Monday, May 31, 2010

Three Things You May Not Know About Taping the Summer Reads from Booksellers Segment on NPR

1. You work with one group of people for the taped segment, and a different set of folks for the online portion.

2. Each bookseller submits four or five titles. You discuss some, but not all of them in the taped segment.

3. A number of folks have asked me what it's like to talk to Ms. Stamberg. As you might expect, she is knowledgeable on all sorts of topics. Several times I froze during the taping and couldn't remember basic facts about the books!

My apologies for including a book (Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.) in my roundup that isn't quite out yet. I tried to balance fiction and nonfiction, but a lot of the nonfiction I read is so narrowly focused. I mean really--who's going to be interested in Ten Nine Eight: The Glory Days of Buffalo Shopping?

So now I've got a reading list too, with suggestions from Lucia Silver and Rona Brinlee. Our buyer Jason seconds Brinlee's enthusiasm for Alice I Have Been and The Kingdom of Ohio.

Thank you to everyone at NPR who kept me on deadline.

Here's the segment!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Short Visit to Three Lives in Greenwich Village

I didn't get much time to browse bookstores on my recent visit to New York. That said, I was able to stop at the bookseller open house and say hi to Toby and Company at Three Lives.

We traded our favorite reads. I suggested they carry The Tortoise and the Hare and take another look at Day for Night. They told me that folks are not normally let into the store if they haven't read all of Joan Silber's books. I told them I had read Ideas of Heaven, but it was not good enough. The a customer interrupted to say that, really, I should read The Size of the World right now.

Looking for something to buy, I picked up several recent literary highlights, which will go unnamed, because I don't want anyone to think that Toby talked me out of their book. "Oh you can get said unnamed book anywhere. I have a signed copies of Just Kids." And he was right, it's yet another book where shame courses through me because I haven't read Patti Smith's memoir. And a signed copy? I bought it.

What was selling? Edmund White's City Boy continues to sell very well there. At one point, they took down the poster in the window, but when there was some space, they put it up again, and sales instantly picked up to double digits per week. Mr. White should go thank them!

I took lots more notes, and then promptly lost them.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

The Obligatory Book Expo Wrap Up Post--And My Most Beautiful Galley of Book Expo Award

After a day of education, two days of walking the convention floor, meetings with publishers and lots of interatction with other booksellers, I can only conclude that most people are as confused about the book business as I am.

The show started with a roundtable discussion on books, which sort of turned into an argument about ebook author royalties. The only thing the panel could almost agree on was that the physical book quality will be more and more important in the face of ebooks. Actually, the Ingram representative disagreed strongly, but they've put a lot of their beans into print on demand and ebook distribution, so that opinion makes sense.

Actually they're both right. For big printings, I suspect quality does not matter, save for an attractive jacket. But when we're talking smaller printings of literary fiction and nonfiction, it could make a difference. Look at all the folks willing to pay $40 for Powell's Indiespensable limited editions.

I had some very interesting conversations with publishers, asking them to let me know about fancy book production.

To that end, I have decided to award the most beautiful galley award this year. The honor goes to Our Tragic Universe, by Scartlett Thomas. Can you say black top stain? Very, very beautiful. Thanks to Summer, my lovely hand model, for your help in this shoot.

Here's their marketing copy. It's all I know about the book so far, though I do remember a good read on Popco and our rep Ellen enjoying The End of Mr. Y.

"Can a story save your life? Meg Carpenter is broke. Her novel is years overdue. Her cell phone is out of minutes. And her moody boyfriend's only contribution to the household is his sour attitude. So she jumps at the chance to review a pseudoscientific book that promises life everlasting. But who wants to live forever? Consulting cosmology and physics, tarot cards, koans (and riddles and jokes), new-age theories of everything, narrative theory, Nietzsche, Baudrillard, and knitting patterns, Meg wends her way through "Our Tragic Universe," asking this and many other questions. Does she believe in fairies? In magic? Is she a superbeing? Is she living a storyless story? And what's the connection between her off-hand suggestion to push a car into a river, a ship in a bottle, a mysterious beast loose on the moor, and the controversial author of "The Science of Living Forever"? Smart, entrancing, and boiling over with Thomas's trademark big ideas, "Our Tragic Universe" is a book about how relationships are created and destroyed, how we can rewrite our futures (if not our histories), and how stories just might save our lives."

