Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Short Post--A New Small Boswell Bag, Now in Red.

I don't know why these new bag colors get me so excited, but for some reason, I just love picking a new color each time we reprint a bag. This time we're using a classic red, though the kraft paper does give it a slight orange tint.


We've been busy all week, but today was the first day we opened our third register. Last Christmas we couldn't get to three registers because one of our cash drawers broke (or at least I think that was the case). The only problem with that was that between an offsite event with Scott Hutchins at UWM (for A Working Theory of Love, signed copies available) and two booksellers going home sick, we didn't always have three booksellers available to work the register.


Jeff and Thor came in to fix bookcases this afternoon. We have a problem with the cases bowing such that the shelves don't get enough support and fall down. The solution is to permanently attach one of the middle shelves. In the case of our "home" section, we had to move that permanently affixed shelf as we decided to cut the number of shelves from six to five. Books in this section (crafts, decorating, weddings) tend to be tall and way too many were being damaged by not fitting in the section correctly. This should address the problem.


And finally, Amie and I both agreed that the gingerbread cupcake at Milwaukee Cupcake Company is a darn good cupcake. It is my favorite of their Christmas-y flavors, at least so far.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

New Book Totes, a Morning with Paul Tough, a Great Article on Parnassus, and an Acknowledgement that Although I am a Student of Retail, I Simply Don't Understand Amazon's Game Plan.

I get a lot of news digests delivered to me (in addition to reading two print newspapers) and I was struck by this article in Marketwatch about Amazon Prime and their free freight program. It turns out that you can buy a 1500 pound safe and get the item shipped free as part of the plan. The vendor itself said they charge $700 for this service. Various analysts debated the cost of this free freight option. Hey, they are building customer base, right?

We always thought they were losing money on their book business to drive business to their other sales categories. But what kind of business are they planning to pick up by targeting super heavy safes? I just don't get it.

Later I walked over to our local hardware store to buy some more temporary hooks.  We need them to hang these new cute cloth totes from Out of Print (The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Wizard of Oz) when I saw that Amazon placed a bus shelter ad a block from the store. Sell your books for up to 70% of retail! So  I thought to myself, are you telling customers that you will buy the paperback edition of State of Wonder back for $11.19 and then sell it to folks used for $10.34 (the Amazon price listed?)

Yes, I think that's what you are implying, even though the ad does say "up to" 70%. Lose 85 cents on every transaction? Yes, that's the Amazon way. Heck, we're building our customer base and market share.

I'm sorry, I just don't understand it. I'm not angry or anything, and don't begrudge them the strange game plan they have. I just don't see why stockholders accept this hall of mirrors. It's been said that Amazon's true profit center is data warehousing. If that's the case, why not focus on that and scrap the retail altogether? Or sell things at prices with a reasonable markup and still keep a huge chunk of the retail pie because the site will still win the convenience edge? I've read a lot of business books in my day and this simply leaves me dumbfounded.

And speaking of strange decisions, why is Staples putting Amazon lockers in its stores when they compete on every product line? Recently when a publisher was asking me to bring in special signing pens for an event, they linked me to the A word. I know that office supplies is a big category for them and they are as competitive there as they are in books. So how the heck do you convert an Amazon customer whose already made an Amazon decision to convert to a Staples purchase? For surely the "rent" on the lockers can't make this work for Staples--there has to be a customer proposition too, right? But no, a business analyst said this is a big win for Staples because it will take up excess space. That doesn't seem like a long-term win to me?

I mention State of Wonder as an example because of several reasons. First of all, it is the current selection on Chapter a Day. Secondly, Patchett and Karen Hayes's Parnassus Books has just had another round of publicity, with an article in the December issue of The Atlantic, and a profile in Shelf Awareness (an industry newsletter). Who knew their space used to be a tanning salon?

Which leads me to Paul Tough and How Children Succeed (signed copies available). We sold books this morning at Mr. Tough's event with Mike Gousha, part of Marquette University's On the Issues series. And Tough said to me (I'm paraphrasing) as he was signing stock, "I don't know if I'd want to be an independent bookseller right now, but I've learned on my tour that there sure are some great stores out there" and he was not referring to us, as we were just two people and a card table, and for all he knew, that's what Boswell looked like as well. Only maybe two card tables. And we chatted about several amazing stores he had recently visited, and I had to agree, they were pretty amazing.

But I guess you have to work very hard when your competitor sells everything at a loss, right?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Book Fair at St. John's on the Lake.

My first year of Boswell I was like a madman doing offsites, which is particularly surprising as I did not own a car. I did a number of conferences where I would sell five or so books, and eventually realized that this was not helping anybody.

And then I did a holiday book fair at Eastcastle and it turned out to be a huge hit, so I quickly booked similar events at the Milwaukee Catholic Home and St. John's on the Lake. For various reasons, my outings to the first two venues fell away (perhaps because we are so close that many of the folks can walk over to Boswell, and we'll also deliver for free the same day) but I've kept up periodic visits to St. John's.

Even then, about half the folks who browse the tables of adult books, kids books, boxed cards, and calendars, will come up to the store, but there are some who don't get out as much. I had a particularly nice customer of 96 who had a lot of good bookish stories. I brought Hannah along to help, which allowed me to zip back to Boswell and pick up some more special requests. And best of all, one attendee's special order had just arrived in time for me to bring it back.

