Monday, May 30, 2016

What are you reading on vacation? Haven't left yet? We're open 10 am to 5 pm on Memorial Day (and July 4th, and Labor Day)

I am not one for traveling on holiday weekends. For one thing, I rotate working through our holiday shifts, when we are open special hours, from 10 to 5. For another, I like to travel off peak and that means Tuesdays and Saturdays, not Mondays and Fridays.  Did you catch that we are open Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day from 10 am to 5 pm? I was trying to be subtle. But hey, sometimes retailers need to shout -we're open today from 10 to 5!

I'm not at Boswell today. It worked out this year that this was the perfect time for me to visit my mom in Worcester. And that meant at least one visit to a New England bookstore I've never been to (that will be in another post) and a little extra focus on what to read.

The first book is whatever I haven't quite finished, and that was Larry Watson's As Good As Gone. Watson may write about Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana but he is a Milwaukee author (or to say it probably closer to the truth, he is our visiting author in residence) and his new book is officially released on June 21.

We'll be hosting an event with Watson, in conversation with Mitch Teich of Lake Effect, cosponsored by 89.7 Milwaukee Public Radio on pub date, June 21, 7 pm, at Boswell.

While I can't say I've read every Watson novel (yet), I've been on a roll lately and am picking up themes. The newest is about Calvin Sidey, a Montana guy whose escaped town life to be a cowboy in the middle of nowhere. He's not exactly roping cattle, being around 70 and all that, but he's living out the classic tropes in an isolated life, with only his library of Greek literature to keep him company. OK, he's not following every trope.

You see, when he was younger, he lost his wife, and escaped from the grief, leaving behind his two kids. Now his son Bill has kids of his own, Ann and Will, and Bill's not sure of what to do when he takes his wife to the hospital for an operation, so he asks Cal to come to the house and watch them. Now it turns out that Cal soon figures out that his family is in a heap of trouble--Ann's being stalked, Will's being bullied, and Bill is in an escalating fight with an old friend about an eviction he is handling. This is a lot to take on for one solitary guy to take on, one whose inclinations for justice have gotten him into trouble before.

It's another great novel from Watson, who skirts the edges of suspense with his work but is more concerned with family dynamics and character. Some folks are calling this Montana, 1963. The starred Booklist review read: "In Hollywood, Calvin's attempts to solve his grandchildren's problems like a cowboy confronting a gang of rustlers would be the stuff of inspirational melodrama, but in Watson's far more subtle hands, the novel becomes something else entirely. Calvin is trapped on a cultural and emotional fault line, the ground shifting beneath him as he realizes that the only tools he knows how to use won't unlock the secrets to life in a new world. Yes, Watson has told versions of this story before but perhaps never with as powerful a sense of loss. Fine writing in the grand western tradition of William Kittredge and Mark Spragg."

But when As Good as Gone was finished, what to read next? We had two events coming up with Boston-area settings, one being Margot Livesey's Mercury this fall (I think we've got the date but at this point, let me just say early October) and Michael Harvey, coming for Brighton, which goes on sale June 14.

I thought I should detour to Brighton on my way back from Worcester, but then I realized I'd already driven through it several times. It's actually not far from Brookline, where my mom used to live. And then I looked at the map and realized I probably drove through Brighton on Friday, heading from Jamaica Plain where I had dinner with my friend Michael, to I-90. Had I not been worried about getting lost, I would have taken some pictures.

Harvey will also be in conversation, with Ruth Jordan of Crimespree Magazine (our cosponsor) and his appearance is on Thursday, June 30, 7 pm, at Boswell. It's about two boyhood friends, Kevin and Bobby, who are as close as brothers (literally, as Kevin's family takes Bobby in at one point), who grew up together in the working class neighborhood of Brighton. They are both poor, but Kevin's grandmother owns a cab company, which leaves some money in their office. A horrible crime happens, binding the two together.

Kevin escapes for a life in journalism but comes back to the neighborhood when he covers a story about an unjustly imprisoned black man from Brighton who is eventually exonerated, but not before he is murdered in prison. This leads him back to Bobby, who is now a crime boss. What I know is about to come (from reading the jacket copy) is that a series of brutal murders is going to rock the neighborhood and Kevin and Bobby are going to have to work together again.

That's where I left off, but you can see some overlapping themes of family and justice playing out. And for those interested in Harvey's work in The Innocence Project (used to full effect in his stand-alone, The Innocence Game), you can see it here. Also note that if you are interested in the subject, why not attend our event with Alison Flowers for The Exoneree Diaries on Monday, June 13, 6 pm, at the Milwaukee Public Library's Rare Books Room, 814 W Wisconsin Ave, 2nd floor.

Both Watson and Harvey have a strong sense of place. Watson has sets most of his novels in small Great Plains towns, and while Michael Harvey has previously kept to his adopted home of Chicago, this is his first book reaching back to his Massachusetts boyhood. And he's getting ringing endorsements from other New Englanders, most notably Stephen King, who wrote "Brighton is the f*cking bomb. I loved it!

But what I love the most in my odd Daniel way are the similarity of the two covers - it's kind of a country mouse, city mouse variation. It's more dramatic when you put them together, like at left. nothing so ominous as a car where you can't see the driver, right?

I understand that reading upcoming event books is like taking work home, but hey, it's more fun than a lot of other things I do, though I did just have a blast updating our sales rep checklist.

But I digress. So what are you reading on vacation?

Addendum: I finished Brighton on my way back to Milwaukee and while I focused on the similarities between Watson and Harvey's novels, and while they both make you uncomfortable, and both ruminate on the passage of time, the fragile bonds of family and friends, and both are very place-centric, the wrapping could not be more different. For while As Good as Gone simmers at a slow burn, Brighton  is as explosive as a bare-knuckles thriller should be. Misdirection and double crosses abound and being the delicate flower that I am, you might be surprised that I could make it through what is a pretty violent tale. But the truth is that I can read it better than I can watch it, and every time I put the book down to catch my breath, I thought, "but now what?" and had to start reading again. I should note there is some ethnic slurring scattered throughout but it tends to be equal opportunity. There is also what may be a major loose end that I believe needs some explaining, so please read Brighton quickly and then we can discuss it - it goes on sale June 14. And see you on June 21 and June 30 for our events with Watson and Harvey.

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