Saturday, June 30, 2012

Saturday Gift Post--Destination London.

Being that it's bicycle race day, and three days before the release of Chris Cleave's Gold, and just weeks before the Olympics, it seems like a good day to talk about our new London table.

There isn't as much London stuff as their as Paris, but we decided to run with the "Keep Calm and Carry On" theme that's been so successful in the store for the last couple of years. The Peter Pauper journals and cards have been selling out pretty much as quickly as we could restock them. When I saw a more extensive collection from Wild Wolf, we picked up the tote bags, pencil cases, mugs, and yet another journal.

Galison brought out a collection of London journals and sticky notes. And we're featuring our British themed string puppets. You can frog, clown, and British policeman in the photo below.

The books featured include an assortment of Olympics titles, in addition to several books about London. And once it's out on Tuesday, we'll also have a pile of Gold.

Three interesting Olympics books:

1. Igniting the Flame: America's First Olympic Team, by Jim Reisler (Lyons Press). Fourteen American men competed at the first modern Olympics, which was in 1896.

2. Olympic Visions: Images of the Game Through History, by Mike O'Mahony (Reaktion). An analysis of the promotional photos, posters, magazine covers, and other visual images of the Olympics.

3. A Passion for Victory: The Story of the Olympics in Ancient and Early Modern Times, by Benson Bobrick. Benson Bobrick's favorite Olympic athlete is Jesse Owens. PS--this is a book for kids, but Bobrick also writes books for adults. His forthcoming title is The Caliph's Splendor, coming August 14.

And now to study some of our featured titles. I'm being interviewed about Olympics books on Monday.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Tomorrow (June 30) is The Downer Classic Pro Criterium Bike Race.

It's time to announce our July events via email. But as I was running late, today's newsletter focused on tomorrow's bicycle race, tickets for Chris Cleave, and our book club contest for Robert Goolrick. Here's the info about the bike race.

Tomorrow is the Downer Classic Pro Criterium. If you love bike races, you won't want to miss it. If you love parking a block from our store, you might want to delay your trip until Sunday.

Streets begin closing at 8 am and will stay closed until 10 pm. If you do want to park, my suggestion is to head south and west. There are a good number of spots around Eastcastle, and even more closer to Maryland Avenue Montessori School. The buses are also rerouted. But if you're walking here, you should have no problem.

Looking for some kid-friendly fun? The Downer Classic has it. There's a kids' activity area sponsored by St. Mark's Episcopal (my apologies to all--I originally wrote Lutheran) and Church in the City. A scavenger hunt will send you all over the shopping district, and let me say that we have excellent swag this year. And finally, there are kids' races too.

Registration for both the kids' races and the hunt begin at 10:30, and I should note two changes. Firstly, we will not be adding heats--when the age range hits capacity, it's full. But secondly, the prizes this year are Boswell gift cards, which some kids might like better than last year's prize (gift cards to a chain that is currently advertising cheap alcoholic drinks on billboards around town.)

This race is a big deal, the crown jewel in the Tour of America's Dairyland series, with stops in eleven different cities. We've got a dasher board scheduled for our event with Chris Cleave. You know that his new book is about the world of competitive cycling? Well, it's also about a girl with leukemia, which is why The Pablove Foundation is sponsoring it. Oh, I should just link to the email newsletter.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sequel or Not? A Contemplation of Alexandra Fuller (Plus a Little More Sapphire), and A Note on the New Format for Our Event, a Conversation with Lake Effect's Mitch Teich on Tuesday, July 10, 7 pm.

So I’m at the Sapphire event last night and at each Q&A, there’s the question, “Why did you write a sequel to Push?” And Sapphire says that the question is asked so much that it’s in the reader’s guide, but her answer starts with “This is not a sequel. A sequel would be about Precious. This is the story of Abdul, Precious’s son.”

Now I know that the second time the question was asked, the attendee was actually asking a different question, which was, “When you were writing Push, did you know there was a story about Abdul waiting to be written, and how much did you know about him? Did you know about his ordeal? Did you see the story as the other side of childhood abuse? “ Every novel raises more questions, doesn’t it, and so often, readers ask authors to write more about their favorite characters.

But Sapphire’s statement is valid. Is that a sequel? Or is it more of a cycle? I thought immediately of Sebastian Barry, I think there are lots of examples of this, and if I wasn’t spending all day juggling author dates for fall (we’ve got a little collision going in mid September—I’m hoping to sort it out by tomorrow), I’d do more research on novel cycles about relatives. Please feel free to comment on the blog with examples.

This is a phenomenon that is not limited to novels of course. There’s a storied history of memoirs where installments cover different members of a family. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, was followed by Half-Broke Horses, which focused on Walls’s grandmother. In a sense, this example is a hybrid, as one was a memoir and the other a biographical novel. But Augusten Burroughs’s Running with Scissors, his “mother” novel, was followed several books later by A Wolf at the Table, his “father” novel. One interesting thing about that pair of books was different his father was portrayed from one memoir to another. And of course the tone was completely different too.