The book is out in September. I'm so excited to read it, but I'm going to be careful. Great job and hope they do something similar with the first printing of the finished book!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Real Little Black Dress--On the Joys of Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.

There are pop culture touchstones that have such resonance that a book can be written about them and find an audience. If I say that Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. is only for folks who have seen "Breakfast at Tiffany's" at least five times, the potential market is still enormous. We don't just own the DVD, we have the "collector's edition box." Sadly, we can't at the moment find it.

You never know who is going to be a fan. I was selling books at an offsite a couple of weeks ago when the featured author looked over at my galley and said, "I don't remember that scene from the movie." The answer didn't come to me until later--it's the first shot, and if you watch the move on television, you probably miss it more than you see it. My other thought was, you have had to see the movie at least three times to think that you remember every shot, and this movie wasn't on my shortlist of said author's favorite films.

The book could have turned out to be 1) dry 2) repetitive 3) badly written or 4) without new insight. But Sam Wasson, though lacking in primary source material, does a great job putting the story together. He asks the right questions and looks in the right place for answers.

There aren't just learn the inspirations for Holly Golightly, but also the inspiration for her apartment. Why did a poor working girl sport designer duds? And what of Capote and how he handled the movie's release? The novella at the time was considered unfilmable, but they turned an unnamed homosexual narrator into a straight kept man and voila, box office gold. There's no straight answer to that one, but you can assume he wasn't happy with the changes.

Henry Mancini desperately wanted to write the theme song for the movie, but one of the producers hated the finished product and wanted it cut. The story on how he got the score he wanted involved budget cuts at the studio. I wish they'd been more successful and excising the Mickey Rooney character. On the other hand, I'm told by my sisters that my dad loved the Mr. Yunioshi bits.

There's a lot of material on my favorite scenes, Holly's wild party and her daytime adventure with Paul. Blake Edwards felt that the only two parts of the movie that were truly his was the former and the ending--he actually shot two of them and they wound up using the different one from the screenplay that was his idea.

And don't think that if you've read the Wikipedia, you already know all. It says there was only one cat who played "Cat", but there were actually 12. According to Wasson, cats can only be trained to do one trick.

Here's a picture of the family copy of B.A.T. I think we also have the collector's edition box, but its whereabouts remain unknown. I think it's hidden while we wait for it to go up in value.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Why Everyone Should Read and Enjoy Stephen McCauley, and Yet There is Still Something to be said That I Should Market it to Gay Men*

A blog post that uses as a jumping off point, our event with Stephen McCauley on Monday, June 14th...

One of the more curious side-effects of the mainstreaming of GLBT publishing is that you walk into a general bookstore and at least in most of them, you can’t find the gay fiction; it’s all mixed together. Sometimes you can’t even figure out that a book is about two men getting it on by reading the jacket copy; there’s a lot of code words that you have to unravel.

This is not necessarily a sales pitch for Outwords (though perhaps it is) or for a website (with its virtually unlimited way of categorizing, it can be all things to all people), but a real quandary of what does a person of non-mainstream sexual orientation when they want to browse, particularly fiction, though more and more stores will have their few LGBT (note, I use both acronyms alternatively) in current events, relationships, humor.) You can do your research beforehand, but then where’s the fun of the discovery.

I haven’t solved that problem, and though I want to play with fiction subcategories, I still fear the ghettoization of culturally meaningful fictions. (Translation—I don’t want Toni Morrison in the African American fiction section, unless I can cross shelve, but I can't afford to have two copies of all her novels in stock). You want to pump the sales of the more genre titles that you wouldn’t sell well unless you placed them together, but you don’t want to hurt sales of your other authors. I’d be a good test case of that. And we’ve found that our sales of books like David Ebershoff’s The Nineteenth Wife and even Sebastian Stuart’s The Hour Between have had a market as much to our core customer, which if you’ve shopped in a bookstore in the last 20 years, you know is middle-aged and older women.

Boswell, due to its location and somewhat eclectic mix of titles, probably has a stronger component of younger and male customers, but even still.

