I have sort of a rule about not pitching books for reading groups while they are still in hardcover. In fact, it is one of my two golden rules about selecting books for reading groups. Wait till paperback and more people are willing to purchase the book is #1. #2, by the way, is to pick books two months ahead (or more) instead of one. If you pick your selection so close to the meeting, you're making it harder for your bookstore to have books for you, and you're also making it harder for members to read the book.
But of course every so often rules get broken and our selection of The Yid by Paul Goldberg was one of those times. I was chatting about the book with James at Picador back when it was in galley form, and honestly, I thought it would be Conrad, not me, who wound up reading it. But it wound up at the top of my pile and passed my 50-page test. By that I mean I got to page 50 and didn't want to stop reading--many books don't make it past then. I will say that I like books with Jewish themes, especially if they are a bit unconventional, and the story reminded me a bit of Michael Chabon in its over-the-top elements and dancing language, and a little like David Bezmozgis in its theatrical sensibilities (I found The Betrayers to read like a stage play, and I mean that in a good way).
I wrote a staff rec, and it went something like this: "When an ominous police vehicle arrives late at night at the door of Solomon Levinson, erstwhile star of Moscow Yiddish Theater, he figures he is doomed to prison or worse. What has he got to lose? Three dead bodies later, a plan is hatched with the help of a doctor, a black engineer (nicknamed Paul Robeson, at least when the locals are being polite), and a mysterious woman. The task? Prevent the ultimate pogrom, a plan to wipe out the Jews of the Soviet Union. Jumping back and forth in time, Paul Goldberg blends history and imagination to tell a story that’s equal parts violence and slapstick. The narrative periodically veers into dramatic staging, showing how the artificial outrageousness of the story is not much more dramatic than the absurd contradictions of the Soviet totalitarian regime – Stalin’s purge was inspired by his contention that Soviet doctors were part of a cabal that was surreptitiously killing political leaders. The Yid is a skillful mashup of Michael Chabon and Quentin Tarantino, with enough factual details to even appeal to history buffs. On finishing the story, I immediately thought of a half dozen people who’d love it, and isn’t that the mark of a great read?"
The Tarantino is the money rec, as film comparisons generally have a wider reach than comparisons to other writers. I couldn't get through describing Don Lee's Wrack and Ruin without comparing it to Sideways (the Alexander Payne film from 2004, when I still went to movies). It implies a bit of humor, a lot of violence, and a revenge fantasy setup. But that is all hearsay.
I also decided that The Yid had a decent shot at winning the first novel prize for the National Jewish Book Awards, being that I read two winners in 2014, The Betrayers and The Mathematician's Shiva. While I did not read 2015's fiction winner, Daniel Torday's The Last Flight of Poxl West, it strikes me that Goldberg's sensibility is in keeping with these other winners. Hey, I'm never right about these things, but I like to make predictions with the best of them. I certainly can't be wrong as often as Jeane Dixon was.
To my delight, we sold the book a bit. So when it turned out that Goldberg was coming to a conference in Chicago, James suggested that Goldberg come up to do an event with us. I knew my cosponsoring partner, as I'd already gotten Joel Berkowitz at the UWM Sam and Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies to read it, and he liked it as much as I did. The good news was that they were not asking me to host the event on a Friday or Saturday, when you can't get cosponsorship from Jewish Organizations. The bad news is that they were asking us to host it on the first Monday of June, when we were already scheduled for our in-store reading group. Now I already knew that I had double trouble with scheduling coming up. Labor Day is always an issue, but this year July 4th was also on a Monday. So neither wanting to give up the event nor reschedule the book club, I decided we would read The Yid, have Goldberg come talk to us for a bit, and then have the official event in the back of the store, a taped conversation between Goldberg and Berkowitz.
Now here's the thing about The Yid. I love the book but I never thought it was for everyone. To me, it's for an adventurous reader. A little knowledge of Jewish culture wouldn't hurt, and interest in theater would be good too, and tolerance for literary violence probably is helpful. I definitely could see our buyer Jason liking the book, for example.
But that was not to be. So let's say that the in-store lit group did not like it as much as A Man Called Ove. That's the problem with having someone like me who has as many reading personalities as Sybil. And yes, I also read that too. I do know there were several folks who did not attend who might have liked the book more and turned around the conversation, but as any reading group leader knows, you get the conversation you get.
