Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Conversation About Hardcovers, and Can I Just Get a Little Excited that Little Bee is #3 on the New York Times bestseller list?

I was at a dinner with some authors, and they wondered why American publishers are still doing hardcovers. I guess they haven't checked their royalty statement, as the average percentage for a hardcover is higher than the paperback (and that's on a more expensive book, to boot). (Hope I got this correct. It's hard being an expert of nothing who makes grand pronouncements).

There's no question that many publishers use the extra money they get from a hardcover to upgrade the quality of the hardcover. I've complained a bit before about see-through paper (and I will again, just watch me), which you almost never see on a hardcover. Crappy, newsprint paper on the trade paperback? I can't think of a better adverstisement for an ebook. Also, publishers usually build more marketing into the hardcover. A recent publicist, on hearing my go-between request for an author to tour in paperback, replied, "We don't do paperback tours."

There's another reason for a hard/soft publication. Publishers doing hard then soft get a second chance to launch a book. This was brought home to me by my dearest Little Bee exploding in paperback and hitting #3 on its paperback publication (officially for next Sunday but nowadays, the ranks get released fairly early), selling in one week (and that's just on Bookscan) about a third of the copies it sold for the life of the hardcover. I hadn't seen so much paperback advertising for a book in some time, but if this means a year on the bestseller list, it was a wise investment.

Hey, librarians loved the book too. Little Bee was picked as Santa Monica's "One City, One Book" program. And I want to give a thank you to Simon and Schuster for not rushing out the paperback. A third of our hardcover sale for this book that came out in February was during the Christmas season. Oh, and can I also thank you for the beautiful paperback jacket that totally pops off the shelves? You can have great sales without a woman's headless body*, imagine that!

Another publisher that used the hardcover to set up the paperback was Algonquin with A Reliable Wife. Though it had very strong sales in some markets, it never cracked the top 15. In trade paperback, it reached #1 on the New York Times.

Are those huge paperback sales from indie bookstores? We're only a tiny part. But did independent bookstores help set up the book in hardcover? Absolutely.

*Not a Chuck Palahniuk headless body, but body parts shown close up with the rest of the body edited off the page. It's very hot in book jackets, particularly trade paperbacks, and nobody's given me a suitable explanation.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hardwick, Vermont, is The Town that Food Saved

My friend Linda at Galaxy Bookshop dreamed of having a restaurant next to the store, a place for folks to have dinner before an author event, or have a beer afterwards. They started the process in 2003, and eventually opened Claire's, named in honor of one of her customers.

Linda and I were recently corresponding, and it turned out that Emeril was in town, filming an episode for the Planet Green network. She told me a whole bunch of folks were going to watch the episode (which featured Claire's) at the restaurant.

Hardwick has not just had a TV show (actually more than one show, I watched a news report on this town that has taken eating local to a new level), but a whole book. Don Hewitt's The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food has just been released, and we're really excited about it.

Here's some more info on the book:
Over the past 3 years, Hardwick, Vermont, a typical hardscrabble farming community of 3,000 residents, has jump-started its economy and redefined its self-image through a local, self-sustaining food system unlike anything else in America. Even as the recent financial downturn threatens to cripple small businesses and privately owned farms, a stunning number of food-based businesses have grown in the region--Vermont Soy, Jasper Hill Farm, Pete's Greens, Patchwork Farm & Bakery, Apple Cheek Farm, Claire's Restaurant and Bar, and Bonnieview Farm, to name only a few. The mostly young entrepreneurs have created a network of community support; they meet regularly to share advice, equipment, and business plans, and to loan each other capital. Hardwick is fast becoming a model for other communities to replicate its success. The captivating story of a small town coming back to life, "The Town That Food Saved "is narrative nonfiction at its best: full of colorful characters and grounded in an idea that will revolutionize the way we eat.

Next time I visit Boston, it's time for a road trip, don't you think?


More on Galaxy. Howard Frank Mosher discusses his event on March 2nd, at Galaxy in his blog piece, "Why I always launch my book tours at Galaxy Bookshop." We're hosting Mr. Mosher on Wednesday, April 21st, 7 PM.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Breathtaking and Brutal--Two Words to Describe Chang-rae Lee's New Novel The Surrendered. Three more? Boswell, March 13th (2 PM)

I’ve just finished an advance Chang-rae Lee’s fourth novel, The Surrendered, and my head is reeling. Just when you think you haven’t had enough pain, Lee punches you again in the gut.

The center of the story is a love triangle of sorts between June, a Korean orphan, wife of the minister in charge of the orphanage, and Hector, an ex-soldier who has stayed on to do maintenance work. All are already damaged, Sylvie by her childhood in Japanese-occupied Manchuria as the daughter of another missionary family and Hector, by dint that he is just a magnet for disaster. And June? Let’s just say that the first 30 or so pages of June’s story are about as wrenching as I’ve read. More on that below.

The story zips backwards and forwards. In the present day, June is dying of stomach cancer, and intent on finding her missing son in Italy. She’s also hoping to locate Hector. Past or present, this is not a light-hearted story. As my friend Arsen at Boulder Bookstore said to me, it’s a rare thing when you can say that the battle scenes in a novel are among the least brutal.

According to Lee’s publisher Riverhead, one of the most devastating stories was actually inspired by a true event, which Lee originally heard from his father when he was taking a modern Korean history course. Let’s just say that June plays the role of Lee’s father—it’s best of you read the story for yourself.

So much of The Surrendered is captured in little details. It’s no coincidence that Hector is named after the doomed hero of The Odyssey. And there’s no question that both June’s illness and profession are among several winking ironies.

We’re lucky enough to be hosting Mr. Lee on Saturday, March 13th, at 2 PM. This is only 4 days after the book comes out (on March 9th), so few attendees will be able to read the book ahead of time. This is the good and the bad about being on an official author tour—they have to time these things to get the big pop just after the book is released.

We should have Chang-rae Lee’s previous novels in event-sized stock shortly. His most popular work to date has been A Gesture Life. Both it and his first novel, Native Speaker, focus on the lives of Koreans and Korean-Americans. His last novel, Aloft, that I read and enjoyed, was quite the departure, the story of a life crisis of an Italian American. The book received major attention, included the coveted New York Times trifecta (Sunday review, daily review, feature story). Here’s a link to them.

