Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Countdown to Christopher...Moore, That Is

Tonight (3/31, also known as April Fool's eve) at 7 PM, we are hosting Christopher Moore at Boswell Book Company. This is a free event, but there are some caveats.

1. Events are running bigger at other stores than expected. Last time he was at Schwartz, the crowd was quite manageable. This time, who knows? Jason, Sharon and I have already moved a lot of cases to increase the number of folks who'll be able to attend with an unobstructed view.

2. We will close the store when we reach capacity. We are telling folks to come at 5:30 for a seat (we have about 150). If we do close the doors, we are asking folks to come back at 8:30 to line up for signing.

3. If Moore presigns, we may---and I emphasize may--sell the signed books outside when we reach capacity. If he presigns, you can still get your book personalized.

4. We have lots and lots of the new book, Bite Me, a nice pile of Fool in paperback, and an assortment of the other titles. Buy your books when you arrive to avoid the madhouse.

The photo says "Don't Forget--You Suck." It's a little blurry.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Paul Salsini Uses Real Events and Family Stories to Inspire His Fiction

It is said that self-published and subsidy-published fiction has an uphill battle, but we've all heard of books that have crossed over to mainstream success, such as Still Alice and The Lace Reader. Though he is still selling his books himself, our own homegrown success story has been Paul Salsini, author of The Cielo, Sparrow's Revenge, and now Dino's Story.

For the first two books, I watched their success from afar, and with a bit of surprise. It is so hard to make fiction work in general; for subsidy-publishing, the normally uphill trek is that much steeper. That said, Salsini had an edge over many others making the attempt--he's a longtime writer, and that not only left him with a superior product, but he had the knowledge and contacts to get his novels the best shot they could get. If you met Paul (and many of you have), you'll also know he's an charming, personable man; you just want to go the extra mile for him.

Salsini has been inspired by both true events and family stories for his fiction, and though the family stories are his own, the historical events have actually been the source of inspiration for other writers. Th
e Sant'Anna massacre was the jumping off point for James McBride's novel Miracle at St. Anna. You probably know him best for his memoir, The Color of Water, but we booksellers remember that book because they did two covers for the paperback, one of soldiers and one of a young child. The young child outsold the soldiers at our stores, by the way.

Similarly the new novel is inspired by the flood of Florence (picture at left and below right) that was the jumping off point for Robert Hellenga's
The Sixteen Pleasures, a writer with Milwaukee roots. But that's the beauty of fiction. There are so many different ways that true events can inspire stories. I can see how one historical event (ok, let's take something broad like World War II) can inspire science fiction, mysteries, romances, and surrealism.

In Salsini's case, the stories are somewhat tied together. Dino Sporenzo is just a twinkle during the start of The Cielo, but when his own Dino's Story starts, he's a young student gone to Florence to study art. But Dino's life is transformed by more than the flood--it's also forever changed by the people he meets in the process. Hey, can I write jacket copy or what?

Lawrence Baldassaro, UWM professor emeritus and author of The American Game: Baseball and Ethnicity called it "an intriguing coming-of-age tale," while Martha Bergland, author of A Farm Under a Lake" praised it as a "fascinating inside look at Florence through the eyes of Paul Salsini's warm and complex characters. I couldn't put it down."

Salsini is appearing at Boswell on Tuesday, April 27th, at 7 PM to discuss and sign copies of
Dino's Story. We will have a light selection of Italian refreshments. Salsini will discuss and sign his three books, and his Italian inspiration, some of which is displayed here.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Testing, Testing! A Book Return Story

So a customer comes in and brings back the McGraw Hill GRE 2010 practice tests.

The bookseller calls me out.

Bookseller (who has not taken the GRE--this will be important later): Daniel, could you handle this?

Daniel: OK. (to myself: Wah!)

Customer: The book is defective. I've written in it, but I'd still like to return it.

Daniel: Um, if it's defective, the publisher will probably take it back. What's wrong?

Customer: Well, here's the analogies section. See? The problem is that some of the analogies don't have a comparison item.

Daniel: It's been many years since I've had to take any of these tests. I have no idea why some have comparison items and some don't. I guess I'll take it back. Do you want a different book?

Customer: No, I'll just get my money back.

And I want to stop here and mention that very little of the book was written in, and the book had actually been bought at our store by this customer. Maybe the perception was that all our GRE books were similarly damaged.

He left.

The second shift comes in. I ask another of my booksellers, who is studying for the GRE.

Daniel: Hey, have you ever seen something like this? The book is defective.

Bookseller who has taken the GRE: Oh, those are antonyms.

Daniel: Crap. I wonder if they explain this.

Bookseller WHTTG: Yes, on page 6.

Daniel: I don't think that guy is going to pass, no matter how many books he buys.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Get Out and Play--New Outdoor Stuff

We ran out of room in the kids' area for stuff, but the folks at Melissa and Doug told me to not sit on our new outdoor toys, so we cleared off a cooking table that wasn't showing much life. We moved up the table so it wouldn't be so much a passed-over corridor. Two compliments on the stuff yesterday alone raised our spirits even more than the expected temperature of the next few days. I felt guilty for saying thank you as it's not like we designed it. But the stuff is swell.

This seems like a good time to mention our event on May 24th with local writer Amy Lou Jenkins, whose book, Every Natural Fact: Five Seasons of Open-Air Parenting, is already winning advance praise. Our event will be at the Urban Ecology Center--she's doing another one in Wauwatosa. Here's Bob Shacochis's take:

"Amy Lou Jenkins is the Anna Quindlen of the north woods, the Rachel Carson of the good land of Wisconsin, bequeathing to her son and to all of us an indestructible sense of wonder."

More at her web site.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

We're Temporarily Out of Jenkins--Browse our Austenalia Instead

Having sold out our first order of The Tortoise and the Hare, by Elizabeth Jenkins, I am greedily awaiting the second. Jenkins wrote 12 novels, but as my friend John Eklund pointed out, none of the others are readily available.

He saw that as a terrible thing. I thought that the singular availability makes it easier for me to sell 100 copies of The Tortoise and the Hare. No "paradox of choice" problems here.

As you read recently, Jenkins was one of the founders of the Jane Austen Society, and as we always have fans, why not have a display that caters to the groupie. We've got Austen notecards, journals, and action figures.

If you're looking for an Austenesque novel that we do have in stock, and is also winning raves from booksellers, you could do worse than Helen Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, which we touted in our last email newsletter.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Boulevard Preview Tomorrow at 2 PM for "It's Your Mother"

We're thrilled to be hosting a preview of "It's Your Mother", the new production from the Boulevard Theatre. It's tomorrow (Saturday) at 2, and there will be light refreshments.

