Tuesday, April 26, 2022

April 26 is my favorite release date so far this year, part one: Marrying the Ketchups

When I started in bookselling, a pub date was a vague concept, the expected time when books would be in most bookstores so that the publicity and review push could begin. Often you'd get the books a month before, and sometimes even February books would land before Christmas. I guess the idea was that if you have the books in the warehouse, you might as well try to sell them. The problem was that by the pub date came around, the books would feel stale. I'll bet some bookstores would inadvertently return them, being that they'd already been sitting there for 90 days. And then the day after you sent them back, there'd be some amazing review or interview that lit the phones up.

Phones, mind you. This is pre-internet.

Nowadays the major publishers have replaced pub dates with on-sale dates. And while some publishers are stricter than others about this, our books rarely come more than a week early. Logistics have really come a long way. And Penguin Random House, the biggest player, treats all new releases like laydowns, meaning it's not requested but required that you don't put the books out before that magic date. This allows our buyers Jason and Jen to really plan out how they are going to display each title whereas my planning was a bit more winging it.

And that's when I slowly realized that April 26 was going to be a magic laydown date for me. Jason said that May 3 is actually bigger, and I'm not saying I don't like anything coming out then.* But three of my favorite books of spring and perhaps all of 2022 were on the cart together, and we're doing programs with all of them; it's an embarrassment of riches!

I thought I'd write about them in the order of their programs, so I'm starting with Marrying the Ketchups, the fourth book from Jennifer Close. The other books I am excited about are return engagements from two of my favorite writers of all time, but Jennifer Close is new to me. I had not read her first four books - I hadn't even considered them seriously.  But our sales rep Jason, who knows my reading taste well, suggested the book to me, and I absolutely fell in love with it.

Once I started telling my friends about how much I liked Marrying the Ketchups, I found out that at least two of the readers who taste I trust, Nancy and Sharon (ex-bookselling colleagues) had both read and liked The Hopefuls. So that's on my list. And Jason (the rep, not the buyer) is talking up The Smart One(which is called Things We Need in some other market, according to Fantastic Fiction).

Marrying the Ketchups
centers on JP Sullivan's, an Oak Park (Chicago) institution, known for their fine burgers, but a little long in the tooth, as restaurants go. 

Time for my rec: "The Sullivans have run their family restaurant in Oak Park for three generations, but three unexpected occurrences send the family into disarray - the 2016 election, the Cubs World Series victory, and the sudden death of Bud, the family patriarch. Then there are the setbacks that should have been expected, given the ill-chosen life partners of the Sullivan third generation, Gretchen, Jane, and Teddy. The story is centered on them, two sisters and a cousin, with special appearances by Teddy’s younger half-sister Riley, as their lives spin out of control, sending them back to Sullivan’s. But family is not the best place to avoid drama. This first-rate fractured family free-for-all is Chicago-infused and food forward, from sandwich loafs to sliders. So glad I finally read a Jennifer Close novel - I can’t wait to read another!"

I should first note that since this review was written, I have read another - Girls in White Dresses, and I loved that too, though I should note that it is more a collection of connected stories, not quite a novel. But so great! I have this thing about authors channeling Laurie Colwin, and I get the feeling editor Jenny Jackson does too, as this is the second writer of hers I've read in two years where I saw the references. The first was Katherine Heiny, last year's discovery, whose Early Morning Riser (just out in paperback), led me to Standard Deviation, which was well, super Colwiny.

And I should note that Close thanks Heiny in the acknowledgements. She's apparently an early reader!

I love fractured family comedies. I love them! Some comparisons.

--The Most Fun We Ever Had, by Claire Lombardo is also a family comedy, and also is set in Chicago, but with a hardware store, not a restaurant. Hey, if you're waiting for Lombardo's next novel, it's not out yet so read this instead.

--For Boswell regulars and Canadians, probably only the two audiences for this book with decent penetration, let me give a shout out to We're All in This Together, by Amy Jones. It's a little more over-the-top (Mom tries to go over the falls by Thunder Bay in a barrel) but it's got humor, sibling conflict, a little pathos, and a good restaurant setting.

--Just out is Grant Ginder's Let's Not Do That Again, which I mention because it is also a family comedy, and also mixes the personal with the political. I think it's a little new for you to have read it, but maybe you read The People We Hate at the Wedding, which I think is being developed into a limited series. And hey, I noticed that Ginder recommended Marrying the Ketchups: "Jennifer Close at her best: a smart, funny, bighearted novel that proves the remarkable power of family (and French fries) to heal us during truly bewildering times."

--Speaking of Katherine Heiny, she also has something to say about Marrying the Ketchups: "Funny and melancholy and astoundingly smart all at the same time."

If you're wondering what the inspiration for the book is, Close got the idea for the book while waitressing at Hackneys. Unlike Sullivan's, Hackney's is still going strong after 80 years! I think I need to go there - though I should note it's in Glenview, not Oak Park. So to be clear, Sullivan's is not Hackney's - it's just where Close got the idea.

Just like Black's bookstore in Lauren Fox's first novel, Still Life with Husband, was not the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop in Shorewood. Just inspiration. Did I mention that Fox is another Jenny Jackson author? And did I mention that if you like Lauren Fox, you also should consider reading Jennifer Close's Marrying the Ketchups? And did I mention that Fox will be the conversation partner for Close on Friday? And if you are reading after Friday, do you want to watch that event right now? It might be available here.

That's a lot of things to forget to mention.

Marrying the Ketchups
called for a foodier event than what we wound up setting up and if we still weren't doing the COVID shuffle, maybe we would have had our event at a restaurant, or  brought in treats, or something. But we're definitely still at the stage where just having the event in person is a big deal. And while we're talking about it - masks required at this one. Thanks for understanding.

And don't forget, Jennifer Close is part of our 13th anniversary celebration, in conversation, as previously mentioned, with Lauren Fox (at right). We'd love for you to join us on Friday, April 29, 7 pm Central time. And if you can't attend, we're broadcasting it for you to watch at home. Register for either option at jenniferclosemke.eventbrite.com.

*I don't think I am being targeted to read The Smart One, but then I saw the paperback cover for Mary Jane, another of my favorites, and thought maybe I'm supposed to pay attention to novels featuring sunbathing women.

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