Thursday, December 31, 2009

Playing Catchup in Paperback on Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone

Last month I wrote about books that we had our eye on all year and sold quite well. I remember at one point we had stopped selling Daniyal Mueenuddin's In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, and Jason put it on our short story table and it started to sell again.

I was inspired a bit by Lynn Neary's best books for book clubs piece on NPR. Today's post is a mea culpa, a book that I sort of dropped the ball on. It was Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone. It's not that we didn't do well with it. The book came out in February and we wound up selling 9 copies in harcover--that's including the sales at the Downer Avenue Schwartz Bookshop.

We continued to sell it until July when we sold our last copy and let it go out of stock. Now generally this is something we have to do all the time. With new books coming in all the time, our restockers (generally, Jason, Amie, Conrad and myself) do not reorder some books in order to keep our inventory in line.

It doesn't matter who didn't reorder the book because I always could have ordered a copy in again. We let it go, and why not? I was a bit lukewarm on the book when it came out, and that was our only read.

There were some great reviews out there, but it's one of those things where you just don't know what the rest of the fall will look like when you're in the summer. (Note on the blog--I don't normally dish books in print as I'm not a reviewer, and I wasn't exactly complaining but sort of indicating why every book is not right for every customer, and in a sense, I'm a customer too. I thought the book had enough momentum not to need me, and there comes a point in most really long books where I get mad at the length. It happened in both The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as well.)

The story that got my attention was that our friends at Bookstall in Winnetka sold over 500 copies. And I'm pretty sure that Sue at Lake Forest sold a ton as well--I saw it in her top ten of sales the week before Christmas. There's a lot of people who passionately love this book and I pride myself on knowing about these passions and matching them to our customers' tastes.

And it turns out that there weren't many old-fashioned epic novels that were worth handselling. The Verghese novel settled on me better, now that expectations were dampened. The Ethiopian setting was exotic and vividly drawn. It's a picture of the Indian diaspora. A big story, with a lot of emotion put into the effort. An intricate sturcutre. The story was heroic and perfect for a doctor. I have lots of doctor customers--I'm three blocks from a hospital! "What was I doing," I thought about 3 days before Christmas? "This is a good book for a lot of people, and I wish I had some right now!" That's a quote from December 22nd, when it was too late to do anything.

That's the beauty of bookselling--most of the time we get a second chance, at least before publishing involves beaming hypertext into our brains. First hardcover, now paperback. And this time, I know who should read the book and I'm excited about selling it.

The paperback's on sale January 26th, but now's the time to add it to your book club reading list. Lynn Neary told you to.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

We Sell What We Like, and Now Two of Those Books are Featured in Events--More on Mueenuddin and Goolrick

One of my sales reps commented how prevalent handselling is in our bestseller list. Stacie loves Inside of a Dog and we blow through our 20 copies in less than a week (I'll link to her blog post when it's up). And I'm sure you wouldn't be surprised to hear that Little Bee and Await Your Reply, two books I (and some of the other Boswellians) like to sell and connect with readers, are often in our top ten. Alas, Blame was harder, but I'm hoping, that like with Wrack and Ruin, the book will do better in paper. Not that I've given up on the hardcover...

One book I enjoyed talking about in hardcover that's just blown out the door in paperback is Daniyal Mueenuddin's In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. We sold 9 copies of the book, which is very nice, but we're close to 50 in paperback already. I'm so excited about the upcoming event, that we've been trying to think of every way possible to talk up this event--writing to the local Dartmouth alumni head (He's an '86. I'm an '82, by the way, so we don't overlap), figuring out the Pakistani restaurants in town (boy, did the Korean restaurants help spread the word on Eugenia Kim!), and of course, lots of blogs and links. Here are some more:

1. Lots of info on his web site, including proof that this is a four-city tour and that we are one of the four destinations:

2. A great profile from Jeffrey Trachtenberg in the Wall Street Journal. Adding to his unique background, Mueenuddin was also a corporate lawyer.

3. And here's a link to Lynn Neary's "Best Books for a Book Club in 2009" story. Muenuddin's included, as is A Reliable Wife. He's visiting on Sunday, January 25th, for the paperback. The book comes out on January 5th. It's a laydown, which was rather shocking. They must be expecting to break this book out bigtime in reprint. And why not? Many indie bookstores sold big amounts of this book in hardcover and it was the kind of book that had stickiness. We've had three good reads in the store.

I did a post on the book, which turned out to be very popular, but not because of the book. It turns out a lot of folks do web searches on "The Official Consumer Product Survey of America."

Stay turned for a book on this list that we sold, but didn't pay attention to, and why I think as a result, we missed out on holiday sales.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Helping Our Customers Avoid the Shoplifting Alarm by the Seat of Their Pants

At Boswell, we inherited a security tagger. Note to shoplifters--it works really great!

One of the problems of these devices, however, is that we don't always deactivate our customer's purchases. This is a problem not limited to us. I'm often presented with customers (note to certain chains--I don't call them "guests" and I'm not sure why you do either. I have yet to have either retailer treat me to a meal or offer me a glass of wine) who set off our security gate when entering the store.

When it's an ID tag, there's not much I can do. We can ask the person to give us the tag, leave, and then hand us the tag. And honestly, as it is, we don't do a fabulous job with this whole security issue, so we haven't gotten to this level of structure.

But when it's another retailer who forgot to deactivate the tag, we can make our customers' lives better. Recently two folks set off our alarm with a jacket and a pair of pants, respectively. Both had set off the alarm in a national chain (one dear to Milwaukeeans' hearts) when they entered, and no action was taken. When they left, however, both were subjected to a pretty intense patdown.

Now of course I had to make a judgment call as to whether these customers stole these articles of clothing or had simply not been detagged. I looked into their eyes and saw the soul of an honest person; also, they bought books from me.

The jacket was easy. As you can see, the pants were a bit more complicated (see photo). Operation "I am not a crook" was successful in both attempts, and both customers were very, very happy.
As a tie in, here's the new autobiographical novel from Tao Lin. Here's the publisher's marketing info:

"Set mostly in Manhattan--although also featuring Atlantic City, Brooklyn, GMail Chat, and Gainsville, Florida--this autobiographical novella, spanning two years in the life of a young writer with a cultish following, has been described by the author as "A shoplifting book about vague relationships," "2 parts shoplifting arrest, 5 parts vague relationship issues," and "An ultimately life-affirming book about how the unidirectional nature of time renders everything beautiful and sad."

I checked the shelf to make sure we had all our copies. We did!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Another Bookstore Closes...but What's Wrong with this Picture

Here's an article from the Omaha World Herald about the Confluence Books, Bistro, and Business Center closing in nearby Bellevue. What led to this store's closing? Well, you'd think it might be price pressure from Amazon and the big-box retailers, a move to many categories of books being replaced with online searches, more competitition for leisure time from video games, streaming movies, and social networking.