Alas, I gaffed and had the time wrong in one of our press releases, so it's listed in the print version of the Journal Sentinel at 7 PM. Why not link to it and make it even more stressful on myself? OK, I will.

The folks at the Journal-Sentinel will change it online so by the time you link, it may already be correct. My big thanks to them for the listing and responding quickly to something that fault.

I don't have a jpg of this image but I do love the graphics on the play so much that I took I picture of the sign in our vestibule. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

New Ox-Tales Series Benefits Oxfam

Just when we were looking to fill a display space, our new shipment of Ox-Tales arrived. This is a series of four collections, each based on the four elements, earth, air, fire and water. Proceeds go to Oxfam.

And yes, if you are following Project Runway, this arrives just weeks after their four elements challenge, which I found strangely colorless. Here's what Tim Gunn had to say.

The contributors are amazing:

Rose Tremain
Jonathan Coe
Marti Leimbach
Kate Atkinson
Ian Rankin
Marina Lewycka
Hanif Kureishi
Jonathan Buckley (OK, I've never heard of him)
Nicholas Shakespeare

Alexander McCall Smith
Helen Simpson
DBC Pierre
AL Kennedy
Kamila Shamsie
Beryl Bainbridge
Louise Welsh
Diran Adebayo (here's the second unknown to me)
Helen Fielding

Mark Haddon
Geoff Dyer
Victoria Hislop (don't know)
Sebastian Faulks
John le Carre
Xiaolu Guo
William Sutcliffe (don't know #4)
Ali Smith
Lionel Shriver
Jeanette Winterson

Esther Freud
David Park (unknown to me--don't you ever play this game with lists?)
Hari Kunzru
Zoe Heller
Michel Faber
William Boyd
Joanna Trollope
Giles Foden
Michael Morpurgo (???)

And each volume contains a poem by Vikram Seth.

To the folks I don't know, I hope to be making your acquaintance (storywise) soon! Meanwhile, here's a photo of Jason, the proud buyer of this new arrival.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My First Curating Job--A Preview of Our "Paintings and Pincushions" Event, on Wednesday, April 14th, at 7 PM

When I opened Boswell Book Company, I made a list of things I wanted to do at my new store. I should have kept my ideas to myself, because it always turns out to be much harder to get things done than you expect. But I didn't, and two things on my list were:

a. Have an art wall. It's something we did at one of the Schwartz stores, and I've always admired other stores who featured local art.

b. Have some curio cabinets, filled with interesting collections. I don't know why I connect this to Paco Underhill's Why We Buy, but for some reason, I'm convinced it's in there. Perhaps it was his theory that you should put something interesting in the back of the store that gets customers to walk back and see what's going on.

Well, we've got two wonderful exhibits going on that exceed my highest expections. Gloria Macoy is showing her wonderful paintings on our art wall, and Laura Goldstein has lent us her collection of pincushions.

Pincushions! They put my bandage boxes to shame. And by the way, the reason that the bandage boxes are still in the left cabinet is that the lock that I just replaced has already broken. We're hoping Urich will help us with this.

The coolest thing was that I got to go to Gloria and Laura's homes and help pick out what we'd be showing. That makes me a curator, right?

Macoy and Goldstein are speaking together on Wednesday, April 14th, at 7 PM. The event is called "Paintings and Pincushions" and they will be talking, respectively, about art, collections, inspiration.

Goldstein is the principal of Grotta and Company, a wonderful textile design firm. Macoy started painting in earnest after thirty years with the Milwaukee Public Schools.

And yes, some of Macoy's paintings are for sale. Ask for details at Boswell.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Best European Fiction a Surprise Sleeper

I always wanted to keep a rack of "best of" titles, and when we opened, we quickly created a makeshift rack, not being able to find the fancy one that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt gave us for Best American Short Stories.

Though we always sold the flagship title pretty well (up and down, based on who the guest editor was and how we promoted the title), the secondary titles would get a pop on release, and then hide. And the non-HMH titles might not get featured at all.

I'm convinced the books are doing better displayed this way, and it's a nice contrast to the gift items that are mostly lined up along our power aisle. But as we were selling our tenth copy of Best European Fiction 2010 (edited by former Boswell guest Aleksandar Hemon), it struck me that sales were actually better now than in the traditional November-December season for these kinds of books. Go figure!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Blatant Use of Blogging to Promote Christopher Moore's Event on Wednesday, March 31st.

I can't believe that Christopher Moore's Bite Me goes on sale tomorrow, but I've checked the laydown schedule and now I'm convinced.

It's very exciting to be hosting Christopher Moore on March 31st, at 7 PM. We thought about ticketing, but in the end, this is the kind of event that deserves a mob scene. So no tickets, no book purchase required. If we hit capacity, we close the doors. So I'm suggesting you come early.

I think 3/4 of us read the new book Bite Me, which might be an all-time record for in-house reads. Not that records have been kept for very long; we only opened last April. Bite Me is the third book in Moore's bloodsucking trilogy, continuing the adventures of vampires Jody and Tommy, imprisoned in a bronze statue but very likely to escape. The first two books in the series are Bloodsucking Fiends and You Suck.

Fool is also just released in paperback, and one Moore-itanian told me that it was his favorite book after Lamb. I think it's important to know that he might have been able to tell me his seventh favorite Christopher Moore novel. Fool retells King Lear through the eyes of the court jester. It's just out in paper (note to Morrow--I remembered to mention it this time).

We're also trying something a bit different, by placing an ad in the Madison edition of the Onion. I don't remember if Schwartz ever targeted our capital to the west. It strikes me that a fan would probably drive an hour, don't you think? I figured out the numbers, and we'd probably have to sell 25 extra books to make it worthwhile. Who knows?

Morrow sent us tee shirts that Moore will be giving away to fans during the event (more attendance incentive). There may be quizzes involved. Here is the obscure model Ludmilla Schleigorisma modeling it for our online blog readers.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What am I Reading? An OId Book on Buffalo Retailing

My desk is overflowing with books I want to read, and I became frozen with indecision. So what did I turn to instead? A Lulu-published book that John Eklund picked up from Talking Leaves in Buffalo called Nine Nine Eight: The Glory Days of Buffalo Shopping, by Michael F. Rizzo. We don't stock it, but TL does. (Note to the wonderful Jon and Lucy--John knew what he was doing when he bought this book for me.)

