Thursday, June 30, 2011

Greetings from Greater Boston! After Dropping Off the Gift of Large Print to Mom, I Go Book Browsing with a Friend.

It's time for my season trip to see my mom in Brookline.  It's always a good idea to bring a book.  Though I've complained in the past that Gale's large print are tough to stock in a bookstore, due to their high list price and textbook-style discount, they've been experimenting with a paperback reprint program that matches the trade list price. I was very excited that the large print edition of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was included in this program--the perfect gift for Mom.

Right now Mom is in the middle of Savor the Moment, the third novel in Nora Roberts's Bride Quartet series.  Vows, the wedding business featured in the series, is composed of four single women.  I'm just guessing that by the end of the series, sparks are going to fly quadruply.  Book three focuses on the pastry chef.  Her wedding cakes are to die for, and apparently, so is the hunky lawyer she's eyeing.

In between emails and event calendars, and a little reading of The Borrower, Rebecca Makkai's novel of a children's librarian who sort of kidnaps one of her patrons (her first event is tonight, 6/30, at Next Chapter, while we're hosting Makkai on Wednesday, July 20, 7 pm), I headed over to Porter Square Books to meet my friend Mameve for coffee.

I said, Mameve, you have to recommend some books to me.  What do you like? 

We first talked a bit about Ann Patchett's State of Wonder.  I told her what a wonderful event we had, and then Ellen, who does the events at Porter Square, chimed in that their event was also wonderful.  Mameve was sad that she wasn't able to attend the Cambridge event.  I told her that I've had folks all week telling me how sad they were that they couldn't come to our Patchett event in Milwaukee.

If everyone who had wanted to come had come, I don't know where we would have put them.  Good thing for previous engagements. Did I mention signed copies are still available?

By far the book Mameve was most excited about was Stewart O'Nan's Emily Alone, his second story about the Maxwell family who first showed up in Wish You Were Here.  "To write about an 80-year-old woman, totally from her viewpoint...he made her life significant.  What a wonderful writer!" All quote guarranteed paraphrased.

Mameve also talked about her love for Kate Atkinson, having recently finished Started Early, Took my Dog, the fourth Jackson Brodie novel.  My sister Merrill is equally enthusiastic over this series.  "I love how the pieces all come together.  You never think she's going to be able to connect the dots, but she does it, often in unexpected ways."

I stopped reading the series after book two.  That I read two books in a mystery series is high praise indeed.  I dream of keeping up with several series, the way I did when I was younger, but I can't seem to do it.

In the end, I decided that I had too many books piled up to buy either at Porter Square, though I did pick up a half dozen postcards. A big compliment to them--I thought there displays looked terrific! In the end, I am responsible for a book purchase at Porter Square--I convinced Mameve to buy a copy of How Rocket Loved to Read, after hearing how much she liked It's a Book.


Mameve Medwed is the author of several novels, most recently Of Men and Their Mothers.  Her appearance was one of our first events at Boswell.  Good times!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Despite my Constant Worrying About Price Points, We've Just Brought in a Cookbook and It Costs More than $500--But "Modernist Cuisine" is Also a Culinary Sensation, Which Makes Me Slightly Less Panicky.

Years and years ago, before I was a buyer, I have this memory of us carrying and promoting an art book that cost more than $300.  I'm pretty sure it was about the art collection at the Hermitage, but I remember nothing else.

I'm not sure we could sell art books back then, but those kinds of expensive books are certainly hard to sell now.  There's the double bind--folks don't quite collect them the way they used to and our section gets beaten up by browsers.  If we do keep carrying these kinds of books, I think we're going to go back the old system of keeping the expensive ones off the floor and yet accessible.  I haven't figured out the model yet.

Interestingly enough, we seem to have less resistance with cookbooks.  I think it's in part that they are less heavily browsed, and seem to have some sort of utility (that is, you can cook with them).  For example, we've sold three copies of David Thompson's Thai Street Food without promoting it and it costs $60.  That's pretty good for us.

But that's nothing!  What about a book that costs $625?  Can you believe that I convinced Jason to buy this?

It's Nathan Myhrvold's magnum opus, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking.  I think as a buyer I don't think I could have done this.  I didn't know my customers well enough, and I didn't feel like it was fair to the Schwartz finances to invest our inventory dollars this way.  Most of all, I probably would have not put the book at every store, which would have left me playing favorites, a situation I hated being in.

But we're one store and I have no one to answer to but myself for making the error.  Plus you've probably figured out, with my recommendations of Life, On the Line, and The Sorcerer's Apprentices, that I love this stuff. And then I read this in the Washington Post:

“The future of food is here, and it weighs 50 pounds. more than 2,400 pages, it is the answer to everything you wanted to know about cooking, not to mention so many things you never thought about. It is the second most important book on food and the science of cooking (after Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking) and the most important book ever published on what the authors call modernist cooking. Nathan Myhrvold's eagerly awaited Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking lives up to the hype, and then some.”
--Andreas Viestad, Washington Post

And then this in the New York Times.  And mind you, Myrvold was unhappy with this review and wrote a rebuttal.  Seemed pretty good to me!

Modernist Cuisine is not for most home cooks. For the professional chef, modernist or not, it will be an invaluable reference. For the cooking geek with $625 to spare, it will be endless fun. As a physical object it is remarkable; sometimes I found myself simply staring at the block of books.”
--Michael Ruhlman, The New York Times

With this kind of attention, and knowing my customers the way I do, I'm convinced we have at least two people out there who would be interested.  And it doesn't hurt that the A word is often out of stock on the title.  The second printing is releasing slowly. 