Hey, even though it's still a small percentage of the market, I wouldn't have been surprised if Kindle, Sony, and other ebook providers were causing the hit to the business that the owner's couldn't handle. As a business center, you're probably targeting business customers, and they might be more enthusiastic than some about loading titles onto a reader for business trips.

Or how about the financial meltdown? Wouldn't a good reason be "My business tanked because of the change in financial conditions, but my landlord wouldn't renegotiate my lease, I couldn't figure out how to cut my payroll, or I couldn't get a large enough draw/salary (depending on how the owner was organized) to cover my mortgage?" I'd accept that.

But no, here are the reasons that the owner cites:
--Minimum wage increases
--The county, state, and federal tax burden
--High interest rates and inability to get credit from banks
--The daunting prospect of health care reform.

I don't usually criticize folks on this blog, but it strikes me that this is not a candid assessment of the business failure. It almost seems like the square peg of closure is being used to fit the round hole of the owner's pet causes.

Wouldn't this be like me saying I am struggling because we're spending too much money on standardized testing in education and school administration, and not enough on teachers that can foster reading and creativity? (We could have a drink and discuss this someday, but I would probably insist on inviting my high-school-teacher sister along to really liven up the discussion).

I'm not arguing the politics--that belongs in someone else's blog. I'm just saying that most of these costs were there when the business was started, and a business plan should have helped determine that the store was not feasible. I actually found the article a wake-up call, because it reminded me of my original mantra, "It's all about the numbers", and I think I need to focus more time on financial matters. I'm spending the rest of the day on figuring out my work credit card bills.

Now I'm not very hot on the current health care bill either. But that's more because under the way the Senate bill is written, Wisconsin has to subsidize....Nebraska! Read the article in The New York Times.


The health care reform book on my to-read pile is T. R. Reid's The Healing of America. I've had great feedback from customers, and really enjoyed his book Confucius Lives Next Door some years ago.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

To Tired to do Anything but Analyze Bestsellers

I'm exhausted. I posted that New York Times article on my Facebook account twice, instead of once on the Daniel account and once on Boswell's. I sent a note about returns to my booksellers, but instead I sent it to a distribution list I made of my friends who were booksellers at other stores. Our vacuum cleaner and our backup vacuum cleaner both broke, so Kirk came in and vacuumed the front of the store while I sent out our weekly bestseller lists after closing on Saturday.

Here's our top ten nonfiction paperbacks, with a bit of annotation.

1. The Power of Kindness, by Piero Ferrucci. It's the right book in the right package at the right time, despite being two years old. Joe tells me I have Diana at Penguin to thank for talking this up.
2. Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson. Sales spurred by the new Stones into Schools.
3. It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies, by Michael Spradlin. We ramped up our promotion after hearing this was working at other stores. And since we sold 9 Zombie playsets over the holidays, it was a natural. An email feature helped.
4. Mary Nohl, by Barbara Manger and Janine Smith.
5. The Ascent of Money, by Niall Ferguson. Selling well off our front paperback table.
6. Hot, Flat, and Crowded, by Thomas Friedman. A top after a sales lull.
7. Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, by John McWhorter.
8. Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.
9. In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. His new book Food Rules lands next week.
10. Logicomix, by Apostolos Doxiadis et al.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

We're Hosting Jeannette Walls at Alverno College, the Acclaimed Author of Half Broke Horses and The Glass Castle

Folks seem pretty excited about the Jeannette Walls event for Half Broke Horses on Saturday, January 9th, at 2 PM, Alverno's Pitman Theater (editor's note--the event is now moved to Alphonsa Hall just two doors down). The book has won amazing praise, and it's the kind of book that my customers buy, read, and then come back to buy copies for their friends. (OK, that's not going to happen quite as much after Christmas, but still). I've listed a bunch of review links with commentary.

The Liesl Schillinger review in The New York Times Book Review that led to Walls being named one of the top 10 books of 2009, which by the way, also means the top 5 works of fiction.

Miami Herald review from Christine Thomas (Hawaii).

The Denver Post offers this from Robin Vidimos (Canada).

The Chicago Tribune offers this wire service from Newsday. Now this was an editor's choice from Tribune book editor Elizabeth Taylor, so why didn't she write the review? (She might have. This review, if you'll notice, does not have a byline. I'm too lazy to follow through and check.) On the other hand, she may be restricted, as a manager, as to how much she can write for the paper. I learned about this from another editor.

Oh, there's another reason. Anyone who works at a Tribune paper is spread very, very, very thin, or so I've heard from another anonymous source at one of their properties.

Paulette Jiles (Texas) reviews for the The Globe and Mail (Toronto). This is a good author match, if you ask me, but there is always the logrolling issue with authors. I guess you have to balance that. I'm one to talk--I'm not throwing you bad reviews if I'm hosting an author. See below.

From Augusta Scattergood (New Jersey) at the Christian Science Monitor. Ma'am, you have a name that is destined to be on the jacket of many children's books. Start writing them. Just saying.

Marie Arana offers a dissenting view in the Washington Post. I am trying to sell you on this event, but I include it for a couple of reasons 1) I like that she actually lives in the DC area. I think the future of local papers is exclusive content, preferably local (if you give me wire services for anything but national and international news, I can get my info elsewhere) and 2) Because I like to be a bit contrary.

Entertainment Weekly's review. It's a B+, and admittedly they grade books on a higher curve than they do music and movies, but this is still a good review. (This analysis is saved for another post)

Buy tickets at the Alverno web site or call (414) 382-6044. Do you have more questions? I'm sure you do. That's why I'm writing another post to answer some of them.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Read The Story Behind Jung's Red Book in Today's New York Times

One of the most surprising successes this season was The Red Book, a beautifully produced collection of Carl Gustav Jung's work. Priced at $195, we never expected to have the demand it did, and as a new store, we honestly didn't think we could sell one.

Well, maybe one, to our very special customer mentioned in the story in today's edition of The New York Times. (I don't normally use last names, but since he's quoted in the accompanying article, he's now a public figure!). I've known Dennis Paul ever since I was a bookseller back at the Harry W. Schwartz Iron Block store downtown, and he was a lawyer nearby. A friend and customer of David Schwartz, he's always been interested in books that celebrate and explore the life of the mind.

He's also been one of my most loyal supporters at Boswell. Not that he isn't shopping elsewhere, as he is a book-obsessed man who can't help it. Believe it or not, it's one of the things I love about him. He also, by the way, was able to make sure that the weather for the bookstore was about the best it could be. (You wondered why the entire state of Wisconsin was covered in snow except for the East Side of Milwaukee? That was Mr. Paul.)

Anyway, this post is one of my thank you's to Paul--another is finding an advance copy of an upcoming philosophy book. We'll see how that goes! If you missed the link earlier in the piece, here again is the link for Motoko Rich's "Dreamy Sales of Jung Book Stirs Analysis."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Great Deal on Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry, and Just in Time for Her MPL Event on January 14th

When the big deal for Audrey Niffenegger's new Her Fearful Symmetry with Scribners was announced early in 2009, I didn't know exactly what to think. $5.5 million is a big advance, but I'm not in the business of determining P&L's (profit and loss statements) for acquisitions.