Several interesting tidbits of the many detailed in this book:

J. H. Hudson of Detroit operated a men's store in Buffalo for over 40 years.

It seemed that every family member of the beloved department store Adam, Meldrum, and Anderson (often known as A, M & A's) had a spin off store. The J. N. Adams Company was known as J. N.'s, which for some reason amuses me.

The Canadian supermarket chain not only ran Loblaw's in Buffalo for many years, but also secretly owned the grocery chain Bell's. How they did that I don't understand.

When Associated Dry Goods merged the William Henerer chain of Buffalo into the Sibley, Lindsay, and Curr chain of Rochester, they briefly called it "Hengerer's and Sibley's." Oh, to have that shopping bag! (I'd take just the Hengerer bag, frankly. I've got a few from Sibley's.

If you want to buy the book from us, it's $19.95, and since its POD nonreturnable, you'd need to buy it ahead of time. If I thought that anyone besides me would be interested in Milwaukee, I would bring it in for stock. I fear I've covered the market, but you have to read about my obsessions anyway.

Why is the book called Nine Nine Eight? Ask me. Or listen to this jingle.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

HarperCollins Wins First Annual Boxie Award

Milwaukee, March 20th, 2010

HarperCollins wins first annual boxie award for Best Box.

Runners up include Ingram and Random House.

Winner gets a hug from me.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Can a Novel Change Popular Opinion About a King 500 Years After His Death?

Yesterday I wrote about the bookseller dinner with Lynn Cullen, author of the new novel, The Creation of Eve. She had mentioned in passing that she saw this book as a rebuttal to the vilification of King Felipe. I asked her if she would discuss this in more depth. Here's her repsonse.

from Lynn:
"I love questions. To answer yours about Felipe, I wrote about him because I wanted to re-examine him as a person and king since he’s been so completely vilified by history. As someone who loves English history, I had completely bought into the propaganda so masterfully used against him by the English and the Dutch. The Black Legend that they cooked up in the 1500’s is so effective that even today many Spaniards, let alone everyone else in the world, blame Felipe for their country’s decline, which began in the late 16th century. (The true reason for the fall in Spanish power has its roots in the decline of manufacturing due to the reliance upon income from the New World, but that's another story.)

"But a look at Felipe’s letters and copious notations on court documents—he was a very hands-on king-- reveals a thoughtful, earnest man who loved books, gardening, architecture, and art. Most of all he loved his daughters, after Elisabeth died. But even in his own time, rumors, started by people with a vested interested in his ruin, began to swirl about his bloodthirstiness. He thought his good character and deeds would be evidence enough of the man he really was and so he didn’t try to counter the false reports.

"Little did he know about the power of propaganda. He also had no idea how quickly and widespread the Black Legend could be broadcast. The Dutch and English—the two countries who had the most to gain by his downfall—also had the best printing presses in the world. So you could say that the first booksellers had a hand in destroying Felipe’s reputation. Now, 450 years later, booksellers might have a hand in presenting a more balanced picture of him in the Creation of Eve. Hail to the power of the written word!"

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dinner With Lynn Cullen, Author of the Hope-to-be-breakout Novel, The Creation of Eve

Every so often, a publisher organizes a pre-publication, meet-the-author dinner. Usually they are in Chicago, but every so often one is hosted in Milwaukee. There are several independent booksellers here, and together we can create a lot of buzz.

You see, meeting the author gets us to read a book that we might not ordinarily. You might even get more reads than at an event. An event usually guarrantees one read, but unless there's real strong interest among the staff, it's touch and go with the rest of them.

So Putnam has this historical novel out called The Creation of Eve. They've done well with other books of this sort, from Tracy Chevalier and Susan Vreeland. Sarah Dunant and Alison Weir regularly hit the bestseller lists. And Philippa Gregory always does. The editor, Peternelle van Arsdale, actually once came to Milwaukee with one of her pre-pub author dinners, Cecelia Ahern, back when she was at Hyperion. She's seen how these things work.

Eight of us gathered with the author, Lynn Cullen, and Joe, our sales rep, at County Clare at the edge of downtown Milwaukee. Lynn brought out a book of paintings that really helped put the book in context and shed light on the characters. I was only about 75 pages into the book as of the dinner, but Cullen's story was so interesting that I decided to continue, even though the book is outside my comfort zone.

It's the story of Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguissola, who in effect interned under Michelangelo. A mini scandal sends her to the court of Spain, where she is to teach painting and drawing to the teen Queen Elizabeth, and becomes an observer to a love...pentagon? The story is told in letters and diaries, and sheds a good amount of light on what was happening in Europe at that time, when the Inquisition was being used to control Protestant unrest. Though Sofi has regrets about leaving Italy, she winds up being out of the way from the crackdown on Michelangelo, his artwork, and his secrets, which we hear about trough letters.

I'd say (and Cullen would concur, as we talked about this at the dinner) that the story is a bit of an exoneration of King Felipe*, who has been demonized in some historical accounts. Per Cullen, calling the Inquisition Spanish certainly plays down the killing that went on in France and England, in numbers that exceeded Spain.

There are lots of historical details in the narrative, particularly as Felipe is very interested in the exotic plants of the new world, some of which seem to help with toothaches, and others which turn out to be rather poisonous. File that fact away when you're following the plotline.

The Creation of Eve is available in stores on March 23rd. I wish Cullen the best of success on her publication. I had the shepherd's pie, by the way.
*Look for Lynn's take on King Felipe tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Even the Fomato Invoices Make Me Happy

And it's not that they are "play" invoices. We really have to pay them.

But with our new Fomato cards, "Dentist" and "Samurai," we got a lovely picture of a Costa Rican sloth. We also bought some backup buttons as the company is getting out of the button business.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Kirk Farber's Visit Inspires Spill (Musicless) Reunion

Wednesday's event with Kirk Farber, author of Postcards from a Dead Girl, featured a reunion of the band Spill. No music, alas, but a photo op.

On Thursday, I sold books at Judy Bridges panel discussion with five writers, sponsored by Redbird Studios and Redbird/Red Oak. Other options talked about were self-publishing, subsidy publishing, and even going through my competitor's online option.

Visit Redbird Studios. Judy gives a big shout-out to our Writer's Block notepad.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Why You Should Come to My Book Club Presentation on March 24th--Discover Books Like The Tortoise and the Hare

On March 24th, I am doing a book club presentation in the store at 7 PM. I hope I get a decent amount of people, but honestly, I don't know.

Because I'm nervous about this whole thing, it seems like a good idea to make another pitch. I'm going to do this by telling you about a book you've never heard of that you should read.

