Sunday, December 4, 2016

Our bestsellers for the week ending December 3, 2016--the runaway holiday bestsellers are now pretty clear, unless a media firestorm explodes in the next week. And who doesn't mind that?

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
2. Moonglow, by Michael Chabon
3. The Excellent Lombards, by Jane Hamilton
4. The Misletoe Murder, by P.D. James
5. News of the World, by Paulette Jiles
6. Swing Time, by Zadie Smith
7. Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett
8. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
9. Hag Seed, by Margaret Atwood
10. Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson

I have vowed to finish The Underground Railroad by the end of the year, and I have passed the point of no return, which is page 50. I do a variation on the Nancy Pearl theory of trying out books. She says 50 pages or your age minus 100 if you are over 50. I say age has nothing to do with it, and I am more concerned with how late I can give up than how many pages I have to give the book I'm trying. So I say you have 50 pages or 10% of the book to quit, whichever is longer.

I should also note that four of The Washington Post's top 5 fiction books of 2016 are represented here. The only holdout is Tana French's The Trespasser, but it's not like we're not trying. Boswellian Sharon Nagel called this "another fantastic tale from one of my favorite mystery writers."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Good Stock, by Sanford D'Amato
2. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
3. Atlas Obscura, by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton
4. Thank You for Being Late, by Thomas Friedman
5. Gunslinger, by Jeff Pearlman
6. Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance
7. Milwaukee: City of Neighborhoods, by John Gurda
8. Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen
9. Hero of the Empire, by Candice Millard
10. My Own Words, by Ruth Bader Ginsburg
11. Absolutely on Music, by Haruki Murakami
12. Speaking American, by Josh Katz
13. Gratitude, by Oliver Sacks
14. Women in Science, by Rachel Ignotofsky
15. In the Company of Women, by Grace Bonney

I am completey obsessed with Speaking American, by Josh Katz. As a New Yorker who moved to Wisconsin many years ago, it explains a lot of stuff. When do scallions turn into green onions? Why does Milwaukee say soda like New York but Chicago says pop? And what part of the country says flapjacks? Turns out that the answer is just about nobody. It's all told with infographic maps and I can't stop looking at them.

So interesting to see three of our lists having runaway bestsellers that are likely to dominate our charts through Christmas (Underground Railroad, Evicted, A Man Called Ove) while the others do not. But another reason for me to finish reading Railroad is so I can say I read the #1 book on all five lists this week.

Paperback Fiction:
1. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
2. The Improbability of Love, by Hannah Rothschild (book club discussion 12/5 at 7)
3. The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
4. The Drifter, by Nick Petrie
5. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, by Fredrik Backman
6. Jade Dragon Mountain, by Elsa Hart
7. Girl Waits with Gun, by Amy Stewart
8. Afterward, by Edith Wharton/Seth
9. The Lake House, by Kate Morton
10. The Association of Small Bombs, by Karan Mahajan

The New York Times ten best books of 2016 is out and it's a little more offbeat than the Washington Post's, though still including Underground Railroad. It does include The Association of Small Bombs, which hit our top 10 this week. The book was a National Book Award finalist and also received hosannas from Sam Sacks at The Wall Street Journal: "The Association of Small Bombs is not the first novel about the aftermath of a terrorist attack, but it is the finest I’ve read at capturing the seduction and force of the murderous, annihilating illogic that increasingly consumes the globe."

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Milwaukee Frozen Custard, by Kathleen McCann and Robert Tanzilo
2. The Road to Little Dribbling, by Bill Bryson
3. Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson
4. The Politics of Resentment, by Katherine Cramer
5. The English and Their History, by Robert Tombs
6. Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow
7. The Road to Character, by David Brooks
8. The Price of Inequality, by Joseph E. Stiglitz
9. Adventures in Human Being, by Gavin Francis
10. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, by Carrie Brownstein

You never know what's going to take off at Boswell, but between the Anglophiles and award-o-philes, Robert Tombs's The English and Their History was destined for some decent sales. It was named a best book of the year by The Daily Telegraph, The Times Literary Supplement, The Times, The Spectator, and The Economist. Christopher Silvester wrote in The Financial Times that the book "deserves to be widely read" while The Economist said it "deserves a place on every educated Englander's bedside table."

Books for Kids:
1. Dog Man, by Dav Pilkey
2. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, by J.K. Rowling
3. Gingerbread Christmas, by Jan Brett
4. Ada Twist, Scientist, by Andrea Beaty with illustrations by David Roberts
5. The Story Orchestra, by Jessica Courtney-Tickle
6. The Outsiders 50th anniversary, by S.E. Hinton
7. We Found a Hat, by Jon Klassen
8. Cityblock, by Christopher Franceschelli with illustrations by Peskimo
9. Little Blue Truck's Christmas, by Alice Schertle with illustrations by Jill McElmurry
10. A is for Activist, by Innosanto Nagara

Since we end our sales on Saturday, our Sunday event with Jan Brett will not register till next week, though we had enough presales to get Gingerbread Christmas to #3. It's Brett's third Gingerbread book, with a cookie orchestra entertaining the town in this installment. Like our bookseller Olivia V. who worked the talk and signing at Milwaukee Public Library's Centennial Hall, Ms. Brett is a clarinetist, while her husband Joe plays the bass.

Over in the Journal Sentinel, Mike Fischer reviews Michael Chabon's Moonglow, which like recent novels in our top 10 from Jane Hamilton and Ann Patchett, draws very closely on Chabon's family story, specifically that of his grandfather. Fischer wrote: "The existence of this beautiful, brave book confirms that we must nevertheless continue constructing narratives, no matter how ephemeral they are. We cannot fully recover what’s been lost. But we can tell stories like this one, remembering where we came from so that we might somehow keep going."

Reprinted from Newsday is Tom Beer's review of Born a Crime, the new memoir from Trevor Noah, who took over The Daily Show from Jon Stewart. The verdict: "Americans will know Trevor Noah much better after reading his terrific new memoir, “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.” Not that the book is in any way a promotional tool for the television show. Nor is it the conventionally thin gruel that constitutes a celebrity memoir these days. Noah has a real tale to tell, and he tells it well — the tale of a boyhood in South Africa during and after apartheid."

From the Charlotte News and Observer comes John Murawski's review of Words on the Move: Why English Won't - and Can't - Sit Still (Like Literally.) Murawski muses: "To professional linguists who obsess over the minutiae of language change, pedantic scorn for linguistic evolution reflects what might well be termed a creationist mindset. 'Indeed, the way we are taught to process language is as antique as our ancestors’ sense of how nature worked,' McWhorter writes. 'One of the hardest notions for a human being to shake is that a language is something that is, when it is actually something always becoming.'"

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