jason's already read it and promised me a rec soon. Very exciting!

While I was in the store, another one of our cases collapsed. This has been happening with some frequency, and alas, our regular source for fixing this stuff has been too busy to come out with regularity. Amie found another person who came in and reinforced the shelf right away.

My favorite book series on the shelving cart turned out to be these two-in-one novels from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Really nice jackets, a good pairing of books, and a nice hardcover price of $22. Paper quality, eh. Selections from Jhumpa Lahiri, Jonathan Safran Foer, Virginia Woolf, and George Orwell. Note that the two contemporary authors left for other publishers. Would they have done this package if they were still there? I think I'd be ok with it if I was a successful author--they look nice and can build audience.

My evening was with Mona Simpson, who read from and talked about My Hollywood. The crowd was smaller than I hoped, and I accepted full blame, though I should say I didn't purposely program Nancy Pearl against Simpson. That event came up later and the Milwaukee Public Library graciously let us be involved. And we brought them the Ian Frazier event for Travels in Siberia this Sunday at 2 PM. It's a great partnership.
Oh, and did I mention, for only the second time, I left the music running as the event started? Arggggggh.

How do I get you guys to show up for a writer of this calibre? I feel like if I group too many together, folks come out for the best one (well, let's hope I have 200+ people for Nicole Krauss next Wednesday) and not the other worthy authors. I was cocky the first year, as folks were showing up for authors in bigger numbers than I expected. Now I'm back down to earth. I think each literary author needs something special behind it. Let me try to come up with something. Let's hope Mary Helen Stefaniak still has a good number of friends in Milwaukee for tonight's event for The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia (7 PM, 10/22). More on events here.

Simpson was incredibly gracious and I'd recommend seeing her when she shows up in your town. I had a better time than I deserve, partly because I got to have a drink with her author escort and two other notable Wisconsin writers and it was very fun.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Battle of the Commission Reps, Part 2

This year we went from three reps presenting per evening to four. I'm not exactly sure how that happened, but we were able to fill every slot. The reps shaved a little off their presentation times, but just to make my booksellers more exhausted, we had a staff meeting beforehand. I am looking forward to our next gathering, when the only thing that will have happened in the previous 24 hours will be two in-store events, David Sedaris at the Riverside (10/23, tickets on sale here), and Ian Frazier at the Milwaukee Public Library's Centennial Hall (10/24, 2 PM, free, 733 North 8th Street).

Back to the presentations. Tonight was the battle of the two largest commission groups in our area, Fujii Associates and Abraham Associates (no disrespect to the other groups intended--this is based on how much business we do with each.) Both groups have lines that they sell to us, and lines where they only sell to secondary accounts, meaning we are large enough to get a house rep. Sometimes publishers use commission for this, sometimes they use telephone reps. If we weren't so close to Chicago, and we didn't have a good assortment of other stores around, we'd probably be on more phone lists. I have yet to have a phone rep fly out for rep night, but I suppose eventually somone will suggest video conferencing. I'm going to put that off as long as possible.

First up was Andy from Fujii. He brought out the Alton Brown's Good Eats 2, the middle years. It's an episodic guide to all things Brown, and as the first volume did quite well, as did the other volumes that were not episodic, Abrams has high hopes. I guess he's a 500-person event kind of guy, one of those folks whose sales are spread over a lot of mass merchandisers so an indie doesn't really quite how much reach the celeb has. We'll see when we host our signing for Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro, on November 11th. It's at 12 Noon. There's no talk--you have to buy tix to his Riverside appearance for that.

Eat Tweet is a web phenom that condenses recipes into Twitter feeds. Maureen Evans has, well, done something clever. It's 1000 recipes in 258 pages. I ran this by a few of our foodie booksellers and they shook their heads, but the next week, one of our speakers was very excited about it.

Apparently there is a lot of buzz on The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, the memoir of Tova Elisabeth Bailey, who, confined to her bed with a neurological disorder, became fascinated by a visiting snail, whose life was structured with, yes, even more limitations. It's a nice variation of nature essay. Why not package your gift with one of our popular snail banks. Always thinking!