My gem is Elizabeth Jenkins' novel, The Tortoise and the Hare. John Eklund recommended this book to me after finding it at a bookstore in Iowa*. From the lovely jacket to the Hillary Mantel introduction (she who just won the NBCC award for best novel after also grabbing the Man Booker), this book has “find” written all over it.

Imogen Gresham is a barrister’s wife in suburban London. Evelyn was once romantic, but both he and Imogen’s son Gavin now treat with something akin to disdain. She’s certainly no Blanche Silcox, the fifty-something neighbor who spends her days juggling charity work, fishing, and ferreting Evelyn back and forth to town.

Imogen certainly has her friends, like Paul Nugent, a doctor friend married to a much younger woman, and Cecil, a publishing exec who might hit it off with Evelyn’s friend Hunter, divorced from a poet whose sister is one half of a rather batty couple. Her husband is an urban planner of the 1950's style throw away everything old variety. They have three kids, all pretty much left to fend for themselves. Their son Tim latches onto Gavin and the Greshams.

Jenkins' astute character sketches and wry humor recall Barbara Pym at her finest. In some ways, it's a mix of early and late Pym, filled with both wry humor and a bit of melancholy. Jenkins wrote 12 novels and what is said to be a fine biography of Jane Austen. In fact, she's won of the founders of the Jane Austen Society.

Long after I finished the book, I’m still thinking about Imogen and the gang. As Mantel wonders, who exactly is the tortoise and who is the hare.

*Per John, the store is Paper Moon Books in McGregor, Iowa. If you are ever out that way (right near Prairie du Chien, where they offer free delivery), John says they are not to be missed, and maybe worth driving 20 miles out of the way.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

When Mark Bucher Tells me to Post Info About the Boulevard Theatre's New Production of "It's Your Mother", I do it.

A Press release from Mark Bucher at the Boulevard Theatre. How could I change a word?

Boulevard Theatre closes triumphant 24th season with
Patricia Durante's and Betsy Tuxill's fresh, delightful comedy


(March 30-May 9, 2010)

Marion Araujo
Lisa Golda
Christine Horgen
Melissa Keith
Jenny Kostreva
Rachel Lewandowski
Shemagne O'Keefe
Barbara Weber
Brook Wegner

This cast list is subject to change.
Other cast members to be announced.
Meryl Streep is considering joining the cast!

Directed by Boulevard Artistic Director Mark Bucher


Join the Boulevard Theatre for this Milwaukee premiere as Milwaukee's first pioneer of alternative storefront theatre closes its 24th season with Patricia Durante & Betsy Tuxill's charming new play IT'S YOUR MOTHER! This delightful, yet touching script hilariously explores the "Mother Versus Daughter" dynamic.

And IT'S YOUR MOTHER! is absolutely the best way to shake off the last dregs of Wisconsin winter and embrace our long-awaited spring. This 80-minute romp is guaranteed to put a spring in patrons' steps and awaken the dormant humor which has hibernated all winter long.

IT'S YOUR MOTHER!, a play by Betsy Tuxill and Patricia Durante, takes a comedic look at the mother/child relationship. Through a series of scenes and monologues, IT'S YOUR MOTHER! explores the tensions inherent in the relationship between mothers and daughters. From a daughter's first visit home after going off to college to a mother and daughter planning a wedding and the inevitable conflicts which always arise (choice of career, choice of spouse, and--of course-- how to raise children!), this new work by the East Coast team of Durante & Tuxill is always honest, often hysterical and, at times, deeply touching.

The play is great fun for anyone who has, had, or is a mother. After selling out and being extended in its New York premiere at The Manhattan Repertory Theatre in July of 2009, the show will make its Midwest Premiere at the Boulevard Theatre.

And the play has roots (just like your daughter's various hair colors!) in Milwaukee. Actress/playwright Patricia Durante is a former Milwaukeean who lived in Milwaukee for several years and who performed with the Skylight Theatre, First Stage Theatre and previously with the Boulevard (the critically-acclaimed and standing-room-only production of Claudia Shear's invigorating one-woman show BLOWN SIDEWAYS THROUGH LIFE!). Ms. Tuxill is an established and respected educator on the East Coast.

Boulevard Artistic Director Mark Bucher directs this exciting new work which celebrates the female experience while championing artistic opportunities for female playwrights and actresses. Call 414. 744. 5757 to reserve tickets or visit the Ensemble's website at All performances are at the Boulevard Theatre, located at 2252 South Kinnickinnic (one-half block north of the intersection of the intersection of Lincoln Avenue & Kinnickinnic). Group sales especially welcome.

Hurry, this one is already selling quickly---some dates already SOLD-OUT. (By the way, your Mother called---she wants you to see this show. And comb your hair!)
Meet the playwrights and chat with the cast at talk-backs following the first week of performances! Playwrights Patricia Durante & Betsy Tuxill will be in Milwaukee for most of the opening week. Attend the show and stay for talk-backs with the cast and the playwrights! This is a rare chance to meet the writers and enjoy a friendly chat with the large cast. Hurry, some shows opening week are already sold-out.

And don't forget a chance to enjoy an exclusive "SNEAK PREVIEW!" of IT'S YOUR MOTHER!

On Saturday,March 27th @ 2 pm at Boswell Books, The Boulevard Ensemble will perform an exclusive preview performance with the cast of "It's Your Mother". This exclusive "sneak preview" will feature selections from the play as well as a "Question & Answer" period with the actresses. And there will be some delicious "home-made" & "home-baked" snacks just bursting with a "Mother's touch."

Boswell Books is located at 2559 North Downer Avenue on Milwaukee's fabulous East Side. Call the Boulevard at 414. 744. 5757 for more information or Boswell Books at (414) 332-1181.

Performance Times & Dates for
Patricia Durante's and Betsy Tuxill's charming original comedy

Tuesday, March 30th @ 7:30 pm PREVIEW
Wednesday, March 31st @ 7:30 pm OPENING SOLD-OUT!
Thursday, April 1st @ 7:30 pm
Friday, April 2nd @ 8 pm
Saturday, April 3rd @ 8 pm
Sunday, April 4th @ 2:30 pm

*Playwrights Durante & Tuxill will be in Milwaukee for most of the opening week.
Attend the show and stay for talk-backs with the cast and the playwrights!

Saturday, April 10th @ 8 pm
Sunday, April 11th @ 2:30 pm

Saturday, April 17th @ 8 pm
Sunday, April 18th @ 2:30 pm

Saturday, April 24th @ 8 pm
Sunday, April 25th @ 2:30 pm

Saturday, May 1st @ 8 pm
Sunday, May 2nd @ 2:30 pm

Friday, May 7th @ 8 pm
ADDED SHOW on Saturday, May 8th @ 4 pm SOLD-OUT!
Saturday, May 8th @ 8 pm
Sunday, May 9th @ 2:30 pm

OK, I would change one thing. It makes my teeth hurt when my neighborhood is referred to as "the fabulous East Side." Almost as much as when Bay View is referred to as "the other East Side."

