Friday, May 20, 2022

A bunch of things I love about THIS TIME TOMORROW and Emma Straub - More about the book and our upcoming event below

1. You must have heard about This Time Tomorrow, right? It’s the fifth novel from Emma Straub and it different from, and yet not so much, from her previous novels. The fantastical elements make it a bit of departure, much like her first novel, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, was historical fiction-adjacent.  I'm so excited that we're partnering on this delightful book's event with an even more delightful author.

The setup is that Alice Stern, stuck in a go-nowhere relationship and job, inadvertently discovers a way to time travel back to her past, and while she can change some things, there’s one part of her life that will not budge. The time travel gives it more of a escapist spin, but Straub has been positioned as sophisticated vacation reading before – the promotion package for The Vacationers came with a pail, beach towel, and glasses. I still might find that display photo somewhere! See below.

2. There’s no way around it. Time travel is hot! Look at Emily St John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility, still on the bestseller list. We see new time travel novels almost weekly – right now Jenny is touting the new YA from Rachel Lynn Solomon, See You Yesterday. She loves it!

More time travel trendiness. The Time Traveler’s Wife limited series is on HBO Max. Quantum Leap is also being revived. And it wasn’t long ago that we sold 100 copies of another Jenny favorite, Oona Out of Order. And can we just mention Time and Again, the famous time travel novel that was also set on the Upper West Side of New York, and on top of that, was written by Jack Finney, a Milwaukeean. There always seems to be somebody trying to make a film out of that novel. Wikipedia says the most recent effort was from Doug Liman.

Time travel is sort of thematically adjacent to multi-verse novels like The Midnight Library from Matt Haig. And dare I say it, it’s a great what-to-read-after-The-Midnight-Library selection. Alas, my best time travel-reading buddy, Tracy, has mostly moved to Florida, or I’d be telling her to read this book right now. Come to think of it, I will follow this blog with an email to her.

3. I love the setting of this book. I read a lot of New York-set novels. How can I not? Trade publishers, for the most part based in New York, love publishing them. And I’ve read a lot of Upper West Side novels too. In fact, I’ve been known to wander the Upper West Side while reading novels set there – I think there might be blog about Lisa Hallday’s Asymmetry where I talk about this.

I’ve been an Upper West Side afficionado since my teenage years, where I would take classes at Columbia (I’m not sure how I got into the program and I mostly got lost halfway through the course) and then would walk all the way down Broadway to the Village. And then my sister Merrill lived there for years. And then several of my close friends from college lived there, and I’d visit them while still living in Queens. I loved to go to movies at the Thalia. And of course my sister and brother-in-law when they were working at Marvin Gardens, that Upper West Side bistro where you never knew who you might spot.

In all my years, I never came across Pomander Walk, where Alice’s dad lives, and which is also the source for the novel’s magic. It’s a village of two-family homes along the alley between two streets. For one thing, New York has an alley? Lack of alleys is why New York sidewalks are piled up with garbage. I was sure Straub made it up. But she didn’t, it exists. How could I have missed this? I asked Merrill, and of course she knew about it. Apparently everyone knows about it – except me. Maybe you. But after this book, you’ll want to know someone who knows someone so you can get past the gate. I love this about the book!

4. Most reviewers have noted that at the heart of the story is about Alice’s relationship with her dad. And Straub has noted that she wrote this book during COVID, when her father was sick, much like in the novel. It’s the emotional center of the story, and turns the book into something that will stick with you after the summer escapism has turned to fall.

In a way, This Time Tomorrow is her father novel as a companion to All Adults Here, which is her mother novel. Not that these characters are her father and mother – they are novels. But All Adults Here was very much about a mother’s relationship with her kids, in spite of well, everything. I even proposed a mother-daughter event for the paperback. Of course it didn’t come together, but why did I even think I had a fighting chance? Simple.

Straub’s mom grew up in Milwaukee. Not just in Milwaukee, but blocks from Boswell! So did Straub’s dad – they met at school here. We’re actually only one of two stores on the Edelweiss inventory database that have copies of Susan Straub’s picture book, Fire Chief*. You can guess the other. I’m hoping to bring our copy of Fire Chief to our event with Straub at the Elm Grove Reads event at the Elm Grove Woman’s Club, sponsored by the Friends of the Elm Grove Library. Did I mention it’s in Elm Grove? It’s a ticket-with-book event that includes a donation back to the Friends. You’ll definitely want a copy of this book, and if you already bought it, you’ll want another to gift.

5. Boswell hosted Emma Straub once at Boswell, for her first novel, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures. We had a great event, not knowing that she’d break out with her next book. And also not knowing that she’d one day open an independent bookstore with her husband. Books Are Magic is one of those stores that is so much a part of their Brooklyn community. I got to see the space when it just opened, and it was beautiful then, and it’s even more beautiful now. And here's a shout out for Emma Straub's Brooklyn novel, Modern Lovers.  