What was the hot book? We sold several copies of Jon Meacham's Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, and Hannah told me we could have sold several more copies of Lois Ehlert's new book, Mice. Ehlert's new book is based on Rose Fyleman's classic poem. And after reading the book, I am convinced that mice are rather nice indeed.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Journal Sentinel Display, The List of Books from Jason and Stacie's Lake Effect Appearance, and an NPR Piece with Lynn Neary..

As the holiday lists begin to pile up, we're trying to keep track of all the best-ofs and making an attempt to keep up with them.

Yesterday Anne and I put together a display of the Journal Sentinel "100 books for holiday gift giving" roundup. It turns that with a little snipping, article fit on our 11x17 sign holders. We followed Stacie's lead of placing extra books spined out in a cube so that someone can easily fill the empty proppers when books sell.

I went back and finally listened to Jason and Stacie's "Feast of Tasty Titles" interview on WUWM's Lake Effect with Stephanie Lecci.

I was going to tabulate the list of titles mentioned, but the folks involved already beat me to it. Hope you don't mind if we relist them here.

Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, by Jon Meacham

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965, by William Manchester & Paul Reid

The News from Spain: Seven Variations on a Love Story, by Joan Wickersham

Devil in Silver: A Novel, by Victor LaValle

The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller

This is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel, by Madeleine L'Engle and illustrated by Hope Larson

Mrs Queen Takes the Train: A Novel, by William Kuhn

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel, by Rachel Joyce

Building Stories, by Chris Ware

Things That Are, by Amy Leach

Roots: The Definitive Compendium with More than 225 Recipes, by Diane Morgan and photos by Antonis Achilleos

And finally, I had several people let me know that they heard the spirited All Things Considered segment on the state of bookstores this holiday season. Lynn Neary and I, along with Steve Bercu of BookPeople and Jessica Stockton Bagnulo of Greenlight, talk about book quality, why cookbooks are the new coffee table book and, while it did not make the segment, why we're holding onto more hardcovers, even when the paperback comes out. In one case, Christopher Moore's Sacré Bleu, we're even featuring it up front and discounting it. Take that, six months to paperback!

Thank you to everyone involved for letting us have our say.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Two Events to Tell You About--Ron McCrea on Frank Lloyd Wright on Tuesday, Scott Hutchins at UWM on Friday, November 30, at a Special Time of 6 pm.

Happy post-Thanksgiving weekend to all our fellow booksellers. It's great to have a few days to retool. Based on our experiences, our business in the few days leading up to Christmas are about double the volume of this first weekend, and most bookstores need that business to make up for the rest of the year.

We've got two events this week and both come highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 27, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Ron McCrea, author of Building Taliesin: Frank Lloyd Wright's Home of Love and Loss

Based on our experience, folks really are fascinated by the life of Frank Lloyd Wright and I admit to be one of them. I've done the Wright tour in Oak Park and visited the studio. I've been to Fallingwater twice, and visited several other historic buildings, including the Darwin Martin House in Buffalo. And I've read my share of biographies and novels that explored the life of Wright.

So I was working at the front desk last week when one of our good customers came in and told me that she'd just heard a wonderful lecture about Frank Lloyd Wright at Arcadia Books in Spring Green. I immediately thought that this must be Ron McCrea, and sure enough, it was, appearing for his new book, Building Taliesin. A little bit later I walked to the back room and took a call from John, who manages that very store. "Oh it was a great event!" he told me, and then we chatted about their upcoming event with Jennifer Chiaverini.

Building Taliesin is featured on the Journal Sentinel holiday gift guide, for which we are building a nice display which we might have ready by tomorrow.  Here's what Mary Louise Schumacher had to say in her "Design Ideas" column:

"With so many books devoted to the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, it is hard to believe there’s much new to say. And yet, the new book Building Taliesin: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home of Love and Loss, by Ron McCrea combines available, little known and new material to tell a story even Wrightophiles will think they know but perhaps do not." Read the rest of the story here.

So that's three recommendations for Ron McCrea's event. We'll see you there.

Friday, November 30, 6 pm, at UWM's Curtin Hall, Room 175:
Scott Hutchins, author of A Working Theory of Love.

How about that amazing review in yesterday's New York Times Book Review for A Working Theory of Love? James Hynes praises this "clever, funny and very entertaining first novel" that explores in fiction a computer start-up working to create artificial intelligence. He particularly loves the interaction with Dr. Bassett, which Hynes compares to HAL of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Later on there are more very positive adjectives, including "charming, warm-hearted, and thought-provoking." I have always found that three adjectives are just the right amount for a recommendation--less and you're feeling incomplete, but more and it seems too much. Read the review here.

Hutchins is this fall's visiting writer, and coordinator Valerie Laken (whose advice is always spot on) has been trying to get me to read the book for months, as she's a huge fan. Alas, I got bogged down in other books (the list is long!) because it does seem like something I'd like. I am reminded it a bit of Hence, by Brad Leithauser, which I read over twenty years ago!

And here's Christopher Bollen in Interview: "I'm still trying to figure out how first-time novelist Scott Hutchins made a story about an accidental computer programmer who communicates with his dead father through a pseudo-sentient mainframe into one of the most humane (not to mention moving and hilarious) stories I've read in a long time." More here.