And lo and behold, I’ve just finished reading a memoir that is another sterling example of this phenomenon. It’s Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, by Alexandra Fuller. Released last year by Penguin Press (coincidentally, the same imprint that published Sapphire’s The Kid), it came out this week from Penguin on Tuesday, and Fuller will be appearing at Boswell on Tuesday, July 10.

Fuller made a name for herself with Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, a memoir of growing up in Africa, moving from country to country as the governments collapsed, finally landing in Zambia, where the family now ran a fish and banana farm.

Let’s just say Fuller’s mom Nicola wasn’t too keen of what she calls “the awful book.” Yes, it’s sort of a “she who must not be named” situation. So after a few detours—Alexandra Fuller wrote about the family’s neighbor in Scribbling the Cat, and detoured to a story closer to her current Wyoming home in The Legend of Colton H. Bryant. But she decided to return to the family, deciding that Nicola Fuller of Central Africa was simply too big a character to be limited to one story, and rather than be a supporting role, she was worthy of center stage.

The new book is part history, part travel tale, as Fuller retraces her mom’s steps, from the Scottish Highlands (her Mom considers herself one million percent Scottish) to a class reunion in the Kenyan tourist town of Mombosa, just after the bombing of a hotel.

The story is funny in places, disturbing in others. It’s chronological, but Fuller, by jumping back and forth from present to past, gives it a modern feel, almost like we’re sharing stories on the farm, drinks in our hands. Fuller does a surprising job of giving us empathy for a tough family, fighting on the wrong side of the Rhodesian war (remember, they were pretty much ostracized by the world for this). Hey, we as readers can forgive a child living through this, but the parents?

As Fuller notes, everyone’s a victim in memoirs. We were all Germans against Hitler, Jews that didn’t collaborate, Vietnamese that were bombed. When you write about an aggressor, you risk alienating readers, don’t you? But redemptive really is the word for this story. Nicola is human, amusingly, agonizingly, frustratingly, angrily, lovingly human.

And that, in a sense, brings me back to Sapphire. It’s so much harder to read about Abdul, the aggressor, the young black male, the boy who wants to be a star instead of the girl who wants to be loved. Unlike Fuller, Sapphire had to deal with some tough reviews on her new book, although interestingly, the three major British papers had universal raves. So is Abdul (or JJ) redeemed by art? That is the question. Interestingly enough, the folks who really get into this book are the caregivers and social service workers. Almost everyone I've talked to who really connected with the story was a teacher, an AIDS nurse, a social worker, or a volunteer coordinator.

Fuller, on the other hand, has had pretty much universal love for Cocktail Hour. Here are a few reviews:
The Sunday New York Times review from Dominique Browinng
David Robson in the Telegraph
Binka Le Breton in the Washington Post
Robin Vidimos profiles the author in the Denver Post, tieing into her hardcover Tattered Cover event.

So one more thing. This was originally going to be a straight reading/talk/signing, and then I started speaking to Mitch Teich at WUWM's Lake Effect about how well the Eva Gabrielsson went. He told me how much he enjoyed it and how he’d love to try this again. And I thought about how I didn’t actually get to see the event, because I was in New York. We looked at the schedule, and Teich talked about how Fuller’s book helped him understand how rich memoir could be. It was a seminal, ground-changing story for him. And we said, heck, let’s see if we can make this work.

And I think it will! See you there.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sapphire Update-I'm Attending Two Events Today for the Author of The Kid.

Always interested in trying something different, we asked the poet/artist/novelist if she would appear at Reader's Choice at 5 pm, on the same day as our event. With all the social services in the area and Carla's outreach to teachers, it was a lovely early evening (as opposed to our event at 7 pm, which is later in the evening). Sapphire is eloquent talking about social services and the cycle of abuse present in her novels Push (Precious) and The Kid It's not to late for you to rush over and here her talk at Boswell. And both Reader's Choice and Boswell will have signed copies afterwards.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Boswell's Best Memoir Roundup, with Some Asides.

I would like to say that I thought long and hard about this blog post. But I have to admit that I've been focusing on all sorts of crazy things that have nothing to do with the blog post, like booking events in the fall (lots of smaller things--nothing I'm going to break the fourth wall to crow about right now) and finishing up our tax audit (no scares there) and ordering holiday cards (had a rant ready on customers who get made when you don't say "Christmas" but then wondered why a card filled with Christian iconography said "Season's Greetings") and then went on a detour about whether we should have book clubs setting up regular meetings here when nobody in the group buys books from us.

And it doesn't help in the catching up department that yesterday I left early (for me) to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at the Downer, the newest film from the director Shakespeare in Love. It's very sweet and has Judi Dench and Maggie Smith and various young and beautiful Indian actors and actresses to be smitten with. What more could you ask for?

It turns out they changed the name of Deborah Maggoch's book, which was originally called These Foolish Things. I guess that is pretty smart, though it drives me crazy when I know the book, and doesn't bother me at all when I don't. It turns out that The Intouchables, the other film playing at the Downer Theatre, also had a tie-in book, but that book is called A Second Wind, not The Intouchables.

It's a memoir. Speaking of memoirs...