We had a couple of early reads on the book and they were great. I just finished Her Fearful Symmetry, in time for our event at the Milwaukee Public Library on January 14th, and I have to concur it's a very good. It's a ghost story this time, concerning two pairs of twins. The older pair, Elspeth and Edwina, have been separated for years, and Elspeth has just died of cancer. She's bequeathed her apartment, and much of her fortune, to Edwina's twin daughters, Julia and Valentina, provided they live in her London flat for a year. They are not to see her papers, nor are they to allow their parents into the flat.

Elspeth's lover Robert is still in the building, obsessed with cemeteries and the dead. Their other neighbor is Martin, a man possessing severe OCD, such that he is unable to leave his apartment, even when his wife Marjike leaves him for Amsterdam. This, believe it or not, is the lighter parallel tale. There are some nice twists and turns, clever meditations on the soul, identity, home, and the old standbys, love and death. I'm not saying everybody loved the book who read it, but even Olive Kitteridge gets bad reads from some people.

Having read Audrey Niffenegger's books, The Time Traveler's Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry, I know the books bare some resemblances. Niffenegger's first book wasn't like anything else I've read. It was a time-travel book with a modern jump-cut structure embedded in a classic romance. Though many indies sold it well, it was said that B&N really helped make this book work in hardcover, taking a chance with indie MacAdam/Cage and hovering on the New York Times bestsellerlist in the twenties for months.

Harcourt was said to help out, having bought paperback rights early, and with that, lent marketing support. Of course I have no idea if most of this is true, particularly because both publishers have restructured in the wake of continuing publisher problems and many of my contacts are no longer at these houses. (I always say, there's nothing like a huge success to teeter a small publisher's finances).

Anyway, the book exploded in paperback. And while I don't know exactly how the rights came on the market for the next book (was it a one-book contract or did MacAdam/Cage give up the rights on their 2nd book of a two-book deal?), they did, and Scribner snapped it up in an auction. Here was a novel that sold beyond expectations, it was a rare auction where the manuscript was finished and also good, and there was a movie of the first novel on the horizon.

The movie was released, and drove sales of The Time Traveler's Wife, but didn't exactly set the box office on fire.

We've sold the book very well, as did some other independents. But in other markets, the book did not sell to expectations, and the publisher wound up doing a shared markdown. Like many independents, we don't often take advantage of this opportunity. It's a lot of paperwork for few books sold--and it often is difficult to chase down the elusive credit. Most shared markdowns wind up being celebrity nonfiction and commercial novels. We can't even sell those at $6.99 mass market (and I'm not being snotty here--I've tried).

I won't talk about the jacket, but I'm sure the shiny teal cover was a bit controversial and is now taking some of the blame. Expect a very different package when the book is released in paperback. I'm expecting something more like Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger, another ghost story that is likely performing above expectations, especially since Stephen King called it the best book of 2009.

So here's the package--a rich and rewarding novel in Her Fearful Symmetry, a fascinating author, a great setting at Milwaukee Public Library's Centennial Hall, Thursday, January 14th, 7 PM*), the event is free, and now the book's only $13.50 if you want to buy a copy. A portion of the sales will go to the Milwaukee Public Library. And we'll bring a selection of other titles for you to purchase, a mobile library, if you will. See you there.

Here's Niffenegger's front-page review for Her Fearful Symmetry in The New York Times Book Review.

Another great review in the London Telegraph.

Just like the advance, it's hard to judge the novel without the context of The Time Traveler's Wife, though one of my booksellers hadn't actually read the first book. Here's a good review from the Guardian (UK).

AV Club review here. Better than the first book.

Washington Post review from Ron Charles. Some issues, but likes it.

The Toronto Globe and Mail features a review from Emma Donoghue. I think that's a good matchup.

One last piece from the Los Angeles Times and Martin Rubin. Issues with the philosophy, but happy with the twists.

*Depending on turnout. We have a smaller option if necessary.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Listen to Lanora and Lisa from Next Chapter and Books and Company on Wisconsin Public Radio

Listen to Lanora of Next Chapter and Lisa of Oconomowoc's Books and Company talk about their picks of 2009 with Stephanie Lecci.

In this interview, you will learn that Lanora is the true source for my rec for Beautiful Creatures. Yes, she told me to sell it to anyone who likes Twilight and the other Stephenie Meyer books.

Oh, and Lanora also convinced me to read The Most Beautiful Book in the World, another Europa discovery that, while a collection of stories, has enough of the vibe of The Elegance of the Hedgehog to be a great suggestion for folks who devoured Muriel Barbery's novel--the titles, while written by different authors, share a translator. (Alas, Gourmet Rhapsody has been disappointing to just about every reader.)

Lisa confirms that Jonathan Tropper's This is Where I Leave You is the book I should have read but still have not. And she's really got me interested in W. Eugene Smith's The Jazz Loft Project, a collection of photos from an ex-Life Magazine photographer who holed up in Chelsea in the early 1960's, and became perhaps the premiere jazz photographer from that era.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Post Overload! But I Need an Easy Way to List the Titles from my Appearance on Wisconsin Public Radio

Do too many posts spoil the blog? Not when you've got a lot of timely things to say. Today I went on Kathleen Dunn's show on Wisconsin Public Radio and we had a great talk about books. (Editor's note: to find the show, scroll to Monday, 12/21, 10 AM).

I agreed to transcribe all the titles when the broadcast was up, but I haven't started listening yet. I'm hoping that by the time the feed goes out (it was just moved from 9 AM to 11 AM, for folks wondering), this will have all the info folks were asking for. Yes, asking for--lots of call-in requests on the show for a complete list of titles.

I also need a link name for the email newsletter. So I am posting this blog, unfinished for now, but completed very soon.

