Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What Was Once Local is Now National, as Julia Pandl's Memoir is Published by Algonquin. Our Event is Saturday, November 17, 2 pm, at the Shorewood Public Library.

I was recently chatting with a bookseller/proprietor at another bookstore and to my surprise, and she had read just about every buzz book that was out. I asked her if it was the case that she was doing this on purpose, or was she lucky enough that her interests intersected aggressively with the target market for these books. It was the latter, but more than that, she noted, these books needed her.

There are so many factors that go into deciding what to read. What’s an event? What could be an event? Has a publishing person asked me about it? Have I heard great comments from other booksellers, and figured out that jumpstarting some enthusiasm will help us sell more books? Was I just like my customers, and drawn to a book by a compelling review or interview? Did a jacket attract me? Do I have a long-standing love affair with the author? Or perhaps I am just trying to be contrary and show my individuality with the least sellable book I can find?

But another Boswell bookseller and I were having a talk about this and we agreed that there were some books we don’t read because they don’t need us. That’s true for a lot of local authors. Their friends don’t care what I think. Their family doesn’t care what I think.

So when I got the galley of Julia Pandl’s Memoir of the Sunday Brunch, all dressed up and ready to go in its new Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill packaging, I noted that this is one of those books that didn’t need me before, but it needs me now. Why? Because there are a lot of folks out there that don’t know the restaurant Pandl’s of Bayside. Julie’s ubiquitous in Milwaukee, and seems to know everyone, but despite sending the charm-o-meter off the charts, that still doesn’t radiate more than, say 200 miles.

And to be completely upfront, I noticed that in addition to Lanora of the recently departed Next Chapter, she thanked Boswell too. And that’s very kind. We had about three events altogether, and that involved a lot of write ups in email newsletters and blogs and all sorts of other things. We got to about the 250 book mark, and that didn't include our shared booth at the Wisconsin Restaurant Show.

Pandl is the youngest of nine kids. Her parents, George and Terry, raised most of them in the 4400 North block of Prospect. She calls that Milwaukee, but we all know that’s Shorewood. Just as she was pretty much the last kid left in the roost, the family decamped, first to Cedar Grove and then to Oosburg. It’s a story of many of family in the fiftes through the seventies, but you can imagine what it’s like when you’re the only kid that moves. Heck, she can’t say she wasn’t special.

And that meant a long commute to the restaurant in Bayside. Every kid had to work there, particularly for brunch, hence the title. Now that I have a family business of sorts, I imagine what it would be like to have children to do things like the receiving. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I actually do have friends at other stores whose kids worked at the business. It didn’t seem to generally go very well. (note: the original jacket of the book is at right.)

Maybe it’s a bookstore thing. But I can think of several stores that have passed successfully from parent to child. There's the Harry to David Schwartz transition, for example.

We learn that the move was a bit of a sore point between their parents. And as much as Julie fights with her dad and shows him doing things like trying to foist old Easter eggs on his customers by chopping them into egg salad, there’s a lot of love there too. If a small family can fight, a large family can really, really argue, but it gets so over the top that it’s comical.

And let’s say there’s a lot of eccentricity in the family.

Working in the restaurant builds her relationship with her dad in a way that nothing did before, particularly because it seems like from the memoir that her dad was pretty much always working. His idea of a vacation was the a restaurant convention, where it was acceptable to spend over a thousand dollars on dinner, but sinful to take potato chips from the mini bar.

And Julie realizes that the craziness at Pandl’s built that bond. And so the quandary is what to do when Dad retires? And so the other part of Julie’s story is about how she rebuilt the bond after a lot of water passed under a lot of bridges. And how did she build that bond? It was through church and a particularly charismatic priest, which led to a new ritual that of course involved dining out afterwards. For brunch.

And I didn’t realize that this was Father Tim, Anne’s beloved priest, who actually lived in the same apartment building as me many years ago.

So what do you know? I got a universal story of building and rebuilding family bonds and the joy that a local gets from knowing some of the characters. I was reminded a bit of Terry Ryan's memoir, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. And honestly you don’t have to know Father Tim to enjoy this book.

In celebration of the national publication, Pandl is doing several events in the Milwaukee area. We’re celebrating with an event at the Shorewood Public Library. Come join us for the literary homecoming on Saturday, November 17, 2 pm. The library is located at 3920 North Murray Avenue, only blocks from the old homestead at the 4400 block of North Prospect. Don’t forget to stop at Hayek’s for some candy on the way over.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Art, Fantasy, Imagination, and the "Hollow Earth" of the Barrowmans, Carole and John.

The first thing on everybody's mind is Hurricane Sandy.Our thoughts are with our friends with everyone in the book world who are dealing with the storm's effects.

A lot of folks were calling last night to make sure our event with Joan Walsh was still a go. In fact, she had already arrived in Milwaukee previous to the event, having friends in the area (and yes, we had a great time). I've checked with our other upcoming authors who were on tour, and nobody seemed to be coming from the east coast, with the exception of Orson Scott Card, who was connecting in Atlanta, but there appear to be no delays in that area. And now onto today's post for John and Carole Barrowman's new novel, Hollow Earth.

So the first problem when the Barrowman siblings write a novel like Hollow Earth (on sale today, October 30) together is that if you say "John and Carole E. Barrowman," it sounds like they are married. Saying John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman implies a slightly less close relationship, but it's clunky. So at least for now, I'm going with the Barrowman siblings.

