Sunday, May 3, 2020

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending May 2, 2020 - Rufi Thorpe interview, pandemic fact and fiction on the list, and virtual school visits

Here are this weeks bestselling titles. In general, it's another week dominated by hardcover fiction but the titles at the top of hardcover nonfiction and kids are making an impact too.

Hardcover Fiction
1. The Book of Longings, by Sue Monk Kidd
2. The Knockout Queen, by Rufi Thorpe
3. Murder at the Mena House, by Erica Ruth Neubauer (virtual event May 6)
4. The Glass Hotel, by Emily St John Mandel
5. Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
6. The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett
7. The Redhead by the Side of the Road, by Anne Tyler
8. American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins
9. The End of October, by Lawrence Wright
10. If It Bleeds, by Stephen King
11. We Ride Upon Sticks, by Quan Bary
12. The Mirror and the Light, by Hilary Mantel
13. The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich
14. My Dark Vanessa, by Kate Elizabeth Russell
15. The Herd, by Andrea Bartz

Our big debut was Chris's pick, The Knockout Queen, by Rufi Thorpe. Here's her talking about the character of Bunny in Chris's Boswellians interview: "Bunny is a fantasy. She is a form of wish fulfillment, because she has the physical power to enforce her will, and she also fails to be one of the empty doll women, but not because she is fat. Not being one of the doll women because you are fat is more complicated and the shame is still really confusing for me. That’s a whole other book, one I hope one day to write. But in this book, Bunny is kind of a violent repudiation of the empty doll women. They pop and hiss and deflate under the pressure of her."

A higher profile release is Lawrence Wright's The End of October, a pandemic thriller that was years in the making. From Douglas Preston in The New York Times Book Review: "I received the manuscript to review in early February, before the coronavirus triggered a world panic. I am writing this review in New York City in March, under a state of emergency, as the National Guard is cordoning off parts of New Rochelle, and the city’s streets and subways are emptying of people. God only knows where the world will be when this review is published later this spring. It has been a surreal experience reading a novel about a fictional pandemic in the midst of a real one."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Hell and Other Destinations, by Madeleine Albright
2. Untamed, by Glennon Doyle
3. The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson
4. Madame Clairevoyant's Guide to the Stars, by Claire Comstock-Gay
5. Ottolenghi Simple, by Yotam Ottolenghi
6. Yogi, by Jon Pessah
7. Hidden Valley Road, by Robert Kolker
8. Boys and Sex, by Peggy Orenstein
9. Educated, by Tara Westover
10. The Yellow House, by Sarah M Broom

A left-field entry onto our list is Madame Clairevoyant's Guide to the Stars - up is down when an astrology book hits our bestseller list. I don't recall noting one in our 11 years in business, despite a lot of browsing interest in the section. Zan Romanoff profiled Claire Comstock-Gay's book in the Los Angeles Times, noting how astrology can reduce stress: "None of these books attempts to predict the future, nor do they offer the cheery, easily debunked assertions that horoscopes often make. Instead they mostly focus on astrology as a tool for self-reflection, which feels appropriate for a moment in which we’re all essentially trapped with ourselves. Who are we, and who do we want to be?"

Paperback Fiction:
1. Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng (three editions)
2. City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert
3. The Heirloom Garden, by Viola Shipman (virtual event May 6)
4. Normal People, by Sally Rooney
5. Mostly Dead Things, by Kristen Arnett (virtual book club May 4)
6. The Disappearing Earth, by Julia Phillips
7. Trust Exercise, by Susan Choi
8. Circe, by Madeline Miller
9. Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
10. The Widows of Malabar Hill, by Sujata Massey

National Book Award winner Susan Choi's Trust Exercise went on the floor this week and only now do I see it was scheduled for May 5. Or was it moved up? Apologies! In any case, we're reading Trust Exercise for our In-Store Lit Group for July, maybe virtually, maybe in person. The page is currently up to date.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. The Great Halifax Explosion, by John U Bacon
2. American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Wisconsin, by Charles Hagner
3. An Elegant Defense, by Matt Richtel
4. Unorthodox (two editions), by Deborah Feldman
5. Just Mercy (two editions), by Bryan Stevenson
6. Wow, No Thank You, by Samantha Irby
7. An American Summer, by Alex Kotlowitz
8. The Great Influenza, by John M Barry
9. Understanding Your Mind, by Thich Nhat Hanh
10. How to Change Your Mind, by Michael Pollan

The current edition of The Great Influenza, recently back to #1 on The New York Times bestseller list, included a new afterward on the 100th anniversary of the 1918 pandemic. Previous to that, it had information on the avian flu. But perhaps its Barry's prescience in covering subjects of lasting interest that's worth nothing - in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, his Rising Tide on the Missisippi River flood of 1927 hit bestseller lists. As someone wrote in The New York Times (and I'm not sure why the author is so rarely cited, "Easily our fullest, richest, most panoramic history of the subject."

Books for Kids:
1. Hello Neighbor, by Matthew Cordell
2. The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter, by Aaron Reynolds (another school event that is working)
3. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
4. Hi Fly Guy, by Tedd Arnold
5. The Field Guide to Getting Lost, by Joy McCullough
6. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
7. The Outsiders, by SE Hinton
8. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo
9. One of Us Is Next, by Karen McManus
10. The King of Scars, by Leigh Bardugo

Finally, a runaway bestseller on the kids list! Our virtual school event with Matthew Cordell for Hello Neighbor took off where the fist two did not. Some of the things that might have helped - award-winning author illustrator, picture book (anything above middle-grade generally can be tougher in schools in non-virtual situations) with a beloved subject (Mr Rogers!), and an enthusiastic district that opened it up to other districts. Plus some of our copies were signed. Of course Jenny had to completely retool how we generate sales for these events, but who isn't retooling everything? And best of all, the school discount is available to everyone right now, for a limited time. We couldn't think of another way of doing it without making mistakes.

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins profiles Sara Dahmen, who has last fall appeared at Boswell for one of her novels. A launch was planned for Copper, Iron, and Clay,: A Smith's Journey, but was delayed by current circumstances. From the piece: "Dahmen interviews fellow craftspeople and entrepreneurs, including tinsmith Bob Bartelme, her longtime mentor who’s become a friend and an honorary grandparent to her three children. Her book’s many striking photos are occasionally supplemented by Dahmen’s lovely small watercolor illustrations of pots and pans." And yes, we are currently discounting the book on Boswell Best.

Molly Sprayregen of Associated Press reviews Madeline L'Engle's The Moment of Tenderness, a posthumous collection of short stories: "Discovered and compiled by L’Engle’s granddaughter, Charlotte Jones Voiklis, the stories range widely in plot, from a girl being bullied at summer camp to a married woman in love with her children’s doctor to an embarrassed daughter resisting her mother’s mandate that she wear her glasses in public. While L’Engle didn’t intend these stories to unite in a single collection, they feel bound together by her unique and powerful tone, which seems to split her characters wide open to expose their raw humanity and allows one story to effortlessly flow into the next." Goodness, she looks like Alice Adams in this photo.

And Jordan Culver of USA Today looks at World War Z, a possibly prescient novel about a pandemic leading to apocalypse, but please note we're talking zombie apocalypse. But the parallels are there: "Obviously, there are key differences – COVID-19 isn’t turning people into ravenous walking corpses – but the dynamics of a pandemic are the same, Brooks said. In World War Z, Brooks also paints a picture of government officials unwilling to take on the problem. Brooks said he hasn’t been impressed with how President Donald Trump’s administration has taken on the outbreak in the U.S." Devolution is now landing June 16 - the book was delayed by problems recording the audio.

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