Friday, July 31, 2015

What Did the Book Club Think of "We Are Not Ourselves"?

It's sometimes hard to write about a book club discussion after you've already written so much about a book. But based on the release schedule, I could do not host a meeting for Matthew Thomas's We Are Note Ourselves before the event, but I really thought that it would be a good discussion and I wanted to make sure I read the book. As much as I read many of our event books, I certainly can't read them all. Sometimes we're doing 25-30 things in a month and my average reading rate is five books per month. You do the math!

I can't imagine what it's like when authors appear at book club discussions, event by Skype. That's why when we do this, like on August 20 with Rebecca Makkai for The Hundred Year House (6 pm), we do most of the discussion without the author present, and bring him or her in at the end to ask questions. And that's true, event when most of the people liked the book, as in the case of We Are Not Ourselves.

So there was some discussion over the length of the book. It's unusual for a character-driven story to be over 600 pages, and considering that the majority of authors I've talked to have been asked to cut down their manuscripts, I wondered what the size of the story was originally. To my surprise, Thomas actually was asked to add additional material! Most of us felt that folks should not be intimidated by the book's size, as it beautifully written, but in a straightforward enough style that you're not tripped up in language or structure, which is what can make a long book harder to get through.

We discussed the secret twist. Like several other books out there, there was something that happened in the story that changed the way you read it. I noticed several initial reviewers did avoid revealing what happened, while others stated matter of factly, "This is what the book is about." Some folks in the book club knew about it, others did not, but many who did not could see it coming well before Eileen Leary. On the other hand, isn't that so true in real life.

In the case of Thomas's novel, our book club was divided as to whether revealing the twist affected the reading of the book. Eileen could have had any number of roadblocks in her race to the American dream that could have tripped her up. She'd still have to question her choices she'd made along the way, and she still would have had the chance to prove herself as a person. I have to decide here whether to spoiler this or not, and say that there are pros and cons of this. Had the twist been revealed, the book would have been connected to several other books that have treated the same issue, at least one of which has been very successful, but certainly others have not broken out the way it was hoped. But in paperback, this becomes the nonfiction hook for book club, which can be very important.

I thought "the great Queens novel" turned out to be a bit of hyping on the part of New York media. "Hipsters are moving in; it's time to celebrate Queens instead of making fun of it on sitcoms." Being that the family abandons the borough for suburban climes halfway through, to me it's hard to say and I'm not giving anything away that they don't exactly move back at the end of the book and say, "What a mistake! Queens is the greatest!"

I think I positioned the book to the book club, as well as our customers when talking up the event, as Alice McDermott on steroids. I said this without reading the book. Fortunately I think that particular hyperbole held up. I don't expect McDermott to publish at 600+ page book in the near future. It would be kind of funny if she were working on one.

We had an interesting conversation about character empathy. All in all, I think the attendees identified with Eileen more than I think even the author might have expected. She came through when it counted. The group was a little more divided on Connell, but I and some other attendees insisted that they needed to look at Connell's age and really wonder whether he should have dropped his just starting life to help his mother take care of their father.

Note how consistent the cover treatment has been internationally (and I should note that the US and UK versions are from different corporate entities). Every publisher picked a row of houses turned sideways. The only change has really been what color the sky is. With a little searching, I noticed the hardcover UK jacket was different, but the paperback is much closer to the other editions.

As indicated earlier, we have three in-store lit meetings coming up in August, two in addition to our regular first Monday discussion, which on August 3 is Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend.

1. Our September meeting generally falls on Labor Day. We've tried having the discussion on Labor Day afternoon, and another day that week, but the easiest thing to schedule turned out to be the previous Monday. So we've rescheduled to Monday, August 31, 7 pm. The book we are discussing is Richard Ford's Canada. And yes, Ford is coming to Boswell in October, for his ticketed appearance to discuss the paperback of Let Me Be Frank with You. Tickets should be up by August 15 for that one.

2. Plus we're hosting a bonus in-store lit group meeting. On Thursday, August 20, Rebecca Makkai is coming to Boswell to read from her new collection of short stories, Music for Wartime. She's appearing with Aleksandar Hemon, coming for his recent novel The Making of Zombie Wars. With that kind of schedule, how are we going to discuss The Hundred-Year House, let alone make sure folks don't give away the ending. So at 6 pm on August 20, we'll be having a book club discussion of The Hundred-Year House and Makkai will join us at the end to answer questions. And yes, this is The Spoiler Zone, so we ask that folks who come to that make sure they've completely read The Hundred-Year House.

3. And then we don't meet again until October! On Monday, October 5, we'll discuss Helen Oyeymi's Boy, Snow, Bird, which re-imagines Snow White in 1950s Massachusetts. The book was a notable book of the year from The New York Times Book Review and was also on The Washington Post best 50 works of fiction for 2014.

So to summarize:
Monday, August 3, 7 pm: Elena Ferrante's My Beautiful Friend
Thursday, August 20, 6 pm: Rebecca Makkai's The Hundred-Year House
Monday, August 31, 7 pm: Richard Ford's Canada
Monday, October 5, 7 pm: Helen Oyeyemi's Boy Snow Bird

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why We Now Know the Importance of Sadness and How Lauren Fox Captures That So Well in "Days of Awe," Out Tuesday, August 4 with the Celebratory Launch at 7 pm That Same Day at Boswell.

So I was visiting my mom and sister in Massachusetts for a few days, and I asked my sister, "Do you want me to bring you a book?" And she says, "Yes, but bring me something lighter this time. Everything you're reading is so sad." And I'm paraphrasing here of course, as I wasn't taping the conversation, and had no intention of using this to jump-start a blog post*.

But it's true, I thought. I really have been reading some sad stuff lately. Beautiful, yes. Inspiring, yes. But sad.