Locals know that Carole is a professor at Alverno College, teaching in the English department and directing the relatively new creative writing program. She is also know for her book criticism at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (focusing on mysteries and speculative novels), as well as her regular appearances on Morning Blend. We've hosted her at Boswell twice, once for co-writing Barrowman's second memoir, I Am What I Am, and once as part of a group event with some of the writers from Chicks Dig Timelords.

And her brother John? Best known for his role as Captain Jack Harkness in "Doctor Who" and "Torchwood," he's also been featured in several American television shows, recorded several music albums, and had lead roles in musicals both on New York's Broadway and London's West End.

With a pedigree like that, you can imagine what their interests would be. The book would have both fantastical and mystery elements. It would celebrate creativity and the arts. And it would likely feature a pair of close siblings. And you'd be right. And there would be a medley of show tunes!

Matt and Emily Calder live with their mom Sandie in London, where she works as an artist. Their dad has long ago run off. But the twins have a secret--they know they can bring artwork to life. It turns out that these are the skills of Animares, a gifted line of artists that have been known throughout history. And there are also Guardians, who pair off with Animares to watch over them. Guardians have special powers too, of the empathic variety. But the rule is that Guardians and Animares must never have children together, but guess what? Matt and Em's father was a Guardian.

So the secret's out that Matt and Em's powers are developing (they usually don't fully mature until the age of 16) and so now there are evil forces after them, battling bands who either want to stop or harness their powers. And the worst of the bunch are the Hollow Earth Society, who wants to find the portal to the world where all the demons go after they vanish from artistic creation.

Sandie and the twins are whisked off to an island off the coast of Scotland, where they are reunited with their grandfather and some family friends, including Zach, a deaf kid of their age who is a science geek. The twins of course pick up sign language easily, but better than that, Em figures out she can communicate telepathically.

So of course the stage is set. Three curious kids. Ominous villains. And things will get worse before they get better, because pretty much everyone wants Matt and Em, either to protect them, study them, use them, or destroy them.

The Barrowmans started with a metaphor for imagination and creativity and took it to the the nth degree. In a way, an artist of any kind (writer, painter, musician, actor) takes the artificial and makes it real. And Hollow Earth proclaims that this power can change the world, and of course we know it really can. All this wrapped around a fun adventure. Sure it's a bit violent, but one of the ways you can tell this is positioned as a middle grade and not a young adult novel is that the good people are, at least to my knowledge, gravely hurt but rarely killed. Jump the age range another four years and there would be a lot more carnage.

Matt and Em's relationship is at the core of the story, and you can guess that the Barrowmans put a bit of themselves into the Hollow Earth siblings. They are incredibly protective of each other, but not above teasing. When one is afraid, the other is strong. And they also learn that they can accomplish great things when they collaborate, but they can also do great things on their own, just like in life.

Nowadays a lot of first books in a series have cliffhanger endings. But it's also not unusual for them to be self-contained, but with unanswered questions, and Hollow Earth follows the latter path. I'm grateful for that, because it allows folks who are never going to get through a three, four, or increasingly seven-to-nine novel experience and can still have a satisfying reading experience.

John and Carole are appearing at Alverno College's Wehr Hall on Friday, November 2, 7 pm. The hall is located at 4100 W. Morgan Ave. Because Alverno provided the space to us as part of their school programming with no charge, we are not ticketing this event. Space is limited to 350, but if it fills up, don't worry, you'll still be able to get a book signed by John and Carole. But if you do want to come, I'd get there early, certainly by 6:30. Buy your copy of Hollow Earth from us and pass the time in a world of Animares and Guardians.

I'm expecting the show tune medley in the sequel. Don't let me down, Barrowman siblings!

Monday, October 29, 2012

What's Going on This Week at Boswell? A Video-Packed Preview of Events with Joan Walsh, Michelle Hodkin, Paul Geenen, Orson Scott Card, Anna Schmidt, and the Barrowman Siblings, Paul and Carole.

Several of our authors are touring his week. It's possible that some of our events will be affected by the storm on the east coast. I'll keep you posted, most likely on Facebook.

Monday, October 29, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Joan Walsh, author of What's the Matter with White People?: Why We Long for a Golden Age That Never Was.

In What's the Matter with White People?, popular Salon columnist Joan Walsh argues that the biggest divide in America today is not about party or ideology, but about two competing narratives for why everything has fallen apart since the 1970s. By using her own family’s story, she connects the dots of American economic decline through the political and social changes that began over 40 years ago and continues today. Leaving neither party spared, Walsh attempts to call onto the carpet how each is responsible for a role in the demise of unions, the stagnation of middle-class wages, the extension of the right's "Southern Strategy" throughout the country, the victory of Reagan Republicanism, the increase in income inequality, and the drop in economic mobility.

Watch an excerpt of Joan Walsh on Tavis Smiley's PBS program. There's a link to the entire interview.


Tuesday October 30, 6:30 pm, at West Allis Public Library,
7421 West National Ave., West Allis 53214:
Michelle Hodkin, author of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer and The Evolution of Mara Dyer.