Titles Mentioned:
Little Bee, by Chris Cleave
Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon
Blame, by Michelle Huneven
The Good Soldier, David Finkel (Kathleen rec)
Knives at Dawn, by Andrew Friedman
Ayn Rand and the Life She Made, by Anne Conover Heller
John Cheever, by Blake Bailey
Raymond Carver, by Carol Sklenicka
The National Parks, by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns
Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America , by Douglas Brinkley
The Red Book, by Carl Gustav Jung
Ad Hoc at Home, by Thomas Keller (correction, he didn't cook the meal, Bacchus did!)
Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volumes 1 and 2, by Julia Child
Julie and Julia, by Julie Powell
My Life in France, by Julia Child
The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman (caller rec)
The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog, by Dave Barry (caller rec)
Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy, by Peter Canellos (caller rec)
Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout (caller rec)
The American Civil War, by John Keegan (caller rec)
The Black Book of Colors, by Menena Cottin (caller rec from 2008 and out of stock everywhere, with lots of copies on backorder)
The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism, by Ron Suskind (caller rec--note this is not David Suskind)
Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell (caller rec)
What the Dog Saw, by Malcolm Gladwell
Too Big to Fail, by Andrew Ross Sorkin
Yummy: Eight Favorite Fairy Tales, by Lucy Cousins
Otis, by Loren Long
Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Maze Runner, by James Dashner
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall (caller rec)
The Antarctic: From the Circle to the Pole, by Stuart Clipper (caller rec, from 2008)
The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50, by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot (caller rec)
Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?, by Michael J. Sandel
Abigail Adams, by Woody Holton (Kathleen rec)
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (caller rec, in time for the film)
Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood
The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood
Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson
The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein (Facebook rec)
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqeline Kelly
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Facebook and caller rec)
Divine Daisy, a transpersonal tale, by Bud McClure (caller rec)
A Lifetime of Secrets, by Frank Warren (caller rec, from 2007. You probably would want to look at Postsecret first)
A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathan Lethem (response to caller)
The Power of Kindness, by Piero Ferrucci (Oops! Garrison Keillor's bookstore is called Common Good.)
Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear (a customer asked for a mystery recommendation)
The Poet of Tolstoy Park, by Sonny Brewer (caller rec)
Step Out on Nothing, by Byron Pitts (caller rec)
Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, by Maile Meloy
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin
American Salvage, by Bonnie Jo Campbell
Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon, by Philip B. Kunhardt III (caller rec)
A. Lincoln, by Ronald C. White, Jr. (caller rec)
Soldier from the War Returning: The Greatest Generation's Troubled Homecoming from World War II, by Thomas Childers (caller rec)
A Rainbow in the Night: The Tumultuous Birth of South Africa, by Dominique LaPierre
Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City, by Greg Grandin
Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species, by Sean Carroll
The Rock and the River, by Kekla Magoon (caller rec)
Stitches, a memoir by David Small
Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, by Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos Papadimitriou, Alecos Papadatos, and Annie Di Donna
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett (caller rec)
Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy: The Activist Who Saved Nature from the Conservationists, by Dyana Furmansky, and Roland C. Clement.
What fun! Thanks to Kathleen and Rhonda for having me on, and to the listeners for your suggestions. Someday I won't pepper my speech with so many "um's!"

Monday, December 21, 2009

We're Helping Katie Gingrass Gallery Fill the Shelves of the Milwaukee Public Library

Per our email newsletter, here are the books on the Milwaukee Public Library's checklist, for the
fill-the-shelves event at the Katie Gingrass Gallery.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll and Robert R. Ingpen
A Birthday for Bear, by Bonny Becker and Kady McDonald Denton
Carl's Snowy Afternoon, by Alexandra Day
Dog Days, by Jeff Kinney
Fancy Nancy: The 100th Day of School, by Jane O'Connor and Ted Enik
Go! Go! Go!, by Roxie Munro
Let's do Nothing, by Tony Fucile
The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan
Life-Size Zoo: From Tiny Rodents to Gigantic Elephants, An Actual Size Animal Encyclopedia, by Tereyuki Komiya
The Lion and the Mouse, by Jerry Pinkney
Luke on the Loose, by Harry Bliss
Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel, by Nikki Grimes and Gregory Christie
The Mitten, by Jim Ayleswoth and Barbara McClintock
My People, by Langston Hughes and Charles R. Smith, Jr
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma, by Trenton Lee Stewart and Diana Sudyka
Nate the Great and the Hungry Book Club, by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, Mitchell Sharmat, and Jodie Wheeler
Stage Fright, by Meg Cabot
Waddle, by Rufus Butler Seder
When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead

and here are some adult books in need...

Ad Hoc at Home, by Thomas Keller
The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, by Richard Holmes
The Big Burn, Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America, by Timothy Egan
The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, by T. J. Stiles
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann
Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volumes 1 and 2, by Julia Child and Simone Beck
The National Parks: America's Best Idea, by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns
Precious (also known as Push), by Sapphire
Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat's Jewel Box, by Madeleine Albright
This is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper
Tinkers, by Paul Harding
Vanity Fare's Questionnaire: 100 Luminaries Ponder Love, Death, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life, by Graydon Carter

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Our Bestsellers Lists for this Week from December 19th

Reporting our bestsellers is always an interesting weekly chore for me, but this week is particularly fun, as I see numbers (for non-events, at least) higher that I never see at other times. This week's numbers do actually show the effect of two events, our talk with John Eastburg for the Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion, and Reyna Grande's Dancing with Butterflies reading.

I'm glad to see a nice pop from my rec on The Power of Kindness in our email newsletter. Jason told me we should have been more prepared, as we could have sold another dozen copies this weekend. Hey, who knew that a week before Christmas, I can actually sell books in quantity out of the email newsletter? That was almost as surprising as when several folks came in with our Shepherd Express ad for Michael Sandel's Justice the week prior.

hardcover fiction
1. Too Much Happiness, by Alice Munro
2. Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls (event at Alverno, 1/9)
3. Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
4. Little Bee, by Chris Cleave
5. A Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore
6. Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon
7. A Short History of Women, by Kate Walbert
8. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
9. Chronic City, by Jonathan Lethem
10. Every Man Dies Alone, by Hans Fallada

Wow, this is quite the list. Do we not sell the commercial titles in quantity because our customer base is different, or because of the aggressive discounting going on with those titles? The Stockett of course, is the word-of-mouth book that's selling everywhere. And as you can see, we're getting the New York Times Book Review ten best of the year pop.

hardcover nonfiction
1. The Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion, by John Eastberg
2. Ad Hoc at Home, by Thomas Keller
3. The Book of Genesis, as interpreted by R. Crumb
4. Stones into Schools, by Greg Mortenson
5. Milwaukee Sketchbook, by MIAD Students, with text by Fran Bauer
6. One People, Many Paths, by John Gurda
7. Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers
8. True Compass, by Ted Kennedy
9. My Bread, by Jim Lahey
10. Inside of a Dog, by Alexandra Horowitz

paperback fiction
1. Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout
2. Dancing with Butterflies, by Reyna Grande
3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larrson
4. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin (event 1/20)
5. The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein
6. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (opened at the Downer Theatre on Friday)
7. Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann
8. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, by Mary Ann Shaeffer and Annie Barrows
9. The Private Patient, by P.D. James
10. The Company Car, by C. J. Hribal (sold books at Sugar Maple)

paperback nonfiction
1. The Power of Kindness, by Piero Ferrucci
2. Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Morenson
3. The Blind Side, by Michael Lewis
4. Race Rules, by Michael Eric Dyson
5. Inventory, by the A. V. Club (of the Onion)
6. Milwaukee's Italian Heritage, by Anthony Zignego
7. Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, by John McWhorter
8. It's Beginning to Look at Lot like Zombies, by Michael Spradlin
9. Mary Nohl, by Barbara Manger and Janine Smith
10. The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin, by James Norton and Becca Dilley
If we've got copies left, you can reserve copies on our website.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Book Club Encounter at Boswell, A Short Play

An actual conversation from last weekend at Boswell.

