When I was a young kid, my family used to visit my older sister and her husband who were in grad school at the University of Michigan. I don’t have too many memories of that time, except for one particular trip when we went to Battle Creek, Michigan and took the old Kellogg’s cereal tour. I think I have such strong memories about this because of the cartoon characters associated with the brands—Tony the Tiger, Toucan Sam, and Snap, Crackle and Pop to name a few.
It seemed that if marketed a cereal to kids, they needed a mascot. Quarker Oats had Captain Crunch, and General Mills (sometimes the division is called Big G) had their own assortment—Trix the Rabbit, Lucky the Leprechaun, Sonny the Cuckoo who loves Cocoa Puffs.
Sometimes the cereal mascots were original, other times they were licensed from cartoons, like Fruity Pebbles. In the sixties, Hannah Barbera cartoons were linked to a lot of the Kelloggs lines, while Casper the Friendly Ghost shilled a sugar coated version of Ralston’s Chex. And Post had a whole series of cartoons around their brands, from Linus the Lionhearted for Crispy Critters to the Honeycomb Kid for to a postman named Lovable Truly for Alpha Bits. I think the only mascot from that period which continued on was Sugar Bear.
So you can only imagine the mythology of breakfast cereal looms large over 20th century American history, pop culture division. But in the new novel Cold Cereal (which goes on sale February 7) by Adam Rex, cereal mythology merges with Arthurian legend to create a three-part middle-grade series, and it’s about as crazy as Sonny the Cuckoo.
The story follows two sets of kids. Scott (it’s short for “Scottish”, don’t ask) and Polly have moved to Goodborough, New Jersey, where their mom has just gotten a job at the lab of Goodco Cereals. Their dad John is long out of the picture, having found fame under a new stage name, Reggie Dwight*
The kids in this old-fashioned company town are kind of mean; the only two willing to give Scott the time of day are the twins Erno and Emily. They don’t look like twins though—Emily is both paler and weaker than her brother, picked on by the other kids. They live with their step-father Mr. Wilson, who apparently keeps them busy with clever competitions. And once a week they get a visit from their eight-foot tall housekeeper, Biggs.
The stage is set when Scott starts seeing apparitions—first a unicorn, then rabbit man, and finally a leprechaun. And then that leprechaun tries to steal Scott’s backpack while on a field trip to New York. And it turns out he is not a leprechaun but a churichaun, a near relation and he goes by Mick. And Mick tells Scott about a diabolical plot. Goodco, formerly the Goode and Harmliss Cereal Company, keeps magical creatures in captivity, squeezing their magic into every box, just like they say on the commercials.
And needless to say, with every discovery, things turn out to be worse and worse. And I don’t want to give too much away, but the diabolical plot within the plot does have to do with Arthurian Legend. It makes me want to go back and read Le Morte d’Arthur or something. It also reminds me why it’s so sad that everything past 1923 can’t be the inspiration for future novels of this sort without jumping through the red tape of permissions.
Adam Rex’s novel is at the same time serious and zany, sometimes quite dark and other times silly. I read the book early, before all the illustrations were in place. I can’t wait to see what the finished novel looks like—I loved the raw illustrations that were included for some of the plates, particularly the cartoon commercial storyboards that pepper the narrative.
There’s one other influence in the book, and folks who know me well remember that it’s one of my favorite books of all time. At one point, Harvey the rabbit man is spotted reading Half Magic in Biggs’s treehouse. Readers of Edward Eager’s septet of novels know that there was almost always a sighting of a book by Eager’s inspiration, E. Nesbit, with a discussion of magic and its rules. And sure enough, the characters explain some magical rules to our young heroes soon after. “If we didn’t have rules we’d be gods” as Mick notes.
Though I have a lot of questions that will not be answered until volume two, not likely to come out until early 2013, I still feel satisfied—it’s a fun story that will as likely inspire a kid to read more about Arthur as it will get him to ponder the likelihood that Lucky the Leprechaun not only exists, but is doing hard labor somewhere in Minnesota.
Adam Rex, who is also known for his novels The True Meaning of Smekday, the picture book Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and the teen novel Fat Vampire, as well illustrating the Brixton Brothers series, is coming to town this coming Friday, February 10. Alas, there was not time for him to do a public event—this time it’s schools only. I tell you this for two reasons.