Mara Dyer had woken up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there. The only survivor of a strange accident that killed her friends, her entire life shifted in unimaginable new ways when her family moved her halfway across the country with the hope that distance would assist her in escaping from the hallucinations and nightmares that haunted her. But when more people around her mysteriously began losing their lives, and her new boyfriend appeared to be harboring his own dark secrets, Mara had to question what was real, and what was not.

Watch this trailer for The Evolution of Mara Dyer:
Tuesday,

October 30, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Paul Geenen, author of Schuster's and Gimbels: Milwaukee's Beloved Department Stores.

Every city has its proud department store traditions, and for Milwaukeeans, both Schuster’s and Gimbels were the go-to stores for, well, just about everything. Ed Schuster and Company opened their first store on 12th and Walnut in 1883. Shortly thereafter, Adam Gimbel opened the family’s first big-city store in Milwaukee in 1887 (their earlier location was in Vincennes, Indiana; and later they expanded to Philadelphia, New York, and Pittsburgh). Both stores thrived in a city that craved both service and value—and each store had their own traditions and legends that bonded the store with their customers. The downtown Gimbels had Gertie the Duck, while the three Schuster’s stores created a longstanding holiday tradition with Bertie the Brownie.

I found some interesting Gimbels ads, but I think they were done for Pittsburgh. And then I found a Schuster's loft video, but the good one doesn't embed. So here's a few ads including a Gimbels Milwaukee ad from the 70s, but first you have to get through KK Federal (the new Alterra in Bay View) and one from Boston Store.



Wednesday, October 31, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Orson Scott Card, author of Pathfinder Trilogy Volume 2: Ruins (on sale tomorrow, 10/30), Ender's Game, and many other titles.

The adventure, suspense, and time travel continue in this second installment in the critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling Pathfinder series, which Publishers Weekly called “an epic in the best sense.” When Rigg and his friends crossed the Wall between the only world they knew and a world they could not imagine, he hoped he was leading them to safety. But the dangers in this new wallfold are more difficult to see. Rigg, Umbo, and Param know that they cannot trust the expendable, Vadesh—a machine shaped like a human, created to deceive—but they are no longer certain that they can even trust one another. But they will have little choice. Because although Rigg can decipher the paths of the past, he can’t yet see the horror that lies ahead: A destructive force with deadly intentions is hurtling toward Garden. If Rigg, Umbo, and Param can’t work together to alter the past, there will be no future.

Note that this video is cut off a bit. To watch it on the website, jump to here.



Thursday, November 1, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Jo Schmidt, writing as Anna Schmidt, author of A Stranger's Gift and A Sister's Forgiveness.

Join us for a pre-publication launch party for the next installment in the Women of Pinecraft series. Anna Schmidt will talk about the previous two books in the series, A Stranger’s Gift and A Sister’s Forgiveness. Enjoy a cake, a chance to win one of four Boswell gift cards, and learn about the next book, A Mother’s Promise, which can be pre-ordered at this event. Women of Pinecraft is a contemporary series that follows the lives of several women living in Pinecraft as they face challenges both personal and professional and find their way through life’s challenges to love and faith.

More on our Facebook page, where you can RSVP to this event.

Friday, November 2, 7 pm, at Alverno College's Wehr Hall,
4100 W. Morgan Avenue, Milwaukee 53215:
John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman, authors of Hollow Earth.

Just as their first book features a brother and a sister who team up using their special powers of creativity and imagination, siblings John Barrowman and Carole Barrowman got together to write a young adult novel set in the land of their own childhood, Scotland: Hollow Earth. Lots of twins have a special connection, but twelve-year-old Matt and Emily Calder can do more than finish each other's sentences. Together, they are able to bring art to life and enter paintings at will. Their extraordinary abilities are highly sought after, particularly by a secret group who want to access the terrors called Hollow Earth. All the demons, devils, and evil creatures ever imagined are trapped for eternity in the world of Hollow Earth--trapped unless special powers release them.

Watch this video of John on the UK show This Morning, promoting Hollow Earth. Alas, the contest to win your rent or mortgage for a year has closed out. I bet you knew the answer!



Saturday, November 3, 7 pm, at Sugar Maple,
441 E. Lincoln Ave., Milwaukee, 53207:
Faythe Levine and Sam Macon, authors of Sign Painters.

In 2010 filmmakers Faythe Levine, coauthor of Handmade Nation, and Sam Macon began documenting these dedicated practitioners, their time-honored methods, and their appreciation for quality and craftsmanship. Sign Painters, the first anecdotal history of the craft, features stories and photographs of more than two dozen sign painters working in cities throughout the United States. With a foreword by legendary artist (and former sign painter) Ed Ruscha, this vibrant book profiles sign painters young and old, from the new vanguard working solo to collaborative shops such as San Francisco’s New Bohemia Signs and New York’s Colossal Media’s Sky High Murals.

Watch this video called "A love letter to Syracuse" from Macon and Levine.

Love Letter to Syracuse from COLAB on Vimeo.

Some day I'll figure out shy my links sometimes show up in purple and sometimes in blue.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Bestsellers? An Annotated List for Week Ending 10/27/12

First of all, I wanted to let you all know that we are closing slightly early tonight, Sunday, October 28, at 4:45 pm. We're having a staff meeting so that we can be better booksellers this holiday season. We hope you're able to adjust your shopping plans accordingly. My personal apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.