Leslie: What are you doing here?

Lynn: I'm picking up my new book club book (slow unveiling), America, America.

Leslie: Well (dramatic flourish), I just my book club's new selection, Middlemarch!

And unveil, and flourish, and scene!

Thank you to all concerned.

So here's a little bit of marketing info on Ethan Canin's America America:

"In the early 1970s, Corey Sifter, the son of working-class parents, becomes a yard boy on the grand estate of the powerful Metarey family. Soon, through the family's generosity, he is a student at a private boarding school and an aide to the great New York senator Henry Bonwiller, who is running for president. Before long, Corey finds himself involved with one of the Metarey daughters as well, and he begins to leave behind the world of his upbringing. As the Bonwiller campaign gains momentum, Corey finds himself caught up in a complex web of events in which loyalty, politics, sex, and gratitude conflict with morality, love, and the truth. Ethan Canin's stunning novel is about America as it was and is, a remarkable exploration of how vanity, greatness, and tragedy combine to change history and fate."

This is the first published book of Canin's I haven't read and I feel incredibly guilty about the whole thing, especially because it involves the city of Buffalo. Don't count me out yet.

And now some marketing info on George Eliot's Middlemarch

"It was George Eliot's ambition to create a world and portray a whole community--tradespeople, middle classes, country gentry--in the rising fictional provincial town of Middlemarch, circa 1830. Vast and crowded, rich in narrative irony and suspense, "Middlemarch" is richer still in character and in its sense of how individual destinies are shaped by and shape the community. "

For a while, Middlemarch showed up in every novel I read. I was miserable to have not read it, but obviously that feeling ebbed, as I still have not read it.

Yes, we've come a long way since we've opened, regarding book clubs. We started with just a few on the hold shelf, and now we've got over 40 clubs registered. You can browse what our clubs are reading in our book club case, and after calendars wind down, we'll be expanding to a larger bay, because we can't fit all the selected titles in the case that's currently being used.

Your book club's purchases get an automatic 10% discount, and they qualify for the Boswell Benefits rebate of 5% more. We ask that at least three club members buy their books through us to qualify.

If your club picks their books annually, I'm happy to present titles that best suit your club. If your club already buys many of their books from us, this service is free. If you currently shop elsewhere or use the library, there is a small charge for this service.

I Obsess Over My Barbara Pym Hardcovers

When I was working in New York, our offices at Warner Books (now Grand Central) were located in the same building as a very large B. Dalton. What was very cool was that at one time, you could enter the store directly from the subway station (and then later on, you couldn't).

My boss Ling had become good friends with Jeff, the store manager, and they liked to chat about what was and wasn't working. But I didn't know a soul in the store; it was a large space and I just liked exploring it.

One of the highlights for me was the shelf of Barbara Pym hardcovers (mentioned in the last post). At one point, they had a faceout of almost every title, reissued from E.P. Dutton. How did they get so popular? In the 1980's, Barbara Pym mania swept the nation, or at least a little tiny subsegment of it. Anne Tyler was a huge fan, as was John Updike. English literary critics voted her the most underrated writer of the 20th century. After having her manuscripts rejected for many years, it led her to start publishing again. And yes, of course, I'm too lazy to verify anything I just stated--let's just assume my memory is correct, although it often isn't.

It seemed like everyone I knew was reading her. And what a joy the experience was. I wound up getting them all in hardcover and in paperback. I read the unfinished manuscript. And I even read the letters--name another author I can say that about! The 13 books have a place of honor in my dining room, the copy of A Glass of Blessings is somehow more faded than the others, perhaps because, being partial to it, I left it out longer in direct sunlight.

For some reason, Excellent Women is the one that prevails. I don't know if the plot is so different, or if it's title just perfectly sums up what Pym is all about. It's a similar dilemma to Anita Brookner, where everyone reads Hotel du Lac because it won the Booker, but there are many perfectly wonderful titles in her library. But I'll save that for another posting.

Why isn't there a series of BBC shows based on these novels? Wouldn't they be perfect for Masterpiece Theater? Or is that all classics now. Oh, remember when they dramatized the Lucia novels?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Did you ever Try Handselling a Book and Realize You Don't Have any Copies...

So I'm talking to a customer and the perfect book suggestion comes to me. The only problem is, when I get to the shelf, we don't have it. Not just that, we've never had it.

In some cases, I caught these gaffes quickly and it's paid off. We have very nice sales of The Distant Land of My Father, by Bo Caldwell, and I think in 75% of the cases, I put the book in someone's hand. Others I spotted yesterday. And only time will tell if it's worth it to bring these titles in. But now that I'm on the floor quite a bit, I have lots more opportunities than when I was a buyer, and I seem more persuasive than when I was the manager in Mequon many years ago.

The key on these things is, you really have to prove that you can sell the book. "It's your job, not your library" I used to say to eager booksellers who spent way too much time telling me what we were missing, instead of trying to sell what we had. And though as the owner, perhaps I can carry whatever I want, it's been my thought that I should have the same expectations of myself that I have of everyone else, if not higher.

1. The Golden Gate, by Vikram Seth.
First I decided it was perfect for Lucy, the daughter of my friendstomer (friend/customer) Polly. I thought I'd ordered in one for stock too, so I brought it up at the Waukesha County book club presentation I did today. I had already convinced Cyndie (the member who set this up) to read it, but when I checked, I still hadn't been secure enough to bring in a stock copy. We sold about 30 copies of this book, a novel of two friends in 1970's San Francisco that is completely told in sonnets, when I made it my backlist push several years ago. It's a beautiful book, both structurally and emotionally, and whether you love it or hate it you have to agree--you've likely never read anything like it.

2. Village School, by Miss Read.
I hadn't even thought about Miss Read in years, until a certain retired sports hero's wife told me it was her secret passion. I thought, "Hey, I'm working with every Miss Read fan I know", that being Bev and Anne. We brought in several and are hoping it is as successful as another passion we share (well, Bev, me and Amie in this other case), Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking. After seeing a Schwartz store sell two a year if we were lucky, we've sold about 20 this year.

Which brings me to an author I thought was perfect for my Miss Read fan...

3. An Unsuitable Attachment, by Barbara Pym (et al).
I think we're due for another Barbara Pym revival and I'm ready to start it. It's another author that Bev, Anne, and I share (oh, and John E., who also loves Colwin). In this case, the story is about Sophie, the vicar's wife, who takes on the task of matching the eligible Rupert Stonebird to her sister Penelope, only she doesn't figure on competition from new arrival Iantha Broome. The 50's books are different from the 80's books (where there are even some gay characters) but they both share a profound human insight and a marvelous sense of humor. This is the bridge novel, the 7th novel that was somehow rejected by her publisher and led to a very long dry spell.

