Monday, February 20, 2017

Event alert: Patricia McConnell sold out, Karen Branan on racial history, UWM's Michael Newman on Atari

The event with Patricia McConnell at the Radisson Milwaukee West is sold out for Monday, February 20. We hope to have signed copies of The Education of Will: A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog Monday available Tuesday.

If you weren't able to get tickets in time, you can still read Pat Dillon's interview with Patricia McConnell in Madison's Isthmus: "This story of mutual healing is timely and witty and brave. It will likely resonate with anyone who’s dealt with the painful fallout of abuse and touch the hearts of those who have loved troubled pets. And it offers surprising insights into human nature — often through the soul of a spirited canine."

And if you haven't heard the Patricia McConnell reunion show with Larry Meiller, her cohost on the longtime favorite Calling All Pets, they spoke about the new book on Wisconsin Public Radio on February 14.

Sunday, February 26, 3:00 pm, at Boswell:
Karen Branan, author of The Family Tree: A Lynching in Georgia, a Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth (now out in paperback)

Harris County, Georgia, 1912. A white man, the beloved nephew of the county sheriff, is shot dead on the porch of a black woman. Days later, the sheriff sanctions the lynching of a black woman and three black men, all of them innocent. For Karen Branan, the great-granddaughter of that sheriff, this isn’t just history—this is family history.

Branan spent nearly twenty years combing through diaries and letters, hunting for clues in libraries and archives throughout the United States and interviewing community elders to piece together the events and motives that led a group of people to murder four of their fellow citizens in such a brutal public display. Her research on The Family Tree revealed surprising new insights into the day-to-day reality of race relations in the Jim Crow–era South, but what she ultimately discovered was far more personal.

Karen Branan is in town for part of the America's Black Holocaust Museum Founders Day Celebration on Saturday, February 25. The day (tickets available here) features keynotes, a film preview, music, and a panel discussion, all on "The Gathering for Racial Repair and Reconciliation." Tickets are $14, $10 for students for the Saturday event. Please note that Branan's talk at Boswell on Sunday is free.

Looking ahead!
Tuesday, February 28, 7:00 pm, at Boswell:
Michael Newman, author of Atari Age: The Emergence of Video Games in America

Beginning with the release of the Magnavox Odyssey and Pong in 1972, video games, whether played in arcades and taverns or in family rec rooms, became part of popular culture, like television. In fact, video games were sometimes seen as an improvement on television because they spurred participation rather than passivity. These "space-age pinball machines" gave coin-operated games a high-tech and more respectable profile. In Atari Age, Michael Newman charts the emergence of video games in America from ball-and-paddle games to hits like Space Invaders and Pac-Man, describing their relationship to other amusements and technologies and showing how they came to be identified with the middle class, youth, and masculinity.

Michael Z. Newman, Associate Professor in the Department of Journalism, Advertising, and Media Studies at UWM, shows that the "new media" of video games were understood in varied, even contradictory ways. They were family fun (but mainly for boys), better than television (but possibly harmful), and educational (but a waste of computer time). Drawing on a range of sources, including the games and their packaging; coverage in the popular, trade, and fan press; social science research of the time; advertising and store catalogs; and representations in movies and television, Newman describes the series of cultural contradictions through which the identity of the emerging medium worked itself out.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

What's popping on the Boswell bestseller list for the week ending February 18? Hint: George Saunders.

Here's what sold at Boswell this past week.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
2. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
3. Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett
4. 4 3 2 1, by Paul Auster
5. Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
6. Everything You Want Me to Be, by Mindy Mejia
7. The Mothers, by Brit Bennett
8. Homesick for Another World, by Ottessa Moshfegh
9. Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay
10. The Refugees, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

If I didn't have a runaway bestseller to report on this week, I'd note that three titles in our top ten are short story collections. I've already noted here that 2017 seems like a better year for stories already than did 2016. But the big story is a short story writer's first novel in George Saunders and Lincoln in the Bardo. Nate Hopper reviews it in Time Magazine. And here's Colson Whitehead writing about the book in The New York Times Book Review: "It’s a very pleasing thing to watch a writer you have enjoyed for years reach an even higher level of achievement. To observe him or her consolidate strengths, share with us new reserves of talent and provide the inspiration that can only come from a true artist charting hidden creative territory. George Saunders pulled that trick off with Tenth of December, his 2013 book of short stories. How gratifying and unexpected that he has repeated the feat with Lincoln in the Bardo, his first novel and a luminous feat of generosity and humanism."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman
2. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
3. Little Book of Hygge, by Meik Wiking
4. The Daily Show: The Book, by Jon Stewart
5. Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah
6. Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance
7. The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben
8. Milwaukee: City of Neighborhoods, by John Gruda
9. American Ulysses, by Ronald C. White
10. My Own Words, by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

They aren't new, but for some reason, I get a kick of seeing Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah next to each other on our bestseller list. If the book is still on your wish list because your friends, didn't come through, here's what Jeff Wisser has to say about the as-told-to-Chris-Smith-by-Jon-Stewart's The Daily Show: The Book, in the Chicago Tribune: "Those seeking revelations of the vast left-wing conspiracy underlying and even driving the show will be disappointed — that book is not here, it doesn't exist and it likely never will. Instead, Smith gives readers sound bites from some smart, funny and self-aware people waxing rhapsodic about their 'let's put on a show' adventures and sometimes apoplectic about the circumstances that goaded and vexed them into undertaking them."

I'm a little confused by why they officially list Chris Smith first in writer credit, as many celebrity memoirs are "as told to" and the celebrity gets top credit, if not all the credit (with a low-key thank you to the ghost writer tucked inside the acknowledgements). I guess that this is otherwise is a credit (so to speak) to Jon Stewart.

