Tuesday, June 18, 2019

What does Humphrey Bogart have to do with Kelsey Rae Dimberg's Girl in the Rearview Mirror

While we love whenever our customers have a book come out, it's particularly exciting to see a debut from a Friend of Boswell at a major house. And Girl in the Rearview Mirror is just that, a novel won at a competitive auction by William Morrow and published today. So what indeed does Humphrey Bogart have to do with Kelsey Rae Dimberg's debut novel, Girl in the Rearview Mirror? After all, the story is set in contemporary Phoenix, and the main character is a nanny, about as far from the actor well known for his role as Sam Spade in the adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's classic noir novel, The Maltese Falcon.

As Dimberg tells Jim Higgins in Sunday's Journal Sentinel, "Girl in the Rearview Mirror has roots in classic noir films that Dimberg came to love while she was in graduate school at the University of San Francisco. Back then, she was writing traditional literary fiction, including what she called 'my sad guy novel,' full of emotion and angst. But after seeing a noir double bill in 2009 - Dimberg thinks it was While the City Sleeps and Shakedown — she plunged into that cinematic genre. Soon she was writing, for fun, the novel that became Girl in the Rearview Mirror.

Dimberg also told Higgins that she made her protagonist a nanny because who else knows the secrets of a family so well, with no real commitment to keep them secret? A nanny is also a great job for someone running away, and that fits Girl squarely in between the genres of noir mystery and psychological suspense. We've got the detective equivalent (as we've noted, there are less and less classic private investigators to star in novels but no shortage of other professions to fill the bill) in the nanny, trying to unravel what's going on in this family. But like many psychological suspense characters, our hero is also not completely trustworthy. She's got her own secrets, and she's withholding them from the reader.

Katherine Nintzel at William Morrow offered these thoughts on why she acquired the book in a letter to booksellers and other early readers: "The first thing that gripped me about Girl in the Rearview Mirror was the voice. I saw it from the first page, and I hope you do too: Kelsey Rae Dimberg is a writer working in a classic noir space, but bringing a real modern angle to it."

Like many protagonists in novels that straddle the psychological suspense genre (which generally includes any novel that has Girl in the title), our protagonist is running away from something and is not exactly trustworthy. But unlike some antiheroes that are trying to cause trouble, Finn inadvertently finds herself in the thick of a conspiracy and would like nothing more than for it to go away. Her fumbling only makes it worse.

Girl in the Rearview Mirror is getting some great reviews around the country, like this stunner from Jay Strafford in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star: "As Dimberg reveals the secrets and lies that animate her tale, and as a river of death runs through it, even the most astute readers of suspense fiction will find themselves engulfed by multiple stunners, including an explosive and unforeseen conclusion. Dimberg, who holds a master of fine arts degree from the University of San Francisco and is a former editor-in-chief of Lux, the literary magazine of Barrett Honors College of Arizona State, set out to write a novel that places morality - or its absence - at the heart of the story. She succeeds with verve and intensity - and her initial effort foreshadows a brilliant future."

As I mentioned, we've had some great reads on Girl in the Rearview Mirror as well. Here's Boswellian Tim McCarthy's take: "I was absorbed by this novel, by its quick start and strong pace, and I like the way Dimberg uses politics as the context for people's lives without letting political issues become a distraction. The characters are well developed, Finn having a bold determination to find the truth mixed with a lot of self doubt. Her mutual attraction with Amabel's father Philip is a subtle but important element of the story, never becoming a nanny stereotype. Above all, the tragedies and the suspense moved me. Deeply. I truly look forward to Dimberg's next work!"

Here's my silly elevator pitch: It's like Noir moved from San Francisco to Phoenix because of the cheaper cost of living.

The book is on sale today. We gave Dimberg a sneak peek at the books piled on our shelving cart. She also signed preorders. Our event is this Thursday, June 20, 7 pm, now cohosted by Crimespree magazine. Here's our debut novelist on Morning Blendwhere she talks about how the book took eight years to write. I'm sure you'll be charmed and want to come out and see her on Thursday. Why not get your book signed* and take a photo with Dimberg and Humphrey Bogart? And if you're from out of town and want a signed first edition, we can get that done for you as well. Here's the order link.

If you are reading this post from metro Chicago, Madison, or Phoenix, Dimberg is visiting your area too. Here's her schedule.

Chalkboard credit - Rose Camara

*It's 20% off, through at least June 24.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Event alert: Dani Shapiro, Kelsey Rae Dimberg, Victor Grossman, Janet Galloway, Charlotte Sullivan Wild

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

Monday, June 17, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Victor Grossman, author of A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee

Journalist and author Victor Grossman appears at Boswell to discuss his autobiography, which recounts the circumstances that impelled him to flee a military prison sentence during the icy pressures of the McCarthy Era. Cosponsored by the Milwaukee Turners.