And now, onto our bestsellers!

Hardcover fiction:
1. The Lighthouse Road, by Peter Geye
2. Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon
3. The Racketeer, by John Grisham
4. A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers
5. This is How Your Lose Her, by Junot Diaz

Much as I enthused about how the fall season had bigger-named women writers than the past few years, this week's list is dominated by guys, a change from summer when women were holding sway. We wound up with four great reads on Peter Geye's novel, from Stacie, Sharon, Conrad, and the recently departed Carl, and he overcame the quardruple whammy of presidential debate, major sports programming, and a sickness among some of his local family members to still come through with a very nice event.

New this week is John Grisham's The Racketeer, focusing on Malcolm Bannister, a lawyer in prison (for a crime he didn't commit, of course) who now can help the courts with a new crime, the murder of a judge and his mistress. Apparently it's a twisty, well-conceived plot, per Carol Mammott of the Chicago Sun Times*. Her take? "The Racketeer is guilty of only one thing: keeping us engaged until the very last page."

Hardcover nonfiction:
1. Who I Am, by Peter Townshend
2. Roots, by Diane Morgan
3. Founders and Finance, by Thomas K. McCraw
4. How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough
5. The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe

Lots of after-interest on Diane Morgan's Roots book. I had to be out of town for that one, but I hear the carrot pesto and radish-top soup were delicious. Paul Tough is coming to Milwaukee on November 29 at 9:30 am, but I should note that the event is already sold out.  There is currently a waiting list.

Lots of attention for Will Schwalbe's The End of Your Life Book Club. Many folks are reacting like Dan Cryer at The Boston Globe: "I wish I had known Mary Anne Schwalbe. Former director of admissions at Harvard, head of a prestigious New York prep school, tireless activist for refugees across the globe, devout Christian, feminist, wife, mother, and book lover, this small speck of a woman loomed large in countless ways. But now, thanks to her son, Will, in a way I do know her."

Pretty basic book jacket. I think they were worried about veering too much in a schmaltzy direction and found themselves a bit straitjacketed, no?

Paperback fiction:
1. Plaguewalker, by Gemma Tarlach
2. Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
3. In Need of a Good Wife, by Kelly O'Connor McNees
4. The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
5. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James

On Friday night, Tarlach was surprised by the gift of a cape that matched the one on the jacket of her new novel. What a spooky Halloween-like thing to do. The gift giver left her an enigmatic note of congratulations and left it in a Martinizing bag, so she would know it had been dry cleaned. This lead to me wondering where this franchising operation was based. It turns out to be outside Cincinnati.

Paperback nonfiction
1. Pity the Billionaire, by Thomas Frank
2. The Journal of Best Practices, by David Finch
3. Milwaukee Mafia, by Gavin Schmitt
4. Naming the World, by Bret Johnston
5. Children's Writer's Market

A number of titles at this week's list were sold at the SCBWI conference, which should explain some titles on this list. We've also had a nice pop on Milwaukee Mafia. I wish we'd known about the book earlier, as it would have been a great event, but as you can see from my schedule, I'll pretty much collapse if we add anything more.

For now, we can just enjoy the photo of Boswell Book Company that is included in the book. It turns out that our building kept the jukebox operation of Frank Balistreri. As I was chatting with customers, I learned that the basement of the once-Chancery space on our block was also a popular nightclub, and several of our customers used to go dancing there. I'll be perusing Milwaukee's Historic Dance Halls as soon as it comes out for a photo (note: it doesn't exist).

Hardcover books for kids:
1. Waking Dragons, by Jane Yolen with illustrations by Derek Anderson
2. Railroad Hank, by Lisa Moser
3. Little Quack's New Friend, by Laurent Thompson with illustrations by Derek Anderson
4. Cork and Fuzz: No Fooling by Dori Chaconas
5. Underneath, by Kathi Appelt
6. How to Save a Life, by Sara Zarr
7. Over the River: A Turkey's Tale, illustrated by Derek Anderson
8. Gladys Goes Out to Lunch, by Derek Anderson
9. Over and Under the Snow, by Kate Messner
10. Personal Effects, by Em Kokie

I would like to think we are winding down with school events, but I think we have four more authors to go in the next week. Thank you to Mr. Anderson for a packed day of events. You can see the results on the bestseller list, which are pretty much all author events (the rest are SCBWI attendees)

One book that has been selling outside of SCBWI is Lisa Moser's Railroad Hank, a fun book about an engineer who's heading to cheer up Granny Bett by bringing her some gifts. Pam thought it has the same kind of charm as Amelia Bedelia, and Kirkus called it an "endearing tale" that is "impossible not to read aloud."

Paperback books for kids:
1. Keeper, by Kathi Appelt
2. At the End of the World, by Avi
3. Click Here, by Denise Vega
4. Guys Read Funny Business, edited by Jon Scieszka
5. Guys Read Thriller, by edited by Jon Scieszka

There are some school orders mixed in here too. But Kathi Appelt was one of our SCBWI event sales, and her new book in paperback, Keeper, was a big hit. It's about mermaids, and what happens when you believe in fairy tales for too long. Here's librarian Elizabeth Bird in School Library Journal. I can't exactly promise you'll understand the plot better after reading this review, but it's a rave nonetheless.