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead
2. Luck, Love, and Lemon Pie, by Amy E. Reichert
3. Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur
4. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
5. All the Missing Girls, by Megan Miranda (at Boswell 4/19, 7 pm)
6. Britt Marie Was Here, by Fredrick Backman
7. The Drifter, by Nick Petrie
8. 1984, by George Orwell
9. The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
10. The Sellout, by Paul Beatty

Nice to see Megan Miranda's paperback selling in advance of our event with her for her new book, The Perfect Stranger. Our mystery book club will be talking about All the Missing Girls at their March 27 meeting. No need to register--our in-store book clubs are open to all. I recently wrote a blog post about how psychological suspense has taken over the mystery genre (and most other genres targeted to women to boot); here's a follow-up piece from Publishers Weekly from Rachel Deahl, which mentions a number of books including All the Missing Girls.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Brick Through the Window, by Steven Nodine, Eric Beaumont, Clancy Carroll, and David Luhrssen
2. Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser
3. ...fill in the beauty, by bela suresh roongta
4. We're in America Now, by Fred Amram
5. One Thing, by Gary Keller
6. The Road to Character, by David Brooks
7. Dark Money, by Jane Mayer
8. You Can't Touch My Hair, by Phoebe Robinson
9. Gumption, by Nick Offerman
10. Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly

Some nice events this week but nothing compares to the Nodine-Beaumont-Clancy-Luhrssen collaboration for Brick Through the Window on Friday. The gang reunites at Circle A bar in Riverwest on Saturday, March 4. We'll have more copies soon, or you can order books on their website. Here's Bobby Tanzilo in OnMilwaukee: "A quartet of folks with deep roots in the local rock and roll scene banded together to create, Brick Through The Window,, a self-published tome that is exhaustive and engaging as it traces the alternative rock scene in Milwaukee from its earliest gasps for air."

Books for Kids:
1. Where's Addie, by Donna Luber
2. A Is for Activist, by Innosanto Nagara
3. King's Cage, by Victgoria Aveyard
4. American Street, by Ibi Zoboi
5. Here We Are, edited by Kelly Jensen (event 3/2, 7 pm, at Boswell)
6. Very Hungry Caterpillar board book, by Eric Carle
7. Heart to Heart, by Lois Ehlert
8. Goodnight Moon board book, by Margaret Wise Brown, with illustrations by Clement Hurd
9. Egg, by Kevin Henkes
10. Factory Girl, by Josanne La Valley

Caitlin White rounds up the top 15 YA books of February on Bustle. Bestsellers King's Cage (the follow up to Red Queen) and Ibi Zoboi's American Street are both on her checklist. Of American Street, she writes: "American Street is beautifully necessary and so incredibly timely. Fabiola was born in the U.S., but she now lives in her mother's homeland of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The two plan to immigrate to the west side of Detroit together, but when her mother is detained by immigration, Fabiola has to go at it alone. She moves in with her loud American cousins while she tries to maintain some of her Haitian and Creole culture, navigate this completely new and different place, and still cope with all the ordinary things teenagers have to, like finding a new romance."

This week the Journal Sentinel's features the Paging Through Mysteries column features the best in new mysteries from Carole E. Barrowman.

On Stephen Mack Jones's August Snow: "The paradox in this title...says a lot about its main character. August Snow is a contradiction. Raised in a Detroit home where his Mexican mom’s favorite poets (Neruda, Ines de la Cruz and Paz) share shelves with his African-American dad’s “classic noir gumshoes” (Chandler, Fisher and Himes), ex-cop Snow is neither pure nor white. He calls himself “Blaxican,” and it was my pleasure to meet him in this cracking debut." We're hoping to host Mr. Jones later in the spring.

The latest from a former Boswell guest: "The title of Deborah Crombie’s Garden of Lamentations suggests sorrow, deep and debilitating, the kind of grief that chokes. It alludes to Gethsemane and all that garden implies – betrayal, sacrifice, forgiveness, love. Crombie weaves these themes beautifully into this enthralling mystery."

And here's what Barrowman says about Claire Mackintosh's I See You, due out on February 21: "The novel slides effortlessly from Zoe Walker’s obsessive first person narration to the more reasoned perspective of a police officer with her own obsessions. Zoe thinks she’s “going to be murdered.” She’s found her picture on an online dating website that’s a front for murderers and misogynists, but is Zoe paranoid or is someone really stalking her?"

Also from the Journal Sentinel TapBooks page offers a review of We'll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood's Most Beloved Movie, from Noah Isenberg. Chris Foran notes: "Junkies might not find a lot of new insights, but We'll Always Have Casablanca is a hugely readable and entertaining look at how "Casablanca" came to be, and how it came to be such an indelible part of American pop culture."

And finally, Laurie Hertzel of the Star Tribune reviews the National Book Critics Circle nominated biography from Michael Tisserand, who recently visited Boswell for Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White. She notes: Tisserand paints a fascinating picture of early 20th-century newspaper offices and the growing importance of cartoonists to cover the news and provied commentary. He also writes knowledgeably of race relations, including the seminal boxing match in which the black fighter Jack Johnson soundly defeated the white boxer Jim Jeffries, which sparked race riots across the country."

Thursday, February 16, 2017

What did the In-Store Lit Group think of Brit Bennett's "The Mothers"?