One, we can still get you a signed copy of any of Mr. Rex’s novels. Just email me before the 10th.
And two, we are always on the lookout for more schools to host our events. There is no cost for the event but there are some requirements. We’re generally looking for 150-plus kids, and while there is no sales requirement, we generally need to sell 50 hardcovers or 100 paperbacks to make it worthwhile for the publisher’s visit. And we do have some schools that can sell double that, so there is stiff competition for these slots. We sell the books in book-fair style, with a form that goes home beforehand. Some schools buy copies for classroom libraries, or offer copies to students as a scholastic reward, or subsidize the cost with grants. In any case, the cost of this visit is a fraction of what it would be if the school organized it on their own. Interested in making a proposal? Contact us at your convenience.
Tonight (January 30, 7 pm) we're hosting Steve Boman, author of Film School: The True Story of a Midwestern Family Man Who Went to the World’s Most Famous Film School, Fell Flat on His Face, Had a Stroke, and Sold a Television Series to CBS.
Boman chronicles the ups and downs of his life in this amusing memoir, a primer on what to do (and what not to do) for would-be cineastes. That category includes television, right? Because what he want up getting into pilot was a series for CBS called :Three Rivers."
At least one attendee at the St. Robert School book fair told me she was looking forward to the event. See you there!
It's the first week back for UWM after break. While we don't have the rush of the UWM Bookstore or Clark Graphics, you can see a bit of difference in traffic, and several professors suggest their students come by for certain trade titles featured in courses.
1. Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been, by Chase Twitchell.
2. The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht
3. A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
4. Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare
5. Swamplandia, by Karen Russell
So is a course sale a bulk sale? I think not--the students are free to buy the books wherever they want, and we're grateful that some of them buy books from us.
1. Dispatches from the Classroom, by Dave Yost, Chris Drew, and Joseph Rein
2. Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff
3. Rabbit Hole, by David Lindsay Abaire
4. Bossypants, by Tina Fey
5. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
I've got nothing interesting to say about these books. Down at #7, we are selling The Business Wisdom of Steve Jobs. Yesterday we had one of those experiences where one customer bought the book and another customer saw it at the register and decided to get it too.
1. The Orphan Master's Son, by Adam Johnson
2. The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes
3. How it All Began, by Penelope Lively
4. Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James
5. The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
Jason maps out the Boswell Best pretty carefully in advance, but every so often, I get the right to add a book that I think could pop better with discounting. After Michiko Kakutani's "vital" review of How it All Began, I begged for Lively to get a shot, and here is the result. Lively is one of those authors where it is hard to gauge how her books will sell as she is subject to reviewer whims--in two weeks we've doubled hardcover sales of Family Album (that's 6, as opposed to 3, by the way).
And this is just the kind of book that I like--a chance encounter with a mugger has reverberations over the lives of several characters. How does the marketing info put it? Life has other plans for us. It does indeed.
1. A Nation of Moochers, by Charles Sykes
2. The Art of Confession, by Paul Wilkes
3. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson
4. Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
5. Republic Lost, by Lawrence Lessig
While one might connect mooching and confessing, the books are apparently not related.
Books for Kids:
1. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
2. A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka
3. Pat the Bunny Bunny Kisses, by Golden Books
4. I am a Bunny, by Ole Risom and Richard Scarry
5. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
We're out of Jack Gantos's Newberry Award-winning novel, but we're glad to say that Chris Raschka's Caldecott winner was in stock and we took advantage. Oh, and that Pat the Bunny heart-shaped book is a pretty clever idea.
It's our third Valentine's Day season, and it feels like a new beginning for several reasons.
1) We've finally used up the inherited Schwartz heart wrap. Our new design is so stylized that one bookseller mistook it for Christmas wrap. Look carefully--those are hearts.
2) I think we have enough cards, and perhaps the right mix of stuff. It's a last-minute holiday so it's hard to make up for mistakes.
3) Our first year we pretty much had no Valentine nonbook. Our second year we went with some silly Accoutrements stuff and heart-shaped puzzles, and sad to say, they didn't work particularly well. It's hard to balance price and tastefulness. We've still got one more love-themed Magic Eight Ball on clearance, if you're in the market.
I think the item I'm most excited about are these keepsake boxes. We have four different designs with hearts--sadly, the heart-shaped one was sold out. The prices are pretty reasonable, particularly as they are made in Poland. Look for more of these boxes throughout the spring.
