Sunday, June 12, 2016

Babbling about the Boswell book bestsellers for the week ending June 11, 2016

Here's what we sold at Boswell this past week?

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Wintering by Peter Geye
2. The Yid, by Paul Goldberg
3. Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley
4. The Excellent Lombards, by Jane Hamilton
5. LaRose, by Louise Erdrich
6. Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub
7. The Suicide Motor Club, by Christopher Buehlman
8. Hero of France, by Alan Furst
9. The Nest, by Cynthia Sweeney
10. Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

It is exciting to see a lot of relatively new names breaking out like Yaa Gyasi. Steph Cha wrote in the Los Angeles Times: "In her debut novel Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi explores the damaging effect of the slave trade on a family split between the U.S. and the Gold Coast of Ghana across 200 years. With a few exceptions, even the most extravagant multigenerational novels seem to top out at three or four generations, capturing characters whose lifetimes overlap, who have time to get to know and interact with one another. Homegoing covers seven generations in 300 pages and is, for the most part, a blazing success."

Noah Hawley may have television credentials on his side (he helms Fargo) but any number of television writers try their hand at novels to mixed effects. And this is hardly Hawley's debut. It looks like he's had five novels with five publishers and while I can't speak to A Conspiracy of Tall Men (Harmony, 1998) or Other People's Weddings (St Martin's, 2004), we've sold more copies of Before the Fall in a week than we did for the life of the book for Punch (Crown, 2008-Schwartz numbers) and The Good Father (Doubleday 2012, Anchor 2013) put together.

Novelist Kirstin Hannah (who herself exploded out of genre to write one of the most beloved novels in indie bookstores of the last few years) wrote in The New York Times Book Review, "Noah Hawley really knows how to keep a reader turning the pages, but there’s more to the novel than suspense. On one hand, Before the Fall is a complex, compulsively readable thrill ride of a novel. On the other, it is an exploration of the human condition, a meditation on the vagaries of human nature, the dark side of celebrity, the nature of art, the power of hope and the danger of an unchecked media. The combination is a potent, gritty thriller that exposes the high cost of news as entertainment and the randomness of fate."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Terror in the City of Champions, by Tom Stanton
2. It's Okay to Laugh, by Nora McInerny
3. Meathead, by Meathead Goldwyn
4. Dave Hill Doesn't Live Here Anymore, by Dave Hill
5. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
6. Milwaukee: City of Neighborhoods, by John Gurda
7. The View From the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaiman
8. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
9. The Gene, by Siddhartha Mukherjee
10. Valiant Ambition, by Nathaniel Philbrick
11. Far and Away, by Andrew Solomon
12. Grit, by Angela Duckworth
13. The Lynching, by Laurence Leamer
14. But What If We're Wrong, by Chuck Klosterman
15. A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles, by Mary Elizabeth Williams

It wasn't quite Christmas levels, but the hardcover nonfiction bestsellers had substantially better numbers than the other roundups, which is why I included 15 titles. I asked Jason whether he thought we had a Father's Day pop and we had a discussion about buying habits for Mother's Day and Father's Day. Whether we see sales or not, it appears to me that publishers still see the market. Just look at all the events we've hosted of late that had father-son themes, both nonfiction and fiction - Dave Hill's Dave Hill Doesn't Live Here Anymore, (signed copies available) Mike Edison's You Are a Complete Disappointment (same) (for dads that had bad relationships with their own dads - not that unusual), Peter Geye's Wintering(same), and though it isn't at pub date, Larry Watson's As Good as Gone(whose event is Tuesday, June 21, 7 pm, in conversation with Mitch Teich).

I don't think that publishers really understand that they are doing this, but they see a father-son relationship and the book gets scheduled in May and early June.