The new novel works on a much larger canvas, and in some ways builds on his earlier work (though Jerry Battle is far more comfortable in his life than Hector ever was). Expectations are running very high for its release. We're honored to be hosting him, and thrilled that publishers are finally getting the Chicago excursion secret--Lee is traveling here and back in just a day trip.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What the Heck Did I Just Read?--And Other Questions I am Saving for Our In-Store Lit Group Discussion of The Passport Next Tuesday, March 2nd, 7 PM

Here's my first complaint and it's not about the book per se. Technos can ravage the entire book industry, but they can't figure out a way to add an umlaut to most things on the web (or an accent) without a hullaballoo. Like Herta Muller, the author of The Passport, for example. Our store database from Ingram ("Ipage") only spells the author's name as "Mueller", but some of her titles are spelled both ways. Cross "passport" and "muller" and you get nothing. I know how to fix it in a word document, but here? I'm stuck.

It's just one of the things that confused me about Nobel-Prize-winner Muller's novel about an ethnic German family trying to get a passport out of the country. I agree with some postings I've seen that think the original German title, translated to Man is Nothing but a Pheasant in the World, would give readers a much better indication of what they are getting into. It's a surrealist delight, with missed cues, clashing images, and stark, spare wording. A bit Gordon Lishy, really (you should remember our iconic editor from the Raymond Chandler biography).

But isn't this just the kind of book that's perfect for a book club? How can you be culturally literate if you haven't read the current Nobel Prize winner? But after reading The Passport, you'll have questions.

We're answering them (I hope) on Tuesday, March 2nd, at 7 PM (my apologies for bumping our session from Monday, but I'm visiting my mom for the weekend).

Here's a fabulous review from The Independent.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Stuff is Pouring in--From Purses to Puppets

The fruits of my stuff-ordering labors are finally ripening. This week we've received:

1. A restock of our literary action figures, plus Robot Monkey tissues and Fairy mints.

2. A new Moleskine order that beefs up our pastels for spring. A nice non-bunny gift for Easter too.

3. Folkmanis finger puppets are once-again fully stocked. After a slow first couple of months, we had a strong fall with these, continuing into January. We also got a selection of their handpuppets; check out the wolf in sheep's clothing. Alas, the fluffy lamb puppet went "out of print", even though we sold through our last one in little more than a week.

4. The correct frames arrived from one of our free-trade vendor. My only problem is that the bellyband that tells the story blocks the frame from opening, making it either difficult to a) display or b) sell.

From last week's arrivals, the boiled wool coin purse has been doing pretty well. We're contemplating a restock.


Jason just gave me great news for us, but not so great in general. We had the sixth best sale in the country on Strangers, the last Anita Brookner hardcover. I don't know what to do with that information, but I feel like it's worth noting.

Monday, February 22, 2010

New Cards and Journals from Sustainable Threads

I guess it's not a surprise that a number of booths at the Chicago gift show have sprung up selling recycled and fair trade goods. Don't go may wrong, there are still a great deal of snowmen-playing-the-piano statues that are made who knows where*

One booth that caught my eye was Sustainable Threads, a company that partners with low-income artisan communities in India, aspiring to provide access to fair wages, larger markets, and secure livelihoods.

For our first order, I brought in a collection of journals, boxed notecards, bookmarks and frames. Alas, I ordered the printed recycled frames, but instead got the organic tree-free paper frames. Harish very quickly made things right, but they don't show in the photo.

The journals start at $10.95. A pack of notecards are $13.95. The double pack is $24.95--that's a lotta notecards. We also have double-packs of bookmarks at the front counter, two for 2.95.


Boxed card advice of the day

Don't look at the price, look at the price per card. We just got in lovely packs of cards from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (art nouveau collections cats, dragonflies, butterflies, plus paintings of Venice) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tiffany Windows, Van Gogh flowers). Though the prices are higher ($16.95-$18.95), the cost per card is actually lower than some of our packs that are $10.95.

*Actually, that's the only snowman I didn't see, which makes me a bit sad.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Perils of Yellow Page Advertising in a World Where There Seems to be No Need for It

In the last few weeks, the store has received several dicey solicitations for yellow pages ads. They pretend that you are simply correcting listings, but the fine print says you are actually filling out a contract and will be billed accordingly. Sleaze-a-roo!

Many folks are foregoing traditional advertising sales. Why? Most folks can do a simple search and find our web site or one of our blogs, which all have our address, phone number, and emails. We've got a Google map listing and a spot on Yelp.

That said, the various companies who operate yellow page books and sites continue to operate. And based on how bad the information can be with our store, it frightens me regarding using them for anyone else.

One operator made us a mini chain. Several old Schwartz locations got listed as Boswell Books. On the other hand, the real Boswell Books on Downer Avenue stayed Schwartz.

Another operator decided to link my home number to the bookstore. That's probably because I registered the original LLC at my home address. Hurray! Our answering machine now suggests forwarding to our correct number, which is 414-332-1181.

Here's an amusing search on We are listed on the website, but so is Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop and my favorite, Terry W. Schwartz Bookshop.

Will you find us on No, you will not, though you will find multiple listings for the Panther Bookstore, and numerous ads for the Book of the Month Club. Just what you were looking for! Sadly, several of the stores on the list are out of business.

Let's try Through these listings, the best bookstore in town is obviously the Panther Bookstore at UWM. FYI, this store is not local, but owned by Nebraska Book Company. Harry W. Schwartz is listed, but no Boswell (or the other new bookstores that opened in their place). To even post a review, you need to open a yellowbook account, or participate in Facebook connect, which requires you to abide by Yellowbook's terms of service. What the heck is that? There's no further info--does that mean I put Yellowbook ads on my Facebook page?

At, I found our correct website ( on the Harry W. Schwartz listing. I'm going to try to fix this. Hey, it links back to superpages. What do you want to bet that I get solicited for an ad? Oh, it's even better, I can't fix a wrong listing without talking to an ad rep.

