Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Event Forecast: Local-favorite Lesley Kagen's latest, Lloyd Sachs on T.Bone Burnett (featuring John Sieger), Michael Tisserand on Krazy Kat, Brit Bennett's "The Mothers."

Wednesday, February 1, 7:00 pm at Boswell
Lesley Kagen, author of The Mutual Admiration Society

FACT: Unbeknownst to eleven-year-old Theresa Tessie Finley, she’s in over her head. PROOF: After hearing a scream and catching a glimpse of a mysterious man carrying a body beneath the flickering streetlights in the cemetery behind her house, Tessie adds solving a murder case to her already quite full to-do list.

Tessie has elected herself president of the crime-stopping Mutual Admiration Society, as if dealing with the tragic drowning of her beloved father, showering tender loving care on her sweet but weird younger sister, Birdie, and staying on the good side of their hard-edged mother weren’t enough. With partner in crime Charlie Cue Ball Garfield, Tessie and Birdie will need to dodge the gossips in their 1950s blue-collar neighborhood, particularly their evil next-door neighbor, Gert Klement, who’d like nothing better than to send the sisters to homes. And, of course, there’s the problem of steering clear of the kidnapping murderer if they have any hope of solving the mystery of all mysteries: the mystery of life.

Lesley Kagen is an actress, voice-over talent, speaker, and award-winning bestselling author of eight novels, including Whistling in the Dark and The Resurrection of Tess Blessing. Her work has been translated into seven languages. Read more about Kagen on her webpage.

Thursday, February 2, 7:00 pm at Boswell Lloyd Sachs, author of T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit, with special guest John Sieger (at right)

T Bone Burnett is a unique, astonishingly prolific music producer, singer-songwriter, guitarist, and soundtrack visionary. Renowned as a studio maven with the Midas touch, Burnett is known for lifting artists to their greatest heights, as he did with Raising Sand, the multiple Grammy Award-winning album by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, as well as acclaimed albums by Los Lobos, the Wallflowers, B. B. King, and Elvis Costello. Burnett virtually invented Americana with his hugely successful roots-based soundtrack for the Coen Brothers film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? Outspoken in his contempt for the entertainment industry, Burnett has nevertheless received many of its highest honors, including Grammy Awards and an Academy Award.

Read more about the book in this piece in the Chicago Sun-Times.

A nationally known voice on popular culture, Lloyd Sachs has written about pop music and jazz for many publications, including Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, and JazzTimes. He was a longtime music columnist and award-winning editorial writer at the Chicago Sun-Times and a senior editor at No Depression.

John Sieger (at left) has written songs for over twenty artists, including Dwight Yoakam, The Bodeans and Jerry Harrison. Recently John collaborated with guitar phenom, Greg Koch, producing over 70 songs, some of which are found on his latest release, A Walk In The Park and Greg’s disc, Plays Well With Others. Sieger contributes a regular column in Urban Milwaukee called Sieger On Songs, where he gets to rhapsodize about his favorite songs. He also has a monthly segment on WUWM’s Lake Effect called The Monthly Beatdown, featuring him and a guest performing his songs.

Saturday, February 4, 2:00 pm at Boswell
Michael Tisserand, author of Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White, which is shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award in biography.

In the tradition of Schulz and Peanuts, an epic and revelatory biography of Krazy Kat creator George Herriman explores the turbulent time and place from which he emerged and the deep secret he explored through his art.

The creator of the greatest comic strip in history finally gets his due in an eye-opening biography that lays bare the truth about his art, his heritage, and his life on America’s color line. A native of nineteenth-century New Orleans, George Herriman came of age as an illustrator, journalist, and cartoonist in the boomtown of Los Angeles and the wild metropolis of New York. Appearing in the biggest newspapers of the early twentieth century, including those owned by William Randolph Hearst, Herriman’s Krazy Kat cartoons quickly propelled him to fame. Although fitfully popular with readers of the period, his work has been widely credited with elevating cartoons from daily amusements to anarchic art.

Drawing on exhaustive original research into Herriman’s family history, interviews with surviving friends and family, and deep analysis of the artist’s work and surviving written records, Tisserand brings this little-understood figure to vivid life, paying homage to a visionary artist who helped shape modern culture.

Michael Tisserand is the author of The Kingdom of Zydeco, which won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for music writing, and the Hurricane Katrina memoir Sugarcane Academy. He served as editor of Gambit Weekly, New Orleans’ alternative newsweekly.

Monday, February 6, 7:00 pm at Boswell:
Brit Bennett, author of The Mothers

It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her mother's suicide, she takes up with the local pastor's son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it's not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance and the subsequent cover-up will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: what if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt.

We've had no less than four enthusiastic reads on The Mothers, and the book has sparked much conversation among booksellers. Such a great book club discussion book. In fact, Boswells In-store Lit Group is discussiung the book at 6. If you've read the book, you're welcome to joing us, though be aware that we'll be revealing a lot of spoilers at this pre-event.

Here's Alexandra Alter's profile in The New York Times.

Born and raised in Southern California, Brit Bennett graduated from Stanford University and later earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award in Graduate Short Fiction as well as the 2014 Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers. Her work is featured in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Jezebel. She is one of the National Book Foundation's 2016 5 Under 35 honorees.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The annotated Boswell bestsellers for the week ending January 28, 2017, with links to the Journal Sentinel reviews

Here's what sold at Boswell last week.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Burning Bright V2, by Nick Petrie
2. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
3. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
4. Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay
5. Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett
6. The Drifter, by Nick Petrie
7. Homesick for Another Word, by Ottessa Moshfegh
8. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, by Kathleen Rooney
9. Dry, by Jane Harper
10. Human Acts, by Han Kang

It's great to see fall favorites continuing to hit our bestseller lists, but it's also nice to see a fresh selection of 2017 titles. Ottessa Moshfegh's short story collection Homesick for Another World follows regular appearances for her novel on our paperback lists. Being that we're in Minneapolis for Winter Institute, I'm going to reference the Star Tribune's review from Malcolm Forbes, who notes: "As with Eileen, Moshfegh’s focus is on characters living on the edge of society or sanity, and she digs deep into the human psyche to explore oddities, frailties, warped agendas and reckless desires. A discernible cruel streak runs wild, but so, too, does a toxic trail of black humor."