Last year's success was bringing in nicely priced Valentine packs. We sold out of almost everything but the monster cars (and quickly sold out of them this year at the markdown price). This year we've got fairies and monkeys and wacky animals and well, other stuff.
We did bring in a small variety of home items. The heart-shaped trivet is rather sweet, but my bet is on the heart-shaped bud vase. It's very well priced at $3.50.
And of course we have the classic bookstore assortment of love poetry and other romantica.
So Ira Glass is at the Pabst on February 4, as per an earlier email, and we're selling books there for the "Reinventing Radio" program. Now I should say up front that there is no autographing, though I guess if you run into him at a bar afterwards, I'm not telling you he won't sign, as he seems like a good guy.
We agreed to sell various "This American Life" authors' books at the event, and the promoters asked if we would help get the word out. One of their requests was for in-store display featuring various contributors, and since they are also some of our favorite authors, how could we say no?
One of the weirdest display spaces we have are the shelves of our lecturn. It doesn't sell books that well, but it does turn heads. We're closing out the run of The Duel series from Melville House. In addition to a stray copy sold here and there, we did find a customer for one complete set.
Now our Philip K. Dick display celebrating the release of The Exegeis of Philip K. Dick has converted backlist only and moved to the lectern and the end table display we previously had of Dick's new title and backlist is now a recurring zombie display. I got Jason's hopes up by implying that Colson Whitehead's Zone One had a date set for a film adaptation, but if you read carefully, I noted "maybe."
So I'm looking at Christina's confirmation from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, regarding Karen Tack and Alan Richardson's visit to Milwaukee on Sunday, February 12, for the last Iron Cupcake at Discovery World. She notes that we will do marketing and in-store display for the book. Well we did, but once the event sold out, we felt uncomfortable promoting it. So we took the signs away. And folks had a little trouble understanding exactly what we were marketing.
The event is sold out.
There are no tickets at the door.
Yes, folks are trying to hunt down tickets on Craig's List.
What to do? Now a smart marketer would have set aside some tickets for a giveaway, but I haven't had an event sell out so early--that's Sandy's doing, not mine. So I went to Sandy and told her my dilemma, and because she is the smart marketer I long to be when I grow up, she had put aside some tix for this very thing.
We're giving away ten pairs of tickets and you can enter in one of two ways.
There are five winners from in-store entries and five from Facebook. And yes, we are weeding out duplicates.
Voila, a window promoting the contest is born. I'm so happy that I could cut off the snowflakes and replace them with dangling cupcake air fresheners. It saved me a lot of time, and it looks pretty silly.
Today I went to Milwaukee Cupcake Company again. I had another blood orange and a green tea. And then a chocolate peanut butter. All minis.
We've had all sort of fun getting our web pages together for the St. Robert School book fair. We discussed doing this back in November, just before Carl, who was doing our website programming, left for his new job in the healthcare field.
I'm very impressed that St. Robert put their trust in us. We warned them this was our first book fair ever. But we also promised them that we would avoid including merchy stuff, such as licensed character early readers.
Amie watched me putzing around and seemingly doing all sorts of things I'd been putting off for months; she was pretty sure we weren't going to have everything ready, and secretly, I was not disagreeing.
With Stacie's help, I learned to make web pages, and we came up with a selection of titles for the school. We're offering three ways to purchase titles. You can either visit the website and place an order ahead of time. Or you can buy books at the open house this Sunday, using one of the school laptops. Or you can buy books in the store, where we will have most of the recommended books on display.. All count towards the book fair totals.
I still need to make some updates. Today it was decided that all books will be picked up at Boswell instead of being delivered to the school. And there are still some lists of teacher picks to be added.
I know this is a little different from typical book fairs, where the books are there to be purchased. I am calling this method "girl scout cookie" style. Buy now, deliver later. And coincidentally, we just agreed to allow the girl scout troop from Maryland Avenue Montessori School sell cookies at the store on a Saturday in March.
Visit the St. Robert book fair page. You don't to be a St. Robert family for your purchases to qualify. It's still a work in progress. My photo of the Boswell kids' book area is still not showing up on the published page. I guess a second career for me in drupal programming is apparently not imminent.