How many authors can say that the novel they started in high school not only was published by a major imprint but went on to be shortlisted for a major prize? But that's the story of Brit Bennett, the author of The Mothers. This first novel, a favorite of booksellers nationally (it was the #1 Indie Next Pick for October 2016), is about Nadia, a teenager who, in the wake of her mother's suicide, starts acting act. She has an affair with Luke, the son of the minister at a storefront church. When things go wrong, the church tries to fix the problem by giving Nadia a job at the church office where she befriends Aubrey, a more reverant young woman, who of course, winds up dating Luke.

It's a classic love triangle, which as Ms. Bennett notes, is far more interesting than a love rectangle.

It's always tough to write a post about a book like The Mothers, which we already wrote so much about, first when the book was released last fall, and then in the weeks leading up to our visit from Bennett, where we were trying to convince folks to attend. Bennett's event delivered everything we promised -- she did a great job connecting with two high school classes in the morning, spoke frankly to our In-store Lit Group and answered spoiler questions, and then went on to read and talk about The Mothers to a diverse group of attendees. To be fair, it was mostly women, but that sentence is true when it comes to age and ethnicity.

There are several hot-button issues that ground the novel -- race and abortion. But though Bennett has written eloquently about race in her essays, the novel is more nuanced. As Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote in The Guardian. "That abortion could negatively affect a woman's life in the long term is usually reserved for the most rabid of anti-choice activists. The contentious issue surrounds the novel, and it's a credit to Bennett that it's dealt with so carefully in her narrative. Nadia doesn't want to be pregnant, so she has an abortion, and gets on with her life. But she doesn't pretend it never happened. The Mothers isn't explicitly feminist, in the same way that it isn't explicityly a novel abou the black experience. It makes all the points it needs to without being obvious."

If you asked Bennett what the book was about, she would definitely say that gossip is one of the overall themes. It is part of the framing device that has the church women commenting in their generally judgmental voices about what's going on, and it explains the ending that not everyone loves, but I'm up for defending. And no, I'm not going to say what that ending is.

At the discussion, Suzanne noted what was very strong to me, that the mothers function like a Greek chorus, leading me to think of all the other Greek Chorus novels I've read. I have to think about that and come up with a list!

As readers know, I love a strong setting and I really enjoyed San Diego and the Oceanview neighborhood. It was a place that I don't think has been represented well in fiction, coastal, diverse, and with a strong military presence. There's a certain seediness in the story, and a bit of transience. I can see that bar/restaurant that plays a bit role in the story and I can tell you I'm not planning on ordering anything.

Our group had a discussion about whether the book could have been published as YA. There are all these unspoken rules about YA, but one way that I think the book succeeded in the genre, is that it really stayed close in the head of Nadia. The love triangle, the family stress, the issues, all of them were certainly hallmarks of the best YA fiction. But there are other parts of the novel that probably would have been stripped away by a YA editor. Could it have been acquired by a YA editor? Absolutely. But the end result would have likely been a very different book.

And finally, here's a fascinating detail that throws a little light on the whole book. The story was originally from Aubrey's perspective, and that makes sense, as Bennett's background is much closer to Aubrey's. Her father was a Deacon at their predominantly African American Protestant Church while her mother was an Observant Catholic, worshipping at church that was predominantly white. So if you question whether the details, you should know that Bennett lived them.

Nadia was in the background, a character with a secret. And it was only when one of Bennett's teachers questioned her dislike of the Nadia character that the metamorphosis started and The Mothers started turning into Nadia's story.

Want more? If you haven't read this profile of Bennett in The New York Times from Alexandra Alter, you should. And here's an interview with Graison Dangor at Studio 360.

Bennett was asked at her various events about books. Interestingly enough, we'd already discussed several of her favorites at the In-Store Lit Group, including Angela Flournoy's The Turner House and Tayari Jones's Silver Sparrow. I asked Bennett if she knew when Jones would have another novel coming, and Jones had recently posted that 2018 was the likely publication year. She also noted that she was influenced by James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain.

Toni Morrison is one of her literary idols and she felt the best book to start with is Song of Solomon. Another writer that came up several times was Dorothy Allison, referring both to Bastard Out of Carolina (which comes up periodically in other situations) and Cavedweller (which does not). I was pleased to note that I attended Allison's Cavedweller reading at a Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop and I can say she was one of the best readers I've ever come across.

Up next on Monday, March 6, another 6 pm discussion, this time for Paul Beatty's The Sellout. We're starting early because several of us want to attend the 7 pm talk with Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club and the just-released Books for Living.

On Monday, April 3, 7 pm, we'll be discussing the Milwaukee Big Read, Julia Avarez's In the Time of the Butterflies. We are just one of many book clubs who will be featuring this title. Our March discussion will have a representative from the Milwaukee Public Library discussing the program.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Announcing Jen Sincero's ticketed event at Bowell for "You Are a Badass at Making Money" and a little story about how our friends at Boulder Book Store helped make this book happen.

Part 1: The story behind the story

It was Book Expo 2014 and I had this idea. I was going to find the next sleeper bestseller. I always feel like I am not completely taking advantage of all the networking that we do, so I came in with a question to ask booksellers - what's a book you're selling a lot of that you think other stores could sell if they just paid attention to it? I thought about the 200+ copies we sold of The Power of Kindness after one of our sales reps offhandedly mentioned it as a good backlist book at a rep presentation. And I thought about the recommendations in the past that led to sales in the hundreds for books like The True Story of Hansel and Gretel and The Elegance of the Hedgehog, the latter of which went on to national bestsellerdom after a year of sleeper sales at indies.

