Monday, January 18, 2021

Two events and a preview - Mameve Medwed with Elinor Lipman, Jeff Porter with Meghan Daum, Jennifer Robson

Happy Ann Hood week! I noticed that this author, editor, and knitter wrote a lovely recommendation for Mameve Medwed's latest. And Jeff Porter's memoir was acquired for her Gracie Belle imprint.

Tuesday, January 19, 7 pm - virtual event
Mameve Medwed, author of Minus Me
in conversation with Elinor Lipman - Register here for this event

The delightful Mameve Medwed returns to Boswell (virtually) to talk about her poignant and hilarious new novel about the bonds of marriage, the burdens of maternal love, and the courage to face mortality. For this event, Medwed will be in conversation with her longtime friend and Boswell favorite, Elinor Lipman, author of Good Riddance and her latest, Rachel to the Rescue.

So many fans of Minus Me! But I think it's thematically appropriate here to single out Ann Hood, author of The Book that Matters Most and The Knitting Circle, who wrote: "Minus Me is a delightful romp of a novel. Only Mameve Medwed could have a reader smiling as she reads about the great themes of loss, motherhood, marriage, and love. Surely this is the feel good book of the year!”

Annie and Sam have successfully taken over a sandwich shop in Passamaquoddy, Maine, home of the legendary Paul Bunyan (recipe only hinted at). But then Annie receives a scary diagnosis from her doctor, and putting off the treatment, she decides instead to compose a manual to her husband on how to survive when she's gone. This might not exactly be the best plan of action. And things get more complicated when Annie's diva mom arrives in town.

Mameve Medwed is author of five novels, including Mail, How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life, which received a Massachusetts Book Award Honors in Fiction, and Of Men and Their Mothers. Can't make this event? Medwed will virtually be at Print in Portland, Maine for a conversation with writer and book champion Caroline Leavitt on January 26. Register here. Or you can watch her video with Medwed and Stephen McCauley at Porter Square here.

Thursday, January 21, 7 pm - virtual event
Jeff Porter, author of Planet Claire: Suite for Cello and Sad-Eyed Lovers
in conversation with Meghan Daum - Register here for this event

Join us for a conversation with Jeff Porter, coeditor of Understanding the Essay, for a chat about his new book, Planet Claire: Suite for Cello and Sad-Eyed Lovers. Porter will chat with Meghan Daum, acclaimed essayist and author of The Problem with Everything. Porter retired from the University of Iowa and settled in Milwaukee, but he's wintering elsewhere. So while we have signed copies of Planet Claire, we can't offer personalizations, unless you want to wait until April or thereabouts.

Meghan Daum writes that "Planet Claire left me awestruck. I don't know how he did it, but on every page of this incredible book, Jeff Porter manages to convey devastating sadness while also being delightful company." Jeff Porter will be in conversation with Meghan Daum for this event. Daum is the author of My Misspent Youth and The Problem with Everything. She has also edited several nonfiction anthologies. 

Porter tells the story of the untimely death of the his wife and gives us a candid account of the following year of madness and grief. With Claire's death, Jeff Porter tries to imagine life without her but struggles with the bewilderment that follows. The grief is crushing, her death the psychological equivalent of Pearl Harbor.

Ann Hood writes that the impetus for this imprint was from the death of her child in 2002. She wound up writing Comfort, a book that she wished had been available when she was going through her own trauma. In the time since, she's helped others with their work, but they've always struggled to find a publishing home. So she wound up collaborating with Akashic Books to make one. You can read her entire story here. 

Monday, January 25, 7 pm - a virtual ticketed event
Jennifer Robson, author of Our Darkest Night: A Novel of Italy and the Second World War
A Ticketed Virtual Event - Visit jenniferrobsonlynden.eventbrite.com

The Lynden Sculpture Garden Women’s Speakers Series returns virtually with an event featuring Jennifer Robson, author of The Gown and Moonlight in Paris, who returns to Milwaukee for her latest novel. Cohosted by The Lynden Sculpture Garden, Milwaukee Reads, and Boswell Book Company.  

Tickets for admission to this event cost $5 plus sales tax and ticket fee, or you can upgrade to admission-with book for the cost of the book in hardcover ($27.99) or paperback ($17.99). Books can be picked up at Boswell or for an additional fee, shipped out via USPS media mail. $5 from your admission only or hardcover ticket purchase, or $3 from the paperback ticket level, will be donated back to Lynden Sculpture Garden. 

Robson tells the story of a young Jewish woman must pose as a Christian farmer's wife to survive the Holocaust. Inspired by true events, this tale of terror, hope, love, and sacrifice evokes the most perilous days of World War II.

This is Robson's third time as a featured author of the Lynden, which is a new record. Margy Stratton and Milwaukee Reads is working hard to put together a great spring schedule. We'll have more details as events are confirmed.

Looking for a way to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day? This story from CBS58 has some ideas.

More upcoming events here.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending Jan 16, 2021

Here's what's selling at Boswell this week.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Breaker V6, by Nick Petrie
2. The Effort, by Claire Holroyde
3. The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett
4. Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman
5. Hamnet, by Maggie O'Farrell
6. Leonard and Hungry Paul, by Rónán Hession (Register for Feb 12 event here)
7. The Cold Millions, by Jess Walter
8. Homeland Elegies, by Ayad Akhtar
9. Leave the World Behind, by Rumaan Alam
10. American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins

Our top two titles are this week's debuts. Our best week to date for Leonard and Hungry Paul was when we announced our event on February 12. Not only do I love the book, I can tell already that so many of our customers are going to like it too. It reminds me of back in the days of buying when I'd get really good reads on an unexpected book from really different kinds of readers. I just try not to beat myself up that I didn't read it earlier. Here's the announcement from Dublin Unesco City of Literature: "Dublin City Council is delighted to announce that Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession is the One Dublin One Book choice for 2021, following on from Tatty by Christine Dwyer Hickey in 2020. One Dublin One Book aims to encourage everyone in Dublin to read a designated book connected with the capital city during the month of April every year. This annual project is a Dublin City Council initiative, led by Dublin City Libraries and encourages reading for pleasure."