1. We had a meeting at Discovery World about our upcoming Iron Cupcake event on February 12, in support of Karen Tack and Alan Richardson's wondrous new book, Cupcakes, Cookies, & Pie, Oh My! Yes, these are the Hello Cupcake folks. You can order a signed copy from us.
This event is absolutely sold out. There are no extra tickets at all for sales. However, we are giving away tickets at Boswell. Drop by and fill out a form. We'll also have a Facebook giveaway contest going. We'll give away five pairs of tickets in store and five more on Facebook. Thanks to Sandy for helping make this work.
2. On our way back from the meeting, Stacie and I stopped at the Milwaukee Cupcake Company. I had a blood orange cupcake, which was super delicious. Halley and I have been debating for weeks about the merits of Milwaukee Cupcake vs. Honeypie/Comet. It's not a bad dilemma to have.
3. Our new cards from Rifle Paper came in. I had the order all put together when a customer asked if we had any packs of Valentine postcards for adults. Huh? And then it dawned on me that I had just seen some, so we ordered them in for the table. We'll see how it goes.
4. Perelman's Silence, by Pascal Mercier. Night Train to Lisbon was one of those books with great word of mouth. A lot of booksellers sold him to folks who like Carlos Ruiz Zafron. It's the story of a linguist (hooray for linguist protagonists) driven to desperate acts when he plagiarizes a colleague's work at a conference. Weekendavisen called Mercier an "excellent stylist" while Berlingske Tidende compares the book to Crime and Punishment. Yes, I get my kicks from quoting Danish newspapers.
5. Roger Williams and The Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty, by John M. Barry. I'm sort of interested that this book plays off the themes of last week's history book by David Hackett Fischer (who looked at the diffrences between the cultures of the United States and New Zealand). In this book, Barry looks at how the rights of the individual versus that of the state, from the vantage point of Roger Williams, the scourge of Massachusetts, who went on to found Rhode Island.
6. The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey. This novel, set in 1920s Alaska, first came to Stacie and my attention when we had a drink with Robert Goolrick at the Pfister (I foget how he wound up there--it had nothing to do with an event at Boswell) and we asked him what he was reading. I don't remember what he said then, but here's what he said now:
"If Willa Cather and Gabriel Garcia Marquez had collaborated on a book, The Snow Child would be it. It is a remarkable accomplishment--a combination of the most delicate, ethereal, fairytale magic and the harsh realities of homesteading in the Alaska wilderness."
Plus I love the cover illustration by Alessandro Gottardo. I would totally buy his greeting cards. Sorry, that's the way I think nowadays.
I've spent the last 24 hours hearing about the very inspiring Winter Institute, held last week in New Orleans, from our two attendees.
Amie brought the store back a lovely gift, a fancy edition of The Works of Boswell, with gold edges and ribbon marker. It was published by Black's Readers Service, Roslyn, New York, most likely in the 1950s. I was just talking to a lawyer, who happened to grow up in that very town. We shared some memories of the duck pond and the Jolly Fisherman restaurant.
Stacie and Amie came back with lots of ideas too. I'm confident they will be better at putting at least some of them into practice than I generally am at this sort of thing.
And now, a preview of this week's events!
Tonight (Monday, January 23, 7 pm) is our long-awaited event with Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master's Son. It's so rewarding to see this book already being cited as likely to be one of the best novels of 2012.
On Thursday, January 26, we're hosting the co-editors of Dispatches from the Classroom: Exercises for Creative Writers and Creative Teachers. Joseph Michael Rein, David Yost, and Chris Drew. These UWM graduate students explore issues of daily concern to creative writing instructors from many viewpoints and stands as a much-needed teaching resource for the field—by the field.
And then on Friday, January 27, it's time for Paul Wilkes, author of The Art of Confession. Since I already spoke on this book at length in another blog post, allow me to paraphrase and say that The Art of Confession draws on traditions from ancient Greece, psychoanalysis, Judaism, Catholicism, Buddhism, and Islam to show readers how to incorporate a confessional practice into their daily lives.
In addition, you can say hi to Stacie at a restaurant offsite (private party, so if you weren't invited, you can't say hi unless you happen to run into her and well, maybe you should just say hi to her when she's at the store tomorrow), and Jason's going to interview Mr. Johnson for a magazine (exciting, huh?) And I've been furiously trying to enter titles for our first book fair. We're creating order pages on our website. I'm excited, but worried I won't get it done in time. Do I seem distracted? I am.