While a US Army draftee stationed in Europe, Grossman, born Stephen Wechsler, left his barracks in Bavaria one August day in 1952, and, in a panic, swam across the Danube River from the Austrian U.S. Zone to the Soviet Zone. Fate (ie, the Soviets) landed him in East Germany, officially the German Democratic Republic. There he remained, observer and participant, husband and father, as he watched the rise and successes, the travails, and the eventual demise of the GDR socialist experiment.

A Socialist Defector is the story, told in rare, personal detail, of an activist and writer who grew up in the U.S. free-market economy, spent thirty-eight years in the GDR’s nationally owned, centrally administered economy, and continues to survive, given whatever the market can bear in today’s united Germany. Journalist, traveling lecturer, and the only person in the world to hold diplomas from both Harvard and the Karl Marx University, Grossman offers insightful, often ironic, reflections and reminiscences, comparing the good and bad sides of life in all three of the societies he has known.

Tuesday, June 18, 7 pm, at Boswell: Dani Shapiro, author of of Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, in conversation with Boswell's Daniel Goldin

Acclaimed memoirist Dani Shapiro, author of Hourglass, Devotion, and Slow Motion, is coming to Boswell for her New York Times bestselling book Inheritance. Cosponsored by the Sam and Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies at UWM and the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center.

Registration is free at shapiromke.bpt.me through June 17 or upgrade to a registration-with-book option for $26.35, including taxes and fees. The upgrade will get you first on the signing line.

Inheritance is an emotional detective story that begins when Shapiro receives the results of a DNA test and notes that some of her relatives don't match up. Her entire history, the life she had lived, crumbled beneath her. From Sandee Brawarsky's notes in Jewish Week: "For the reader, there’s a sense of suspense in Shapiro’s unraveling of details, even as she is thrown by her discovery and plagued by urgent questions about why her parents didn’t tell her - and how much they actually understood or how much they buried the truth in their own ways."

Barbara Spindel continues the thread The Christian Science Monitor: "Eventually Shapiro arrives at the belief that her mother and father had known but had buried the truth and settled on deep, shared denial. These days, of course, assisted reproductive technologies are out in the open. Still, as sites like Ancestry and 23andMe gain popularity, more people will receive results that shock them to the core."

Wednesday, June 19, 7 pm, at Boswell: Janet Burroway, author of the tenth edition of Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, in conversation with Kim Suhr

Janet Burroway, Distinguished Professor Emerita at Florida State University and author of the most widely used creative writing text in America, visits for a conversation with Red Oak Writing Director Kim Suhr about the Tenth Edition of Writing Fiction. This book has been selling very strongly since we announced this event!

A creative writer’s shelf should hold at least three essential books: a dictionary, a style guide, and Writing Fiction. For more than 30 years, Burroway’s classic has helped hundreds of thousands of students learn the craft. Burroway offers a master class that calls on us to renew our love of storytelling and celebrate the skill of writing well. There is a very good chance that one of your favorite authors learned the craft with Writing Fiction.

The new edition continues to provide advice that is practical, comprehensive, and flexible. Moving from freewriting to final revision, Burroway, who has also written eight novels, plays, and numerous essyas, addresses “showing not telling,” characterization, dialogue, atmosphere, plot, imagery, and point of view, with examples and quotations that feature a wide and diverse range of today’s best-known authors. Thanks to Red Oak Writing for cosponsoring this event.

Thursday, June 20, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Book launch for Kelsey Rae Dimberg, author of Girl in the Rearview Mirror

Milwaukee author Kelsey Rae Dimberg appears at Boswell with her debut thriller about the young nanny for a prominent political family who gets drawn into a web of deadly lies, including her own. This event is cosponsored by Crimespree magazine.

They are Phoenix’s First Family: the son of the sitting Senator, destined to step into his father’s seat, his wife, the stylish and elegant director of Phoenix’s fine arts museum, and their four-year-old daughter Amabel, beautiful, precocious, and beloved. Finn Hunt eagerly agrees to nanny for Amabel, thinking she’s lucked into the job of a lifetime. But when a young woman approaches Finn, claiming a connection with Philip and asking Finn to pass on a message, Finn becomes caught up in a web of deceit with the senate seat at its center. And Finn, too, has a background she has kept hidden, but under the hot Phoenix sun, everything is about to be laid bare.

From Jim Higgins's profile of Dimberg in Sunday's Journal Sentinel, where she discusses making important decisions about the story: "'I'm going to write this crime novel. It's going to be all these little tropes from noir," she said, remembering her decision. She resolved to play fair with readers: 'I don't like it in novels when it's just the narrator's lying,' she said. Dimberg ended up using index cards to remind herself what Finn did and didn't know, and what other characters were doing, 'so I could keep track of everybody's timeline,' she said."

Kelsey Rae Dimberg received an MFA from the University of San Francisco and studied at Barrett Honors College of Arizona State University, where she was editor-in-chief of the literary magazine, Lux. She is a graduate of Homestead High School in Mequon. Girl in the Rearview Mirror is her first novel.