Of all the characters, most of the attendees liked Frederick Lewis the best, the African American engineer from Omaha who went to the Soviet Union to escape racism, only to find that most of his new countryman could not really distinguish him from Paul Robeson (at their best) and a monkey (at their worst).
We had Goldberg come in and talk to us and I think that helped. He discussed the Yiddish productions of Shakespeare that were the rage at the time (they couldn't be seen as political), and in particular, the production of King Lear that really was produced in 1935.
We talked about Stalin's supposed plot to exterminate the Jews, just before he died. The trains were there! And we also talked about the suspicious nature of Stalin's own death, never completely settled.
Reviews on The Yid have really been great, by the way. Here is the critical reception from Janet Maslin in The New York Times, Maureen Corrigan on NPR's Fresh Air, and Glen David Gold in The Washington Post. Other raves include Kevin Nance in the Chicago Tribune and Daniel Akst in Newsday who wrote "It’s a good story, but what makes this such a terrific book is the author’s confident mastery of the world he immerses us in, the fascinating and tragic back stories he weaves with little loss of narrative momentum, and his conspiratorial relationship to the reader."
Oh, and the event went great too! Thank you Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Berkowitz (plus Ms. Dredge for setting up the taping). It really was a great evening.
For folks trying The Yid at their book club, it comes out in paperback on February 7, 2017. I would suggest scheduling it for April 2017 and afterwards.
Meanwhile, here are our next three meetings!
On Monday, July 11, 7 pm, we'll be discussing Anne Tyler's A Spool of Blue Thread. Note the date change. Science Fiction group will meet in the front of the store, In-store Lit in the back. As I've noted, Tyler's newest is outselling her last two novels published since we've been open by very large margins.
On Monday, August 1, 7 pm, we'll be discussing Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizers. You're just not part of the cultural discussion if you haven't read the Pulitzer Prize winner.
On Tuesday, September 6, 7 pm, we'll be discussing Quan Barry's She Weeps Each Time You're Born. Our bookseller Todd has been talking this up since it came out and we hosted Barry at Boswell for the hardcover. I've been suggesting that folks read The Sympathizers and She Weeps together as a unit, so I thought I'd put that suggestion into action.
As a bookseller, I have this thing about not being blindsided by books. When Emma Cline's The Girls took off, it was nice that we knew that there was a big push, and that we'd had a great early read from Sharon. Of course books still come out of left field. I'm still not sure why Rupi Kaur's Milk and Honey is entrenched on the bestseller lists. I have done a number of searches and still haven't seen the article that explained what exactly broke the book out. I guess I could ask my Simon and Schuster rep, as they distribute Andrews McMeel, but it hasn't happened because every week when I look at the bestseller lists, I wonder who is pushing that book and then a minute later I get distracted by someone else. One thing I did notice - it was originally self-published, as the Createspace data is still in our system.
I guess it's human nature to not want to be the last one on the bus. If you are the kind of person who sees yourself as a trendspotter (and I guess a bookseller has to have a bit of that, even if it's a niche of a niche of trends), there's someone disappointing about being the last person to discover a book. And that's why when books explode, a lot of us rarely go back and read them if we didn't read them early.
And that's where I'm going to say that someday all of America is going to be reading Antoine Laurain. He just needs the right break. I'm excited that I just got my advance copy of French Rhapsody, coming out this fall, and hope I love it as much as I love The President's Hat and The Red Notebook.
I think this carries over into all my pop culture consumption, but it's gotten so much more difficult as options have exploded and pop culture has splintered. It took me six seasons to watch Portlandia (and decide that I like it) and being that I don't have Netflix, HBO, or Showtime (let alone Amazon Prime), there are many new touchstones that wind up being off limits.
So it's interesting to go back go back to the day when network television was still a huge chunk of the viewing pie, and a show like Seinfeld, despite the odds, could capture national consciousness. Some folks think that in a lot of ways, it was a game changer of a show, that led to the rise of small screen auteurs and the new golden age of television. And for some reason, I pride myself that I started watching early, mostly because my friend Heidi was an early obsessive and convinced me to watch not the abbreviated first season of four episodes (perhaps the smallest order for a non limited run series ever) but the second season that has the now-common non-network rhythm of 12 episodes.