Can it be that I am influenced by Pixar's Inside Out, which while not getting the gross of Jurassic World, is still the movie of the summer, at least for me? While I love Amy Poehler's Joy, there's no question that Phyllis Smith's Sadness takes the story to another level. OK, well maybe Richard Kind's Bing Bong does too, but I'll save my imaginary friend thoughts for another day. (Really! Amie and I were discussing that imaginary friends are hot in the children's book world). Alan Sepinwall in Hitflix called Inside Out Pixar's "best movie ever" and Sadness is the reason.

I'm not talking about weepies here. I don't think you'll be crying hysterically. But these books do help a reader work through one's emotions and the result is a little more complicated that pure release all-out crying. And I should mention that one of the books I was thinking about, as was my sister, was Matthew Thomas's We are Not Ourselves, and I did hear from one reader that she bawled for the last 200 pages.

Many sad books simulate grieving, don't they? And it's not the death itself that brings us sadness, or we'd be crying a lot more reading murder mysteries. Yes, the death is sad, but the decline can be even harder, as we know from Thomas's story. And dealing with the loss, and trying to get life back on track afterwards can be mighty hard too. The new memoir from David Payne, Barefoot to Avalon: A Brother's Story, took fifteen years to write.

While each of Dean Bakopoulos's three novels had different tones (the first elegaic, the second manic, the third resigned), all of them had a sombre tone, even when the story is in fact quite funny, and there's no question that sadness is a big part of that. In Summerlong, some characters are struggling with the end of a marriage, while others are contemplating the passing of life.

I think all this sadness reading was meant to culminate in the release of Lauren Fox's third novel,  Days of Awe. Like David Payne, Fox has written a novel about carrying on in the face of the death of someone close to you, first idealizing that relationship, and then coming to terms with its imperfections. Like Bakopoulous, Fox has a wild sense of humor that is not just fun to read, but beautifully captures life's absurdities. And like Matthew Thomas, Fox is very good at everyday details, and while not a vivid celebration of place, the way at least the first half of We Are Not Ourselves is towards Queens, its distinctively Milwaukee, and that's something we do not get much of in novels from New York publishing (though Amy Reichert's The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is also recently out).

This is Fox's third novel with Knopf and it's feeling like a big moment. Of course Still Life with Husband was released when I was at Schwartz, and so while I read the book, I had no connection with the author. Pivotal scenes were set at White's Bookshop, and if you know that many of the local details were coined by the law of opposites, that was in fact the Schwartz ("black" in German) Bookshop in Shorewood.

When Friends Like Us was released, it was during Boswell's tenure, and we hosted the event. But a lot of us still didn't know Fox well, And we certainly didn't hear about the book as it was coming together. But this time Jason and I attended the Knopf party at Book Expo 2014 and chatted with Fox's editor Jenny Jackson. She mentioned that a draft of the novel had just arrived and how excited she was by it. She had also told us about a little book she was excited about called Station Eleven. Nice going!

The advance copies came just about a year later  and committed to making Days of Awe one of my books to talk about at the 2015 Book Expo. I think it's important to have a book to talk up when you're interacting with other booksellers. Let that be a lesson to all of you who do not prepare in this way! (Fox's photo credit is Amanda Schlicher).

The enthusiasm at Boswell has been very strong. There are at least four big fans of Fox's work on staff, and three sent in recommendations.

Sharon Nagel: "Isabel Moore seems to have it all – a happy marriage, a loving daughter, and a close friendship with Josie, a fellow teacher. Things certainly can change on a dime. As Lauren Fox’s latest novel opens, Isabel’s husband has moved out, her daughter is barely speaking to her, and her best friend is dead, disastrously killed in an automobile accident. Days of Awe is an attempt to make sense of tragedy and loss, while still finding humor and grace in everyday life. A reminder to appreciate what you have, and how quickly you can lose it."

Jannis Mindel: "Isabel Moore's life is in the midst of chaos. Her best friend and fellow teacher has died in a tragic car accident. Her once happy marriage has fallen apart in the wake of her grief and her daughter has begun her moody journey through adolescence. Lauren Fox has written a wickedly funny, heartbreaking and tender portrayal of motherhood, marriage, and relationships."

Me (Daniel Goldin): "Lauren Fox captures that moment in life when the world seems like it’s falling apart, and to be fair, it sort of is. Isabel Moore is a distinctively Lauren Fox heroine, observant and funny and painfully self-conscious, and Days of Awe might be her best book yet, all the better for striking some raw nerves is it mines for the truth mother lode."

It's so early that we just don't know what the trade reviews will be. How will it connect with critics? The advance reviews are strong. Publishers Weekly wrote: "Filled with insecurities and anxieties, Isabela's nuanced character is relatablea her struggles are universal and the reader will root for her to succeed. Raw and darkly humorous at times, Fox's novel is a winner. "

And here's a great excerpt from Kirkus Reviews: "What makes the book so special is Isabel's smart, acerbic voice and her way of seeing everything from a sharp angle. Fox studs Izzy's narration with surprising metaphors, turning ordinary domestic items into dangerous beasts ('the herd of wild minivans') and Josie's fatal accident into something almost domestic ('Her rusty 11-year-old Toyota skidded off the slick road like a can of soup rolling across a supermarket aisle'). Isabel (and Fox) has such an offbeat way of looking at things that you'll eagerly keep reading just to see what she's going to say next. Read it for the magnetic voice and Fox's ever interesting perspective on work, love, friendship, and parenthood-because, really, what else is there?"