Saturday, June 22, 11 am, at Boswell:
Saturday Storytime with Charlotte Sullivan Wild, author of The Amazing Idea of You

Boswell hosts a Saturday morning storytime with Charlotte Sullivan Wild, Regional Advisor for the Southwest Texas chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, who will read and present her new picture book. Perfect for children and adults.

The Amazing Idea of You celebrates the glorious potential in living things and in every child. Fans of Emily Winfield Martin will delight in this loving, gorgeously illustrated story. Hidden within a tiny seed is the idea of a beautiful, towering tree. In a nest, curled inside an egg, waits the idea of a bird, of the songs she’ll sing and the skies she’ll fly. Tadpoles, caterpillars, and waddling goslings all hold the promise of leaps, brilliant colors, and migrations. Yet nothing compares to the promise of a child. This gorgeous, lyrical picture book celebrating new life is perfect for any child, parent, or parents-to-be.

Saturday, June 22, 2019, 3:30 pm, at Milwaukee Public Library Central Library, Community Room 1, 814 W Wisconsin Ave: Katherine Connelly, author of A Suffragette in America: Reflections on Prisoners, Pickets and Political Change

Milwaukee Public Library presents editor Katherine Connelly to discuss her latest work, a collection of English Suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst’s writing and reflections on a year spent in Milwaukee during the early 20th century. Connelly did research at the Milwaukee Public Library in putting together A Suffragette in America.

Published for the first time, this book by leading English militant suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst details her tours of America in 1911 and 1912. Unlike other suffragette leaders, who spent their time in the States among the social elite, Pankhurst went right to the heart of America’s social problems. She visited striking laundry workers in New York and female prisoners in Philadelphia and Chicago, and grappled firsthand with shocking racism in Nashville.

Pankhurst biographer Katherine Connelly gathers and curates Pankhurst’s writing from the year-long visit, in which she reveals her shock at the darkness hidden in American life and draws parallels to her experiences of imprisonment and misogyny in her own country. Writer, activist, and Sylvia Pankhurst’s granddaughter Helen Pankhurst says, “This volume affords new insights into her life and work by placing the text in the turbulent political context in which it was written. It is an important contribution to history.”

Next week sneak peek - Monday, June 24, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Dean A Strang, author of Keep the Wretches in Order: America's Biggest Mass Trial, the Rise of the Justice Department, and the Fall of the IWW, in conversation with WUWM's Mitch Teich

Madison criminal defense attorney attorney Dean A Strang returns to Boswell with his latest book, a sharp legal history of the largest mass trial in US history. Cosponsored by Wisconsin Justice Initiative. This will also be WUWM Lake Effect Executive Producer and Host Mitch Teich's last conversation at Boswell before he leaves for New York's North Country Public Radio.

Dean Strang, also author of Worse Than the Devil: Anarchists, Clarence Darrow, and Justice in a Time of Terror, analyzes the fragility of the American criminal justice system as he details United States v. Haywood et al, the fascinating case that had a major role in shaping the modern Justice Department. Before World War I, the government reaction to labor dissent had been local, ad hoc, and quasi-military. When the United States entered the conflict in 1917, the Department of Justice embarked on a sweeping new effort - replacing gunmen with lawyers. Soon, the department systematically targeted the nation’s most radical and innovative union, the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies.

In the first legal history of this federal trial, Strang shows how the case laid the groundwork for a fundamentally different strategy to stifle radical threats and had a major role in shaping the modern Justice Department. As the trial unfolded, it became an exercise of raw force, raising serious questions about its legitimacy and revealing the fragility of a criminal justice system under great external pressure.

More events on our upcoming event page.

Photo credits!
Dani Shapiro - Michael Maren
Janet Burroway - Mary Stephan

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending June 15, 2019

Here are the Boswell weekly bestsellers for the period ending June 15, 2019. Happy Father's Day!

Hardcover Fiction:
1. City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert
2. Murder in Bel-Air V19, by Cara Black
3. Ask Again, Yes, by Mary Beth Keane
4. Circe, by Madeline Miller
5. Recursion, by Blake Crouch
6. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong
7. Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
8. Fall; or Dodge in Hell, by Neal Stephenson
9. The Sentence Is Death V2, by Anthony Horowitz
10. Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverni

We were lucky enough to host Elizabeth Gilbert for her previous novel, The Signature of All Things. I always like to throw in that I read and liked Gilbert's 2000 novel, Stern Men, back when none of you knew who she was. But today's story is about City of Girls, her latest novel winning praise from many reviewers, including Leah Greenblatt in Entertainment Weekly (about to go monthly), who wrote that “Gilbert stays true to her pledge that she won’t let her protagonist’s sexuality be her downfall, like so many literary heroines before her. That may be the most radical thing about a novel that otherwise revels in the old-fashioned pleasures of storytelling - the right to fall down rabbit holes, and still find your own wonderland.”

