1. The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan
2. A Dance with Dragons, by George R.R. Martin
3. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
4. The Devil All the Time, by Donald Ray Pollock
5. A Death in Summer, by Benjamin Black
I could say that Carl and Shane hand-sold more copies of Pollock this week, but I might note that it was helped along by Terry Gross's great interview with Pollock on Fresh Air. And Duncan takes the lead with more enthusiasm led by Greg and Jason. They ask me, who is this wonderful reviewer named Ron Charles who loves our book so much? I say, he is the man who makes me want to read anything. And you?
1. In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson
2. Don't Know Much About History, anniversary edition, by Kenneth C. Davis
3. Bossypants, by Tina Fey
4. The President is a Sick Man, by Matthew Algeo
5. Between Parentheses, by Roberto Bolaño
Jason was just saying to me how Larson and Fey just don't slow down. We bring in a bunch more, you take your eyes off the number, and suddenly we're short of stock again. But the big surprise was the pop on Bolaño's essays, after a couple of months on the shelf. Don't worry, I don't believe that it has anything to do with John making me quote him in the blog.
1. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
2. Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese
3. Still Alice, by Lisa Genova
4. Little Bee, by Chris Cleave
5. The All of It, by Jeannette Haien
Ann Patchett not only has the literary hit of the summer, but has turned one of her favorite books, The All of It, into a bestseller as well. I guess that bodes well for her handselling abilities at Parnassus Books. Not that Geraldine Brooks is bad at it either--her rec of The Bread of Angels by Stephanie Saldana has also created sleeper momentum at Boswell--we're consisting selling a copy per week.
1. The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
2. Shut Up and Write, by Judy Bridges
3. Kosher Chinese, by Michael Levy
4. Memoir of a Sunday Brunch, by Julia Pandl
5. Otherwise Known as the Human Condition, by Geoff Dyer
Who knew that the book that would pop onto our bestseller list from my interview with Ben Merens was Michael Levy's Kosher Chinese? It was the first book I mentioned, has a nice tie in with the Summer of China exhibit going on at the Art Museum, and it also didn't hurt that one of our attendees at the Tea of Ulaanbaatar event with Christopher Howard turned out to collect Peace Corps books. And this is one.
1. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
2. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, by Mem Fox
3. On the Night You Were Born, by Nancy Tillman
4. Jamberry, by Bruce Degen
5. Forever, by Maggie Stiefvater
So what is this Forever book? It's a Stephenie Meyers-like trilogy about teen werewolves in love. Yes, werewolves. The first was Shiver, and the second was Linger. It's really been under my radar. But it's a nice way to bookend this blog, which appears to be mostly werewolves, most of the time.
Tomorrow I'm heading to the gift show in Chicago, but today is a full day on the floor, as we are a 3/2 staff--to me, that means three openers and two closers, which I can assure you is relatively light. There's no heading to the back room to plan fall events or buy holiday cards, two tasks that have kept me busy this week.
We buy holiday cards both boxed and loose, and by holiday, I really mean Christmas, as I only sell a handful of the other holidays in the 4th quarter. Last year I skipped the few Thanksgiving cards I came across. We got enough requests that we'll probably have two to three loose designs this year.
I should be able to keep busy between customers, as our fall order arrived from Melissa and Doug yesterday, a line that is a staple of not just book and toy stores, but places like Whole Foods too. It's large enough that we don't overlap too badly--but if you were wondering where to get other David Kirk Sunny Patch items that we didn't pick up this time around, I assure you that they are not hard to find.
Pam noticed that we were pretty light on puzzles for kids, so this order is arriving pretty much on time. If I'm honest with myself, we could have used it a couple of weeks ago.
With all of our calendars coming in, we lose at least one display table, maybe two. Eventually the cookbook table will turn into Christmas cards (and later on, switch back as we move it up to the store), and one of the outdoor tables in kids will turn into back to school. By next Saturday, I should have up our nice assortment of kid-friendly backpacks and lunchboxes. If I know my customers, several of them will wind up being sold for adult use.
As we adjust the store, I notice that just moving things around often helps jump-start some sales. We were not selling our cute tooth pouches in a basket, but as other things sold down, we switched them to a hanging strip and they started to move. This inspires me to do a little more moving this weekend!
When I used to go to Bear Brew on Milwaukee Street years ago, the owner had a series of photos with folks around the world wearing his tee shirts.I'm probably not going to do that, mostly because it will remind me too much of the scrumptuous cookies he used to sell from the Knickerbocker Cafe (now The Knick, cookieless) that I can no longer enjoy.