"The fact of the matter is, it’s a book that works for all sorts of folks for all sorts of different reasons. I always get a little wary when a bunch of folks like a new book and start recommending it to me. I worry that their opinions will raise my expectations too high and then I’m bound to be disappointed. That said, I can’t help but agree with anyone and everyone who has raved about this. It’s got kid appeal, amazing writing and storytelling, and a friggin’ merman. Consider it a story worthy of the hype and one that’s gonna win itself a whole new crew of Kathi Appelt fans. Plus it made me cry."

So what's likely to hit our list next week? It's always use to look to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for clues.  This week Jim Higgins rounds up several books of regional interest, including: 
--Thornton Wilder: a Life, by Penelope Niven (out on Tuesday, October 30)
--The Holiday Makers: Magazines, Advertising, and Mass Tourism in Postwar America, by Richard Popp
--Poles in Wisconsin, by Susan Gibson Mikos
--Historic Milwaukee Public Schoolhouses, by Robert Tanzilo
--Wisconsin Farm Lore, by Martin Hintz

Note that Professor Popp's book from earlier this year was coded by the publisher as a textbook, making it difficult for us to sell the book at the suggested retail price (which accounts for the odd pricing on our website), being that the book is effectively sold net-priced to us. There are ways to make this work, mostly by hosting an event, but alas, it's something that's difficult to make work when it's six months after the book is out, and we already have too many events scheduled. Apologies to all. That's my new mantra, I guess. 

Higgins also interviewed Bradley Beaulieu, author of the The Lays of Anuskaya trilogy. The third book in the series, The Flames of Shadm Khoreh, releases in April 2013. His reading list includes Seeds, The Silmarillion, and How to Eat Fried Worms. Read more here.

Mike Fischer reviews Emma Donoghue's new collection of stories, Astray. "In her novel Room, Emma Donoghue let us see the world from the vantage point of a little boy in an 11-by-11-foot room. In the stories gathered in Astray, Donoghue busts loose, returning to her roots in historical fiction by going forth into the wider world.

Chris Foran offers this review in the Journal Sentinel of Marilyn Yalom's How the French Invented Love. His take: "Yalom is constantly charmed by the French way of life and love--and literature. Only when she finds the latter wanting does she veer into other forms of culture, like painting and, too briefly, film.But Yalom's affection for the simultaneous idealism and pragmatism of l'amour a la fran├žaise is infectious, and her gift for connecting the dots across the centuries shows that - at least in France - love will always find a way."

Another Journal Sentinel review goes the rounds with The Longest Fight: In the Ring with Joe Gans, Boxing's First African American Champion, by William Gildea. Critic Pete Ehrmann concludes "The original Joe Gans was a towering figure in boxing and the racially conflicted history of America. Like the man himself, Gildea's portrait of him is masterful and satisfies from the first to the last bell." Note that our selling price on the book is $26. The publisher raised the price from their initial announcement, and while it's changed in our inventory system, it didn't completely register on our website.

*Or maybe somewhere else. The review is from Gannett News Service and may have been originally commissioned for another paper. Who can tell anymore?


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saturday Gift Post--Thanksgiving Stuff.

It's coming to the last few days of Halloween and that means we have to have the next holiday staged in the store. Anne is actually putting up our first Christmas stuff display for the season (excluding boxed cards, which have been out already). Don't worry, we're not decorating or anything, but we do find that with everyone else putting out stuff earlier and earlier, the budget could be exhausted with a lot of our customers before they see our stuff.

But of course in between Halloween and Christmas is Thanksgiving, and while it's not an enormous gift-giving holiday, there's a bit of interesting stuff, especially for tabletop decor and gifts for the folks hosting the celebration. We sold out of the crow tealight holders on the Halloween table, so I'm hoping that these similar turkey-themed ones from Tag will also sell through.

We're consolidating the Thanksgiving merchandise with the fall forest items that were towards the back of the store. Early sellers were anything with a fox or raccoon on it. We also had animal themed dishtowels that completely sold through, and we're almost out of "foxy fall" napkins. I spent some time on the phone for a customer trying to figure out if somebody else was stocking them. Once again, I've now got a similar design with the added turkeys to signify Thanksgiving.

These corn cob candles have been in the Tag catalog for years, so they must continue to do well. We've already sold a couple. Good thing I didn't bring in the apple collection this year. Apparently harvests in this area have been down 90%. Sigh. We also brought in some fall-hued glass bottles. And we have some slate coasters with wheat and turkey motifs.

And finally, there are a few books that are appropriate for the table. Cozy mystery series that focus on food or holidays eventually get around to a Thanksgiving setting. They are usually paperback originals, but not always. There's Isis Crawford's A Catered Thanksgiving (Kensington), for example, where the killer is hiding a cornucopia of secrets.

And then there's often a cookbook. In Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well (Random House), former New York Times restaurant critic offers his take. Christopher Kimball and Gabrielle Hamilton both over praise. From the former: "The charm of Sam Sifton’s Thanksgiving is that he proposes that home cooks treat this culinary Olympics like any other dinner party-—don’t panic, deconstruct your tasks into bite-size pieces, and conquer that fear of failure."

Friday, October 26, 2012

Memories of Schuster's and Gimbels on Tuesday, October 30, 7 pm.