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. The Second Mountain, by David Brooks
2. Stay Sexy and Don't Get Murdered, by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Harstark
3. The Pioneers, by David McCullough
4. Educated, by Tara Westover
5. The First Wave, by Alex Kershaw
6. Cocktail Codex, by Alex Day
7. Vegetables Unleashed, by Jose Andres
8. The Making of a Justice, by John Paul Stevens
9. Songs of America, by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw
10. Spying on the South, by Tony Horwitz

There's still an imprint called Caliber at Penguin - who knew? I thought it used to be through Berkley, but it's Dutton Caliber that published Alex Kershaw's The First Wave: The D-Day Warriors Who Led the Way to Victory in World War II. Does this scream Father's Day or what? I thought I had a nice Wall Street Journal review for the book but it's for The Liberator. But Publishers Weekly's reviewer writes: "Kershaw is at his evocative best describing the chaos, courage, and carnage of combat, vividly portraying the bravery of the “greatest generation.” Even readers well-read on the subject will enjoy this perspective."

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Overstory, by Richard Powers
2. The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton (Books and Beer Book Club, Mon Jun 17, Cafe Hollander)
3. Vintage 1954, by Antoine Laurain
4. Milwaukee Noir, edited by Tim Hennessy
5. There There, by Tommy Orange
6. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson
7. The Collector's Apprentice, by B.A. Shapiro (events at Boswell and Elm Grove Library, Mon July 8, 2 and 6:30 pm respectively)
8. Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
9. The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai
10. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles

This week's tally - I've read eight of the top ten. This is usually the only category where I have good numbers! This leaves me with nothing to talk about, because I've recently done features on The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creeks. Hope 'bout if I call out the paperback release of The Great Believers? I usually like keeping the hardcover jacket and tweaking it a little - in this case making the orange tones more yellow, but in this case, it feels a little washed out to me. Yes, I think about color every waking minute. I am very excited about my new olive green jacket*. Here's a conversation on WCAI radio (Cape Cod - it's actually part of WGBH) with Rebecca Makkai in conversation with Christopher Castellani, the author of another Daniel favorite, Leading Men.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Healing the Thyroid with Ayurveda, by Marianne Teitelbaum
2. Writing Fiction, 10th edition, by Janet Burroway (event at Boswell Wed June 19, 7 pm)
3. Last Call, by Daniel Okrent
4. One Summer, by Bill Bryson
5. A Brotherhood of Spies, by Monte Reel
6. Amity and Prosperity, by Eliza Griswold
7. How to Change Your Mind, by Michael Pollan
8. Milwaukee Anthology, edited by Justin Kern
9. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, by Steve Brusatte
10. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, by Dan Egan

Here's a paperback at Jason's new favorite price point, $18 - Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction, it's about a Pennsylvania woman who fights back when she realizes that the pets and domestic animals, and then children are getting sick in her town after fracking begins nearby. From Jennifer Szalai's review in The New York Times: "...The social effects of fracking start to look truly pernicious, as the environmental fallout and the influx of money splinter a community, thereby dismantling its willingness and ability to act in a way that transcends the cynicism of individual interests."

Books for Kids:
1. Because, by Mo Willems, with illustrations by Amber Ren
2. The Story of Civil Rights Hero John Lewis, by Jim Haskins, with illustrations by Aaron Boyd
3. Don't Let Them Disappear, by Chelsea Clinton, with illustrations by Gianna Marino
4. Dragons Love Tacos, by Adam Rubin, with illustrations by Daniel Salmieri
5. Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid, by Jeff Kinney
6. Pete the Cat's Groovy Guide to Life, by James Dean and Kimberly Dean
7. Restart, by Gordon Korman
8. High Five, by Adam Rubin, with illustrations by Daniel Salmieri
9. Finale, volume 3 of Carnivale, by Stephanie Garber
10. Bold and Brave, by Kirsten Gillibrand, with illustrations by Maira Kalman

Following up her Start Now!, Chelsea Clinton profiles some animals facing extinction in Don't Let Them Disappear. From School Library Journal: "Those familiar with her past works will recognize the format: a collection of factual blurbs rather than one long narrative. A spread is devoted to each animal, always accompanied by a short explanatory paragraph. The text may be sparse, but there is not one wasted word." Kirkus notes that Clinton controversially supports zoos. The line is always changing.

Jim Higgins profiles Kelsey Rae Dimberg's Girl in the Rearview Mirror in today's Journal Sentinel: "Girl in the Rearview Mirror has roots in classic noir films that Dimberg came to love while she was in graduate school at the University of San Francisco. Back then, she was writing traditional literary fiction, including what she called 'my sad guy novel,' full of emotion and angst. But after seeing a noir double bill in 2009 - Dimberg thinks it was While the City Sleeps and Shakedown — she plunged into that cinematic genre." On sale June 18!