I'm happy to say that most of the books that we feature on Boswell's Best usually get the attention we expect; there actually are not too many overlooked gems. But as one of our customers noted to me in an email, one can't keep track of everythning, and it's nice to have a bookseller pointing things out. Here are three memoirs that I noticed in the Boswell's Best section (20% off, at least through next Monday) that had already been on my radar.

Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails, a memoir by Anthony Swofford (Twelve).
The author of Jarhead (successful) and the novel Exit A (not as much) returns to tell what happened after his success. A sibling lost to cancer, a divorce, and a bit of a downward spiral of excess followed. He turns to his father for support, only they don’t have that kind of relationship. While Kakutani in The New York Times compares it to Jarhead a lot, and finds it less, well, “gainly,” she is a strong advocate of his talent for prose. I’m afraid to say that nobody will be happy with me, however, for posting this Washington Post review by Charles Bray, certainly nobody who is working with Swofford. My apologies to all. Hey, I didn’t write it.

Yes, Chef, by Marcus Samuelsson (Random House).
Who knew that chef wunderkind Samuelsson ‘s backstory of how he got from Ethiopia to Sweden? Everyone but me, likely.  By the age of 24, his Aquavit earned him a coveted three-star rating from The New York Times. But an outpost in Minneapolis did not work out at all, and he took a left turn in terms of cuisine with the launch of Red Rooster in Harlem. Now there’s no other writing credits in the book, but according to Mr. S. Veronica Chambers put “the fine touch on the words.” One wonders when the co-writer gets the credit and when she is left out. Dwight Garner in The New York Times certainly knew that Chambers read the book. Do readers decide not to read a book because of cowriter? Are there studies? This fascinates me. Jason’s wife Melissa read it and gave Yes, Chef a thumb’s up. But I admit I got bored during his season of Top Chef Masters. And I don’t understand the complaint that a restaurant in Harlem shouldn’t charge so much for fried chicken. I want to read this, but I haven't yet.

Full Body Burdern: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats , by Kristen Iverson (Crown). A young woman who grows up in the shadow of a (secret) nuclear weapons plant sees the destructive power of secrets in both government and her own family. She learns of a fire that came close to a nuclear chain reaction. And she uncovers detailed accounts of the government’s attempt to conceal the toxic and nuclear wastes released by the plant. Note this is paraphrased, but the rule that we booksellers live by is that promotional copy is meant to be copied. Nobody’s going to accuse you of plagiarizing if you’re trying to sell the darn book. I heard Iverson interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air. No surprise, this is just the kind of story that Gross would get into. Drama-y.

And now to figure out if one can reink a Dennison 210 price stamper for less than the cost of the stamper itself. Right now my bet's on no.

Monday, June 25, 2012

What's Going on This Week at Boswell? June 25-July 1, 2012 Sapphire, Matthew Flynn, Joy Stocke and Angie Brenner.

Three great events this week, a top poet/performance artist/novelist, a well-known local lawyer/mover/shaker and do it yourself tour that celebrates Turkish culture, taking the two authors from coast (Pasadena) to coast (Princeton).

Tuesday, June 26, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Quarles and Brady litigation partner Matt Flynn, author of Pryme Knumber.
Bernie Weber is an ordinary 15-yr-old high school student. But when Washington, the CIA, and Yale discover his extraordinary gift for factoring prime numbers, they realize he could be the world’s best codebreaker. When they all invade Milwaukee with the same mission—to kidnap and force him to help—they think it will be an easy task. However, the people of Milwaukee have a different idea: hide Bernie Weber.

More on the Shepherd Express website, where Pryme Knumber was this week's Book Preview.

Wednesday, June 27, 7 pm., at Boswell:
Sapphire, author of The Kid.
Sapphire’s new novel, The Kid, introduces us to Abdul, son of the unlikely heroine of Push (adapted into the 2009 film, Precious). Academically excelling and on track to be the first member of his family to attend college, Abdul’s future tragically crumbles when his mother dies. Now an HIV/AIDS orphan, he is shuffled through foster homes and into a world too much like the one his mother fought to save him from.

There's no question about it--this is not an easy book, but the cycle of sexual abuse is not an easy subject. Many reviews had trouble coming to terms with the graphic and difficult nature of the story.

I had to go outside the United States to find a critic who really connected with the work. Of course this is a total generalization, but please allow me that conceit. I wonder if that is partly because there can be a collective guilt about the subject.  So I turn to Bernadine Evaristo in The Observer, a London paper, who calls the writer, "brave, bold, and uncompromising," and notes that the "breathtaking velocity and visceral power of her prose soars off the page."

I thought I might have saved my original write up of Push, back in 1996 when it was originally published. I saw it as almost a performance piece, with Sapphire playing all the parts. One can only imagine the author bringing this book to life at our podium--however you were affected by the The Kid, I can assure you that this will be a very special event, not to be missed.

And don't forget, Sapphire is also signing at Reader's Choice from 5 to 5:45 pm, at 1950 North Dr. Martin Luther King Junior Drive. That event is a signing only--purchases from Readers Choice are welcome at our store if you'd like to hear Sapphire's presentation. For more info, call them at (414) 265-2003.