So that said, what to do about one of my favorite books this spring, Stephen McCauley’s new novel, Insignificant Others? It faces the double whammy in that it’s a comic novel, which as you know from reading my blog, does not get its share of respect , at least in the United States. I love one of the reviews that the publisher has been using, from Darcy Casper in the Los Angeles Times, writing about his last novel, Alternatives to Sex:

“A writer with a fierce, occasionally lacerating wit; a gimlet eye for human foibles; and a commendable willingness to dally in ambivalence and moral ambiguity with not entirely likeable characters—talents put to excellent use in his latest novel... How Americans were affected by Sept. 11 provides this novel’s leitmotif; fear, and how we sublimate or—much more rarely—reckon with it, is the theme. McCauley uses his twin narratives, and a bevy of subplots and appealing tertiary characters, to explore this material with impressive dexterity and a refreshing lack of portent. As always, McCauley has a light touch. The comic set pieces, clever banter and savagely efficient character descriptions for which he is known are all here. But make no mistake: McCauley is a social satirist in the tradition of Evelyn Waugh and Oscar Wilde—and like them, he's a serious writer indeed."

I've been told by the publisher that Alternatives to Sex saw an upswing in sales for McCauley. I felt the third novel, The Man of the House, was probably the toughest book to read, very dark and not particularly funny. It kind of pushed the reader away a bit, instead of drawing him or her in. Not that that can't be great writing, but it's harder to sell. True Enough was definitely back on the upswing for me. In some odd way, it reminded me of my friend Mameve Medwed, who also writes comic novels with a bit of a dark edge. I knew they were friends, and I thought, "I can sort of see Mameve in this book." I never asked them about that, though.

Then came Alternatives to Sex. There's an orgy scene that was somehow written in such a veiled way that I could have possible read it to one of my older female customers. As I was working a lot in the old Mequon location of Schwartz at the time, it turned out that the two folks I'd gotten to read Alternatives were both older women, and they thought it was just crazy funny. I call this the "Will and Grace" affect. Or maybe the E. Lynn Harris equation.

The new book is the story of an HR fellow who has a long-term relationship, and also an affair on the side, with a married man, no less. The problems are many, but are compounded when he discovers that his boyfriend also has a lover, and it’s become serious. This obsession leads him to step up his compulsive exercising, which leads him to take his mind off his job, which doesn’t help when a rather disturbed employee creates a work crisis.

The humor is sharp-edged, and yet McCauley writes with such warmth that I can’t help feeling emotionally connected with so many of the characters. The story takes some inevitable turns and some unusual ones. But I’m saving my review for elsewhere, so I’ll say no more.

So what do I do with the book? Well, all our usual bells and whistles to our customer base, some outreach to LGBT groups, an ad in the Wisconsin Gazette, which I can’t normally afford to do, but I had promised I would do something when I had the right author. I also wanted to show Simon and Schuster that I was doing whatever I could to promote the book, particularly because McCauley’s tour is pretty limited. We only got him as an add-on to the Printer’s Row Book Fair in Chicago. As I’ve been a fan since day one, it’s a true joy to host Mr. McCauley, on this, his sixth novel.

Oh, and back to Sebastian Stuart, who, it turns out, is McCauley's partner. He just was awarded the Ferro-Grumley award for LGBT fiction.

*Even though the "gay novel is dead." Is the gay novel dead? Read another take here.

I got through this whole post without mentioning The Object of My Affection. Imagine that.

Two Folks Muse on Robin Hobb's Event Last Monday

Here's a post from the blog, Reading and Writing but No Arithmetic:

And here's one from Hobb herself. We also love the masking tape horses!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I am Hypnotized by Emily Giffin's Purple Jacket...But How Does it Look with Her Shoes?

I've gone on at length about how Little Bee pops off store tables with that magic orange jacket. It got me to thinking about other colors, and how they are treated in book jackets. This is an outgrowth of my interest in colors on clothing. There's nothing more exciting for me than window shopping clothing stores and seeing what colors are popular.

For bookstores, however, it's a sea of red, white, and blue, with a few exceptions. See my previous post of blue versus greenish blue. Today, however, I'm talking about purple. Specifically, I am giving a shout out to Emily Giffin's new novel, Heart of the Matter. It's a simple jacket, but I love the color. For one thing, I have several shirts I could wear while I read this book. There's a very nice gingham at Aala Reed on Brady Street, for example.