Shelf Awareness is a bookseller newsletter that offers longer reviews of upcoming books. Kathleen Gerard wrote about Days of Awe recently and was quite enthusiastic: "Humor brings levity to Fox's frank, thought-provoking story that adds surprising depth and meaning, layer upon layer, page by page. As in Fox's other novels, Still Life with Husband and Friends Like Us, she presents scenes of seemingly mundane life that resonate with much larger and deeper dramatic implications. By employing a wry, likable narrator to chronicle the aching, pull-and-tug of grief and the joys and perils of domestic life, Fox once again explores, with a smart and refreshing perspective, the underside of friendships, marriage, love and loss--and the range of emotions that can plague and liberate the human heart."

I'm not sure if I'm allowed to mention this, but Fox's publisher tried to move away from the relationship drama covers of her first two novel, but there were accounts that would commit to the book in a bigger way if the cover became more distinctly female. Being a painting, it still has an artsy-literary twist to it, but I also like the pointillist bent of the earlier incarnation, which was also a woman's face, only you couldn't exactly tell on first looking at it. It's sort of Seurat meets pixel. Speaking of jackets, that German edition of Friends Like Us is pretty racy, no?

There are so many books out there, but it's clear that if reviewers (and readers) find this book, a whole bunch of them will fall in love with it. No, there's not a murder, and the only zombies and aliens are us, all too human, and yes, as a woman, the story will be categorized as women's fiction, as opposed to if a man told basically the same story, but these are all things we have to live with. There was a little panic as the book was not showing up on the best novels of summer, but Jason and I thought that most summer round ups want the books out by July, if not June, and August 4, the book's release date, already seems like a fall preview. And the story is nothing if not autumnal, with much of it taking place at the school where Isabel and Josie taught together.

I can't help but end by returning to Inside Out. Now when I read Days of Awe, "I keep thinking about Phyllis Smith's Sadness knocking aside Amy Poehler's Joy and taking control of Isabel, knowing that they probably have to work together to survive. But some of the asides have a touch of  Mindy Kaling's Disgust in them, don't they?  And since I do enjoy these clever profiles, here is Fear and Anger.

Days of Awe publication is Tuesday, August 4, and it begins with an event at Boswell. You can reserve your copy right now. At right is Fox participating in our Independent Bookstore Day quiz show, along with other FOBs (friends of Boswell) Larry Watson, Carole E. Barrowman, and Mike Fischer. She wound up raising money for Pathfinders. And it was a lot of fun, so keep an eye out to see when we do it again.

Can't make our event? Maybe you're near one of these venues.
Thursday, August 6, 7 pm, at the Highland Park (Illinois) Library.
Tuesday, August 11th, 7 pm, Brilliant Books in Traverse City
Wednesday, August 12th, 7pm: Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor
Thursday, August 13th, 7 pm: Magers and Quinn in Minneapolis
Tuesday, August 18th, 7 pm: Joseph Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati
Wednesday, Wednesday, August 19th, Round Lake Library in Round Lake (Illinois)
Wednesday, August 20th, 7 pm: Books and Company in Oconomowoc.

There are probably more out there, but this is what I found.

*To circle back to my opening, I'm probably going to send Days of Awe to both sister, even though one of them asked me to parcel out the sadness. But don't worry, I upped the joy quotient too, too, by sending as a gift Fredrik Backman's A Man Called Ove. And just one sad novel update - one of my favorite books of 2014, All My Puny Sorrows, is now out in paperback.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Events This Week: Bill Hillmann Tonight (at 5:30), Jeffrey Gingold Thursday, July 30, 7 pm, and Where's Waldo at 3 pm (activities), 4 pm (prize drawing)

While it's not October, we have a lot going on at a bookstore for late July. Here's our updated event info for Boswell.

Monday, July 27, 5:30 pm, at Boswell:
Bill Hillmann, author of Mozos: A Decade Running with the Bulls of Spain.

You may have met Bill Hillmann at Boswell for The Old Neighborhood, his novel based on growing up on the mean streets of Chicago. You may know that he is a Golden Glove championship. And if you know about the documentary Chasing Red, you may know that he found his place running with the bulls of Pamplona. While he is profiled in Chasing Red, he tells the story his way in the new memoir Mozos.  Publishers Weekly called Mozos "gritty" and "tough-talking."

In the Chicago Tribune, John Keilman reviewed Mozos along with Bulls Before Breakfast, by Peter Milligan. Keilman writes that "The book is crammed with two-fisted tales of boozing, brawling and the pursuit of literature, as Hillmann tries to get a Hemingway-inspired writing career off the ground. He travels to Pamplona in homage to the author, and soon falls in with a crew who regard running with the bulls as an art form in itself, with the highest esteem reserved for those who sprint right in front of the animal's horns."

Now you may remember that we originally billed this as a possibly talk followed by a screening of Chasing Red at the Oriental, but that was contingent on unlocking the agreement at Tugg by selling enough tickets. Alas, we were not able to make the minimum and the screening cancelled, and that was after Tugg also changed our screening time, pushing us to move back the talk from 4 to 5:30. In the end, that was an interesting experiment which, with the right partners, we'd try again.

Here is Bill Hillmann's soundtrack to Mozos, as recounted on the Large-Hearted Boy blog.

Thursday, July 30, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Jeffrey Gingold, author of Tunnel, Smuggle, Collect: A Holocaust Boy.

This event is cosponsored by the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Research Center.

Back in June, we had Jim Shepard for his novel about the Warsaw Ghetto called The Book of Aron. It was very well received, with some massively great reviews. Who, for example, can forget this review from Ron Charles in The Washington Post? Based on this it's a shoo-in for their top ten of 2015, right? But at least one reviewer complained about Holocaust novels in general, that the true stories were the only things we should chronicle.

