Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving means a lot of things to people, but to me, it's about friends and family, which is why I'm talking about "Cold Clay" and "The Story of Arthur Truluv."

I haven't done a Thanksgiving post in a number of years, and what's more, I haven't done a non-Sunday or Monday post in a couple of weeks. But the nice thing about Thanksgiving for me is it's a chance to slow down for a moment and wait, mostly because our house is too messy to host relatives. I swept a few rooms this morning and to me, that's a victory.

As I wait for us to leave to visit family in Illinois, I've finally had time to read for a bit. I just finished reading our bookseller Sharon's second mystery, written under the pen name Juneau Black along with former bookseller Jocelyn. Cold Clay returns to the village of Shady Hollow, where Vera Vixen, ace reporter (and fox), finds herself in the midst of another case when the bones of a missing resident turn up in a nearby orchard. Could it be that Julia Elkin (a moose), the wife of beloved coffee house proprietor Joe of Joe's Mug, never made it out of town when she left a decade ago? And will Vera ever get to work on the story, what with her boss D.W. (a skunk) pressuring her to focus her attentions on the new etiquette school in town, run by Octavia Grey (a very elegant mink)? Bookseller Lenore (a raven) helps out a bit as does police officer Orville (a bear), though that second relationship is more like half flirtation, half competition to solve the case. Second time is just as charming for this cozy series with a anthropomorphic twist and a good dose of humor. When Octavia asks if Vera is interested in dance class, I'm guessing you already know the only dance that our ace reporter claims proficiency in.

The Shady Hollow folk often find that friends can fill in well when family leaves you wanting. And that's one of the themes that runs through Elizabeth Berg's latest novel, The Story of Arthur Truluv. That's not really Arthur's last name - it's just the nickname that teenage Maddy gives him when they start meeting in the cemetery. Arthur is there for his daily visits to his recently deceased wife Nola. Maddy's struggling with her own loss, of her mom, and well, but she's also come to the cemetery to escape bullying in class. And her dad, well, he just doesn't understand (with thanks to DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince for explaining this to me in detail some years ago). And she's got a thing for Anderson, an older guy who's been courting her.

Arthur is often pestered by his next door neighbor Lucille, who is a bit intrusive, but that annoying habit is offset by her delicious baking. And of course maybe she just needs company too. And then she finds love, in an old high school sweetheart who comes back into her life. But things happen. And of course, Arthur, Maddy, and Lucille are meant to be together. They are hardly perfect people (well, Arthur comes close) but they are good and kind people and they need each other. This story is one of those books I like about readymade family, but it's also about real family too.

The lessons of The Story of Arthur Truluv are more subtle than so many novels being touted this year. I'm so grateful for so many of these wonderful books, being lauded at prize time and sure to be in best-of-the-year roundups. But there's room in the world for this kind of book too, which with very few changes in details (mostly about the food), could be about characters of any numbers of races and ethnicities. Love and family are universal!

I haven't read enough of Elizabeth Berg's canon to know where this fits, but even before I read it, I thought that this might be her Ove (as in A Man Called Ove) book and having read it, I think that was fair. It's not French and there's less philosophy and design theory, but I was also reminded a bit of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. And there's no bookstore, but I was reminded of any number of beloved bookstore novels as well. If someone asks me for another book like The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and they want to move past the obvious (How to Find Love in a  Bookstore, which, needless to say, I still have to read), Arthur's a good candidate. We all know that there are only so many plots and if you ask me the "do the best we can and make the best of the time we have" might just be my favorite.

The thing that is also great about working with Elizabeth Berg is that she's not just a great writer, she's also an avid reader. We've got a great selection of Elizabeth Berg's recommended titles in the store, including Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl, and Kate Southwood's Evensong. You might remember that Southwood was in Milwaukee earlier this year for an event - we even work with Berg on events. We've hosted a number of great authors before or after her Writing Matters program in Oak Park. There's a workshop coming up in January.**

After a few very successful ticketed events with Ms. Berg (at the Friends of the Milwaukee Public Library Literary Lunch and the Lynden Sculpture Garden Women's Speaker series), we're going with a free event this time, the closest we are coming to a holiday party. When I discussed the idea of having some refreshments, I turned immediately to my friends at Beans and Barley. I've been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the holiday cookies, and if you've ever had them, I'm sure you've been anxiously awaiting them as well.

We decided to pair up with Beans, who is cosponsoring this event, and we'll have an assortment of their cookies (and wanna bet you'll go back and buy another box or tray for your holiday party), as well as our very favorite dessert, the poppyseed cake, which comes in loaf or layer, but we serve as mini cupcakes. Honestly, I'm a chocolate person in general, but this cake it's killer butter cream frosting is out of this world. We serve it at our first fall sales rep presentation (sorry, that one's closed to the public) and I start getting inquiries from booksellers as soon as the date is announced: "Are we getting the poppyseed* cake?" and if I know what's good for me, we are.

I know you are probably thinking of the Thanksgiving feast you are about to eat, or just ate, or perhaps ate weeks ago. But also think about Friday, December 8, when we'll be hosting Elizabeth Berg at Boswell (the refreshments come from Beans but the event is at the bookstore) at 7 pm for The Story of Arthur Truluv. Yes, I'm trying to up the incentive with the treats, but I know that in the end, a wonderful evening with Berg is the main event; cookies and cake are, as we well know, the dessert.

*I fretted over whether poppyseed is one or two words. In the end, I bowed to the Beans and Barley catering menu. I'd hold onto this menu, because they do a fabulous job. And yes, Boswell is closed today but we're back to regular hours tomorrow. We'd extend them, but they already seem pretty long to me.

**After you read The Story of Arthur Truluv, your mouth will be watering. So it's no surprise that one of Berg's picks is a cookbook called Beat This, from Ann Hodgman. Lucille would approve.

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