And here is Hutchins talking to Carly Schwartz about how San Francisco plays into the novel in the Huffington Post: "San Francisco plays such an important role in your book. Did you do this on purpose? Kind of like my main character, this is the scene of my adult life. I was interested in looking at what life is like here, the little daily observations I was making, and finding a way to weave that into something. San Francisco is the most abstract, aspirational place that I can think of. I definitely wrote about it on purpose; I didn't just stumble into the setting." Continue here.

So where is Curtin Hall? It's north of us on Downer Avenue, a seventies-era building. And don't worry, it appears to be quite safe, according to these specs.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday Bestseller Post--What's Popping Early in the Holiday Shopping Season, plus the Journal Sentinel Book Gift Guide.

Hardcover fiction:
1. Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver
2. Dear Life, by Alice Munro
3. The Round House, by Louise Erdrich
4. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
5. Blasphemy, by Sherman Alexie
6. A Casual Vacancy, by J. K. Rowling
7.  Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan
8. Building Stories, by Chris Ware
9. The Racketeer, by John Grisham
10. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan (more on the blog)

Here's where our enthusiasm last summer for a stong lineup of women writers paid off, as three of them, along with summer fave Gillian Flynn, crowd the top rungs of this list. If we were Politics and Prose, we'd probably be chasing these five titles, which the Washington Post deemed the best of the year:

Arcadia, by Lauren Groff
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain
Bring Up the Bodies, by Hillary Mantel
Broken Harbor, by Tana French
Canada, by Richard Ford.

We've chased several of these in the past, at least. Ben Fountain's novel was also shortlisted for the National Book Award. The hardcover jacket is green; the paperback is not.

Hardcover nonfiction:
1. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, by Jon Meacham
2. Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
3. Roots, by Diane Morgan
4. Help Thanks Wow, by Anne Lamott
5. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman
6. How Music Works, by David Byrne
7. The Signal and the Noise, by Nate Silver
8. Hallucinations, by Oliver Sacks
9. My Heart is an Idiot, by Davy Rothbart
10. Defender of the Realm, by William Manchester and Paul Reid

Anne Lamott's appearance on NPR's Morning Edition scooted copies of Help Thanks Wow: Three Essential Prayers right out of the store. I'm not sure how the link I came up with was to North Country Public Radio, but I'm happy to send folks to their website to learn about this part of New York state.

Paperback fiction:
1. The Temptation of Father Lorenzo, by Paul Salsini
2 The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
3. The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
4. The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes
5. Angelmaker, by Nick Harkaway
6. On Canaan's Side, by Sebastian Barry
7. Wolf Hall, by Hillary Mantel
8. The Barbarian Nursuries, by Hector Tobar (in-store lit group Jan 7)
9. State of Wonder, by Anne Patchett
10. The Gone Away World, by Nick Harkaway

What is with the double appearance of Nick Harkway on our list? It has something to do with Harkaway being the favorite novelist of Hannah, ex-Borders and Next Chapter bookseller and recent addition to our staff. The more I read about Harkaway, the more I am shocked that at least three of our other booksellers aren't crowing about his talents. I think this deserves it's own blog piece

Paperback nonfiction:
1. Schuster's and Gimbels, by Paul Geenen
2. Historic Milwaukee Public Schoolhouses, by Robert Tanzilo
3. Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
4. Building Taliesin, by Ron McCrea (talk Nov 27, 7 pm)
5. Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed

Every other person who leaves the Downer Theatre after seeing Lincoln seems to make a beeline for the bookstore and ask about Team of Rivals. As is the case for Life of Pi and Cloud Atlas, our core customers are drawn to the non-tie in jackets, but stock is usually better on the movie-themed one. It's one of the few hot books we ran out of this holiday weekend, but Jason has plenty more on the way.

Hardcover books for kids:
1. The Third Wheel: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, volume 7, by Jeff Kinney
2. The Fault in our Stars, by John Green
3. The Thankful Book, by Todd Parr
4. Safari, by Dan Kainen
5. A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by Philip Stead with illustrations by Erin Stead

It's not surprising that our run on Todd Parr's The Thankful Book was in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. His distinctive artwork always brings a smile to the face of any-age kid.

Paperback books for kids:
1. Stefano and the Christmas Miracles, by Paul Salsini
2. Pathfinder, by Orson Scott Card
3. The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak
4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky (still playing at the Downer)
5. Wildwood, by Colin Meloy, with illustrations by Carson Ellis

Safari was actually sold in as an adult title, but we put it with the other books in the series in the kids' section. It's balanced out by Mr. Salsini's book, which is a children's story, but we've shelved it with our other adult titles.

I'd list all 100 titles in the Journal Sentinel's now annual roundup of holiday gift giving ideas, but that would be an entire blog post in itself. I'm hoping we can get a display up shortly to feature these titles though probably not all 100 will fit on a table). Here are the categories:
a. 14 editor's picks, including The Middlesteins
b. 10 mysteries that thrilled Carole E. Barrowman, including The Cutting Season
c. 5 showbiz books worth an encore (from Chris Foran), including The Richard Burton Diaries
d. 10 books praised by Mike Fischer, including Telegraph Avenue
e. 11 books for book lovers, including My Ideal Bookshelf
f. 7 books with Wisconsin connections, including Thornton Wilder
g. 5 novelty books, including Mars Attacks
h. 7 design idea books from Mary Louise Schumacher, including Building Taliesin
i. 13 books for children picked by Boswell booksellers, including Liar and Spy
j 7 graphic novels and nonfiction, including Economix
k. 5 award-winning books, including The Round House
l. And 6 books about old guys and their music, including I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen.