In both cases, these were books that I could tell from Treeline (a shared bookseller inventory system) that while there were some stores selling these books, sales were not universally strong. I had my own recommendation in mind that I thought was below the radar--The President's Hat, by Antoine Laurain. If you live in the Milwaukee, you might think that Laurain's books are bestsellers at the level of The Little Paris Bookshop, but his sales really depend on a bookstore handsell. Gallic just doesn't have the reach of Penguin Random House (Nina George's parent company) to take something that's working and help it go national. We've sold over 700 copies of Laurain's books and we're looking forward to The Portrait, his first novel, finally translated for English speakers, coming out this summer (June 27, we can hold a copy for you). But that's not what this blog post is about.

So I'm chatting with a few booksellers and most people are coming up with a lot of regional titles, which may or may not travel--we're just going to have the edge on selling Nick Petrie's The Drifter, for example, or books that most indie booksellers are already doing well with. Right now the top 15, for example, is psychological thrillers, award winners, and well-known names, plus Fredrik Backman, but down below that, in the 16-30 range, might be books that we can mine for greater success.

And then I turned to my friend Arsen at Boulder Book Store, and he said that it was funny that I brought this up, because Boulder has a book that they sold over 1000 copies of in the last year*, and it seemed to be off the radar of most bookstores. And sure enough, we looked up the book on Treeline and nobody else was remotely close to Boulder's sales. Was she local? No. Had she done an enormous event there? No. It was just selling like crazy off their front new and noteworthy area. And pretty much for the rest of the show, it was all I could talk about.

That book was You Are a Badass. Upon returning back to Boswell, Jason ordered 15 copies for our impulse table. I'm not used to trends exploding quite so quickly, but two months later, it was on the national bestseller lists. We're not exactly sure what happened, but two of our friends at Perseus Distribution (Sincero's distributor, now a part of Ingram, though her original publisher Running Press is now a part of Hachette) said that that hearing about Boulder's success seemed to have created a sort of Jen Sincero bandwagon. You've read The Tipping Point, so you know how these things sometimes go.

In retrospect, this is clearly the perfect book to break out of Boulder. It's got that classic human potential message of something like The Four Agreements or The Power of Now with a kick-ass update that seems to gel with other breakout books like #Girlboss and Year of Yes.

Part 2: The nitty gritty

So now we're excited to announce a ticketed visit at Boswell for Jen Sincero, the bestselling author, success coach, and motivational speaker who has spent over a decade traveling the world helping people transform their lives and their bank accounts. Her new release is a sequel to You Are a Badass and it's called You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth.

Per the publisher, You Are a Badass at Making Money is a step-by-step guide to helping people overcome their blocks, push past their fears, and start making the kind of money they've never made before. Written in the same style as her bestselling book, You Are a Badass, her latest work combines entertaining essays with life-changing concepts. Jen boils all her wisdom down into manageable, bite-sized tips so her readers can put them into practice and get real results.

This event is cosponsored by WWBIC, the Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative Corporation. A percentage of ticket sales will be donated back to this organization which fosters entrepreneurial initiatives in our state.

Tickets are $27 and include admission to the event and a copy of You Are a Badass at Making Money. On the night of the event only, a $19 Boswell gift card is available in lieu of the book. Sincero will personalize your copy of You Are a Badass at Making Money, will sign books brought from home, and will pose for photos.

If you are not able to attend, a signed copy of You Are a Badass at Making Money will be held for you for up to six months.

*I think the actual number was closer to 1500, an astounding amount of books to be sold with no national momentum, local connections, or a large event.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Event forecast: Mindy Mejia with Carole E. Barrowman, bela suresh roongta, Sarah Pinborough, the "Brick Through the Window" collaborators (Steven Nodine, Eric Beaumont, Clancy Carroll, David Luhrssen), Elinor Lipman in conversation with Daniel Goldin, Patricia McConnell at the Radisson West

Here's what's going on at Boswell this week!

Monday, February 13, 7:00 pm at Boswell:
Mindy Mejia, author of Everything You Want Me to Be, in conversation with Carole E. Barrowman.

From Carole E. Barrowman's review in the Journal Sentinel: "Seventeen-year-old Hattie Hoffman in Minnesota author Mindy Mejia’s evocative and provocative mystery Everything You Want Me To Be ]has taken Shakespeare literally. Her entire world’s a stage. She’s “spent her entire life playing parts.” In her senior high school production of Macbeth, she’s playing Lady Macbeth, but forever she’s been role-playing with everyone: her parents (the good daughter), her young married English teacher (the good student), her friends (the popular girl), and even the sheriff (the good teenager).

"The novel opens with Hattie alone 'in a ditch in the middle of nowhere' Minnesota, with 'everything in the inside' changed. This is her moment of epiphany, but for what? A few pages later, Hattie is found brutally stabbed to death, and the small town reels.

"The story unfolds through three distinctive first-person points of view: the town’s sheriff, Del; Hattie’s English teacher, Peter; and Hattie herself. Early in the investigation the sheriff says he doesn’t place much stock in the 'common sense' of teenagers, but who are they when they think no one’s looking, when the masks are off and the costumes put away?"

Everything's coming up Mindy! Here's a Boswell recommendation from Teasha Kirkwood: "A haunting thriller about the muder of an adored high school senior in small-town Minnesota. Mejia is a skillful master of thte re-direct and will keep you guessing 'til the end." That is seconded by Boswellian Sharon K. Nagel, another fan.

In addition to being a mystery critic for the Journal Sentinel and a guest host on Morning Blend, Carole Barrowman is a professor of English and the director of Creative Studies in Writing at Alverno College, where she has taught since 1987. She has written six books, including Exodus Code, Hollow Earth, and the London Times bestseller Anything Goes, as well as the comic book Captain Jack and the Selkie.

This event is cosponsored by Crimespree Magazine.