Tatty, you say? It's a 2004 novel by Christine Dwyer Hickey that is available from Vintage in the UK, but appears never to have gotten an American release. Sigh. Here's the Irish Times profile of the author - sounds good!

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, by George Saunders
2. Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson
3. A Promised Land, by Barack Obama
4. Evil Geniuses, by Kurt Anderson
5. You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey, by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar
6. Kill Switch, by Adam Jentleson
7. Untamed, by Glennon Doyle
8. Keep Sharp, by Sanjay Gupta
9. Children of Ash and Elm, by Neil Price
10. Is This Anything, by Jerry Seinfeld 

George Saunders's nonfiction book  A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life continues his early January release date, which proved auspicious for him for both Tenth of December and Lincoln in the Bardo. From Parul Sehgal in The New York Times: "The desperate, botched rescue operation is a common feature in Saunders’s work, and his fiction itself has the feeling of a rescue operation — on us, the reader. He’s moved by an evangelical ardor where fiction is concerned, intent on how it can help us 'become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional,' as he put it in a viral commencement speech. These particular hopes have never been more precisely, joyfully, or worryingly articulated than in his new book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, an analysis of seven classic Russian short stories." 

Also debuting is You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey, which is a book-length dialogue between two sisters about everyday racism. Ruffin's segments on Late Night with Seth Meyers (Amber Says What, Jokes Seth Can't Tell) has led to The Amber Ruffin Show on Peacock. They discuss their story in People magazine.

Paperback Fiction:
1. Home Front, by DW Hanneken (Register for Jan 26 event here)
2. The Drifter V1, by Nick Petrie (two editions)
3. Minus Me, by Mameve Medwed (Register for Jan 19 event here)
4. Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu
5. Feast Your Eyes, by Myla Goldberg
6. The Wild One V5, by Nick Petrie
7. Burning Bright V2, by Nick Petrie
8. The Overstory, by Richard Powers
9. Ask Again, Yes, by Mary Beth Keane
10. The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett

We sold books for a JCC event with Myla Goldberg last fall, and when we had a few leftover, I decided Feast Your Eyes would be a great selection for our not-in-store In-Store Lit Group. The book was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2019. In March, we're reading the 2020 National Book Award winner, Interior Chinatown, and in April, we're reading the Costa First Novel Prize winner, The Confessions of Frannie Langton, from Sara Collins. All the upcoming selections here. 

This is kind of a pandemic first - we actually had multiple backlist titles pop in sales the week of Nick Petrie's debut for The Breaker. #6 in the series lifted sales not just of #1 (The Drifter), but also of #2 (Burning Bright) and #5 (The Wild One). I've been told the trade paperback editions of the backlist are going out of stock, but I'm hoping they at least leave The Drifter in both formats. We'll see!  

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Nicholas Black Elk, by Jon M Sweeney
2. Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
3. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
4. The Pulse of Perseverance, by Maxime Madhere
5. Quit Like a Woman, by Holly Whitaker

Books for Kids:
1. Concrete Rose, by Angie Thomas
2. Kamala and Maya's Big Idea, by Meena Harris, with illustrations by Ana Rami Gonzalez
3. Turtle Boy, by M. Evan Wolkerstein
4. The Atlas of Record-Breaking Adventures, by Lucy Letherland
5. What You Don't Know, by Anastasia Higginbotham

Only one big debut in these two categories, Angie Thomas's Concrete Rose, a prequel to The Hate U Give. Here's Thomas talking to Noel King about the book on NPR's Morning Edition: "I had to do a lot of work beforehand. And for me, that meant reading books by Black men about Black boys. So I read a lot of Jason Reynolds; I read a lot of Kwame Alexander - and then, too, reading books just by Black men like Ta-Nehisi Coates because I recognize that as a writer, I have a responsibility, and it's even greater when I'm writing a character unlike myself, when I'm writing outside of my identity. I have a responsibility to get it as close to right as possible, to be, if nothing else, respectful of the people who do identify with this character."

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins reported that Dasha Kelly Hamilton was named Wisconsin Poet Laureate. She is only the second person to be Poet Laureate of Milwaukee and Wisconsin, following Marilyn Taylor. She'll be in conversation with Ethan Kross for Chatter on March 3. That event is ticketed - $5 or the cost of the book, plus sales tax and ticket fee. Register here

If you missed it, Higgins also notes local debuts from DW Hanneken, Lauren Fox, and Anuradha Radurkar.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Boswell log - Signed copies from Nick Petrie and Jon Sweeney, more about Mameve Medwed's Minus Me, a surprise Elinor Lipman release

This was a big week for new releases. Nick Petrie's new novel, The Breaker, was released. Our event with Jim Higgins was great; it is already on our website. Nick has signed all our stock, and can still come in to personalize if you want. We generally do not take inscription requests  -  not every author likes doing them, and often the messages are something the giver should be writing on the half title page, instead of asking the author to write it on the full title page - but Nick is up for it! You'll still get the caveat from our booksellers that we can't guarantee inscriptions, but that's because it can be hard for everyone to remember what an author will and won't do. 