Her new novel is about a doctor's wife and a single attorney whose lives cross in a tragedy. Giffin's known for doing characterization well, and though I haven't read it, but Giffin's star keeps rising. (I fear I am the wrong demographic, but that's just like me to ignore these sorts of things). Giffin's current book debuted at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list and at the momentum she's currently experiencing, a #1 debut should not be far behind.

I did think about reading it, but got bogged down in my own event books (blog posts to come). But then I had a fortuitous occurrence where I had a reason to enthuse over that purple and still come up with a cohesive thing to say about Giffin's book that did not solely involve the jacket.

I was sitting at a coffee shop, trying to write up a totally different book that need not be named (Insignificant Others, by Stephen McCauley) and sure enough, the young woman next to me pulls a copy of Heart of the Matter. I don't normally interrupt folks in their reading, but how can I resist?

It turns out that "Deborah" (I let her pick her own alias) is a big fan. She's read all her books and though she's moving pretty quickly through the new one, she's got mixed feelings, as what is she going to do when it's over?

I asked Deborah why she liked Giffin more than many of the other writers she's read. For one thing, Giffin's characters are warmer than many other writers that write in a similar style? Did she have any other recommendations for me? Well, she's also quite fond of Sophie Kinsella. I recommended Marian Keyes--she'd heard of her, but had read nothing. Maybe, just maybe, she'll find another author she likes...

We had a nice conversation about how much we like it when characters show up from other previous books in an author's work. I'm not talking about sequels here, which I'm not so fond of (apologies to all sequel writers), but just a coincidental crossing of lives. If I could only remember the Barbara Pym novel where the heroine overhears a conversation between Wilmot and Piers from A Glass of Blesssings? Alas, I can't.

Did I mention that "Deborah" has seen Emily Giffin in person twice and that she's absolutely wonderful? Giffin (not Deborah) is appearing in Milwaukee at the Barnes & Noble at Mayfair Mall this Friday, May 28th, at 7 PM. I know it's odd that I'm sending people to a competitor, but eh, what the heck. Booksellers are known for doing a lot of things that aren't necessarily in their best interest. Of late, we are apparently making a lot of suggestions for customers' ebooks (also for another post).

Tell Ms. Giffin Daniel sent you. And "Deborah."

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Wee Bit of Book Talk at my Uncle's Party

Sorry for the lack of a post yesterday. With all our deadlines for websites, newsletters, gift cards, and conventions, I found myself without any backup posts. That isn't exactly true; sometimes I write something and it sits for a while in the queue, unscheduled until I realize that I can't actually publish it.

I am staying in a place with no Wifi and I really can't write a piece on my phone. So we'll see how much actually gets posted this week.

There was a little bit of book talk at my uncle's party. My nephew had just finished reading Barbarians at the Gate, and coincidentally I had just finished an advance copy of Felix Rohatyn's memoir, Dealings, which is coming out this fall (we can call or email you when it comes in). As I tell my fellow booksellers, there's nothing to be gained from talking about books at length in advance of publication (well, at least most of the time) so let me just say I will discuss it later. Let's just say I talked it up.

His mom just finished Let the Great World Spin, following his dad and his aunt (and me too). As he's living in New York, it seemed like a must-read for him too, particularly as there was a subplot that touched on his life. My nephew lives just a block or so from where the prostitute Tillie integrates the streetcorner where she offers her services. You say streetwalker; I say civil rights activist.

My cousin just finished reading David Liss's The Devil's Company, just out in paperback. He's a big fan of the Benjamin Weaver series, historic mystery/thrillers with a little financial history thrown in for good measure. Now that the books are fully tested by my cousin, I can recommend them for any smart investment banker.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Idea of the Day--An Event Label for our Indie Next Brochures

We used our printer to make event labels promoting Dan Chaon and Justin Cronin's joint event on June 10th at the Sugar Maple for Await Your Reply and The Passage, respectively. Since the Passage is the #1 Indie Next pick for June and we give away about 100 brochures a month, it made perfect sense.

My only regrets:

1. We're also hosting an event with Glenn Taylor (formerly M. Glenn Taylor) for The Marrowbone Marble Company, in the store, on Tuesday, June 8th. But two stickers would have looked a little "crazy bookseller" to me. So we have to come up with another idea for Glenn.