4. In Sunlight, in a Beautiful Garden, by Kathleen Cambor. My recent post on Mark Gates reminded me what a great book club book that was, and how little I was on the floor to hand-sell it. Best of all, it's still in print and available as a real book, as opposed to print on demand. During our Raymond Carver event, I started to talk up David Leavitt's Martin Bauman (Leavitt's veiled story about his professional relationship with Gordon Lish), only to find it was $21.95 and POD. Now it might be a perfectly nice book, but it's about $7 too high for my customers, and I was a little nervous about the quality to order it in.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Kirkus is No More. One Last Review to Talk up Friday's Event with Reyna Grande

Being that Nielsen has announced they are shutting down Kirkus Reviews, I thought they wouldn't care if I printed the review for Reyna Grande's Dancing with Butterflies in its entirety. But when I printed it, I realized that like all Kirkus reviews, it gave away too much plot. These reviews are used all over the web now, but all those spoilers!

"Four Los Angelenas connected to the vibrant world of Mexican Folklorico dance tell their stories. Their troupe, Alegria, dances to mariachi music, performing indigenous forms ranging from Aztec tribal steps to German-influenced polkas. After an arthritic knee ends her performing career, Alegria's founder and star Yesenia undergoes a midlife crisis that threatens her marriage. Husband Eduardo begins to unravel when Yesenia radically alters her plump form with cut-rate plastic surgery in Tijuana (not so cut-rate that she doesn't have to embezzle from Alegria to pay for it)..."

There was a time when Schwartz had several subscriptions to Kirkus, but we slowly determined that the perceived value of the reviews (like so many things in today's world) was decreased by access to other early information. So sad! We were at C. J. Hribal's fundraiser reading for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists at Sugar Maple and he and Larry Watson and I were having sort of a funereal reminiscence.

But really, this post is about Reyna Grande! She's appearing at Boswell this Friday, 7 PM.


A lovely write up from La Bloga.

And yay! Reyna got this week's Book Preview in the Shepherd Express.

And an interview from last summer in Latino L.A.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Mark Gates Note

My apologies for not publishing yesterday. I have been in a blur and really didn't want to write anything but this, and read anything (for fear that I might steal good bits) until my note about Mark was finished.

I first met Mark Gates when he was selling to my coworker John. We had been buying frontlist and backlist together, dividing up the list, and John inherited the line because it was previously sold by the Eugene Rotenberg (or possibly "Burg") commission group. That's another five stories in itself.

Isn't it funny how memory is? I would insist that Mark moved to Chicago to sell Farrar Straus Giroux in 1996, based on this fleeting impression of how I met him and this weird dynamic where I was more like a visitor to the office. If you told me he actually started selling us in 1991 (which is entirely possible), I'd admit that it wouldn't be the first memory I'd rewired to suit a story.

Afterwards, we both went to John and sort of asked, "Who was that?" (I was probably at my most manic, and Mark was sort of showing pity for having to work with a bit of a know-it-all, an interrupter, a suck up). Did I leave the card out of my brain file or something? Because I have that very clear memory of John telling me Mark's story, about he moved to Chicago to be a key account rep for FSG, an esteemed publisher that was still independent and run in the old family way by Roger Straus.

It was the next year in Schwartz lore that John left buying to open Schwartz on Downer, the location of the store that I've come to own. I returned to buying after a short sabbatical where , my goal was to write a book about old department stores, by the way. I still have piles of research, but I never knew exactly what I could contribute to the canon, and why anyone would want it. One of the ways I would detour with sales reps was to ask them about their childhood department store memories, and Mark had some nice tidbits about visiting the stores of Pittsburgh.

Pretty quickly my meetings with Mark grew to be a highlight of the season, starting of course with the little asides. He could be very passionate about the books, but was pretty blunt about books that he thought has little chance of working. This is quite common now, but in the days when many reps had strong commission incentives (and some did not even account for returns), it was common to see a rep that loved everything.

He could take something as seemingly drab as a trip to the grocery and turn it into a wonderful story. So you can imagine how a book he enjoyed would become a must-read for everyone around. In particularly, his appearances at our sales rep presenations would be much anticipated. When he loved a book, he could make it happen. When there was a list where he was lukewarm, he would just be incredibly funny. What made him a great rep is that he didn't stop thinking about the list after he sold it; if there was a book that was generating some good reads or buzz that we missed out on, he'd pretty quickly get us up to speed.

Mark had a way of being droll and a bit cutting, and yet he possessed a very warm heart. No matter that he sometimes dropped a less than angelic insight about someone, he had an incredibly warm heart. (editor's note: Really! Very warm!)

I have two strong book memories of Mark. I'm not including Maisie Dobbs, the Soho press title by Jacqueline Winspear that went on to great success, and where I credit Mark with rallying many, many indendent booksellers to get behind the book and spread the word out of his territory. It's a wonderful series, but my fellow booksellers at Schwartz led the charge, and I was just along for the ride.

Another book that Mark loved deeply was Nuala O'Faolain's Are You Somebody, a book he sold very agressively and passionately, and eventually developed a good friendship with the author. It was one of those books where I grew to appreciate his special working relationship with Maggie Richards at Holt, one of the few publishing folks I know that could match Mark jibe for jibe.

No, the focus was on books we both loved that we tried to help break out. The first was Kathleen Cambor's In Sunlight, In A Beautiful Garden, a novel about the Johnstown Flood, which coincidentally, was set in the town where Mark was born. It was a beautiful story that jumped around to the different residents, unknowingly in the path of the flood, while also focusing on the corporate titans of Pittsburgh whose neglect led to the tragedy. The book worked, but never found the audience I thought it deserved. (It's still in print from Harper, but I included the FSG jacket, which I like better).

The second was Alan Bennett's, The Uncommon Reader, which had a very different fate. I remember having these very intense conversations with Mark about how this book spoke to the true independent customer. How when I met my good friend Sue Boucher at Lake Forest, I started jabbering about the book, and John Eklund (who had facilitated our lunch meeting) was ecstatic about it as well, having read it in it's original magazine form and had no idea it was becoming a stand-alone. I think I must have raised my order to Spenser Lee (Maggie's longtime equivalent at FSG) three times, to the point where our initial order was 300 copies (oy, those were the days) and we still eventually ran out.

I love that book so much because Bennett, through his story of the Queen of England who becomes a passionate book lover, gets it. We book lovers are a different breed; we are a different bunch. They see us as crazy, and I guess I might say likewise.

Mark also had incredible charisma. Everybody wanted to be his best friend. I was certainly not exempt from that desire. When I got my Thanksgiving invite to visit Mark and his partner Steve in Madison, you be sure I jumped at it, even though it was probably given out of pity and I don't usually like holiday gatherings.

But do you know what was particularly special about Mark? You know how with most people when two good friends of someone meet, there's often this competition? Well, Mark had a way of making his separate friends become...friends. I am particularly grateful to Mary, Anne and Johanna for keeping me in the loop as Mark became less able to communicate.