I just finished reading Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything, and boy was it a great read. The book comes out July 5, but Armstrong will be detouring to Milwaukee when she comes to Chicago in September. Our event, in fact, is set for Monday, September 12, 7 pm, to be exact, and it's at Boswell. We hosted Armstrong for Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted and I remembered her family connection so we made a date for a return engagement. Alas, I tried this also with Jami Attenberg, but her family moved to Florida! Despite, this, we still love Saint Mazie, and it is currently on our book club flier and table, thanks to Jen's rec.
Seinfeldia offers a history of the show, most notably how it got from an idea over coffee to conception, bucking the odds more than once, as one network executive after another looked at it askance. One way the show was able to detour around failure, was that the show was originally shepherded by late nights and specials instead of prime time. They really found the money to create the four-episode first series by pulling it out of a Bob Hope special.
While it appears that Armstrong was not able to talk to the principal players (there's an interview list), where she shines, as in her last book, is in talking to the writers. So many of us want to know where the stories come from - it's the first questions I want to ask a writer in the question portion of their appearance. And the stories in Seinfeld were so different than what we'd seen before. And while Larry David took a lot from his own life, at one point, he was going to be squeezed dry. Every year a new group of writers came in and drew from the minutiae of their own lives (with Peter Mehlman being the only non-David writer who was close to a long-term writer) and then Mr. David Seinfelded it. I love how he'd tell a writer their idea was good, but for another show. And of course it was David's idea to have various plot strands come together at the end. It wasn't so much of a tying up as it was a collision.
The other thing Seinfeldia uncovers are all the side stories of people whose lives were changed by Seinfeld. Not just the inspiration for Kramer (Kenny Kramer, who doesn't know that?) but also the inspiration for Elaine, the real Soup Nazi, the actor who played the Soup Nazi, the real J. Peterman (who went on a speaking tour with John O'Hurley), and more.
So good! Seinfeldia is one of my summer picks. You'll definitely want to read it and if you're like me, you'll want to watch a bunch of episodes. If nothing else, you'll want to verify which character was in the most episodes (and no, it's not a family member, unlike Friends, where Ross and Rachel's mom is #1).
Music is another area where many folks pride themselves on being early to the dance. When I was young, I obsessively listened to radio, bought music, read what news I could get ahold of. I had a subscription to Billboard for years. I've talked at length about how that switch that used to get me to love music turned off. I could appreciate it, but I just couldn't obsess over it anymore.
Years ago I had a discussion with my fellow bookseller Arsen about this. I was having trouble making the leap to downloading (yes, this was before streaming); it was one too many format changes for me. But lately, the avalanche of music memoirs that we've been promoting, fromYour Favorite Band is Killing Me, to Old Records Never Dieto Dave Hill Doesn't Live Here Any More, had me thinking a lot about aural entertainment. I didn't read the Dave Hill book before it came out, but I found him so charming that I wound up buying the book that night and plowed through it. A lot of what I love about Hill is his delivery and demeanor - there's a spirit about him that is both self-deprecating and defeated, and can-do and conquering. Our event wasn't quite as big as I hoped for, but hey, that meant a bunch of folks at the event went out for drinks afterwards (not everyone went - it wasn't that small). And though Hill is now a long-time New Yorker, I kind of love that he still has Cleveland in his soul.
So I was thinking about that, and I was also thinking about something Eric Spitznagel talked about at his event. In the old days, you'd buy a record and you didn't always know what it sounded like. Maybe you heard the single or maybe you read a review. And sometimes you loved it and sometimes you hated it. But you'd spent your money and you only had two options - you could not listen to again and waste your money or you could listen to it twenty times, and the odds were, you'd wind up liking it.
So the craziest thing happened. In our back office, Jason plays music, sometimes on his headphones, but if nobody complains, it just comes out of his speakers. I've gotten to know Arcade Fire and the Lumineers and various other groups from his rotations. All well and good. But one day I called out to him across the room, "Hey that sounds just like Daryl Hall and John Oates!" And later on, "That sounds even more like Hall and Oates." And later on, "I think those lyrics are referring to 'Rich Girl.'" And I heard the new single and I said, "Oh, they are moving from retro to contemporary, sort of like the progression of Maroon 5. And of course I later learned that both Daryl Hall and Adam Levine gave the band early breaks. And yes, Daryl Hall's mother also heard the similarities in Mr. Hall and Mr. Fitzpatrick's vocals.