And how can we note give a shout out to Difficult Women, the powerful new collection of stories from Roxane Gay, who gave a shout out to Boswell at Winter Institute? We've got a great rec from Sharon in house, and here's Jaleesa M. Jones's write-up for the book in USA Today.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Wisconsin Sentencing in the Tough-on-Crime Era, by Michael O'Hear
2. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond (just received the Carnegie Medal)
3. Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance
4. The Little Book of Hygge, by Meik Wiking
5. Hero of the Empire, by Candice Millard
6. The Secret Life of Fat, by Sylvia Tara
7. The Book of Joy, by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu
8. Upstream, by Mary Oliver
9. Books for Living, by Will Schwalbe (event Mon 3/6, 7 pm, at Boswell)
10. The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben

Our buyer Jason informed by that this is the year of Hygge, which Hygge House describes as "a Danish word that is a feeling or mood that comes taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary, every day moments more meaningful, beautiful or special." Of The Little Book of Hygge, John Crace writes in The Guardian: "Imagine a world where everyone leaves work at 5.30, goes straight home to light a candle, before eating a few cakes with some friends and going to bed at 9.45. That is what we do in Denmark."

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Sellout, by Paul Beatty
2. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
3. 1984, by George Orwell
4. The Portable Veblen, by Elizabeth McKenzie
5. Selected Stories, by Anton Chekhov
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
7. The Drifter, by Nick Petrie
8. The Fireman, by Joe Hill
9. Even the Dead V7, by Benjamin Black
10. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Are you one of the many folks picking up 1984? The New York Times obsesrved its rise to the top of bestseller lists, with Kimiko de Freytas-Tamurad reported on the Kellyanne Conway comment on alternative facts that many feel was responsible for the increase.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis
2. How to Talk so Kids Will Learn at Home and In School, by Adele Faber
3. How to Speak Midwestern, by Edward McClelland
4. Milwaukee Frozen Custard, by Kathleen McCann and Robert Tanzilo
5. The Cure, by Jo Marchant
6. Dying to Be Me, by Anita Moorjani
7. What to Do Now, edited by Dennis Loy Johnson and Valerie Merians
8. Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly
9. Brick Through the Window, by Steven Nodine, Eric Beaumont, Clancy Carroll, and David Luhrssen (event 2/17)
10. On Immunity, by Eula Biss

After a nice event with Edward McClelland at the Shorewood Public Library, I decided to purchase How to Speak Midwestern, but I waited till our road trip, when I bought a copy at Common Good Books, and finished it just before I wrote this blog post. It's very exciting to be in the largest metropolitan area at the center of the North Central accent. Wisconsin, if you read the book, is of course the only state that experiences all three of the major accent zones, with Up North speaking a Twin Cities variation, Milwaukee speaking the North Central that goes from Buffalo to St. Louis, and the Southwest corner of the state speaking a Midland English that migrated from parts of non-Chicago Illinois.

Books for Kids:
1. Hello?, by Liza Wiemer
2. Egg, by Kevin Henkes
3. The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill
4. Dog Man Unleashed V2, by Dav Pilkey
5. Appleblossom the Possum, by Holly Sloan Goldberg
6. Carve the Mark, by Veronica Roth
7. Scythe V1, by Neal Shusterman
8. Radiant Child, by Javaka Steptoe
9. Scraps Book, by Lois Ehlert (at Boswell Feb 11, 2 pm, for Heart to Heart)
10. Beyond the Pond, by Joseph Kuefler

We're so honored to have hosted Minnesota's Kelly Barnhill for The Girl Who Drank the Moon in 2016. If you were paying attention, we hosted her not just for school events, for a public event with Brian Farrey, accompanied by Miss Cupcake. All you lucky folks who attended now have something quite valued. One day you might feel the same way about Joseph Kuefler, whose debut, Beyond the Pond, pops onto our list this week. His new book, Rulers of the Playground, is coming soon and its delightful. We're excited to be hosting a day of schools and a possible public event (we're still in the planning stages) for this book--if you're interested in pitching your school (grades K to 2 are our focus) to Todd for an April 21 visit, you can email him here.

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Chris Foran recommends True South: Henry Hampton and Eyes on the Prize, the Landmark Television Series That Reframed the Civil Rights Movement. Foran notes: "Jon Else, a former civil rights activist and series producer on Eyes on the Prize, tells Hampton’s story, and his own, in recounting the making of the landmark PBS series. In the process, he also relates the movement’s journey and the challenges in telling America’s central narrative.

And here's a review of Kelly Jensen's anthology, Here We Are: 44 Voices Writes, Draw, and Speak About Feminism for the Real World. Book Editor Jim Higgins notes: "Jensen, who lives in Delavan, is a writer-editor with a strong interest in young-adult literature, and a former librarian. Unsurprisingly, many of the contributors to Here We Are are young-adult writers who grasp the intersection between feminism and adolescence." Another theme: "Lo's essay also signals this anthology's foregrounding of intersectional feminism — the understanding that women also face difficulties because of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and physical differences." Jensen and contributor Mikki Kendall will be at an event at Boswell on Thursday, March 2, 7 pm.