I did get to visit Mark in Madison at least once, but my last meeting was at the bookstore, where Mark and Steve came to see Michael Perry (Coop), and buy a bunch of books, a last gift from Mark. He bought my passion, Little Bee, among other things, and only later did I learn that he wasn't really reading much anymore.

Here's Mark's obituary in Publishers Weekly and one in Shelf Awareness. He was PW Rep of the Year in 2006. And here's a link to the Wisconsin (Madison) Book Festival, a cause that was dear to Mark's heart. There are lots of other tributes around, but I'm sure his friends have already read many of them so I'm not going to link to them all.

I miss him. My sympathies to Steve, his family, his friends.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I Have Been Trying to Write a Customer Service Post Since We Opened, but Until Now, Couldn't Find Anything Funny in the Topic.

So many times have I started a customer service post. Every time something goes wrong, I want to write, "You're only as bad as your worst bookseller at his or her worst moment." And I include myself in that grouping.

Things go wrong. Not everybody likes our policies. People want us to break our policies about returns, for example, a bit tighter than with Schwartz. We moved much closer to other indie bookstores, and the world is moving that way in general. But all rules are situational, and we know that. And I'll bend a rule for a good customer.

Oh, and also, we do things wrong. There's that too. I make big mistakes sometimes, and I'm apologizing for that in advance.

All this leads up to yesterday's story. I'm working on the floor and get a call from a very, very, very, angry customer.

AC: I want to speak to the manager. Are you the manager?

DG: Yes, I can help you.

AC: The manager. I'm only speaking to the store manager.

DG: I'm the store owner. Daniel Goldin. I think I can help you.

AC: I am so pissed at this store.

DG: I'm sorry (natural instinct. Probably shouldn't ever be involved in a car accident that isn't my fault). What happened?

AC: My grandmother comes into your store all the time. She always shopped at Schwartz and she contines to shop there. So, she came in and bought four Windows books for nephew. It turned out he had a Mac. She brought them back and wanted the cash. You wouldn't give it to her because she didn't have a receipt. She was so upset she left without the books.

Later on I called back. I asked to speak to someone in charge and the woman said, "I can help you." I started talking about the books and she said, "I see them right here." My complaint started and the woman said, "Sir, people try to scam us about this all the time. We have to be careful."

I was incensed! How dare she accuse my grandma? (The vitriol went on for another 3-4 paragraphs but you get the idea. He was mad.)

DG: What was this woman's name?

AC: I don't know. She wouldn't tell me.

DG: What is my name?

AC: Um, I didn't write it down. I don't know (really, this interaction happened).

DG: It's Daniel. I don't want this to happen to you again. You should write it down. (OK, this broke the tension a bit)

Now here's the thing (and note that I'm dealing with this from our phone in the back right of the store). If your grandmother bought the books from us, we can figure out if she bought them through our Boswell Benefits program. We don't do this all the time, because it's a bit complicated. What's her last name? When did this happen?

AC: It's Van Damme. She came in on Black Friday.

DG: Boy, I don't recognize that name and I know a lot of my older women customers.

AC: She's in all the time. Everyone calls her Miss Lillian (yes, the name is changed).

DG: I don't have anyone on that program here. Is she on Boswell Benefits? That thing where we give customers a 5% coupon when they spend $100. Most people keep track of it by their phone number, just like the Schwartz program.

AC: Oh, Miss Lillian would never give out her phone number to anyone. That's private information.

DG: We don't use the number, give it out, sell it. And you don't have to use your phone number for the program. Anyway, she's not on it.

AC: Well, what are you going to do about it?

DG: I'm sorry all this happened, and I want to figure out what I can do, but first I really have to look at our sales, and talk to the person whom I think would have handled this.

End of dialogue.

I promise to call him back ASAP. I'm a little panicky about the whole thing. How could this have gone so wrong? And though I have an inclination to do whatever this guy says, I don't want to override the circumstances of what Amie (and it would have to be Amie, only she and Jason could really make those decisions without sending it "upstairs" in a weird situation like this.) But this really doesn't sound like Amie.

So I talk to Amie. She knows nothing about it.

I go look for the books, which were right in front of the woman who answered the phone. We can't find them anywhere. I check sales for Black Friday. No computer books sold.

The caller kept saying that his grandmother went to Schwartz and continued to shop with us afterwards. Maybe it was Next Chapter. I call. Nope, no computer books on hold. It couldn't be Open Book because they have no computer section.

I called back the customer and got his answering machine. Fifteen minutes later I called back again. No answer.

It's been another day and we never heard back. Do I keep calling? Did the caller realize it wasn't our store after all? Whatever happened, there was no apology. Was the whole thing a practical joke? There's not even a lesson in here!

OK then, maybe there is a bestseller list here. These could have been books she bought.

The Top 5 Windows Books, according to Ingram demand:
1. Windows 7: The Missing Manual, by David Pogue (and it's not even out yet)
2. Windows Internals, by David Solomon
3. Windows 7 Inside Out, by Ed Bott
4. Windows 7 Plain and Simple, by Joyce Jerry
5. Teach Yourself Visually Windows 7, by Paul McFedries.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Listen to Carmichael's Bookseller Carol Besse (OK, and Others) on NPR's "On Point"

I was driving around his week with the HHR that I rented so we could do four offsites this week. It also got me to Fox Wake Up News on Tuesday (and no, I don't know how to link to my interview) and to Alverno College, where I picked up the sign for our Jeannette Walls event (January 9th, 2 PM).

On "On Point", Carol Besse was discussing some of her favorite books of the year. Hey, I know who she is! Besse is one of the principals of Carmichael's Books of Louisville. Their two stores are must-sees for any book lover visiting that city. You just wouldn't believe how they pack such interesting stuff into such a small space. I've only been to the city twice but I think I went to one store or the other every single day I was there.

It's a really interesting segment, also including David Ulin of the Los Angeles Times and Laura Miller of Salon. But I'm a bookseller, so I'm most interested in Bessie's Best:

- Chris Hedges, The Empire of Illusion
- David Grann, The Lost City of Z
- T. R. Reid, The Healing of America
- Michael Sandel, Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do
- David Small, Stitches: A Memoir

- Chris Cleave, Little Bee
- Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog
- Tania James, Atlas of Unknowns
- Lydia Peelle, Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing
- Lorrie Moore, A Gate at the Stairs

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More on David J. Wagner's American Wildlife Art, now Rescheduled for Monday, December 14th, 7 PM

On Tuesday we were supposed to host David J. Wagner to talk about his edited collection American Wildlife Art, which looks at the history of wildlife art, focusing quite a bit on Audubon. I think it would be a very interesting talk for a very beautiful book (which, yes, we have been selling), but ugh, that weather.

The lakefront actually got rain and mush, compared to points north and west of us. But still, it's often just fear that keeps people away. Fear of blizzards. How does Dairy Queen overcome that phobia anyway?