The list price on the book is $625.
We're selling it for $550.
Alas, due to the low margin, the book does not qualify for Boswell Benefits.  

Modernist Cuisine is available for viewing by appointment only, and because of the special nature of this book, it is sold nonreturnable.  That's why our only copy on the floor (yes, I actually bought two of them) is kept in its shipping box.  I can't have a customer come back to me saying a page was ripped and it came that way. The way the book is being released, I'm pretty sure that each copy is hand-inspected.

Yes, this book is so hot that we positioned by one of the fire extinguishers.

We also have a brochure somewhere, but we seem to have misplaced it.  I'm hoping our pal Carrie can send me a replacement.

Are you a serious collector who'd like to view the copy with me?  Please email me and we'll set something up. 

It's a risk for us, but it's also very exciting.  You can read more about Modernist Cuisine on their website.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Ups and Downs of the Internet--You Can Plug Us on a National Site, but You Can't Buy Harry Potter Ebooks From Us.

The Huffington Post has its second annual photo gallery for Independence Day celebrating independent bookstores.  They are allowing customers to load their slides online.  Stacie (while on vacation) noticed that Boswell was slide #7, and it's a picture of Shane and Andy that comes from our promotion for We, The Drowned.  So it was particularly exciting to have a website include us. Then I looked at the reader comments and we were not mentioned, so then I didn't know what to think. But then my friend Kristin from Seattle wrote to me and said, "No, it's a good thing." OK, I'm happy.

Here's the slide show.

Then our pal Mike came in and told me that he knew of a bookstore that was opening in another city that was using Boswell as one of their models. Hmmmm...they are going to find a crazy person to blog about every photo spotted on a national website and wonder whether it will help the store?  Go for it! 

I'm actually proud of both things.  Don't worry about us getting cocky.  We're being knocked back a rung on hearing that Harry Potter will be available as an authorized ebook only through the official Pottermore website. The publisher gets a cut, but the retailer, no.


So back to the printed word.  I wanted to say what a good time I had at Outpost last night with Kelly Dorfman, as well as with Margaret, Zach*, and the rest of our Coop friends. Here's a photo of the community room, which is connected to the rest of the store with a big garage door that opens when necessary.

*I apologize if I spelled your name wrong. It's been a long time since we worked together at Schwartz.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Our New Print Calendar is Available in Store--Plus What's Going on This Week...

We list our events all over the place.  There's our event page on our website, Facebook, and our email newsletter.  In addition to that, we upload events to just about any site of size that will have us.

That said, there are lots of people who like something printed.  You know who you are, and truth be told, you're probably not reading this blog.  The event calendar is one of Stacie's projects, but she's traveling this week, sending me back photos of giant sock monkey heads.  I'd be jealous, but I'm off in a few days for a short trip to see family in Massachusetts.

The event calendar was proofed and already to go to print when I booked several more events.  Three of them, to be exact:
--Jonathan Lippincott, author of Large Scale: Fabricating Sculpture in the 1960s and 1970s, on Wednesday, July 13 at the Lynden Sculpture Garden.
--Jesse Ball, author of The Curfew, a staff favorite, on Tuesday, August 2, at Boswsell.
--Oliver Potzsch, author of The Hangman's Daughter, on Thursday, August 4, at Boswell. Potzsch has written a thriller set in Bavaria that took the new route of being an ebook hit before it went into paper. More on that in another blog.

Know someone who doesn't like e anything? Give them the gift of our printed event calendar.  It's terra green this month!

I had not actually worked on our newly improved event calendar, including more author photos, book jackets, and magic flip-out action. At least two of the pages are laid out upside down, and I couldn't figure out how to flip the entire file. It was all very exciting, and now it's done, and all the typos are my fault.

And now for this week's events.

That Workman, they sure love a long subtitle!

Credentials? Why Kelly Dorfman, MS, LND, is a nutritionist who specializes in working with children. She has served, by governor appointment, on the Maryland Board of Dietetic Practice, has consulted for WebMD, and has been a go-to authority on nutrition for The Washington Post.

The positives:
1. Not every offsite event is free, but this one is!
2. Interesting talk! Could be helpful.
3. Come see Outpost's new community room.
4. A parking lot, for those who fear parallel parking.

The negatives:
1. Those weather folk are grumbling about thunderstorms again. Did I mention parking lot?

Tomorrow, Tuesday, June 28, we're welcoming Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, author of A School for My Village: A Promise to the Orphans of Nyaka.  In hardcover, the book was titled The Price of Stones.  I suppose under that title, it got shelved in economics sections. 

Kaguri has written an inspirational story about building a school for AIDS orphans. Growing up on his family's small farm, Kaguri worked many hours each day for his taskmaster father, though he was lucky his parents were able to send him to school. Kaguri eventually became a visiting scholar at Columbia University. Returning to his home years later, he was overwhelmed by the plight of AIDS orphans and vowed to build them a tuition-free school. A School for My Village weaves together tales from Kaguri's youth and his inspiring account of building the school and changing the lives of many children. (Thank you, Mr. Paraphraser).

Kaguri is the Director of Development at Michigan State University in Lansing. Here are some folks who would be interested in this talk:
1. Folks who are working to help folks with AIDS.
2. Folks active in Habitat for Humanity
3. Other church and religious groups doing good deeds.
4. Fans of the message of Three Cups of Tea, focusing on the good works, not the controversies.