You'll have to get your hands on the Journal Sentinel to read the print-only reviews!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Winter Institute Preview - Nickolas Butler triumphs in his upcoming second novel, "The Hearts of Men, but first, my own Boy Scout stories

As we head to Winter Institute in Minneapolis, I thought it would be a great time to write about a spring book we're excited about, The Hearts of Men, Nickolas Butler's follow-up to Shotgun Lovesongs. It's particularly appropriate as it takes place in a Boy Scout Camp not too far from the Twin Cities.

When folks talk to me about growing-up experiences, a lot of people are surprised that I did a stint in the Boy Scouts. But when you think about it, it's not surprising. My late father and I got along pretty well, but he was definitely worried about how I would turn out and tried to turn up the manly in me with a series of life experiences*. My free time was filled with physical activity, from bicycling to running to classes at the local YMCA. Yes, we're Jewish, but the YMHA (known outside the New York area as JCCs nowadays) didn't have a pool and he loved to swim.

But that didn't seem like it was enough. So he signed me up for the Boy Scout troop that met at my elementary school. I really should have still been in the Cub Scouts (well Webelos) but they wanted to save on uniform costs so we went to the local outfitter on Bell Boulevard and well, they skipped me. They say skipping can be bad for a kid because you're emotionally less mature than the kids around you and I would like to confirm that this is probably the case, based on my experiences. (Since I have no photos of that time, I must thank Clip Art Fest for the image).

This troop was relatively small and struggling a bit. According to the Boy Scout organization chart, we had less people than there were positions in the troop. It only lasted about a year - I got the feeling that our troop leader's son was having health problems and had to pull out. Being about 10, I wasn't filled in on the details.

My father thought that whatever Scouting experience I had wasn't enough, so he set out in search of a new troop. He found one from one of his pals at the YMCA, that met over in Douglaston. We lived in Bayside, or South Bayside, or as I refer to it now, Not Quite Bayside (or per the post office, Oakland Gardens).

For a kid, this was a bit of a haul (much longer than if we actually lived in Real Bayside), but my father was nonplussed and while I sometimes got rides, I generally walked the half hour or so to get there. By myself. At 11. In New York City. Yes, times have changed. It really wasn't a big deal for anybody, and it was of course my favorite part of the whole experience.

Alas, the troop was not my favorite part. A few of my fellow scouts could sense weakness and enjoyed initiating me, though most were perfectly nice. In the entire time I was in the troop, which was also about a year, I never left the initiation phase. I never went to Boy Scout Camp (my summers were already booked with another camp) but I did several camping trips, and it turns out that a lean-to (a permanent shelter with one side missing) is much colder than a tent. I am still surprised I did not get frostbite - my toes could not be felt.

I did enough badges to get beyond Tenderfoot, but I'm pretty sure I didn't rise past the next level. I don't remember getting a single merit badge, but I must have gotten some or I wouldn't have been promoted, or whatever you call it.

In the end, I don't really know what to make of my experience. I'd say it didn't do what it was supposed to do. But I still remember that a Boy Scout is "trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent." What I did forget is this is the Scout Law, whereas I remembered it as the Scout Oath, which is something different, more akin to the Pledge of Allegiance. And you'll have to trust me that I did this from memory, though I notice that Scouts are not necessarily "honest."

So anyway, I thought I was pretty much done with those memories, only recalling the episodes when a story would come up about women in scouts, gay scouts, gay scoutmasters, or whatever was in the news. But then I read Nickolas Butler's new novel, The Hearts of Men, and it all came flooding back.

You know Butler (at right) from his first novel, Shotgun Lovesongs, which sold particularly well in the Midwest, and particularly particularly well at Boswell, where we had a lot of reads and were helped by the Wisconsin setting. It's about four guys who knew each other in high school who wind up back in their small town outside Eau Claire for various reasons, after going their own way. There's a love triangle of course (there are only five plots) but that's not the reason it stands out - Butler triumphs at writing about guy friendships, which is sort of a rare thing.

So The Hearts of Men takes it to the next level. It starts with the bullied Nelson, who like me, is pushed into it by his dad and well, has trouble getting beyond the initiation phase, which I now realize is another way of saying "bullied." His protector (or perhaps manipulator) is Jonathan, an older kid who is definitely cool, and has trouble deciding whether to fit in or befriend the outcast (see any number of young adult novels). Unlike most YA novels, he winds up not exactly casting his lot one way or the other, and unlike me, Nelson winds up falling in love with Scouting and eventually running the campground. (It's all about finding the right mentor - that's why I'm a bookseller, my version of Scout Camp, only with lots more women and less handicraft.)

The story continues with Jonathan's son and grandson, and tackles any number of issues, many of which are in that Scout Law. At one point, one scout or another breaks all 12 of the rules of behavior. So what's a Scout leader to do when the traditions don't hold up?

Butler's story is not just about friendship, but about the bonds between parent and child too. I've been reading several books where the burdens of parents fall on the kids and their sons and daughters have to react to these shortcomings and figure out who they will be in the face of them. If your dad is loose with his marriage vows, do you copy this or try to be as different as you can be? If your dad abuses you, do you in turn mistreat your own kids, succeed at doing better, or avoid the question altogether?

And of course, it's hard not to avoid the issue of the future of the Boy Scouts altogether, and it's not just the questions of whether you let in women or queer people. It's about whether any kid is interested in orienteering when they have a GPS system on their phone, or if they care about stamp collecting when they've never mailed a letter. Can you be technology-less and bond with nature in contemporary society? I know that not just Scouts are asking these questions. The answers get tougher and tougher - can you even get a group of people to leave their phones at home and once they have them, is that the easy answer to every question?

And yes, a cell phone is pivotal in the story, and so Butler has no easy answers about this either.