1. The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
2. American Dervish, by Ayad Akhtar
3. Believing the Lie, by Elizabeth George
4. Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James
5. The Orphan Master's Son, by Adam Johnson
Our reprint order came in for The Art of Fielding--hooray!
Our event with Adam Johnson for The Orphan Master's Son is tomorrow, January 23, 7 pm. Entertainment Weekly gave it an A and called it "vivid and chilling." This is the kind of event where you are going to kick yourself for not having gone. And you're really going to wish you had a signed first edtion.
1. The Journal of Best Practices, by David Finch
2. The Big Thirst, Charles Fishman
3. In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson
4. Charles Dickens, by Claire Tomalin
5. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson
We had a wonderful time with Finch (I may have mentioned that previously), but I also enjoyed my lunchtime talk with Charles Fishman, who was in town for a water conference and also for a luncheon with Tempo, the Milwaukee organization that promotes women in business.
1. The Fates will Find Their Way, by Hannah Pittard
2. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford
3. The Tiger's Wife, by Téa Obreht
4. A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
5. Swamplandia, by Karen Russell
Ms. Pittard noted to me that there is an homage to the hardcover jacket inside the paperback edition. And I noted that unlike many novels written by women, there are no body parts on the paperback jacket. "That's in my contract," Pittard replied. I'm not sure if she was kidding.
Note on paperback releases. That rash of paperback breakouts has slowed to a crawl without Borders, especially when you exclude the award-driven ones. Any suggestions on likely candidates?
1. The Big Thirst, by Charles Fishman
2. The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
3. Your True Home, by Thich Nhat Hanh
4. The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal
5. The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson
I don't think The Big Thirst was a hard on sale (that means you can't sell it before a certain date), but thank you to Free Press for letting us sell the paperback at the event slightly before the book was schedule to arrive in soft cover.
Aside from that, no surprises on our list. Gretchen Rubin and Thich Nhat Hanh waltz along. Your True Home reminds me of The Power of Kindness--many an indie could be selling tons of this book by just featuring it in an impulse or prime display area.
Books for Kids:
1. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
2. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
3. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
4. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
5. I am a Bunny, by Ole Rissom/Richard Scarrey
I'm getting the wrap-up on how Winter Institute went for Stacie. John Green gave us Facebook advice! Well, not us personally--it was addressed to 500 booksellers.
I mentioned that on my trip to Atlanta, I was quite aware of empty spinners and displays, so on my return to Milwaukee, I was glad to see that several of my post-Christmas orders had showed up.
We picked up a new card line, Magnination, which is in the style of kawaii, or those Japanese-ish animorphic stuff drawings with Wilma Flintstone and Barney Rubble faces. By that, I mean dots for eyes, as opposed to the dot within the circle of Fred Flintstone. There are about a dozen designs altogether--it's letterpress with up to five color runs, so the cards ain't cheap at $4.95, but they are so gosh-darn charming that I'd easily argue their worth.
One of our toy vendors came in with some new product, and we all quickly took to these sock monkey purses. The zipper is on the mouth, no less. We also brought in the baby sock monkeys again, though this time, only the brown ones.
I don't know what I was thinking, weather-wise, but we also got in some very cute sock monkey umbrellas. I guess those are going out in March.
And finally, we picked up some new Folkmanis puppets. In addition to stocking up for Easter (they make pretty adorable bunnies), I brought in some extra of the new robins to decorate our spring is coming table, which ineveitably goes up in February.
One bookseller noted that she didn't think this piggy was particularly cute, but having just seen the Project Runway episode with Miss Piggy, I think all this porcine puppet needs is some designer duds.
Come to think of it, both the sock monkey and the piggy also have Barney Rubble eyes. Maybe Kim Carnes could sing about that.
Once again I flutter around to different activities without too many customers to get in the way. Most of the ones here live within five blocks of the store and just hang out and read. Eh, it makes the store look fuller.
I've been booking a number of spring events--some big, some small. When you book an event, you see it at its fullest potential. A couple of hours before, you see it in full panic mode. The results are somewhere in between.