Then we have a little event break. Not that you all go to Summerfest every night, but the festival sucks up much of the arts coverage.

I should also include here:
Sunday, July 3--regular hours, meaning we open at 10 and close at 6 pm.
Monday, July 4--special hours! We open at 10 am and close at 5.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bestseller Report--It Was Exhausting Enough to Decide Where to Shelve the Mansbach Parody, But Now I Have to Decide Where to Categorize It for Bestsellers Lists Too.

I'm trying to figure out where to categorieze Go the F**k to Sleep for bestseller lists.  Fortunately most lists we now report to just ask us to send them sales and they do the work.  But for my list, there are esthetic concerns.  The New York Times puts the book in advice, which would make it nonfiction for us.  But like poetry (which we classify with fiction generally), this seems like a story to me, a graphic novel if you will, and as such should go with fiction. 

hardcover fiction:
1. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett (signed copies available)
2. Go the F**k to Sleep, by Adam Mansbach
3. Stagestruck, by Peter Lovesey
4. The Devil Colony, by James Rollins
5. South of Superior, by Ellen Airgood

Based on our first week sales of Janet Evanovich for Smokin' Seventeen, don't hold out hope for us to host the author in the near future. We sold more copies of James Rollins's new release, though not by much. I had no idea that his books were all a series, and I must not have been alone, as they are now labeling the books, "a Sigma Force novel."

Hey, look at this pop for South of Superior.  It came a bit out of nowhere for me, but all bets are off when there's a regional element.  Like The Long-Shining Waters (which actually was #6 this week), Ellen Airgood's book references Lake Superior, telling the story of a woman who leaves Chicago for McAllester, Michigan, to care for her aging mother.  Advance reviews have used the words "charming," "inspired," and "comforting," with one comparing the book to cardamom rolls.

hardcover nonfiction
1. This is a Book, by Demetri Martin
2. In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson
3. Rescuing Regina, by Sister Josephe Marie Flynn (event is July 6)
4. 1861, by Adam Goodheart
5. The Greater Journey, by David McCullough
I think I haven't posted my signed copy of Demetri Martin.  It started as a gaffe, as the customer wanted a book signed to "Dan and Siri" and Mr. M. accidentally (as I did in my head) wrote "Dan and Suri." He was going to pay for the error, but I said, "No, let's just make it my copy" and magic was worked.

Did I mention what a nice offsite that was?

Sister Flynn's memoir, Rescuing Regina, is being launched on July 6 at Bergstrom Hall, Mount Mary College.  In error, I listed the address incorrectly.  It's 2900 North Menomonee River Parkway.

paperback fiction:
1. A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
2. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
3. Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
4. The All of It, by Jeanette Haien
5. Room, by Emma Donoghue

Hey, a female sweep!  Two book are due to our event with Ms. Patchett (the second being Haien's The All of It) and just about every book club is reading either Egan or Donoghue.  And our in-store lit group is reading both (July 4 at 11 am and August 1 at 7 pm). 

paperback nonfiction:
1. Memoir of a Sunday Brunch, by Julia Pandl (Thanks, Mr. Stingl!)
2. Half a Life, by Darin Strauss
3. Truth and Beauty, by Ann Patchett
4. What's Eating Your Child, by Kelly Dorfman
5. The Chicago Home Grown Cookbook, by Heather Lalley

Don't forget that Kelly Dorfman will be speaking at the new-ish Outpost Capitol Drive community center, tomorrow, Monday, June 27, at 7 pm. We also have two other upcoming author events in our top ten this week--Twesigye Jackson Kaguri visits Boswell this Tuesday, June 28, and John Duffy talks about available parenting on July 21. Events list here.

1. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
2. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
3. Along a Long Road, by Frank Viva
4. Should I Share my Ice Cream, by Mo Willems
5. Throne of Fire, by Rick Riordan

I absolutely love Along a Long Road.  That's a separate post.

As generally happens on these title-filled bestseller posts, I do not link every title to the Boswell Books website.  Know that you can buy any of them there, many available as ebooks, and most of them for the same price as at the big boys.  Pretty much anything but a Kindle will work.  Think about that if you are in the market for an e-reader.  Oh, and Consumer Rerports ranked the new Nook Simple Touch higher than any Kindle.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saturday Gift Post--Winding Down Spring Displays. When is it Too Late to Reorder Summer Stuff? But One Always Has to Reorder Cards.

The spring holidays are over, and for now, we sort of coast until back to school, which sadly, is not a season we've ever been able to do much with.  And with sales of reference books having pretty much disintegrated, that's more true now than in the past.

It's late June and just about at my deadline for not restocking outdoors stuff.  That said, it's still offically June, so we decided to go back and get more kites and more rocket balloons. Some stuff worked well, and other things have been slow and steady.  And there are somet things that haven't really sold well at all.  I usually keep things on the display table for a 25% reduction, but move to the clearance area for 50%. 

I thought we were pretty much done with graduation cards, but I walked in today and there were three empty pockets.  We're sort of running low on all but birthday cards, with five outstanding orders in the pipeline.  Only one is old enough to follow up on--I'll be emailing them right after this post.

Several displays have to be consolidated, but at this point, I'm just waiting until the calendars pour in and I lose display space.  It should be any minute now.