It's tough following up a strong first novel but I think Butler does a great job and the early reviews are in agreement. Publishers Weekly wrote "Butler demonstrates enormous command over the material and sympathy for his flawed characters. This beautiful novel might be his best yet." And Kirkus writes: "He presents few strong women characters, but the exceptions suggest he has much to offer in that area. Butler's mostly unembellished prose delivers a well-paced, affecting read." May I just note that it's a novel about Boy Scouts, which might explain the lack of women? But maybe that's just me. And Rachel is amazing, so there's that. And I'm actually quite fond of Deanna. But why I am getting wound up in this critique? Sorry.

And Donna Bettencourt in Library Journal: "Fans of Butler's awarding-winning Shotgun Lovesongs will welcome this impressive work with an outstanding ensemble cast. Top of the class for Butler on this one."

The Hearts of Men comes out March 7. For booksellers, Butler will be at Book Expo, and for our customers, the event at Boswell is...March 7. Come out and celebrate. Last time we had pickled eggs. I think I'm going to have to come up with some classic Boy Scout food to serve. We don't have fireplace so I can't make s'mores. I'll get back to you on this. You can order a signed copy from us now.

*My father's quest to make me a real man didn't quite take. Sorry, Dad. Hey, we worked the whole thing out and he was an amazing father, not a Boy Scout but true to every one of the prescriptions of the Boy Scout Law, except maybe "obedient."

Monday, January 23, 2017

Event forecast: Elizabeth McKenzie, author of "The Portable Veblen," and Edward McClelland, author of "How to Speak Midwestern"

Come out while it's still warm!

Monday, January 23, 7:00 pm at Boswell:
Elizabeth McKenzie, author of The Portable Veblen

Longlisted for the National Book Award and shortlisted for the Bailey's Women's Prize, The Portable Veblen is set amid a California culture clash of new money and antiestablishment values. A young couple on the brink of marriage the charming Veblen and her fiancĂ© Paul, a brilliant neurologist finds their engagement in collapse. As Veblen and Paul face off with their families, a seductive pharmaceutical heiress, and one charismatic squirrel, Elizabeth McKenzie asks: Where do our families end and we begin? How do we stay true to our ideals? And what’s that squirrel really thinking? Replete with deadpan photos and sly appendices, The Portable Veblen is a bighearted inquiry into what we look for in love.

Elizabeth McKenzie is the author of a collection, Stop That Girl, short-listed for The Story Prize, and the novel MacGregor Tells the World, a Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, and Library Journal Best Book of the year. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and the Pushcart Prize anthology. She received her MA from Stanford, was an assistant fiction editor at The Atlantic, and is currently an editor at the Chicago Quarterly Review and the Catamaran Literary Reader.

Read the Boswell and Books blog post about discussing The Portable Veblen at Boswell's In-store Lit Group. Consider The Portable Veblen for your next book club selection.

Tuesday, January 24, 7:00 pm, at Shorewood Public Library, 3290 N Murray Ave:
Edward McClelland, author of How to Speak Midwestern

Pittsburgh toilet, squeaky cheese, city chicken, shampoo banana, and Chevy in the Hole are all phrases that are familiar to Midwesterners but sound foreign to anyone living outside the region. This book explains not only what Midwesterners say but also how and why they say it and covers such topics as: the causes of the Northern cities vowel shift, why the accents in Fargo miss the nasality that’s a hallmark of Minnesota speech, and why Chicagoans talk more like people from Buffalo than their next-door neighbors in Wisconsin. Readers from the Midwest will have a better understanding of why they talk the way they do, and readers who are not from the Midwest will know exactly what to say the next time someone ends a sentence with ”eh?”.

Edward McClelland is a journalist. His writing has appeared in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Salon. He is the author of Nothin’ But Blue Skies and Young Mr. Obama.

Jennifer Schuessler reviewed How to Speak Midwestern in The New York Times. She talks about how the Midwest actually has three bands of accents: The Inland North (which is dominant in Milwaukee), The Midlands (south of us), and North Central (north of us).

Jim Higgins also reviewed How to Speak Midwestern in the Journal Sentinel.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Boswell annotated bestsellers for the week ending January 21, 2017, plus Journal Sentinel book reviews

Here's what sold at Boswell this week.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Wisconsin Sentencing in the Tough-on-Crime Era, by Michael O'Hear
2. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
3. Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance
4. Tears We Cannot Stop, by Michael Eric Dyson
5. Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah
6. I Hate Everyone, Except You, by Clinton Kelly
7. Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren
8. The Case Against Sugar, by Gary Taubes
9. Milwaukee: City of Neighborhoods, by John Gurda
10. In the Company of Women, by Grace Bonney

The most noticeable pop of sales for a new title was Michael Eric Dyson's Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, which should not be surprising in the context of the other titles on our bestseller list - Evicted, Hillbilly Elegy, and Born a Crime. Patrick Phillips in The New York Times wrote: "The result is one of the most frank and searing discussions of race I have ever read. This is a book that will anger some readers, especially those who reject Dyson’s central premise: that if we want true racial equality in America, whites themselves must destroy the enduring myths of white supremacy. Even sympathetic readers might mistake this extraordinary work for merely a catalog of white sins." Here's another essay from Carlos Lozada in The Washington Post.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Burning Bright, by Nick Petrie
2. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
3. Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett
4. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
5. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
6. Transit, by Rachel Cusk
7. Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay
8. The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden
9. The Death of Kings, by Rennie Airth
10. Class, by Lucinda Rosenfeld

There are a few new titles on the bestseller list this week, but so much exciting has happened for Nick Petrie's Burning Bright that I need to mention them. First week's sales on Milwaukee Bookscan were great - Burning Bright came in #3 on the 100 bestselling titles, and The Drifter popped back on at #36. But the biggest news was the release of the Edgar finalists, where Burning Bright got a nom for Best First Novel.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. On Air, by Katrina Cravy
2. You Are a Badass, by Jen Sincero (ticketed event 4/26 at Boswell)
3. Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly
4. The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson
5. What We Do Now, edited by Dennis Loy Johnson
6. March V3, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
7. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
8. You Can't Touch My Hair, by Phoebe Robinson
9. Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay
10. Best American Essays, edited by Jonathan Franzen

Our nonfiction paperback list reflects the mood of many of Boswell's customers. One anthology, What We Do Now, is a collection of essays from folks such as Paul Krugman, Cornell Williams Brooks of the NAACP, Elizabeth Warren, Bill McKibben, and Kristina Vanden Heuvel of The Nation. Johnson publishes Melville House, and here's an interview with him in Kirkus Reviews that happened well before the election, but still gives you a handle on his worldview. I guess he should be happy that the adult coloring book fad is collapsing.