I enjoyed The Breaker because it's such a Milwaukee book. Petrie really leans into the Machine Shop of the World nickname that Milwaukee once brandished. And there are still lots of small machine shops around. I walked passed several as I was reading The Breaker. I also passed Milwaukee Makespace, just blocks from my house, behind the McDonald's. It was built as a Krambo, back when Bay View appeared to be coming into its own as a supermarket paradise. The Outpost Natural Foods was a Kohls and the BMO Harris bank branch was an A&P. Krambo was a Wisconsin-owned company that sold out to Kroser, the very folks who now own Pick 'n' Save and Metro Mart. Regular Boswell event monitors may recall that we did a cohosted event with Makerspace for Eric Gorges and his book, A Craftman's Legacy.

It was also the launch week for Claire Holroyde and her novel The Effort. Holroyde considers herself a Milwaukeean in-law as her husband's family is from Whitefish Bay. Milwaukee gets some of its most loyal followers by marriage - that's one of the reason Peter Buffett lived here for a number of years. Holroyde didn't do bookplates, but we did have special bookmarks - we might have some left. Her conversation was J.S. (Jenny) Dewes, whose novel, The Last Watch, releases April 20. It's more science fiction than speculative (which seems to be the preferred term for books with science fiction elements but do not wholly embrace the science). 

With the holidays behind us, Chris has been able to catch up on event videos. In addition to the Petrie interview, we rushed out Jon M. Sweeney's talk with Damian Costello on Nicholas Black Elk, due to demand. Jon has also signed copies and like Nick, will personalize. Place your request in comments. And as always, apologies that our website sometimes gets stuck in the shopping cart. It's a function of the device + browser and maybe also the phase of the moon. Any number of people told me they got stuck one day and it worked just fine the next. Were we a tech firm with massive investors, this wouldn't be a problem. Or maybe it would be, as anyone who's had problems with large websites and apps can attest. 

Also out this week was Mameve Medwed's Minus Me, her latest novel, which is from Alcove Press, which is a division of The Quick Brown Fox & Company, or in terms of branding, the non-mystery imprint of Crooked Lane Books. This is our second event with Alcove, following Lesley Kagen for Every Now and Then. We always note that Medwed, along with Elinor Lipman and the late Anita Shreve, cut the ribbon on Boswell's grand opening. 

Her latest book is set at a sandwich shop in small-town (but not rural) Maine, where Anne and Sam operated a gourmet sandwich shop. They bought the recipe for their acclaimed Paul Bunyan Special, from the previous owners, but changed the name. This is a special sandwich indeed - they get orders to ship it! Can you order sandwiches online from Maine? Yes, here's a link to buy a four-pack of Hancock gourmet lobster rolls. And from this, I detoured to the Goldbelly site to see what other foods were shipping online.

But while a sandwich shop can be a comedy gold (see Bob's Burgers "Roamin' Bob-iday" episode), there's more to it than that. Annie's gotten a possible cancer diagnosis and she doesn't have the heart to tell Sam. Instead, she decides to give him instructions for when she dies and works on finding  him a replacement partner. A possible wrench in her plans is her glamourous mother, local royalty, who decides to visit from the big city. I'm going to note that this is not one of those super sad but also funny novels that the Jodi Picoult blurb might imply. I think it's more funny than sad. 

A conversation with Mameve and Elinor Lipman is always worth tuning in for. When I first queried the idea of the two in conversation, I had no idea that Lipman would also have a book, but she does - Rachel to the Rescue. It was published differently from her previous novels - it's actually from a British press and imported here, at least rights-wise (the copies themselves are print on demand). It sounds like a political comedy, because of the set-up. Rachel Klein has gotten a job unshredding documents for the government. Yes, she pieces back together ripped up (or worse) notes from the White House for the federal archive. She sends her inappropriate comment out - yes, it's the curse of  the inadvertent "reply all," rearing it's ugly head. I had a close friend fired from his job for doing this. 

Things get worse. As she's leaving, she's hit by a car. Maybe an accident, maybe not, but it turns out the driver, an optometrist, is guilty of something more than bad driving - I both don't want to give anything away and I also don't want to think about what's she's doing. I think the thing to note here is that this is not political satire; it's an Elinor Lipman novel with a political setup. I read a review that seemed to be upset that it didn't more seriously take on the political climate. But to me, that's like yelling at late-night stand-up monologues. I guess maybe someone out there is doing that.

One thing both Medwed and Lipman's novels have in common is that they are celebrations of small retail. In Minus Me, it's a sandwich shop. In Rachel to the Rescue, the meet cute is between her family paint and wallpaper store and his (yes, it's a romantic comedy, if I didn't note this before) family wine shop. And as an independent bookseller, I can't help cheering for that agenda. 

Mameve Medwed's event for Minus Me, with her in conversation with Elinor Lipman, is Tuesday, January 19, 7 pm CST. Register here. And more virtual event videos here.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Events! Nick Petrie with Jim Higgins for THE BREAKER, Claire Holroyde with J.S. Dewes for THE EFFORT, and Jon M. Sweeney with Damian Costello for NICHOLAS BLACK ELK

Here's what's happening at Boswell this week, event-wise. All times are Central Standard Time. 
 
Tuesday, January 12, 7 pm
Nick Petrie, author of The Breaker
in conversation with Jim Higgins for a virtual event 
 
It's time for book #6 in the Peter Ash series. This is a special one for Milwaukee, as the latest installment, The Breaker, is set right here in our fair city. We are one of several stores that have signed copies, and one of even fewer where you can get your books personalized. We have permission to mail books today, and folks will be able to pick up their signed copies starting at 10 am tomorrow. Ordering my our website? Please put signing request in the comments.

