Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Emily St John Mandel, The Glass Hotel, and Our Now Virtual Anniversary Celebration on April 22

Boswell has now been open for eleven years. Our soft opening was April 3, 2009, and our grand ribbon-cutting opening was 35 days later on May 8, so I have felt that we could celebrate our anniversary any time between the two dates. We’ve been lucky enough to have special April 3 celebrations several times. On 2018, we were able to help launch Liam Callanan Paris by the Book, whose pub date of April 3 was completely coincidental (though the book does contain at least one Boswell Easter Egg). And on 2019, we were lucky enough to have an offer to host Amor Towles, which led to a grand anniversary celebration at Turner Hall Ballroom for A Gentleman in Moscow in paperback, still on our bestseller list. Was that only a year ago?

Needless to say, there aren’t any in-person celebrations this year. But it’s still been 11 years! And we’re still planning to celebrate. This year’s focal event was April 22 for Emily St John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel. Despite the complications of cancelling an event and processing refunds for all the attendees (a process still in process, as our ticketing site is seriously backed up), we actually sold the third most copies of The Glass Hotel from independents in the first week of sale. Hurray for that!

Part of that success is a measure of how wonderful The Glass Hotel is. Time for Boswellian Tim McCarthy’s recommendation: “We know early on that the story is about a financial crime, a massive Ponzi scheme, but the book’s greatness is that the big money crime becomes a perfect vehicle for building extraordinary characters, settings, and themes. Vincent Smith begins and ends the novel as her life (yes, a girl named Vincent) shifts on a grand scale, at lightning speed, from 13-year-old vandal to... wow! St. John Mandel is so talented at revealing all of her characters that their personal trajectories become riveting. They somehow feel both unique and universal. In the process, we travel to the sharply contrasting and richly drawn landscapes of wealth and struggle, the spectacular hotel in a remote Canadian forest, the concrete indifference of New York City, Dubai, and desolate small towns. Yet in every mind and in every place the questions seem the same. Can we feel anchored anywhere to this world, or are we all adrift? Is anything certain or clearly real? In just 300 pages St. John Mandel has given us a penetrating, memorable look at our shared, and so often maddening, human experience.”

One of the things I loved about Station Eleven was its structure, and that’s one thing that Mandel has done here. I loved the interconnectivity of the story, the way that characters intersect in ways I didn’t expect. I’ve noticed this is something that a lot of authors are surprising us with - characters who turn out to be the same person but are referred to differently. For example, I recently read a comic novel where a character was referred to by the first name in one case and the last name in a different case. I know this has been done forever but has been stepped up of late and is no longer confined to the thriller genre. If done right, these reveals can be quite entertaining, and Mandel generally does it right.

At the center of that story is Jonathan Alkaitis's Ponzi Scheme that affects (and often destroys) the lives of the folks who come in contact with it. In a way, it plays a similar role to the pandemic in Station Eleven. As I note in my review, I love the misdirection of the reader expecting some sort of civilization collapse, and it is, but one of a different, more targeted sort. Here’s my rec: “It’s 1999, and the crowd is dancing like it’s the end of the world. And while Y2K is on everyone’s minds, this is no repeat of Station Eleven, but it has that same sense of mystery, between the morphing characters (Vincent Smith alone goes from pauper to princess and back again) and the jumps across time and place, from a remote hotel off the coast of British Columbia to the posh restaurants of New York and on to a ship in the Pacific Ocean. Yes, there is a disaster at the center of the story, a Ponzi scheme of epic proportions, but that’s just one of the betrayals and thefts that populate the tale. It’s hard not to get lost in The Glass Hotel, an ethereal and moody novel that I’m still thinking about long after I turned the last page.” (Daniel)

The Glass Hotel seems like a good novel for now. Despite not being dystopian, it has an otherworldliness that takes you out of yourself when you read it.

Here's Maureen Corrigan noting this on her Fresh Air review: "It's hard to focus right now. So recommending a book can seem, well, out-of-touch. Unless, that is, the recommendation is for a novel that's so absorbing, so fully realized that it draws you out of your own constricted situation and expands your sense of possibilities. For me, over the past 10 days or so, the novel that's performed that act of deliverance has been The Glass Hotel, by Emily St. John Mandel."

I know a lot of my fellow bookstores and libraries and other cultural institutions are doing a lot of virtual programming, but up to now, Chris and I haven’t had the bandwidth to take this on. Understanding that this is not some two-week dilemma, we’ve given ourselves a deadline – and Emily St John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel event is our first project. It’s not just that we had the celebration planned. This is our fourth event with Mandel, starting with a small but not embarrassing (especially considering it was on a Saturday evening) for The Lola Quartet in 2012. Then we had a much-larger event for the hardcover of Station Eleven in 2014, a particularly memorable event due our theatrical partnership with the Soulstice Theater - pictured are Stephan Roselin and Josh Perkins from the performance. Any of the 50 or so people who saw it would tell you it was amazing. And then we partnered with the Friends of the Shorewood Public Library for their Shorewood Reads on the Station Eleven paperback. They were just one of many Wisconsin communities that featured Mandel’s novel; a Menomonee Falls event just recently had to be cancelled because of COVID-19. No comment.

Have you already read both The Glass Hotel and Station Eleven? Maybe it's time for you to go back and read one of Mandel's first three novels, two of which were #1 picks from Indie Bound - the other two are The Singer's Gun and Last Night in Montreal. We have all three in stock, as I'd already ordered the previous books to promote our Glass Hotel event.

We’re going to still hold the event on April 22, 7 pm. It will still be in conversation with Lauren Fox (at right). So the only question is, how are we going to do it? There are so many options. We’ll keep you posted with more information in a future email newsletter, updated website info, and perhaps an addendum to this blog.

Photo credits - Emily St John Mandel credit Sarah Shatz, Lauren Fox credit Amanda Schlicher

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