And they played and they played, and what do you know, it's like I'm 20 and I know all the lyrics to the first two Fitz and Tantrums albums. I decided to buy More Than Just a Dream, but would I download it, buy it on CD, or restart my vinyl collection. I decided I probably would have had the best experience with vinyl, but I went with the CD. I also wanted to buy a physical object (back to Eric Spitznagel's talk again) and I wanted to get it at a store. So it was nice to go into Rush Mor in Bay View and special order it from Matt, who is a regular magazine customer at Boswell (and just got back from touring Europe with his band). I promise to buy my next album at Exclusive Company, probably Songs for a Breakup, Volume 1. Probably today.
So what do you know, I actually still can obsess over pop music. It just takes six months of incessant playing instead of two listens. That impulse wasn't gone, it was just worn out. And so I'm late to the party. And I probably won't go to the party - Fitz and the Tantrums are playing at 10 pm at the Harley Davidson Roadhouse on June 29 (tomorrow, if you're reading this the day of posting). I'm not sure I can handle the crowds, and we have our own event, the Steve Raichlen sold-out dinner in Greendale that evening. But whoever is writing the lyrics seems kind of literary to me and would probably enjoy a nice independent bookstore just five-or-so minutes up Lincoln Memorial. Or if the weather isn't too humid, it's actually a pretty nice walk, if you're into that sort of thing.
Please note that the dinner at Joey Gerard's in Greendale this Wednesday is sold out. If you'd like a signed copy of Planet Smoke, they will be available on Thursday afternoon. If you're interested in a signed copy of one of his backlist titles, we have a number of them available, but in order to make sure we get one signed for you, please order it from us by email or website. If it says "on our shelves now," it is likely we can get one signed for you.
Monday, June 27, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Fran Kaplan, Robert Samuel Smith, and Reggie Jackson,
celebrating the third edition of A Time of Terror.
This event is cosponsored by America's Black Holocaust Museum.
Please join us to hear about this award-winning memoir, the only account of a lynching ever written by a survivor, just republished in a third edition by America’s Black Holocaust Museum. Robert Smith, Fran Kaplan, and Reggie Jackson will read from the book, explain how it came to be published, and discuss its relevance for today's readers.
Dr. Robert Samuel Smith is Associate Vice Chancellor for Global Inclusion and Engagement, the Director of the Cultures and Communities Program, and Associate Professor of History at the UWM. He is author of the book Race, Labor and Civil Rights, and contributes a monthly column to Milwaukee Magazine.
Dr. Fran Kaplan serves as coordinator of the America’s Black Holocaust Museum online. She has been an educator, social worker, writer, and racial justice activist for nearly five decades. Fran has created and run nonprofit and for profit organizations that address issues from women’s health and farmworker rights to nurturing parenting, early childhood education, and peace-building.
Reggie Jackson, M.S., is Chair of the Dr. James Cameron Legacy Foundation, Head Griot (docent) of America’s Black Holocaust Museum, and protégé of Milwaukee civil rights icon James Cameron. Jackson is much sought-after as an educator and public speaker about African American history and contemporary race relations.
co-sponsored by Crimespree Magazine and Alliance Française.
We are so excited to welcome back Cara Black for her third appearance at Boswell. For those of you anxiously awaiting the next adventure of Aimeé Leduc, mark your calendar. For those of you who have never read Leduc, this is a great place to start, as Murder on the Quai goes back to the time when Aimeé was in college. Here's Boswellian Anne's recommendation:
"In this prequel to the Aimée Leduc series, we meet the young Aimee in 1989. She is a premed student, struggling to succeed in the career that others think is right for her. We learn how she meets Rene, finds herself becoming interested in her father's work in the family detective agency, and finally how tragedy touches her life, killing her father and making her mother into a lifelong mystery. I have enjoyed this series from the start and this is a most worthwhile trip back to the beginning!" (Anne K. McMahon)
Marilyn Stasio is also a fan, highlighting Black's newest in the Crime column of The New York Times Book Review: "The case is engrossing, complete with Vichy flashbacks, but the most fun are the scenes where Aimée meets her future partners and acquires Miles Davis, her beloved bichon frisé. One caveat: For such a clotheshorse, Aimée doesn’t do nearly enough shopping."
You wouldn't know it from this delightful tote featuring the shoes of Aimeé Leduc. We're also celebrating the 25th anniversary of Soho Press with this free-with-purchase offer - the first 20 people to buy Murder on the Quai from us who mention this offer get the tote free. We've given away more than half of them, so if you want one, I'd purchase the book before our event.
in conversation with Ruth Jordan of Crimespree Magazine.