Our event is cohosted by Books & Company (also has signed books) and Whitefish Bay Public Library, which has copies of The Breaker available for lending. Did I mention also that both Petrie and Higgins are residents of the Bay? Register here for this Zoom event.

What I love about Nick Petrie's writing is that he never rests. You're never going to feel that he's cranking them out, so to speak. So in The Wild One, book five in the series, Petrie set up the challenge that Peter would not have his friends to come to the rescue with reinforcements when things got tough (Thanks to Chris for catching that). And in The Breaker, June stopped being someone to get out of trouble, and started being the person getting other people out of trouble. I think this is the first volume where June is Peter's equal.

The other thing I love about his books is that the series is set in different places and Petrie really leans into the place (That's per Petrie himself). Which aspect of the place he's writing about does he want to bring to life? That's why he's visited every place in his novels, including Iceland. And it's also why the plot pivoted slightly in The Breaker. In this book, he explores Milwaukee's history as Machine Shop of the world, and while like most cities, we've lost a lot of manufacturing, the shops still dot the city and suburbs. It's also why I think Milwaukee has a cool place like Makerspace, which is featured in The Breaker. Did you know the climax of the story was supposed to take Peter somewhere else (it always started here), but changed course, due to COVID? Ask him about this during our event on Tuesday.

Nick Petrie's debut novel, The Drifter, won both the ITW Thriller award and the Barry Award for Best First Novel, and was a finalist for the Edgar and the Hammett Awards. You can read my rec as well as Chris Lee's for The Breaker here.

Wednesday, January 13, 7 pm
Claire Holroyde, author of The Effort
in conversation with JS Dewes for a virtual event

Join us for an evening with debut author Holroyde as she chats about The Effort, her heart-pounding novel of love and sacrifice that follows people around the world as they unite to prevent a global catastrophe. Perfect for readers who loved Station Eleven and Good Morning, MidnightRegister here for this Zoom event

When dark comet UD3 was spotted near Jupiter's orbit, its existence was largely ignored. But to individuals who knew better - scientists like Benjamin Schwartz, manager of NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies - the threat this eight-kilometer comet posed to the survival of the human race was unthinkable. What would happen to Earth's seven billion inhabitants if a similar event were allowed to occur? There are only two options - neutralize the greatest threat the world has ever seen or come to terms with the annihilation of humanity itself.

Claire Holroyde is a writer and graphic designer. Her work has been published as part of Akashic Books’s web series and her interactive narrative collaboration with designer Levi Hammett was featured in Born Magazine. Madison-based JS (Jenny) Dewes has written scripts for award-winning films which have played at film festivals around the country, as well as San Diego Comic-con. Her debut novel The Last Watch releases in April.  

Just to have a bit of a through line, I should note that Holroyde is not local, her husband's family comes from, where else? Whitefish Bay. Holroyde's debut novel goes on sales January 12. 

Thursday, January 14, 7 pm
Jon M. Sweeney, author of Nicholas Black Elk: Medicine Man, Catechist, Saint
in conversation with Damian Costello for a virtual event

Milwaukee-area independent scholar (and publisher of Paraclete Press) Jon M. Sweeney joins us for a conversation about his latest work, which tells us the life story of the deeply spiritual Nicholas Black Elk, who served as both a traditional Oglala Lakota medicine man and a Roman Catholic catechist and mystic. Sweeney will chat with Damian Costello, author of Black Elk: Colonialism and Lakota Catholicism. This event is cohosted by the Family of Four Milwaukee Parishes. Register here for this Zoom event.

Nicholas Black Elk is popularly celebrated for his fascinating spiritual life. How did his two spiritual and cultural identities enrich his prayer life? How did his commitment to God, understood through his Lakota and Catholic communities, shape his understanding of how to be in the world? This is Sweeney's second contribution to Liturgical Press's People of God series, the first being a biography of James Martin. Other entries in the series include Helen Prejean, Thomas Farmer, Thea Bowman, and Shahbaz Bhatti.

To fully understand the depth of Black Elk’s life-long spiritual quest requires a deep appreciation of his life story. He witnessed devastation on the battlefields of Little Bighorn and the Massacre at Wounded Knee, but also extravagance while performing for Queen Victoria as a member of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. Widowed by his first wife, he remarried and raised eight children. Black Elk’s spiritual visions granted him wisdom and healing insight beginning in his childhood, but he grew progressively physically blind in his adult years. These stories, and countless more, offer insight into this extraordinary man whose cause for canonization is now underway at the Vatican.

Jon M Sweeney is Publisher and Editor in Chief of Paraclete Press. His many books include The Pope Who Quit, which was optioned by HBO, and The Pope's Cat, a popular fiction series for children, as well as several books and edited volumes on the work of Thomas Merton. Shorewood-based Sweeney writes regularly for America in the US, and The Tablet in the UK. Damian Costello, who specializes in the intersection of Catholic theology, Indigenous spiritual traditions, and colonial history. 

One last event reminder! 
Tuesday, January 12, 7:30 pm
Part of the Tapestry: Art and Ideas series put on by the Harry and Rose Samson Family JCC

A Better Man: A (Mostly Serious) Letter to My Son is a poignant look at boyhood, in the form of a heartfelt letter from comedian Michael Ian Black to his teenage son before he leaves for college, and a radical plea for rethinking masculinity and teaching young men to give and receive love. 

Co-sponsored by BBYO and Milwaukee Jewish Day School


Photo credits!
Nick Petrie by Troy Fox
Claire Holroyde by David Wiskowski
Jon M. Sweeney by Maurice Woll  

More info on our upcoming events page.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending January 9, 2021

What's selling at Boswell, week ending January 9, 2021

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett
2. The Prophets, by Robert Jones, Jr
3. The Invisible Life of Addie Larue, by V.E. Schwab
4. Homeland Elegies, by Ayad Akhtar
5. Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman
6. Deacon King Kong, by James McBride
7. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, by Charlie Mackesy
8. The Talented Miss Farwell, by Emily Gray Tedrowe
9. The Liar's Dictionary, by Eley Williams
10. Push, by Ashley Audrain

New this week is The Prophets, by Robert Jones, Jr, the third breakout bestseller from Putnam edited by Sally Kim, who also shepherded The Immortalists and Such a Fun Age. This #1 Indie Next Bestseller is winning raves everywhere, and will likely to accumulate laurels through awards season this fall. Edmund White wrote in Publishers Weekly: "This is a first novel, but I hope it took years and years to write since it is so powerful and beautiful. It is an antebellum story of a flourishing Mississippi plantation some people refer to as 'Nothing' and others call 'Elizabeth,' the name of the owner's mother. This is a love story of two gay enslaved men, Isaiah and Samuel (not their original African names), who've been assigned to look after the horses and who work together in perfect harmony in the barn...The lyricism of The Prophets will recall the prose of James Baldwin. The strong cadences are equal to those in Faulkner's Light in August. Sometimes the utterances in the short interpolated chapters seem as orphic as those in Thus Spake Zarathustra. If my comparisons seem excessive, they are rivaled only by Jones's own pages and pages of acknowledgments. It seems it takes a village to make a masterpiece."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson
2. A Promised Land, by Barack Obama
3. Keep Sharp, by Sanjay Gupta
4. A Better Man, by Michael Ian Black (Register for January 12 JCC event here)
5. Braiding Sweetgrass gift edition, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
6. What It's Like to Be a Bird, by David Sibley
7. How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi
8. Wintering, by Katherine May
9. 99% Invisible City, by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt
10. The Best of Me, by David Sedaris

It looks like the 'New Year, New You' breakout is Sanjay Gupta's Keep Sharp: Build Your Brain at any Age, a title-explains-it-all guide from CNN medical correspondent and also a neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta. When you get advance blurbs from Dean Ornish, Dr. Oz, Walter Isaacson, and Bill Gates, you probably... stop looking for blurbs. But there are actually more. From Terry Gross's Fresh Air interview: "I think that crossword puzzles and brain training exercises can be quite helpful at making the roads in your brain that you use a lot already, keeping them strong... It's kind of the 'practice makes perfect' part of your brain. And some of the brain games can actually increase your processing speed, the speed at which you process new content and new information. But I really do draw a line between that and keeping a brain sharper and building cognitive reserve throughout your life. That's different. You want to be doing different things in order to build that reserve, as opposed to doing the same thing better and better."

Paperback Fiction:
1. Devotions, by Mary Oliver
2. Feast Your Eyes, by Myla Goldberg (February Daniel's Lit Group pick- register here)
3. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, by Deesha Philyaw
4. The Home Front, by D.W. Hanneken (Register for January 26 event here)
5. The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett
6. Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (January Books and Beer pick - register here)
7. Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu
8. Poems 1962-2012, by Louise Glück
9. 11-22-63, by Stephen King
10. Dune, by Frank Herbert

Post-Christmas, we noticed that publishers started to drop in paperback releases of big titles from 2020, 2019, and at least from one case, 2018. First up is The Dutch House, Ann Patchett's 2019 hit that was detoured from a fall paperback release, which was already a longer run than Commonwealth, which followed its fall publication with a May paperback publication. After a year of delaying paperbacks, publishers are back to contracted hardcover runs. Lydia Millet's The Children's Bible, is now schedule for February.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Nicholas Black Elk, by Jon Sweeney (Register for January 14 event here)
2. Deep Hope, by Diane Eshin Rizzetto
3. Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
4. Say Nothing, by Patrick Radden Keefe
5. Heart Talk: The Journal, by Cleo Wade
6. What Unites Us, by Dan Rather
7. On Tyranny, by Timothy Snyder
8. Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler
9. Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari
10. ABA Field Guide to Birds of Wisconsin, by Charles Hagner

Two older books with large quantities at Ingram show that sales have continued long after pub date. Cleo Wade's Heart Talk: The Journal, is the companion to Heart Talk, and I got a little confused about whether to put this in fiction, with poetry trending one way and affirmations the other. Dan Rather's What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism, has had a independent bookstore/social media campaign all fall and couldn't be more timely.

Books for Kids:
1. Baby Faces board book, from DK Publishing
2. The Hero Next Door: A We Need Diverse Books Anthology, by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
3. Ghost, by Jason Reynolds
4. Magical Yet, by Angela DiTerlizzi
5. The Assignment, by Liza Wiemer
6. Most People, by Michael Leannah
7. 50 Adventures in 50 States, by Kate Siber
8. Today Tonight Tomorrow, by Rachel Lynn Solomon
9. Skunk and Badger, by Amy Timberlake
10. On the Day You Were Born, by Debra Frasier

Jenny's championing of the Rachel Lynn Solomon novels get us her on the bestseller list again with Today Tonight Tomorrow, seven months after publication, and earns her the bests sales to date at Boswell, multiples over her last two. It's the story of two high school rivals who team up to compete in a scavenger hunt/competition. From Voice of Youth Advocates: "There is a bittersweet nostalgia, the letting go of the past to move forward and a longing for what has been lost by choosing a contentious path. The romance is sweet and sudden. The passion Rowan has for romance novels is mirrored in the story of the relationship. There is vulnerability that both characters develop with the other, and it is evident that opening up to a rival can be painful, but it also holds the potential for deep fulfillment."

From Jim Higgins at the Journal Sentinel, a review of Nick Petrie's The Breaker, which goes on sales on Tuesday. Signed copies still available. Cosponsored event with Books and Company and Whitefish Bay Public Library. Higgins writes: "If Milwaukee has become drab and listless to you during the pandemic, turn to Nick Petrie's The Breaker for a more exciting view of the city: Stalking an assassin through the Milwaukee Public Market! An ax murderer on the loose in Riverwest!" More here. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Reading Log: Book club discusses Shuggie Bain

Last night our book club discussed Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stewart. Responses varied from "this is the best book we have discussed in years" to "sad and long." I didn't find it too long at all, and read it in less than two days. Of course one of them was a reading day where I didn't do anything else. I also think I have read a lot of fiction about addiction, and this theme of the endless struggle, which can make a book seem longer because reading about relapses can lead to dashed hopes, and that can sometimes have you asking, "Why did I go through this just for everything to come crashing down again?"

What was nice was that readers weren't confounded by the Scottish slang, and neither was I. It helped that I had just read Big Girl, Small Town, which though set in Northern Ireland, had overlapping words. One of our attendees has wanted to read more about the Troubles since we tackled Say Nothing. I suggested trying Michelle Gallen's novel, which is set after The Troubles, but not so much that the protagonist is struggling with all her relatives who were either murdered or disappeared. It's funny too, but Gallen said not so much in Northern Ireland. The further away the reader is, the more they seem to see the humor. It was meant to be funny. But sometimes people are just too close to a subject to laugh. One of the folks who didn't like Shuggie Bain admitted that they she had dealt with a lot of addiction in her family. Sometimes a novel's impact can lessen if you as a reader have too much background on the subject. 

Another connection between Shuggie Bain and Big Girl Small Town - an obsession with the television show Dallas. 

One of the realizations I had about Shuggie Bain was that Glasgow also had a lot of animosity between Catholics and Protestants. Several attendees had more sympathy for Shuggie's brother Leek than for Shuggie himself; I was surprised by this. On another note, my friend John complained that for a book referred to as about a young gay man, there was no sense of self-awareness by Shuggie, only that he was a target of verbal abuse and sexual assault. But having read interviews, I know that Stewart focuses more on this in the next novel. 

My ridiculously inappropriate observation was that the cover did not seem to match the novel. That woman on the cover in no way resembles Elizabeth Taylor and that bedroom setting is far too pristine for the Bain family.  This reminds me of when I complained that Hannah Rothschild's The Improbability of Love featured a heroine who was dressed completely unlike the novel's protagonist, and the size of the painting was way too large. Speaking of Rothschild, what could be worse for a publisher than a sparkling review for a novel the week after Christmas that was published months and months earlier? That's the case for The House of Trelawney in The Wall Street Journal. Coincidentally, I had just given up trying to read it and passed it to my sister Merrill, who loved it. Maybe not as much as Writers and Lovers (which might have been her favorite novel of 2020 - paperback is out February 16), but a lot. 

When the group started complaining too much about how sad Stewart's novel was, I brought up Leonard and Hungry Paul, my new cause. It's Irish, but unlike the placiness of Shuggie Bain, and Big Girl, Small Town, it is not grounded in place or time. At least the characters have names! We sort of missed the boat on Rónán Hession's debut, being that it came out in August.  This is the novel that my friend John talked up, so I bought it, and then Rebecca S. recommended, so I read it. And I thought, "Rats, I could have sold 50 of these at Christmas." But it's never too late, and I'm working on a winter or spring virtual event. It's a lovely story that is sweet but not cloying. We sold more last week than we did in its first 4 months of publication. And one was sold to our buyer Jason, who loves the narrator's voice. So do I. 

As several folks I was interacting with recently were proclaiming their favorite book or books of the year, I had to contemplate this as well. Jason has us announce our top fives, but I struggled to get my favorites to ten. I wound up reading 101 books in 2020, which was about the same as 2019, but that year was a substantial jump over the previous ten. Some people thought my nine favorite books were the ones on the cover of our holiday newsletter, but no, these were just books I liked that I wanted to promote but hadn't been chosen by Jason or Chris for the gift guide. Were they all in my top 20? Certainly. But Homeland Elegies and The Cold Millions also made my top ten, with Akhtar on the inside of the newsletter and Jess Walter not featured at all. I don't know why - I grew to like it more the longer it sat with me. 

I decided in the end that my #1 book was The Coyotes of Carthage, by Steven Wright. Paperback is out January 12. I didn't think it got the attention it deserved (we had the best sales on Edelweiss), and I liked that I could sell it as a thriller, a satire, and a book about race, a book for someone who likes Elmore Leonard or . I love the hardcover jacket, but not so much the paperback, which is getting The Sellout treatment.  What were they exactly positioning the book for in hardcover? I guess I'd say literary fiction, but mostly, I just liked the cover and continued to obsess over how similar it was to the late Randall Kenan's If I Had Two Wings. I had hoped to reread Carthage before I made my final pronouncement, but sometimes you have to go with it. 

Back to Shuggie Bain? Would I recommend it to book clubs? Absolutely, unless they told me they were only reading happy books for now. But as I and at least one other attendee noted, the book really is about love and survival, two not completely unhappy things. I also liked learning that Shug or Shuggie is the Scottish nickname for Hugh or Hugo. 