Thursday, June 28, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Joy Stocke and Angie Brenner, authors of Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses and Saints.
When Joy Stocke and Angie Brenner meet on the balcony of a guesthouse in a small resort town on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, they think they have only a mutual friend and a summer dream in common. Soon, they discover a shared love of travel, history, culture, cuisine, and literature; and they begin a ten-year odyssey through Turkey.

Sheila O'Connor in offers this praise: "Through vivid prose, Stocke and Brenner offer a fresh perspective on a culture usually written about from a male point of view. With intuition, experience, and a bit of serendipity, they reveal the heart and soul of Turkey and find friendship and love in the most unlikely places."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

What's Selling this Week at Boswell? Horses, Future Films, and Dueling Literary Heavyweights Ford and Eggers.

Hardcover fiction:
1. Canada, by Richard Ford
2. A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers
3. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
4. Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
5. Sacré Bleu, by Christopher Moore

It's a new fight for #1. The last few weeks have all been about Richard Ford's Canada. And I think it's not just about the amazing reviews. One thing I've noticed is that very few writers leave Knopf when they are on an upswing. They are usually the ones that grab the writer from another house and bring them to a new level of success. Was it a fair trade that they picked up Nell Freudenberger from Ecco? Well, they each did get front page New York Times Book Review reviews. Here's an interview with Ford in The Daily Beast.

If you're talking about must haves, however, Dave Eggers's new novel, A Hologram for the King is #1 on many levels. McSweeeneys windowed the ebook, and delivered on an affordable and beautiful physical book. Am I buying one for myself? Yes I am. It's really hard to pass on the McSweeney quality. And the Michiko Kakutani review was great. Find it on The New York Times interview.

Hardcover nonfiction:
1. Front Burner, by Kirk Lippold
2. Killing the Messenger, by Thomas Peele
3. Barack Obama, by David Maraniss
4. The Second World War, by Anthony Beevor
5. Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman

Journalists love journalism, and that's one reason why we had a nice amount of press for Killing the Messenger, Peel's book on the Chauncey Bailey's murder, during his coverage of the Yusuf Bey Black Muslim cult. Folks compared this book to Jon Krakauer of Under the Banner of Heaven to me, but it was only as I got to know the book better, helped by several enthusiastic bookseller reads, that I really understood the parallels. Like Krakauer's coverage of the ELDS group, Bey was a spinoff of the Black Muslims, not adherents to Elijah Muhummand's original group, with a leader taking in multiple spirit wives (though explained in different language), some of them teenagers.

Plus the reads and reviews were great, which also compares well with Under the Banner of Heaven. Missed our event on Friday but wish you hadn't? Here's an interview with Peele on CBS News.

Paperback fiction:
1. Fifty Shades Darker, by E.L. James
2. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
3. Fifty Shades Freed, by E.L. James
4. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
5. We the Drowned, by Carsten Jensen

So great to see a nice paperback sale on Carsten Jensen's epic novel, We the Drowned, which several Boswellians enjoyed so much in hardcover. It's tourist season, and I asked a Danish couple about whether they had read the book. They had not, but it just didn't feel right for a Wisconsinite to hand-sell a Danish national treasure to natives. It would be like asking them to try kringles.

So we've proven Peter Behrens wrong when he wrote in the Washington Post, "When was the last time you relished sitting down with a 678-page Danish novel? We, the Drowned might just be too much book to tote to the beach next summer, but it's powerful reading for a long winter's night." Contrary to expectations, we're getting folks to take it to the beach!

Paperback nonfiction:
1. Sugarhouse, by Matthew Batt
2. Mom Knows, by Catherine Tuerk
3. In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson
4. Eighty Dollar Champion, by Elizabeth Lettis
5. Blue Nights, by Joan Didion

We've had a nice season of horse books, but the one that is popping this week is Eighty Dollar Champion:  Snowman, The Horse That Inspired a Nation, by Elizabeth Lettis. Lettis chronicles the story of Harry de Leyer, the Dutchman who found a champion show jumper at a Long island slaughterhouse. Sherry Ross writes in the New Jersey Star-Ledger that this story is a must for any horse lover's library.

Books for kids:
1. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
2. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
3. I am a Bunny, by Richard Scarrey and Ole Rissom
4. The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak
5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

Not sure if the increased sales of The Book Thief are related to the developing film news. The Christian Science Monitor notes that recently The Book Thief got a director, Downton Abbey's Brian Percival.  My suspicion is that it will come out next year.

Regarding next week's bestsellers, we turn to the Journal Sentinel. We expect to see another nice pop for David Maraniss's Barack Obama bio. Colette Bancroft of the Tamba Bay Times calls it a richly nuanced picture of a young man who was charming, but in many ways wary and guarded, yet increasingly passionate about politics." Plus there's a nice shout out to the two Sapphire events on Wednesday, June 27.  Our ad wound up on page 9, talking up Alexandra Fuller, Chris Cleave, and David Maraniss. It's not on the book page, but it is next to the Summerfest schedule. As long as folks have their appointment books (devices) at hand, maybe they will enter some more listings.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Saturday Gift Post--Lots of Restocking, plus an Old Friend Returns.