However, it is a hard thing not to include a photo of someone enjoying our fishy tee from halfway around the world (it's Israel). It's also a great place to mention that I've gotten a bid to print more fishy tees. I said they'd be limited edition, and of course they will be eventually. But we're just getting too many requests not to not print just a few more. I'll let you know when they are once again available.
Thanks, Anne, for sending the photo. I hope you don't mind that I sort of reimagined your niece's face, since I didn't quite have her permission to post it. Perhaps she will enjoy this artistic rendition.
It's hard nowadays to get a photo that hasn't been posted everywhere, so I apologize for things you may have already seen on Facebook. In this photo, for example, our friend Rebecca S., who like me, was a big fan of the metal crows I brought in last year, was able to capture Crowy making a friend.
Look closely. The non-metal bird is hovering just in front of the Rubik's Cube. Curse you, oh Cube, the ruin of the finest toy company in Queens!(Note: I'm sure they had other issues, but it's always nice to offer simple answers. And my store, whenever it closes, will absolutely close because of ebooks, or the biggest headline I can find that will take the weight off my mismanagement.)
And finally, in the continuing saga of every cool book coming with a temporary tattoo, this little uber-posing is in support of Volt, Alan Heathcock's acclaimed collection of stories. They don't get me involved in these angry-face photo shoots as I would probably break out into a giggle too quickly. But I knew what I was getting into when I passed on Mr. Heathcock's nice note that included the tattoos
Now you're probably too scared to ask where the travel section is. PS--it's just to the rear of our register desk. And don't worry, they really are just posing.
*Ideal Toy Company, of course, maker of Mouse Trap, Tip It, Toss Across, Hands Down, and many other games I never heard of. It is said that the incredible upsurge in demand for the Cube and just as quick decline led to the company's sale. I guess the brand has been rehabilitated by Poof/Slinky, but they had to rename Tip It into Steady Freddy, due to another company holding the trademark. Here's a link to an obsessive website after my own heart.
Now that I'm a regular car user, I've also become a bit more finely attuned to parking regulations in Milwaukeee, and in particular, our neighborhood. I looked out our window this morning while I was learning how to enter the daily record sheets on Quickbooks, and spotted a car being towed. Amie noticed it had a ticket on it, but we did not remember the car being there more than a day.
Being a neighborhood store in a large city has its issues. And we're certainly not the hardest neighborhood to park in, particularly as we are at the edge of the business district. I always suggest to customers parking south and east of us, but here are a few more tips.
1. Stay away from marked crosswalks. The city regulation is that you must be at least 15 feet from a crosswalk. To me, this is a ridiculously large distance, and many parking checkers agree, as tickets are inconsistent. However, just because you don't get a ticket three times, doesn't mean you have a valid argument the fourth time. If you think the regulations are too strict, complain to your alderman.
Note that not every corner is a crosswalk. It would be a lot easier if the crosswalks were regularly painted, but they are not. Not that there is one on the corner of Webster and Downer. What happens when a meter meets a crosswalk, which I've noticed further north on Downer? I think meter trumps crosswalk, but I'll have to check my rock-paper-scissors manual.
2. The driveway regulation is four feet. Most people think you are allowed to be just to the cut, but that's not the case. And it's particularly tricky on the side of our store, where the cut comes well before the driveway. So on this part of Webster, you really need to be about eight feet from our driveway/alley entrance.
3. A handicap permit hanging from your mirror exempts you from time limitations on street parking, but it doesn't allow you to park where it says no parking. Someone told me you also don't have to plug meters. I guess I'm not sure of that.
4. Here's one I don't understand. "Parked less than two feet from vehicle." How do they figure out which car is at fault? "Jimmy started it!" "No, Stevie hit me first." I can only imagine.
Folks periodically mention that they do not like parallel parking and ask for advice on visiting the store. I have a few suggestions:
a. The parking garage across the street from us.
b. The metered surface parking lot just north of Sendiks.
c. Head to Gilman triangle a block south of us, where there is usually enough room to pull into a street space without having to parallel.
And these crazy things are not limited to cities and parking. Note that The Trouble with City Planningwas a trade book in hardcover, but will be a textbook in paperback. So in the end, the cost of the paperback at a bookstore will likely be more than the hardcover. So if you wanted it, buy the hardcover before it also moves to text discount.