Let me get this one: "Kevin and Bobby, as close as brothers, maneuver the mean streets of working-class Brighton. They are both poor, but Kevin is a smart kid and has a chance to make it. Kevin’s grandmother, who owns a cab business, is killed for her money. Tensions are going to flare – the murderer is black and this is in the height of the bussing riots. Kevin vows to kill the perpetrator, but Bobby takes the fall. Years later, Kevin is a Pulitzer-winning journalist and back in the neighborhood, only to find that Bobby is running a numbers business that the Providence mob wants a piece of. But it’s worse than that – a series of brutal murders might not just be connected to his prize-winning story, but to the messy past he’s left behind. I love the overlapping themes of justice and family that plays out on several levels. The violence is a bit gorier than you expect from my reading, but the writing is so good, and the characters are so strong that I carried on, steeled against guts pouring out and the like. You know what they say – no guts, no glory. Enjoy!" (Daniel Goldin)
Here's the clean Stephen King quote: "Helluva Boston crime novel. Helluva novel, period. If you liked The Departed, you'll like this." —Stephen King." This is when I miss King's column in Entertainment Weekly. He'd be blowing out copies of the book with a rave like this. Oh, and here's the adult quote from Stephen King: "Brighton is the f*cking bomb!"
And here is Mr. John Grisham's review. "I have enjoyed all of Michael Harvey's books, but his latest, Brighton, is his best. I couldn't stop reading."
I hear these are both very good writers and you should just listen to what they say. One person I listen to is Ruth Jordan, who along with her husband Jon, runs Crimespree Magazine, the Milwaukee-based guide to all things crime-y. Crimespree, which also runs the very popular Murder and Mayhem in Milwaukee conference in November, is cosponsoring this event, and Harvey will be in conversation with Ms. Jordan.
I missed Harvey's last event at Boswell but I found his talk about The Innocence Game, a stand-alone inspired by his work on The Innocence Project, fascinating. Take a Summerfest break and come out for a whodunit happening.
And then we don't have any events for a week, until July 6. But if you're between a parade and a picnic, we're open July 4 for 10 am to 5 pm.
Here's an interpretive dance of the week in reviewing, told by the whirling veil-like bestseller lists.
1. As Good As Gone, by Larry Watson
2. The Girls, by Emma Cline
3. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
4. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
5. Murder on the Quai, by Cara Black (event 6/28 at Boswell, 7 pm)
6. The Nest, by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
7. Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
8. City of Secrets, by Stewart O'Nan
9. The Fireman, by Joe Hill
10. Sisi, by Allison Pataki
We had a nice pop on Stewart O'Nan's City of Secrets this week, and I credit this to Boswellian Chris Lee's review being featured in our recent email newsletter. He noted: "O'Nan's singularly fluent prose marks the book as solely his from the first page, and the remarkable depth with which he understands human nature and the internal conflicts that both drive and give pause is on full display as he unfolds the story of Brand, a holocaust survivor and illegal refugee in British-ruled, post-WWII Jerusalem." And for another take, Stuart Sheppard in Pittsburgh CityPaperwrites: "Although City of Secrets is a spy novel, it’s really a story of loss, and how people, under the most stressful circumstances, deal with it. What makes the book so interesting is its dimensionality. The two major characters each lives three lives: the superficial day-to-day cover life of a meaningless job, the below-the-surface life of a terrorist-cell operative, and on the deepest level of psychic truth, the existential life of despair."
Hardcover Nonfiction: 1. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
2. The Gene, by Siddhartha Mukherhjee
3. Being a Beast, by Charles Foster
4. Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari
5. Polka Heartland, by Rick March
6. Who Rules the World?, by Noam Chomsky
7. Becoming Wise, by Krista Tippett
8. Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande
9. Terror in the City of Champions, by Tom Stanton
10. Sex Object, by Jessica Valenti
Not one, but two customers told me they wound up buying The Gene because the waiting list at the library was too long. Allow me to cite Matt McCarthy's rave in USA Today, who writes: "It's a book we all should read. I shook my head countless times while devouring it, wondering how the author — a brilliant physician, scientist, writer, and Rhodes Scholar — could possibly possess so many unique talents. When I closed the book for the final time, I had my answer: Must be in the genes."