Well it turns out that we have another story of the Warsaw ghetto on the schedule and this one is true. Jeffrey Gingold's Tunnel, Smuggle, Collect. Jeffrey's father, Sam Gingold helped his family survive by smuggling food and medicines, and as the war continues, labored under Nazi rule in the walled city within a city. The family eventually made a underground escape, but was then pursued by the Gestapo across the Polish countryside.

We're honored to welcome back Jeffrey Gingold to Boswell, an MS educator inducted into the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Hall of Fame for his Advocacy,  whose work includes Mental Sharpening Stones and Facing the Cognitive Challenges of Multiple Sclerosis. In addition to his writing, he's also been a practicing attorney. And now, this labor of love which took many years to come to fruition. Come celebrate with us at Boswell.

Friday, July 31, 3 pm (activities) and 4 pm (drawing), at Boswell:
Where's Waldo Celebration.

I hope you've had a great time looking for Waldo on the East Side, Shorewoood, Whitefish Bay, Glendale, Riverwest, The Third Ward/Walker's Point, and Wauwatosa. That's a lot of searching!

Well for those of you who found at least 15 Waldo's, it's time for you to come back to Boswell. Fill out your drawing ticket (no purchase required, though you must be 12 or under to win), have some refreshments, enjoy a little Waldo fun, and get $2 off on a Waldo book.  You do not have to be present for the party to win, but some prizes will require attendance.

Thanks to the following stores for participating in Waldo 2015: Beans and Barley, Board Game Barrister, Broadway Paper, Downer Hardware, Fischberger's Variety, Holey Moley Donuts, Hot PopIndulgence Chocolatiers, La Coppa GelatoLittle Monsters, The Little Red Book, Miss Cupcake bakery, Nehring's Sendiks, Outpost Natural Foods, Purple Door Ice Cream, Red Cap Luggage, Red Elephant Chocolate Cafe, Rocket Baby Bakery, Rushmor Records, Soaps and Scents, Studio Ric Rak, Tuesday's Child, Village Boutique, The Waxwing, Winkie's, and Yo Mama Frozen Yogurt

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Boswell's Annotated Bestsellers for Week Ending July 25, 2015. "Watchman" is Still on Top But the Numbers are More Human.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee
2. The Bookseller, by Cynthia Swanson
3. Time Salvager, by Wesley Chu
4. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
5. The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
6. A Winsome Murder, by James DeVita
7. Among the Ten Thousand Things, by Julia Pierpont
8. The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George
9. Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson
10. The Cartel, by Don Winslow

Just about every independent bookseller sees a pop in sales when Terry Gross talks to an author on Fresh Air. Maureen Corrigan's reviews can also have a significant effect, and that's the case for Julia Pierpoint's Among the Ten Thousand Things This Week. She loved the opening (a young girl is asked to deliver a package, only to open it and find some damning contents) and especially the telling: "The chapters that follow that dramatic opening make it clear that there are going to be as many ingenious twists and turns in this literary novel as there are in a top-notch work of suspense like Gone Girl. The effect is dizzying: as a reader you feel, as the Shanley's do, that the earth keeps shifting beneath your feet."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. The Conservative Heart, by Arthur Brooks
2. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
3. The Little French Bakery Cookbook, by Susan Holding
4. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo
5. H is for Hawk, by Helen MacDonald
6. The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough
7. Barbarian Days, by William Finnegan
8. The Art of the Con, by Anthony M. Amore
9. Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande
10. How to Tie a Scarf, from Potter Style

You may not have expected a surfing memoir from William Finnegan, best known for his journalism in The New Yorker, but Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, is out and getting some nice attention. Dwight Garner wrote in The New York Times: "The star is the surfing, and the waves, which the author studies all over the world, from a hundred different angles. If this is your thing, this will be your thing. He becomes a walking database of oceanographic information." He cannot fault the book on any level, but seems to make the point that you have to be interested in surfing to love the book, at least from his perspective. The Dallas Morning News's Michael E. Young says the work is "beautifully told" and is enthusiastic without caveats.

Paperback Fiction:
1. Listen and Other Stories, by Liam Callanan
2. The Stranger, by Albert Camus
3. The Mersault Investigation, by Kamel Daoud
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. Almost Crimson, by Dasha Kelly
6. The Enlightenment of Nina Findlay, by Andrea Gillies
7. Euphoria, by Lily King
8. Shotgun Lovesongs, by Nickolas Butler
9. Etta and Otto and Russell and James, by Emma Hooper
10. The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd
The Enlightenment of Nina Findlay, by Andrea Gillies, is one of two Other Press titles in our top ten, the other being The Mersault Investigation, which is being read alongside The Stranger for a large book club. Gillies book screams summer, doesn't it, and has a great rec from Boswellian Sarah Lange, who writes: "Nina grew up with two handsome brothers next door; she was best friends with one and wound up marrying the other. Now, 25 years later, she's separated from her husband and recovering from an injury on a beautiful Greek island, and she's involved in another love triangle--this time with her charming doctor. This is a perfect summer read, whether you take it to the beach, on a plane or just into your backyard."

Paperback Nonfiction
1. Renewable, by Eileen Flanagan
2. The Secret Garden, by Johanna Basford
3. The Milwaukee Bucket List, by Barbara Ali
4. Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain
5. Milwaukee Mafia, by Gavin Schmitt
6. The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert
7. Clearing Clutter, by Alexandra Chauron
8. The Enchanted Forest, by Johanna Basford
9. The Opposite of Loneliness, by Marina Keegan
10. We Should All be Feminists, by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie

With the phenomenon that is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I suspect the organization category in general is getting a boost, and Boswellian Mel Morrow is recommending a great follow up called Clearing Clutter: Physical, Mental, and Spiritual, by Alexandra Chauron. Her take: "This book is an accessible starting point for those interested in simplification, and is the perfect follow-up for KonMari fans. Yes, it is a wonderful practice to inventory, downsize, and organize your physical possessions--but then what? Alexandra Chauran's Clearing Clutter explains the benefits of nixing all kinds of clutter, from that stack of papers you've been meaning to sort through, to the millions of conflicting voices telling you what you should and shouldn't do, to the thoughts and feelings that hinder you from enjoying all the good that life has to offer. There's so much more to clearing a space than physically removing objects from it and giving it a thorough scrubbing: Clearing Clutter compassionately addresses how to get started with the process, where to go next, and how to make clutter-busting a rewarding part of your everyday life."