In another mark of time passing, we went back to reprint our paper Boswell bags. I had said at first that I would switch out our colors with each reprinting, and we did. Compared to the first round, I must be needing bright colors at the moment--our small bag is now teal and the medium-sized bag is magenta. Some might call it hot pink, but I assure you that is a different Pantone number. It's not necessary a palette a retail analyst would recommend, except perhaps to eight-year-old girls, but I asked a small sample of tough guy customers and staff whether they could handle the magenta, and they were all positive.
The plastic bags are on a slightly different schedule, but expect a change in the color of those too, from a burnt orange to a bright blue. If you think this color story is too perky, perhaps at your request next year we can do three shades of gray.
Once again, I had a great time on Wisconsin Public Radio talking about books on Ben Merens's show. Though I ostensibly come with a list, much of the fun is hearing what listeners recommend, with the hope that I can add another their reading piles, one that will be a hit.
I used to be able to figure out how to link to the exact show, but now all I get is a rotating series of messages reminding me to donate. Not a bad thing, of course, but not what I wanted at the moment. Don't worry, it's still easy to find the show, which aired Friday, July 22, at the 5 pm hour.
I've often listened to the show after airing and wrote down every book we talked about, but the list came by email soon after airing, thanks to Katie Madsen at WPR. And with that note, here are the books:
--Kosher Chinese, by Michael Levy
--The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain
--Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes, by Elizabeth Bard
--French Leave, by Anna Gavalda
--Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
--The Hangman’s Daughter, by Oliver Pötzsch
--The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
--The Magician King, by Lev Grossman
--Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
--The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan
--A Dance with Dragons, by George R.R. Martin
--A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin
--Divergent, by Veronica Roth
--The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
--Breaking out of Bedlam, by Leslie Larson
--State of Wonder, by Ann Patchet
--Silver Sparrow, by Tayari Jones
--The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir, by Josh Kilmer-Purcell
--Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America, by Garrison Keillor
--Tangled Webs: How False Statements are Undermining American: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff, by James B. Stewart
--Dog on It, by Spencer Quinn
--I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship: Hilarious, Heartwarming Tales About Man’s Best Friend from America’s Favorite Humorists, by Wade Rouse
--An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
--Looking for Alaska by John Green
--Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, by Ruth Reichl
Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, by Ruth Reichl
Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, by Gabrielle Hamilton
The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly
The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton
Among Thieves: A Tale of the Kin, by Douglas Hulick
The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E.B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic, by Michael Sims
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, by Nina Sankovitch
Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base, by Annie Jacobsen
Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff
Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, by Nathanial Philbrick
The Hare of Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss, by Edmund De Waal
That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum
I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe
The Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe
A Man in Full, by Tom Wolfe
The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe
Room, by Emma Donoghue
A Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
The Selected Works of Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, Nostromo, the Secret Agent & a Selection of Short Stories, by Joseph Conrad
A Dog’s Life, by Gerald Hammond
Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides
Byzantium, by Stephen Lawhead
John Chancellor Makes Me Cry, by Anne Rivers Siddons
Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese
The Tennis Partner, by Abraham Verghese
My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story, by Abraham Verghese
The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer
A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson
Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War, by Tony Horwitz
In a recent blog, I noted the wonderful AP story from Chris Talbott about Ann Patchett's new Parnassus Books*, where I was most graciously referenced. Long-time Milwaukeeans are well aware of my shout out to the social profit, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that a lot of my customers don't know that the phrase comes straight from the mouth of the long-time owner of the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, A. David Schwartz.
Well, we can't have that! Allow me to give you some background.
Schwartz's social profit statement is almost legendary in the book business. My friend Carol H. (and I don't think she would be upset if I noted this) has a copy of the same broadside that was made by Coffee House Press for Schwartz's 75 anniversary in her office at Harvard Bookstore as I do in both of mine (home and work). I bet she's not the only one.
"Bookselling was and is for me a cultural and political expression, an expression of political change, of challenge to authority, of a search for a community of values which can act as an underpinning of a better world. The true profit in bookselling is the social profit; the bottom line, the measure of the impact of the bookshop on the community."
Now I'm not David Schwartz, not by a long shot. Schwartz was a larger than life character, to me at least, and I'm definitely not. My politics is more muted, and I interpret his statement for more in the context of community and cultural good. My ideological journey was strictly through the bookstore, with no detours to collectives. That said, his statement speaks to me as strongly as ever.