I could pay to fix all this stuff, but honestly, do you think it is worth it?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Ups and Downs of Internet Journalism--An Upcoming Event with McChesney and Nichols

Fifteen years ago, there were only a few ways for me to access out-of-town newspapers. One of them was on trips, when I would need to stop every hour or so for a drink break, a bathroom break, and a copy of the local paper. For a time, Schwartz carried out-of-town Sunday papers, and I would rotate through the cities. And of course there was the read-the-paper-that-was-used-as-packing-material option.

That memory came swirling back to life as I unpacked our order this week from Fred and Friends. The packing material for our Mon key and Russian doll key caps, and dead body mystery pad (with bloody pen) was an old copy of the New Bedford Standard Times. Of course the paper itself is called The Standard Times (no city) and the website is "South Coast Today." Each iteration becomes less newsy and more generic. That said, I was able to read the high school sports schedule and the obituarties and an article that said the new Jodi Picoult movie was critically mixed, but the fans liked it. Oops, the paper was from last July.

The new Picoult comes out March 2nd and is called House Rules--a kid with Asperger's Syndrome is accused of murder.

Of course I don't need to wait for an order from Fred to get the latest on what's happening in New Bedford. And this information explosion has played havoc with traditional newspapers, and media in general. Today we got a notice that our store copy of the Saturday Journal Sentinel is being replaced by an early Sunday version. I have no idea what that even means for the paper--I would assume this means my home delivery edition is also gone, but I don't really know, as they haven't posted info on their web site. I'll find out soon enough, but in this age, we demand answers now, now, now! (I'm not necessarily happy with this change in our programming, by the way.)

Hey, what do you know? We're having an upcoming event that explores some of these questions.

It's for Robert McChesney and John Nichols next Thursday, February 25th. Their new book, The Death and Life of American Journalism, contemplates the grave state of the traditional news industry and what's popping up to take its place. The authors argue (and I hope I state this correctly) that what the Founding Fathers hoped for in protecting the freedom of the press was co-opted by commercial interests, and now that this model is failing, what is coming to the fore is actually closer in spirit to the press of old. (Feel free to correct this in a comment).

Friday, February 19, 2010

How Does Chip Duncan get Those Amazing Photographs? A Meditation on Enough to Go Around

On the countdown to our event with Chip Duncan, the photographer behind Enough to Go Around: Searching for Hope in Afghanistan, Pakistan & Darfur, the question came to me—how does Duncan get those amazing photographs? I know he’s always travelling. When it came to setting up his event, we had a delay because he was in Haiti, taking photographs that would no doubt be used to help raise money for organizations like Save the Children and Relief International.

I could ask Mr. Duncan, but why not go another route? Folks who attend Tuesday’s event (February 23rd, 7 PM) will be able to hear it straight from him. So I went to Jennifer Buffett, longtime Milwaukeean turned New Yorker), who wrote the foreword for the book.

“My experience of Chip is that he has incredibly good taste in friends and makes them wherever he goes. He has quite a fan base of wonderful, substantive and talented friends here in the Manhattan and I include myself in that list. So I have no doubt when he traveled to the places in the book, he made friends young and old regardless of something as trivial as a language difference. He has the drive, passion, heart and fearlessness that I see mainly in people who do International Development work; he also has incredible integrity and altruism that I find, unfortunately, rare. He is humble and pure in his connection to spirit. He is a fantastic writer. He expects a lot from himself and sees the best in people (it may be cliché, but it's true!) Chip makes his home wherever he is and is "present" with people and there for his friends.”

That’s a combination of rare talents. I’m sold. How about you? Come see Duncan and his photographs next Tuesday.
Speaking of events, here's a nice Dan Kois piece in the Journal Sentinel. This Whitefish Bay High School grad (and Schwartz Bookshop alum) talks about Hawaiian Israel Kamakawiwo'ole and his groundbreaking album "Facing Future" this Sunday, February 21st, 2 PM.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Aging from a Younger Audience to an Older One--Zevin's The Hole We're In Tries to Make the Jump (and not Land in the Hole)

It seems that nowadays every adult author has a young-adult book inside them. Sometimes it's even the same book. Witness children's editions of Marley and Me and Three Cups of Tea. Can the YA version of Eat, Pray, Love be in production while we speak?

Not as often, but still with some frequency, kids' authors make the jump to adult titles. I think it doesn't happen as much because it doesn't often work. I've thought of Judy Blume. Who's on your list? (I thought of Meg Cabot and Meg Rosoff so far. Francesca Lia Block? It's hard to come up with a clean jump that led to both readership and critical acceptance. Compare that to Carl Hiaasen or Sherman Alexie.)

Of course Grove's Black Cat was not thinking of Wifey when they published Gabrielle Zevin's The Hole We're In, but in some ways, this is not a totally unfair comparison. Though I read that book many, many years ago, I remember it as a tale of marital dysfunction, and that's what this is too.

The twist in Zevin's novel is that the family are evangelical Christians of a variation she labels "Sabbath Day Adventists." I checked--there's no such thing. Very smart on her part.

Roger Pomeroy is a school administrator who decides he's going to go to grad school, only he doesn't really have the money for it. No problem, except for the money part. And Roger gets into more hot water when his faculty advisor takes a liking to his thesis and decides she'll too whatever it takes to get Roger to agree to a book project, with her getting top billing of course.

Ugh, money. It seems that mom Georgia and eldest daughter Helen vie for who can spend the most money they don't have. Helen would like a flash wedding and knows it's gauche to have the husband's family help pay. Their son Vinnie escapes by going to Harvard, though his mail still comes to the house--important plot point. And their youngest Patsy? She winds up with the most collateral damage, especially when the parents send them to her fundamentalist paternal grandmother back in Tennesse. With non-Christian college out of the equation, there's little she can do to break out of this family prison and settle her own debt issues. Oh, and did I mention that the Sabbath Day Adventists are also pacifists?

Zevin manages some interesting twists in perspective, and nicely captures the real estate boom and bust in the setting. For some reason, I suspect that there's little spark of connection to Zevin's own life in the story; it would be interesting to know if she'd flirted with any non-mainstream religious denominations.

