Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Selections from the Book Club Table

The new Winter 2022 Indie Next for Reading Groups flier arrived this week. Like the Boswell selection list, the focus is on paperbacks. I enjoyed seeing their selections and had many titles to add to my to-be-read list. You can access it here or pick one up at Boswell. 

It's also time for us to update our Reading Group flier and table. One of the books on the Indie Next flier that we're also promoting is We Keep the Dead Close. We've done very well with the true crime/history hybrids in the past - notably Killers of the Flower Moon (David Grann) and Say Nothing (Patrick Radden Keefe) - that I thought we'd keep the trend going. We already convinced one of our larger groups to read We Keep the Dead Close, the story of an unsolved killing in the Harvard anthropology department.

Though we know that many book clubs now pick their selections in hardcover, especially if most of the members use ebooks, audio downloads, or the library, we try to focus on paperback titles. Several extra-long-in-hardcover book club favorites have imminent paperback releases. One of them is Tara Westover's Educated, and for that one, we're part of a multi-store launch event with Natalie Portman on February 8. Admission is the cost of the book ($20, including tax), media shipping or store pickup is available, and if you already have a copy and don't wish to give one away, you can donate yours to the National Council of Teachers of English. Ticket fee is extra. More here.

The other long-timer is Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half, one of our favorite books of 2020, and being it was ten-best on The New York Times, we can say that the editors of that publication share the sentiment. Bennett's second novel hits the sweet spot of critical acclaim, timely subject matter, and a plotline that won't let you put the book down. It's one of our new picks.

If your book club has already read The Vanishing Half, why don't you try Nancy Johnson's The Kindest Lie, a Boswell 2021 pick that was one of Jane's top three books of last year, and it might have been said to be her favorite. So many of you worked with Jane on book club selection that I still drop her name regularly when a book is one of her picks. It's also got recommendations from Christina Clancy and Jodi Picoult - we talked about the book at Picoult's event in Oconomowoc in December. I expect all of the book clubs that followed Jane's lead to pick The Kindest Lie in 2022!

Speaking of favorites, both Jen and I named The Five Wounds one of our top picks of 2021, and now that it's 2022 and the paperback is imminent, it's time to start talking it up to reading groups. This is another book that our large book club picked for discussion. It also was just named The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize winner. I'm not doing plots on this post - you can read more about each book by clicking the link to our order page, which has our staff recs.

I always like to note cover trends. The Five Wounds kept its distinctive jacket but changed out the orange of the hardcover for a teal background. I'm a big fan of this. The other book on this list that did something similar was We Ride Upon Sticks, which went from green to magenta. Lauren Fox's Send for Me did a cover change I haven't seen as much, but was quite effective - the image stayed the same, but the photograph went from an artsy black and white for the hardcover to a technicolor paperback.\

I should note that The Five Wounds and The Kindest Lie traded background covers, as The Kindest Lie, went from a teal/aqua to an orange background. It also has different, but not that different artwork. I would say the cover is more tweaked than overhauled. 

Quan Barry's third novel, When I'm Gone, Look for Me in the East, releases February 22. We're doing a virtual event with her that evening. Register here.

Send for Me unofficially went on our book club table in late fall - coded for the table but not yet in the flier. This is Fox's first historical and will definitely please fans in the genre - yet with its contemporary framing, it still has ties to Fox's other novels in tone. It's one of two books that was a Read with Jenna Today Show pick. The other is Writers and Lovers, by Lily King.

Two of our additions pretty much kept their hardcover treatments - The Cold Millions, which like Send for Me, got unofficially added to the table in late fall, and Raft of Stars, which just came out. I pride myself on reading every book on our book club table (there are occasional exceptions) so while up until now, I was using Tim's enthusiastic read to sell Andrew J Graff's debut, I now can speak about it with more authority - though I should note that before finishing it, we hosted or cosponsored three events with the author. It's been a huge success with our readers - the big non-Milwaukee-area Wisconsin novel of 2021.

One book that got a complete cover revamp from its hardcover jacket was The Pull of the Stars, by Emma Donoghue. I recently noted that the book was a resounding success with our In-Store Lit Group, so I thought I'd be remiss in not adding it to this checklist. The book had a great publicity bounce in hardcover, being that it was a Great Flu novel released only months after the rise of COVID. But the hype was real - great historical fiction that really plays off the themes that run through Donoghue's work.

Another major cover change from Hachette was for The King of Confidence, the rollicking slice of history from Miles Harvey, who did a great virtual event with us for the hardcover. In this case, I preferred the bright jacketing of the cloth edition. No reflection on the book though - fascinating history and so much to talk about. 

I don't know what it is about these muddy brown and gray covers, that to be popular paperback treatment pivots. I was not a fan of the paperback jacket of Everywhere You Don't Belong, by Gabriel Bump, and I thought it affected sales. It was also hard to make at the chain link fence on the jacket. Looking forward to novel #2!

We did add one paperback original to the list - Hervé Le Tellier's The Anomaly, which was a big success for us during the holidays, with Jason leading the charge. He got me to read it, and there's so much to talk about that I couldn't help but add it. We're hoping to work with Alliance Française to host a virtual event with the author. If you like a book that's packed with existential questions, you've got it right here. 

Some years it seems like half the books published in the first half of the prior year are January and February releases, but this year, the deluge is in April. I'm actually a little overwhelmed by how much is coming out, both in hardcover and for paperback release. I hope to have this list updated again in June. 

Here is my updated list of recommended reading group titles.

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