Don't forget, that's a Boulevard Theatre preview and Q&A, on Saturday, March 27th, 2 PM.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What to do With Those Beautiful Oversized Mounted Covers...

You make a window of upcoming events. We've got the blowups for The Surrendered (3/13, 2 PM) and Bite Me (3/31) and The Spellmans Strike Again (3/25), plus the afghans inspired by Knitting Without Tears, as featured in Yarn (3/19).

Friday, March 12, 2010

Limited Number of Eugenia Kim Bookplates Available

If you are wondering when we would get signed bookplates from Eugenia Kim, that time is now. We've got ten more copies of The Calligrapher's Daughter that should be in just about now (the dangers of posting early), and the paperback lands at the end of the month, March 30th, to be exact. First dibs go to the folks who signed up at her event.

Remember how much Anne and Bev liked The Calligrapher's Daughter in hardcover? Well, they still like it in paperback.

The Great Lost Art of Excerpt Booklets--a Preview of Saturdays are for Funerals

Ah, the lost art of excerpt bookets. In the old days, we'd get piles of them to hand out at the front desk, at vestibules. Many of them would get straight from receiving into the dumpster; few were particularly interesting, and in most cases, they seemed to be overruns for a promotion at a chain bookstore. Rarely did they pique my interest, let alone my booksellers or customers.

But most excerpt booklets have been consigned to the idea heap. It's all website promotions and keyword searches and for some reason at one publisher, promotions by Shecky's Girls Night Out (Really. While I was still buying I think I saw this listed 3-4 times in a season. I've really never heard of it in any other context. And what kind of name is Shecky's for a promotion like this? I'm obviously fascinated, in some strange way.)

That said, everything old is new again. So when I see an excerpt booklet, and I'm fascinated, and I read every word, it stops being pre-recycled waste material and starts becoming a real marketing tool.

That's the way I feel about Harvard's Saturday is for Funerals, a new book by Unity Dow and Max Essex that puts a human face on the problem of AIDS in Africa. The story in the booklet is about a divorce in Botswana between Daisy and Kopano. Divorces are almost always instituted by women in Africa (figure it out for yourself or find out why by reading the booklet) but Kopano actually brought their plight to court. In just a few pages, I was emotionally connected to this couple. As we all know, for a good book to resonate, we need a good stories.

Unity Dow is a novelist and judge in Botswana; Max Essex is a professor of health sciences at Harvard, and has been involved in AIDS research since the early 80's. Each chapter covers some topic, with each author taking a turn. One chapter might be on parent-to-child transmission, while another might focus on having TB and AIDS, taken from either her personal or professional life. In the second half, Essex will interpret the story in terms of historical basis and current trends, offering up-to-date info on statistics and practices. The info-heavy second part is balanced by the anecdotal stories.

So I'll put my booklets out, and I've already got a list of several recipients in mind. And we increased our buy a bit as well (OK, not that much, but still). If everyone does them again (not likely), they'll just become clutter. But if we get a booklet on a really great book a few times per year, I think there's a market for it. Hey, the booklet for Saturday is for Funerals got at least one person to read the book--me.

The book is available around April 10th. Please contact us if you'd like us to hold one for you.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Indie Next Pick, Tour Dates, Video for Lisa Lutz--Yes, I'm Throwing Everything into this Post but the Kitchen Sink

Congrats to Lisa Lutz for making the April 2010 Indie Next list. And congrats to Boswell Bookseller Anne McMahon for being the official recommend-er.

The Spellmans Strike Again: A Novel by Lisa Lutz
(Simon & Schuster, $25, 9781416593409)
"The fourth and final installment of the Spellman Quartet finds the Spellmans spying on each other more than they are for their clients. Mom is keeping tabs on Isabel's dates in the hopes that she'll get married. The kids want to know why parts of the house are disappearing. Could someone really be stealing doorknobs and light fixtures? Lutz has written a quirky and sometimes bizarre tale that's definitely good for a laugh." -- Anne McMahon, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI

Our event with Lisa Lutz is on Thursday, March 25th, at 7 PM. But if you want to see Lutz, here are links to her other tour dates:

Dates, places, and times:
3/16/10: Los Angeles, LA Mystery Bookstore, noon
3/16/10: Los Angeles, Mysteries to Die For, 7pm
3/17/10: Los Angeles, Skylight Books, 7 pm
3/18/10: San Diego, Mysterious Galaxy, 7pm
3/21/10: St. Louis, Left Bank Books, 4pm
3/22/10: Nashville, Davis-Kidd Booksellers, 7pm
3/23/10: Chicago, Borders Oak Brook, 7pm
3/24/10: Chicago, Women & Children, 7:30pm
3/25/10: Milwaukee, Boswell Book Company, 7pm
4/1/10: Seattle, Seattle Mystery Bookshop, noon
4/5/10: Houston, Murder by the Book, 3pm
4/5/10: Houston, Blue Willow, 7pm – find out more
4/6/10: Dallas, Legacy Books, 7pm – find out more
4/9/10: San Francisco, Book Passage (Ferry Building) 7pm – find out more
4/11/10: Phoenix, Poisoned Pen, 2pm – find out more
4/13/10: Philadelphia, Chester County Books, 7pm – find out more
4/15/10: New York, McNally Jackson, 7pm – find out more

It's a long tour. Give Lutz props for stamina!

Here's a video of Lisa Lutz, talking about her Spellman series. It's meant to be a loving portrait of warmth and paranoia!

Sink to follow in next post.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Why Hasn't Any Journalist Tried to Unravel the Mystery of Harriet Klausner?

This week, when I was preparing for our book club discussion of Herta Muller's The Passport, I was browsing various web sites and came across one called "Genre Go Round." Surprisingly enough, it was an blog that indexed all the reviews by Harriet Klausner, the #1 reviewer on A-zon.

Folks have been trying to figure out if this person is the real deal for years. She has claimed to read two books a day, but the review all sound like jacket copy. And while I have previously noticed the large amount of reviews posted on A-zon-mart and Barnes and Noble's web site, it hasn't really been laid out so bluntly:

224 books reviewed in the month of February, 2009.

2882 books reviewed in 2008.

By the way, that is almost triple the number of books reviewed in 2006, though this blog might not include the higher year.