Visit the JSonline site for more info.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Saturday Gift Post--Of Penguins and Purses.

Last week I was receiving our Melissa and Doug shipment when I came across a box of huge plush penguins. Now if I ordered any plush penguins, it was from their lower priced Princess line. It turns out the box was for Whole Foods. We sent it back to UPS to be redelivered, where spies tell me they are now proudly watching over the wine department.

I had grand dreams for a penguin display, but it's all come to naught. For one thing, almost everything I brought it in is too small to fill up a table. The penguin key chains don't really work outside our jewelry/ornament tree display (only $19.95) while a good selection of what I brought in turned out to be loose cards. The small plush and the penguin stacker toy? Backordered into oblivion, as often happens with gift items.

I understand why reindeer and cardinals have such strong associations with the Christmas season, but this thing about penguins (and polar bears too) seems simply to be a case of appreciating animals from cold climes when it's cold. Try selling a a turkey puppet outside of Thanksgiving! No wonder it was discontinued by Folkmanis, despite it's glorious plumage. Oh, and I should note that I tried to post a photo of a wild turkey hanging out on Downer Avenue, but our neighbor Michael's cell phone refused to send it to us.

The leather keychain is certainly swell, and we've sure sold a lot of wind up fuzzy penguins, but I think the Roost ornament takes the cake.


Having declared 2012 to be the year of the tote/purse, we went back to Benjamin an ordered an assortment of felt bags, varying the assortment from last holiday. Being that we sold out of our leaf clutches in about two hours, we restocked those as well. It turns out the leaf motif also comes in the larger size. I put up some hooks on a pole, and boy did people notice--within a half hour, three different booksellers commented about it.

So what else is coming in? We've got a number of card lines on reorder, tied into of all things, Valentine cards. If you wait to order until January, the good stuff is gone. And we've already received an assortment of M. Cornell wooden heart boxes. Well-priced and beautiful, and I'll post a photo in January when you'll actually be interested.

And finally, I turned around and Hannah said we needed more Melissa and Doug kits. The kits now drive our sales with this vendor, as they are well-stocked not just at Banes and Noble, but also at Whole Foods (as I noted at the beginning of this post). Interestingly enough, WF doesn't stock the kits. I wonder if that's connected?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Small Business Saturday is Tomorrow. One Retailer's Take, Plus Top Kids' Picks from Boswellians.

When I got to Boswell today (I'm on the closing shift tomight so things were already bustling when I arrived), Jane asked me if I had read Faye Wetzel's column in the Journal Sentinel. I said I had not, and so she put a hard copy on my desk. Yes, a piece of paper, not a link.

Wetzel owns the two Faye's stores in Mequon in Brookfield, both not too far from branches of the old Schwartz Bookshop. She talks about what it's like to go into the store and see the jacket you just ordered on display. In particular in this vignette, the customer tells the Faye already bought it online. "I smile, but my heart sinks."

But then she goes on to note that she buys a lot from Amazon, and switched all her reading over to a Kindle. "It is something I could have never envisioned a decade ago when I would while away an entire Sunday afternoon at a local Schwartz bookstore." As Wetzel notes, "I did my part in contributing to the demise of the neighborhood bookstore."

Read the entire column here.

I like this column. It's honest and shows that all our decisions have consequences, and yet, we don't always make the decision that puts a halo on our head. And Faye seems to be cognizant that the same decisions she made to move her business away from a local bookstore could someday lead to the end of her own business. It's a bit different, because high-end clothing manufacturers control prices more closely than books. In short, what she's saying is "be cognizant of your choices."

I've always said to customers that we'll be here as long as you want us, but I already know that not everyone wants us. After all, we're not Milwaukee's favorite bookstore (per the Shepherd Express poll) and if you looked at where the Milwaukee area bought books, we'd probably come in something like 17th, after Barnes and Noble, Half Price, Target, Walmart, Costco, a whole mess of websites but mostly Amazon, and who knows where else.

But I never said we were going to be everyone's favorite bookstore. If you're everything to everyone, you might wind up being nothing to nobody. Sure we get showroomed* like any other retailer, but we have enough customers who put their money where their mouths are, such that at least for this holiday season, we're in good shape.

And for that, we are very, very grateful.

So tomorrow is the American Express promotion for Small Business Saturday. In typical fashion, I may not have signed up for the promotion, but you can still take advantage of the sentiment. Maybe next year!


Speaking of the Journal Sentinel, this Sunday's book section has holiday recommendations for gift giving. One of the features is children's book recommended by Boswellians.Here are some (or perhaps all) of our recommendations:

Bear Has a Story to Tell, by Philip and Erin Stead, recommended by Jane

This is Not my Hat, by Jon Klassen, recommended by Amie

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, by William Joyce, recommended by Pam.

The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate, by Scott Nash, recommended by Nick

What Came From the Stars, by Gary Schmidt, recommended by Conrad

The Fault is in Our Stars, by John Green, recommended by Jannis.

More on the Tap Milwaukee blog.

*Showrooming is when someone browses a bricks-and-mortar retailer, only to spend their money online. Sometimes folks actively place the order while they're still in the retailer. I say this like you don't know what I'm talking about!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Catch Up Day--Finishing the Event Books I Started

One of the things Hans Weyandt of the glorious Micawbers Books of St. Paul said during his talk about Read This: Handpicked Favorites from America's Indie Bookstores has stuck with me. He noted that he only finishes a fraction of books that he starts. If his interest isn't held, if the author doesn't have something different to say, he moves on. There are so many books out there; why settle for ok? That's totally paraphrased, by the way, but I think I have the intent right.

Well, I haven't really been able to learn that lesson. I sometimes find myself slogging through books for weeks when any sane person would give up. I usually try to find something positive afterwards, but sometimes I can't really say anything at all. But even when I like the book, there's one reason where I'll still feel guilty about finishing it and that's when our event with the author already happened.

This tends to be a problem when I'm juggling a lot of tasks and haven't given myself enough reading time. I'll start the book thinking I have plenty of time, not just to finish it, but to also write a post about it, but time gets away from me. This happened with Pity the Billionaire, the most recent book by Thomas Frank where time was of the essence. Not only was the tour tied into the election, but the election results already gave the book a slightly different tenor, as the Republican resurgence of 2010 didn't hold as well in 2012. But in the end, you can talk up a book of political commentary pretty much as well whether or not you've read the book, right?

Novels are different though, especially ones by developing authors. And sometimes there are reasons to keep going. I was about halfway through Jonathan Odell's The Healing for our event last week. Anne and Jane were also reading it, with Jane offering me some encouragement about what a great book it was for book clubs. The novel is on our fall-winter book club picks list too, so we'll be continuing to feature the title over the next few months.

This is Odell's second published novel. One interesting sidenote about his first, The View from Delphi, is that at least one critic mistook him for an African American writer. But after reading the author bio, I'm not actually surprised. "Jonathan Odell was born and raised in Mississippi, growing up in the institutional segregation in a small town. At college he became an activist and sold The Ebony Pictorial History of Black America door to door in black neighborhoods across the South while the Klan tried to discourage him. He now resides in Minnesota."

The Healing is framed by a modern story of a young girl, Violet, who comes into the care of Gran Gran after her mother  dies from complications of a botched abortion. Gran Gran tells her the story of Polly Shine, the midwife who came into her life on the plantation where she lived. Granada become the house slave of Mistress Amanda after her own daughter died of cholera and was treated not unlike the Mistress's pet monkey. When Polly Shine was bought by the Master to heal the sick and help the slaves give birth, she singled out young Granada as the only person around with "the gift", only Granada didn't want to go. A battle of wills ensues, between Polly and Mistress Amanda, Master Ben, and Old Silas, the slave who oversees the African Americans on the plantation.

Honestly, it was really Odell's powerful talk that kept me reading. He discussed how the novel came to be in a spirited talk about being a white Southerner, albeit a gay liberal one who fled small-town Mississippi for Minnesota, who came to term with his own racism. The story came to be in a series of trips to the South, hearing the stories of midwives. And what would people say when they heard he wanted to write a novel? "Don't give us another To Kill a Mockingbird. We don't need another white hero helping a black victim."

And so he did not. Probably the closest thing to a sympathetic white character is Little Lord, the master's son, but it's hard to be too sympathetic with a character who pleads with Granada by offering "If we get to Momma, you don't never have to come back here. We can stay with her until we grow up and then you can be my slave and we can live wherever we want to." And at least at the time, that speech appears to tempt Granada. But she does eventually learn what freedom means.

Sometimes I feel like I should go to every author's event well in advance of our own. I would have learned that Mr. Odell has had some success outreaching to nursing groups, and of course we have several nursing schools in town. I might have felt more comfortable  I was a little cautious about outreaching to African American groups, as the author was white and only had one strong review from an African American writer, though it was a good one. Lalita Tademy, author of Cane River, noted that "Odell won me over with his fresh take on th connective power of story to heal body, mind, and community. Long after closing the novel's final pages, I'm still marveling about Polly Shine, a character I won't soon forget."

Now there was a part of me that found Ms. Shine a bit larger than life. She is hardly a warts-and-all kind of character, but I think the impact is supposed to be something of Biblical proportions. Does that help or hurt the book? And I'm not sure how I felt about the framing device, and wasn't exactly sure when it was set. A little research led me to the 1930s. But I have cautioned folks in the past not to put too much effort into the frame. It's what inside the picture that counts.

And of course, had I gotten to the end, I would have seen the thank you to Marly Russoff, one of my favorite agents. I should have known! In any case, I'm glad I finished The Healing, and I'm excited to recommend the novel to book clubs over the next few months. 

Here's Mr. Odell's essay on how he came to write the story.

And here's the publisher's reading group guide.

And finally, an interview with the author in Minnesota Monthly.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"What Happened to Our Holiday Market?" and Other Questions.

Stacie's almost done getting the holiday newsletter ready for the printer. And Jason has help train a lot of new booksellers all while juggling buying and writing an ever more complicated staffing schedule. And Conrad's picked up a good number of school accounts . And Amie's worn at least seven hats (including buying kids' books), but most notably, she's paying our bills with more efficiency than  I could ever muster. And our booksellers, both new and old (Anne, Greg, Halley, Hannah, Jane, Jannis, Mel, Nick, Pam, Paul, Sharon), have stepped up to all sorts of challenges with knowledge, enthusiasm, and grace. I could list what everyone is doing but that would be a bit of a detour regarding this post's intent.

But Team Decorate sure did a great job getting up the trees and hanging snowflakes.

Do we all sound exhausted? I don't mean to give that impression, but it's been a crazy autumn. While talking about how I'd handle fall 2013, Amie noted that I said in 2011 that I would be more careful about 2012, and then we wound up with one week with ten events. Yikes.

I'm excited that we made it through all our fall events with only one major cancellation (Barney Saltzberg at schools, but we're hoping that is rescheduled, adding a public component) and generally, we had a wonderful schedule that made a lot of folks (attendees, authors, publishers, booksellers) happy. Did we get the turnout we hoped for on every event? Most met expectations, but when you do a lot of programming, sometimes you exceed those expectations and other times you're disappointed.

And we got the Aaron Boyd holiday bag done and Dwellephant's monster tee too!

But for my part, there are some things that have slipped through the cracks. I hemmed and hawed on bringing on Kobo devices and really haven't emotionally wrapped myself around the idea of our new partnership. I told the booksellers I didn't have a good story to tell customers, and of course Stacie banged out our message in about five minutes, so that's no excuse.

And I fell down on the Small Business Saturday promotions too. And several publisher partnerships. And lots of other paperwork. There are only so many hours in a day, alas. And like many humans, I sometimes make the wrong decisions about priorities.

This year our friend Angela, who organized our holiday market, found her hands full with other projects, and on top of that, we all know that the yield for apples was down something like 90%. I thought about putting something together ourselves, using many of our friends and customers who have side businesses selling their products (there's a lot of jewelry floating around, for example), and if you had asked me in the summer whether we could do this, I would have said yes.

But on top of juggling priorities, I looked around and saw that the number of holiday markets in Milwaukee has grown almost exponentially since 2009, when we first pioneered the idea. And it turns out that with our increase in business, I started worrying that the balance between bringing new folks into the store and the shopping experience for folks who planned to shop at a bookstore was getting out of whack, particularly as we took neither a fee nor a percentage from our vendors.

And every year, we've added display tables to the store, making it more difficult to find good spots for the vendors. And while the natural open area was in our center back in our convertible lounging/event space, all the vendors want to be by the front door.

So this year we're leaving the markets to our friends at Art Vs. Craft, Discovery World, Local First Milwaukee (where yes, we'll have a table) and the numerous churches and schools in the area that are hosting these events.

And as I always say, who knows, maybe next year. Happy Thanksgiving. Hope to have a new post up on Friday. We're closed tomorrow, but will have regular hours through the weekend.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Just a Couple of Days of Boswell Best, and Then it Changes Again--Wolfe, Munro, Mayle, Brom.

Every Christmas Jason features bookseller picks on our Boswell's Best, so this jun is just for a few days. Asking booksellers to feature books these days usually tilts a list towards new and developing authors, mostly because most publishers don't send too many advance reading copies out for sure things.

We did get a galley of Tom Wolfe's Back to Blood (Little, Brown), mostly because Wolfe doesn't produce regularly, and has had some major bookseller support in the past. But honestly it's hard to get too many Boswellians besides Jason to read a 500+ page book. I was in the groove reading big fat novels several years ago, but I've fallen out of it of late. Hachette should know, however, that just about every Boswellian is digging the massive Red Moon from Benjamin Percy, coming next spring.

I thought the New York Times review from Michiko Kakutani was relatively nuanced (she's usually incensed or overjoyed, don't you think?)  stating that Wolfe pushed past satire to "conjure fully realized people."

Hector Tobar (yes, he whose novel is our January 2013 in-store lit group pick) reports on Tom Wolfe's inclusion on Bad Sex in Fiction award nominees, with J.K. Rowling's not making the cut qualifying as news. Read a vague description in this Lost Angeles Times post. The AV Club cut Wolfe less slack, calling the book "cartoonish" and without a message. Of course I do wonder how Ellen Wernecke would react if the book had a message. She'd probably lob back a "heavy handed" comment.

Let's have Mr. Wolfe have his say. Here he is on KCET's SoCal Connection.This may start automatically. Just tap it to pause!

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Jason chased down a signed copy of Alice Munro's Dear Life (Knopf) for our old friend and Schwartz colleague Nancy.  She's a huge fan, and so is just about every critic in America. It's hard to find a harsh word for this treasured writer. Claudia Puig in USA Today reports "Her prose is spare, graceful and beautifully crafted, her vision expansive. What Munro does with a story is like alchemy. She presents toiling, troubled characters who bubble up and engulf our imagination, leaving the reader to ponder, fascinated, the contours of dear life."

Here's a fascinating interview with Munro and Deborah Treisman from The New Yorker blog, and why it's particularly interesting is that it's not behind the New Yorker paywall, and also because Treisman edits Munro for the magazine. Apparently she's hard to edit--every sentence winds up being vital. Now I can go behind the payroll because I have a subscription, but you can't, unless you of course also have a subscription. What will become of the literati when we don't all have obligatory New Yorker subscriptions, and then in turn moan that we never read the issues?

I've yet to get a word in for Peter Mayle's new novel, The Marseille Caper (also Knopf), which continues the adventures of Sam Levitt of The Vintage Caper. Apparently Mr. Levitt is a detective who is sent on a mission that involves competing for some neighborhood development rights, but everyone says that it's more like a pleasant romp through France with lots of entertaining characters. Tucker Shaw in the Denver Post writes "What Mayle's created — again — is not a novel of great depth or gravitas, but a delightful daydream that will have readers (you) smiling your way through to the (never-far-away) end." Here's his full review.