From USA Today comes Emily Gray Tedrowe's take on the earlier-profiled Elizabeth Gilbert's City of Girls: "Whether in her unconventional household or her unconventional relationships, this character never ceases to hold our interest. City of Girls rewards Elizabeth Gilbert’s many devoted fans with a novel that provokes delight as well as thought."

Barbara VandenBurgh of the Arizona Republic, who works with Changing Hands on their First Draft Book Club, reviews Ocean Vuong's On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous: "Immigrant narratives and queer sexual awakenings are not unfamiliar literary fodder, even together; look at last year’s excellent America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo. But On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is irreducible by such easy categorization. There is no diagrammable plot here, no villains, no clear conflict. Vuong is pushing the boundaries of the novel form, reshaping the definition to fit the contours of his restless poetic exploration, using language to capture consciousness and being."

*It is very difficult to find a traditional jacket that is neither bomber nor athletic nor outdoors inspired. I'm also not a huge fan of elastic waists and cuffs, though I do have a very nice leaf green jacket that has both of these things, and it's such a nice color that I forgive it. I had two non-elastic, relatively lightweight (enough with the nylon and down already) ones I had kept forever (the gray one had a somewhat noticeable stain on it and the black one, with a subtle red plaid, had a rip that I'd attempted to sew up), but eventually it happened; I left one and then the other behind when I went out to a restaurant and by the time I remembered them, they was gone (on two separate occasions). Don't be smug - I know this has happened to you too, but more likely with an umbrella or gloves. This is another reason I like cold weather - you always go back to get your coat if you forget it.

Friday, June 14, 2019

As heard on Lake Effect - Summer reading with Mitch Teich

Today I'm saying goodbye to Mitch Teich at WUWM's Lake Effect. We're so excited for him for his new gig as station manager at North Country Public Radio, but so sad that we he won't be here in Milwaukee.*

We've still got some opportunities to say goodbye. There's a Lake Effect on location in Cedarburg this coming Wednesday, June 19 (registration is still open) and Mitch will be in conversation for the last time at Boswell on Monday, June 24, 7 pm, with Dean A Strang, author of Keep the Wretches in Order: America's Biggest Mass Trial, the Rise of the Justice Department, and the Fall of the IWW.

But another last has just aired with Mitch, our last book conversation. Mitch invited me to talk about summer reading, and I came up with a list of books I'd read that I thought might work well. But I couldn't think of a good hook for the talk. And then I came up with the idea of the idea of tying in the books to Milwaukee summer activities. Now I'm going to answer your questions before you ask them.

Why nothing for Summerfest? I didn't really think of the theme until the last minute. Otherwise I would have made sure I read a music-related novel. I read a lot of them. But I haven't read anything lately. There were a number of other festivals where I similarly just didn't have the right book, like Polish Fest. And there were several that worked for multiple celebrations. Vintage 1954 is a wonderful book for Bastille Days but since one of the four protagonists works at Harley Davidson, it also might have worked for the Milwaukee Harley Davidson Rally on Labor Day weekend.

Why no Pridefest? No Juneteenth Day? I didn't know when the program would air, and thought these holidays would have been over by the time the segment was featured.

Their intro: "Have you assembled your summer beach reads yet? While there's lots to do in Milwaukee during the summer, there’s always time to read. Daniel Goldin, of Boswell Book Company, put together a list of books perfect for the wide ranging festivals and activities the city has to offer all summer."

Here's what I did come up with

For Germanfest: Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini

For the Northwestern Mutual Life agents meeting: If She Wakes, by Michael Koryta

For Bastille Days: Vintage 1954, by Antoine Laurain

For the JCC Summer Festival: Inheritance, by Dani Shapiro (event at Boswell, Tuesday, June 18, 7 pm - register here)

For Zoo a la Carte: Save Me the Plums, by Ruth Reichl

For Wisconsin State Fair: Biloxi, by Mary Miller (at Boswell, Saturday, July 11, 6 pm, with Juliet Escoria, Elizabeth Ellen, and Amanda McNeil)

For Irish Fest: Ask Again, Yes, by Mary Beth Keane

For the Black Arts Festival: Patsy, by Nicole Dennis-Benn

For the Democratic National Convention and the year of planning going on: Girl In the Rearview Mirror, by Kelsey Rae Dimberg (at Boswell Thursday, June 20, 7 pm)

For Maker's Faire: Sweeping Up the Heart, by Kevin Henkes

For the Downer Avenue Classic/Tour of America's Dairyland: The World's Fastest Man, by Michael Kranish

I've read and enjoyed all these books, except for The World's Fastest Man, which was Mitch's pick. Listen to the whole segment here.

The great news is that we'll be continuing the book segments on Lake Effect with Bonnie North. Much thanks for letting me gab about books!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

What did the In-Store Book Club think of Amy Jones's We're All in This Together?