Aside from the Boswell icon itself, I don't keep too many Schwartz references on the walls of the bookstore. I wanted folks to understand that we were starting fresh. Now that we've been around for a while (note to our pal Jessie--844 days), I feel more comfortable referencing our Schwartz origins. But of late, you'll notice a tinted photo of Reva Schwartz in the fiction section that our friend Eric gave to the store. Eric, I apologize for cropping the painting--you can see the original at Boswell.
In addition to Eric and Mrs. Schwartz, with whom I shared numerous crunchy tuna sandwiches from Heinemann's, in the painting there is also Mrs. Schwartz's customer and friend, Min Kleiger. I hope I spelled her last name correctly--she is one of my fondest memories from my first couple of years at Schwartz, when I worked on the floor at the Iron Block store.
Kleiger was an early lesson in what a customer relationship could be. She loved us; we loved her; everyone loved books. In the words of Ina Garten, how easy is that?
So we're at the close of this post; I'm not going to speculate on what David Schwartz thought of the store. Who am I kidding? Of course I am. I'm told by folks, including Carol G., that he would have would like it. Rebecca S. has told me more than once that he would be delighted with the curated look of our vestibule. I know there are certain parts that would drive him crazy. But the idea that I look at his social profit statement every day? I think he'd be just fine with that.
This time I link to the Buffalo News, since I like Buffalo and especially Talking Leaves Books.
It's hard to believe we only have one event this week, but it's true. On Thursday, July 28, we're hosting Christopher Brown at 7 pm. Brown's novel, Tea of Ulaanbaatar, is the story of a Peace Corps volunteer in Mongolia, who, shall we say, becomes a bit disaffected and goes astray. I enjoyed the novel and talked about it at length in another blog post, which you can read here. For a better Peace Corps experience, read Michael Levy'sKosherChinese.
Fortunately there are several other good author events going on around town. Tonight, Monday, July 25, at 7 pm, Boyd Morrison is at nearby Mystery One to discuss (and sign copies of) his new novel The Vault. I have learned that this thriller is about a combat engineer and linguistics expert who team up to find the connection between Archimedes and the legend of King Midas before it is too late. I identify with this plot line for too reasons a) I am always worry about being too late b) It's time for linguists to be thriller stars. Props to my sister Claudia. More on Mystery One's event page.
Tomorrow, on July 26, at Mequon's Next Chapter, Anne Fortier is appearing to read from and discuss her novel Juliet, which comes out in paperback tomorrow. There was a lot of buzz about Fortier's novel when it came out in hardcover, and I think it hit the top 15 of the New York Times. I'm too lazy to check, but I can vouch that our Anne read it and really liked it. The plotline is like this--modern day Julie gets a key from her aunt, goes to Siena, and finds her self wrapped in a story that ties her directly to the ancient warring clans of Shakespeare's beloved play. Think Susan Vreeland with a little Dan Brown mixed in. Not a bad literary cocktail for a hot summer day. The event starts at 7--more on Next Chapter's website.
And finally on Saturday, July 30, 3 pm, Marcia C. Carmichael, the author of Putting Down Roots: Gardening Insights from Wisconsin's Early Settlers, will be speaking at the Garden Room in Shorewood (note: they are selling their own books at this event--it just seems worth mentioning.) This beautiful book has illustrations and photos of classic tools and techniques, plus recipes from the German, Norwegian, Irish, Danish, Polish, Finnish, and Yankee (I assume that meets Anglo-American) settlers. It's a beautiful package from Wisconsin Historical Society Press, and I know you have been looking for that special recipe for headcheese. Any recipe that starts, "Remove eyes, brains and nose from pig's head" is going on my shortlist.
To my knowledge, the Anaba Tea Room at the Garden Room does not serve the blood tea featured in Christopher Brown's Tea of Ulaanbaatar. And that's probably a good thing.
Compared to some bestselling thriller writers, we sell Daniel Silva pretty well. What we noticed, though, was that our first week's pop for Portrait of a Spy was a bit higher than it was for his last, The Rembrandt Affair. Is this an affect of picking up some Borders customers? Is it long term or transitional?
1. The Borrower, by Rebecca Makkai
2. Portrait of a Spy, by Daniel Silva
3. The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan
4. A Dance with Dragons, by George R.R. Martin
5. The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain
In other news, Rebecca Makkai told me that she is taking into consideration the idea that her character Lucy (from The Borrower) should date Dean Bakopoulos's Zeke (from My American Unhappiness, which was #9 this week). If I were active on Twitter, I guess this wouldn't be news to me.
