Thursday, February 26, 2015

Newish Displays: The Red Table, The Literary Road Trip Table, The Dog Table, The Spy Table, and the Fitzgerald Table.

I'm trying for four posts a week, down from six, down from seven, up from two. My goal is Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, but for obvious reasons, I'm posting our Friday post, a tour of new displays, on Thursday.

1. The red table was Sharon's idea, when I was in display desperation. We enjoyed doing the blue table so much for Christopher Moore, that...why not? I'm not sure how well books pop off a color-themed table, as there's really no call to buy, but it is pretty. The focus of the table was originally Paul Fischer's A Kim Jong-Il Production, but after that event on February 16, we switched it to the hardcover of Boris Fishman's A Replacement Life. You should note that both books are about "Reds", though Fishman would note that the North Korean government is neither Communist nor Socialist, but instead a personality cult crossed with an organized crime family. One should also note that the paperback edition of Fishman played down the red coloring. Our event with Boris Fishman, co-sponsored by the Sam and Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies at UWM, is Thursday, February 26, 7 pm, at Boswell. If you are reading this post the day it went out, that would be tonight.

2. Jane came to me with an idea for a literary road trip. But wait, we don't have an event to hook it on! But when you've got a good idea and an empty table, you've got to go for it. Several booksellers helped Jane in putting this together. The idea from this display came from Emma Hooper's new novel, Etta and Otto and Russell and James, which is recommended by Jane and Jen. Other titles on the display include The 100-Year-Old Man who Climbed Out the the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Joanasson, The Broken Road, by Patrick Leigh Fermor, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe. About Emma, Jen says " Everyone has a journey they need to take and at 83 years old Etta is finally taking hers. Leaving her husband Otto a note saying she's gone to see the ocean and will try to remember to come back, Etta sets off. She embarks on foot through the quiet farmland and dust she meets new friends and becomes some what of a celebrity through the towns she passes. Meanwhile, her husband Otto has been keeping himself busy trying out his wife's recipes, getting a pet and getting a hobby that will attract the attention of passerby. This book has heart and soul all over it."

3. Sometimes a table just screams out to be made, when events cluster together. That's the case for our two dog events, for Gina Cilento's Mitzie Boo and Mia, Too: Go to London, on Saturday, March 7, 2 pm, followed up by Cat Warren's What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World., which is scheduled for Tuesday, March 10, 7 pm. This is a change of subtitle from the hardcover, which was The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs. They also changed the breed, from German Shepherd to Black Lab. Following my rule about dog eye contact selling books, I actually like the hardcover a bit better, but we'll see if the experts outdo the bookseller. I should also mention that this summer we're hosting Momo of Find Momo. Momo is coming with Andrew Knopp for their new collaboration, Find Momo Coast to Coast. It's a similar tour to the Maddie on Things that we hosted in 2013, and just as exciting. Look, something sold off of the display!

4. For the window, we decided to help promote our event with Erik Larson by featuring narratives about boats. My dream was to somehow have a ship in the window but we settled on this painting of sailboats that somehow wound up in storage and nobody has ever picked up. Our event with Erik Larson is for his new book, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. The book goes on sale March 10 and our event is March 24, 7 pm. Our tickets are $30 and come with a copy of the book. Buy your ticket now on Brown Paper Tickets now. Boswellian Sharon enthuses: "This is what brings history alive for the reader – learning details about the actual people that lost their lives in such a horrific and unexpected manner. Even more fascinating are the circumstances that resulted in this tragedy. If even one small thing had not occurred or happened in a slightly different way, the Lusitania would have arrived safely at her destination." I should note that this event will likely sell out.

4. Spy table! After reading the new Joseph Kanon, Leaving Berlin, I asked Jen to put a spy table together. Because we actually have an espionage section (and I have a standing rule that display books should not be from one subsection, with general fiction excepted), we highlighted a lot of true spy narratives that are shelved in history and biography. Atria booked this event early with us (Kanon is coming Wednesday, March 11, 7 pm) and it's really paid off; we've sold way more Kanon backlist off our upcoming event display than we ever have since we've opened. Thanks to Anne for picking Istanbul Passage for the mystery book club. Too bad it was zero degrees out when they met. I think Kanon's been held back a bit by multiple formats and publishers. There's not question that Alan Furst (to compare him to a comparable author whose backlist has sold a bit better) is helped by the beautiful uniform packaging. Get Kanon out of mass market and come up with a uniform design. Even with the rights dispersed, I have seen agents put this together, most notably for Elmore Leonard.

Here's my recommendation for Leaving Berlin: "It’s just after World War II and Berlin is divided into four zones of occupation; a blockade against the American and British zones has left much of the city struggling. Arriving back after 15 years in the United States is Alex Meier, a noted writer, half-Jewish, with socialist leanings, who fled when the Nazis rose to power but left America when the rise of communist witch hunts started pointing at him and the government asked him to name names. He’s been invited back by the Socialist Germans to be an artist in residence, but what they don’t know is that he’s been recruited by Americans to funnel information, in return for amnesty. What the Germans also don’t know is that the Russians have their own intelligence system and they’re not sharing information, nor have they made clear that German POWs are being used as slave labor in uranium mines. Things get more complicated when Alex hooks up with Irene, an old flame, now an actress, who is also having an affair with a Russian bigwig. Oh, and did we mention that Irene’s brother shows up, having escaped from the slave camp, dying of radiation poisoning? Alex Meier finds being a spy is a bit more difficult than he hoped. This is great intellectual espionage that held me in its grip, anxious to know what happens, but almost fearful to find out." (Daniel)

5. Fitzgerald Fever! Can you tell that the person who is picking out displays is also booking the events? You may scoff, but I these are still good display ideas and many of them sell books pretty well, bringing together titles that might not otherwise be found in the section. For this, I was inspired by the Winter Institute conversation between Stewart O'Nan, author of West of Sunset, and So We Read on: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures. Coincidentally, the conversation was moderated by Erik Larson. The reason this was held was partly because we stayed at The Grove Park Inn in Asheville, where Fitzgerald stayed for a period of time. One of the authors mentioned staying in the Fitzgerald room. In any case, the beloved Stewart O'Nan (Last Night at the Lobster and Emily, Alone have done particularly well for us) is coming to Boswell on Friday, March 20, 7 pm. Here's Elizabeth Berg talking about O'Nan, as we are hosting in conjunction with her Writing Matters event at Oak Park on March 21. "That's Stewart's great gift, getting inside the head of whoever he's writing about, and showing us what's there, and teasing out of us a genuine affection for what we might at first have called an unremarkable person. But as author Elizabeth Strout says, O'Nan is the king of the quotidian." George Saunders calls him "an icredibly versatile and charming writer." And perhaps most importantly, Stewart is a genuinely nice guy." Are you a Chicago reader? Get tickets for his appearance in Oak Park here. And I should note that we also included Clifton Spargo's Beautiful Fools in the display, the inspiration for our last Fitzgerald table.

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