Paperback Fiction:
1. Disgraced, by Ayad Akhtar
2. The Drifter, by Nick Petrie
3. The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen
4. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
5. The Sellout, by Paul Beatty
6. Selected Stories, by Anton Chekhov
7. Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain
8. American Dervish, by Ayad Akhtar
9. The Improbability of Love, by Hannah Rothschild
10. Milk and Honey, Rupi Kaur

While I still haven't seen the Milwaukee Rep production of Disgraced, I read the play to prepare for Saturday's conversation with Ayad Akhtar, the playwright who also places his novel, American Dervish, on this week's bestseller list. I know that we didn't promote this as a conversation but it was only decided on Friday. Mike Fischer raves about the production in today's Journal Sentinel: "What makes Disgraced great is the strength of its characters, coupled with Akhtar’s willingness to test them through fearless writing on sex, race and — especially — the price we pay when pursuing the American Dream. In trying to fulfill ourselves, do we lose sight of who we are and where we’re from? Would that more American plays asked. This one consistently does." Buy tickets for this production, running through February 12.

Books for Kids:
1. Egg, by Kevin Henkes
2. Heart to Heart, by Lois Ehlert (event 2/11, 2 pm, at Boswell)
3. The Bad Beginning V1, by Lemony Snicket
4. When Spring Comes, by Kevin Henkes, with illustrations by Laura Dronzek
5. Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, by Kevin Henkes
6. The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes
7. Welcome to the World, by Delane Marfe Ferguson
8. Carve the Mark, by Veronica Roth
9. The Secret Keepers, by Trenton Lee Stewart
10. Hands, by Lois Ehlert

Veronica Roth's latest novel, Carve the Mark, is her first following the Divergent trilogy, is an intergalactic saga about two kids from different worlds, one, Cyra, who lives in constant pain whose give is to gift the pain to others, and the second, Akos, whose power is to relieve Cyra of said pain. She told NPR her inspiration: "I had several friends who experienced chronic pain over, you know, like a decade and had their pain underestimated by doctors, which statistically is more likely if you're a woman by like a drastic degree. And they were eventually diagnosed with endometriosis [an often painful disorder]. This is like a couple people just in my immediate social circle. So I thought about them a lot, about how pain takes over your life and limits your potential and how difficult it can be to find someone who will take it seriously."

The Booklist take?: "Though the pace sometimes drags, the fascinating, fantasy-sf-hybrid world building is deftly deployed and adds considerable depth. Inevitably, it ends on a tantalizing cliff-hanger, but Roth's fans will be happily on board for the forthcoming sequel."

Over at the Journal Sentinel Tap Books Page, editor Jim Higgins reviews Civilianized: A Young Veteran's Memoir, by Michael Anthony, as well as The Road Ahead: Fiction from the Forever War, edited by Adrian Bonenberger and Brian Castner, who spoke at Boswell for his previous work, All The Ways We Kill and Die.

Of Michael Anthony's memoir, Fischer writes: "Civilianized is a remarkable account of what it's like to live inside post-traumatic stress disorder. It's also smart and mordantly funny. Its spareness and unflinching description of drug use and consequences reminds me occasionally of another short book, William S. Burroughs' Junky, though Anthony, even in his fighting mode, come across as a kinder and more compassionate character than Burroughs' Bill Lee." Of the anthology, Fischer observes: "Nothing in this anthology is definitive," the editors of The Road Ahead declare, emphasizing the constantly changing nature of these wars and the unique responses of each combatant. But The Road Ahead does capture what appears to me two of the distinctive elements of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts: the constant threat of improvised explosive devices and the wvidespread presence of women in combat roles. "

Also in the Journal Sentinel, Carole E. Barrowman's Paging Through Mysteries column offers another fine assessment of our resident breakout thriller writer's second novel: "Local author Nick Petrie’s thrilling Burning Bright transported me to the woods of northern California and the wilds of Washington state and I loved every page of this adrenaline-fueled journey. In fact, a beginning chase scene in the redwoods is not only breathtaking, it’s also one of the most original action scenes I’ve read (imagine The Fast and the Furious sampling Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).

Barrowman's other pick is Everything You Want Me to Be, from Mindy Mejia, who will be in conversation with Barrowman on Monday, February 13, 7 pm, at Boswell. The story is about the murder of a young woman playing the role of Lady Macbeth in a high school production. Barrowman notes: "I won’t spoil Mejia’s clever crafting and her sophisticated set up. Let me just add that Hattie’s narration and Peter’s guide us in flashback while Del’s narration keeps us in the novel’s present, but all three move us forward to the novel’s seductive conclusion. This means that all the other characters cross each of the narrations and this layering makes for a sophisticated and wicked whodunit."

Also on the Tap Books page is an assessment of Him, Me, Muhammad Ali, a new collection of stories from Randa Jarrar. Lorrain Ali, originally in the Los Angeles Times, wrote: "There is no easy way to connect the dots between the mostly fictional female characters in Him, Me, Muhammad Ali, Randa Jarrar’s debut collection of short stories, except that they are all of Middle Eastern descent and all deviate from the usual perceptions many Americans have about Arab women."