2. Why didn't we think of it when Pete Nelson was on the cover of the April Indie Next brochure for I Thought You Were Dead?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Eye Issues Resolved

As I anxiously await developing age-related vision problems, I obsess over everything reading related. Do I have enough reading glasses that I would be ok with wearing? What about my sisters? Do I have a nice magnifier for my Mom?

In fact, I do, and just as I was buying it to take to her this weekend, a customer came in with a book with print too small for her mom to read. These really work well. I bought my mom the full-page size, but we also have bookmark and wallet-sized magnifiers.

We also just got in these Eye Bods. They are a secure and somewhat silly rest for your reading glasses. Though I suspect you have (inadvertently) come up with even sillier places for your glasses.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Writing About Deteriorating Paper Quality

Do you remember my post from several weeks ago about the surprising thinness and heaviness of the finished copy of The Lonely Polygamist? It turns out that while this made the book seem less like the big, fat book that it was, it turned out to be very high quality paper, a disappearing attribute from trade publishing.

My post elicited a response from Melissa Klug at Glatfelter, the paper company that is pushing the Permanence Matters initiative. It is an attempt to call attention to the increasing use of groundwood in publishing, a development that has crept from mass market to trade paperback and now to hardcover, from commercial titles to high-end literary and scholarly award winners.

Here's an excerpt from Klug's original note to me, on the difference in the manufacturing process:

"Groundwood is manufactured differently than free-sheet, in that a key component of the tree fiber (called lignin) remains in the groundwood paper. Lignin is the binding that holds tree fibers together. When this is not removed from the pulping process, it causes the resulting paper to yellow and become brittle when exposed to even minor amounts of heat and light, and degrade at a rate that is an order of magnitude faster than other papers."

When Jason and I thought about and took a good look at our libraries, we had to agree that our books from 10-15 years ago look better than many of the books we bought in the last few years.

Why is this happening now? In my lowly opinion, there might be several reasons. Costs are going up at the same time pricing pressures (from general merchandise and internet retailers) are keeping the selling price of books low. According to Klug, there is an excess of this kind of paper on the market, due to the declining newspaper business. Yes, I know that groundwood isn't exactly newsprint, but it's close.

Remember how horrified folks were about paper acidity years ago? Well, there doesn't seem to be much concern about this more recent development. It's all about the digitization of course. Why do we need books? They'll all be on disc. Or in a cloud. Well, unless another change in technology renders your library useless. Or we have one of those cyber attacks that it's now in vogue to imagine. Or maybe something happens to your ebook reader account. I'm not even sure how many librarians are on this side of the battle this time. Wah.

Klug sent me a lot of photos. The one at left is of two books by the same author. The top one is older by several years. The bottom one is groundwood.

My concern is that the physical book's competitive edge over ebooks is that it's an object. Quality needs to increase, not decrease. Because if hardcovers deteriorate to the extent that they are disposable, I have one less argument for their existence.

I know I'm in the sweet spot for a market that may be in fact really small--customers that actually might care about the physical quality of a book. It's also pretty much out of my hands. And I can't figure out how to address the problem--can you imagine publishers printing a book on permanent paper at $30 and groundwood at $25? Or a sticker saying, "I'm printed on permanent paper." I'd print the stickers myself, only for the life of me, I have no idea what paper is used in any given printing.

Furthermore, if readers did know everything, I don't know what they'd choose. It's my thought that many people would prefer a cheaper book. Heck, there's a strong cry to eliminate hardcovers altogether (though I suspect the resulting trade paperback would probably approximate the hardcover price) and we all know about the struggle regarding the perceived value of ebooks.

I really don't know the answers here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Gift Card Changes--The Story Behind the Story

Most of our customers knew that our gift card program at Schwartz was facilitated by the American Booksellers Association. Cards purchased at one store could be redeemed at another. It was a program that worked well for us, and we were happy to continue it at Boswell.

Well, times changed. The original intention of the national gift card program was to compete with chain stores. But a few things went wrong:
1) The cost of actually taking a card from another participating store was rather high (a percentage of the transaction went to servicing the program) which led to
2) Not as many stores participating as projected which
3) Somewhat defeated the purpose of the program, as you might not find a general bookstore in Minneapolis, for example, that participated.
4) In addition, someone had to hold the liability for stores that went out of business, and that was not great for our trade association. (Note to Jill: I hope I said this correctly. Feel free to comment or email me, and I will fix.)