This year we didn't find too many gift items at Book Expo. It felt to me that there were fewer gift vendors. The card line Fresh Frances was there, but we'd already been buying from them. Sometimes it's nice to see the new items in person, as was the case for Out of Print clothing. We haven't gotten the Jane Eyre shirt we ordered at the show yet; I'm hoping it will come in before our talk with Sheila "Becoming Jane Eyre" Kohler talk on July 9.

But one card vendor I hadn't really bought from before was Fotofolio. Their per item minimums are a little high for us at sixes, whereas most of the other vendors we buy from are three to four, for boxed cards at least. We carried Fotofolio over the years at Schwartz, but minimums weren't really an issue, as we divided up most shipments to an average of four stores. But at Boswell, an order of six boxed cards means I have to keep three in overstock, and it also affects my turn.

But Lucy of Buffalo's wonderful Talking Leaves told me she does very well by the line. She does a nice-sized order at the show and spaces out shipments over the year. How organized! I tend to run around, scrampling for product, though I did do my Accoutrements Christmas order in February, as last year I forgot. So with her encouragement, I put something together.

They have some nice licenses, with William Wegman being the probably the most likely to sell quickly. I bought an assortment of cards, and was also attracted to their 3D rulers. Unlike the other vendors I've seen with this kind of thing, the images were a little more sophisticated, with artwork from Da Vinci and Van Gogh, and photos from Eadweard Muybridge. His work really works well on rulers.

Most of the things we brought in are put out; a few are being staged for later. Anne just put together our London display. We're hoping to do with London what we did with Paris last year. But don't count out another Paris display--we've already booked an French memoir called Paris: A Love Story, for September 5.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Three Indie Next Picks for July That We Also Love--Gold, The Age of Miracles, and Monkey Mind.

Though I don't write about them every month, we are still keeping up with our Indie Bound section, highlighting the titles that are recommended by booksellers around the country. Last month, several booksellers commented that the texture of the brochure changed. I hope that they saved money on this change, because if the coordinators think this was an improvement, the consensus is that it wasn't.

We're also still highlighting our events that are Indie Next picks with a front page label. For the second time this year, we're hosting a #1 pick author. Chris Cleave, of Little Bee fame, is coming on Monday, June 16 for his new book Gold. We're doing a ticketed fundraiser for the event. If you've heard anything about the book, you'll understand why our partner is Pablove, a nonprofit that helps kids with cancer and their caregivers. If you don't know much about the book, perhaps it's time to read Bill's review.

#1 Pick: Gold: A Novel, by Chris Cleave (Simon and Schuster, on sale July 3rd)
“Cleave is one of the luminaries of modern fiction and his talent shines just as brightly as the title of Gold. In a novel based on the world of competitive cycling, Cleave offers all of the trauma, dedication, and courage of that elite society, but more importantly, shows us those same attributes in the lives of his other characters, particularly eight-year-old Sophie, who suffers from leukemia. This is a novel that both inspires and informs, providing sadness and exhilaration in equal measure and showing empathy for the human condition. Gold is a reading experience not to be missed.” — Bill Cusumano, Nicola’s Books, Ann Arbor, MI

Needless to say, Gold is getting its own post. Heavens, Little Bee had about a dozen. Buy your ticket to our Chris Cleave talk here.

Folks who read the blog regularly know that I stop by Nicola's whenever I seemingly within 100 miles of Ann Arbor. Bill Cusumano's reading habits put mine to shame; I know this because we compared notes at Book Expo. What a resource to have read so many books!

I'm honored to note that Boswell got an entry in the July listings as well. Jason's been crazy about Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles. I will note just two other fans--Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times, and also our own Shane.

The Age of Miracles: A Novel, by Karen Thompson Walker (Random House, on sale next Tuesday, June 26th)
“The end of the world does not come with a bang but with a whisper in Walker’s wonderful debut novel. Earth’s rotation is slowing, the days are becoming longer, gravity mutates, radiation spikes, but still, life must go on. The narrator is 12-year-old Julia, and she chronicles everything she sees happening in the world around her, from shock and panic to people desperate to maintain normal routines. This is not a flashy, bombastic, apocalyptic novel, but rather the story of how a family manages through unimaginable circumstances.” — Jason Kennedy, Boswell Book Company

Another Boswell pick is Daniel Smith's Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety.

Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety, by Daniel Smith (Simon & Schuster, and I think this will also be out on or around July 3rd)
“This is the kind of memoir you’ve likely never read before. To be human is to understand what anxiety is, but few understand anxiety as a true mental disorder. Smith’s real strength is his ability to provide the reader with very clear descriptions of what it means to suffer from chronic anxiety in ways that are both bracingly honest and self-deprecatingly funny. For readers who suffer anxiety, the world just may feel a tiny less lonely; for others, the hope is that this book will give insight into, and compassion for, those who do.” — Jennifer Wills Geraedts, Beagle Books, Park Rapids, MN

In terms of geography, Minnesota is so close, but for someone in the southeast tip of Wisconsin, it feels a world away. Park Rapids is due west of Duluth. The family that owns Beagle Books and Bindery shares ownership with Sister Wolf Books, which is a seasonal bookstore outside of town. I'm told by sources that Park Rapids is notable for Itasca State Park, which is the source of the Mississippi River.