Reprinted from the Minneapolis Star Tribune is Laurie Hertzel's assessment of Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation, from Kyo Maclear. From her review: "One bird walk turns into a year of birding, during which Maclear meditates on her past, her parents, her marriage, books she loves, the nature of art, death, happiness, climate change and whatever else comes to her fertile, deeply curious mind. Though structured as a chronological memoir, hers is not a typical “year in the life” narrative. Each chapter is built around bird observations, but her excursions to the urban-bird habitats serve mainly as jumping-off points for her intelligent and thoughtful ramblings." Sounds like a great book who folks who enjoyed H Is for Hawk.

And here's one last profile from Nicole Brodeur, originally published in the Seattle Times. Laurie Frankel's This Is How it Always Is, a novel about a family "navigating the unexpected turns that come when a child states with unflinching certainty he (or she) belongs in a different body, and wants to transition." Though fiction, it's based on Frankel's own experience.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Daniel and Halley reunion! Valentine's Day 2017 card post.

For the first six years or so of Boswell, I bought most of the gift items, but since 2015, Jen's taken this over and is doing a great job. We sold more owl banks this past holiday than I thought was possible, and she's the one who finally had us get into the surprisingly fast-paced world of sock sales. Even I bought a pair, one of the more somber offerings, navy blue with constellations.

But the truth is that I couldn't leave completely, and have continued to purchase our loose cards. The truth is that while nobody compliments us on how well-stocked we are with paper towels (supply purchasing is one of my other duties), we do hear a lot of nice things about our greeting cards.

Recently on one of her visits back to Milwaukee from Madison, ex-Boswellian Halley was reminiscing about our occasional greeting card posts. I told her that we could try doing one for Valentine's Day, and here's how that went down.

Our first card comes from Ghost Academy, which is a small outfit in Long Beach. None of our vendors are large in the Hallmark or American Greetings kind of way, but we do work with a number of vendors who have, well, offices. How many people do you need working in a place for it to be an office? I'm thinking four.

I like this card because it's a different and clever take on candy hearts. From Halley: "I'm glad they were still cranking out cards."

 Their production process does have a "cranking" aspect to it. Here's the mission statement of Megan, Matthew, and Maria: "we like things that are funny or cute or quirky, and especially enjoy things that are all three at once. We try to combine those qualities in our wares and just generally create stuff that makes us smile. our cards are hand printed using a few simple tools and a lot of elbow grease. metaphorically though - literal elbow grease would be gross." They don't like capital letters, by the way. Not unusual.

Halley's next pick was from Madison Park, a larger operation in Seattle that I toured many years ago when the sister of one of my ex-coworkers was working there. They had a a lot of presses and while they do some of their printing in the United States, they have moved offshore for the increasing number of cards they have with foil and glitter.

Halley, on the Madison Park card: "I'm getting this one for my husband this year because he likes narwhals. Narwhals are cute, don't you think?"

Yes, they are and they have definitely been ascendant in iconic stature on gift items. I haven't gotten to the point where I suggested a narwhal table, only because their presence has been fairly limited to cards. Interestingly enough, Jen, who cares about this stuff too, and I noticed that the animal that seems to be trending up lately is the llama.

The Found has a number of artists on their roster, but it's clear that they are having the most success with Laura Szumowski, whose illustrations uncannily capture pop culture greats. Halley's Pick is the Johnny Cash "Ring of Fire" card. She notes:" I love Johnny Cash. I used to do karoke with my best friend Ross and we'd sing 'I Walk the Line.' Too bad there's not a 'Walk the Line' card."

You can dream, Halley, you can dream. The Found is based out of Chicago. You can see a lot of trends in their product line, from branching out to magnets and pins, to doing location cards for a select number of places. New York, Austin, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Brooklyn, and Portland, but not Milwaukee. We'll need a few more decades of global warning before Milwaukee becomes trendy, and that's conditional on us not messing with our water supply.

I asked one of our other card line entrepreneurs for recommdations and she led me to another Chicago-based card line, Laura Berger, which we've now brought in several times. Many lines like this need a champion who buys multiple copies of a design when they visit. We had a customer from Madison that almost singlehandledly kept Fomato going for several years, for example. She really, really, really loved the "Foreign Film" card. It is a great card indeed, but it's a birthday card, and thus has no business in this post.

The Laura Berger card in question is called "How shall I demonstrate my love for you? Sayeth Halley: "This is weird but I like it." Please note that one of the ways to demonstrate your love is to buy your loved one a small llama. Please see earlier comment on the ascendance of the llama.

Another card whose profile has risen dramatically in the last few years is the Good Paper line. While we once were the only place on our side of town where you could buy them, they are pretty well represented now in two close-by retailers, a national chain and a fellow independent. They do a good job with puns, which are quite popular in cards right now.

Of our varied love offerings from Good Paper, Halley picked "The Gratest Love of All." She notes "Cheese is the third best thing in my life. I love cheese." Like all Goodpaper cards, this is blank inside. Like the British, they wear their sentiment on their sleeve, at least cardwise.

Great Arrow is a line out of Buffalo, New York, which I've wanted to carry for years, simply because I like supporting Buffalo. But until recently, we had agreed to let Paperworks have an exclusiving on this line, as well as a few others. We're very sad about Lynn closing the store - we need retailers on Downer, and competition keeps you on your toes! - but with the store closing, it seemed ok to start carrying the line.

Halley chose this design because she loves dogs. Don't tell her that cat cards also do well, and frankly, they might have the edge in sales. But I think that's partly because cat lovers tend to favor all kinds of cats, whereas dog lovers are more likely to be breed specific. So cat lovers are like the South, where the states sort of support each other in the arts in an all-for-one way, while dog lovers are like the Midwest, where we sort of snarl at the states on the other side of the artificial boundaries. I think it's connected to sports teams, but this is a theory in development.