From Tiger Tales, I got a kick out of Hugless Douglas, mostly because it reminded me of a customer. He tries hugging rocks, trees, but nothing quite feels right.

Next up was John Mesjak, and I use his last name as he uses it himself in his blog, My 3 Books. John just weighed in on the phenomeonon of customers ordering from Amazon when they are shopping at independent bookstores, well sort of.

Everyone is crazy for All my Friends are Dead. We have it on our impulse table. Come in and laugh. Or you can read a bit here.

People are also crazy for Haikubes. We're not out of it yet, though I forgot to do the last restock.

The Autobiography of Mark Twain came in, one of the most awaited books of the fall. It's from University of California Pres, of all places. Really, this has never been published in a complete edition. We've already sold several.

Regarding 31 Hours, by Masha Hamilton, Jason loved meeting the author at the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association conference. This is from Unbridled, one of the most indie-friendly, classic independent publishing houses. Their other major book this fall is Peter Geye's Safe from the Sea. You've already heard us go on about it. Our event was great. We sold way more books than we expected.

We paid tribute to David Thompson, recently deceased of Busted Flush Press and a noted Texas bookseller, by noting his great publishing program. He brought back Don Winslow's series, which Mr. Mesjak told me he loved to hand-sell when he was at...well, one of the bookstores he worked at. A Cool Breeze on the Underground is the featured title. They also picked up some Daniel Woodrell backlist. Genius! A Boswellian is currently reading Tomato Red. I forget which.

John sells Candlewick, but I must have wandered away at that point, when something sparkly caught my eye. Staying on the bear theme, one of his books was A Bedtime for Bear by Bonny Becker, with illustrations by Kady MacDonald Denton. It's the follow-up to A Visitor for Bear. They have a sleepover. Mouse makes too much noise. Try ear plugs--they are quite popular!

But that wouldn't make a very good book. Anyway, thanks to all the reps who helped make rep night #1 a success. We'll see if I can handle writing up numbers 2, 3, and 4.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Didn't That Rep Night Happen a Month Ago? Part One

Yes, yes it did.

I had promised to write up some of the picks afterwards, breaking one of my major rules--never promise anything or you will mess up.

It went fairly smoothly. The food from Beans and Barley was delicious and we had just about the right amount. Scratch that--I over-ordered salad. One next time is plenty. There was a little poppy seed torte leftover, but nobody seemed upset about that. It went the next day.

Oh, another problem was that I lost one of the handouts. In retrospect, it was good I lost John's, as he already wrote a blog piece on his rep presentation. John sells books from Harvard, Yale, and MIT. Among his picks:

The Atlas of Rare Birds, by Dominic Couzens. A lovely photography book that documents who they are and where to find them. And John points out the amazing price point on such a nice package--$29.95. It's all about the international printing, I guess. Sometimes you can also find a nonprofit to underwrite some of these things. That's how they got Mary Nohl and Wisconsin's Own so reasonable. At $45, its actually quite reasonable, especially as it wasn't printed in China.

Pride and Prejudice, an Annotated Edition, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks. Do I also have to say written by Jane Austen? Needless to say, there was much oohing and ahhing over this. John was a little concerned over trim and price point, but it's actually quite close in both to the Norton series. If you don't know already, the president of the American chapter of the Jane Austen Society lives in Milwaukee. Her term is coming to an end, and she's hoping to use her extra time by reading more classics (eventually I hope to post on her controversial definition of classics).

Best Technology Writing 2010, edited by Julian Dibbell. If you come to our store a lot, you know we keep all the best-of-the-year anthologies together on an endcap. It is shopped often and sells a lot of books. Most of these books don't tend to sell too well in their sections, except for maybe Best American Short Stories. This year the BASS dump was very nice, but cardboard, so we went back to our rack and changed the header. John's entry is not "American" and it was only when I looked carefully when I realized how many of them are. Really? No Peter Carey or Emma Donoghue or any number of other authors allowed? That's another good idea for a post, checking the nationalities of every contributor to Best American Travel Writing.