You all of course know how much I love old departments stores. So when Paul Geenen told me he was writing a book on Schuster's and Gimbels (note that one has an apostrophe and the other does not, which is a common dichotomy among stores of this variety), I immediately thought of the wonderful display ideas.

1. A window.
2. A display for our curio case.

The only problem? We scheduled the event too close to the book's release date, and thus, there are no copies of Schuster's and Gimbels: Milwaukee's Beloved Department Stores to include in the display. But we had to do the window, as our friend Penny loaned us one of the plaques that was part of the Wisconsin Avenue store. It's very heavy. We also got one of the going out of business banners, but since it doesn't say Gimbels on it, I worried that people would interpret the banner the wrong way.

For the curio cabinet, Paul brought in an assortment of goodies--tee shirts, in-house newsletters, display photos. I included my prize Gimbels cheese tin.

For those who don't know, Schuster's was a family-owned store that, instead of locating downtown, had three locations in the city of Milwaukee, on 3rd Street (now Martin Luther King Drive), Vliet Street (the building is now the Coggs Center) and Mitchell Street.

And Gimbels had many branches too, but their main store was on Wisconsin and Plankinton downtown, much more like a traditional department store. Milwaukee was their first big-city location after starting in Vincennes, Indiana. They then moved east to Philadelphia and then New York. The only location they didn't start from scratch was their big Pittsburgh operation.

Folks like me who grew up in New York generally thought of Gimbels as an also-ran store, so it was a surprise to move to Milwaukee and see them so dominant in the market. I've been assured by numerous sources that Milwaukee was generally their most profitable division, especially as they consolidated their position by merging with Schuster's. The stores were called Gimbels-Schuster's for a number of years, until the closing of the Third Street store.

A lot of folks know about Billie the Brownie, but don't realize that he was a Schuster's Christmas tradition. I asked Paul (who worked for the operation for a number of years) what was the equivalent Gimbel's Christmas mascot. It turned out to be two elephants, Gimbie and Ellie. All were featured on radio shows.

Now all we need is our copies of Schuster's and Gimbels. Our rep Bob has assured us that our copies of Schuster's and Gimbels will arrive by Tuesday!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The New Version of Our KPolly Tee, and It's Not From Boswell.

Some time ago, I visited a bookseller conference where I wore my Boswell tee with Kristopher Pollard AKA KPolly's "The Book was Better" design. My fellow bookseller Cindy from Changing Hands (that bookstore in Tempe, Arizona, where I've been known to hang out on visits to my sister) and afterwards, she asked me if Changing Hands could use the design.

Since booksellers are used to competitors appropriate our ideas (who doesn't know of an indie hand-selling gem that later went on to explosive sales in other channels?), Cindy took on the project with our blessing. It was my thought that she and KPolly should work together directly on the project.

After chatting with Cindy about what worked and what didn't, Changing Hands asked KPolly to switch out the literary character who was a bit hard to pick out, and also was probably the most adult in content. I also told her that the sand color we used got several complaints from customers that it washed out a lot of users. They wound up switching it out for our old friend heather maroon, the Boswell basic color for spring 2011.

And then of course we exchanged shirts. In exchange for "The Book was Better II", I bought Cindy a "Read Like a Monster" tee.  And being that the changes were successful (Changing Hands has reprinted several times) we're talking about using KPolly's new design on our next reprint of "The Book was Better."

You can order your "The Book was Better II" tee from Changing Hands. And you can buy KPolly designs, including commissioning your own work, on Etsy. We still have some sizes available in our version of "The Book was Better" tee. Email us for more information.

(Note: this is one of my half-finished posts that I finally finished.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Newish Boswell's Best Fiction--Engelmann, Buehlman, Petterson, Hoeg, Shapiro.

It's time to review another assortment of Boswell's Best titles. You think I'm doing this for you, the reader, but I'm actually doing this for me too. I force myself to get to know the books a little better, and next time someone comes in, I might have something interesting to say about one of these titles.

I'm not usually a reader of historical fiction, but having recently finished The Malice of Fortune, I'm curious to see what's out there. Ecco recently published Karen Engelmann's novel, The Stockholm Octavo (Ecco), which is set in 18th century Sweden. Emil Larsson is an eligible bachelor who becomes involved in a card game (Octavo) that will help him secure his future, but also leads him into a political plot. Kirkus has a pretty straightforward plot description. And Jason just read this. He really liked the way the plot was enhanced by the fantastical characters that inhabit the story (Publisher $26.99, Best $21.59).

Speaking of books Jason liked, he looked at my pile of titles and said that Christopher Buelman's new novel, Between Two Fires (Ace), is phenomenal.  The new novel is set during the Black Death. A disgraced knight has found a young girl alone in a French village. She tells him that the plague is part of a larger cataclysm, but is this delirium or is this faith? Hey, this is a good novel to read after finishing Tanya Hurley's The Blessed. So Jason says it's a fantastic horror-filled romp, and promises us a blog piece for Halloween. (Publisher $25.95, Best $20.76)

And I should note that although Mr. Buehlman was not able to appear at Boswell this fall, is also known as Christophe the Insultor, Verbal Mercenary when he appears at Bristol Renaissance Faire. And he also won the Bridgeport Prize in poetry. That's my favorite resume of the day.

We're keeping to Europe, but head back to Scandanavia for Per Petterson's new novel, It's Fine by Me (Graywolf, translation by Don Bartlett). The new novel is about an Oslo teen who styles himself a modern Hemingway, keeping the distant bad memories of his drunken and violent father. And then, of course, his father reappears in his life. This novel was originally published in 1992, and it's always funny to read an early coming-of-age novel after the broader canvases of later work. But this is an early work that deserved an American edition--Kerri Westenberg in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune notes that "the melancholy story, and the superb writing that propels it, are both raw and honest." (Publisher $22, Best, $17.60).

Speaking of 1992, that's when we all first read Smilla's Sense of Snow, by Peter Hoeg. Well, everyone by me. His new novel is The Elephant Keepers' Children (Other Press, translation by Martin Aitken), and it concerns three kids whose parents have mysteriously disappeared. Their parents, devout members of a church on the island of Fine, have coexisted with folks of all faiths for years, but apparently, Peter and his siblings learn that nothing is as it seems. Sarah Moss in The Guardian sees the novel as a successful combination of Voltaire and Wodehouse, though she's a little less enthusiastic about its Salinger-esque angle.

And finally we have B. A. Shapiro's The Art Forger (Algonquin), which Tom Perrotta calls "a clever, twisty nove about art, authenticity, love, and betrayal. Here's Boswellian Nick's take:

"Claire Roth works for an art reproduction specialist, making copies of the Old Masters' paintings for sale to wealthy clients. After discovering her talents, an art dealer makes her an offer--copy a Degas painting that was stolen in an art heist and has not been seen since, and he'll give Claire her own show at his gallery. Desperate for respect after having been blackballed in the art community, Claire jumps at the opportunity. What Claire quickly realizes is that this is no ordinary job, but in fact a deal with the devil, in a world where nothing is as it seems.

"Billed as a suspense/thriller, The Art Forger remains engaging as it flows along to an ultimately satisfying ending. I was rather surprised to learn that Shapiro herself is not a painter because she displays such an affection for and understanding of the process and profession of painting. In fact, Shapiro's vast, intelligent, and extremely intricate exploration of the art realm, its history, and its darker, seedier corners (such as forgery) is the best part of this novel" (Publisher $23.95, Best $19.16).

Titles discounted at least through October 29, perhaps longer if they are selling well.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Event Previews--Jean Reynolds Page, Kelly O'Connor McNees, Thomas Frank, David and Kristin Finch, Derek Anderson, and Gemma Tarlach.

Fortunately the press covered our Peter Geye event yesterday with some flourish. Jim Higgins wrote a fine review/profile in the Journal Sentinel, while the Shepherd Express featured The Lighthouse Road as their book preview for the week.The uphill battle of this evening cannot be stressed--it was the last Obama/Romney debate, a baseball playoff game, Monday night football, and even a Bucks game.

Whereas I don't normally worry about sports beyond a Packers game and the Super Bowl affecting attendance, Geye's got a base that has a good amount of guys that you can imagine are sports fans.The good news is that Geye is doing a series of events around the state. He's at Anderson's of Naperville tonight (October 23), Oconomowoc's Books and Company on October 24, and St. Paul's own Micawber's on October 25.

And despite several relatives last night grounded by a bug that had taken multiple kids, we still beat his attendance at Boswell over our event for Safe from the Sea.

Tuesday, October 23, 7 pm:
Kelly O’Connor McNees, author of In Need of a Good Wife
and
Jean Reynolds Page, author of Safe Within.

Here's Sharon on In Need of a Good Wife:
"The author of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott has produced another delightful novel about resourceful women. Things are not going well for Clara Bixby in the fall of 1866. Her husband has left her for another woman, she has just lost her job, and she has very little chance of getting either another husband or another job. By chance, she learns about an unusual town in Destination, Nebraska, which is made up of almost all bachelors. Clara hatches a plan to collect women from Manhattan City, who might be interested in becoming wives to the lonely inhabitants of Destination. The journey to get to Nebraska is almost as interesting as what happens once the women arrive."

McNees is reading with Jean Reynolds Page, a North-Carolina-to-Madison transplant who is doing her second reading at Boswell.  Her new novel, Safe Within, is about Caron and Elaine who've returned to their childhood home North Carolina.  Carson is terminally ill at 49 and has picked his wife's tree house (well, a cabin) for his final days. The problem is that Carson's mom, Greta, has no use for either Elaine or her grown son Mick. And why? Well, that's the question of most books, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 24, 7 pm:
Thomas Frank, author of Pity the Billionaire and What’s the Matter with Kansas.

We wrote a proposal for Mr. Frank's hardcover release tour, but we've noticed often that these proposals serve double duty, and more than once, it has gotten us onto a paperback tour. Mr. Frank's new book contemplates how the financial collapse let to, of all things, the rebirth of an energized Republican right. Per Steve Weinberg in USA Today:

"In his latest book, Frank makes the case that money grabbed via a free-market economy is the secular religion among corporate executives, lobbyists for the one percent, elected legislators, and executive-branch policymakers. He's argued the case in his irregularly published magazine The Baffler, in columns for The Wall Street Journal and Harper's, and throughout his books, such as One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism and the End of Economic Democracy."

Thursday, October 25, 7 pm:
David Finch along with Kristin Finch, author of The Journal of Best Practices.
  