Tuesday, February 14, 7:00 pm, at Boswell:
bela suresh roongta, author of …fill in the beauty, a book for the storyteller and artist in all of us.

In a book for the storyteller and artist in all of us, local artist and business owner bela suresh roongta introduces …fill in the beauty, a collection of her original drawings and the stories they tell.

Inspired by her East-Indian roots and growing up in the West, roongta invites us to discover, explore, and fill in our own truth and beauty. Borrowing from the art of henna, the ancient East-Indian practice of adorning the hands and feet with a paste made from the finely ground leaves of the henna plant, she uses the intricate floral and geometric patterns of this art form to bring her own drawings to life. She then plays with words until they fall into place, capturing the moments, hopes and dreams we all share.

bela suresh roongta is the founder and designer of belabela, a Milwaukee-based business that offers high-quality, easy-to-wear fashion for the active lifestyle. Each design tells a story and is inspired by bela’s life experiences as a woman, mother, friend, advocate, and artist. Just as the hands and feet provide a canvas for the art of henna, bela wants her art to live through the clothes we wear, the homes we live in, and the stories we write.

If you didn't read our blog post about belabela studio, here's a link to it.

Wednesday, February 15, 7:00 pm at Boswell:
Sarah Pinborough, author of Behind Her Eyes, #15 on The New York Times bestseller list!

The Guardian calls Behind Her Eyes "fantastically creepy." And here's the Evening Standard nothing the huge buzz around this book with comparisons to Gone Girl and Girl on the Train being more than just about genre--all three authors were 44 when their books were released! 44!

Louise is a single mom and secretary stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone. When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar who says the kiss was a terrible mistake but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise.

Then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend, and also happens to be married to David. David and Adele may look like the picture-perfect husband and wife, why is David so controlling? And why is Adele so scared of him?

As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong. But Louise can’t guess how wrong and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.

Sarah Pinborough is an award-winning YA and adult thriller, fantasy, horror novelist, and screenwriter. She has published more than 20 novels, written for the BBC, and is currently working with several television companies on original projects. Her recent novels include the dystopian love story, The Death House, and a teenage thriller, 13 Minutes, which has been bought by Netflix with Josh Schwartz adapting.

This event is cosponsored by Crimespree Magazine.

Friday, February 17, 7:00 pm, at Boswell:
Steve Nodine, Eric Beaumont, Clancy Carroll, and Dave Luhrssen, authors of Brick Through the Window: An Oral History of Punk Rock, New Wave & Noise in Milwaukee, 1964-1984.

Brick Through the Window chronicles a small number of people who made history in a setting that produced internationally recognized bands such as the Violent Femmes, Die Kreuzen, Plasticland, and Oil Tasters. Original interviews with such visionaries as the late Mark Shurilla and Richard LaValliere tell stories of imagination, creativity, resourcefulness, and sacrifice.

From Jim Higgins in the Journal Sentinel: ""Brick" offers origin stories, histories and post-mortems (and photos) of many memorable local bands, including hardcore giants Die Kreuzen, the psychedelic Plasticland and the reggae-inflected X-Cleavers, to name just a few. (A thorough index will help you find your favorite.) Musically speaking, take the book's subtitle loosely, as a number of the units remembered here don't fit any of those categories, including the clever pop-rock band Yipes! and the rootsy R&B maestro Paul Cebar.

"But all of these folks knew each other, and local live music fans knew them. Describing those years, Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie said: 'There were hundreds and hundreds of us, and it was amorphous. There was very little distinction between the musicians and the fans. They were the same people.'"

Steve Nodine is a web developer and author of  The Cease Is Increase, interviews from which provide the foundation for this book. Steve has written for ShepherdExpress and OnMilwaukee,, and was the lead singer for the Milwaukee-based bands Dark Façade, Between Walls, and Newly Damaged.

Eric Beaumont is a musician, DJ, paralegal, and writer living in Milwaukee.  His literary criticism has appeared in the African American Review, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and ShepherdExpress. As Eric Blowtorch, he has written, performed, and arranged five albums, seven singles, and numerous songs on compilations and soundtracks.  His published interviews include those with Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello, KRS-ONE, and George McGovern.

Clancy Carroll is a musician, record label owner, and music writer based in Milwaukee. His past bands include Ozone, the Ones, and the Clancy Carroll Band. As King and CEO of Splunge Communications, Inc., he has released records by the likes of the Prosecutors, Triple Forbidden Taboo, and the Leather Phaorohs, as well as the double-CD compilation History in 3 Chords: Milwaukee Alternative Bands 1973-1982.

David Luhrssen has lectured at UWM and MIAD. He is author of Mamoulian: Life on Stage and Screen and Hammer of the Gods: Thule Society and the Birth of Nazism. He is co-author of numerous works, including Searching for Rock and Roll. Currently the Arts and Entertainment Editor of Milwaukee’s weekly ShepherdExpress, he is also a commentator on film for WUWM.

Sunday, February 19, 2:00 pm, at Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, 1111 E Brown Deer Rd:
A ticketed event with Elinor Lipman, author of On Turpentine Lane in conversation with Daniel Goldin

Elinor Lipman, the grand dame of American comic fiction, returns to Milwaukee for a very special ticketed event at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.

From Michelle Wildgen's review in The New York Times Book Review: "Light and tight, On Turpentine Lane is constructed with an almost scary mastery. Not a single thread dangles, not a single character is left without a place in Faith’s world. The story folds out and back in as neatly as an origami flower, and Faith recounts it all with a raised eyebrow and plenty of cheek. 'I tried to be circumspect,' she says of a nouveau riche broker of customized Chagall copies. 'I might have let slip some of the adjectives I meant to stifle, such as "domineering," "insensitive" and "hypersexual," but I was careful to balance those with compliments about her décor.'"