A family, a barrel, a shark, Finnish pancakes, Canada - I know of no better formula for a novel. One never knows what the In-Store Lit Group will think of a book beforehand. While several folks ahead of time told me they liked June's selection, Amy Jones's We're All in This Together a lot, and a good-sized majority were very positive, our discussion was thrown off a bit because two of the early folks to comment on the book were, well, not positive.

I think my method for conducting the book club talk is a little unusual. I hate when discussions leave out the quieter participants, so we start out each getting two minutes to offer our opening statement. This offers me the advantage of knowing what folks are thinking, and really, nobody should feel left out, except for the occasional latecomer. But there is a disadvantage too. At our Books and Beer Book Club, Jen cautions everyone to talk about the book, but not to put their cards on the table until the end, when everyone rates the book. Yes, with numbers! That's a lot of pressure to me, which is why every book I like on the Edelweiss website gets an eight (the number rating is required), and every book I don't like - doesn't go on the Edelweiss website.

A little backtracking is needed here to discuss Amy Jones's novel. This is her first, following a book of short stories. It was published in 2016, and since McClelland and Stewart is now a part of Penguin Random House Canada, the American sales force brought it over for distribution in early 2019. It was a favorite of our sales rep Jason Gobble (you've got to see him when he does a book club talk on August 6 at Boswell with author Claire Lombardo on Tuesday, August 6 for The Most Fun We Ever Had.* Mr. Gobble is a consummate sales rep in that he has that bookseller knack for matching people with books, only he does wholesale matching or books with booksellers. Jason convinced me to read a number of books that went on to be my favorites - Homegoing, Saints for All Occasions, and The Improbability of Love come to mind. He also put There There on our radar. He knows what he's doing!

So Jason didn't get me to bite, but he did get our marketing/second hand bookseller Chris to read it and his enthusiasm was nothing short of contagious. My reading pile was full of upcoming event books (and the occasional one-off on Charleston or semicolons) but by scheduling it as our reading group selection, I had to read it. I usually like at least one lighter book in the summer - sometimes it's a mystery, but a comic novel will work just fine.

We're All in This Together is a fine specimen of what I call dysfunctional family comedies. Sometimes these turn out to be big hits, like Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney's The Nest and other times they don't do as well as one hopes, like Joe Meno's The Great Perhaps. They might be structured like short stories, as in the case of Allegra Goodman's The Family Markowitz. And if you're going highbrow, I guess you gun for The Corrections. To fit in this genre of my making, they do have to have multiple perspectives. Neither Chris nor I are above comparing books to projects in the wider world of entertainment, and he struck upon the perfect comparison for this book, Arrested Development. 

At the heart of the story is a mother and two daughters, to paraphrase from a Gail Godwin novel I remember with fondness.** Twins, no less. Finn is the daughter who left the family home in Thunder Bay, Ontario for more glamorous prospects in Toronto. Nicki is the sister who stayed behind to take care of the family. I think that's giving both of them too much agency. Finn lives in a boring suburb and made nothing of her life. Nicki didn't exactly have high-minded reasons for staying behind - she has four kids with three guys and I'm not giving much away to say that the father of one of the kids is Finn's one-time boyfriend.

And their mom? The story opens with Mother Kate having gone over the Falls in a barrel. No, not Niagara Falls, but glorious Kakabeka Falls, just 30 minutes west of town. What was she thinking? It will take about the whole book to find out, because firstly, she's in a coma, and secondly, she's not been thinking that well for a while.

And there's another sibling too, Shawn, who works in a restaurant in what is known as Little Finland. Not that he's Finnish or anything - he just fell into it. In fact, he's not even a sibling. When he was young, he just sort of got adopted into the family by Kate. It was actually originally going to be a grift, but well, here he still is.

The story's other characters include Walter, Kate's husband, who spends more time on his boats, the Serafina and the Veronica (those are the birth names for Finn and Nicki, and unlike the sisters, they still hang out together at the dock) and London, Nicki's oldest daughter, who is obsessed with sharks and particularly obsessed with a shark that might have been spotted in Lake Superior and the glamorous television scientist, Adam Pelley, who is on a mission to rescue it. The story jumps around from character to character, but there's a shorthand to help you keep track - road signs - and I don't know whether this was the idea of the author or designer, but I found it pretty amusing.

As I mentioned, the group was split on the book, but more liked it than not, and a sizable number loved it as much as I did. I really loved this theme of the pull and push of home and family. It's certainly something that authors enjoy meditating on ; I can think of several Anne Tyler novels that have explored this. Jones is like Anne Tyler on a 5-Hour Energy caffeinated high, by the way. Ooh, that's a good shelf talker. I think the book I'm thinking of mostly is Ladder of Years.