There were a lot of interviews with Mayle when A Year in Provence celebrated its 20th anniversary. Here's one from the UK Guardian, where he notes that the phenomenon is still going strong. Czech Republic rights were renewed!

It's hard to believe it, but there is very little fiction on the Boswell's Best that I haven't yet profiled, either on the blog or the email newsletter. One title that has escaped my attention is (Gerald) Brom's Krampus: The Yule Lord (Morrow). We had several reads of The Child Thief, and sure enough, a rec from Mel arrived in my in box. She writes: "Krampus is a Mother Earth-loving vigilante trying to right an ancient evil, the Norse god Baldr, who has taken on the persona of Santa Claus to suit his own narcissistic cravings. This is the perfect supernatural mystery for a snowy evening."

Alas, Brom is a little too genre to get too many newspaper out-of-the-gate newspaper reviews, though it strikes me that the book might get into holiday roundups. But on the blogs, Brom is burning up. Here's something from The Little Red Reviewer: "Krampus is a fun and fast-paced urban fantasy, and certainly one designed to be read at this time of year. The mythos-come-to-life was my favorite part, and I appreciated Brom’s afterward where he talks about some of the research that he did."

Monday, November 19, 2012

What's Happening This Week at Boswell? Paul Salsini Tonight (11/19) and Lilly Goren (11/20) Tomorrow.

Monday, November 19, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Paul Salsini, author of Stefano and the Christmas Miracles and The Temptation of Father Lorenzo.

We originally had an event scheduled with Paul Salsini earlier in the year for The Temptation of Father Lorenzo, his most recent book for adults, set in the beautiful hills of Tuscany. The story is set in the 1970s (I finally figured out that each volume covers a different decade) It's actually multiple stories, though most of the stories are themselves divided into chapters, featuring Tomasso Nozzoli, Dino Sporenza, and other characters from the earlier novels.

But Salsini said to me at one point, "Let's wait. I may have another novel by fall, one for families to share together." And he did.

The new book is Stefano and the Christmas Miracles, in which Stefano unwraps a different nativity scene character with his grandfather Nonno (Yes, I understand that this is an Italian word for grandfather) day while the town is getting ready for the holiday celebrations. With each character (not just Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the Three Wise Men, but Achim the Fence Maker, Seth the Soup Peddler and more), Stefano learns a little lesson about life. And yes, each of the porcelain characters is from a real nativity scene, and photographed to accompany the story.

Tuesday, November 20, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Lilly Goren, co-editor of Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics.

Goren's talk was also rescheduled from earlier in the fall. It seemed like a talk about women and presidential politics would be a great addition to the campaign season. I expected a lot of press attention, and always enjoy having local academics (Goren teaches at Carroll University) appear at the store, as do many of our customers.

Goren and co-editor Justin Vaughan collected a series of essays examining how the president and the first lady exist as a function of public expectations and cultural gender roles, looking at everything from popular films to the blogosphere.

There was only one problem. The book would not be out until after the election. So we've rescheduled her talk to tomorrow, Tuesday, November 20, 7 pm. Should be interesting, and with both school and work on hold, you probably are looking for something to do if you're not in charge of pre-making the apple, walnut, and jalapeño stuffing.*

We are closed on Thursday for Thanksgiving, and are open our regular scheduled hours for the weekend. No doorbusters here, alas, but you can also a relatively civilized shopping experience. 

*I don't know if that's a real stuffing, by the way, but it sounds possible

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Bestsellers--Find Out What's Popping (Munro, Solomon, McEwan, Sacks) at Boswell, with Lots of Review and Interview Links.

Hardcover fiction:
1. Blasphemy, new and selected stories by Sherman Alexie
2. The Giving Quilt, by Jennifer Chiaverini
3. The Selector of Souls, by Shauna Singh Baldwin
4. Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver
5. The Round House, by Louise Erdrich
6. Dear Life, by Alice Munro
7. Darth Vader and Son, by Jeffrey Brown
8. Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan
9. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
10. A Casual Vacancy, by J. K. Rowling

With Louise Erdrich winning the National Book Award for The Round House, we can assume that we'll have our best hardcover sales of her since we've been keeping records, and maybe since the days of Love Medicine and The Beet Queen, which I remember being a particularly huge sales success at Schwartz.

A customer asked me yesterday what I knew about Sweet Tooth, the new Ian McEwan novel, as she'd heard mixed reviews. The UK-based Observer's recommendation offers: "Sweet Tooth is playful, comic, preposterous even. But it's impossible to ignore that its protagonist is a young and fairly gauche English person – female this time – failing miserably (though perhaps not so dangerously) in her job as a spy."

And David Daley in USA Today observes "It's a tightly crafted, exquisitely executed page-turner — a post-modern hall of mirrors asking savvy questions about identity (with an unreliable narrator and a Martin Amis cameo), all concealed in the immersive trappings of a Victorian novel complete with a marriage plot. There's such rich pleasure and vulnerability in McEwan's storytelling, such style and heart in his well-honed sentences."