Get it? It's a financial hole and a spiritual hole. And the young adult pigeon-hole?

I recommend The Hole We're In for the March 2010 Indie Next brochure. I'll link to the entire list once it's up. The novel is now in store, a paperback original with my beloved French flaps.


addendum--Dave, the buyer from Next Chapter, reminded me that Gabrielle Zevin previously wrote Margarettown, an adult novel that I actually had on my pile to read. Yeeks--so depending on the order, she could be actually an adult writer who then jumped to YA instead of the other way around.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Read This Week's Email Newsletter

I'm trying out the archive button. Let's hope it works! Here's the email newsletter that we sent out today.

What are You Going to be When You Grown Up? For the Longest Time, I was Going to be an Urban Planner

I love cities. I love the way people interact. I love things that are still around, like hotels, and things that pretty much aren't, like grand old department stores. I love public space, and also semi-public space, which is one of the reasons why I'm in the retail business.

Over the years, when I was trying to figure out what I was going to do after bookselling, I returned time and again to getting a planning degree. At one point, David Schwartz even pushed me to apply. Alas, graduate study just didn't seem to be in the cards for me.

Instead I read as much as I could on the subject, from Jane Jacobs (The Death and Life of American Cities) to William Whyte** (City: Rediscovering the Center--alas, this is now a textbook and our price would be higher than the one listed here) and authors obscure enough for me to not remember their names. Two seminal books I do remember were Tony Hiss's The Experince of Place, and The Geography of Nowhere, by James Kunstler.

I also did a lot of traveling, and could be passionate about the best guidebooks* and city histories. My informal education made me quite passionate on the subject, and I could be known for discussing (or arguing) the merits of public transportation or the evils of megadevelopments. I was very much Mayor Norquist's new urbanism camp, the pure version, before it was coopted by developers.

One friend who beared the brunt of this passion was Michael Bayer. Michael wrote some for the Milwaukee Sentinel, and later wound up in a small paper outside Fort Wayne, where I once visited him. After a number of years pursuing journalism, he broke the news to me--he was going back to school to get an urban planning degree.***

Michael earned his degree and has gone on to be a successful planner. I'm happy for him, mixed of course with a tinge of jealousy. But not really--this bookstore stuff actually speaks to a lot of my interests with third places and community building. Michael works at a company called Environmental Resources Management. Here's their website.

Michael has made it easier on me to live vicariously through him by writing, with Nancy Frank and Jason Valerius, a new book called Becoming an Urban Planner. They interviewed more than 80 planners in all areas of the field. It's a book that's perfect for folks thinking about school, students making the decision, and perhaps the biggest market, amateur fans like me.

Come hear Bayer, Frank, and Valerius at Boswell this coming Monday, February 22nd, at 7 PM. There's a reception beforehand sponsored by WUWM's School of Architecture and Urban Planning.

*The single best guidebook I ever read was Barringer Fifield's Seeing Pittsburgh, now out of print. It was a series of walking tours that mixed art, architecture, history, planning, and a bit of gossip.

**One of William Whyte's students was retail guru Paco Underhill, who adapted Whyte's research techniques to helping retailers improve sales.

***Michael was not my only friend to make this decision. My college friend Eric worked for many years at the DOT. I once visited his office. It should be no surprise to you that there were a lot of tall piles of paper.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Countdown to Spring

We've all had enough of winter, and the springy stuff that I bought for the store was chomping at the bit to get out. There are flowery pens and pencils and journals and notecards and coasters and thumb puppets. Anne's display just makes you feel happy when you see it, and at least ten degrees warmer.

We're still working on our book assortment, but Anne convinced me that Barbara Kingsolver's The Prodigal Summer belonged there, while I added Mary and John Gribbin's The Flower Hunters.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Now it Can be Revealed--The Combination to the Safe of the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop on 5th Street

Found in an old book:

Four turns right to 60,
3 turns left to 112,
2 turns right to 44,
1 turn left to 133.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Computer Crash Brings Home the Drawbacks of Depending on Technology

For the last few weeks, Boswellian Amie's mantra has been, "You need a new laptop. You need a new laptop."

My response was, "Why? Because there are all these strange lines running across my screen? Because pieces of it seem to be popping out of the case? Because it takes about ten minutes to do anything? Because it's more than a year old*?"

Well, it crashed, and at the perfect time, shortly before our local Milwaukee PC closed, at 4 PM on Saturday. Oh, and did you hear? It's President's Day weekend (we don't keep track of these kinds of holidays, but thanks again for all your help, George and Abe) and I'm likely not able to get things going on a new laptop till well into next week. So off we went to a chain retailer and picked out a model. And yes, I bought the accidental damage protection, and if you know me, you know why.

Since I had just attended Winter Institute, where we spent a lot of time discussing new technologies, e books, print-on-demand, and so forth, I've already in the mood to think about the planned obsolescence of technology.

Isn't it great the financial and industrial powers that be want to take one of the few things you do in life that doesn't depend on technology** (reading) and adapt it to a reader that will likely break, slow down, get a virus, and be your crappy old reader in three years that you absolutely, positively have to chuck for a new model? If all goes well, maybe you won't even be able to read your old books on your new reader. And if you don't believe that, there are some Sony E-books, 1990's style, that are rotting away in the basement of the Iron Block building in downtown Milwaukee that have your name on them.

In addition to the slower adoption of this technology than predicted, it's my thought after this whirlwind weekend of rewiring, that even folks who stock up on Kindles and Nooks and Sony's will be more likely to jump back and forth between the virtual and the actual than folks who jumped from vinyl to tape to CD to IPod. If nothing else, you might want to keep a few around for when your reader dies on a holiday weekend.

*It's much older than that, but its actual model year is unknown because it was a hand-me-down that I received in 2007. I suspect it was four years old.