I can't figure out what they get out of project Harriet K. There is no advertising on the blog. It doesn't seem to be some trick to get you to upload a virus. It's obviously a scam, or a big practical joke, or a cult. Folks on A-zon-mart's discussion board contemplate the options.

Here's her post about Noah Boyd's The Bricklayer. Note that the second link is to our web site. Klausner likes it!

"This is an action-packed investigative tale starring a man’s man antihero who does what he believes is right especially using his contacts, fists and guns, but infrequently his brains. The story line is fast-paced from start to finish though one wonders when the Bricklayer gets any sleep. Although the finish is abrupt and the Machiavellian villain obvious from someone at the top of the Sears Tower looking down at the street; readers will enjoy this testosterone thriller."

I particularly like the part about not getting any sleep.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Writing Off site at the Writing Offsite

Another day, another offsite. Actually, we did almost none of these in February, which both gave me a rest, yet also had me more worried about monthly sales. The days when you could just throw open your bookstore doors and do business have been over for years.

This weekend I've been selling books at the UWM Spring writers festival. What I like about this crowd is that they are a bunch conducive to bookselling. Even though they know that they will be doing a lot of their business online, they are aware that a bookstore can also spread the word about their work.

It's two and a half days of lectures, panels, and every other conceivable kind of programming to help a budding writer. The keynote speakers were Agate Nesaule, Anthony Flacco, and Mukoma wa Nugugi. Flacco has some true crime, a mystery, and a writing book, which he cowrote with Sharlene Martin, another attendee. His newest is The Road Out of Hell, which tells the story behind the movie, "The Changeling." I love this description on our website because...

"In dramatizing one of the darkest cases in American crime, Flacco constructs a psychological drama about how one man is able to detoxify himself from the evil he'd encountered, offering the redemptive story of one man's remarkable ability to survive a nightmare and emerge intact."

...I have no idea what the book is about after reading it. (Editor's note--what I mean by this is that it's a really bad description that I have no control of. It doesn't indicate that it is the true story behind Clint Eastwood's movie "The Changeling", or even hint at what the crimes were. And who is "one man"? The killer? A relative? The author? I actually talked to Sharlene Martin, the book's agent, about perhaps fixing the copy on Ingram's database, which is used for all ABA e-commerce websites. For more background on the book, you might do better to look at the Wikipedia site on the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders.)

Ngugi has written Nairobi Heat, a noir mystery about an African man who return to Kenya for some crime solving, but gets caught in the world of violence, greed and prejudice. It's published by Penguin South Africa. The good part of that was that Penguin did import some copies to the U.S. The bad part is that it's a $26 paperback.

This program has been running for eight years, and last night, everybody gave a round of applause to Yolanda, who has been attending since the beginning. Several of my regular customers are in attendance, which is fun, as is Rochelle Melander, who helped with our NaNoWriMo program last November.

I expected to give out a lot of business cards, but...I forgot to bring them. Hey, they know how to get a hold of me.

Thank you to Anne for setting this up. If you are interested in getting on the mailing list for next year's program, contact Anne O'Meara at the School of Continuing Education at UWM.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Knit Local with The Loop on Humboldt, Cosponsor of Our Kyoko Mori Event on March 19th

I'm so excited about our event with Kyoko Mori on Friday, March 19th, at 7 PM. When I was at Winter Institute, I was speaking with Julia Cowlishaw, my old bookselling colleague who is now an Ingram rep, and she told me that she had recommended Yarn at a lot of her fall presentations.

Then on my trip to Brookline, I ran into PW correspondent Judith Rosen, while we were both visiting our mothers. (They live in the same building, and are very happy about the new chef in the dining hall. You really had to try the lamb!) I asked her what she was reading, and imagine if she didn't also pull out of her bag Kyoko Mori's memoir!

Our friends a The Loop are also excited about the event. I'm hoping that by copresenting, we can double (or almost double, as I'm sure we have some customers in common) the potential audience for this book that really incorporates knitting into the story, both in plot and theme. I love the way that Mori finds herself separated from her community, doing something solitary, and yet longs for the community to do that solitary activity in a group.

I visited Caitlin at the store on Humboldt (just next to the Alterra, north of Locust) and they let me take a few pictures to post. I asked about some of their nice fixtures, and got a good rec that I might find myself using. I asked if they had moved their fixtures from Bay View (which, yes, I had visited) but that store was half the size and utilized more wire fixturing than the friendly wood that's in their Riverwest location.

It's my feeling that just like people need to be taught the joys of an independent bookstore, they also need to know there are interesting, wonderful, community-oriented places to buy yarn, needles and patterns beyond Jo-Anne, Michael's, and Walmart. One of the saddest parts of Yarn is when Mori gets to Green Bay, only to see the knitting store go out of business. I think the other place that closed in the book in Milwaukee she referenced was the grand old Kovack's Fabric on Broadway. Sigh.

Just for the record, I did try to teach myself to knit with one of the kits we sold at Schwartz. In the end, I couldn't seem to get the hang of it.

While in Riverwest, I bought some toffee at Burke's. They were selling some at the Downer Sendiks, but I needed dark chocolate and they only carried milk. I'd been hearing about this place for years. It's just off Capitol.

Join The Loop's email list here. Or just email them to say hi.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

March is President's Month at Boswell

You'd think all these events would be going on in February, but we have not one, but two presidential events at Boswell in March.

On Tuesday, March 9th, join University of Wisconsin Parkside Professor Sandra Moats for her talk on Celebrating the Republic: Presidential Ceremony and Popular Sovereignty, from Washington to Monroe. According to Moats, the presidential culture we have today has been with us from the very beginning.

From the catalog, which says it better than I can:

"Moats details the trials and errors of our founding fathers as they tried to symbolically establish the authority of the office of the president and the federal government. An elaborate machine designed to “crown” Washington with a laurel wreath at his inauguration shows the struggle of early leaders to invent appropriate and inspiring signs and rituals compatible with republican ideas. We now take for granted the trappings of our government, but titles, accessibility, protocol, tours, and inaugurations were all topics of great debate and deliberate decision making in the early republic."

Then on Thursday, March 18th, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee professor Glen Jeansonne, along with Dave Luehrssen, discuss Barack Obama's formulative years, tieing into their new book Changing Times.

It would look lopsided if I didn't have a similar catalog piece here:

"Changing Times tells the story of Obama's formative years, the family and educational experiences that shaped him, and his private life and public career. It examines the role of religion and culture in molding Obama and his public image, his status in America's class system, and the role of his wife Michelle. Changing Times finds the source of his politics less in ideology than in his personality, which is conciliatory. Obama is a man in search of what Americans hold in common instead of what keeps them apart. He has proven himself comfortable in many roles, including political activism, holding political office, practicing law, and teaching in college."