Our event last night at Sugar Maple is a case in point. A decent turnout for Hannah Pittard (pictured using primitive phone technology, looking like an impressionist painting) and Patrick Somerville, authors of The Fates Will Find Their Way and the forthcoming This Bright River, respectively, but when you consider what great readers they both are, I'm a bit disappointed. I'm somewhat bemused that I still here folks wondering why there isn't a store in Bay View, but I can't seem to get too many of them to come out for a literary good time.
They were happy, but I want more. More, I tell you!
I love the Adrienne and Bruno's Sugar Maple space so much, it doesn't even bother me that I get a parking ticket at every event. Why? Because I have to get to the bar at about 6:40 for a 7 pm event and the two-hour meters are active until 9 pm. It's obvious that parking checkers patrol the lot until 8:59.
We'll try again, perhaps partnering with some Bay-View-based organization. Any suggestions?
It's been driving me crazy that we were behind on displays. I've come up with a few good ones, but it's a work in progress. Since we heard that Little, Brown is out of first editions of American Dervish, let's see if we can keep it going with a signed first edition display.
I'm still working on my two favorite display idea. One needs more books to come in and the other needs props.
I just got home from our Sugar Maple event with Hannah Pittard and Patrick Somerville, only to find that the blog got away from me today. We wound up selling books at the University Club for a lunch with Charles Fishman, author of The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water. I enjoyed the talk quite a bit, and one byproduct of this event is that we're going to try to sell the book off our new paperback table. Milwaukee has a keen interest in water--let's see how broad that interest is.
And just because one paragraph seems a little skimpy to me, here are our top 20 hardcover fiction titles of 2011.
1. The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
2. The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides
3. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
4. Drawing Conclusions, by Donna Leon
5. The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain
6. 1Q84, by Haruki Murakami
7. Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James
8. The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes
9. The Union Quilters, by Jennifer Chiaverini
10. Caleb's Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks
11. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
12. The Katyn Order, by Doug Jacobson
13. American Boy, by Larry Watson
14. Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
15. The Wedding Quilt, by Jennifer Chiaverini
16. The Tiger's Wife, by Téa Obreht
17. Wise Man's Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss
18. When the Killing's Done, by T.C. Boyle
19. 11-22-63, by Stephen King
20. Ready Player One, by Ernie Cline
Twelve books were helped by events; eight were not.
I've thought about what would be an interesting way to call attention to Mr. Wilkes's appearance on the blog. The Art of Confession is a meditation on the role of confession in history, in society, and how it is a practice in every (just about) religion and spiritual tradition. I'm sure it goes back farther than the Code of Hammurabi, but at least since then, folks have gotten a list of best societal best practices, and been asked to follow them. As Wilkes notes, the desire to be the good is at the center of all great faiths.
Our society, however, has become rife with faux confession and false apology. Perhaps they help celebs dodge bad q scores, but do they lead to a better person? Not likely. It turns out that confession is just one of the steps to healing and renewal. But faux confessions just lead to repeating bad behavior. And it's not really a confession if you don't have the intention to change.
While The Art of Confession draws from a number of faiths, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism (as well as non-religious therapy), confession is probably most linked to Catholicism, and that is Wilkes's background. A Marquette graduate, Wilkes left behind a journalism career in New York to explore spirituality from his home base of Wilmington, North Carolina, where he has written many books, most notably Holding God in My Hands,In Due Seasons: A Catholic Life, and The Seven Secrets of Successful Catholics. Wilkes has a lot of books out there and some are tough to get. If you were hoping to buy a particular book by him at our event, it would be great if you let us know now, giving us a chance to make sure we had it.
There were two things that fascinated me in particular about The Art of Confession. One of them was Sister Karen Kirby, who saw her job as bookseller at Wellspring Bookstore (can't find the link) as a place where folks would go to deal with difficult subjects, and wind up starting the confession process by asking, "Do you have any books on...?" I'm just saying up front that this actually has happened to me over my twenty-plus years of bookselling, but I also want to note that I am probably not the right person for this. From now on, I'm giving out Sister Karen Kirby's phone number. Bartenders also work for this purpose.
The other thing that Wilkes reminded me of is one of my guiding mantras--guilt is a force for good! I've stopped myself from doing many things wrong by imagining how bad I'd feel afterwards. And sometimes I've even done something extra with the guilty feeling I'd have of not having done my best work.