If you like reading about Scotland, there's a very interesting chapter about Scotland's communal ownership program in Land, the new book coming from Simon Winchester on January 19. Our event with Winchester, in conversation with Marcy Bidney of UWM Libraries, is January 28. Tickets include the book - purchase here.

I've got our next three book club selections picked out for the not-in-store In-Store Lit Group, which I've been referring to as Daniel's Lit Group for obvious reasons. February is Myla Goldberg's Feast Your Eyes (National Book Award finalist 2019), March is Charles Yu's Interior Chinatown (National Book Award winner 2020) and March (just picked) is Sara Collins's The Confessions of Frannie Langton (Costa First Novel Prize 2019). It's another book that, judging from Edelweiss, didn't seem to reach its potential. I thought, "I can get Boswell to #1 on this book." And so I shall now try. Each discussion is the first Monday of the month at 7 pm. Here's our list of Boswell-run book club selections.

Monday, January 4, 2021

This week: Emily Gray Tedrowe for The Talented Miss Farwell and Lee Goldberg for Bone Canyon - plus a head's up for Nick Petrie's The Breaker

2021 opens with thrills! 

Tuesday, January 5, 7 pm
Emily Gray Tedrowe, author of The Talented Miss Farwell
in Conversation with Valerie Laken for a Virtual Event

Boswell presents a Thrillwaukee event with Emily Gray Tedrowe, author of Blue Stars and Commuters, in conversation with UWM's Valerie Laken. They’ll chat about The Talented Miss Farwell, a novel that’s been billed as Catch Me If You Can meets Patricia Highsmith: an electrifying page-turner of greed, obsession, and one unforgettable female con artist. Register here for this event. 

Chicago-based Tedrowe has a lot of fans, including Rebecca Makkai, author of The Great Believers, who said, "Becky Farwell is one of the most wickedly compelling characters I've read in ages - a Machiavellian marvel, a modern Becky Sharp, a character to root for despite your better judgment - and her story, both topical and timeless, will knock you off your feet." When I saw in the advance reading copy that Tedrowe thanked both Valerie Laken and Liam Callanan, it seemed like a must-host event. Boswellian Kay  confirms that this thriller set in the art world will keep you on the edge of your seat. 

At the end of the 1990s, Reba Farwell has made a killing at Christie’s in New York City, selling her art collection for a rumored 900% profit. But a thousand miles from the Big Apple, in the small town of Pierson, Illinois, Miss Farwell is someone else entirely: a quiet single woman known as Becky who still lives in her family’s farmhouse, wears sensible shoes, and works tirelessly as the town’s treasurer and controller who always finds a way to get the struggling town just a little more money. But as Reba Farwell’s deals get bigger and bigger, Becky Farwell’s debt to Pierson spirals out of control. How long can the talented Miss Farwell continue to pull off her double life?

Emily Gray Tedrowe is author of Blue Stars and Commuters. She earned a PhD in literature from New York University and a BA from Princeton University. She has received an Illinois Arts Council award as well as fellowships from the Ragdale Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Sewanee Writers' Conference. Valerie Laken is author of Dream House and is Associate Professor of English at UWM.

Thursday, January 7, 7:30 pm
Lee Goldberg, author of Bone Canyon
in Conversation with Jon Jordan for a Virtual Event

Goldberg rides again! He’ll join us for a chat about the second installment of his Eve Ronin series in which a cold case heats up fast, revealing a deadly conspiracy. He’ll chat with Jon Jordan of Crimespree Magazine. Register here for this event.

A catastrophic wildfire scorches the Santa Monica Mountains, exposing the charred remains of a woman who disappeared years ago. The investigation is assigned to Eve Ronin, the youngest homicide detective in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, a position that forces her to prove herself again and again. This time, though, she has much more to prove. 

Lee Goldberg's series has been a hit with several Boswellians, including Tim, Chris, and myself. He originally appeared here for his Killer Thriller series, which is a bit over the top. Trade reviewers have noted how well Goldberg has adapted to the police procedural genre. The set-up is that Eve has more fans on the internet than she does in her own department, having broken out with a viral video of her taking on a famous law breaker. I should also note that Goldberg is an entertaining conversation partner. 

Lee Goldberg is a two-time Edgar Award and two-time Shamus Award nominee and the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty novels. He has also written and/or produced many TV shows, including Diagnosis Murder, SeaQuest, and Monk, and is the cocreator of the Mystery 101 series of Hallmark movies. As an international television consultant, he has advised networks and studios all over the world. 

Tuesday, January 12, 7 pm
Nick Petrie, author of The Breaker
in Conversation with Jim Higgins for a Virtual Event

Peter Ash returns to Milwaukee for his latest adventure! Nick Petrie, winner of the ITW Thriller award and the Barry Award for Best First Novel, also returns, cosponsored by Milwaukee's Boswell Book Company, Oconomowoc's Books & Company, as well as the Whitefish Bay Public Library. For this event, Nick Petrie will be in conversation with Jim Higgins, Books and Arts Editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 

Register here for this event. All books from either store will be autographed, and you can request personalizations prior to the event date, too! Please note requests in the order comments for online orders. 

When The Breaker opens, Peter Ash has found a simple, low-profile life in Milwaukee, living with his girlfriend June and renovating old buildings with his friend Lewis. Staying out of trouble is the key to preserving this fragile peace, but when Peter spots a suspicious armed man walking into the crowded Milwaukee Public Market, he can’t just stand by and do nothing.

Peter interrupts a crime, but it wasn’t at all what he’d expected. The young gunman appeared to have one target and one mission, but when he escapes, and his victim vanishes before police arrive, it seems there is more to the encounter than meets the eye. Peter’s hunch is proven correct when a powerful associate from his past appears with an interest in the crime, and an irresistible offer: if he and June solve this mystery, Peter’s record will be scrubbed clean. 