I think it's ok to link you to the July preview page.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different--Writers Like Sheila Kohler Don't Like to Repeat Themselves (Event on July 9).

One of the dilemmas of every writer, let alone publisher, is how creative to be when writing a book. If a writer jumps genre, or writes in a completely different subject or theme, he or she often has to build an audience from scratch. I’ve heard of so many mystery writers who long to end a series, but know that’s what pays the bills, but this is true as much for the well-known fantasy writer who publishes an epic, or the romantic suspense writer that tires of love and/or crime, or both.

This reminds me of my days obsessing over the Myers Briggs type indicator. One of the things I remember reading is about the two different types of people who make the best actors. Though I forget what they are, one was more like a Meryl Streep, who inhabited the part and became a different person in each movie. The other was more like a Sylvester Stallone, who pretty much played variations on his persona. The key on this is that the former needs critical accolades to become a success, while the latter can develop a commercial following that is review proof.

You can see the parallels in writing, can't you?

So many of the writers that do book talks and readings at Boswell subscribe to the challenge method of writing. I was thinking about Dean Bakopoulos and Patrick Somerville’s joint reading on July 11. Each of their new novels (My American Unhappiness, which I've gone on at length about This Bright River, which Shane adores) are different from their first ones (Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon and The Cradle). These writers are building a reputation on the quality of their work, not on the ability to repeat a satisfying customer experience.

And I chatted about this recently with Diana Abu-Jaber. Her early published work viewed life through the lens of Arab Americans. Her previous novel, Origin, was almost a literary thriller. But her most recent novel, Birds of Paradise, was a contemporary family drama, with the only clue to her earliest work being one childhood memory of Turkish coffee. When I asked her a bit about this, she noted, “Why would I want to do the same thing twice?”

Don Lee has also jumped from genre to genre in his work. After a collection of short stories, Yellow, he followed up with a thriller, a comic romp, and now a collegiate novel, The Collective, which not surprisingly, I love. Amusingly enough, Abu-Jaber and Lee drive the same editor crazy with their directional changes. Now if only the literary public used my method, which is to read anything that their editor, Alane Mason, acquires. Yes, that's a complete and unabashed suck up. But I still feel bad for messing up several appointments at Book Expo.

It’s not that this is so crazy—isn’t that why folks like Nan Talese and Reagan Arthur and Amy Einhorn have self-named imprints? Of course the trick is that they don’t actually acquire all the titles on their list, so a book might come from a junior editor with a different esthetic.

So now you’re wondering, is Daniel leading up to talk about an event (not that I already didn’t mention one) or this just a rambling blog post? It was actually inspired by the former, as I started meditating about this after reading The Bay of Foxes, the new novel by Sheila Kohler that arrives on Tuesday, June 26.

The new novel is a mysterious delight, clearly an homage to Patricia Highsmith. One of the characters, Enrico, even leaves one of Highsmith’s novels on the bed. The story is about Dawit, an Ethiopian émigré whose escaped from political prison (his family were muckety mucks; both were murdered during the violent Red Terror regime of Communist Mengistu Haile Mariam) to live on the streets of Paris.

Dawit meets M. at a café. A famous writer, akin to Marguerite Duras, I suppose. He’s read everything. She’s resting a bit on her laurels now. They start up a conversation and she invites him to stay with her. How could he say no?

It turns out that Dawit reminds her of a lover from her youth, and hopes that he’ll fill the bill. One gets the idea that this has happened before. But Dawit can’t even fake physical attraction for her, as his erotic urges are all male directed. That said, she believes he will change in time, and meanwhile gives him an allowance and keeps him on as a sort of personal assistant.

Well of course you know that this is not going to end well, and the appearance of Enrico, that sexually confused red-haired, married, Italian architect is not going to help. I don’t like to give too much away in suspense novels, but I can say that the story was both engaging and disturbing, completely different from the Ripley novels, but like them, a meditation on identity.

Booklist notes: “Kohler's ninth novel teems with deception, passion, and suspense, thanks to her finely realized characters, whose desires and flaws urge the sometimes predictable action forward.” Of course I wish I could remove the word predictable, but I agree that I was hoping for more of a twist in the ending. But that’s an issue with lots of novels—I’ve heard customers debating the ending of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl as well.

Library Journals’s take: “In an elegant and sensual style, Kohler creates a sensational novel whose audience will include--but will not be limited to--gay readers.” Wow, I never even considered this limiting, and that’s interesting to me, because I could write another essay on how a book I read with gay themes could have opened up to a wider readership. But that’s for another day.

The thing about writers who change course with various books is that they mostly have underlying themes that continue throughout their work. I’ve read that Kohler is very interested in the violence that grows out of intimate relationships, and the devastating effects of brutal regimes. And that makes this far more than a novel cut from the Highsmith template.