That said, since Wagner is local, we rescheduled to next Monday, December 14th, 7 PM. I asked David to write a bit about how the book came to be. You can read it here.

Shortly after I earned my Ph.D., I was invited by the eminent ornithologist and creator of Houghton Mifflin's enormously successful field guides, Roger Tory Peterson, to conceptualize and orchestrate a world-wide conference about wildlife art at the Chautauqua Institution to inaugurate the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History in Jamestown, New York.

The conference took place in the fall of 1992. I specifically designed the conference to follow the chronology and themes of wildlife art history outlined in my Ph.D. dissertation. Thanks to Roger, funds were provided to attract speakers of the highest caliber. In session I, for example, speakers included Professor Roderick Nash (author, Wilderness and the American Mind, and Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara).

Attending the conference was Robb Reavill, Science Editor for Cornell University Press. She subsequently recommended my dissertation for publication. To assess what was needed to expand my dissertation into a book and support her recommendation for publication, she retained Professor Nash to read and critique my dissertation and book proposal.

In the meantime, William G. Kerr, founder of the National Wildlife Art Museum in Jackson Hole, WY, asked Carl Rungius historian, Professor Donald E. Crouch, to review them too. The Robert S. and Grayce B. Kerr Foundation consequently funded a postdoctoral fellowship that permitted me to conduct the additional research and writing that was needed to expand my dissertation into a book. The result was:

15 years in the making, and it looks it. Beautiful!
Here's more about the Chautauqua Institution. At one time there were Chautauqua's all over the country, all promoting the arts and learning in pastoral settings. Now I think there are four--I stayed in one in Boulder, Colorado. My mom's friends in New York often go there for programming in the summer.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How did Things Go with Our Book Club Discussion of The Hakawati?

What a big sprawling monster The Hakawati is! Rabih Alameddine's third novel is framed by Osama, a Lebanese man in the U.S. who returns to Beirut to watch over his dying father with the rest of his remaining family.

This is a book about storytelling, so all there are a lot of plot strands to follow. There's the stories about his extended family, like Uncle Jihad, his sister Lina, the rise of the family's car dealerships, life in Beirut under the Civil War, and so forth. There's the fanciful tale of Fatima, a servant who becomes lover of a demon and partners with 8 mischievous imps (Adam, Noah, get the idea) to do battle with King Kade, the white goddess-like figure). There's the retelling of the legent of Baybars, the 13th century fellow who rose from slave to warrior and battled...well, I honestly got a little mixed up with this story, as it's the one that started last.

Our opinions ranged from "This is why I read fiction" to "Boy, this guy bit off a lot. I'm not sure he was able to chew it all." Reviews similarly ranged from incredible to problematic, but of course tended more to the former. After reading The Hakawati, I tried to get as many insights as I could about the book. My one contribution that I hadn't read elsewhere, was noting that cheering for Fatima, aligned with the demon, throwing conventional good and evil on its head, played off the recent historical fragments where folks of different religions (and there are a lot of different religious peoples in the book) demonize everyone else, but to the others, they are the demons. Similarly, that is probably why the most likable folks in the book are named Osama and Jihad--this actually came from one of club members, not me. But I agree.

I think Alameddine adopts a style that rejects certain traditional forms for novels. In a sense, his first two novels (Koolaids, and I The Divine) are both composed of fragments, the second actually being all composed of first chapters. In the case of The Hakawati, Alameddine offered the least storytime to the most traditional novel narrative, that of the framing story of modern-day Osama. This is totally stolen from two other critics, but it may be why I dipped into Koolaids, but never read it.

We all felt we would have appreciated the novel even more if we were more familiar with the source material. I was fascinated by how he told stories from so many different sources and made them his own. As usual, the results were an embarrassing blot on my reading history--how could I not have read Ovid's Metamorphoses? And am I reading it next? No. I have event books to conquer.

The book club was successful for me, as I really wanted to read Alameddine, and this was what forced me to do so. And I liked it, though I'm not sure if I did as much as my fellow bookseller Elizabeth Jordan at Bookpeople. I couldn't find a post in their blog where she talked about it, but here's where she calls it her favorite book of 2008. And then you should jump over and read their blog.

We are probably doing too many long books in a row for our in-store lit group book club. I also realize that I have to do some crowd pleasers. And at least one of the members is chomping at the bit to pick the books. I am leaning towards a Herte Muller for March. They are short.

That said, here are our next two selections:
Monday, January 4th, 7 PM
The Post Birthday World, by Lionel Shriver
My sister Merrill has wanted me to read this book forever. Before you get all fluffy on me, it was long-listed for the Man Booker. So there.

Monday, February 1st, 7 PM.
Elmer Gantry, by Sinclair Lewis
The Florentine Opera is offering discount passes to book club attendees. We may do a second day-time discussion.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Interview Today w/Mark Concannon on Fox 6 Wake-Up News; Snow Strategy is to Panic & Reschedule David Wagner's American Wildlife Art

This morning I was on Fox 6's Wake Up News, talking to Mark Concannon about some holiday ideas. Here's what I recommended:

1. Little Bee, by Chris Cleave (shocker!)
2. Ad Hoc at Home, by Thomas Keller
3. The Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion, by John C. Eastberg (reminder, our event is on Wednesday, December 16th, 7 PM)
4. Otis, by Loren Long
5. Raymond Carver, by Carol Sklenicka

A big thank you to Mark and WITI for having me on, particularly on a day when everyone is glued to their TV sets for updates on the big storm. Maybe some folks out there will get some ideas. And yes, the implication is that we have copies of Ad Hoc at Home; I know that many stores have sold out. If you got here by search engine, our phone number is (414) 332-1181. You can order on our web site, but you must "hold for pickup" and we will call you back to get your credit card number.

I should have had this totally set up. My apologies.


Speaking of big storms, ours is predicted for late today and tomorrow. We'll probably stay open until the customers disappear, and we're planning to open a bit late tomorrow, around 11 AM. (Editor's Note: Milwaukee got slush, snow was further north and west. We'll probably open regular hours).

We're rescheduling our event for David Wagner's American Wildlife Art for next Monday, December 14th, at 7 PM. Read more about David's book here. (Editor's note: we did get a handful of people, all of whom were local and were happy to come back next Monday...I hope).

Meanwhile, we're probably a bit bored. Give us a call at (414) 332-1181 or use our general order email address at You can also always email me at

Yesterday I got an email back from Pat, who was a bit shocked that I replied to a note she sent me about my appearance on Susan Stamberg's book segment on NPR's Morning Edition. The only stops me from replying to all real (that is, all those that don't promise me a million dollars) emails is my disorganization.
A big apology to Carol S., with whom I missed having coffee. In my panic, I showed up at Fox yesterday (!), having mixed up the two appointments. It had to happen eventually, and I'm shocked it's not more often. Anyway, thank you for understanding, particularly because it had to do with a service gaffe on our part. This turn of events doesn't exactly make things better.