1. Illuminating the Particular, edited by Christel Maass
2. In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson
3. Strengths Finder 2.0, by Tom Rath
4. Go the F*ck to Sleep, by Adam Mansbach
5. Bossypants, by Tina Fey
It was very nice to officially meet Christel Maass, whose book, Illuminating the Particular, is a wonderful collection of photographs of Milwaukee's South Side by Roman Krasniewski. In "I can't decide what the heck this is" news, I decided to categorize Go the F*ck to Sleep as nonfiction this week.
1. A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
2. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
3. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin
4. Room, by Emma Donoghue
5. A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
I've been doing a lot of outreach to German groups for our event with Oliver Pötzsch and The Hangman's Daughter on August 4 (thanks, Jim!) I'm glad to say that his book is our #6 paperback fiction this week.
1. The Available Parent, by John Duffy
2. Creating Dairyland, by Edward Janus
3. North Point Historic District, by Shirley McArthur
4. Last Call, by Daniel Okrent
5. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
The YWCA is already promoting their Evening to Promote Racial Justice on December 7 with keynote speaker Rebecca Skloot. Here's the link. I have hardly anounced any of our fall events at all, as just about every one needs some sort of t crossed and i dotted.
1. I am a Bunny, by Ole Risom and Richard Scarry
2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J.K. Rowling
3. Magic Treehouse Research Guide: Snakes and Reptiles, by Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Boyce
4. Magic Treehouse: Dinosaurs before Dark, by Mary Pope Osborne
5. Danny and the Dinosaur Go to Camp, by Syd Hoff
I guess that info about Potter ebooks being available only on Pottermore was a bit premature, as there is now a deal in the works with Google Ebooks, which is the system we use at Boswell.
Oh, and the Bug Eyes are selling well too.
Associated Press reporter Chris Talbott spoke with Ann Patchett about her new venture, Parnassus Books, which is slowly taking shape in Nashville. I am linking to it because a) the whole thing is very cool b) I wanted to let Ms. Hayes know that the Unemployed Philosophers Guild plush writers are now available at Ingram, though it's pretty easy to order direct--the minimums are small and they are VERY fast c) I am mentioned in it and I wanted to thank Ms. Patchett and Mr. Talbott for including me. I have no idea if it made it into many print newspapers, but it sure is on a lot of websites. I'm linking to the New York Daily News, because when I was a child, I liked to look at the globe in their lobby.
I had been planning to do a gift post about our pirate window all week, only I arrived at Boswell to find myself without a camera. We repurposed Stacie's pirate galley ship and easily found some books and other loot that would fill out a buccaneer-themed display.
With the resurgence in Somali pirates, I think it's very important to distinguish our friendly pirates from evil ones in real life.
The theme of the display is vaguely back to school, with some messenger bags and even a lunch box. There's only one problem--I seem to have misplaced the lunch box.
This week the story of another bookstore closing, but I'm not going to link you because I don't want to mention the store's name. In the story, the manager said that printed books would not be around in two years anyway. It was also mentioned that their landlord was planning to triple their rent. So really, is the story about the end of books, or about a real estate deal? Knowing the finances of most bookstores, and how much it costs to move, I'm sure that this store looked at the numbers and could not figure out a way it made sense to move, even if they could finance it.
So why did you have to say it was about the books, and not the cost of the space?
Yesterday's post put me in mind of legendary bookstores that are no more. I assure you I've been to plenty of them. This week it was announced that the original Books and Company in Dayton, who put the "leg" in legend, at least in the 1980s, was converting to Books a Million's second-hand prototype, 2nd and Charles. This growing chain plays pretty close to the Half Price Books model. It turns out that there is already a Half Price in Beavercreek, home of the other Books and Company store in that metro area. More in the Dayton Daily News.
I visited the Books and Company store in 1992, shortly before they sold to Books a Million. I remember the year because the trip was in conjunction with a visit to Columbus's Ameriflora exhibition. It was one of those stores that was large, enthusiastic, and bustling with events. You have to figure it was one of the role models for the rollout of the big box stores of the time.
How about something about actual books? Working with a book club on Wednesday, I was struck by the group's enthusiasm for The Hare with Amber Eyes, the biography of the Ephrussis family, an influential European family in the finance world, done in by World War II, with the story sparked by their collection of Netsuke. Previous to this, our customer Peter told me this was his favorite book of last year, and this had been seconded by several other customers. The paperback releases August 2.
It was 1970 when my oldest sister got married; I'm not positive about all this, and like the rest of the story, I don't plan on doing any research for this story, so let's make it easy and shelve it in fiction. Publishers and authors do this all the time, right?