There are a lot of messy loose ends, a whole lot of coincidences, and some suspension of disbelief too, but I almost expect that from a comic novel. But there's a lot of poignancy too. As we learn more about Kate, and her developing, we delve into her backstory. Her brain has her memories, but they've become a bit of a swirl, a bit confused. Who is Walter, the man she's known since childhood, the man she made a life with. Is he the love of her life, or is there a secret? And why does she keep running away? And is this how she's tied to both her daughter Finn and Nicki's daughter London?

I should note that our two former social workers really liked the novel, but our nurse did not. I don't think it was because of the hospital scenes. Pretty much everyone agreed that Kate was their favorite character, and I can't argue with that. But I was kind of in love with all of them, except maybe for London's friend Anastasia. She's a snake.

Do you like a good twin novel? I do. I just finished Cathleen Schine's The Grammarians, coming out in September, and I have a whole lot to say about that. They are like sibling novels to the next degree. Do you like Canadian novels? I do. I used to go to Toronto and just stock up on Canadian novelists who weren't published in the United States. And now I just recommend ones who are, like the South-African-turned Canadian novelist Bianca Marais, who is coming back to Milwaukee for her second novel, If You Want to Make God Laugh, on July 19. Register here.

I also haven't read a good fictional book set in a North American Finnish community since Sharon Dilworth's The Long White back in 1988. Yes, 1988 and I still remember it. I had no idea they did a paperback edition of the book in 2009 or that Dilworth had a book come out called My Riviera. This is what happens when you are not the buyer. Not that I'm saying I would have time to read it, but I certainly would have thought about it.

Now I desperately want to go back and read more Jones. She has a collection of short stories from Biblioasis called What Boys Like and Other Stories, but more than that, the second novel, Every Little Piece of Me, just came out in Canada this month. Quill and Quire called the book "Hugely entertaining," going on to say "Every Little Piece of Me makes you think and makes you laugh. Which is sometimes exactly what you need." The Globe and Mail (subscribers only reviewer called it "addictive." In other words, it does not veer too far from the first novel, which to me, is very exciting. Two friends and an intrusive reality show - how's that for a setup? More here. Hoping that PRH imports this one soon. And if Amy Jones visits, I'll make Nanaimo Bars. Seems unlikely but you never know.

Up next for the In-Store Lit Group, we're getting prize-y:

--We discuss Milkman, by Anna Burns, on Monday, July 1. It won the Man Booker and the National Book Critics Circle Award. It's dense and Irish.

--It's a return to Canada - Our August 5 book is Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan. Named a New York Times ten-best book of 2018, it also received the Canada's Scotiabank Giller Prize (as did a previous novel from Edugyan.

--For September, we have our annual Labor-Day dilemma. We're going to meet a week early, on Monday, August 26 for Call Me Zebra. Azreen Van der Vliet Oloomi won the PEN Faulkner Prize for this novel

Our October book is going to be the Pulitzer winner The Overstory. I usually pick one book per year that I've already read. Date is to be determined - I think we have a ticketed event in our normal slot. All of these meetings are at Boswell.

*It might well be the most fun you've ever had.

**called A Mother and Two Daughters

Photo credit of Amy Jones by Ali Eisner.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Boswell events this week: Marianne Teitelbaum, Monte Reel with Meg Jones, Cara Black, plus Michael Moreci to be rescheduled

The first thing we should note is that Michael Moreci, author of numerous novels, comic books, and the Black Star Renegade series, has had to postpone his visit on Thursday, June 13 for his latest work, We Are Mayhem, due to family illness. We're hoping to reschedule this event and should have a new date shortly. We also hope that like our originally scheduled event, Moreci will be in conversation with long-time Chicago bookseller Javier Ramirez, currently at Oak Park's beloved Book Table.

But still happening...

Monday, June 10, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Marianne Teitelbaum, author of Healing the Thyroid with Ayurveda: Natural Treatments for Hashimoto's, Hypothyroidism, and Hyperthyroidism

Marianne Teitelbaum, recipient of the Prana Ayushudi Award, addresses thyroid disease from the perspective of the Ayurvedic tradition. Cosponsored by Bodhi Ayurveda. In this comprehensive guide for practitioners and those concerned with thyroid health, Teitelbaum integrates the ancient medicine of Ayurveda with modern scientific findings. Based on the treatment of thousands of patients, Teitelbaum shares success stories of thyroid healing and the scientific studies that support the author’s Ayurvedic thyroid protocols, showing that optimum thyroid health as well as overall health are within everyone’s reach.

Revealing how the thyroid is the victim of many factors that conspire to create ill health, Teitelbaum focuses not only on treating thyroid problems and symptoms but also on diagnosing them at their earliest, most reversible stages. She outlines the basic principles of Ayurveda, including pulse diagnosis, a key tool for early detection, and explains the successful treatment protocols she has developed over more than 30 years of Ayurvedic practice.

This event came to us through Carol Nace at Bodhi Ayurveda, who will be saying a few words at this event. We really like to have a strong partner for our health and wellness events, and we're grateful for Bodhi to help get the word out. Our Boswell customers are showing their interest too - advance sales have been quite strong for the book, with Healing the Thyroid with Ayurveda hitting our bestseller list for three weeks in advance of the event.