Want to read more about John's picks? Visit his blog, Paper Over Board.

It's been so long that I can't remember the order. Here's a bit from Joe's list. Joe is our Penguin Hardcover rep, and he was notable last year for convincing us to put The Power of Kindness on our impulse table. We have sold over 100 copies of this book, and I'm surprised that every store in the country hasn't followed suit. Though I'd like to claim otherwise, our customers are likely no kinder than those at other bookstores. I know this is an odd thing to say in a blog post from an independent bookstore, but if a national chain store mover and shaker is reading this, I would suggest you try it without a table fee; you will likely make more money than putting a dud on your front table and collecting the money, but selling few books.

Joe was very hot on James Thompson's Snow Angels, a new mystery series set in Finland. Everyone's got an entry from the frozen north of Europe of late, and Joe claims to have read most of them. Well, Steig Larsson anyway. A Somali immigrant is found dead in a field. Sex crime? Hate crime? Other? Inspector Kari Vaara starts digging.

The Girls of Murder City, by Douglas Perry. We do pretty well with historical crime books, unless they are packaged to look too mass markety. Karen Abbott's Sin in the Second City was a hit for us, and did I mention Abbott is coming for her next book, American Rose, a bio of Gypsy Rose Lee? It's on January 10th. Mark your calendar. In Perry's book, he documents Maurine Watkins, a Chicago Tribune reporter who glorified "stylish Belva" Gaertner and "Beautiful Beulah" Annan, both of whom shot their lovers and started a craze of Murdress's Row being one of the most fashionable addresses in Chicago. I don't know if I got that right, but it sounds good.

Work Song, by Ivan Doig. This is his sequel to The Whistling Season, his most popular novel that I remembered. Morrie Morgan goes to work for the mining company in Montana, on the lam from Chicago gangsters (see above) and mistaken for a labor agitator. Roughneck action follows. It's said to be pretty good, if not quite at the level of The Whistling Season. And besides, you should read The Whistling Season first anyway. And Bev loved it. I wonder if I can sell one copy of The Whistling Season by mentioning it four times.

This is a two-part post if I ever saw one. Alas, our website is under construction again, so no linking today!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Author: Did You "Love It" Love It or "Like It" Love It? A Post on My Year of Flops, by Nathan Rabin, Who is Coming November 6th.

I have this funny experience with a friend of mine whenever I read his or her (no gender!) latest new novel. I tell this author that I liked it. But like it means, translated into "author", that you didn't really like it. You have to love it. But "love it" sometimes gets downgrade to like it. So then you have to really love it.

It's complicated territory, especially since I, like most people, wind up liking some books more than others. And honestly, there's something off-putting about someone who loves, loves, loves everything. And who can believe him or her? Fortunately, I really did like the author's latest novel (as I do most of them) and we're doing well with it in paperback.

Why do I confess this now? Because I liked Nathan Rabin's memoir, The Big Rewind, which is now out in paperback. But I didn't love it--it's a hard memoir to love because it bites at you. As Dwight Garner said in his New York Times review, "The Big Rewind nonetheless has something real and scuffed and quite winning at its core. It’s probably true, as one of Mr. Rabin’s employers observes, that all his stories share the same problem: “They begin really cute and end with you getting viciously beaten.” Read the rest here.

Perhaps I'm emotionally unprepared to be viciously beaten too much in one book (referencing original blog post here). It's smart, movie-obsessed, and has some good Milwaukee and Madison stuff in it. But I didn't know if I'd read his next one, especially because there was no official tour on the book. But I was intrigued.

Here's the premise. What if we went to a hundred movies and they all sucked? But what if, afterwards, we had a beer or two, and after some discussion, several turned out to be works of genius, and others, well, still sucked? And then one of us wrote a column about it?