Just to drive my point home about how different Kohler’s style can be, our official event for The Bay of Foxes is Monday, July 9, 7 pm, at Boswell, but we’re actually hosting a mini-discussion at 6 pm for a prior book by Kohler, Becoming Jane Eyre, at 6. Kohler’s novel about the Bronte sisters was called “A beautiful complement to Bronte's masterpiece” by Kirkus. And you may know that Jane helps organize the Cardinal Strich adult literature class and this session they’ve been reading Jane Eyre with Jo McReynolds. So we had to ask Kohler if she’d discuss her knowledge of the Brontes with the class, right?

So Becoming Jane Eyre at 6, The Bay of Foxes at 7, on Monday, July 9, at Boswell*. I’ve heard from one ofour customers, who did the Bennington creative writing MFA that Kohler is a fabulous speaker. I can’t always say this in advance, but I’m pretty positive all attendees are going to have a great time. No 45 minutes of straightforward reading, followed by questions about what room the author writes in this time!

To put it another way, Kohler is doing her own warmup act.

*Here are the rest of Kohler's readings.
Thursday, June 28, 7 pm
New York City
Corner Bookstore

Tuesday, July 10, 7 pm
St. Louis
Left Bank Books

Wednesday, July 11, 7 pm
The Book Cellar

Thursday, July 12, 7 pm
Books and Company

Thursday, June 19, 7 pm
Watermark Books and Cafe

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Link to a New Boswell Profile, a Pedestrian Confronts His Bookstore's Automotive Heritage.

Just recently I noticed that our profile in Wisconsin Academy of Sciences Arts and Letters was posted in the spring issue. As always, I look back on things I said question my own comments. Did I say that? What was I thinking?
On the other hand, for some reason, the editor eliminated all my possessives when I listed other bookstores. I certainly know that the esteemed Chicago chain was Kroch's and Brentano's, and not Kroch and Brentano. If only someone had double-checked with me.

One thing we often mention is that our space started as a car dealership. We are certainly not the other bookstore to have that heritage--I believe the newish space that Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle moved into was also once automotively inclined.

But what I never quite paid attention to was that our building has an beautiful carved frieze (that's what it's called, right?) with an automotive motif. Pretty cool, no?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What are You Doing on for the Fourth of July Weekend?

Parades, fireworks, picnics, we sure have a idyllic vision of July Fourth weekend. The beaches and parks fill up, folks head to their cabins and lake homes, and most of the time, there’s a long weekend if you’re not in retail. And in Milwaukee, there’s Summerfest too. We tend not to book too many events during the period, not just because people are away (look at our packed schedule for the rest of the month) but because the news hole is full for events during Summerfest—there’s simply too much going on for any of our traveling authors to get any press at all.

And because it is such an outdoor holiday without a lot of gift giving, not much is published for the season. There are a few cookbooks, most notably this year, Martha's American Food: A Celebration of Our Nation's Most Treasured Dishes, from Coast to Coast, which was published last April to cover Memorial through Labor Day. And every few years we will cobble together some books about American history, a flag book, a pocket Constitution, and quirky book on fireworks.

But interestingly enough, the novels set during this period, at least the ones I read, tend to play off the holiday in contrary ways. Instead of the holiday bringing families together, they are torn asunder.

Take Joshua Henkin’s The World Without You, just released. It’s his follow-up to the New York Times notable novel, Matrimony, and in some ways, it could be titled Matrimony II: The Next Generation. Marilyn and David have gathered the family of the July Fourth weekend at their bucolic home in Lenox, Massachusetts (that’s the Berkshires, for Midwesterners and other folks like me who haven’t been to Jacob’s Pillow).

But the reason for the gathering is a memorial to Leo, their journalist son who died the year before. And it’s worse than that—they don’t want to tell their three surviving daughters and one daughter-in-law that they are splitting up.

And that’s just the beginning of the trouble. Their oldest, Clarissa, has gotten the baby bug, and with her on the verge of forty, things aren’t going well. Their youngest, Noelle, already has four sons with her husband Amram (nee Arthur) and their move to Israel and Orthodox Judaism has left the rest of the family scrambling to accommodate them. And the middle child Lily? She wants no part of marriage or children with her partner Malcolm; she feels betrayed by one sibling and continually exasperated by the other.

Oh, and Leo’s widow Thisbe and her son Calder are sort of lost in the shuffle. Nobody’s happy that they moved to California, and they’ll probably be less happy when they find out she’s got a new boyfriend.

That’s the setup, and of course allegiances shift, tempers flare, and decisions, once confident, begin to waver. I like the way Henkin plays with family dynamics, and there’s a graceful humor that while not as manic comic as Jonathan Tropper or as spirited as Cathleen Schine (to note two authors who have had success following fractured Tribes), has a lightheartedness in its dysfunction, compared to say, Franzen. And of course I also thought about The Big Chill as I was reading this, and other novels where the unifying protagonist is, well, gone.

But their Fourth of July is nothing compared to the Dunnes of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, only out for a couple of weeks and already #2 on The New York Times bestseller list.. Flynn, as folks might know, is also the author of Sharp Objects and Dark Places, and has received acclaim from Stephen King and Kate Atkinson.