About that time, she and her husband moved to a small midwest city and lived there pretty much for the next decade. For a New Yorker, it was a very different place. I didn't even know what being a college town meant. All I know is that is was smaller, it was in the midwest, and in retrospect, that her landlord had worked in notions (I think that has to do with sewing) at the old local department store.
It seemed like we visited them almost every year, always by car, travelling through endless farm fields where it looked like wheat, but was most likely corn. When we got there, I have no idea what we did. As a ten-year-old kid, my most vivid memory is of an ice cream shop.
But my sister had stories, and when I got a little older, she and my brother-in-law told me about the legendary book shop that had opened shortly after they got there. It was there through most of my visits, but I'm pretty positive we never set foot inside. We just weren't that kind of family.
The story jumps to a friend of mine, a librarian at the university. His memory is very steel trappish, but once again, I don't care to do any research. Fiction. Based on a possibly true story. Names changed to protect the innocent.
One brother opened the second-hand bookshop. The other brother got interested and developed an inventory system. They added new books. I think they say the original location of the store is now a restaurant. You wouldn't know--they've totally remodeled.
They moved across the street, added a store front, added an upstairs. Thriving is a good word for it. They brought in other stores to use the inventory system. For a long time, they were considered a wholesaler, though I'm not sure if a bookstore outside the network was able to buy from them. I think not.
After I had moved to the midwest, I took a road trip with my friend John and we stopped to see the flagship. It was bustling. It wasn't like some bookstore visits, where I left overwhelmed and inspired, but it was a very nice bookstore for a college town.
Before we left, I went to see a department store that had a branch in town. In terms of retail, I was pretty obsessed with these things. Little did I know that this bookstore would one day move into this space. That's a mind blower--I really could not conceive of a bookstore this large, and I had spent my childhood visiting the large bookstores of Fifth Avenue. But I don't think they were as big as this department store, and one filled up their store with things like artwork and jewelry. My first brush with nonbook.
We also stopped by a sandwich shop, which was one of my sister's most intense fond memories of the city. There were a lot of folks sitting around studying. I had a sandwich it was good. It closed shortly after the visit. We were sad.
The story doesn't end there. It just gets less romantic. New locations, a merger with a mall-based competitor, and a series of owners, and debt piled up and then changes in shopping habits. As is common in business, there are some bad decisions made. Working as I have done at a small business, I always said you can make a bad decision, but probably only one at a time.
First came the bankruptcy, and now, the liquidation. On one hand, a lot of independent booksellers put out of business by competition; on the other, new markets where there might not have been a bookstore. Now there are a lot of booksellers who've lost or are losing their jobs. Now there’s one less large company making purchasing decisions. But if you're a bookstore with a branch nearby and you were struggling, this could be your lifeline to survival. And of course the large competitors will also benefit.
Last night I had dinner with, and did a presentation to one of my favorite book clubs. The continuing theme of the evening seemed to be crappy endings for good novels. It's so darn hard to end a story well, and it's hard to see how this could have ended well. There was simply too much debt. They couldn't play price war with their internet competitor. The publishers, though they wanted the business, couldn't really extend payment terms after looking at the reorganization plan. And the company that wanted to bid for the bookstores as a going concern wouldn't promise that they themselves wouldn’t liquidate the stores.
So what's the end of this fictional story, based on a true incident? I sometimes say that the difference between a happy and sad ending depends on where you choose to end the story. I choose to make it happy, not for me, but for you, the reader. So here is where I cut things off.
You live in a town that did not have a independent bookstore (or sadly, perhaps there was an indie bookstore but you didn't particularly like it) suddenly getting this beautiful new store, 20,000 square feet of books. You walk in, the bookseller says hi, you might even chat for a while. Or maybe you were happy that finally you walked into a bookstore where someone didn't say hi, and wasn't on top of you for your whole visit. Give me some space, you wanted to scream.
It's a cathedral of books. Look at all those dictionaries! And those cookbooks! And can you believe there could be so many people who liked science fiction? You thought you were the only one. And a comfy chair to browse through your purchases.
Could you ever be so happy? No, probably not. You're going to shop here forever.
Wisconsin Public Radio, of course, has also been having interviewing their fairshare of authors. On Ben Merens show this past week:
July 18, Bryan Caplan, author of Selfish Reasons to Have Kids
July 14, Al Gini, philosopher and author of God Can Quote me on That.