Ms. Lipman will also be the guest speaker at Elizabeth Berg's Writing Matters program in Oak Park. That event is Saturday, February 18, 7 pm. Tickets are $10 and include refreshments. You can read more about Lipman's writing process (500 words a day!) in this profile, published in the Chicago Tribune from Myrna Petlicki. Writing Matters event details are here.

Missed our round-up of all the great Elinor Lipman events in Milwaukee? Read more here.

Tickets for our event are $26 and include a copy of On Turpentine Lane. $5 from every ticket purchase will go back to the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center. You can purchase your ticket at Brown Paper Tickets or by phone at 800-838-3006. There is an $18 Boswell gift card option in lieu of the book on the day of the event only.

Monday, February 20, 7:00 pm at Radisson Hotel West, 2303 N Mayfair Rd:
A ticketed event with Patricia B. McConnell, author of The Education of Will: A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog.

Renowned Zoologist and Animal Behaviorist, Patricia McConnell combines brilliant insights into canine behavior gained from her work with aggressive and fearful dogs with heartwarming stories of her own dogs and their life on the farm. In her memoir, McConnell is forced to face her past by her love for a young Border Collie named Will, whose frequent, unpredictable outbreaks of fear and fury shake Patricia to her core.

Tickets for this are $25 for general setting and $35 for preferred seating. Tickets can be purchased on the Wisconsin Humane Society’s website. Tickets do not include the price of the book, but books will be available for purchase at the event from Boswell.

Doors open for ths event at 6 pm.

Patricia McConnell, PhD, is an internationally known Zoologist and Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist who has treated serious behavior problems in dogs for over twenty-five years. She speaks around the world about canine behavior and training, and is the author of fourteen books, including the critically acclaimed The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs. Dr. McConnell lives with her dogs and husband on a small farm near Madison, Wisconsin.

After that, we have a little public event winter break!Join us back at Boswell on February 26, 3 pm, for Karen Braman's talk about The Family Tree, cosponsored by America's Black Holocaust Museum.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Annotated Boswell Bestsellers for the Week Ending February 11, 2017, plus Journal Sentinel Tap Books Page.

Here's what sold at Boswell last week.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Mothers, by Brit Bennett
2. 4 3 2 1, by Paul Auster
3. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
4. Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay
5. Garden of Lamentations V17, by Deborah Crombie
6. Universal Harvester, by John Darnielle
7. The Refugees, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
8. Moonglow, by Michael Chabon
9. The Last Days of Night, by Graham Moore
10. LaRose, by Louise Erdrich

John Darnielle's first novel, Wolf in White Van, received a National book Award nomination so it's no surprise that the Mountain Goats frontman had a nice pop in sales for novel #2, Universal Harvester is a story set in 1990s Iowa in which a young video store clerk is confronted by a series of mysterious local footage shot over returned tapes. David Menconi profiles Mr. Darnielle in the Raleigh News and Observer. Michael Schaub calls the new book "brilliant" in his Los Angeles Times review. And here's an OnMilwuakee profile of the Darnielle and the Mountain Goats where they note they played at Fuel Cafe in the 1990s.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman
2. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
3. Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen
4. Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance
5. Modern Death, by Haider Warraich
6. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
7. Speaking American, by Josh Katz
8. The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben
9. Women in Science, by Rachel Ignotofsky
10. Ethics 101, by John Maxwell

Natalie Haynes in The Guardian will not be surprised when Neil Gaiman's Norse Mytholgy makes a big splash on next week's national bestseller lists. She writes: "It’s virtually impossible to read more than 10 words by Neil Gaiman and not wish he would tell you the rest of the story. He is a thesaurus of myth, both original and traditional, as comfortable appraising the science fiction of Douglas Adams or co-authoring fantasy with Terry Pratchett as he is reimagining the story of Orpheus and Eurydice or creating a bleakly funny serial killers’ convention in small-town America. And that’s before you get on to his children’s picture books. Eclectic doesn’t quite cover it."

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead
2. The Sellout, by Paul Beatty (In-store lit group 3/6, 6 pm)
3. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
4. In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez (In-store lit group 4/3, 7 pm)
5. In a Dark, Dark Wood, by Ruth Ware
6. The Circle, by Dave Eggers
7. The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
8. Too Like the Lightning V1, by Ada Palmer (Science Fiction book club 5/8, 7 pm)
9. The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, by Phaedra Patrick
10. The Mutual Admiration Society, by Lesley Kagen

Three of our top ten titles this week are upcoming book club selections that are run by Boswell booksellers at the store. In-Store Lit Group meets first Monday, Science Fiction Book Club meets the second Monday, and Mystery Book Club meets the fourth Monday. All are open to the public--you don't need to join anything, though it's true that each club has developed regulars. The Mystery book club's next two selections are Even the Dead, by Benjamin Black on February 27 and All the Missing Girls, by Megan Miranda, on March 27. And then don't forget that Miranda (whose book just hit the American Booksellers Association independent bookstore bestseller list) is coming to Boswell on April 19.