That’s pretty much Nathan Rabin’s new book, My Year of Flops. Rabin watches (in most case, rewatches) a commercial and generally critical failure, offers his critique, and puts it in cultural perspective and biographical (his) perspective.

We’re talking calamitous comedies like “The Adventures of Ford Fairlaine” and “Skidoo”, unsexy sexy films, including “Exit to Eden” and “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” and super-powered action flops such as “Hulk” and “The Rocketeer.” A special section documents the floppiest of flops—where would we be without a look back at “Ishtar”, “Gigli” , and “Battlefield Earth.”

And who can’t forget floppy musicals? I imagine, based on what I remember, that the book could have been all musicals, but My Year of Flops sticks to the floppiest—“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “I’ll Do Anything” (now with no music) and Lucille Ball’s “Mame” among them. So what if she was 20 years too old for the part?

It helps that Rabin has encyclopedic film knowledge. He was on that short-lived AMC review show with John Ridley, remember? (You don’t? Read the memoir again.) The razor sharp wit also helps. The book (which seems to be about 1/3 book exclusive) is truly laugh-out-loud funny, and as I read much of the book in public places, I have a number of strangers that can vouch for that statement. You love to laugh, don't you?

This is the kind of book that I immediately thought of five people for whom it would be the perfect gift. Do you have to have seen all the movies? Absolutely not. Will you want to see more of them? Undoubtedly.

OK, with that reaction, I asked Rabin and his publisher if we could get him up here anyway, especially since my last two AV Club talks have had respectable crowds. Rabin said yes to Milwaukee. He's coming on Saturday, November 6th, at 2 PM. He likes you, he really really likes you. Poor Sally Field. Anyway, now it's your turn to like him and show up.

If I were doing "All Things Considered" this fall (and I figure I'm probably not--lightning doesn't strike three times, does it? And by that, I mean good lightning), it would be one of my five picks. Now do you believe how much I love it?*

I also loved the illustrations. But who did them? I can't find a signature anywhere. The only acknowledgement is the designer, Carla Jayne Jones. But artwork is usually a different gig than book design, isn't it? I dare you to name all the movies referenced on the cover. Hey, that's a good contest.

*But my favorite book of the year is Day for Night and it's not likely to change at this point. I'm emotionally connected to the book and I still expect you to buy it from me. How the heck did I work this into the post? Hey, there's referencing to Truffault's film in the book, and that's a film, although it doesn't suck. That's the best I can do.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Where Was Everybody This Weekend, and What's Coming Up This Week?

By that, I don't mean that we were empty of customers; we were actually pretty busy on Saturday, at least through the start of the 7 PM showings at the Downer Theater. Currently playing are "Jack Goes Boating" and "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger." I spoke with our pal Shari, who was off to see the latter (Woody Allen), and had really enjoyed the former, because of course it had Philip Seymour Hoffman.

What I meant was that we were really thin of staff. On Friday, Pam went with James Dashner to schools and was off to a teacher conference with Amie on Saturday. Stacie was at the Alverno writing conference on Saturday. And I stayed behind to host a very nice event with Rebecca Johns for The Countess*. As you know, this idea that the Countess murdered 600 of her female servants and bathed in her blood was preposterous, though we're not saying she was a beacon of light. What we might saying is that as the second wealthiest woman in Hungary and also a woman, she was a particularly juicy target. (In our discussion, Johns noted that it's been said that a number of Salem witches were similar targets).

Today is our green market (yes it's going through October) from 2 to 6 PM. Tomorrow (Monday, 10/18) we're hosting Sheila Bender, author of A New Theology: Turning to Poetry in a Time of Grief. Bender has the honor of the most advance booking we've done, a full year in advance. Here's her website; the event is at 7 PM.

Tuesday (10/19) is Marilyn Taylor at the Hartford Avenue writing group at 7 PM. Jason's going to an author dinner for a hot book coming out this winter.