Hardcover nonfiction:
1. My Bookstore, edited by Ron Rice
2. Barefoot Contessa Foolproof, by Ina Garten
3. Thomas Jeffereson: the Art of Power, by Jon Meacham
4. Far from the Tree, by Andrew Solomon
5. Hallucinations, by Oliver Sacks
6. Elsewhere, by Richard Russo
7. Roots, by Diane Morgan
8. The Smitten Kitchen, by Deb Perelman
9. The Price of Politics, by Bob Woodward
10. Jerusalem, by Yottam Ottolenghi

The cookbooks are beginning their fourth quarter pop. This felt like it might be the year when the web started stealing our sales by offering out the individual receipes on line but noting that this week's top ten includes four cookbooks begs to differ. Our rep Jason noted I got Ms. Perelman's title wrong on a previous post; I made it sound like a different kind of book altogether.

As the holidays approach, another topic on everyone's must-have list is brain science apparently. While we've yet to have a bestseller-sized pop on Susannah Cahalan's Brain on Fire, Oliver Sacks's Hallucinations is seeing good sales. Suzanne Koven in the Boston Globe notes that the new book is less anecdote heavy, but it's still an interesting anthology of hallucinations that were not linked to mental illness.

Andrew Solomon's new book is about parents raising children with extraordinary needs. The range of circumstances are large, from when the children need parents with a particularly large heart (schizophrenia) to when the burden is more on the parents (children of rape). Like his book, The Noonday Demon, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity is an all-encompassing opus. Kathryn Schulz in New York magazine discusses Solomon's call for parents with kids of differing special needs to band together instead of balkanizing. I hope I got that right.

Paperback fiction:
1. Rescue the Good Stuff, by Louisa Loveridge Gallas
2. Wizard's Dream, by Louisa Loveridge Gallas
3. Tiger Claw, by Shauna Singh Baldwin
4. War Dances, by Sherman Alexie
5. Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
followed by four more Sherman Alexie books and one by Shauna Baldwin.

One thing I am noticing about our list this year in paperback is that for the second fall in a row, we do not have a few really strong paperback fiction (excluding erotica) books selling. In the past, we'd have at least a couple selling double digits each week, but our front tables are not driving quantity sales. I wonder if it's the slow takeover of the trade paperback fiction list by commercial fiction, the effect of e-book reading, or the lack of our book club table for a few months. I have no control over the first two, but the book club table is back. One thing that is pretty clear is that moving up the pub date on paperbacks does not seem to increase our sales of them.  It's either for a different market, or it's more about earning back the advance faster.

The Paris Wife finally comes out in paperback on November 27. Let's see how that goes.

Paperback nonfiction:
1. Memoir of the Sunday Brunch, by Julia Pandl
2. Historic Milwaukee Public Schoolhouses, by Robert Tanzilo
3. Schuster's and Gimbels, by Paul Geenen
4. Read This, edited by Hans Weyandt
5. In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larsen

If you missed our event with Hans Weyandt on Thursday and would like to learn a little more about how Read This came together, here is his interview in The Rumpus with Jennifer Bowen Hicks. Just a tease:

"There was a time last fall where I’d be getting these e-mails [from booksellers] and it would be my favorite part of the day. It was like you said earlier, peeking into the minds of other booksellers and getting to know them well. Even those I knew pretty well I’d feel I’d know better from their lists. There’d be books on there I knew, but there were many that I didn’t. Even for people who read a lot or work in the book world, very few people will know every book on someone’s list. It’s as much fun to see stuff you didn’t know about as it is to see the stuff you’re really connected to."

Books for kids:
1. The Third Wheel: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, volume 7, by Jeff Kinney
2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, paperback edition by Sherman Alexie
3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, cloth edition,  by Sherman Alexie
4. Hollow Earth, by John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman
5. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney

I still haven't gotten through my head that the price difference on the hardcover and paperback versions of Absolutely True Diary favor hardcover sales at events because they are so close. The hardcover was priced as a kids' book but the paperback was priced as an adult book (as a kids book, it would be closer to $10, maybe $11). Makes a difference.

Our kids' pop this week was below the top five, the graphic novel edition of A Wrinkle in Time, adapted by Hope Larson. Descriptions are trimmed, becoming images, but the dialogue is still there. Reviewers are calling it faithful, and Jannis, our bookseller who just finished it, agreed wholeheartedly.  From Kirkus: "Adaptations can be difficult to execute with style and grace; Larson manages to do both and still add her own flair. Larson's admiration and respect for the original text shines through; this is an adaptation done right." This links to the review and an interview with Larson.

For next week's bestsellers, we look to the Journal Sentinel, where we hope to find a second pop for My Bookstore and Read This, as well as Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores, which features entries from Lanora Haradon of the late Next Chapter.

Mike Fischer reviews Alice Munro's latest collection, Dear Life. His take: "Like the 81-year-old Munro, many of the characters here are older, and they're often very aware of time. The most perceptive learn the lesson each of these stories teaches: Life is indeed dear and therefore not to be wasted - reason enough to spend one's days reading and rereading Munro's magnificent stories."

And in Carole E. Barrowman's "Paging through Mysteries" column, she focuses on three titles.

Hand for Hand, by Frank Muir, set at St. Andrews, where  the nearby Valley of Sin is a dumping ground for body parts. Barrowman compares his work to Ian Rankin and Denise Mina. 

Attica Locke's The Cutting Season is set in contemporary Louisiana, at a restored plantation that his been the locale for the death of a migrant worker. Barrowman calls this "an elegant gothic mystery."

And Barrowman calls Andrew Hunt's City of Saints a terrific debut, set in 1930s Salt Lake City. The mystery is based on the real-life murder of a wealthy socialite and an aspiring Hollywood actress and is packed with historical detai.