It's also much easier to go on a participating store's website and buy the gift card. If you have a cousin in Austin, you can click to Bookpeople's site and complete the transaction. This wasn't really an option when the program started.

So all the independent bookstores are off on their own. There are a lot of options, and part of the difficulty is just making decisions. We decided to go with IBID/IRT our inventory provider, who has been processing gift cards for 15 years. Want to use them too? Contact Mike.

We also had to get a new card designed, so we returned to designer Joe Lisberg at Deep Sea Studios. We worked with him on a color palette and the basic icons, including our just-the-b's logo he already designed. He came up with some great solutions, we narrowed them down, asked for some tweaking, and here is the final product, which we are rolling out shortly after June 1st.

As we mentioned in our event calendar, these transitions never go perfectly smoothly. We expect there will be up to two weeks (June 1-15) when we cannot redeem gift cards. It's also possible that we might have a short period of issuing paper gift cards.

But here's the most important take-away. Our old gift cards will still work, as soon as the serial numbers are transferred to the new system. Both our old cards and our new cards have no service fee, and do not expire.
Now's the moment when you finish this and feel compelled to buy a gift card from us. Isn't it funny how this works?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Book Jacket Duel: Blue v. Tuquoise

Jason and I were standing at the front of the store last week, when he mentioned to me what a sea of blue the new title display was. Sure there's a good deal of red, and that of-the-moment combo of mostly grayscale with pops of yellow, but mostly, it's blue, blue, blue.

The real internal argument among art editors seems to be, how dark or light should it be, and how much green should you add. I looked at our new title areas, which for our purposes, consisted of the front table paperbacks, new and noteworthy hardcover fiction, Boswell's Best, and new mysteries and thrillers (mixed cloth and paper).

I divided the books up by green enough to be perceived as turquoise, and not green enough to be perceived as turquoise. There really is a lack of purplish blue (mysteries seem to tread slightly into the purple tone, such as Laurie King's The God of the Hive), so that wasn't in the equation. Like green and orange, you rarely see high-profile purple jackets, with few exceptions. More on that in another post.

There was another set of books where the blue was so discolored as to almost be gray. I decided to make that a different category, though in my arbitrary fashion, I mixed dark and light blues of the same family together. Many of these books feature sky (which probably a major cuase for the prevalence of blue), but in a more naturalistic tone. Sue Miller's The Lake Shore Limited split the difference, with a blue on the top half of the jacket and a turquoise on the bottom.

In the end, blue beat turquoise by a healthy margin.

Monday, May 17, 2010

We Commission a Poster for the Dan Chaon/Justin Cronin Event on June 10th

Our customers may not yet know this, but folks in publishing and bookselling do--Justin Cronin's big, fat vampire novel, The Passage, is the "it" book of summer. It's a book that seems to be hitting both literary and commercial readers (though the literary readers, as well as Cronin himself acknowledge the book is meant to be pure escapist fun), and #1 on the Indie Next list for June.

We backed into this event almost by accident. We got on the paperback tour for Dan Chaon's wonderful Await Your Reply (helped in part, by how much work we put into promoting the hardcover), and while we were juggling dates, the lightbulb went off over the head of Brian (the fellow I'm working with at Random House) and without too much extra work, we were suddenly hosting Cronin as well. (Note to Brian--thank you.)

I've always wanted to have an event at Sugar Maple (link is now corrected), and this is the one that worked out. Among my failed attempts, one of the authors I considered turned out to be a recovering alcoholic. Not my best move.

My other dream was to have a sign made by Stackmatic. I knew he did concert posters on occassion, and I was sort of treating this like a concert, only without the cover. Uh oh, am I making a mistake here? Well, we'll learn for next time.

Anyway, he came through for us. I'm thrilled with the results. Check out Stackmatic's amazing website and get on the waiting list to buy artwork. It's almost always sold before it's posted.

We have extra posters if your store, community area, or meeting space allows posters. We're a little curatorial about our own vestibule, so I'm not great about just plastering the town with these posters, even though they are so very cool. But I'm up for trading space. Email me.