Our Up with Paper order must have arrived sometime yesterday, as I found it in the receiving area this morning.  We seem to do well on cartoony birthday designs and adult-like bouquets.  While we haven't closed out the other designs, the get well stuff, the casinos, the fishing scenes will not be replenished.  We always sell out of every bouquet at Mother's Day.

I'm always on the fence with this line. Should I have really bought the cards that come in standard envelopes but cost $1 more or the cards that we have that are $1 less but need extra postage?  I wonder if they make a rack that takes both--then we could see which worked better.

Oy, it's time to order Christmas cards.  I actually should have had it done by the end of June and I haven't even started.  I did place one fall gift order that had some incentive attached (60 day dating instead of the usual 30). 

Friday, June 24, 2011

To Charge or Not to Charge? And Does a Book Come with That?

The New York Times wrote a piece on the subject of bookstores charging for author events.  This has been an industry subject for several years now, and our friends at Boulder Book Store recently announced they would charge for more author events.

One thing to get out of the way here is that I'm not likely to ever charge admission for the small press, self-published, developing author and special interest events that we do. For many stores in the larger markets, this is not an issue, as they fill up their event schedule with authors on national tours.  That is likely to never happen to us. 

That said, we one day may have to ask authors at these events to share some of the event cost with us, a practice that is common at many other stores.  We currently don't do that , and I'm not planning on doing so in the near future. 

For major authors, we sometimes charge the price of the book for admission (Grant Achatz, our Alverno events), sometimes charge $5 (most recently Geraldine Brooks, some events at the Urban Ecology Center) and sometimes have no charge at all.  Oh, and at least twice we charged $10 (the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music and tango concerts).

It's one of those tricky things.  Bookstores need revenue to offsite the cost of events.  But often times it's a balancing act between maximizing attendance and maximizing sales.  Publishers usually know that if the event is offsite, there will usually be an admission charge, with the exception of our library events.  Many other charges convert to a gift card.  But in the case of our $5 admission charge, we usually limit that to $5 off the event book in question, as part of our goal is to maximize sales of the book we are promoting.

To put this in perspective, we decided to charge $5 for Geraldine Brooks, but after talking to the publisher, decided to make the Ann Patchett event free, encouraging people to come, even if they bought their book elsewhere.

In the end, our attendance at Ann Patchett was substantially higher than Geraldine Brooks, and it's not that our attendance for Brooks was bad.  I've gotten feedback from Penguin that her attendance at Boswell was in the top third of events.  It's just that Patchett was our second biggest in-store author event we've had to date (with #1 being Sherman Alexie, and #3 being Christopher Moore).

But sales of their new books (Caleb's Crossing and State of Wonder) were almost identical at their respective events.  There's no question that the $5 ticket with $5 off the book incentivized sales of the book.  So what's going to make sure that Milwaukee continues to get top authors on tour--great sales or great attendance?  Actually publishers and authors want both, with the third demand being great media. You can be thankful that Milwaukee is considered a good media town. Very thankful.

Oh, and there's a fourth thing, a great author experience.  If the author leaves happy, that makes a difference.  Good thing there are sweet potato and black bean burritos nearby.

There's another reason that these admission charges are being discussed. Fewer folks are buying books at the stores they visit. and quite frankly, many of us need to make up the loss revenue to stay afloat.  I think this topic warrants a completely separate blog entry, but I'll share the comment that our Chicago pal Mary spotted on the New York Times site:

"When I lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, we had a fantastic independent bookseller, Harry W. Schwartz. It was THE place for author events and they got some amazing authors. Within about ten to fifteen years of Amazon hitting its stride, Schwartz was gone. Amazon's rise and Schwartz's fall are not unrelated. They never charged for author events; if paying $3.00 or $5.00 to attend would have saved them, I would have been honored to do it, but now I'll never know."

We're in discussions with a publisher to schedule a major author for fall. The author and publisher are contemplating a free event at the Milwaukee Public Library or a paid event at an outside venue.  I'm really excited about both--the former because its always great to work with libraries and the latter because its a cool venue we haven't used before. But in the end, we're leaving it to them--do they want to maximize attendance or sales?

 We'll find out next week!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What's Catching my Eye This Week, Nonfiction Bookwise? States and Globalism and Google and Stieg Larsson.

With all my running around, I've hardly had time to eye up the new books on the shelves. One of the things I've noticed is the continuing trend of updating hardcovers.  I spotted Fareed Zakaria's The Post-American World, Release 2.0 (Norton) on the Boswell's Best this week.  It's his contention that the financial crisis of 2008 and beyond has exacerbated the changes to the world order.

As Mr. Zakaria notes: "The tallest building in the world is now in Dubai.  The world's richest man is Mexican, and its largest publicly traded corporation is Chinese.  The world's biggest plane is built in Russia and Ukraine, its leading refinery is in India, and its largest factories are all in China." Oh, and Singapore has the world's largest ferris wheel.

More of a sequel than an update is How the States Got their Shapes Too: The People Behind the Borderlines, by Mark Stein (Smithsonian).  To a certain extent, it looks like the title of the book is the subtitle, especially on the title page.  Stein is a playwright and screenwriter, whose credits include Steve Martin's Housesitter.  Apparently after the first book sold well and was adapted into a History Channel series, he needed a follow up.  I thought it was very nice that he credited Mark Olshaker for the idea for How the States Got Their Shapes Too

 Not necessarily #2, but more like #59 is I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59, by Douglas Edwards (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Edwards worked at Google from 1999 to 2005, when there was less concern about net neutrality and street-view data gathering, and more worries about being destroyed by Microsoft. Who knew there was so much intrigue in the search engine business?  And does anybody remember Froogle, their sort of competitor to Amazon? 