We don't have an event with David Remnick, but his new book on Obama, The Bridge, arrives April 6th.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Really. A Post on the Plexy Signholders I Just Bought

It started as a joke post, because I felt I'd done way to many intesnse, interviewy-type pieces, but we really did buy a bunch more plexy signholders, and it's actually worth noting.

When I opened the store, I added to our store with six 8x11, two 11x8, and two 11x17 plexy holders. I like signage on tables, and I like things that take a little bit of extra time to read, history or trivia or local interest, or a poem. I don't make all the signs in the store, but if I can say one thing to my other booksellers, it's to go slightly crazier when coming up with a sign idea.

I'm convinced our customers don't follow the regular consumer research. I use the model of the book Mavericks at Work, or so I think, as it's been several years since I've read the book. If I'm going to break the rules of business, I'd rather do so in an interesting way. And one of the ways I like to do them is by giving my customers the benefit of the doubt by saying something more than "Remember your mom on Mother's Day."

Let me just say I don't quite have everybody I work with on board with this. But that's ok too. Some straightforward signs will ground customers from thinking a crazy person is running things (maybe).

So with our extra tables and our obsessive sign making (we also affix signs to the walls when necessary, using plexy and that removable double-sided sticky stuff from 3M, we found we quickly ran out of signs. I got ten more. We've also taken to these little 4x6 plexys that perfectly highlight a gift item, or perhaps display a small news column (like The Onion's amusing Salinger obit, which was put on his memorial table). So we got a bunch more of them. Had I known about them, I wouldn't have spent so much time at Schwartz making do-it-yourself tent cards!

No picture, because they were copyright protected. So you can figure out how to find the site to buy some on your own.


Since Jason watched it at least twice, I'd be remiss if I didn't lead you to the Huffington Post's link to Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Beware, as it's too gruesome for me to watch myself.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Amy Einhorn and I Chat About The Help, The Postmistress, and Well, Whatever My Rather Mixed-Up Brain Shoots Out

In yesterday's post, I noted that our top two hardcover bestsellers last week were from Amy Einhorn Books. I contacted Einhorn with some questions, and that answer led to an interesting email discussion about the line from there to here.

Goldin: How did you get from doing those Five Spot original paperbacks at Warner (Grand Central) to this? I see new imprints from editors all the time, but honestly, they aren't usually this successful right off the bat. Even Jason Kaufman's followups to The DaVinci Code didn't follow in Dan Brown's footsteps, thought folks may not know that he was the editor for the Darkly Dreaming Dexter series, which has won many fans through the spinoff cable series.

Yes, I was at 5 Spot at Warner. But I had a long career before/after/during including stints at FSG (where I started), Washington Square Press, etc. I started 5 SPOT at Warner but that wasn’t really my own thing. The company wanted a trade paperback program and I was given marching orders to run it. Warner (Grand Central) was a commercial house, more so than what I’m doing now, but while I was there I published some very good titles/authors: Robert Hicks’ Widow of the
South, Lolly Winston Good Grief, Amy Sedaris’ I Like You, and Min Jin Lee’s Free Food For Millionaires.

Oh, that makes a lot more sense, although of late, Washington Square Press is pretty similar to Grand Central in what they publish (meaning, when it became a feeder for Atria instead of for all of Simon and Schuster). The FSG start is interesting--did you acquire or just work "at the knee of." In a sense, I see what you are doing as FSG + Washington Square Press + Grand Central. Does this seem fair?

FSG was my first job in publishing—I was a lowly assistant. But I got to be around Roger Straus, Jr., Jonathan Galassi, Rick Moody (then the managing editor)– pretty cool people to be around when you’re 22 (or 62, actually). I’m not sure your equation works, but yes, my imprint aims to hit that sweet spot between literary and commercial and I think we’ve been pretty successful at that.

It's almost like you picked up a new skill everywhere you went. I'm quite jealous of that. I don't really like change, but could have had a few more stints to get ideas. Fortunately (it didn't seem so at the time) I got to do some new things in the last years of Schwartz, or when our stores closed, all I would have known how to do was be a good buyer, and that ain't gonna keep a bookstore going.

One of the good things about moving around is that you do pick up something from every place where you’ve worked. I think I’ve been able to put what I’ve learned into practice.

(Editor's note--I lost the transition here, but Ms. Einhorn wrote something to me about starting a bookstore, which is why I start yapping about it here. I can't find the comment that led me to this, but the point was that we were both jumping into change, but many would considered it old-fashioned change, behind the times.)

I'm generally in a panic about the opening the bookstore, but when I step back, I'm fascinated...which customers followed us and why, which publishers seem most interested in our success, how my booksellers have responded to a change in ownership and attitude--let's just say that they aren't always that thrilled with my disorganization, but running a bookstore on the cheap means less time to write up lots of rulebooks. That said, I promise to everyone that I will try to do better in 2010.

I did some shaking up at the beginning (mixing new and used, painting and fixture change, ramping up events), but now I feel like you have to keep moving along and throwing out new ideas. Last year we had a tango concert and an in-store farmer's market--now what?

What about things like open mike readings like KGB does here with The Moth? Have you heard of them? I think they’re pretty successful.

I would like do to that. Stacie! Where are you?

I just came back from Winter Institute and my head is spinning. It was E-everything. I read the general media stories and think, "Who needs us?" I know we need to social network so we do it all, but some better than others. Our Facebook is ok, our Twitter sucks. Is email social media? I guess not because there're no comments. I am happy with that, though I break all the rules--way too long. I think the blog is our best thing, but I am more proud of some posts than others

I’m not as up on the internet stuff as I should be. Recently six top bloggers started an “Amy Einhorn perpetual challenge” where they’re reading all the books I’ve published (or will publish) at the new imprint, and are then going to discuss them. It’s very flattering, and a great way to reach people. But I’m not sure that Tweeting (as some have suggested) or having a Facebook page is the way to go for me. I’d much rather have my authors be the ones out there in public, getting the attention.

OK, back to the books. It's just amazing how customers buy The Help. A couple years ago there was no hardcover fiction book selling like this--for years it was all nonfiction with Eat, Pray, Love or Reading Lolita in Tehran. You get a book like this and think, oh, it can be done--that mix of reading tastes that all coalesce over one thing, though admittedly, at least in our case, the taste has been decidedly female. (A note from the dinner party I recently attended. One writer asked me whether memoirs were still hot, the way her agent told her. I'd have to say no.)