So join us for an evening of renewal with Paul Wilkes on Friday, January 27. Do it to get a sense of renewal. Or maybe you knew Wilkes a long time ago and are just showing up out of guilt for letting your friendship lapse. I'm okay with that.
As folks know from the blog, I was recently in Atlanta for a gift show. We'll be able to judge the success of this buying trip once some of the orders come in (and even more so if they sell out), but that's not what this particular blog is about. It's about trying to visit what I would consider the most interesting parts of Atlanta in the shortest amount of time. Fortunately my former coworker Brian has lived in the city long enough and knows me well enough to point out some of his highlights.
I passed up The World of Coca Cola and the Margaret Mitchell house (the former because I didn't want to go through security and the latter because I still haven't read Gone with the Wind) for what I consider the most important part of Atlanta history--the legendary locations of Rich's and Davison's department stores.
Davison's was easy--Brian works in the building. Bought by Macy's in the 1920's, the store was called Davison-Paxon and then Davison's until the 1980s. I never understood why some Macy stores changed names very quickly (San Francisco, Kansas City) while others (Bamberger's in Newark, Lasalle's in Toledo) held onto their names for decades. The store closed in 2005 when the Macy's and Rich's stores were merged.
You can see why the Rich's store closed earlier, in 1991, despite being the stronger brand overall in the market. This part of downtown is not in as good a shape as Peachtree Street. That said, the building is beautiful and the store had one of the best book departments, led by Faith Brunson. In their day, department store book buyers were very active in the American Booksellers Association, almost always holding a seat on the board of directors. Here's an article from EW talking about how the Gone with the Wind sequel Scarlett was an Atlanta phenomenon.
We headed for Decatur, where there's is actually more than one bookstore, perhaps due to the popular Decatur Book Festival. It's a bustling inner suburb shopping district with strong pedestrian traffic, perhaps due to a well-placed Marta stop, which nonetheless gives the square a sort of speed bump.
The Blue Elephant Book Shop is a few blocks from the core, having moved to Decatur a few years ago from the Emory area. It's former location was once a branch of Chapter 11, a local Crown-ish phenomonenon of small, bestseller driven discount stores.
Blue Elephant is in a converted house, with several rooms a la King's English in Salt Lake City. I had a chat with both booksellers working that shift; after going back and forth on books we both liked, we settled on a local author as the best rec for me, Thomas Mullen's The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers. It's said to be Chabon-esque. The author has several books out, including the newly released The Revisionists.
I really liked the collection of blue elephants!
Several blocks down the street was Little Shop of Stories, the legendary bookstore for kids that is well-known for their events, service, storytimes, and teen outreach. Doing some research, I read that this store also moved, but just across the square. They also had a decent-sized section of adult fiction and nonfiction; I've seen this at other children's bookstores, but this was probably a bigger selection than I've seen elsewhere. I didn't get to see it, but I hear they have a nice storytime/event space upstairs. They have three storytimes per week--very impressive. And what an event list! They just had John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars. I would have gone, but they were sold out.
Having finished the Nerds books, I decided to get the first volume of the Sisters Grimm series there. I'm looking forward to it.
I couldn't leave Decatur without visiting the two locations of Wordsmiths, the indie that opened in 2007 and closed in 2009, just before we opened, with not one but two interesting locations in its short life. The first was in a converted post office. It had a great parking lot but was a bit too off the square for foot traffic. The second was in a converted bank building, where the vault was for comic books and graphic novels. I'm sure two store openings in two years was tough on their cash flow. The first store is now Greene's a fudge/nut/toy store (yes, I brought back pecans for the Boswellians) and the second is sort of a convenience store.
Driving around the city, we headed through Midtown, where Outwrite Books is--hope I'll visit that store next time, as I had a friend who once worked there. Instead we went to Buckhead to visit another Atlanta bookstore ghost, the beloved location of Oxford Bookshop in the Peachtree Battle Shopping Center.
Oxford was the store Atlantans talked about the way someone from Denver discussed Tattered Cover or a Portlandian pondered Powells. The store opened in 1973 and the store quickly became an institution. However, it was one of the casualties of the big Barnes & Noble and Borders expansion in the mid 1990s. Like several other stores, the store tried to expand in response to the chains potentially cutting into their business, but found themselves unable to make up for lost revenue. If you'll remember, we did that at Schwartz but survived that round--the Mequon and Shorewood openings and Brookfield expansion were meant to solidify our position in the market for B&N's arrival.