The tagline? "Love at first sight."

Our last piece of advice? If you wait until February 13 to buy your card, our selection will stink.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Events this week! Michael O'Hear, Katrina Cravy, Nicholas Petrie (two library events), Ayad Akhtar, and preview for Elizabeth McKenzie

Tuesday, January 17, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Michael O'Hear, author of Wisconsin Sentencing in the Tough-on-Crime Era: How Judges Retained Power and Why Mass Incarceration Happened Anyway.

Michael O’Hear, Professor of Criminal Law at Marquette Law School, tracks the effects of sentencing laws and politics in Wisconsin from the eve of the imprisonment boom in 1970 up to the 2010s. Drawing on archival research, original public-opinion polling, and interviews with dozens of key policymakers, he reveals important dimensions that have been missed by others. He draws out the lessons from the incarcerations that have cost taxpayers billions of dollars and caused untold misery to millions of inmates and their families.

You can listen to O'Hear discuss this issue on the Joy Cardin Show, originally broadcast on Wisconsin Public Radio on January 12.

This event is sponsored by the American Constitution Society, Milwaukee Lawyer Chapter. Refreshments provided by St. Mark's Episcopal Church.

Thursday, January 19, 7 pm at Boswell:
Katrina Cravy, author of On Air: Broadcast Your Business: Insider Secrets to Attract the Media and Get Free Publicity.

Katrina Cravy appeared on Fox6 Milwaukee as their Contact6 reporter, and now she's written On Air, a book for any individual, nonprofit, or business that wants to get their message featured in major media. One of her tips is you must have a professional headshot if you want to be taken seriously by the media.

Folks who RSVP to this event on Cravy's Facebook Page will be entered into a raffle to win a free headshot session with the amazing Brian Slawson, the photographer who took all Cravy's pictures. Cravy notes that On Air contains valuable publicity ideas worth far more than the price tag of the book. Should be a fun evening, right? RSVP here.

Friday, January 20, 6:30 pm, at Greendale Public Library's Hose Tower event, and Saturday, January 21, 1 pm, at Whitefish Bay Public Library:
Nick Petrie, author of Burning Bright.

Following an appearance on Entertainment Weekly's Must List last week, this week's issue as a great review from Tina Jordan: "For me, no crime-fiction character has ever measured up to Jack Reacher—until, that is, I met Peter Ash, a former Marine lieutenant deeply damaged by his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan (his PTSD manifests itself as intense claustrophobia)."

While reviewing Petrie's website, I came across this great recommendation from thriller writer John Lescroart: "With The Drifter, Nicholas Petrie has written just about the perfect thriller. I haven't read such a well-crafted and gripping story in a month of Sundays. If this is Petrie's first novel, watch out for the second one. But why wait? This one's here now, and it's a home run.” And now of course, you can read #2 as well!

Want to read more? Here's Rob Thomas in The Cap Times. And if you missed this link in a former post, the Journal Sentinel's Jim Higgins profiled Nick Petrie in advance of Burning Bright's release.

Wherever you live in the metro area, there's a Nick Petrie event for you. He'll also be at Books and Company on Thursday, January 19, and there's a to-be-scheduled event at Craft in Port Washington as well. Greendale Public Library Hose Tower event space is located at 6600 Schoolway, in the lot behind the library. Whitefish Bay Library is located at 5420 N Marlborough Dr.

Saturday, January 21, 11 am, at Boswell:
Ayad Akhtar, author of Disgraced.

The Pulitzer Prize winning play by Brookfield native Ayad Akhtar is coming to the Milwaukee Rep, opening January 17 and running through February 12. The original New York Times review by Charles Isherwood explains the setup well, two couples coming together at a dinner party: "The players are a quartet of accomplished New Yorkers of differing races, creeds and, yes, colors, although they have all arrived at the same high plateau of worldly achievement and can agree on the important things, like the tastiness of the fennel and anchovy salad and the banana pudding from Magnolia Bakery. What they cannot agree on — and what will ultimately tear apart at least one of the relationships in the play — is who they really are and what they stand for, once the veneer of civilized achievement has been scraped away to reveal more atavistic urges."

Jim Higgins profiled Akhtar in a recent Journal Sentinel piece, where Akhtar noted: ""Increasingly, it’s become impossible to exist in any non-politicized way in this country if you’re Muslim...The way that people are speaking to each other now in public — when I wrote the play you could never have imagined that people would actually say those things in public that they were saying on stage."

Our event is a short talk at Boswell on Saturday, January 21, 11 am. For those of you who have tickets and are attending one of the talk-backs, you're covered. But if you were intrigued with this prize-winning play and the exciting Milwaukee Rep production, this is a great chance to learn more. And don't forget about Mr. Akhtar's novel, American Dervish.

Monday, January 23, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Elizabeth McKenzie, author of The Portable Veblen.

From Jennifer Senior in The New York Times: "One of the great pleasures of reading Elizabeth McKenzie is that she hears the musical potential in language that others do not — in the manufactured jargon of economics, in the Latin taxonomy of the animal kingdom, even in the names of our own humble body parts (who knew about the eye’s 'zonule of Zinn'?). Her dialogue has real fizz and snappity-pop. It leaves a bubbled contrail.

And here's Maureen Corrigan on Fresh Air: "A sweet, sharply written, romantic comedy about the pitfalls of approaching marriage McKenzie imbues her characters with such psychological acuity that they, as well as the off-kilter world they inhabit, feel fully formed and authentic. With its inspired eccentricities and screwball plot choreography, McKenzie's novel perceptively delves into that difficult life stage when young adults finally separate or not from their parents. In the end, The Portable Veblen is a novel as wise as it is squirrely."