Finally, it seems like Eva Gabrielsson seems to be getting a lot of attention with There are Things I Want to Know: About Stieg Larsson and Me, by Eva Garbielsson and Marie-Francoise Colombani (Seven Stories).  The book, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale, is set up sort of like a series of memories by Gabrielsson.  Apparently Larsson was inspired by three particularly brutal crimes against women when writing the trilogy.  And you all know the original title for the first book translated to Men Who Hate Women.  What I didn't know was that the inspiration for all three titles in English came from the second, which was indeed The Girl Who Played with Fire.  The third book's Swedish title translated to The Air Castle That was Blown Up.

I used Google to find that out.


Don't forget tomorrow is bike race #1.  You'll have to park a couple extra blocks away to visit the store.  On the plus side, you can see the bike races!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

You've Got to Read This...Adventures in the Modern World of Book Recs

(Mr. Blogger seems to be having trouble with images today. Perhaps he'll be in a better mood after a nap.)

Confession! I realized that soon after we started selling books at Demetri Martin's Pabst Theater performance that I didn't have quite enough copies of This is a Book. The sales pace was about double what we had done at our last few Pabst/Riverside events. During the show, I wound up running to a competitor to buy books*. This was not that unusual; what was interesting was the slip that popped out after our receipt, recommending:
--Sleepweek with Me, by Mike Birbiglia
--The Daily Show Presents Earth the Book, by Jon Stewart
--Sh*t my Dad Says, by Justin Halpern
--A**holes Finish First, by Tucker Max

Why not? Our mutual competitor's website has this advantage of being able to spew out automated recs like nobody's business. I had read enough to know that I thought the Birbiglia was a good match. The Max, not so much. Then I heard from one of my booksellers that both Max and Martin have a good following with the frat boy college crowd. So perhaps a computer program does better than me at this stuff.

It certainly doesn't get all crushed when a match doesn't work. I recently had my first negative feedback about The Invisible Bridge. "Boring and predicatable" was X's opinion, with a bit more detailed info on what she didn't like. This was somewhat helpful for me, as I knew what not to recommend to her in the future. It was a good thing that Orringer's novel had gotten so much love from so many customers before I got the anti-love. When I get that from an early reader, I tend to shut down.

When Darin Strauss browsed Boswell, having just done a few events for Half a Life, he wandered all over, asking me what I thought of this or that. I wanted to know what he was excited about, but in a lot of cases, his wife (who is a reviewer) had read far widely than either of us and was particularly excited about two books:
--To Be Sung Underwater, by Tom McNeal
--Vaclav and Lena, by Haley Tanner.

Darn! I was going to read both of those. Now it reminds me how late I am on reading books. We booksellers are supposed to be in the forefront of these things. And that NPR interview on Weekend Edition with Tanner left me smitten. OK, I'll just knock off a few books from my pile and add those.

But what did I start instead? I decided to read a new collection of short stories by Stuart Nadler called The Book of Life that was recommended by none other than Strauss:“Stuart Nadler addresses tradition, but he captures the right-now as well as anybody.” Et cetera. Oh, plus there’s a quote from Frederick Reiken on the back. If that book is doesn't for me, I don't know what is.

Ann Patchett’s been recommending up a storm lately. First she got behind Eleanor Henderson’s Ten Thousand Saints. While up at Next Chapter, Sandy, one of their regulars, told me the novel was indeed stupendous. And Patchett’s also been cheering on the reissue of Jeanette Haien’s The All of It.

And many of us are talking up Ann Patchett’s novel too. Here’s Maureen Corrigan, reviewing State of Wonder on Fresh Air:

“It's not often that a novel leaves me (temporarily) speechless. But Ann Patchett's new novel isn't called State of Wonder for nothing, because that's exactly the state I've been in ever since I first opened it. The numbness has worn off by now, but for days, all I could say to friends who asked me about it was the one-word review ‘Wow.’”

Read or listen to the complete review here.

Yikes, everybody is recommending books but me. I better get cracking.

*With the additional books, we wound up not selling out and everyone was happy. Martin is one of the nicest folks ever, spending quality time with just about every person on line. I don’t think I got home until midnight.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Nice Lunch with Darin Strauss. I Had Hollander's Yummy Summer Beet Salad.

It's been a busy day and that's made me a bit remiss about getting out today's blog. 
We had a nice lunch with Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life.  Here's a photo of Darin at the store with Staice. The event at Next Chapter was very well attended, with one group coming all the way from Joliet!  Strauss said it's a very different experience from appearing for a novel.  For example, when you're reading for fiction, folks rarely ask you, "So how are you doing?"  With this book, it comes regularly. 

Strauss has touched so many lives with this book.  He's gotten over 1000 letters, not just from folks who've been in car accidents, but from people who've been touched by tragedy in so many ways, people who are holding onto guilt, even when it wasn't their fault.

The stat bandied about is that 40,000 people die in car accidents in the United States each year.  You know I'm always wary of stats, especially ones where I can't find the sourcing, but let's just say a lot of people die in car accidents and there is really little out there to help cope with the loss and attendant feelings...compared to when folks die from various diseases, for example.

Apparently Strauss has touched a lot of hearts with a book he originally just planned to write for himself as an act of catharsis.