Wednesday (10/20) is John Reimringer and his novel Vestments. This novel has gotten raves from Leif Enger, Patricia Hampl, and Stewart O'Nan. Tom Franklin talked it up to us at a recently lunch (Yes, he's coming November 16th) and that convinced Boswellian Carl to read it, and he's been talking it up ever since. More on Reimringer's site. Being that the book takes place in St. Paul, I was hoping to get the article from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, but no such luck.

Thursday (10/21) we're hosting Mona Simpson for My Hollywood in the store, while Nancy Pearl is at the Milwaukee Public Library for Book Lust to Go, both at 7 PM. Want to see both? There is rumor that Pearl is at the Milwaukee Art Museum in the morning, doing a live show (9 AM) with Kathleen Dunn for Wisconsin Public Radio. More info on Dunn's Facebook page.

I learned from the Journal Sentinel that their original content can be posted online but the syndicated stuff is usually print only. I myself have a print subscription and greatly enjoy it. We don't get that many at the store, and generally run out of both the Sunday Journal Sentinel and New York Times. Good luck getting the Saturday Financial Times too. The allocations are very strict. Need it? Best off getting it in the morning.

Today's Journal Sentinel has a review of Mona Simpson's novel My Hollywood from Connie Ogle at the McClatchy News Service. Ogle notes how Simpson has probed the ties of family, particularly mothers and daughters, in her four novels, most recently Off Keck Road (though I think she's still best known for her first, Anywhere but Here). The story, as you've read here before, alternates between a mother and the nanny who works for her. Ogle's insight that there's an "Upstairs/Downstairs" tone to the book works for me. My original post on Mona Simpson is here.

On Friday (10/22), we're hosting Mary Helen Stefaniak, author of The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia. Stefaniak, like Simpson, has Wisconsin roots (Simpson was partially raised in Green Bay, Stefaniak in Milwaukee), but heads to the terrain of her mother's side of the family for her new novel. Here's my original Mary Helen Stefaniak post.

And this coming weekend is a post unto itself. It's even crazier than last weekend.

*Our website is down today. Can't link to it, alas! But reminder that the credit card purchasing now works.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Saturday Gift Post--A Whole Bunch of Food Events are a Natural Partner to Thanksgiving Stuff

Our first year, I really shied away from doing seasonal gift stuff. One bad move and you are stuck with a lot of pumpkin treat bags, and unlike big chains, and if most of your stuff gets marked down post holiday, why bother carrying it? (Unlike some retailers. Here's an archive link to the Mickey Drexler profile in The New Yorker where he complains that J. Crew sells product at triple the net while his competitors are at five times the net. Yes, that item for $25 cost them $5 where ours cost us between $12.50 and $15. To be explored someday in another post.)

And an aside, if you subscribe to The New Yorker, you should probably claim your digital subscription, which comes free, before someone grabs a discarded issue out of your trash! Always a panicker.

What was I talking about again? Thanksgiving. We brought in a little more this year. But where to put it. And does it seem too early? No, it's in a month!

So we've been thinking it's time for our fall cookbook table anyway. And aren't a lot of folks going to use these cookbooks to find new recipes for their holiday dinners? So there we are.

Plus we have a lot of food-related events coming up.

1. October 27th is a lunch at Lake Park Bistro for Mireille Guiliano for the French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook. It starts at 12 PM and it's not sold out yet. Call for reservations--(414) 962-6300. Lunch is $85 and includes a signed copy of the book.

2. November 3rd is our launch event for Primal Cuts: Cooking with America's Best Butchers. Featured is Milwaukee's Scott Buer from Bolzano Artisan Meats. The event is at 7 PM, and it's co-sponsored by Slow Food Southeast Wisconsin. Oh, and it's National Butcher Week. Here's who else is featured in the book. Indianapolis, you're lucky to have Chris Eley of Goose the Market. Here's the video.

