Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Boswell Events - All about Jess Walter's THE COLD MILLIONS - on sale today, event tomorrow

I love novels where the city is a main character. For some reason, they really resonate with me long after other novels fade from consciousness. New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, even Chicago - those books are not hard to come up with because publishers are amenable to publishing them without worrying they are too regional. I'm more interested in the second tier - like Mark Weingardner's Crooked River Burning, which is a great Cleveland novel, and Lauren Belfer's City of Light, which puts the "flo" in Buffalo. Then we went on a crazy detour about Pittsburgh, partly because I've read a lot of good Pittsburgh novels, and partly because I work with one core Pittsburgher and another who spent formative years there. Madi opted for Zoje Stage's Baby Teeth, a recent horror entry set in Shadyside, while Chris went for The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which has the best literary passage about the best entrance to coming into a city - for those who don't know what that is, it's coming through the Fort Pitt tunnel and the almost magical unveiling of Pittsburgh.

But Spokane. My only exposure to Spokane has been through the work of Sherman Alexie. I've heard a lot about Auntie's Bookstore, Spokane's literary landmark. And I know The Crescent, the old department store that for many years was owned by the old Marshall Field and Company and had the exact same typeface. In the day, I dreamed of somehow going there so I could shop the store - my friend Bill even gave me a credit card application. I never got a shopping bag. The division was eventually folded into Frederick and Nelson, the Seattle division, and of course it's all long gone. But I still like walking city centers to see what was what - not just the department stores but the hotels and theaters and parks. Was there a trolley? Is it on a river? The key is to go to the main branch of the public library, head to the microfilm/microfiche/something else, and pull up old copies of the Spokesman-Review, or whatever it was called before it likely merged a few of the papers together.

But now I almost don't have to. Jess Walter has written The Cold Millions, a novel seeped in the fabric of Spokane. It's set in the early 1900s, filled with industrialists and mine owners and working poor and prostitutes and union organizers. At the heart of the book are two brothers who wind up working with the Wobblies - the IWW - a union that, unlike many at the time, hoped to benefit all workers, no matter their race or gender or whatever people use to build themselves up by putting other people down. The book is set during the Free Speech Demonstrations of 1909 - so timely. I actually read a great book about the IWW from Dean Strang, the Madison lawyer-author, Keep the Wretches in Order: America's Biggest Mass Trial, the Rise of the Justice Department, and the Fall of the IWW. It was really great to not enter the story blind, though Dean's book certainly isn't required reading to enjoy The Cold Millions.

For those of you who loved Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter's last novel, the emotional heft of that book is here too. It doesn't jump back and forth in time and is inspired by authors like John Dos Passos, per Maureen Corrigan, or Steinback, per Mark Athitakis. Corrigan, in her exuberant Wall Street Journal review, compared the book to classic Herman Wouk and Howard Fast, a page-turner with a point of view. She also mentions Doctorow a lot, but I have heard that Doctorow wasn't a fan of accurate detail in his books - he made a lot of stuff up - whereas it feels like Walter did some research. That said, he never lets the historical detail get in the way of the story.

Because it's hard to read The Wall Street Journal without a subscription, I've taken the opportunity to quote a little more. "In The Cold Millions, Mr. Walter takes the frustrations with participatory democracy and the dented dream of American social mobility expressed by the individual heroes of those earlier novels and renders them collective. The result is a strikingly earnest novel filled with a gusto that honors the beauty of believing in social change and simultaneously recognizes the cruel limits of the possible."

We hosted Jess Walter for the paperback of Beautiful Ruins and boy was it a great event. I remember my fellow bookseller Dave telling me how much I would enjoy it. I think he was buying for Next Chapter - we regularly would say, "this is a Daniel book" or "this is a Dave book," and boy was it fun when we got it right. He hit the nail on the head with this one. When this virtual event was announced, Dave, now a sales representative, wrote to me and let me know he'd be buying a ticket to our event, but could I at least remember that he hand-sold the book to me and thus, could I let him read my advance copy when I was done? I could, I did, and he's attending. Now why aren't you? 

Our free events are going great, with one problem. They are just not selling the books they did in the last spring. Some publishers are pushing for ticketed virtual events and we're on board with trying them. But how many should there be when anyone can attend any of them? And if you tape it, can someone see the conversation afterwards if they don't buy a ticket? How different is a virtual event from a media interview or a podcast? 

We're going to have a great conversation with the Great Karen Russell of Swamplandia!, Orange World, and the just-released-in-paper-covers-for-the-first-time Sleep Donation.  We're not planning to post our event on our virtual event archive page for a while, and we might not post it at all. 

The publisher, for their part, has to limit the programs to ticketed events because if the Boswell event is ticketed and others are free, why would most folks go to ours (except for you of course - you are the best!) ? And don't forget, we've got to sell books to make the whole thing work - that's sort of our business plan. We're offering a great price on our Jess Walter event ticket, which includes admission and a signed (tip-in) copy of The Cold Millions. You can send it out media mail for $4 more, or you can call for other faster options. I think the book is great, so it's made it much easier for me to sell this idea. Hope I've convinced you. If not, here are reviews from The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today (Steph Cha calls the book "tremendous"), and the Star Tribune. It's hard for me to know which sites will let you in and which will not. It might depend on how much you visit. 

The Eventbrite link for ticketing is jesswalter-boswellmke.eventbrite.com. Jess Walter's appearance is 7 pm CDT on Wednesday, October 28. That's 5 pm Pacific, 8 pm Easter, and Midnight if you're in London. We were 6 hours behind but they already ended their equivalent of daylight savings time.

By the way, The Crescent does have a role in The Cold Millions. 

No comments: