Monday, November 1, 2021

This week at Boswell - Eileen Garvin and Mark Oppenheimer, plus Uwem Akpan next Monday

We're at a very relaxed two events this week compared to six last week, and two of those were in-person offsites. I feel like I can lounge around in bathroom slippers - now I just have to bring some slippers from home. The best part of this is that, including next Monday's event, I have read and enjoyed all three books. So here's a little more about what we're hosting.

Wednesday, November 3, 7 pm
Eileen Garvin, author of The Music of Bees
in Conversation with Daniel Goldin and Lisa Baudoin for a Virtual Event
Register for this event here.

This selection for the Readings from Oconomowaukee series came from Lisa, who told me that she had several booksellers who really loved The Music of Bees. As soon as we signed Eileen Garvin up, I let our former colleague Jane know about this; I thought she'd enjoy it. A lot of folks are positioning the book under found family/second chances, though I can't say they have actual sections with those headers. If they do, I want to visit that store!

I can see that a good number of indies have really gotten behind this book, based on the comparison sales on Edelweiss, and not just in the Northwest. The book has that inspiring vibe that brings a lot of readers joy, plus the environmental issues about pesticides and beekeeping give book clubs something extra to talk about. 

And who can't dislike a book that offers us new opportunities when things aren't going so well? I've seen this before and it's something publishers have to watch when they do book comparisons. Several readers on Goodreads were convinced to read the book because it was compared to Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and they reacted with very negative reviews, much like readers were told last month that Mary Jane was just like Daisy Jones and the Six. I guess it's hard not to just jump at a hot book on the bestseller lists for comparison, but it reminded me that a bad match can have consequences. It's funny - it's a different vibe, but like Leonard and Hungry Paul, this book celebrates the power of quiet people and friendship. But my thoughts went to an older book, The Secret Life of Bees, but maybe that's just a bee thing. There's a lot of interesting details about bees in the book. I also learned a lot about kiteboarding.

One of Eileen Garvin's champions has been J Ryan Stradal, author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest and The Lager Queen of Minnesota, and after thinking it over, I feel confident that those books are a good match. I would also say if you liked Christina Clancy's The Second Home or Shoulder Season, The Music of Bees would be a good fit.

And from the Booklist review: "Both buoyant and bittersweet, Garvin’s impressive first novel, a luscious paean to the bonds of friendship and limitations of family, is the kind of comforting yet thought-provoking tale that will appeal to fans of Anne Tyler and Sue Miller." Not sure Garvin's book is quirky enough for a Tyler comparison. I have to think about that!

Thursday, November 4, 7 pm
Mark Oppenheimer, author of Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood
in Conversation with Rachel N Baum for a Virtual Event
Register for this event here.

Boswell Book Company, UWM’s Sam and Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies, and the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center present a virtual event with Mark Oppenheimer for a conversation about his book, which offers a piercing portrait of the struggles and triumphs of one of America’s renowned Jewish neighborhoods - Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill - in the wake of unspeakable tragedy that highlights the hopes, fears, and tensions all Americans must confront on the road to healing. 

I don't know what drew me to this book. I've been to Squirrel Hill, of course - who hasn't? I bought my copy of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh at the old Squirrel Hill Bookshop. And Boswell is just a store that likes Pittsburgh, what with two émigrés from that fine city. And as folks know from my enthusiasm for Refugee High and Karachi Vice, I'm a big fan of community journalism, as I call it.

And wow, was this book great! Time for Daniel's Rec:
"Director of the Yale Journalism Initiative Mark Oppenheimer goes behind the headlines of the tragic Tree of Life shooting to explore the fascinating community of Squirrel Hill, a walkable Pittsburgh neighborhood that has retained both religious and secular Jews when so many others have scattered to suburbs. Even the Tree of Life building itself was home to three congregations of different denominations. 

"In Oppenheimer’s exhaustive interviews, he found a pathway to healing that doesn’t always happen after other mass shootings – there wasn’t a single post-event suicide connected to the incident, and there were no controversies over how money flowed to victims and their families. But there was a cost too, at least for some, as activism was played down in favor of unity. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed Squirrel Hill, which is much more of an exploration of a community, rather than the crime drama or issue book you might have thought it was. There are so many interesting players in the story, not just the victims and their families, but folks like the Iranian student and his hugely successful fundraising efforts, and the young Christian woman who painted images in the Starbucks windows that became a symbolic center of the neighborhood."

I was corresponding with Jim Higgins, the Book and Arts Editor for the Journal Sentinel, recommending Squirrel Hill as I know he's from Pittsburgh, and also that he likes books written by journalists. And of course he'd already read it. He wrote this great review/profile for the Journal Sentinel. He's not one for quotable soundbytes, so just read the whole thing here.

I am so glad that we are working with both the UWM Center for Jewish Studies and the JCC on this event. Rachel N Baum seems like the perfect conversation partner. Hope you agree!

Sunday, November 7, 2 pm
Jenna Blum, author of Woodrow On the Bench: Life Lessons from an Old Wise Dog (for signed copy requests)
at Shully's A.T.S., 146 Green Bay Rd in Thiensville 
In conversation with Elizabeth Berg 
Alas, this event will not be recorded. 

For anyone who has ever owned an old wise dog, this Women's Speaker Series event is for you! Milwaukee Reads presents Jenna Blum for her new book Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from an Old Wise Dog. This event is cosponsored by Lynden Sculpture Garden as well as Boswell Book Company.

For this event, Blum will be in conversation with Elizabeth Berg, author of many beloved novels and the memoir I'll Be Seeing You, now available in paperback. This event is held at Shully's A.T.S. in Thiensville. Tickets are $30.50 plus sales tax and ticket fee, and includes a copy of the book and light refreshments. Cash bar available. Please note this is a tented outdoor event. You may bring your dog to this program. Masks and Covid vaccination required.

Early readers are loving this book! Jodi Picoult writes: "When I say Jenna Blum's upcoming Woodrow on the Bench wrecked me and that I'm now sobbing eating all the chocolate, I mean it in the best way possible."

Conversation partner Elizabeth Berg, whose memoir I'll Be Seeing You is also a fan: "Woodrow on the Bench is a touching tribute as well as a gripping story that will make you laugh and cry. It will also make you understand the majesty and wisdom imparted by the animals we are lucky to keep by our sides for as long as we can.”

For this event, we are not able to provide books ahead of time. You'll be able to pick up your copy of Woodrow on the Bench at the event.

Jenna Blum is the New York Times bestselling author of novels Those Who Save Us, The Stormchasers, and The Lost Family. She was voted one of Oprah readers' Top 30 Women Writers on and is the co-founder/ CEO of literary social media marketing company A Mighty Blaze. She has taught writing workshops at Grub Street Writers for over 20 years. 

Monday, November 8, 7 pm
Uwem Akpan, author of New York, My Village
in Conversation with Elias Rodriques for a Virtual Event
Register for this event here.

Boswell hosts an evening with Uwem Akpan, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Say You’re One of Them, winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Africa Region), the PEN Open Book Prize, and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, for a conversation about his new novel, which melds humor, tenderness, and pain to explore the myriad ways that tribalism defines life everywhere, from the villages of Nigeria to the villages within New York City. Akpan will chat with Elias Rodriques, author of All the Water I’ve Seen Is Running.

We are so grateful to Erin at WW Norton for pairing us up with some amazing events. I have never been let down by her recommendations, from Mary Roach's Fuzz to Kirstin Valdez Quade's The Five Wounds, which I think is my favorite book of 2021 - I have trouble being definitive. I am definitely going to go back and read Night at the Fiestas too. And This Is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire - an interesting memoir by Nick Flynn, but when Erin helped us pair the author with Natasha Trethewey, it took the event to another level. It was almost like Flynn's memoir had been in conversation with Memorial Drive. Wow!

A lot of folks know Say You're One of Them, which got spectacular reviews, but came out 13 years ago. 13! Can you believe it? So he's coming to a lot of folks almost like a new author, and while the books are thematically connected, they are coming from a very different perspective.

Time for Jenny Chou's rec: "It is the rare work of literary fiction that leaves readers wondering if the war against those stealthy little insects known as bed bugs can ever really be won. After finishing Uwem Akpan’s shrewd, heartfelt, and ultimately delightful novel New York, My Village, I turned that question over in my mind for a while before shifting my thoughts to war in general and the scars left behind even if the battles end and a victor is declared. Ekong Udousoro, a Nigerian editor and publisher, receives a fellowship to work alongside an American publisher in Manhattan while he edits a collection of stories about the Biafran War, also known as the Nigerian Civil War. The novel weaves seamlessly between Ekong’s life in the present day to accounts of the war from his collection of stories and from his friends and family. These sections are painful to read but eye-opening about the ramifications of colonialism, especially for those of us who were only vaguely aware that the war even took place. 

"Between his work colleagues, the other renters in his building, and the congregation at a New Jersey church he visits, both micro and macro aggressions abound. The biggest insults are the racist attacks on the Nigerian food he loves, particularly since Ekong finds so much joy in trying all the American and ethnic food to be found around New York. Ekong is a keen observer of everything, from New Yorkers to bed bugs, and his observations are often filled with humor. And it’s those bed bugs who journey with him throughout his time in New York, always a step ahead, causing misery that reaches out to touch every part of his life, a small but mighty symbol for the war that his country may never recover from."

Uwem Akpan's writing has appeared in The New Yorker, the Nigerian Guardian, and O, The Oprah Magazine. His story collection Say You're One of Them was a 2009 Oprah Book Club selection. Elias Rodriques has published in venues such as The Guardian and The Nation, and he is Assistant Editor at n+1. He is Assistant Professor of African American Literature at Sarah Lawrence College. His debut novel is All the Water I've Seen Is Running.

More on the Boswell upcoming events page.

Photo Credits!
Eileen Garvin credit Kate Schwager
Mark Oppenheimer credit Lotta Studio
Jenna Blum credit Madeline Houpt
Uwem Akpan credit UNLU Photo Services

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