**Yes, I know it takes technology to make a book.

Postscript--you're probably wondering how much I lost. Well, I actually put a lot of files on a travel stick about a week before I left. Now if I could only find the stick! I know that most ebook technologies today use the cloud--so you really don't have any files to lose. They are all with your technological partner. But that brings its own questions, doesn't it?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Twisted Valentine's Day Delight from Chuck Palahniuk

I don't generally celebrate Valentine's Day. But this year I have an admirer, and for that I'm grateful. I received candy, flowers, and oh, a snake. Seemingly rubber, but mainly poisonous. It came with a card too. Inscription reads:

"To the Always-Lovely Daniel Goldin--
--Until Death Do Us Part...
Webster Carlton Westward III"

No fool I, I immediately handed over the snake to Stacie, who I convinced to pose with my treats, in exchange for getting first crack at a reader's copy of the new Chuck Palaniuk novel, Tell-All, which was somehow included.

It's coming out on May 4th, a send-up of Old Hollywood and new-style gossip mongering, super-sized with Palaniuk mayhem and gore.

And though I don't feel like my life was actually threatened, the package provided me with not just a good laugh, but still provided a demonic twist. The box was spilled with litter and spilled all over our carpet. It's going to take forever to vacuum it all up and will probably destroy my already-sensitive machine in the process.

Speaking of Portland madness and Palahniuk pals, I just can't help but tell all about my success recommending Katherine Dunn's Geek Love to a book club I've been working with for a long time. It's about 25 women and when I promised them they never read anything like it, they couldn't help but agree. I hear it was a very good discussion and reinforces my mantra--reading groups are for reading outside your comfort zone.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mistakes Have Been Made!

1. I am worried about my decision to move Dan Maguire's event for Ethics: A Complete Method for Moral Choice to next Wednesday, February 17th, at 7 PM. In the early afternoon, it looked like there was no place to park and lots of areas that hadn't been cleared. By evening, things were better and despite sending out notices, we had a number of people show up. We gave them a $5 coupon with a $25 purchase (that's one hardcover book or a trade paperback and something else, not a bad deal) with my apologies.

Of course next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, a day of obligation. I know you can also go to church in the morning, but is my event on Christian ethics by a Marquette professor going to wreak havoc with some folks' worship? My fault again. I'm hoping it's easy to do both, and it's certainly a timely talk.

2. Dan Kois' talk for Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's Facing Future was listed correctly on our email and event calendar, but actually got listed at the wrong time on Facebook and our web site. The correct info is Sunday, February 21st, 2 PM. This is that wonderful book in the 33 1/3 series, documenting this one album in the life of one of Hawaii's most beloved singers. You know, the late singer with the ukelele arrangement of "Over the Rainbow" that Jason Castro covered on "American Idol."

There's another mixup that involves a press release, but I think a targeted apology and correction is appropriate in that case. So I'm not going to bring it up. Oops, too late.

Tonight is Martin Jack Rosenblum and Dave Luhrssen, along with guitarist Brian Thomas Carlson, for a talk on the third edition of Searching for Rock and Roll. It starts at 7 PM. I don't think there are any errors in that statement!


I just taped a segment with Lake Effect's Stephanie Lecci. Catch me on Tuesday on 89.7. Here's the link to their site.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snickeyfritz author Andrea Skyberg's Book Donation Program Went Really Well, Except for One Donor...Me

Last spring we hosted a very nice event with Andrea Skyberg, whose picture book Snickeyfritz (no link because it's not in the Ingram database, but we do carry it), is about a family treasure hunt that demands an extra dose of creativity. Her illustrations are actually life-size papier mache dolls, and she brought some to her reading.

Skyberg's sculptures are mesmerizing, and no wonder she is so popular at her school visits. But she's also a good marketer. And last fall she came up with The Incredible Book Giveaway, in which a copy of Snickeyfritz was donated to a school, literacy organization, children's services group for every copy ordered.

To start it off, Skyberg went to 100 influential folks in the world of books and one of them was me. But life got away from me and I didn't send it in a timely manner. I've been thinking about it a lot, but missed the deadline. My apologies to the Skybergs!

I wound up sending my book to the Maryland Avenue Montessori School. We have a lot of kids from there shopping at the store, I really enjoyed their pajama party library fundraiser, their artwork in the bookstore program is really fun, and their helping host our kids' event Freefall in two weeks. So it's sort of a can-always-use-a-book-and-also-thank-you kind of a donation.

The authors of Freefall, Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, are doing two school appearances, and then are appearing at Boswell on Friday, February 26th, at 7 PM. This is the sequel to Tunnels and Deeeper.

We'll have more art from Maryland Avenue Montessori School at the end of their year. Meanwhile, I should have a post up soon about Gloria Macoy's paintings soon. Really soon. Like I'm late soon.

More on the Snickeyfritz website.

Skyberg also was awarded a Mom's Choice Award. For more info you can visit their website.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New Date for Dan Maguire's Ethics Event

Breaking news! Due to the residue of snowfall last night, we're moving Daniel Maguire's event for his well-received book on ethics (it's called Ethics: A Complete Method for Moral Choice, by the way) to next Wednesday, February 17th, at 7 PM.

It's not that it's still storming here. It's that with the weather emergency not lifted, and some areas not fully plowed, you can't find a place to park!

If this were a traveling author and they made it to town, we'd keep the event in place. But we really want to give Professor Maguire (Christian ethics, Marquette University) the best event we can, and since he's local, we can juggle a bit. And that involves letting people park their cars.

So to repeat, the new event date and time for Daniel Maguire
Wednesday, February 17th, 7 PM
at Boswell Book Company.

When You Return Home, It's Time to Catch up on Newspapers, and This One's a Doozy from McSweeneys

At Winter Institute, we had publisher speed dating, where we spend over three hours listening to 15 minute presentations from sales reps, managers, and marketing folk. Most of the books were coming out in the future, but when we got to PGW, Elise and Leslie included the new McSweeneys #33, The San Francisco Panorama newspaper.

It's not often that I shed a tear when presented a title. And we'd already gotten our five at the store. But there was only one conceivable response when I saw this laid out before me--call Jason up immediately and have him order ten more! (Still not very much--twas a time when we'd sell 20-25 of these, but I think these folks are now subscribers).