Tuesday, June 11, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Monte Reel, author of A Brotherhood of Spies: The U-2 and the CIA’s Secret War, in conversation with Meg Jones

Monte Reel, former foreign correspondent for The Washington Post and author of Between Man and Beast, chats about his thrilling historical narrative of the top-secret Cold War-era spy plane operation that transformed the CIA and brought the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the brink of disaster. Reel is in conversation with Meg Jones, reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Bonus - Thanks to The Safe House, Milwaukee's spy-themed bar, one lucky attendee will get a chance to win a $25 Safe House gift card.

Reviews have been great for this book. Booklist called Reel's history: "A richly detailed, well-researched, and engagingly written book that takes us behind the scenes of one of the twentieth-century's most nail-bitingly tense episodes." And Edward Kosner in The Wall Street Journal offered this praise: "An old-fashioned tale of the American ingenuity, resourcefulness and grit that remade intelligence gathering . . . Casts intriguing light on this familiar history. The rock-steady, nuanced leadership of Ike and JFK in these crises, supported by deeply experienced advisers desperately seeking to avert nuclear war, is a sobering contrast to today's White House melodramas."

Monte Reel's writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, and Harper’s, and he currently writes for Bloomberg Businessweek as part of its Projects and Investigations staff. Meg Jones is a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and author of World War II Milwaukee. Calling all lovers of Meg Jones's work in the Journal Sentinel - you know this is going to be a great conversation.

Wednesday, June 12, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Cara Black, author of Murder in Bel-Air

We're celebrating the 20th anniversary of Aimée Leduc's adventures in Paris with a visit from Cara Black, whose latest mystery novel is Murder in Bel-Air. This 19th installment finds PI Leduc in a dangerous web of international spycraft, post-colonial Franco-African politics, and neighborhood secrets in Paris's 12th arrondissement.

Our evening is cosponsored by Alliance Française de Milwaukee and Crimespree Magazine and will feature blood orange tartlets from North Shore Boulangerie. Pre-register for this event by Tuesday at carablackmke.bpt.me. Reigstration not required to attend the event, but we're grateful for those who did. Also, if you pre-ordered the book, you can pick it up any time before the event itself, at the event, or up to six months afterwards.

Booklist loves this book!: "Aimée Leduc's nineteenth adventure is one of her best, both because the plot is notably rich, incorporating the complex relationship between France and its former colony, Côte d'Ivoire, and because the ongoing domestic drama in the extended Leduc household has become a thoroughly involving serial novel of its own. In a manner similar to how Donna Leon builds Guido Brunetti's family life into the fabric of her series, Black tells a parallel story in every book about single-mother Aimée's relationships in the present and her lingering parental issues, whose roots are in the past and involve both her dead father (killed under suspicion of being a corrupt cop) and American mother, Sydney (vanished for years but now back in Paris, swearing to no longer be a CIA agent)."

Cara Black is the author of nineteen books in the New York Times bestselling Aimée Leduc series. She has received multiple nominations for the Anthony and Macavity Awards, and her books have been translated into German, Norwegian, Japanese, French, Spanish, Italian, and Hebrew. If you love Donna Leon and would like to do more European travel in your mystery reading, Cara Black is perfect for you.

This is where we'd normally list the Michael Moreci event. See top of post for information about its postponement. Here's some info about events early next week.

Monday, June 17, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Victor Grossman, author of A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee

Journalist and author Victor Grossman appears at Boswell to discuss his autobiography, which recounts the circumstances that impelled him to flee a military prison sentence during the icy pressures of the McCarthy Era.

Cosponsored by the Milwaukee Turners,  A Socialist Defector is the story, told in rare, personal detail, of an activist and writer who grew up in the U.S. free-market economy, spent 38 years in the GDR’s nationally owned, centrally administered economy, and continues to survive, given whatever the market can bear in today’s united Germany.

Victor Grossman, born Stephen Wechsler, joined the Communist Party as a Harvard student. He was pardoned by the U.S. Army in 1994 and, in 2003, published an autobiography, Crossing the River: A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany.

Tuesday, June 18, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Dani Shapiro, author of of Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love

Acclaimed memoirist Dani Shapiro, author of Hourglass, is coming to Boswell for her New York Times bestselling book. Cosponsored by the Sam and Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies at UWM and the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center. Publishers Weekly writes: With thoughtful candor, she explores the ethical questions surrounding sperm donation, the consequences of DNA testing, and the emotional impact of having an uprooted religious and ethnic identity. This beautifully written, thought-provoking genealogical mystery will captivate readers from the very first pages."

Registration is free at shapiromke.bpt.me or upgrade to a registration-with-book option for $26.35, including taxes and fees. Registration-with-book upgrade gets signing line priority.

More event info on our upcoming event page.