There's talk that perhaps Mr. S. will come to Boswell for a traditional talk/signing when he's back in the midwest, perhaps even with a special guest.  I'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, signed hardcovers and paperbacks of Half a Life are available.  Just request it in the notes field when ordering.

Monday, June 20, 2011

More About Our Free Event with Ann Patchett This Wednesday, June 22, 7 pm.

Our event with Ann Patchet, author of Bel Canto, Run, and her new novel, State of Wonder, is this Wednesday, June 22.  It's the kind of event you panic about for months.  Imagine my conversation with Jane, her seasoned publicist, which I already paraphrased in our email newsletter last week.

But what I forgot to say in last newsletter (though I did note it previously) was that the event is co-sponsored by Wisconsin Public Radio

During our brainstorming session, I had this idea to have the Florentine Opera Studio Singers open the show with some South American arias.  After all, they had just performed Rio de Sangre and still probably had the music in their repertoire. (Note that our dates for the 2011-2012 Florentine Opera Insights will be coming out soon.)

We wound up not doing this, but when I finally read State of Wonder, there was a key scene set in the Manaus Opera House. Bel Canto is not a fluke; Patchett likes her opera.  I once sat at a dinner and listened enrapt as she and Russell (a publishing friend) opined on various divas.

So how did Milwaukee make it onto the State of Wonder national tour?  Well, yes, maybe we're developing a good reputation with publishers.  And it's true that the media in town is receptive to traveling literary authors (Thanks Jim, Mike, and Mitch!) But the real reason is probably Patchett's unwavering love for Beans and Barley.  Truly, it's come up in every interview.  And it's not that she's wrong; especially for vegetarians, it's a godsend.  Ex-Boswellian and still bookstore proofreader Jocelyn told us it's what she'd miss most about leaving Milwaukee. Milwaukee happens to be a great town for eating vegetarian and vegan. 

We're the closest bookstore to Beans. Whatever it takes.

Here are some links to more Patchett-iana:
The always excellent Ron Charles of the Washington Post reviews
And Marvin Joseph at the WP interviews.

Here's a quote from Charles: "As gripping as it is thoughtful, it burns with the low-level fever of “Heart of Darkness,” but its most febrile moments soar into the creepiness of “The Island of Doctor Moreau.”

I've been fascinated by all the literary references that have been coming up, in regards to Patchett's novel.  Here are some:
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
The Ambassadors, by Henry James
Robinson Crusoe, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Pinocchio, by Carl Collodi
The Island of Doctor Moreau, by H. G. Wells

The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles

assorted novels of Charles Dickens

And I was reminded a bit of Peter Cameron's City of Your Final Destination, one of my favorite novels.
Patchett says she was also influenced by the films of Werner Herzog, particularly "Aguirre, or The Wrath of God" and "Fitzcarraldo."  Herzog is in the news of late, as he is reading the book, Go the F**k to Sleep for the New York Public Library.  Who knew he was available? And yes, to bring it all home, Herzog has also directed operas.

Come this Wednesday at 7. Don't forget to tell your friends! 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Annotated Bestsellers from Boswell, with New Ann Patchett Links, and No More Picture of Jeffery Deaver's Novel, as it Doesn't Post on Facebook.

After a late evening at the Pabst Theater for the Demetri Martin show (those sales show up next week), I groggily arose to tabulate bestsellers. Shane noted at his first offsite that Martin was the nicest celebrity with whom he's had the pleasure of coming in contact.*  Martin spent his afternoon at Renaissance Books.  It's hard for a book lover to avoid Robert John's salute to book obsession.  On the other, I probably wouldn't want to live next door to him. Note to Bob: I link in amusement, not in scorn.

I have not linked the titles below to our website.  That said, all are available on the Boswell and Books site, with many also available as ebooks.

hardcover fiction:
1. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
2. The Katyn Order, by Bruce Jacobson
3. The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain
4. The Long-Shining Waters, by Danielle Sosin
5. Carte Blanche, by Jeffery Deaver

My rule of thumb is that if a commercial thriller is working in our store, the numbers at the chains and online must be excellent. We can guess that Deaver's turn as voice behind Agent 007 is working just fine.

The publicity is kicking in for Ann Patchett's appearance at Boswell this Wednesday.  In addition to her conversation with Veronica Rueckert on Wisconsin Public Radio (our co-sponsor for this event) on Friday (you can listen here), the Journal Sentinel features an interview with Jim Higgins and a review from Mike Fischer.

hardcover nonfiction:
1. In the Garden of Evil, by Erik Larson
2. Bossypants, by Tina Fey
3. Go the F**k to Sleep, by Adam Mansbach
4. The Greater Journey, by David McCullough
5. Area 51, by Annie Jacobsen

As the father of Boswell, I want to thank you for the Father's Day gift of getting our nonfiction hardcover bestsellers to stretch to 25 titles via your purchases.  It's great that we have two bike-race-themed bestsellers, Bike Snob, and It's All About the Bike.  I'll bet you'll be hearing about that later this week.

paperback fiction:
1. Room, by Emma Donoghue
2. A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
3. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
4. To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis
5. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin

Our in-store lit book club picks are a bit cliched for summer, with Room being our July pick and A Visit from the Goon Squad the August selection.  The Connie Willis is actually an upcoming science fiction book club selection too, on July 11.  Catch our semi-complete list here. And if you're paying attention, the movie version of The Help opens August 12. Here's the trailer.