3. Dinner on November 9th at Bacchus is with David Tanis, author of Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys. Tanis is head chef at Chez Panisse under Alice Waters. Dinner is at 6:30 and for $135, you also get a signed copy of the book.

Here's more from Bacchus: "David has an unbelievable life- for six months of the year, he runs Chez Pannise for Alice, then he takes six months and lives in Paris, where he hosts small dinner parties in his home. He has also written two beautiful cookbooks- he co-wrote the Chez Panisse Cookbook with Alice Waters, and on his own he has written Corn, A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, and now Heart of the Artichoke." More at their site.

4. Sunday, November 28th, at 2 PM (yes, that's Thanksgiving weekend) we're hosting a talk and tasting with Kelly Pelloza, author of The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur. More details on this to come.

Wow, this post is too long. No room to talk about corn candles and turkey centerpieces, to say nothing of metal crows and wooden acorns. Oh, and the metal crows aren't even out yet. And yes, the turkeys are made out of pinecones and twigs. Not locally, sadly, but it's a good idea for a local artisan to make and sell.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Not Enough Time, Not Enough Time! A Plug for James Dashner Tonight

Time issue number one--I am clearly late on getting the email newsletter out. Fortunately every event through yesterday had a feature on our last email newsletter, but it must get out soon.

Fortunately the press release went out and the November event calendar is pretty much ready for the printer, thanks to the efficient work of Stacie. We've got a lot of stuff going on, but alas, the problems on switching to a new computer system have left me a bit emotionally drained.

Fortunately we have this blog where we can mention some nice events:

A. Tonight is James Dashner, coming for The Scorch Trials, the secquel to The Maze Runner. Our event is at Boswell, at 7 PM. As I write this, we our hosting two events at schools. You get a better feel on how these are going to go beforehand (the students preorder the book) and they are both going to go just fine. And then he heads off to the Sheboygan Children's Book Festival, which is going on this weekend.

B. As per yesterday's post, we're hosting Rebecca Johns, author of The Countess, a novel about Hungary's Blood Countess, perhaps one of the inspriations for Dracula, but from her perspective. Note to serial killer fans--this is more like classic historical fiction, perhaps Sarah Dunant, Tracy Chevalier, or Philippa Gregory.*

C. Also going on tomorrow is the Great Lakes Writers Workshop at Alverno College. Here's the program. Stacie will have a mini-bookshop of writing, creativity, marketing, and reference books. More on this website.

Time issue number two--being too late to my our own events! Yesterday, I sold books at a luncheon for Robert Egger at the WWBIC, the Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative Corporation. I have more to say about that on another post, but in the time it took for me to get back and detoured about the problems of the day, and checking receiving and some email, I forget to do the reconciliation from the offsite!

Lots of issues with the new computer system, but Jason and Amie are doing a great job handling most of the problems. I just sit around and worry.

So I charged out the sales, and it was a bit slower as I made numerous mistakes on the new cash register, and then I walked to the 15 bus to get to the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center to see Justin Spring, the author of The Secret Historian, which we were co-sponsoring, and was recently nominated for a National Book Aard. Stacie was in the store to introduce Peter Geye, author of Safe from the Sea.

I missed the bus, got to the Center a half hour late, and it was full. Congrats to all, but the seats were backed up to the door and I couldn't get in. Alas, it's not the kind of neighborhood where you can lounge outside until the event is over. Outwords was already the primary bookstore, selling the books. So congrats to all and hurray.

*Or Judith Merkle Riley, who recently passed away. She had one book that had an amazing amount of attention, but after that was published quietly. Like Johns, she taught at the college level, but not literature, government!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Dirty Secret of Hosting Events--Reading Books at the Last Minute, on Rebecca Johns' The Countess Event This Saturday, October 16th, 2 PM.

Oh, I suppose the dirtier secret is not reading them at all.

I remember one of our event coordinator at Schwartz, who worked so hard to read the event books. The problem was that this person (no, I'm not even giving away gender) was always so far behind that the book would be read just before the event, and at that point, there was little he/she could do with the newfound knowledge of the book, except, perhaps, write a more splendid introduction. And that won't help me, as I am of the very short introduction school (to probably be discussed on a later post).