So here's an article that remembers the great Oxford now that one of its rivals, Borders, has closed. We did wind up heading to Richards Variety, a houseware, toy, candy, and novelty shop in that shopping center with a pretty large book section. It's very, very well stocked, focusing on face-outs in quantity. It's sort of like Winkies, only without a Hallmark store.
Off to Little Five Points to visit A Capella Books, a store that was doing what seems to be Atlanta's favorite activity, moving. Their new location is in Inman Park. The store is a mix of new and used. It's a general-ish bookstore, but wears its heart on its sleeve with a small section devoted to Howard Zinn, plus a UFO/mysterious phenomena shelf. We'd probably do a bit better with that stuff if we curated it better.
I wound up buying the paperback edition of Open City by Teju Cole. I don't think I ever had a copy, but it's possible I'll go back to Milwaukee and find it at the bottom of a pile.
I had heard much about Little Five Points, with folks telling me it would probably be the neighborhood I found most interesting. I was sort of surpised at how many clothing stores there are, but Brian assured me that fashion is very, very important to an Atlantan.
So next we went to a part-clothing store, part everything else alternative store, the legendary Junkman's Daughter, a store I read about in the book Retail Superstars. It's kind of an indie Urban Outfitters, but the clothing is vintage instead of faux vintage. I thought it was a very interesting place but either they had an amazing holiday and are waiting for more product or they have to store some of their fixturing. Here's a website link. It was not working when I looked at it--Daughter, I know what that's like! I've now been to six stores on Whalin's list. Don't ask me why I haven't been to Abt Electronics, as I pass it periodically on the freeway and I could just get off and look.
What also could have been on the list of Retail Superstars was Your Dekalb Farmers Market. I asked Brian what he'd most miss about Atlanta if he moved away and this was his pick, with no hesitation. The market is sort of like Woodmans in that it is a bit warehousey and doesn't take credit cards, only debit. But it's a little like Sendiks in that their produce, meat, and fish is pretty amazing. And it's a little like Outpost in that they have a lot of organic products and make a lot of their own bakery. And it's a little like Pete's Fruit Market, only I don't know why; I've never been there.
We went on a Sunday evening--apologies for the blurry outside picture. It was very crowded. I had a lentil samosa from the cafeteria line. I thought to myself, there's so many interesting things here I could say to myself, "Only blue things today" and walk out with blue potatoes and blue corn chips and fresh blue crabs. I have never seen live blue crabs before--their appendages are blue. Really.
I still need to go to Jungle Jim's in Cincinnati.
We also went for a drink at Dante's Down the Hatch. This was a bar that was originallly located in Underground Atlanta during its first heyday, in the early 1970s. Apprarently the place was done in by Marta construction, relaxing of blue laws in Dekalb County, and oddly enough, a relaxation of the dress code that required bars that served alcohol to require jackets and ties. There's still a location in Buckhead that is apparently quite popular with proms. There's a boat and moat inside and its a jazz club and fondue restaurant. Need I say more? One author told me that she set a scene there because, well, how could you not? But now I can't remember the author or book and neither could the bartender. Please tell me if you remember!
And what's my favorite thing about Atlanta? No question, it's the hexagonal tiles that line the sidewalks of old neighborhoods like Cabbagetown and Candler Park. Originally acutal titles (see top of blog), the tradition has been continued with scored concrete (at left). Sometimes the lines are down by machine and look pretty authentic. Sometimes they are done by hand and are ridiculous. The old tiles are often popping up due to rampant tree root growth. It's apparently hard to jog on the sidewalks of some neighborhoods. But I couldn't get enough of them.
Addendum on February 6--I don't know if I am bad luck, or what, but since this blog post, not one but two bookstores mentioned here have announced their closing. First Outwrite Books in Midtown shut their doors, and now Blue Elephant has announced their closing in mid-March. Perhaps visiting the ghosts of bookstores past in Atlanta disturbed the bookselling spirits. Or perhaps it was just a question of timing. I'm sad.
Hello. This is my blog for the Boswell Book Company, located on the East Side of Milwaukee at 2559 N. Downer Avenue at Webster Place, Milwaukee WI 53211.
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