1. Under the Harrow, by Flynn Barry
2. The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
3. My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante
4. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, by Katarina Bivald
5. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrick Backman
6. A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler
7. Uprooted, by Naomi Novik
8. Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain
9. Kitchens of the Great Midwest, by J. Ryan Stradal
10. The Marriage of Opposites, by Alice Hoffman
Sales have been consistently strong on Naomi Novik's Uprooted for us to delve further into this book's appear. It won a Nebula Award, which put it in our award case. It has a nice rec from Boswellian Pam Stilp, who noted: "This is an engrossing tale, a modern classic," and we had an additional rec from Phoebe, one of our booksellers who is now working in publishing, and that makes me think it crosses over well to the YA market. And lots of critical reads came in like Kate Nepveu's on the Tor.com blog: "Naomi Novik’s Uprooted Isn’t The Book I Expected — It’s Better." (Note: our next event with Tor authors is August 31--we're hosting Mary Robinette Kowal and Ada Palmer.)
1. The Penelope Project, by Anne Basting, Maureen Towey, and Ellie Rose
2. Your Favorite Band is Killing Me, by Steven Hyden
3. Old Records Never Die, by Eric Spitznagel
4. Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow
5. Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari
6. Just Mercy, by Brian Stephenson
7. Milwaukee in the 1930s, by John D. Buenker
8. The Fellowship, by Philip and Carol Zaleski
9. The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough
10. How to Bake Pi, by Eugenia Cheng
It's funny how events go in waves - this week was very nonfiction papery. But of course it got a little stranger than that, both Steven Hyden and Eric Spitznagel had written paperback original philosophical memoirs of sort, Klosterman-esque, you might say, at the same time there was the new release of a Klosterman. And we wound up having the events a day apart at venues about maybe a mile from each other. We booked the Spitznagel before we were asked to sell books at the Hyden, but in a way, it was good as we had a number of people who went to both, and I got to call the mini series "Vinyl in the View" which made me happy because of the alliteration. We have signed copies of both Your Favorite Band is Killing Me and Old Records Never Die.
Books for Kids:
1. Coruroy's Fourth of July, by Don Freeman
2. Hidden Oracle, by Rick Riordan
3. A Study in Charlotte, by Brittany Cavallaro
4. Summerlost, by Ally Condie
5. Green Bay Packers ABC by Brad Epstein
6. Just One Day, by Gayle Forman (ticketed event for new adult novel, 9/20 at the Lynden)
7. Mosquitoland, by David Arnold
8. The BFG, by Roald Dahl
It may be summer but in Wisconsin, board books such as Green Bay Packers ABC are apparently always a great purchase. And speaking of fall, several booksellers are making their way through Gayle Forman's new novel for adults, Leave Me. It's a ticketed event that might be great for a mother and daughter wanting to enjoy an event together. Coincidentally I just read two books by one author in succession, one adult and one YA, but I'm not going to talk more about it quite yet as the adult book doesn't come out till July 5. And one last thing on crossovers - all adults should read Summerlost. OK, I'm done.
Over at the Journal Sentinel, it's the week before Summerfest and that means that the Book Page is replaced by music reviews. But one review snuck in anyway. Summer demanded Jim Higgins' review of If Bees Are Few: A Hive of Bee Poems. Where else could Emily Dickinson, Barbara Hambly, Bill McKibben, and Sherman Alexie come together, I ask? Higgins writes: "These poets, contemporary and ancient, find much to like in the busy, hive-minded ones, including their uncanny homing instinct." We have a copy of this book at Boswell and I'd put it on hold now, because there's been a lot of buzz about it.
And as a web extra, there's Marcus Tullius Cicero's How to Grow Old, translated by Philip Freeman. Jim Higgins observes: "As translated by Freeman, Cicero comes across as calm and reasonable, but vigorous in making his case. He also seems to have been a precursor of the Gray Panthers: 'For old age is respected only if it defends itself, maintains its rights, submits to no one, and rules over its domain until its last breath.'"
1. Our solar yellow event fliers have come in. They replace pulsar pink, and while we had some July events in the old flier, the timing was kind of amazing on two fronts. Firstly, we were just about out of pink fliers. And secondly, we made the A Time of Terror event (on Monday, June 27) the first in the new flier, so we can give them out all weekend without worrying that we're not telling them about something. Once again, this flier has events through early September, but I can assure you there are a few August events that still have not been quite confirmed.