Books for Kids:
1. I am a Bunny, by Ole Risom, with illustrations by Richard Scarry
2. Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak
3. The Last Ever After, by Soman Chainani
4. The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate (event 9/25 for Crenshaw)
5. Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, by Charlotte Zolotow with illustrations by Maurice Sendak
6. Paper Towns, by John Green
7. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews
8. The Name of This Book is Secret, by Pseudonymoous Bosch
9. The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan
10. My Brother's Book, by Maurice Sendak

More Sendak and a few movie tie-ins dominate the list, but it's nice to see a good first-week pop for Soman Chainani's third book in The School for Good and Evil, The Last Ever After. Kirkus wrote that the newest is "well-stocked with big themes, inventively spun fairy-tale tropes, and flashes of hilarity." Fine, there's a little context to that quote, but I didn't use a single ellipsis or parenthesis. And hey kids, we've got a trailer!

Over at the Journal Sentinel books section, Jim Higgins reviews The Last Pilot, by Benjamin Johncock. A Teaser from the review: "In The Last Pilot, debut novelist Benjamin Johncock evokes the years of America's ramp-up to the space program so skillfully, a reader can almost feel the sandblasted landing strips. But he also probes the struggles of a couple who face the most painful crisis parents could imagine. Deftly, Johncock threads fictional protagonists Jim Harrison, a top-notch test pilot, and his wife, Grace, through a milieu with many familiar historical characters, such as famed test pilot Chuck Yeager, legendary Happy Bottom Riding Club bar-and-restaurant owner Pancho Barnes and multiple Gemini astronauts, without awkward traces of literary Photoshopping."

Friday, July 24, 2015

Maurice Sendak Exhibit "50 Years Works Reasons" at Milwaukee Public Library Through August 22, 2015

As you all know, Boswell is hosting a Rumpus Room retail store for the Maurice Sendak exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Library. It's going on now through August 22, Hours are:
--12 Noon through  5 pm Monday
--10 am to 5 pm on Tuesday through Friday
--10 am to 4 pm on Saturday.

From the curators themselves, a little more about the exhibition: "The Maurice Sendak Memorial Exhibition is a retrospective of original works by Maurice Sendak. The collection will tour numerous museums and sites in 2013, the 50th anniversary of the publication of Where the Wild Things Are. Presidents, illustrators, friends and celebrities will share a quote about the renowned author; how he inspired them, influenced their careers and touched their lives. The quotes will be presented together with the artwork, offering viewers food for thought as well as a feast for their eyes."

There have been various special programs throughout the run, both at Central Library and the branches. At right is a gallery exhibit of how to draw a monster.

If you come by to see this wonderful exhibition, Boswellians Jannis, Carly, and Phoebe are there to help you. The Where the Wild Things Are tee shirts and Onesies have been particularly popular, and we have another order coming in for them. Alas, the In the Night Kitchen tee shirts have been discontinued, and what we have is it.

We also have Where the Wild Things Are totes and zippered pouches for sale. And of course, plenty of books, including many titles you don't normally see in bookstores.

In addition to the exhibit of Sendak's artwork, there are some playful displays such as standups where you can become a Wild Thing or Really Rosie. While we don't have the video or audio soundracks of the classic "Really Rosie" television show, we are selling Maurice Sendak's Really Rosie, the tie-in book to the Carole King special, as well as The Sign on Rosie's Door.

One of the most fun events was the kickoff, where among other things, Boswell helped get a Wild Thing to visit the Milwaukee Public Library. Somewhere there's an image of me line dancing with librarian Joan and the Wild Thing. Despite the inherent scariness of the situation, even junior Wild Things didn't seem to be afraid.

Alas, the Wild Thing sleepover at Central Library is completely full.

If you live in the Milwaukee area, the exhibit is open for another month. Here's the next six stops on the tour:
--St. Louis Public Library Sept 4 to Oct 18, 2015
--Boulder CO Public Library Oct 30 to Dec. 6, 2015
--Toronto Public Library Dec 18 to Jan. 31 (2016)
--Bloomington, Ind. Public Library Feb. 12 to March 27, 2016
--Grand Rapids Art Museum April 9 to May 21, 2016
--Phoenix Public Library June 4 to July 17, 2016

Monday, July 20, 2015

What to Do Bookish in Milwaukee This Week: Cynthia Swanson's "The Bookseller" Tonight, Science Fiction Writer Wesley Chu Tomorrow (Tuesday), Eileen Flanagan on Thursday, Susan Holding at Boelter Saturday, and Bill Hillmann at Boswell Next Monday.

Welcome to this week's lineup of events!

Monday, July 20, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Cynthia Swanson, author of The Bookseller.

What a year for bookseller heroes! On the national bestseller lists is The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George, following a nice run for The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin, and the year before that, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan. At Boswell, it's rare to see a top ten without The Red Notebook, by Antoine Laurain, and Penelope Fitzgerald's The Bookshop also hit our top ten last week, due to a reissue and a solid recommendation from Jane.