Recently having complained of my inability to read all the books beforehand (knowing there are at least some that even the author's don't expect me to read, though I have tried to struggle through several textbooks. What do I do when I get to the assignments?), someone (no gender!) from a substantially larger store sort of rolled eyes and said their event people hardly ever read the books.

I'm sure that person just said that to make me feel better.

That said, it's only two days until our event for Rebecca Johns, author of The Countess, her second published novel. Johns is a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop and is currently an assistant professor at DePaul.

It's a somewhat classic historical novel, but with a dark twist, almost hinted at with serial killer proportions. Countess (and I apologize in advance for any misspellings or missing accents, we're talking Hungarian) Erzsebet (most historical accounts translate her name to Elizabeth, but I am being loyal to Johns here, sans accent) Bathory was married at a young age to Ferenc, a well off soldier whose match united some economic interests. There was some issue with showing Erszebet affection, a little vieing for affection from other parties, the usual stuff.

The thing is that Erzsebet is telling the story from behind prison walls, accused of (and I'm not giving anything away here) murdering many of her servant girls. Now the problem is that servants at the time weren't necessarily serfs, though Erzebet saw them like that. Instead they were the children of slightly lower classes, relatives who'd fallen on hard times perhaps, who were looking for the mistress to find their child a decent match.

Now Erzsebet keeps order in her household, the same as any other countess. If servants are theiving, or cavorting with the boys, they must be punished. But she's been taught to be kind and just, like by making the maidens do their work naked for a day, in view of and facing the ridicule of all. Maybe rubbing honey on their skin to attract gnats. That sort of thing.

Ruthless or fair, truthful or not, worse than anybody else in the book or perhaps better, that's for you to determine, but in a way, it's just a reflection of what was going on in Hungary at the time. While Erzebet is struggling with her domestic concerns (and keeping hold of the family money and holdings), families are feuding, alliances are forming, insurrections are being quelled. It's a brutal time, and villainy, as it often is, becomes a matter of whether you are on the losing side.

Another interesting theme of the book that connects the inner and outer worlds is family as political and economic struggle. Relatives see marriages as a tieing together of economic interests, and it is really not unusual for family ties to be broken over money. When Erzsebet's friend/rival Griselda is stripped of her holdings by her own children and sent off to a nunnery, she's too poor to come to the wedding of one of Erzsebet's children, while Griselda's own daughters arrive in all their finery. Erzsebet has her own revenge there; she gives them crappy rooms. The inner workings of the estate mirror the outer workings of the continent.

So here's the real twist. In most historical accounts, Countess Bathory is compared to a real life vampire, a serial killer of epic proportions, perhaps even the inspiration for Dracula. Johns has a totally different take on it. In letting her tell the tale, or we hearing the words of a sociopath, or just one of history's victims? More than once, Erzsebet bemoans the fate of a woman without a man, and one sees how her panic on this subject good lead to an endless quest for beauty, at whatever the cost. But that's someone else's novel

Historical fiction does an easy genre to write in, though it seems to me it's easier than some genres (satire?, novellas?) to get a contract. Though many publishers try to launch with a bang, many authors build over several books, because word of mouth is key. And if you get a big launch and it doesn't take, you're stuck with that for your writing career.

I tried to bring in a few copies of John's first novel, Icebergs, but it's currently out of stock. It was only as I was reading the book that I recalled that Schwartz had an event with Johns for her first book, and that one of my coworkers really liked it. I do not recall the gender, but I do remember the book was finished in time to tell me before the event.

So perhaps you're up for a little historical fiction this Saturday at 2, maybe you just want to talk Hungary (I'm sure Johns has done a good amount of research) or celebrate Halloween early. Come visit us and hold court with The Countess.

Here's a Q&A from Reuters. And one of the more gruesome depictions I could find of the Countess.