Nick Dunne and Amy Elliott meet cute in New York. They’re both writers, and she’s the inspiration for a series of Amazing Amy novels that have left her family quite comfortable, and Nick and Amy with a row house on the Brooklyn promenade.

But then they each lose their jobs in succession, the Amy series hits a rough patch, Nick’s dad deteriorates from Alzheimer’s, and his mom is diagnosed with cancer. With no other options, they head back to a suburban Hannibal, Missouri for a life of domestic anti-bliss, with Nick opening a bar with the last of Amy’s trust fund, and Amy choosing to be a housewife.

It’s Fourth of July weekend, and Nick gets a call at the bar from a neighbor. The door is open, the cat’s on the stoop, and Amy is gone. He heads back home and slowly realizes that he’s the prime suspect. But there are some clues, mostly in the form of an anniversary treasure hunt that Amy’s put together.

The story is told with Nick’s narrative punctuated with entries from Amy’s diary. And then we realize that there are a lot of change-ups in store, as Flynn has put the “psycho” back in psychological thriller. This is Scenes from a Marriage on acid, the portrait of a very unpleasant couple. Not the folks you want to picnic with. But it’s also a fun joyride, with sympathies careening from one spouse to the other, and a delightful parody of Nancy Grace to boot.

What’s fascinating about this thriller is at its core, it’s as much about marriage, couple hood, and parenting choices as Henkin’s novel. We make decisions about folks when we’re dating, we try to become the person they want, they do the same, and we’re all disappointed when reality sets in.

Both are pretty swell books that touch on similar themes, and make great reads for your July Fourth vacation. It’s just a question of how distorted you want your lens—magnified but realistic, or fun house mirror.

Monday, June 18, 2012

What's Going on the Week of June 18-24 at Boswell? Matthew Batt, Catherine Tuerk, Thomas Peele.

Wednesday, June 20, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Matthew Batt, author of Sugarhouse: Turning the Neighborhood Crack House into Our Home Sweet Home.

Hey, three posts about Sugarhouse in one week?  But I need to update you. We got our copies today, and they went on our author case, in our window, and on a table by the door, that offers out coasters and temporary tattoos to interested parties. And note that you can also make nice Rhoda-Morgenstern-friendly room dividers out of the coaters, but I should warn you that this craft project is not easy. It took me quite a while to punch holes in the coasters, and even longer to string the wire.

Here's Kevin Canfield's take on the book in the Star Tribune: "In a media climate with an epidemic-level glut of books, TV shows, magazines, blogs and Twitter feeds devoted to homeownership, Matthew Batt's new memoir stands out for its allusive, amusing depiction of house-hunting hell." He likes the Yeatsy parts the best.

Thursday, June 21, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Catherine Tuerk, author of Mom Knows: Reflections on Love, Gay Pride and Taking Action.

Catherine Tuerk was inspired by her son's coming out to be a leader in the PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) community, enventually becoming president of the Metro DC chapter. Hey, I have at least two friends who probably know her.

A pscyhotherapist in private practice, she is also the co-founder and past co-director of the Gender and Sexuality Advocacy and Education Program at the Children’s National Medical Center, she now serves that program as senior consultant.

Mom Knows is a lively and compelling selection from her writings of two decades, with this remarkable mother’s distinctive voice—frank and insightful, compassionate and hopeful—coming through strong and clear.

Our event is co-sponsored by Bronze Optical on 1568 North Farwell Avenue.

Friday, June 22, 7 pm, at Boswell: Thomas Peele, author of Killing the Messenger: A Story of Radical Faith, Racism's Backlash and the Assassination of a Journalist.

We interrupt this blogcast to offer a special report from Stacie:

"I'm partway through Thomas Peele's Killing the Messenger and it's absolutely fascinating. He does a great job at drawing the timeline of what led up to this one particular event, with each point on that timeline being detailed in a way that makes it clear to the reader how this country's racial and socioeconomic history set up the perfect stage for the emotional swindling of people more than ripe for it.

"As broadly informed as I like to think I am about the shameful U.S. history of race and religion, I'm equally astonished at the new things I learn about the roots of the Nation of Islam and its even stranger off-shoot sects (like the one the Beys in this book nurtured) as I am learning about the things this country only a few decades ago (like the Mayor of Memphis arresting postal workers in order to prevent them from delivering a newspaper to African American households offering jobs in Chicago).

"There is also a deep sadness I feel caught up in knowing that the same people who are preaching or inciting terrible violence and hatred, are doing so in response to exactly the same thing: terrible violence and hatred. Someone who deliberately bred together a people's identity crisis with cobbled-together bits from different religions makes a clear point when stating that there is no place for them in Christianity if they are treated so poorly by those who call themselves Christians. And, if you are an outcast, a non-white petty thief freshly out of prison, why wouldn't you find yourself drawn to someone who opens their arms to you; offering you a job, helping you stay clean and sober?

"While I'm still seeing all of these threads, carefully unraveled one at a time by a skillful journalist, get lain out, I am eager to discover just how they all weave together again into the braid of investigative reporting that makes up Killing the Messenger."

Here's Thomas Peele on Book TV.

And here's a link to several reviews and interviews.