I was so excited to return back to Boswell to find that Stacie had put together a wonderful newsstand style display for the paper. It's getting lots of stares. I looked at it and was convinced I could collect some RDA on it (that's newspaper coop, for those not in the know).

It's in the form of a newspaper, including sports, arts, food, a feature magazine, a puzzle page. I bought my copy immediately and ransacked it, as if I was in a new town and had just found the best newspaper ever.

And so thick. One of the most depressing part of travel nowadays is buying the local paper (on this trip, The (Saint Paul) Pioneer Post and The San Jose Mercury News, and seeing how thin they were. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle, as it still had lots of book coverage. And I know part of this is the disappearance of ads. But still.

(Note: we for one are still placing ads in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Cue section, as close to the book pages as possible. You might have spotted our ad last Sunday for February events).

But in McSweeneyland, every day is 1981, safely before the internet and all those alternative forms of advertising and marketing. (I originally imagined it in 1991, but I thought maybe by that point cable started making inroads.) And yet there's a 3D crossword puzzle. I suspect no reprint. So don't sit around waiting till Tuesday. The Sunday paper comes out on Sunday.

Oh, and I still have eight days of New York Times and Journal Sentinels to wade through. I did not read them online.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow Eve

We closed at 6 PM today, February 9th. Sorry about the inconvenience. We went a number of hours without customers, and the storm is only expected to get worse. See you tomorrow!

Snow in the Airport Inspires Fabulous New Game--Spot the E Reader

I'm back from my travels to California, just in time for a foot of snow. Hey, it could have been worse and today could have been my travel day.

As it was, I travelled through MSP airport and it was a snow day there. The airport was closed in the morning and that delayed our flight an hour or so. Since we had arrived at the airport about two hours before takeoff, I settled in to read what seemed to be the book of the show, The Lonely Polygamist. (Actually I first finished off I Thought You Were Dead, which I hope to have a whole post on soon. I couldn't find the cover on ipage, so it seemed easier to take a photo).

In the terminal with some other booksellers, I played my favorite new game, somewhat akin to "the bogeyman is hiding under the bed and see if you can spot him," a hit from my childhood. What we do is count ebook readers and then match that with an accompanying level of panic.

Actually, there were very few readers out and about in my unscientific survey of four flights and three airports, and my friends concurred. This acute panic and subsequent relief was similar to the mood at this Winter Instititute that I just attended--bogeymen everywhere the first day that focused on digital advances, which in the daylight, turned out to be dust bunnies.

Dust bunnies that might turn into bogeymen, but dustbunnies nonetheless. Buying conventional books online is still far more of a threat.


Today's snow might lead to an early closing. If so, I'll post it here.

Monday, February 8, 2010

School Me Up!--Great Talks This Week from Daniel Maguire and Martin Jack Rosenblum/Dave Luhrssen

This week we're hosting folks who've written books that are mostly used in the classroom, but that doesn't mean they don't have interesting things to say. In fact, aren't they really packaged as the perfect lecture?

On Wednesday, February 10th, Marquette Professor of Christian ethics Daniel Maguire is giving a talk inspired by the new edition of his book Ethics: A Complete Method for Moral Choice.

And on Friday, February 12th, esteemed lecturers Martin Jack Rosenblum and Dave Luhrssen are appearing with guitarist Brian Thomas Carlson for an event celebrating their new edition of Searching for Rock and Roll.
Both books are available at our store for sale. I'm not sure if Searching for Rock and Roll is in our database, but you can always email us to order a copy.

Here's a link to the event page on our web site, which, oddly enough, sort of indicates that these are our events from last November. But don't believe us. We're still getting the hang of this stuff, and programming our web site seems to be one of our most challenging tasks. Sadly, we've all graduated from high school, which makes it harder.

And here's the archive to our most recent email newsletter, which includes a little more about both events, and some interesting links.

Just for comparison, this is a link to UWM's rate sheet for courses. Look, I also found information about Marquette's tuition. It's almost like a have a teenage child. As you can see, these talks are a much better deal. With those savings, you should buy the books from us too and take notes.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Bookstore Visits in San Francisco

How can one go to San Jose and not spend a few days in San Francisco? Fortunately I had some meetings with other booksellers here, giving me some good companions for this sort of outing.

We're staying at the Hotel Rex, part of the Joie de Vivre restaurant group. Years ago I remember reading that all their boutique hotels were inspired by magazines, and this was supposed to be The New Yorker. Lots of books around. I've heard that the founder's book (Peak) is quite good. I once stayed at another of their hotels, the Commodore, only to find it is now a dorm for a nearby art school.

We all went down to see Book Passage's store at the Ferry Terminal. Just beautiful, particularly the picture window, framing boats in the harbor. For some reason, I always thought it was mostly cookbooks, but it's a full-line bookstore. I bought some very nice cards.

I couldn't do the full tour, being rather tired, so I opted out** and did a quick trip to Green Apple in the Richmond neighborhood with my friends David and Arsen from Boulder Book Store. I've been rather obsessed with seeing the store since they did those crazy videos of a book competing with a Kindle. It was really off my radar on my previous trips to San Francisco, but thinking about it, I really haven't been in a number of years.

The store is a cluttered delight, not quite mixing new and used, but they are certainly adjacent. There are lots of hand-written signs, many of them funny. Lots of surprises, sort of like Powell's crazy uncle. And Powell's is already somebody else's crazy uncle, maybe Boswell's*. And you understand I mean crazy in a "I wanna be like that" way, not the straitjacket way.

I bought a nice tee shirt and a copy of Joel Best's Stat-Spotting: A Field Gide to Identifying Dubious Data. I enjoyed his Flavor of the Month, which I read several years ago.

Then Burmese food at Mandalay (prawns and okra) and back to the hotel for an early night (9:30, really). I'm worn out from this traveling.
*Being so large, Powell's is also a lot of other relatives.
**I'm hoping to get a friend to drive me there tonight, when I'm more rested.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Obligatory Winter Institute Post--Boswell Books Edition

500 booksellers converged on San Jose at the Doubletree Hotel Airport for the 5th annual Winter Institute. Surrounded by office parks, but only about five blocks to the light rail, does it really matter where we are? It's pretty much day-to-night presentations, workshops, industry talk, plus a pretty good dose of schmoozing and gossip.

