Sunday, November 3, 2013

What's Selling at Boswell for the Week Ending November 2, 2013? On Billy Collins, Pat Conroy, William Kuhn, Lisa Moser, and More.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Critical Mass, by Sara Paretsky
2. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
3. Tumbledown, by Robert Boswell
4. Aimless Love, by Billy Collins
5. Sycamore Row, by John Grisham

Is it coincidence or conspiracy that another bestselling poet put a dog on the cover of their latest collection? Aimless Love is a collection of Billy Collins' work over the last ten years. He spoke on PBS Newshour with Jeffrey Brown, who asked him how he got his voice, specifically the casual and sometimes humorous voice that connects with fans.

From Collins: "It starts out with a kind of -- a casual straightforward tone, trying to just get the reader engaged in the first stanza by not making too many demands on the reader, by just setting up a little scene or a kind of engagement of speech. I hope the poem, as it goes on, gets more complicated, a little more demanding, a little more ambiguous or speculative, so that we're drifting away from the casual beginning of the poem into something a little more serious."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. The French Kitchen Cookbook, by Patricia Wells
2. Driven, by Donald Driver
3. Heretics and Heroes, by Thomas Cahill
4. The Death of Santini, by Pat Conroy
5. Catastrophe 1914, by Max Hastings

Max Hastings is on track with Catastrophe 1914 to match or beat his success with 2011's Inferno at Boswell. What's interesting to me is that his previous two titles, both Retribution (2008, Downer Schwartz) and Winston's War (2010, Boswell) only sold a couple of copies each.

Though one might associate Pat Conroy with fiction, it turns out that four of his last five releases have been nonfiction. Since 2000, he's released a novel, South of Broad, but in addition to the new The Death of Santini, his other books have been My Reading Life, My Losing Season, and The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life. Bill Sheehan in The Washington Post offers this insight: "Despite the inherently bleak nature of so much of this material, Conroy has fashioned a memoir that is vital, large-hearted and often raucously funny. The result is an act of hard-won forgiveness, a deeply considered meditation on the impossibly complex nature of families and a valuable contribution to the literature of fathers and sons."

Paperback Fiction:
1. Dear Life, by Alice Munro
2. Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
3. A Dance with Dragons, by George R.R. Martin
4. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce
5. Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, by William Kuhn

George R. R. Martin's publisher contniues to simultaneously release mass and trade editions, and finally has A Dance with Dragons on the market in paperback. It's one of the few series where we carry both.

One sleeper that continues to sell is William Kuhn's Mrs. Queen's Take the Train. It's definitely in the vein of An Uncommon Reader and The President's Hat, only it didn't get the half dozen or so bookseller reads. What moves one book from bookseller to bookseller and another stalls? Sometimes it's the makeup of the staff; other times it needs a champion. That said, one recommendation seems to be enough to keep it going, as our customers are hungry for whimsical, European escapism.

From our trade magazine Bookselling This Week, an excerpt of an interview with Kuhn. They asked: "You’re a historian and biographer whose previous published work has been exclusively nonfiction. What made you decide to write a novel?"

William Kuhn: "When I was writing Reading Jackie, I put a line into the first draft saying Jacqueline Onassis must have been thinking “this” as she edited a specific book. I’d talked to her authors and read all the books she edited. Nan Talese, herself a queen among editors, wrote in the margin: “You can’t say this because you don’t know for sure what she was thinking.” She was right. So I took out the line, even though my research combined with my intuition told me it was right. That was the moment that I started to think about writing a work of fiction. Then I could say exactly what the characters were thinking because I could make it up."

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Riding through Grief, deluxe edition, by Barbara Manger
2. Racial Justice and the Catholic Church, by Father Bryan Massingale
3. Riding through Grief, by Barbara Manger
4. Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh
5. Best American Infographics, by David Byrne
6. My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor

I put six books in this list because two of them are the same. I'd love to add together all the editions, but it's just easier to separate them out most of the time. The deluxe edition of Barbara Manger's memoir, Riding Through Grief, is $16.95, but the six dollars extra is well worth it, with French flaps, better paper, and nicer binding.

Books for Kids:
1. House of Hades, by Rick Riordan
2. Cowboy Boyd and Mighty Calliope, by Lisa Moser, with illustrations from Sebastian Van Doninck.
3. Fortunately the Milk, by Neil Gaimen
4. A Great Lakes Adventure, by SHARP Literacy and Francisco Mora (event on Monday, November 4, 7 pm)
5. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

We had a rip roaring time on Saturday with our storytime/activity hour featuring Lisa Moser's Cowboy Boyd and Mighty Calliope. Nick, before he left, made some sheets for drawing, including cut out sheriff and deputy badges, plus plans to make a cowboy hat out of construction paper. We also had plans for a paper bag vest, but we wound up just trying on the prototype. The book was featured in The New York Times Book Review Wild West slideshow.

In the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins reviews American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell, by Deborah Solomon. He notes that "Her Rockwell biography is well-researched; her prose intelligent, accessible and touched occasionally with humor; her readings of Rockwell's paintings sharp and sensible."

Also in this week's Journal Sentinel book page, Mike Fischer takes on Amy Tan's The Valley of Amazement. Oy, he's not in love with it the way Zoë Ferraris is in the San Francisco Chronicle, though he does find interest in the internalized racism of the characters and "solidarity among smart women, living in a man's world where they have few options."

Here's a wow moment from the Ferraris review: "The book is exquisitely satisfying, but there are no easy lessons, no promises of enlightenment, only the wisdom of experience that comes from having accompanied Violet on her rough journey. And with that also comes gratitude for the good things life has offered - among them, a novel that grabs your soul." We're bringing Amy Tan to Alverno College on Monday, November 11. Buy your ticket here.

From earlier in the week, Jim Higgins profiles a number of the annual writing anthologies. We've been doing quite well with Best American Infographics. Hannah has a friend whose infographic made the cut!

And finally, the Journal Sentinel gives a shout out to our event with Francisco Mora and SHARP Literacy on Monday, November 4, 7 pm for A Great Lakes Adventure: A Salmon's Journey Home. "Students and teachers from local schools, including Blessed Sacrament Elementary School, Brown Street Academy, Business and Economics Academy of Milwaukee, Hartford University School and Escuela Vieau School researched water and weather and submitted writing and artwork for the book."

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