Add to that list Cynthia Swanson's The Bookseller. Earlier this year it was an Indie Next Pick for March, accompanied by a recommendation from Susan Tunis of Bookshop West Portal in San Francisco, who noted that "Swanson’s enjoyable debut really gets interesting when the lines between waking and dreaming, fantasy and reality, begin to blur."

And what a blur it is! Allow Boswellian Sharon Nagel to say a bit more about The Bookseller: "Kitty Miller is enjoying her life as a single woman, co-owner of a bookstore with her best friend Frieda, and able to do whatever she wants whenever she wants. That's kind of a big deal for a woman in 1962. One day, she starts to have extremely vivid dreams of a different life. She is married and has three children. She lives in a beautiful home and spends most of her time caring for her family. The dreams are quite detailed - she is known as Katharyn, which is her real name, and the year is 1963. As the story goes on, Kitty's two lives become blurred, and she becomes confused. Which life is real, and which one is a fantasy? The Bookseller is a fascinating read for anyone who has wondered about the road not taken."

While Cynthia Swanson (photo credit Glenda Cebrian), who has previously published short fiction in 13th Moon, Kalliope, Sojourner, and other periodical, lists her home as Denver, she is most definitely originally from Milwaukee. We're thrilled to welcome her back to town for the publication of her first novel.

Tuesday, July 21, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Wesley Chu, author of Time Salvager and The Lives of Tao.

I think the best thing to do here is hand the floor over to our buyer Jason Kennedy: "Wesley Chu has been on my radar for a couple of years. I had heard that The Lives of Tao was roller coaster ride of a read. Being in the book business, occasionally you let authors earlier works slip by, and in sci-fi it makes it hard to go back and pick them up as the one book becomes a series. When I learned of Wesley Chu coming for an event on July 21st, I decided this was my time to make up some ground. To find out that the book was the beginning of a new series made it so much easier to jump in feet first."

"In Time Salvager, Wesley Chu has built a pretty bleak existence in the 26th Century. There was a golden age at some point between where we are and where Time Salvager goes, and something went horrible wrong. Humanity is running out of resources, energy, food--the Earth's oceans have a solid layer of dead brown muck on top of it and most cities are vast wastelands of abandoned and crumbling buildings. At times, this book reminded me of some of the best of the dreariest sci-fi ever, something akin to a Philip K. Dick or Paola Bacigalupi story. Having a lack of resources and with the world tumbling ever downward, the only hope humanity has is to look to the past."

"Enter James Griffin-Mars, a chronman. His job is to pillage the past and bring back resources for the present. It is not an easy job. There are laws governing time travel and what can be taken from out of the past. ChronoCom controls all time jumps and sets up where and when a chronman will go and take his target. The target can be an energy source, a valuable item that was destroyed, or something else that is about to leave existence as to ensure that the time line does not become compromised. This reminded me a bit of the sci-fi b-movie Millennium, where the time travelers would replace airplane passengers with dead bodies just before a plane crash was to happen."

Jason goes on to discuss some of the classic science fiction dilemmas that Chu tackles. And he notes that he read two Chus in the month, calling The Lives of Tao "a brilliant amount of kick butt fun." Read the rest of The Boswellians post here and then, if you've been chomping at the bit for a brand new sf writer to fall in love with, come meet Chu on Tuesday.

Wednesday, July 22, 7 pm. We regret to announce that our event with Mary Robinette Kowal, author of Of Noble Family and other Glamourist Histories, had to be cancelled, due to family medical issues. We hope to have the author back for a future appearance.

Thursday, July 23, 7 pm, at Boswell: Eileen Flanagan, author of Renewable: One Woman’s Search for Simplicity, Faithfulness, and Hope.

This is Eileen Flanagan's Second visit to Boswell, her first being back in 2009 for The Wisdom to Know the Difference. Can you believe we can say that we hosted an author six years ago? I can't.

At age forty-nine, Eileen Flanagan had an aching feeling that she wasn’t living up to her potential - or her youthful ideals. A former Peace Corps volunteer who’d once loved the simplicity of living in a mud hut in Botswana, she now had too many e-mails in her inbox and a basement full of stuff she didn’t need. Increasingly worried about her children’s future, she felt unable to make a difference - until she joined a band of singing Quaker activists who helped her find her voice and her power. Renewable the story of a spiritual writer and mother of two who, while trying to change the world, unexpectedly finds the courage to change her life. With wit and wisdom, Eileen Flanagan shares the engaging journey that brings her from midlife spiritual crisis to fulfillment and hope—and, briefly, to jail.

There are some strong recommendations here. From Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth and Deep Economy: "Drawing on her Irish family history, Eileen Flanagan shares a poignant, human story that illustrates the courage we need to create a more just future for our children and children everywhere."

And from Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace and author of The Story of Stuff: "If you’ve ever felt despair about the state of the world or wondered, ‘What can I do?’ I recommend reading Renewable. Eileen Flanagan’s insightful memoir shows a deep understanding of complex global problems while showing us how one person can change their life while working to change the world we all share."

Saturday, July 25, 12 Noon, at Boelter SuperStore:
Susan Holding, author of The Little French Bakery Cookbook: Sweet and Savory Recipes and Tales from a Pastry Chef and Her Cooking School.

Straight from her bakery in North Freedom, Wisconsin, Susan Holding offers stories and sweets at Boelter SuperStore, 4200 N. Port Washington Road, between Capitol Drive and Hampton Avenue.

And don't forget about: Monday, July 27, 5:30 pm (note time), at Boswell:
Bill Hillmann, author of Mozos: A Decade of Running with the Bulls of Spain.

It looks like we will not make the numbers for the screening of Chasing Red, the film that features Bill Hillmann running with the bulls - we'll know for sure tomorrow. The deadline is today, so if a whole bunch of you were putting off buying tickets until the last minute, please commit to purchasing them now on Tugg. But that said, we're still excited to be hosting Mr. Hillmann for a talk/reading for his latest memoir, Mozos. 