I went with Amie, Boswell's kids and calendar buyer slash bookkeeper slash manager. Thought we probably would have done better to divide an conquer, we stuck together a bit for solidarity's sake. That was a big deal for me, as I am apt to flitter. My feeling was that as long as I walked a couple extra blocks to buy her freshly-brewed coffee (the hotel stuff was sitting around for quite a bit), I could get away with a lot.

This post could be about all the workshops, the first day of e-everything, a rather depressing excercise for a bookseller who could do a lot better, yet would still expect to remain on the margins of a business that demands massive capital infusions and is more concerned with short-term sale of hardware. There's also a feeling that there is a lot of posturing to control the supply chain. Yeeks. I'll just hide under a rug.

We also met a lot of authors, and had what seemed to be over three hours of rep presentations. This is something that started in the regionals and plays off of speed dating. Publisher folks rotate tables and give you about 12 minutes of shpiel on new books.

The whole idea is to break a book out of this thing. Well, that's at least one of the publisher incentives. There were some books that certainly had some buzz. I tried to find out what everyone was talking about and kept note. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson had a number of votes, as did The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, by Heidi Durrow. That one's seemingly already out, and the only caveat is that two of the three folks who talked about it had not finished it yet. As always, I feared that they could change their mind at the end, so I only considered this three quarters of a rec.

Justin Cronin's vampire novel is getting attention everywhere, and some books, like Chang-rae Lee's The Surrendered had amazing accolates, but that was already cleanly on my radar as we're having an event on March 13th. We all left with piles of advance reading copies in the galley room to send back to our stores. Oddly enough, nobody offered downloads. Maybe next year.

The book that seemed to "place" in the buzz derby was Matterhorn, by Karl Merlantes. Oh, goody, I was hoping for another big fat novel about the Vietnam War. But boy, have the reads been amazing. And for a book that you would consider a boy novel, there's actually a triumvirate of women who helped get this published at Grove/Atlantic. You can probably read these stories elsewhere. Perhaps I'll post some links closer to the book's publication.

There's no question that the book of the show was Brady Udall's The Lonely Polygamist. Not only did every person who read this (and just to frustrate me, big, fat) novel become overwhelmed with emotion, but the line for getting this book signed at the author reception had to be three times the size of anything else. Udall had a bookseller favorite in The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint some years ago, and wrote the article that inspired the series "Big Love." And gets no royalties for it, by the way.

I think the cover is still under discussion, so here's a shot of my arc, with a little snippet of my pal Sue at Lake Forest, busily working on her laptop. What exactly did we all do before we had computers at these things? Drink more at the bar, probably.

Friday, February 5, 2010

How Many Miles Should You Drive to See Chris Cleave in Paperback?

I think a two-hour drive each way is definitely worth it to see Chris Cleave. Why? Two reasons.

1. Little Bee is that good.
2. Chris Cleave is that charming.

Someone asked me why we weren't hosting Chris for the paperback. It makes sense to me--I'm already on board for the book. I want the book to break out everywhere.

I am so, so, so, so glad that Simon and Schuster went with the hardcover jacket for the paperback. It it so beautful, so different from anything out there, and the orange so pops against everything else. And orange is very hot. I'm sure there was temptation to have a boy with his arms spread out at the edge of the beach, or a woman with her hard cut off the page, but don't forget, folks like to trade up. And just in case you forgot the the book can be very sweet too, there's the picture of Charlie dressed like Batman inside.

Little Bee was selected as a Indie Bound selection for February by the booksellers in the American Booksellers Association. Very few paperback reprints that were also Indie Next in hardcover repeat in paperback. Alas, it looks like it might have a 2/16 laydown. If that's the case, it should have been featured in March.

And yes, we passed the 100 book mark in sales.

Here's the tour cities. I'm glad to say the links held as I copied the schedule from Cleave's site.

Tuesday Feb 16BERKELEY, CA...Catherine, I really think you'd enjoy this.
Wednesday Feb 17SAN FRANCISCO, CA...Todd, don't miss out on Cleave.
Thursday Feb 18SAN DIEGO, CA
Friday Feb 19LOS ANGELES, CA
Saturday Feb 20SANTA MONICA, CA
Sunday Feb 21PHOENIX, AZ...Merrill, you must go. Bring your friends!
Tuesday Feb 23DENVER, CO...Jocelyn, I insist you attend.
Wednesday Feb 24CHICAGO, IL...I have an event at night, but could I visit during the day?
Friday Feb 26PRINCETON, NJ...Nina, this one's for you.
Saturday Feb 27GREENWICH, CT...I'm in Boston visiting my Mom and I considered driving.
Sunday Feb 28DARIEN, CT
Monday March 1NEW YORK, NY...Rachel, this is like 5 blocks from your house.
Tuesday March 2ATLANTA, GA...Brian, how could you pass this up?
Wednesday March 3LOUISVILLE, KY...You're going, Johanna, right?
Thursday March 4 ST LOUIS, MO
Friday March 5WASHINGTON, DC...Eric, you are missing something if you do not attend.
Friday March 20WESTBURY, NY
Saturday March 21CINCINNATI, OH...Bob, this should be great.
Monday March 22MIAMI, FL
Tuesday March 23HOUSTON, TX
Wednesday March 24AUSTIN, TX
Thursday March 25 - Friday March 26DALLAS, TX
Saturday March 27DALLAS, TX
That's a lot of Dallas!
Nicole Kidman has the film rights. And that's pretty much all I have to say.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Trail of Patti Smith Somehow Leads to Allen Ginsberg, Who Probably Wasn't Featured in Just Kids

The store is all abuzz about how much buzz Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids is getting. The editor, Matt Weiland (editor's note, no, it's edited by Dan Halpern--I was tricked by a thank you in the book!) seems to really have a good eye for what will sell in pop culture. He reminds me a bit of a former Harper editor, Craig Nelson, who released books from folks like Laurie Anderson. He's now an author, by the way, whose most recent book is Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon. I think Craig may have toured Schwartz. And so did Matt, as one of the co-editors of State by State. I did not go to either event, and am doing penance by attending 99.9% of the ones I have at Boswell. In the latter case, I was definitely out of town.