Read more about The Portable Veblen and why it makes a great selection for your reading group on a previous Boswell and Books blog post.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Here is the new Boswell annotated bestseller list for the week ending January 14, 2017

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Mothers, by Brit Bennett (event Mon Feb 6, 7 pm, at Boswell)
2. Burning Bright, by Nick Petrie (events Fri, Jan 20, 6:30 pm at Greendale Library's Hose Tower and Sat, Jan 21, 1 pm, at Whitefish Bay Library)
3. History of Wolves, by Emily Fridlund
4. The Drifter (cloth), by Nick Petrie
5. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
6. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
7. Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett
8. Swing Time, by Zadie Smith
9. The Sleepwalker, by Chris Bohjalian
10. Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson

Chris Bohjalian's new novel, The Sleepwalker, has had some buzz in the store, both from customers asking for more info about what it's about and how close Mr. Bohjalian was coming to Milwaukee. I'd say you'd have to go to St. Louis. To answer the new question, The Washington Post review from Carol Memmott writes: "Sex, secrets and the mysteries of sleep: These are the provocative ingredients in Chris Bohjalian’s spooky thriller The Sleepwalker. It’s a dark, Hitchcockian novel featuring two beautiful icy blondes reminiscent of those found in many of the renowned director’s films."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. I Hate Everyone, Except You, by Clinton Kelly
2. The Great Equalizer, by David Smick
3. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
4. Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen
5. Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance
6. Freakin' Fabulous, by Clinton Kelly
7. Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
8. The Undoing Project, by Michael Lewis
9. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
10. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, by Carol Rovelli

We had a good time with Clinton Kelly. He mentioned a number of books he's liked, including All the Light We Cannot See and more recently, Zadie Smith's Swing Time. We have signed copies of I Hate Everyone, Except You.

Paperback Fiction:
1. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
2. The Pearl, by John Steinbeck
3. American Dervish, by Ayad Akhtar (at Boswell Sat Jan 21, 11 am)
4. The Miracle Worker, by William Gibson
5. The Drifter, by Nick Petrie
6. Selected Stories, by Anton Chekhov
7. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
8. More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon
9. The Sellout, by Paul Beatty
10. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, by Frederick Backman

As you can see from this week's bestseller list, there's a lot of classroom buying going on. We've also got Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human, which is the not selection for our Science Fiction Book Club. It has its own Wikipedia entry.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. On the Clock, by Tim Enochs
2. We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie
3. The Lost Tudor Princess, by Alison Weir
4. How to Speak Midwestern, by Edward McClelland
5. The Power of Kindness, by Piero Ferrucci
6. Searching for and Maintaining Peace by Jacques Philippe
7. Nonstop Metropolis, by Rebecca Solnit
8. Mary Nohl Inside and Out, by Barbara Manger and Janine Smith
9. Milwaukee Frozen Custard, by Kathleen McCann and Robert Tanzilo
10. What Color is Your Parachute 2017, by Richard N. Bolles

Nostalgia! I haven't seen an Alison Weir nonfiction book on our bestseller list in a while so seeing The Lost Tudor Princess brought me back to the days of Schwartz, when we had some very strong sales on her books. The Washington Post had Philippa Gregory review the book, who said "This is a substantial, detailed biography of a fascinating woman who lived her extraordinary life to the full, taking desperate chances for love and for ambition. It will appeal to anyone with an interest in the powerful women of the Tudor period."

Books for Kids:
1. Egg, by Kevin Henkes
2. Waiting, by Kevin Henkes
3. Heart to Heart, by Lois Ehlert (event Sat, Feb 11, 2 pm, at Boswell)
4. My Garden (hardcover), by Kevin Henkes
5. Owen (hardcover), by Kevin Henkes
6. Chrysanthemum (hardcover), by Kevin Henkes
7. Old Bear (board book), by Kevin Henkes
8. Julius, Baby of the World (paperback), by Kevin Henkes
9. Lily's Purple Plastic Purse (hardcover), by Kevin Henkes
10. A Weekend with Wendell (hardcover), by Kevin Henkes

As you can see from our event books, for picture books, as opposed to middle grade and young adult titles, the hardcovers, if available, often do better than the paperbacks at public events (as opposed to schools). I think the reason Julius Baby of the World did better in paperback is that I didn't bring in as many hardcovers. Egg appears to be part of the "Waiting Trilogy", along with When Spring Comes and Waiting. Mr. Henkes knew how many times the word "waiting" was used in each book. Signed copies of Egg are available.

Over at the Journal Sentinel book page, there are three features this week.

Mike Fischer reviewed Human Acts, the new novel from South Korean writer Han Kung, whose 2007 novel The Vegetarian has become a surprise bestseller. This story is of the 1980 Gwangju massacre, when hundreds of protestors were killed for protesting a military coup. He notes: "Despite Deborah Smith’s poetically rendered translation, reading about human acts like these can be excruciating. But true to the urgency conveyed through its frequent use of second-person narration, Han’s book is also filled with human acts involving profiles in courage that inspire hope."

Erin Kogler takes on Robin Roe's A List of Cages, a debut novel for young adults, which she calls "engaging, personal, heartwarming and tragic." The setup: "Cages tells the story of two high school boys: Adam, a popular senior, and Julian, a quiet freshman and outcast. When Adam becomes an aide to the school psychologist, he finds out that one of the students who sees her (or rather had been avoiding his appointments with her) is Julian, his former foster brother."

And finally, Book Editor Jim Higgins offers a roundup of some upcoming author events. If you're wondering a little more about events with Michael Tisserand, Brit Bennett, Elinor Lipman, Kelly Jensen, Christina Baker Kline, Will Schwlabe, Nickolas Butler, Margaret George, Dan Egan, and Jami Attenberg, you can find out more in this roundup.