Also note that In the Time of the Butterflies is part of the Milwaukee Public Library Big Read, so you'll see a lot of clubs in the area reading this classic novel from Julia Alvarez. There will even be butterly-themed storytimes, such as this one at Capitol Library.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Population 485, by Michael Perry
2. Brick Through the Window, by Steven Nodine, Eric Beaumont, Clancy Carroll, and David Luhrssen (event 2/17, 7 pm, at Boswell)
3. Lemons and Lemonade, by David H. Mathews
4. Coxey's Crusade for Jobs, by Jerry Prout
5. William Morris: Arts and Crafts Coloring Book, from V&A Museum
6. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
7. The Originals, by Adam Grant
8. Hope in the Dark 2e, by Rebecca Solnit
9. I Am Not Your Negro, by James Baldwin
10. The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard

We're having trouble keeping Brick Through the Window in stock in advance of our event on February 17. This book is kind of the third edition of The Cease is Increase, Steven Nodine's classic book on the Milwaukee punk scene, greatly expanded with the help of Beaumont, Carroll, and Luhrssen. If you missed Jim Higgins's column in the Journal Sentinel, he can fill you in on the details.

Books for Kids:
1. Heart to Heart, by Lois Ehlert
2. Here We Are, edited by Kelly Jensen (event 3/2, 7 pm, at Boswell)
3. The Scraps Book, by Lois Ehlert
4. A Is for Activist, by Innosanto Nagara
5. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin with illustrations by Lois Ehlert
6. Rain Fish, by Lois Ehlert
7. Before You, by Rebecca Doughty
8. Love Is All Around Wisconsin, by Wedni Silvano
9. Dog Man V1, by Dav Pilkey
10. Dog Man Unleashed V2, by Dav Pilkey

We had a wonderful afternoon with Lois Ehlert, which included not just many fans but also a good number of family members. Instead of reading the story (which would give away all the good puns, which are more fun to figure out yourself), Ms. Ehlert offered several rebus puzzles for everyone to sound out. And yes, I showed Ms. Ehlert samples of all our bags, as we change color every time we reprint, and we've had a lot of color discussions over the years. We're working on a very nice turquoise/aqua, which had to be redone as the first sample turned out to be more sea green. And that's why they say you should depend on your computer screen to determine colors.

We ran out of Heart to Heart, but we'll be geting in more on Tuesday for last minute holiday shoppers.

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins reviews Lincoln in the Bardo. He doesn't assign letter grades but rumor has it that this is the first A+ of the year for him: "After the death of 11-year-old Willie Lincoln (apparently from typhoid fever) in 1862, grief-stricken President Abraham Lincoln returned to the crypt to hold his son's body. This anecdote haunted fiction writer George Saunders, who now haunts us with Lincoln in the Bardo, a brilliant, empathetic and wonderfully weird novel, both emotionally and technically stirring."

Expect to see this long-awaited first novel from George Saunders ranked high on next week's bestseller lists.

There's been lots of buzz about the YA novel American Street from Ibi Zoboi and the Journal Sentinel's Mike Fischer adds to the chorus: "In a 2013 study, American Street in the 48204 zip code on Detroit’s west side was designated the most violent neighborhood in America. It’s also the title of Haitian-born Ibi Zoboi’s YA novel “American Street, much of which unfolds at the actual Detroit intersection of American Street and Joy Road." The story is of a teenage girl who continues on to Detroit after her mother is detained in New Jersey. Fischer liked the character of Fabiola but wasn't as crazy about the secondary characters and some of the plot lines. The starred Booklist review similarly noted some strained credulity but nevertheless proclaimed it "fierce and beautiful."

Jim Higgins also takes on The New Midwest, from Mark Athitakis, calling it "a crisp engaging tipsheet." He notes: "Former Chicagoan Mark Athitakis appears to share my wariness but has not yet given up on finding value in the concept of Midwesternness, at least when it comes to fiction. His succinct book The New Midwest: A Guide to Contemporary Fiction of the Great Lakes, Great Plains, and Rust Belt explores both the mythology about the region ('homey, religious, self-reliant, and white as possible') and how contemporary fiction writers subvert, exploit and explode that mythology. His book grew out of his 'Reading the Midwest' column for Belt Magazine."

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Christina Baker Kline's newest novel Inspired by Art--"A Piece of the World" ticketed event at the Lynden Sculpture Garden

I was looking at our book club flier recently and realized that almost a quarter of our recommendations incorporated the visual arts world in some way.

The Improbability of Love, Hannah Rothschild's 2015 novel, was championed first by Sharon and then by Jane, the latter with such ferocity that she convinced me to read it for our In-store Lit Group. What a hit it's been at Boswell! At the center of the story is a young woman who inadvertently purchases a valuable painting at a second-hand store, setting off a worldwide chase. The book is filled with interesting insights in collecting and an education in itself about Antoine Watteau and the Fête Galante school of art.

The Muralist is B.A. Shapiro's second art history themed novel with a bit of a mystery, following The Art Forger. At the center is a fictional painter who disappeared during World War II, with the story jumping back and forth between her life as an abstract expressionist who earns a commission from Eleanor Roosevelt to help create a non-figurative mural and her niece's exploration of what happened to her. The fictional character at the center is surrounded by historical characters of the time, including many painters. I'd love a debate from readers of historical fiction about whether they prefer everyone to be historical or the central characters to be fictional. I'm guessing that by inserting fictional characters, you can do a lot more with plot. You'd be caught between a dry story or one that sacrificed enough facts that you'd be hard pressed to call it historical fiction.

Alice Hoffman has turned to historical fiction for her last few books, before veering back to contemporary with her recent Faithful, but The Marriage of Opposites was the first to use real people at the center of the story. Jane has been a big fan of this one, set on St. Thomas, about a group of Jewish refugees from the Inquisition. The focus is on the mother of Camille Pissaro, the artist who is said to be the Father of Impressionism.