That said, I apologize.

Our Patti Smith moment came today when our customer (and ex-Schwartzian) Jenny was selling back some books for credit. I bought a copy of Allen Ginsberg's Kaddish from her, and inside was a ticket to see Ginsberg in Madison Jenny didn't want it, and thought I should leave it with the book. I had a better idea.

It wasn't five minutes later when John Eklund walked in and asked for a copy of Just Kids. He said that Sunday's front-page New York Times Book Review was one of the best reviews of a book he'd read in some time. "I like a review that doesn't just discuss the book; it sells it," he said. Ah, bookseller style.

I told John I've been singing this Patti Smith song all day to myself, in that way where you think you're singing it but you only know something like three words.

"Because the Night?" he asked, knowing that I am likely to jump on a poppier selection for my inner song loop.
"No," I should have replied, but didn't, "the slightly obscurer but perhaps even poppier 'Frederick.'" My heart is always with the song the underdog song that should have been the hit but wasn't a Bruce Springsteen collaboration (which "Because the Night" was, wasn't it?) What I said was, "This ticket goes with the book."
"But why are you giving me a ticket to Allen Ginsberg?" he asked.

"No," I replied, "it's Ginsberg and Patti Smith together."*

And so John got the ticket. Makes an excellent bookmark.

*My other Patti Smith moment is once removed. I went to see Lenny Kaye and the Nuggets at CBGB's (my only time there) with some friends.

**And this post reveals why I don't do much dialogue in blogs, nor do I like too much in the novels I read.
Yes, it's true. I'm at Winter Institute at San Jose, having saved up some posts from beforehand. Who has time here? Plus, I would like to write about show, but I think I need a little more time digesting my day of e-madness to regurgitate something interesting.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Addendum--What's Going on in San Jose

On our flight flying out to San Jose (to Winter Institute, a bookseller gathering) from Minneapolis, we were surrounded by booksellers. Katie, from Redbery Books in Cable, Wisconsin and Chris from the Book Shelf in Winona, Minnesota. My concern about Frederick Reiken's book's title came to fruition very quickly. I mentioned that I read Day to Night and mentioned the author and Katie told me she had also read the book and really liked it. Alas, on further discussion, it turned out to be Anita Diamant's Day into Night. Pitty the poor bookseller who has to distinguish them.

At least two booksellers have encouraged me to read Brady Udall's The Lonely Polygamist. Oh, and our Norton rep of course. It's fat. I'm scared. I just finished Elmer Gantry. (I finished reading Daniel Pink's Drive on the flight over, but that's no excuse, as it's not a hefty tome.)

We arrived in San Jose to find much construction going on in the airport. There were several stations where you can get ear plugs. Our luggage was lost. We really, really, really were on our best behavior, but boy, the clerk was not the right personality to handle this--or maybe she was, completely oblivious. The two folks before us were also from Milwaukee (actually, from Sargento), so it was obvious that all our baggage had not made the connection. But she did insist in checking the five bags on the carousel to make sure they were not ours.

Fortunately another plane came in at 7:30. Our luggage arrived at midnight. We were happy.

Breaking my Rule About Waiting Until the Book Comes Out Before Writing About It--a Note to Booksellers about Rick Reiken's Day for Night

One of my golden rules about blogging is that I don't write about books at length until they come out, or just before. If I post a long piece about what I'm reading in November and the book doesn't come out until March, what's the point? I don't have a great website, so I know most people are going to go to A*%#zon to buy the book.

And though I know that other booksellers and publishing folk read these bookseller blogs, I really believe that my first duty is to my customers. My feeling is that if it isn't interesting to someone who shops my store, it should be somewhere else. And it seems sort of mean to go on and on about a book that most of my customers won't be able to read for months.

But rules are made to be broken. And since this is sort of the first day of Winter Institute, when booksellers from across the country gather to take workshops and learn about new developments, meet authors of potential breakout titles, and share our recommendations, this seems as good a time as any to say this...

Drop what you're doing and read the new Frederick Reiken novel, Day for Night (Editor's note--I am really having trouble with this title. See posting later in the day when it gets confused with another book). I don't care if you're busy--this is more important. And it's not a slow read either, so I don't want to hear any whining about how you don't have the time.

It's about, well it starts out being about anyway, a family, who has engaged a guide to swim among manatees in Florida. The father has cancer (at least for the moment in remission) and he hasn't really told his son yet how serious things are. He's dating Beverly, a pediatrician with two teenage girls back in New Jersey and he's discussed having the pediatrician adopt his son. When Beverly can't sleep, she takes the guide up on his offer to see his band Dee Luxe perform.

Jump. And we're on a plane with the guide, Timmy, travelling with Dee back to Utah to see her comatose brother, who has just been in a bad motorcycle crash. Dee is terribly afraid that the family is going to do something terrible to him. Tim talks to the woman on the aisle, or tries to, but is rebuffed. And then...

The story zigs and zags, and coincidences are anything but and other puzzle pieces that seem to be related are just coincidence. Reiken's got an elegant simplicity about his writing, but the characters and plotlines and themes interconnect, not like a tapestry, but a video game with all this hidden programming.

I'm not new to Reiken. I read both The Odd Sea and The Lost Legends of New Jersey. I told our rep Suzanne that I was interested in reading the book. When we saw her for the spring appointment, she asked me if I'd read it yet. I said no, and she said that I had to really, really, really read it right now. Suzanne compared it to Nicole Krauss's The History of Love, and I think that's actually a very good comparison. And the push to read it was great advice.

I loved it, passed it to my coworker Stacie. She not only wrote a rec, but made this intricate mapping of all the characters. We were worried that we'd give too much away if we showed it all so I have cropped it as a teaser. I mentioned it to Dave at Next Chapter and within a week he had read it too. Who knows how many people he'll tell?

So anyway, this is my chance to pitch it to you. Start reading.