Books Are Magic’s co-owner Michael Fusco-Straub brings an extra magic to the store with his graphic design. In addition to all of their store’s merch, I noticed he designed a tee shirt for our friends at Exile in Bookville, the new Chicago Loop bookstore that is not to be missed. In fact, you can also see Emma Straub at their store – she’s appearing at the building’s auditorium on May 27. More info here.

We’ve also got a little piece of Michael Fusco-Straub. When Laura Lamont was published, Michael designed a series of movie posters that are featured in the book. We framed my favorite, Kissing Cousins, and it still hangs at Boswell, along with The Dogs of Parnassus, posters designed by Nick Berg for our events with Peter Heller and Chuck Klosterman, and at least one beautiful thank you note from Kevin Henkes. Next to frame, a James Baldwin poster from Keith Knight, who I drove around to schools and a public event, long before his hit streaming series Woke. My only problem? I’m running out of places to hang them!

6. If you’re wondering how good the book is, it’s got very enthusiastic reads from not just me at Boswell but also Jenny Chou. You can read her full review on the Boswell item page, but isn’t this enough?: “Trust me, you’re going to fall in love with Alice and the people who stumble in and out of her life over the course of this absolutely delightful book.”

But if you’re thinking we’re biased, I should also note that on Book Marks, This Time Tomorrow has six raves and three positive reviews – no mixed reviews, no pans. Randy Rosenthal in The Boston Globe writes, “Straub is wise enough to know that despite having ample time, it’s never enough ... Implicitly, then, Straub’s This Time Tomorrow is telling us there’s a more important lesson we actually need to learn, and that is how to let go. Live life well, and then let it go, our own and the lives of our loved ones - and that’s the best we can do.” In a way, this is the lesson of just about all of Matt Haig’s books – and of course is based on the concept of mindfulness. But it’s a lesson we have to keep relearning.

From Heller McAlpin's review on the NPR website: "You don't have to be a literary critic to catch Straub's many sources of inspiration. Alice, whose favorite clothing store is the now-defunct Alice Underground, falls through a sort of looking glass into her past. The subway bar she frequents is called Matryoshka, after Russian nesting dolls, which reflect the structure of this novel." The conclusion? This "entertaining charmer" is "a delightful summer read."

From Susan Dominus in The New York Times: "Even as it rifles through references, This Time Tomorrow insists on its own originality - just as Alice gets to go back and relive her own 16th birthday several ways, the novel experimentally cycles through a few forms of narrative, playing on reader expectations. When Alice is restored to the present (does it really matter how?), the novel momentarily indulges the reader in a self-consciously fairy-tale ending, complete with clothing porn — only to reject that story line altogether. That kind of happy ending will not do; Alice will try out various others before landing just as gently in a less obvious place."

From Ellen Akins in The Washington Post: "You should know, before you begin this journey, that This Time Tomorrow is a story about time travel. So prepare your suspension-of-disbelief mind muscles for the heavy lift. Or just settle in for the ride, confident that Emma Straub will conduct you to the welcoming place where fiction and wishful thinking align."

And from a conversation (not a review, but still!) with Mary Louise Kelly on All Things Considered: " I wrote this in 2020 when, of course, I couldn't go anywhere. I couldn't really walk down the street. I couldn't leave my house. And I couldn't abandon my small children or my current life. And all I wanted to do was this. All I wanted to do was have access to the places that I love the most, which are the, like - the, you know, diners and hot dog restaurants of my youth on the Upper West Side."

There is nothing more disconcerting than getting behind a book for an event and then finding that the reviews are coming in negative. That’s happened a few times this year. But it hasn’t happened for Straub so far, fingers crossed.

7. Allow me to give a shout out to Noah, Sarah, and Pat, three book-loving colleagues who are helping put this event together. Straub will be in conversation with Elm Grove Librarian Noah Weckwerth. We have done a book club talk together at the Elm Grove Public Library, and we would have done more since, had COVID not happened. He’s going to be a great conversation partner!

I'm also letting you know now that there may be a masking requirement for this one. We'll let folks who are attending know in advance.

8. Can’t attend? Boswell has pre-signed copies of This Time Tomorrow right now. And you can visit our time travel display for more ideas. Or just ask Jenny – she’s read a lot of them. And we should be able to get your copy personalized too. Contact Boswell for details.

9. Speaking of book recommendations, you're sure to get some great ones from Emma Straub. Hope to see you at Thursday's program, and if you can't attend, hope you get to read This Time Tomorrow.

*Which apparently was not enough to get it added to the ABA ecommerce database. A few other stores sold it at one time, but don't have it in stock now.

Photo credit - Emma Straub by Melanie Dunea
Books are Magic by to come!
Pomander Walk by Niklem

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