We're also selling the poster for $5 at the event.
Addendum: the event is Thursday, June 10th, at 7 PM!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Boswell is Just a Bit Player in the Online College Game--a Totally Stream-of-Consciousness Post

I watch a lot of niche television, the kind that doesn't get much in the way of consumer brands. Mary Tyler Moore (hey, her memoir, Growing Up Again, is out in paperback) at 9 and Bob Newhart at 9:30 are staples on Me TV . It not only sends me back to my childhood of first runs, but also to my first years in Milwaukee, when an hour of Bob Newhart on a 12 inch black and white, perched on an upside-down cole slaw bucket capped off my day.

For a long time, Me TV had mostly retro ads and public service announcements, but now two categories have discovered the world of low-cost penetration. Firstly, the personal injury lawyers and bankruptcy lawyers have a nice presence. For my next accident, I can choose from David Gruber, Cannon and Dunphy, Habush, Habush and Rotier, or Domnitz and Skemp (Domnitz's brother is one of my old bosses!), which makes me wonder whether you can throw out bids if you've got a partiuclarly lucrative case. We're currently working with three parties to find a supplier of plastic gift cards, to replace the just-ending program with our bookstore trade association.

To folks who have outstanding gift cards, all numbers will move over. We will likely, however, have a period of about a week when we can't sell or process gift cards. Signage to follow.

The other folks who seem to be flooding the airwaves are for-profit technical schools and colleges. For many years, ITT and Bryant and Stratton were the players here. Then Kaplan arrived in a big way. Now Upper Iowa, DeVry, University of Phoenix.

Apparently there is an organization of accredited online colleges. And apparently they have a list of 50 "really cool" bookstore blogs (editor's note--we linked to this jokingly and then Google punished us by hiding our blog so now this blog is gone). This is one of them. I should be just happy, but I know it's to get us all to link to their list of schools. Should I be upset about this or not? Why do I feel that this is like those letters you get in the mail (or now in email) saying you are one of the most notable whatevers in America. The commemorative book costs $20, the plaque is $10. But hey it's good enough for Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart, it should be good enough for me. The thing is, my link is even cheaper than Me TV's.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Eyeglass Reorder--Greeting Card Disorder

We've been selling down on our reading glasses so we brought in a few styles. We've got assorted cat patterns and a black-and-white look called Voyager (pictured at right--I figured you know what a leopard print looks like. We restocked the popular plaids and the unisex Prada design that has proven to be a hit with fellows. And the hand-painted frames have gone down in price from $19.95 to $16.95--they are selling, but not at the pace we expected. The new styles are all $19.95.


So, do you think Mother's Day or Father's Day cards sell better? I was always taught that Father's Day was the bigger book holiday. Mom's got lunch and flowers and candy. But what about cards? We pretty much sold out all our Mother's Day cards and most of our blank cards with flowers to boot. We have about a third less pockets for Dad. Do you think I have to go panic and get more quickly? We'll see.

Friday, May 14, 2010

It's All About the "Beverly"

I'm not much of a re-reader, but I've decided that I need to read Day for Night by Rick Reiken again. I don't have time for it (I just finished Lily King's Father of the Rain, a July event book--more on that later), but I'm having as much fun the second time as I did the first.

There are many fun passages that tie the book together, sprinkled into the narrative. Here's a passage in Kathleen Clay Goldman's FBI report:

"If you look hard enough into the history of anything, you will discover things that seem to be connected but are not. A case in point would be all the parallels that have been made between Lincoln and Kennedy. Eerie as these may seem at first, it is easy to find what seem like parallels or correlations between any marginally related sets of data, as debunkers as well as statisticians frequently note."

Contrast this with Timmy's view of the world, where he tries to explain a song that his band Dee Luxe sings:

"What it's about is the idea that we're much closer than we think to the random people we see on any given day, that everyone in this world carves out a little groove and that although you may think your world is large you rarely venture far outside this groove."

Needless to say, he has just had an encounter with someone to whom he has had a stray encounter, but it turns out his connection goes back at least a generation.