Yes, it’s been incredible how well the book is doing, thanks in big part to the handselling of booksellers, and the word-of-mouth recommendations from readers. It’s nice to see that at the end of the day, with all the marketing bells and whistles that we all try, this is what it all comes back to.

It’s all about the book. Hey, The Postmistress is just starting to pick up. We did a feature in our last email newsletter. Rebecca, who read it, liked it, but was curious about the focus on three protagonists when she thought it was really only about one.

I think it is really about the three women, Frankie, although maybe it’s more about Iris and Frankie than Emma. Some reviewers have taken issue with the title, but I wonder if they’d be reviewing, or even reading it, if it were called "The Journalist."

As a publisher, you probably had more say in that than you would have back when you were just editing. Ever have a book leave your hands and then go in a direction you hadn't intended?

Well, I think we (editors and publishers) have had books we love that go out into the world and don’t find their way—that breaks our hearts. The hope is that if we love it, the transitive property will apply and everyone else will too. I think one of the nice things about the success of The Help is that it worked exactly as I dreamed. You love it, the company loves it, and then it turns out everybody else loves it too. If it happened like this all the time, you and I would have much easier jobs!

And even more competition. It’s a good thing our careers are also filled with frustration.

Some of you may know that my family name on my mother's side is Einhorn. To my knowledge, we're not related. Oh, and at the end, I asked her to give a plug for a book that might not have reached the audience it deserved. Einhorn chose Kate Ledger's Remedies, a novel about a couple whose seemingly perfect marriage is scarred by grief from the death of their firstborn. The book came out last fall in hardcover. Perhaps Penguin will break out the paperback.

Next post: Daniel buys more plexy signholders!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Help, It’s Another Story About The Help.

It’s not often that books come out of nowhere to become huge bestsellers. And as we’ve beaten the one-year mark on Katherine Stockett’s The Help, it seemed like a good idea to ruminate on its success. Will publishers decide there was a formula and try to duplicate it? Will they be shocked when the formula doesn’t pan out?

Do I have to tell you about the book? No, you’ve probably already read it. If you haven't read it, it's success has already colored what you likely think of it. As I was saying to some friends this past weekend, at this point you're going to judge it based on its success, and so the book is going to read really differently than right out of the slush pile (remember all those successful books that were rejected 30 times) or as a book that was overlooked but you'd read a couple of good reviews and one of your friends said there was really something there.

Stockett hits the sweet spot between literary and commercial, which is much more likely to be achieved in trade paperback; this gives hope to hardcover publishers. I haven’t read it yet (it won’t affect my sales) but I actually have bought a couple of copies as gifts. Will I eventually? Probably. When a book is this book, you want to know what makes it connect.

One thing a lot of folks have focused on is that The Help was the first release of the eponymously named imprint Amy Einhorn Books. The imprint has a new book out called The Postmistress that is also getting a good amount of buzz. It is fitting that I bring this up this week; here are our top five fiction sellers for this past week:


I only remembered two things about Amy Einhorn:

1. She headed a paperback original imprint called Five Spot at Warner (now Grand Central) and had a decent-sized bestseller in Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress (also a paperback original). The imprint, like Downtown Books at Pocket, was targeted to twenty-to-thirty-something women with escapist fiction.

2. I once ran into her in a cafeteria at the Book Expo convention where I chatted with her and Jon Karp the publisher of Twelve, an imprint at Hachette. Hey, I was the only person in that conversation who didn’t get my own imprint.

So I figured I’d ask about the road that led her to the AE colophon, a huge bestseller, and another perhaps positioned to be so. How did she get from there to here? I was a bit mystified.

What happened? Stay tuned until tomorrow.


I was doing some errands for my mom this morning, including making copies of some forms. Across from me was someone copying their book manuscript. Really? Not in a file? I'm not going to say the title (as that person might surf upon it), but if you were at a copy shop on Beacon Street with your manuscript, that working title doesn't work! Change it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Why Dream House Makes a Great Book Club Recommendation

The following is a letter I wrote, talking up Valerie Laken's Dream House in paperback, which I think is a great book for book clubs. Valerie is going to be my special guest at our first book club night on Wednesday, March 24th, at 7 PM. I'm convinced enough that this is a great book club book that I took the liberty of writing a letter promoting it, which I passed on to our great rep Cathy at HarperCollins, to do with as she wished. But why not share my thoughts on a grander canvas...

When I moved to Milwaukee many years ago, my first apartment was a studio in a grand old building called The Blackstone. I’d settled in pretty well, unfazed by the lack of stove or kitchen sink. Laurie Colwin washed her dishes in the bathroom, as chronicled in Home Cooking; why couldn’t I? And for such a small apartment, it had such a nice-sized tub, perfect for relaxing after a long day on my feet, selling books.

I befriended a tenant down the hall, a young woman who did promotion for a local record store, Radio Doctors. One day we were hanging out together, and the conversation turned to the man who lived there before me. “Poor Joe,” my new friend sighed, “What a good guy. He died in the bathtub, you know.”

Well, that’s nothing compared to the premise of Dream House. What if the house you bought turned out to be the scene of a murder? That’s the situation Kate finds herself in when she and Stuart impulsively purchase an old fixer-upper in Ann Arbor.

Needless to say, it puts a bit of a strain on the marriage. And Kate’s already got issues with her own family (coincidentally, they work in construction), and can’t understand why she hasn’t followed their lead and invested in new construction in the suburbs.

The story is told through Kate’s perspective, her husband Stuart, and Jay, one of the other teachers at Kate’s high school, who also has a link to Kate’s house. Oh, and did I mention the story is also Walker’s, the man who just got out of jail for committing the crime?

In many ways, the story reminds me a bit of House of Sand and Fog. Laken does a wonderful job jumping getting the reader to empathize with characters that are strongly at odds. She captures the pressures and stresses of family and relationships, and how that combustible energy can be bottled up in houses.

I’m always looking for great book club books. If you have any sort of program, I’m sure you are too. I’m looking for that sweet spot, the book that appeals to your types that are interested in theme and character, demand great writing, and want a good story as well.

I think Dream House is a book that has all those things. It’s edited by Claire Wachtel, the guiding light behind many wonderful authors like Manette Ansay, Jennifer Haigh and Thrity Umgrigar. Just to switch things up a bit, she also edits Dennis Lehane. You can also see the influence of Charles Baxter, one of Laken’s mentors, in her writing.

Here’s hoping that you pick up Dream House and find yourself recommending it your friends at other book clubs too. And here’s really hoping that some of them come back and thank you afterwards.