Even though it was taken off the winter-spring book club list, I'm still trying to hand-sell And Again, the contemporary novel with a speculative twist from Jessica Chiarella about a group of people in a secret support group in Chicago who, facing death, had their memories inserted using stem cell technology into cloned and aged bodies. I am reinvigorated because ex-Boswellian Rebecca took my advice to read it and loved it. I told her it had a Station Eleven feel, with the science fiction element making it a story that sparks a lot of "what if?" discussion. We had three really good reads on the book, but the book doesn't have much outside momentum and every attempt to sell it is a labor of love.

Where's the art, you say? At the center of the story is a talented visual artist who still has the drive she had before, but she's lost her body memory. A lot of the quandaries hinge on body vs brain and Hannah's is no exception. But the story isn't all bonding in a support group and ethical dilemmas. There's also an illicit affair that messes everything up. Highly recommended!

And don't think we're running out of ideas for our next seasonal brochure. I'm already very excited to pitch Molly Prentiss's Tuesday Nights in 1980 to book clubs, the story of an artist, a critic, and a muse in New York during its artistic renaissance. It comes out in May.

I could list fifty more works of fiction I love with art at the center, and many more that have reached great heights of popularity. Do I need to mention Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, for example? Or one of the most popular Christopher Moore novels, Sacré Blue, which definitely had a crossover into the art patron world, at least for us. But what is it about the visual arts that offers inspiration to writers?

For one thing, there are so many good stories to draw upon. For another, it's a great stand-in for the writing process, which is really what most writers are thinking about every day. Because not every book contemplating the creative process can be about writing in an already flooded market, many turn to art, music, and theater. But based on my reading experiences, I think sometimes authors translate their writing experiences into that of other arts.

So that's where I get to Christina Baker Kline, a writer who wrote a number of well-regarded novels before exploding onto the bestseller lists with Orphan Train. Prior to that, Kline was writing in a more contemporary idiom, with at least one novel that might have been positioned as psychological suspense (Desire Lines), had that genre been as heated as it is now (see previous blog). She also edited a number of anthologies and wrote a motherhood memoir. You think people come out of nowhere but sometimes, the best books are truly breakouts, with the author honing their craft over many years.

Orphan Train surely hit a nerve. It's about a teenager charged with helping an older woman clean out her attic, uncovering the story of the older woman's past, linking them together. And that past revolves around the orphan trains, which carried unwanted children to the farms of the Midwest in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I could list rave reviews from readers, novelists, and critics for the rest of this post, but let's assume you know how good Orphan Train is, and just have this nice recommendation from novelist Mary Morris: "Christina Baker Kline weaves a tapestry of the intertwining lives of two women and affirms our hope that the present can redeem the past and that love has a genuine power to heal. Reminiscent of Elizabeth Strout’s Amy and Isabel, this Orphan Train carries us along until the stories of these two women become one.”

Kline's forthcoming novel, A Piece of the World (on sale 2/21), decides to stay in the historical genre and as you must have guessed by now, uses art as inspiration. For the heart of the story is Christina Olson, the subject of Andrew Wyeth's painting, Christina's World. The story imagines not just the incident that led up to Wyeth painting her, but everything in life that led to Wyeth pulling out from her the humanity that he captures in his painting. Of course I was reminded a bit of the Vermeer revival, partly inspired by two novels that were inspired by his paintings, Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring and Susan Vreeland's Girl in Hyacinth Blue.

One constant that connects with Orphan Train is the Maine setting. I could certainly do a piece on Maine fiction, as it's always been a hotbed of inspiration. And there's so much about Maine that makes great fiction--there's always a bit of hardscrabble in the stories (of course you read The Beans of Egypt, Maine), but it's also had the wealthy Northeasterners summering there (Courtney Sullivan's Maine comes to mind). A Piece of the World has a little bit of both, with Christina's family being longtime farmers, struggling to keep the land, visited in the summer by Bostonians, one of whom takes a liking to Christina. Worlds collide, and while we hope for the best, we have to remember that this is not speculative fiction.

I can't do justice to the book, so I will let some eloquent writers speak for me.

From Michael Chabon: “A Piece of the World is a graceful, moving and powerful demonstration of what can happen when a fearless literary imagination combines with an inexhaustible curiosity about the past and the human heart: a feat of time travel, a bravura improvisation on the theme of art history, a wonderful story that seems to have been waiting, all this time, for Christina Baker Kline to come along and tell it.”

Lily King, author of Euphoria: “The inscrutable figure in the foreground of Wyeth’s Christina’s World is our American Mona Lisa, and Christina Baker Kline has pulled back the veil to imagine her rich story. Tender, tragic, A Piece of the World is a fascinating exploration of the life lived inside that house at the top of the hill.”

And even Erik Larson, author of Dead Wake and The Devil in the White City: “With A Piece of the World, Baker Kline gives us a brilliantly imagined fictional memoir of the woman in the famed Wyeth painting, Christina’s World, so detailed, moving, and utterly transportive that I’ll never be able to look at the painting again without thinking of this book and the characters who populate its pages.”

In a way, Kline's artistic inspiration reaches all the way back to her first novel, Sweet Water, which is the story of a New York artist who returns home to the Tennessee farm of her grandmother. And doesn't it make sense then that we're cosponsoring Christina Baker Kline's event at the Lynden Sculpture Garden, one of Milwaukee's artistic treasures? She's part of the Women's Speaker Series on Sunday, March 5, 2 pm. Tickets are $30, $25 for Lynden members, and include admission, a copy of A Piece of the World, light refreshments, and all taxes and fees. You can reserve your spot at the Lynden website. We expect to sell out for this event, so I would get your seat now. You can also call them at 414-446-8794.

And don't forget, even if you don't attend, we can get a copy signed for you.