paperback nonfiction
1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
2. The Film that Changed my Life, by Robert K. Elder
3. The Fix is In, by Brian Tuohy
4. The Invisible Gorilla: and Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us, by Christopher Chabris
5. Heaven is for Real, by Todd Burpo

I'm fascinated that the Chabris book went right by me in hardcover.  Glad it's getting a pop in paperback.  I really enjoyed all our talks this week, and am glad to see that Jacobson, Elder, and Tuohy books all made our bestseller list.

kids books
1. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
2. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
3. Ten Little Fingers, Ten Little Toes, by Mem Fox
4. Beyonders: A World Without Heroes, by Brandon Mull
5. City Dog, Country Frog, by Mo Willems, with illustrations by Jon Muth

Next Saturday, Willems is at the Garden District Bookshop in New Orleans.  Why do I care about this?  Long story, but I'm getting a personalized copy for a customer. Plus I like them.  Can I just mention that another bookstore on his tour would not allow me to personalize a pre-paid copy of the book?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Saturday Gift Post--New Kids' Stuff from New (to Boswell) Vendors, and Dare I Say It? One of Them Produces Domestically.

Though I rely a lot on the old faithfuls of a children's bookstore, your Melissa and Dougs and Folkmanises, I think it's important to venture a bit outside my safety zone and bring in new vendors.  I've been updating our vendor database (this is an entire post on its own) and there was at least one Schwartz buyer who seemingly brought in two or three new gift vendors per week. I simply don't have the energy for that.

Rich Frog is a kids' stuff company based in Vermont. You probably know that from those rulers that have historical figures of Native America or women's suffrage.  Apparently that was there first hit item.  Most of their expansion has been in plush and baby toys.  I really like these knit plush items; I think there are six animals altogether.

We also brought in their tooth fairy pillows.  After they arrived, I thought they would be more appropriate for Little Monsters, which is opening on Farwell in August, being that it's located underneath DeWan Dental Wellness.  Oops, no returns or exchanges on gift stuff for retailers.  At least it gave me reason to talk up the new store, which will have children's clothing, gifts, and toys and is run by Andie, the beloved manager of Boutique Bebe.

One question we get is whether we have any gift items that are not made in China. It's a hard problem to solve, as what I often find then becomes out of the price range for the prospective buyer. However, I just brought in a wonderful vendor, Holgate, that fits the bill.  They offer wood baby and toddler toys made in (I can't even believe I'm saying it) the United States. 

We're got baby blocks  and lacing beads and a rocking ring stacker and a toy boat and a toy train.  All are brightly colored--we were very excited to see purple in their color palette,

One item I am particularly intrigued by is the spinning typhoon.  Here are it's charms:
1. It's brightly colored, and the colors vary from item to item
2. It seems pretty sturdy
3. You spin it. Or rather, even a toddler can spin it.

Enough said!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Brunch and Shop Starts This Sunday, Sharon Recs "The American Heiress," Which Comes Out Shortly Thereafter.

Yesterday I wrote a staff newsletter, letting them know about several upcoming promotions, including "Brunch and Shop", which is set to begin this Sunday on Downer Avenue, and runs through the summer.  When you eat Sunday brunch at the Original Pancake House, Henry's, Via Downer, or Cafe Hollander, you'll get a postcard listing several offers. Choose the one that's best for you--one of them is $5 off a $25 purchase at Boswell.  I was explaining that if someone brings in two of these, it's $5 per each $25 purchase, so the customer would have to bring in $50. That makes sense, right? Hope so, since those will be our rules.  I haven't seen the final postcard, so I don't know if the end date of the promotion is August 31 or Labor Day or some other date selected.

Some of the other offers include:
--10% off custom work at Paperwork (this offer is only good on Sundays)
--Buy one tall coffee at Starbucks, get one free
And alas, I can't remember any of the other ones.

I also included some recent staff recs that were sent to me in the newsletter.  Most of them are not coming out for another month, but this one seemed timely:

The American Heiress, by Daisy Goodwin (St. Martin’s Press).
"In the late nineteenth century, it was quite the fashion for wealthy American girls to marry titled Englishmen with large estates and no money to maintain them. The American Heiress tells the story of Cora Cash, a rich young woman from Newport, whose mother would like nothing better than to procure a husband with a title for her daughter. Cora interferes with her mother’s plans by having a mind of her own and wishing to commit the unpardonable sin of marrying for love. If you were a fan of 'Downton Abbey' on Masterpiece Theatre, this is the book for you."

It turns out that I did not know the show "Downton Abbey" and wrote "Downtown Abbey", which sounded like a hip swinging place with champagne and miniskirts.  I don't know what I was thinking. Our rep Anne told me this was also one of her favorites.  I was a little confused because I can't find the "the" on the jacket.  Is there an article in the title or not?  Then I found a larger image and located the "the" in italics.  So many unneccessary worries!

The American Heiress goes on sale this coming week. Thanks, Sharon!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Changing the Staff Rec Shelves (Literal and Virtual) and Contemplating What Makes a Staff Rec Work.

Last week when Carl was running back and forth between the front of the store and the back, I asked what was going on. It turns out that Carl was updating our staff rec pages on the Boswell website. 

"We update our staff rec pages on the Boswell Books website?" was my reply.  "We have staff rec pages on our Boswell Books website?" I thought "Let's have staff rec pages" was simply one of those offhand comments I made that never got followed up on.