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen (in store lit group 8/1)
2. A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler (in store lit group 7/11)
3. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
4. My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante
5. The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George
6. Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes
7. Death Comes Darkly, by David S. Pederson
8. My Grandmother Asked me to Tell You She's Sorry, by Fredrik Backman
9. Purple Hibiscus, by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie
10. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, by Katarina Bivald

I haven't yet written up our discussion of The Yid, but you can tell that our in-store lit group met this week from A Spool of Blue Thread and The Sympathizer, but we're just one of several book clubs reading each title. You should see the Science Fiction book club pick for July have a nice pop next week. The book in question is The Calcutta Chromosome. We also have a large book club reading Amitov Ghosh's Sea of Poppies, but I will avoid my tendency to pun and just say there will be a bit more Ghosh on our lists soon. Note that fully half this week's list continues to be in translation, with two works by Backman, plus Ferrante, George, and Bivald written in Swedish (3), Italian (1), and German (1).  Even Bivald hit the national bestseller list for one week. Has someone written about this phenomenon? I wasn't able to find something with a very poorly thought out search.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Mindset, by Carol Dweck
2. Riding Through Grief, by Barbara Manger
3. Milwaukee in the 1930s, by John D. Buenker
4. Cream City Chronicles, by John Gurda
5. Just Mercy, by Bryan Stephenson
6. Happy Felsch, by Thomas Rathkamp (event 6/15, 7 pm, at Boswell)
7. Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow
8. Milwaukee Mafia, by Gavin Schmitt (new book coming this fall)
9. You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), by Felicia Day
10. The Penelope Project, coedited by Anne Basting (event 6/20, 7 pm, at Boswell)

I mentioned last week that regional books tend to have a strong presence on the paperback nonfiction list but summer is when they really dominate. We just switched out our window to be Wisconsin-y and after the bike race, we'll have a regional front table for at least a month. I should note that even the Happy Felsch book, though categoried in basedball, has a regional component. This Black Sox Scandal player grew up in Milwaukee. Likewise, we don't have The Penelope Project shelved in regional but Anne Basting's theater project was headquartered at Luther Manor on the northwest side.

Books for Kids:
1. Touching Spirit Bear, by Ben Mikaelsen
2. Arnie the Doughnut, by Laurie Keller
3. The Barn, by Avi
4. Invasion of the Ufonauts, by Laurie Keller
5. Bowling Alley Bandit, by Laurie Keller
6. The Last Star, by Rick Yancey
7. Rrralph, by Lois Ehlert
8. I Am a Bunny, by Ole Risom with illustrations by Richard Scarry
9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone Illustrated Edition, by J.K. Rowling with illustrations by Jim Kay
10. The Problem with Forever, by Jennifer Armentrout

I drove around a doughnut costume for the day to support the paperback release of Arnie the Doughnut. What more can I say except perhaps that with three events, we didn't fritter away the time? The inflatable costumes are perhaps more complicated to put on but are definitely more comfortable to the wearer. Nobody questioned that our doughnut stamp was pink (strawberry) when it should have been brown (chocolate). And my scientific survey asks whether a child wants a huge doughnut to stamp his or her book as a signature, 100% of book buyers will take up the offer.

Speaking of Larry Watson, and I was, several paragraphs ago, Larry Watson's As Good as Gone is featured in today's Journal Sentinel book page with a profile/review from editor Jim Higgins. We knew the review was going to be good as the novel already appeared as an editor's choice in the Journal Sentinel's 100 summer reads feature and he also spoke on WTMJ radio and it was one of his summer picks. He notes: "For a long time, Watson called this novel Cowboy in the Basement, referring literally to the room where Calvin stays while temporarily minding his teen and tween grandchildren — and, figuratively, evoking the way this archetype continues to influence American culture, sometimes destructively."

On why so few of his novels are set in Wisconsin, Higgins notes: "He set Orchard, a story of art and erotic obsession, in Door County, but only after he and his wife, Susan, sold the place they had owned there: 'My wife said, as soon as we leave a place, then it's going to be fair game for my fiction.'" Milwaukee, be warned! Our event is Tuesday, June 21, 7 pm.

Also in the Journal Sentinel, Mike Fischer reviews Barkskins, the new novel from Annie Proulx. It's about two families involved in the foresting industry over 300+ years. Seems like a similar structure to Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing, but apparently to very different results. Alas, Mr. Fisher really, really, really doesn't like it. The Alex Clark in The Guardian is better, but amusingly enough, when he looks towards a book that cut closer to what he thought Proulx was trying to do, he referenced none other than Amitav Ghosh's Seas of Poppies which is known as the Ibis Trilogy. I didn't know that!

And reprinted from the Dallas Morning News, Tommy Cummmings interviews Sherman Alexie for Thunder Boy, Jr. Thunder Boy Jr. is named after Sherman Alexie's father. And it was the hardest thing he ever wrote.

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