In Mozos: A Decade of Running with the Bulls of Spain, “Buffalo” Bill Hillmann narrates his decade-long journey of self-discovery. From wasted ex-Golden Gloves champ to one of the elite mozos, or masters in the art of running with the bulls, his first-hand account culminates in an infamous goring by a bull named “Bravito” last summer.

Bill Hillmann's first novel The Old Neighborhood was declared best novel of 2014 by Chicago Sun-Times and and selected by Library Journal as one of the top indie fiction titles for spring 2014. The book also received rave reviews from Booklist, and the Chicago Tribune. Hillmann’s journalism has appeared in The Washington Post,The Globe and Mail, and He's been running with the bulls in Spain for a decade now, covering the event for Esquire and Outside magazine.

And remember, our Bill Hillmann event for Mozos takes place even without the screening.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Boswell's Annotated Bestseller Lists for Week Ending July 18, 2015--Would You Believe We Sold a Lot of "Go Set a Watchman?"

Are you surprised?

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee
2. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
3. Armada, by Ernie Cline
4. The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George
5. Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson
6. The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
7. Festival of Insignificance, by Milan Kundera
8. The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters
9. The Truth According to Us, by Annie Barrows
10. Let Me Be Frank with You, by Richard Ford (ticketed event for paperback, Thu Oct 15)

At one point, HarperCollins told me only five people in house had read Go Set a Watchman. Now hundreds of thousands of people have, if not millions. Jim Higgins at the Journal Sentinel reviewed it this week, and says it's "not a very good novel" but "worth reading as a historical and literary artifact." If nothing else, Go Set a Watchman is proof that a good editor can bring out the best in a writer.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
2. Hold Still, by Sally Mann
3. Strengths Finder 2.0, by Tom Rath
4. Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari
5. H is for Hawk, by Helen MacDonald
6. Strong Inside, by Andrew Maraniss
7. The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough
8. The Making of Milwaukee, by John Gurda
9. The Contemporaries, by Roger White
10. Full Life, by Jimmy Carter

One book that had a lot of momentum already (moved up from fall 2015) but also seemed to benefit from the Go Set a Watchman release was Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This correspondent for The Atlantic's meditation on being Black in America is, per The New York Timesselling at levels just below the two Harper Lee novels. Here's an analysis of tweets about the sales at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn. Other stores were said to be selling the books as a package.

Paperback Fiction
1. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (the two trade editions)
2. Euphoria, by Lily King
3. The Vacationers, by Emma Straub
4. Planet for Rent, by Yoss
5. Some Luck, by Jane Smiley
6. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
7. All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews
8. The Red Notebook, by Antoine Laurain
9. The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd
10. Nora Webster, by Colm Toíbín

When we didn't see a reprint of Miriam Toews All My Puny Sorrows after Christmas, we guessed they would send the book right to paperback and it turns out that's what happened. I'm sad that beautiful orange and turquoise jacket wasn't kept for the new edition, but I'm happy that I just have something to sell on my rec shelf. As Entertainment Weekly said in their "A" review: "Somehow, even as Toews works toward an inevitable conclusion, the pacing is gripping, leaving you — like Yoli — desperate to predict what Elf will do next, and helpless to stop it." I'm fascinated by these kind of spoiler-proof stories. If you'll remember, Hannah Kent's Burial Rites had that same sort of "I know what's going to happen but I'm still at the edge of my seat" sort of quality.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1 .Milwaukee Mafia, by Gavin Schmitt
2. Loving Lardo, by Wendy R. Olsen
3. My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor
4. The Boys on the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
5. The Opposite of Loneliness, by Marina Keegan
6. Nature's God, by Matthew Stewart
7. How Not to be Wrong, by Jordan Ellenberg
8. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
9. I am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai
10. You are a Badass, by Jen Sincero

Matthew Stewart's Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic pops enough in paperback to get on the bestseller list. The review from Barton Swaim in The Wall Street Journal noted that "the central tenets of 'philosophical radicalism' worked their way into the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution by a kind of ideological stealth." And Marina Keegan's The Opposite of Loneliness has had a steady place in our bestseller list in paper, showing that it's hardcover sales pop was simply not from publicity about how the author died shortly after her college graduation.

Books for Kids:
1. In Mary's Garden, by Tina and Carson Kugler
2. The Nutshell Library, by Maurice Sendak
3. Little Bear's Friend, by Else Minarik with illustrations by Maurice Sendak
4. The Phantom Bully, by Jeffrey Brown
5. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews
6. Little Bear, by Else Minarik, with illustrations by Sendak
7. Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell
8. Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans
9. Rook, by Sharon Cameron
10. Ask Me, by Suzy Lee

Our first full sale at the Rumpus Room at the Milwaukee Public Library exhibit has a few Sendak books making it onto our bestseller list, though interestingly enough, not Where the Wild Things are. Much of the sale is for the Wild Things tee shirts and totes, and many fans already have the basics. But the obscure stuff? Among our other sales this week were a couple of copies of Zlateh the Goat, written by Isaac Bashevis Singer. But honestly, who can resist the mini Nutshell Library?

Jim Higgins wrote about the exhibit, more than half of which is work connected to Where the Wild Things Are, in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He writes: "The story of Max's tantrum, banishment to his room, escape to the land of the wild things and return to a supper "that was still hot" had its detractors early on, including some who thought the wild things were too scary. But children kept checking the book out of libraries, over and over, forcing adults to take notice."