From Abbe Wright at O Magazine: "Though David and Kristen Finch had been friends since high school, it wasn't until after they married in 2003 that David's repetitive rituals, bursts of anger, and stunted social skills convinced Kristen that something was seriously wrong. In 2008 Kristen, a speech therapist, followed a hunch that led to David's being diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. In his new book, The Journal of Best Practices, David, a onetime audio engineer, chronicles how he and Kristen set out to make him a better husband, father, and person." Read the rest of the article here.

We had a great event for David Finch in hardcover, and together we chatted about how we could switch it up for the paperback. Mr. Finch noted that Ms. Finch had started doing some talks too, and folks were very interested in her perspective.So that's what we've got from you this Thursday.

Frday, October 26, 4 pm:
Derek Anderson, illustrator of Waking Dragons, Little Quack’s New Friend, and Hot Rod Hamster.

"Author/Illustrator Derek Anderson drew the very first picture he can ever remember drawing when he was in kindergarten. It was a picture of the Easter Bunny. When he finished it, Derek gave it to the principal of his school who hung it on the wall of his office for the rest of the school year. Derek's fate was sealed. From then on, he knew he was going to be an artist." More here.

Mr. Anderson is appearing in conjunction with two school visits and an evening event at the Betty Brinn Children's Museum's Not so Scary Halloween. At all his visits, he'll be sharing the new book Waking Dragons, where his illustrations accompany Jane Yolen's text. 

Friday, October 26, 7 pm:
Gemma Tarlach, author of Plaguewalker.

From the Third Coast Digest interview, on why Tarlach is inspired by historical fiction: "I was inspired by two museum exhibits that happened to be co-located when I was living in Germany several years ago. One exhibit was on the Black Death. The other was on the role of the executioner in medieval German society, which is fascinating. The two topics seemed to go together, but I filed them in the back of my mind for a few years before the character Marcus came to me and tied it all together. Although the setting is historical and the theme is a classic journey from evil to redemption, Marcus himself was inspired by two pop culture characters: my childhood idol Darth Vader (yes, really), and a professional wrestler known as The Undertaker.

Gemma Tarlach's work has appeared in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, TimeOut New York, The Dallas Morning News, Rolling Stone’s Schools That Rock and numerous other publications.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Inspired by Sign Painters, I Search for Hand-Lettered Signs in Bay View

Given the success of Faythe Levine’s annual Art Vs. Craft show and the multi-media project that became Handmade Nation, both of which celebrate artisan workmanship, I guess I’m not surprised that she not only was interested in the struggling art of hand-lettered signs, but that she was friends with a number of the practitioners. The result is Sign Painters, a book and, with the collaboration of Sam Macon, a documentary project that documents the work of 26 folks in the field.

Some of the sign painters are old guard and can document the decline of the art/craft through digitalization and homogeneity, while other relatively younger practitioners are hoping, in Josh Luke’s words, to “positively affect the visual landscape” of their cities. At least one artist came to it by way of graffiti, sign painting’s bad boy cousin. And the profiles can be quite quirky—one artist uses no blue or green in his work, for example.

As you would expect from Levine and Macon, the results are not just visually arresting, but intellectually challenging, forcing us to contemplate the small pleasures of our landscape and contemplate what we give up in the name of progress.

We're co-sponsoring Levine and Macon's launch on Saturday, November 3, 7 pm, at Sugar Maple, on 441 E. Lincoln Avenue in Bay View. I'm very excited to be working again with Bruno and Adrienne at Sugar Maple. It's such a nice space for an event, and of course it's close to my home. And it's close to Levine as well, as she curates the Sky High Gallery on South Howell.

I was curious to note that none of the folks profiled in Sign Painters are from the Milwaukee area. I was curious, as we have the right mix of all guard working folk/artistans and young art school grads. I certainly remember some fine work around town, which is, sadly, slowly being covered up. There was the Republic Airlines sign you could see along the river for decades after its merger with Northwest, the Marx toy distribution sign that was visible in the Third Ward, and the pesticide sign that was only now covered up by a tower on Old World Third Street.

Going back to my early years at Schwartz pre computer, we used to have one of the Sendiks butchers make our event signs. There were hand lettered, sometimes with an accompanying drawing, sometimes not. They looked quite a bit like the weekly sale on whole turkeys, but now I wish I saved some of them. I don't think I ever even considered taking a photo.

I figured if I was going to see some fancy signwork, it would likely be in Bay View, right? There's of course the sign for Luv Unlimited, but it doesn't quite fall into the genre covered in Sign Painters.

The cold beer sign on a nearby convenience store is clean and professional, but a bit dry. I've always been found of the "100,000 parts" sign, but I think that's been done so long ago that the painter might no longer be around. Once you start looking around, you see the work of sign painters everywhere.

I think maybe the best work is this mural outside Collectors Edge. As is the case for many of these signs, I don't know if they are done in the old school model. Perhaps there's a way to layout the work with computers. But if this sign was actually done by hand, it's probably also new enough to qualify, in terms of quality and vintage. Hey, I nominate you, whoever you are, for the second edition. And now this whole experiment has me wondering how I could fit a hand-painted sign into Boswell. I have some ideas.

Speaking of which, that Sugar Maple sign is pretty darn good, but I don't think the backlit signs count; they are almost always digital blowups.