Glancing at the pages, I knew there had been recent updates as Carl's page now references the just-released-in-paperback version of Bruce Machart's The Wake of Forgiveness, which Carl said, "A family of Czech-Americans in early 20th century Texas is split by a rift between a very hard, bitter father and a powerful, scheming rival family. In a literary world filled with copycats, Machart has carved out a true and original style."

Well, indeed we have staff rec pages, but I fear that most people don't know there's a virtual version of one of the most complimented sections of our store. It ain't rocket science, as most independent stores have them.  I don't like to talk about our staff rec area when my shelf is looking messy, but I just cleaned things up.

To me, the art of staff recs comes down to several points:

A. If you don't want to bang your head against a wall too much, it's easier to sell a trade paperback.

It's certainly not impossible to have a successful hardcover staff rec, but even many successful hardcover recs often have reviews or publicity buttressing their success.  It's harder to count books that are selling particularly well everywhere as staff rec successes.

Let's look at The Tiger's Wife.  We've had several great reads on the book and there has certainly been some handselling and a great local review in addition to all the national and international acclaim (it just won the Orange Prize) but I just don't think we've maxed out our sales potential on this title (we're just hitting the 50 mark).

Here's how you can tell if you are handselling The Tiger's Wife. You should have sold 50 copies for every million dollars in annual sales your store does before you can even consider bragging. And all stores that had an event must at least double that number.  Also, is anyone else but me freaked out that the novel is from Random House but has an old Doubleday ISBN?  What's the story there?

I'm hoping to sell at least 100 hardcovers, as long as Random House waits until after Christmas for the paperback. Jason just re-added it to the Boswell's Best.

B. a book that you know has some sort of audience if you just showcase it. There are certain kinds of books that I like where there simply isn't a big enough potential audience for the book. I don't have an example for this.

C. a smartly written rec card. My biggest problem is that I write too much.  I know they sometimes work, but I'm not a fan of the rec card that simply says "awesome" and I really don't like rec shelves that don't say anything.  I know many other stores do; it's just personal taste, but since it's my store, I ask everyone to write something on their cards.

D. patience.  I just retired my rec for Elizabeth Jenkins's The Tortoise and the Hare, after selling 73 copies.  A nice number for a book that pretty much didn't sell more than 6 copies at any other indie bookstore on Above the Treeline.  In other words, that's pure rec.  A subset of patience is to remember that there's a wrong person for every book.  Don't give up when you get bad feedback from someone, as long as you get good feedback from other people. 

E. What's the competition on your rec shelf?  Do you make your shelf tell a story about your titles or do you vary things out? I think customers do like it (and some of them love it) when you can get a read on someone's taste. I like titles A and B from Agnes so I'm going to buy C. That said, the grayest book/rec among the like books will get short shrift. Its not a bad setup, really. It's like showing someone an inappropriate but comparable house to get them to commit to the one you think they should buy.  On the shelf is a ruthless collection of short stories which is very good, and next to it is a ruthless collection of stories that is the best that Bertram has read in years.  Which would you buy?  Well, if you don't like ruthless collections of stories, then neither, but if you do, I'd go with the second collection.

Or do you include a wild card title that sticks out like those red accent walls did when people first started doing them?

I was just talking to Conrad (a real Boswellian) who often has success with cookbooks.  His rec shelf isn't filled with cookbooks, but he does often feature one.  It pops, and says, I've cooked from this interesting cookbook and I'm the kind of guy that reads David Foster Wallace and Empire of the Summer Moon. Lo and behold, suddenly we're selling a good amount of Tagine: Spicy Stews from Morocco.  It's my feeling that if we had a cookbook rec shelf, this book wouldn't stand out as much.  Could be wrong!

So anyway, this is all to say you can read our staff recs, which are pretty updated.  Here's the link; just click on a bookseller and browse away.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Our Email Newsletter Goes Out--Downer Bike Days News, Special All-Patchett Email Link, See Strauss at Next Chapter, Plus Info on Great New Boswell's Best

Today was newsletter day.  That means 24 hours of squeezing my brain to write, write, write, and then several more hours of uploading photos and proofreading.  Our ex-Boswellian Jocelyn helped us by proofing from her new Philly digs.  She is also continuing to participate in the science fiction book club by phone, using a video app.

We've got several important annoucements to share, if you don't read the newsletter:

1. We are now throwing our literary weight behind Darin Strauss's talk at Next Chapter for his award-winning memoir, Half a Life. He'll be speaking/reading in Mequon on Monday, June 20, at 7 pm. Logistics just didn't work for our June 21 lunch. One day we'll get these non-chef, non-library author lunches right. Hey, if you're a nonprofit that has a bookish slant, perhaps you'd want us to help you set up a literary lunch of your own?

2. Downer Avenue's summer bike races are Saturday, June 25 and July 16, with the former sponsored by the Downer Avenue Merchants.  If you like races, please come.  If you like bookstores, come also, but be prepared to walk a few extra blocks, as our neighborhood will be car free for most of both days. Don't forget to sign up for the kids' treasure hunt at Paperwork on June 25.  Did I mention our hottest thing about two wheels is It's All About the Bike?

3. Please help spread the word about our event with Ann Patchett for her new novel State of Wonder on June 22.  Ask us to send this email that you can forward on, or use this archived email that talks up Patchett's appearance.

All this plus Ten Thousand Saints, Stagestruck, and The Story of Charlotte's Web, and lots of info on upcoming events.  Read the complete newsletter here.