Also in the Journal Sentinel Book Page:
--The Art of the Con, by Anthony M. Amore, reviewed by Carolina A. Miranda (Los Angeles Times)
--The Cartel, by Don Winslow, a profile from Mary Ann Swinn (Seattle Times)
--Lesser Beasts, by Jane Henderson (St. Louis Post Dispatch)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Gavin Schmitt at the Cental Library Tonight (Monday, July 13), plus Wendy R. Olsen's "Loving Lardo" on Thursday, July 16, Summer Safari Reading Party on Sunday, July 19, 3 pm, and Cynthia Swanson's "The Bookseller" Next Monday, July 20..

Monday, July 13, 6:30 pm, at the Milwaukee Public Library Rare Books Room:
Gavin Schmitt, author of Milwaukee Mafia.

Please join us for an exciting event in the Rare Books Room of the Milwaukee Public Library (located at 814 W. Wisconsin Avenue) with Wisconsinite, research enthusiast, and Images of America author, Gavin Schmitt, who will talk about and sign copies of his latest groundbreaking work, The Milwaukee Mafia: Mobsters in the Heartland, the long-awaited history drawing from thousands of police reports, nearly a million confidential FBI pages, and years of meticulous research to shed light on the dark history of Milwaukee’s criminal underworld.

Milwaukee’s Sicilian underworld is something few people speak about in polite company, and even fewer people speak about with any authority. Everyone in Milwaukee has a friend of a friend who knows something, but they only have one piece of a giant puzzle. The secret society known as the Milwaukee Mafia has done an excellent job of keeping its murders, members, and mishaps out of books. Until now. From the time Vito Guardalabene arrived from Italy in the early 1900s, until the days the Mob controlled the Teamsters union, Milwaukee was a city of murder and mayhem. Gavin Schmitt relies on previously unseen police reports, FBI investigative notes, coroner’s records, newspaper articles, family lore, and more to bring to light an era of Milwaukee’s history that has been largely undocumented and shrouded in myth.

The Milwaukee Public Library Reading Room is located on the 2nd floor of Central Library, 814 W. Wisconsin Avenue. Most street parking meters go only till 6 pm. If you decide to park in the lot across Wisconsin Avenue, it's a reasonable $3/hour.

Thursday, July 16, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Wendy R. Olsen, author of Loving Lardo.

We’re proud to welcome to Boswell founder and owner of Slinger Academy of Language and Arts in Slinger, Wisconsin, Wendy R. Olsen, discussing and signing copies of her debut book, Loving Lardo, a memoir written from her perspective as a young American in the late 1980’s who moved to Milan for love. This compelling story will inspire you visit Italy—and may convince you to stay awhile!

In Wendy R. Olsen’s debut, Loving Lardo, she retraces her first decade living with her family in Milan, Italy where she spontaneously decides to move after meeting a charmingly handsome Italian man. Loving Lardo is a personal story and a quick summer read that will resonate universally with men and women of all age groups. Written in a pithy, well-crafted style reminiscent of Hemingway—a prominent figure in this entertaining, moving memoir, the perfect book to read before visiting the 2015 EXPO World’s Fair in Milan, Italy.

Wendy Rachel Olsen was born in Orléans, France. She has lived in seven different countries and speaks four languages. From 1987 to 1999, she lived in Milan and Como, Italy, the setting of her debut book, Loving Lardo. In addition to giving talks on Italy, Ms. Olsen is the founder and owner of S.A.L.A., the Slinger Academy of Language and Arts in Slinger, Wisconsin, where adults and children can learn Italian, Spanish, and French. An avid sailor—whether racing or cruising—she enjoys playing her trumpet and sharing her motto: "Let’s all help create a world with fewer borders."

Sunday, July 19, 3 pm, at Boswell:
MPTV presents Summer Safari Reading Party!

Boswell Book Company and MPTV are hosting a Summer Safari Reading Party at Boswell! Children ages 4 and up are invited to Boswell for a wild jungle party with fun activities and exciting learning games teaching them why reading is important, especially during the summer months! Each child will get to choose from an assortment of items like bookmarks and stickers, and will take home their very own reading log to fill out during the summer months. Kids who bring their completed reading log back to Boswell get a discount on an "I Can Read!" book!

Suggested age for this event is 4-8!

And don't forget Monday, July 20, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Cynthia Swanson, author of The Bookseller.

At one time or another, we’ve all wondered, "what if?" Cynthia Swanson strikes to the core of this tantalizing question in her provocative and haunting fiction debut The Bookseller, which follows a woman who must reconcile her reality with the alternate world of her dreams. Please join us for a reading with Cynthia Swanson, who will sign her debut novel, The Bookseller, perfect for fans of Sliding Doors, Anna Quindlen, and Anita Shreve.

It’s 1962, and free-spirited Kitty Miller runs a Denver bookstore with her best friend Frieda. She’s in her later thirties, single, and free as a bird to do whatever, and go wherever, she likes. She loves to read all night long, or get drinks with friends. She meets her parents for dinner often, and enjoys the company of her cat Aslan (named after the lion in The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe). There was a man once—a doctor named Kevin—but things didn’t work out the way Kitty had hoped. Then the dreams come. It’s 1963, and Katharyn Andersson is married to a wonderful man named Lars. He’s an architect, and she lives with him and their beautiful children in a suburban area of Denver, taking part in an active social life. This is the life that Kitty Miller once believed she wanted—but it only exists when she sleeps. The more Kitty dreams, the more real her dream-world seems, and the more reluctant she is to leave it. But where are Frieda and their bookstore in her dream-world, and the other people from her actual life? Can she choose which life she wants? If so, what is the cost of staying Kitty, or becoming Katharyn?

Though author Cynthia Swanson now lives in Denver with her family, she was raised in Milwaukee. Come out and welcome her back!