Once upon a time, we didn’t even write recommendations down. When I started bookselling in the mid 1980s, we didn’t have staff recs, we didn’t have a newsletter, and we certainly didn’t have an email newsletter or blog. And there was no Indie Bound selection either. I can only imagine mailing our bookseller recommendations to a publisher, or perhaps calling them in, the way we called in most of our backlist orders, the ones that were too urgent to mail.
Now we write recs like crazy. I think it almost becomes a competitive thing. I feel guilty when I like a book and don’t do anything about it. There’s this perception that this could make a difference, help not just an author, but an editor or a publicist. But mostly I and other booksellers do it for the feeling you get when a customer comes back to Boswell and tells you how much he or she loved the book. Exhibit A? L., who was shopping at the store last Saturday, and told me how much she adored Dean Bakopoulos's My American Unhappiness. Hilarious and heartwarming, with astute political observations. Hooray!
I just have two rules—you have to finish the book and you can’t lie. That said, there are sometimes books that I like, and there are other books that I love. Both deserve a rec, especially when I can read a book and absolutely know that there’s someone out there for the book that will love it.
You can see the difference when a lot of booksellers get behind a book. Our sales on The Dog Stars have been particularly strong, and several folks buying a copy noted that seeing Jason, Stace, and Shane all over the moon about this title helped convince them to make the purchase.
Interestingly enough, we have adult five fiction writers on our September schedule, and all of them have had great reads from Boswell Booksellers. In fact, four of them are on the Indie Next list for September—Emma Straub, Michael Ennis, Jonathan Evison, and Adam McOmber. And the only reason that Emily St. John Mandel, who is coming Saturday, September 15, 7 pm, for The Lola Quartet, is not on the list, is that her book came out last May, where it was, you guessed it, the #1 Indie Next Pick.
So here are the five titles with Indie Next recommendations in September.
The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, by Jonathan Evison (Algonauin, our event is 9/12, 7 pm)
“What a heartfelt journey we travel in this capriciously tragic story of Benjamin Benjamin Jr., caregiver extraordinaire. His charge, Trev, is a 19-year-old suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, or, as Ben describes him, ‘a pretzel with a perfectly healthy imagination.’ Ben is suffering, too. He is trying to recover from a personal tragedy that has left him without a family or a job. To read this book is to be in a constant, conflicting state between tears and laughter.” —Lynn Riggs, Books & Company, Oconomowoc, WI
#1 Pick: The Lola Quartet, by Emily St. John Mandel (Unbridled, our event is 9/15, 7 pm)
“In her latest, St. John Mandel shows how relationships formed in high school, so often fraught with drama, can ebb and flow and fade and come back to haunt. Among her characters, the perception of what’s important and the potential impact of actions varies widely, and something as seemingly insignificant as a photograph can become riddled with layers of meaning, differing for each person who sees it. The writing is taut, the characters well wrought, and St. John Mandel’s characteristic infusions of moral ambiguity and complexity remind us, as good novels should, of what it means to be human.” — Emily Pullen, Skylight Books, Los Angeles, CA (Note to readers—Emily is now at Word in Brooklyn.)
The Malice of Fortune, by Michael Ennis (Knopf, our event is 9/17, 7 pm)
“Ennis brings to life the chaos and mayhem of the Italy that inspired Machiavelli’s The Prince. An unlikely trio teams up to solve the most notorious murder of the Italian Renaissance: the assassination of the Borgia Pope’s favorite son. Niccolò Machiavelli believes he can solve the mystery by studying human behavior. Leonardo da Vinci believes that carefully measuring all the elements of the crime will lead him to the killer. Then there is Damiata, the courtesan, who knows an unhealthy amount of Borgia secrets. This tale will keep you guessing right up to the thrilling conclusion.” —Sarah Harvey, Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, CO
Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, by Emma Straub (Riverhead, our event is 9/18, 7 pm)
“Despite what the gorgeous dresses, extravagant jewelry, and exotic mansions might suggest, movie stars are people, too. Elsa Emerson learns as a nine-year-old in Door County, Wisconsin, that she loves the limelight, and she spends her life both seeking it out and resisting it. Elsa moves to Hollywood, becomes film star Laura Lamont, loves, loses, succeeds, and fails. Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures gives readers a well-crafted, wistful, inside look into the glory days of Tinseltown.” —Hannah Johnson-Breimeier, Next Chapter Bookshop, Mequon, WI
The White Forest, by Adam McOmber (Touchstone, our event is 9/26, 7 pm)
“Jane Silverlake is a lost soul when Maddy and Nathan find her. Jane is different, however; she can feel and hear the souls of manmade objects. Jane reveals herself to Maddy and Nathan, hoping she can trust them with her burden, so she does not have to be alone with it. She is wrong, and when Nathan disappears, Jane’s world begins to crumble around her. McOmber has delivered an ingenious, haunting tale full of mystery and dread.” —Jason Kennedy, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI
And look at that, three Milwaukee-area bookstores are represented. Actually there are five recs from Wisconsin among the top 20 titles o
n the rec list, as well as three of the top twelve “now in paperback” selections. I’m not sure why.
We have two recommendations on the September list actually.
The Beautiful Mystery: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel, by Louise Penny
“In the eighth mystery in this popular series, Chief Inspector Gamache finds himself investigating a murder in a remote abbey in the wilds of the Canadian forest. The only clue appears to involve an ancient form of church music, the very earliest Gregorian chant. As usual, Penny’s complex characters and their multidimensional relationships, as well as the unusual setting, make this a fascinating reading experience. Each book in the series is better than the one before.” —Anne McMahon, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI
We were hoping that our continued enthusiasm for Louise Penny might make a difference, but alas, we didn’t make the tour. Here’s the schedule. Sorry that I didn’t think of posting this list until after the author was in Naperville.
Here’s the rest of the September picks. And coming tomorrow? An agent solicits recs, Indie Bound style, to sell a manuscript.