And if all goes well, I'll be talking books with Mr. Merens this Friday at 5 pm. Summer reading? Sure, sort of. And thanks, Lisa, for the Spurling reminder. That needs to go on our Summer of China table.
So you've signed up for the Peace Corps, and you're hoping to change the world, one life at a time. Pretty inspiring, right? Perhaps you read Three Cups of Tea. Tea is good, right? It must be--I'm drinking some right now. (And generally all day long. And since I'm partial to lemon, I often carry a slice with me to work. But that's drifting a bit far afield.)
But what if, when you got there, the Peace Corps was as ragtag as the country you were visiting? Not only were folks not teaching, but most were hanging out in clubs, getting high, doing a little smuggling, having sex with whomever...
Oh, and what if the tea wasn't just darjeerling, but a powerful drug, with the hallucinagenic powers of LSD, the addictive properties of crystal meth, and violence-inducing tendencies of crack, to the nth degree?
That would be tsus, the blood tea that Warren, our hero, discovers on his posting to Ulaanbaatar.
But tsus, in a way, is just a reflection for Warren of a Mongolian culture beaten down by years of Soviet occupation, of a glorious past where they controlled much of the world, of a culture half preserved and half cast off, and of a land where bitter winter and few opportunities combine to dull the spirit of all who enter.
Warren's not alone, mind you. There are about a half dozen postings and ex-pats in Ulaanbaatar, Clark, Jamison, Harriet, and Charlotte, as well as their medical officer, Samantha, who is a combination of Colonel Cathcart and Nurse Ratched.* There are several Mongolians, including the alluring Subdaa and her brother Batsuren, bearer of the Tsus, plus a mentor-like teacher, Boldbaatar. And then there's Padma, the love that Warren left behind.
But once the tsus is discovered, Warren and Clark scheme to figure out a way to get this blood tea out of Mongolia and make a bundle of cash.
That's not necessarily going to be easy, and you can only imagine, there's no way this can really end without some gruesome violence. Yes, The Tea of Ulaanbaatar has some gory scenes, and though you know I am generally a shrinking violet when it comes to this stuff, I didn't see any other way to write the book. Plus, I'm fine with violence if it's intrinsic to the plot, theme and characterization, and everything in Howard's novel surely does. Plus, it's nothing compared to what the rest of the Boswellians read.
So I liked it. But really, what do I know about this stuff? Plus I'm shilling it for our event with Howard, next Thurseday, July 28, 7 pm, at Boswell. So how about some quotes.
"Like Robert Bingham's Lightning on the Sun, Tea of Ulaanbaatar is a merciless dissection of lost young American volunteers drifting through a violent and absurd third-world capital, helping no one, especially themselves. Christopher Howard's sharp, spare voice delivers a nightmarish geo-noir."
and here's Eli Horowitz, the acclaimed editor at McSweeneys:
"Christopher Howard takes us to a rarely seen corner of the world, and then takes us further, into a spooky, trippy, gritty realm that is entirely his own."
OK, that quote doesn't say whether he likes it or not. But here's Library Journal:
"An accomplished novel with a keen sense of atmosphere and desciption."
And if you'd like to read more, the Peoria Journal Star has written a nice profile of Howard, his stint in the Peace Corps, another in the army (I guess that novel is to come), including, oddly enough, exactly how much Amazon is charging for the book. Well, I guess the article had some editing help from the bargain-shopping department.
Hey, it's all part of the Peoria-Milwaukee connection. First Caterpillar buys Bucyrus, (if you have some memory, actually first P. A. Bergner bought the Boston Store division, but that was over 25 years ago) and now Christopher Howard makes the trek to Milwaukee too.
See you next week at this event. But if I catch any of you sipping tea and acting strangely, I'm going to ask you to leave before things get violent.
Speaking of librarians, Makkai's Lucy Hull is a children's librarian with a problem, in that she has inadvertently kidnapped one of her patrons. While trying to figure out what to do, her Russian father has given her a cryptic task which involves driving to Pittsburgh. On the way, one of her potential beaus (he's written a symphony that unfortunately bears resemblance to the Mr. Clean jingle) has tracked her down, and is hoping to hang out with her at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
And all the while there is Ian Drake, a book-obsessed young boy, over-protected by his parents (no wizards allowed), and thirsting for knowledge. And Lucy as well as Ian, know that books can save our lives. So does Ms. Makkai, who has filled her story with references to beloved novels for both adults and kids. And so does Sara Nelson, who recommends that book on O Magazine's summer reading list.