As you can see from the cover treatment, The Breaker is set in and around Milwaukee, including the Third Ward, Riverwest, Walker's Point, Bay View, and the Rufus King neighborhood.

Nick Petrie is author of five novels in the Peter Ash series, most recently The Wild One. His debut, The Drifter, was a finalist for the Edgar and the Hammett Awards and received the IWA Thriller Award for debut novel. He lives in Whitefish Bay. 

Photo credits! 
Emily Gray Tedrowe credit Marion Ettlinger
Lee Goldberg credit Ron Scarbpa
Nick Petrie credit Troy Fox

More on our Boswell upcoming events page.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

What did I really want? The Boswell bestsellers for the week ending January 2, 2021

What did I really want? The Boswell bestsellers for the week ending January 2, 2021

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, by Charlie Mackesy
2. The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett
3. Leave the World Behind, by Rumaan Alam
4. Homeland Elegies, by Ayad Akhtar
5. The Searcher, by Tana French
6. Deacon King Kong, by James McBride
7. Transcendent Kingdom, by Yaa Gyasi
8. Hamnet, by Maggie O'Farrell
9. The Cold Millions, by Jess Walter
10. Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman

My end of the year reading is like a literary Janus - I'm simultaneous looking ahead to 2021 while still wondering what I missed in 2020. I wound up reading Transcendent Kingdom, Yaa Gyasi's second novel, which would help me get some points in the "how many books did you read on various notable books of the year roundups." Ron Charles in The Washington Post: "When she was just 25, Gyasi reportedly sold her debut novel, Homegoing, for $1 million. It was the kind of financial windfall that whips up fawning publicity and - despite the book’s success — skepticism. If there are any skeptics left, they can stand down now. Homegoing wasn’t beginner’s luck. Gyasi’s new novel, Transcendent Kingdom, is a book of blazing brilliance." I also thought it was an interesting match with Brandon Taylor's Real Life (shortlisted for the Booker), another novel set in a science graduate program.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. A Promised Land, by Barack Obama
2. Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson
3. Wintering, by Katherine May
4. Modern Comfort Food, by Ina Garten
5. 99% Invisible City, by Roman Mars and Kurth Kohlstedt
6. Untamed, by Glennon Doyle
7. Mediocre, by Ijeoma Oluo
8. Food Fix, by Mark Hyman
9. Songteller, by Dolly Parton
10. Dessert Person, by Claire Saffitz

December publications are always a tricky thing - you've got to carefully stage for January and February reviews and features without the appearance of the book having sat around too long. Brittney Cooper reviewed the December 1 release Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America in The New York Times, writing: "Ijeoma Oluo punches up rather than down, reckoning culturally, politically and historically with white men. These are the people, she writes, who do most of the dirty work and decision-making that goes into maintaining America’s systems of power."

Paperback Fiction:
1. Big Girl, Small Town, by Michelle Gallen
2. The House in the Cerulean Sea, by TJ Klune
3. Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stewart
4. Circe, by Madeline Miller
5. Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu
6. The Overstory, by Richard Powers
7. The Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler
8. The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller
9. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
10. Raven Tower, by Ann Leckie

We had a very nice first week of paperback sales on The House in the Cerulean Sea, which had a nice holiday pop in hardcover. Jen writes: "Linus Baker is your typical by-the-book company man, so when he is given a classified assignment - go to a secret location for a month and observe the six children of the orphanage and its head master - you could say the unflappable Mr. Baker may be in over his head. Especially when one of those children is the antichrist." Macmillan is the Bethlehem Steel of trade paperback pricing. Please refer to my college economics class for details.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Locally Laid, by Lucie B. Amundsen
2. The Ballad of an American, by SHaron Rudahl
3. How to Do Nothing, by Jenny Odell
4. White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
5. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
6. Know My Name, by Chanel Miller
7. Trick Mirror, by Jia Tolentino
8. The Office, by Andy Greene
9. Walking Milwaukee, by Royal Brevvaxling and Molly Snyder
10. Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs, by Caitlin Doughty

Another first week sales pop recorded, this time for How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy - looks like the paperbacks are getting a head start on the hardcovers coming out next week. Here's Ellie Schechert in The Guardian talking to Jenny Odell, who introduces her profile thusly: "Redirecting our attention towards our natural surroundings is Odell’s strategy for resisting a profit-driven tech landscape that, in separating our bodies and co-opting our attention, is possibly torching our ability to live meaningful lives, and preventing us from noticing. (Odell herself uses birdwatching as an antidote."

Books for Kids:
1. My Little Golden Book about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Shana Corey
2. When, by Victoria Laurie
3. Hope Nation, by Brock Rose
4. Scritch Scratch, by Lindsay Currie
5. A Friend for Henry, by Jenn Bailey
6. I See Things Differently, by Pat Thomas
7. Planet Earth Is Blue, by Nicole Penteleakos
8. Ian's Walk, by Laurie Lears
9. One of Us Is Next, by Karen McManus
10. Dear Justyce, by Nic Stone

It's a school order, but it's also from 2020 - the paperback edition of Planet Earth Is Blue. From the starred Booklist review: "Panteleakos' debut novel is an intricate and poignant portrait of love, loss, and courage. Nova, 12, is autistic and nonverbal, and she and her devoted older sister, Bridget, have been bounced from foster home to foster home since Nova was five. The story's set in the mid-1980s, so the resources available to Nova are paltry, and the language about her diagnosis is hurtful, though Bridget and Nova's new foster parents, Francine and Billy, are wonderfully supportive."