2. Tim and I had a great time at Acme Records for Eric Spitznagel'sOld Records Never Dieevent. Mr. Spitznagel is as funny in person as he is on the page. They are both different talents, mind you. Ken and Mike were great hosts and we had a number of attendees thank us with the unusual pairing. If you like these alternative venue events, we've got another one tonight (Friday, June 24), as we're cosponsoring Steven Hyden at The Cactus Club for Your Favorite Band is Killing Me. It's also at 7 pm and it has even more bells and whistles than last night's event did. It's also out of the way of the Bay View bike race.* We have signed copies of Old Records now and should have Your Favorite Band on Sunday.
As he was discussing records of his past, he talked about the object itself, the thing that's been lost in most music discussions. Of course not every album had a zipper, or a booklet, and lots of singles didn't even have picture sleeves, but that only made the ones that did more special? Remember colored vinyl? Remember fold-out posters? This is something that we still have in the book world, and every time a book is released with a beautiful jacket or endpapers or better quality paper or colored ink, we sit up and take notice.
3. Following up on Old Records Never Die and our visit to Acme, my sister Claudia had just been to Taipei visiting friends. She lived there years ago at the beginning of her career teaching China, as the mainland hadn't yet opened up to foreigners. One of her close friends, Hsin-ming, left his job to pursue his dream, to open a vinyl record store in town. I asked Claudia to ask Hsin-ming what people were looking for when they came into the shop. He said it was a lot of Western artists but people did come in looking for hard-to-find copies of Chinese pop music from the 1980s, by artists such as Teresa Teng and Fong Fei-Fei.
Hsin-ming's interests run to classical, old country bluegrass, and vintage rock and roll. He said that nobody had come in looking for their old records, and folks generally didn't seem to romanticize their scratches. In fact, it was not unusual for customers to replaced scratched copies with pristine ones.
*Speaking of the Bay View bike race the Downer Classic is tomorrow (Saturday, June 25). It's going to be hard to park close to the store. If you love bike races, please come! If you don't love bike races, be prepared to walk a little more (the exercise is good for you) or come on Sunday.
Recently I visited my mom in Worcester who has moved to the Keepsake floor of her assisted living community in Worcester. We went out to lunch (she highly recommends the strawberry poppyseed salad at Panera) and then we played Bingo with some other folks in the unit. I wonder what it would be like for her to be taking part in Anne Basting's programs, either through her nonprofit Timeslips, or the Penelope Project that she worked on from 2009-2001.
Basting is coeditor of The Penelope Project, the book that chronicles the program at Wauwatosa's Luther Manor. A team of artists from the UW-Milwaukee’s theatre department and Sojourn Theatre Company, university students, staff, residents, and volunteers traded their bingo cards for copies of The Odyssey. They embarked on a two-year project to examine this ancient story from the perspective of the hero who never left home: Penelope, wife of Odysseus. Together, the team staged a play that engaged everyone and transcended the limits not just of old age and disability but also youth, institutional regulations, and disciplinary boundaries.
Anne Basting is Professor of Theatre at UWM, and coordinator of the Creative Trust. She is also founder and president of TimeSlips Creative Storytelling. Basting will be joined at this event by participants Joyce Heinrich and Rusty Tym.
Here's our staff recommendation for As Good as Gone from Sharon K. Nagel: "Montana in the 1960s is an environment that is quickly changing and almost unrecognizable to Calvin Sidey. He is estranged from his family and living off the grid. When his son entreats him to come and look after his grandchildren while their mother has surgery, Calvin reluctantly agrees. He barely knows his son Bill, much less 11-year old Will and 17-year old Ann. He moves into a house and a town that remember him all too well. Calvin takes charge of his grandchildren and dispatches certain problems in a violent but efficient manner. This is a compelling novel about a man who is unable to let go of his past or move on with the times that he lives in."
Reviews have been great for As Good as Gone, Larry Watson's first novel with Algonquin. Here's Jim Higgins's profile in the Journal Sentinel, where he reveals that the working title for this novel was Cowboy in the Basement. And Kirkus Reviews wrote: "Watson’s powerful characterizations frame large and connected themes: family loyalty, the conflicting capacities of love, and the tenuous connections between humans."
We're excited to have Watson in conversation with Mitch Teich, executive producer and cohost of WUWM's Lake Effect. Between the two of them, they have lived in North Dakota, Utah, Arizona, Iowa, Minnesota, New York, and Washington, DC. And I might have left out a few states. Should be a great conversation!
Here is the complete review, the extended play if you will, of Old Records Never Die from Conrad Silverberg.
"If you are old enough, or retro enough, I'm sure you remember that one album you owned that, despite its scratches, pops, and smudges, you swore you would hold onto until the day you died. Well, you failed to do that, but you still remember the exact spot on that one song where your copy had an especially pronounced pop or hiss or skip. Even now it's how you hear the song in your head. If that song plays from someone else's album, it just sounds wrong!
"For me, that album was Led Zeppelin's first record, and the song was 'Your Time Is Gonna Come." You know it, the one with that extended organ prelude. Well, my copy had this huge scratch. Right there. Right smack in the middle of that introduction. If you stole my copy, I would know it immediately from that scratch. To this day, even though I haven't listened to that particular record in decades, it's how I hear it in my head.
"This book is about that. Sort of. It's about the author's singleminded drive to recover his record collection twenty some odd years after unloading it in favor of CDs. He doesn't want to simply replace his old vinyl with new copies. He wants the exact ones he got rid of all those years ago. He will know them from the scratches that he remembers with precision ... he will know them from the ex-girlfriend's phone number scrawled across the dust jacket ... from the partially torn sticker that identified it as a radio station's promo copy (not for sale!)... from the boot print on the cover from that all too wild party. Is this crazy? Sure! Funny? As all hell! This is a unique and infinitely entertaining little masterpiece about finding what you've lost and coming to grips with at long last becoming an adult." (Conrad Silverberg)
I take partial credit for this rec because I convinced Conard to read it. If you came to the blog from Facebook or another link, you can read our post about Acme Records here. And I think we'll have one more post about this before than the event, all the way from Taiwan.
Boswell is a cosponsor for this event and will be selling Hyden's book at the Cactus Club.
This event is the first meeting of Milwaukee Record book club. It is also a taping of the On the Record podcast. Plus they are sampling Vander Mill hard cider, which means you have to be 21 for this event. But really, does a 15-year-old want to hear somebody debating Beatles vs. Stones?
"Hyden — a consistently insightful and funny writer best known for his work at the late, lamented site Grantland — focuses his attention on pop’s grand tradition of head-to-head rivalries: the Beatles versus the Rolling Stones, Biggie versus Tupac, Oasis versus Blur. Sometimes he concentrates on a specific and finite confrontation (Kanye West versus Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards), and sometimes he concocts a more generalized contrast (Axl Rose versus a long list of other rockers and journalists whose butts he threatened to kick).
"Beyond the often hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking circumstances behind these feuds, though, Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me is really about the allure of our obsessive duality. 'Loving Oasis and hating Blur was a way for me to work out my aesthetic preferences at a formative age,' Hyden writes. 'I was using these bands to help me figure out who I was and what I stood for (and also who I wasn’t and what I didn’t stand for).' He is under no illusions, though, about the actual, real-life impact of such notions: 'Getting overly wrapped up in an album is basically a socially acceptable version of having an imaginary friend.'”
Time to text your imaginary friend and have him or her join you at Cactus Club for a night of arguing, though I will try to remain impartial.
And don't forget about next Monday, June 27, 7:00 pm, at Boswell:
Fran Kaplan and Robert Samuel Smith, editors and coauthors of the introduction for the third edition of James Cameron’s A Time of Terror: A Survivor's Story
Dr. Fran Kaplan, coordinator of the virtual America's Black Holocaust Museum, and Dr. Robert Samuel Smith, Associate Vice Chancellor for Global Inclusion and Engagement at UWM appear together to talk about the third edition of this groundbreaking memoir by James Cameron, survivor of a 1930 lynching in Indiana.
Here's a piece about Cameron that appeared in a 1995 issue of People Magazine: "Cameron, who was a salesman and construction worker, helped organize NAACP chapters in Indiana before retiring in 1980. An amateur historian, he published his account of the Marion lynching in 1982...Cameron used his Social Security benefits to open his museum upstairs in a mosque in Milwaukee, the city where he and Virginia had raised their five children. In April 1994 the Milwaukee City Council sold him an old 12,000-square-foot gym for $1. Buoyed by an anonymous donation of $50,000 from a Jewish businessman, Cameron expanded the exhibits and has since guided more than 2,000 visitors—more whites than blacks—through the museum. 'I forgive those who harmed me,' Cameron said in a speech in 1993 after then Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh granted him a full pardon. But, Cameron added, 'I can never forget.'"
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