What happens to a family when hugs are placed by silence, and greetings by slammed doors? Dr. John Duffy, a Chicago-based clinical psychologist and life coach, proposes a program that can turn this around, replacing fear-based control with radical optimsm. Much of Duffy's strategy has to do with adjusting the parent's behavior, eliminating such ineffective strategies such as snooping, judging, smothering, coddling, bribery, and "good cop, bad cop."
Just one more note for today. Our friend John came by, touting Roberto Bolaño's recent collection, Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles, and Speeches, 1998-2003. In particular, he was very excited about Bolaño's notes on "The Bookseller" and in particular, the bookseller he was most connected to, Pilar Pages-petit. Can you imagine having a name Pages-petit? Could you do anything but be a bookseller or a librarian?
As Jonathan Lethem said in the New York Times, "Bolaño has proven that literature can do anything." Makkai's Lucy Hull knows that too. Now of course with Mr. B deceased, that should be "had." But that said, more people ought to aim for that.
Another week, another weekly wrap up book sales. Seems appropirate as I listen to the 1970s American Top 40 broadcasts on WHTZ. Currently Elton John is telling everyone that Mama Can't Buy You Love. The recession caused such problems!
1. A Dance with Dragons, by George R.R. Martin
2. The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan
3. Turn of Mind, by Alice LaPlante
4. State of Wonder, by Alice LaPlante
5. Maine, by J. Courtney Sullivan
What a great week to release Glen Duncan's novel for add ons from folks coming in for the latest installment of George R.R. Martin's fantasy epic. For our event with Alice LaPlante, luck of the draw gave us a date one week too early. Not only did The New York Times Book Reivew ("The twists and turns of mind this novel charts are haunting and original" from Zoë Slutsky) appear today, but Maureen Corrigan's spirited recommendation appeared on "Fresh Air" the very next day. Here's a teaser:
"Paranoia is the oxygen of a suspense story. Think of all those great films — most of them made by Hitchcock — built around the premise of a main character questioning his or her own gut instincts: Suspicion, Gaslight, Shadow of a Doubt, Rebecca. While it's always satisfying to see that basic premise of self-doubt in suspense endlessly resurrected, it's downright spine-tingling to encounter the work of a new writer who has managed to ring brilliant changes on that classic formula." Read the rest of the review here.
Also today, the Journal Sentinel's Mary Louise Schumacher has a great article about the "Hiding Places" exhibit at the Kohler Arts Center, which I recently profiled in the blog. It's a great companion exhibit to LaPlante's book, or as folks at the exhibit might say, the book is a great companion to the exhibit.
1. Hurricane Story, by Jennifer Shaw
2. Large Scale, by Jonathan Lippincott
3. Bossypants, by Tina Fey
4. A Cook's Journey to Japan, by Sarah Marx Feldner
5. Absolute Monarchs, by John Julius Norwich
An event heavy hardcover nonfiction week, with last week's New York Times Book Review front page review of Norwich's papal history and a resurgent Fey (Jason wondered aloud about this) rounding out the top five.
1. Made to Write, by Lisa-Marie Calderone-Stewart
2. A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
3. Room, by Emma Donoghue
4. A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
5. A Dog's Purpose, by W. Bruce Cameron
6. A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin
7. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson
8. Little Bee, by Chris Cleave
9. Yellow Blue Tibia, by Adam Roberts
10. The All of It, by Jeannette Haien
Some folks who get an early version of our bestsellers will notice that I knocked a classic off the list which turned out to be a bulk sale. I tend not to include them on these limited lists, not that I don't want them (on the contrary) but because it doesn't seem that interesting to me to take up a slot. Some folks would argue to the contrary
1. Creating Dairyland, by Edward Janus
2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
3. The Available Parent, by John Duffy
4. Memoir of a Sunday Brunch, by Julia Pandl
5. Progressive Nation, by Jerome Pohlen
Just to underscore the importance of events in our sales, three of the titles in our top five are past events, and two are future events. None, however, were events for the this past week.
1. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
2. City Dog, Coutry Frog, by Mo Willems with illustrations by Jon Muth
3. The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, by Jeanne Birdsall
4. Savvy, by Ingrid Law
5. Mockingjay, by Suzane Collins
Excitement about the upcoming movie has certainly increased sales of Collins's novels. We've even noticed some stock issues at the publisher. Wonder how that affects ebook sales? Probably helps them. Don't worry--we've got all three books in the trilogy available.
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