So here's the eerie thing for me--my two favorite novels of the moment have major characters named Beverly. That's the name of wife #1 in The Lonely Polygamist. Coincidence?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Vegetable Erasers are my Downfall

About 25 or so years ago, I went to a now-gone store in Cambridge called Bowl and Board. One of my favorite things to browse in the store were these little wooden ephemera. I became obsessed with the tomatoes and kept about a dozen wooden tomatoes on display in my kitchen for many years.
As we've tried to ride the Japanese eraser craze (we'll rid it until we stop thinking their cute and they start driving us crazy), we picked up some new assortments. We'll add a new assortment to the mix every few weeks, but the one that really blew me away were the vegetables. I initially thought, "Oh, those are good for our green market" (yes, this Sunday, 2-6 PM) but then I started thinking "I guess I am going to buy a bunch of them. And so I did. And here they are.

And I did. Sad, huh?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On the Corner of Poetry and Novel--A Meditation on our Friday (5/14) Event with Travis Nichols and Aaron Michael Morales

As I read Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder (preparing for our joint event with Travis Nichols and Aaron Michael Morales this Friday), I thought of the structure, the wordplay, the way the images repeat. I looked at the jacket and it said "novel", but my brain reads poetry.

Indeed, Nicholas is an editor at the Poetry Foundation. And it's clear that this has had an influence on his storytelling style.

The story is told as a series of letters to Luddie, a Polish woman who saved the narrator's grandfather during the war. The narrator, unnamed, does refer to himself as "Madame Psychosis." His girlfriend is Bernadette. MP and Bernadette hope to accompany Grandfather back to Europe.

The story is punctuated by memories and asides. Ed Park said Nicholas put the "pistol" in "epistolary." Don't you wish you thought of that?

Here's a sample from the plane trip:
Then, the yellow pills wore off.
Then, the baby boy was still wailing
Then, the baby boy was blue in the face.
Then, the other passengers were not wailing with blue faces.
Then, they were staring at her with red faces.
Then, the man she was married to stared at her with the reddest face of all, and he kept scooping cocaine from his shoe and snorting it.
The radical daughter looked out the window and became terrified
Off we go into the wild blue yonder
Climbing high into the sun.

Here's another fragment:
Something is wrong this morning.
I feel it.
Something is wrong, but as I walk down the hallway to Bombadier's room I don't know what it is. A witness observes without imagination, I think. A witness is purse sense.
I hear a warble and a screech.
Something is wrong.

This is not the conflagration of story and novel. For that, we have another guest (Aaron Michael Morales), whose Drowning Tucson is a very dark interconnected series of vignettes on the mean streets of Tucscon. Very Mean. I did a lot of shuddering as I read it.

But Nichols novel does not really incorporate the short story form. This is a driving narrative, with a couple of asides, of three people traveling to Poland to find out the truth about Grandfather's war, and perhaps of war itself. I kept thinking, "Poetry, poetry," but by the end of the story, I thought, "OK, novel too."

For more, read this interview with Nichols in Rob McLennan's blog.
And here's one with Morales in La Bloga.

Or ask Nichols yourself when he appears with Morales this Friday, May 14th, at Boswell. Oh, and if it looks like I'm spending more time on one author than another, I should mention that Stacie and I put together a separate press release to Latino cultural organizations for Morales so this blog was partly an attempt to right the imbalance!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Salt Lake City Calling. It's Brady Udall! A Short Interview

Golden Richards, patriarch to four wives and 28 kids. Desperate for work, he takes a construction job for a whorehouse. His fourth wife, with only one child to her name (and not his) is making eyes at another man. One of his sons is in self-destruct mode. Brady Udall's book is all that and much more. It's the history of the American West, for goodness sake. Conrad finished reading it and wrote his staff rec almost immediately: "We've waited ten years for Udall to write another novel. At last it's here and it's great." He joins a good-sized list of Boswellians who are over-the-top in their praise of The Lonely Polygamist.

So many thoughts swirl through my head. Big fat books. Not looking so fat due to thick paper that is actually much higher quality than what we're normally seeing in hardcovers of late. A lot of enthusiasm among booksellers, but not as much as for Emily St. John Mandel's Last Night in Montreal. It's the #1 Indie Next Book for May. Here's her post for Micawber's on her visit to Minnesota in winter.

I'm trying to sort everything out. But mostly, I'm trying to translate this gibberish that I wrote down from my short interview with Brady Udall into something coherent.

I spoke to him when he had a free moment at the Hotel Monaco in Salt Lake City. (We stayed there when Winter Institute was in Salt Lake City. It's a long story about me booking late and getting a better deal down the block, not really understanding that in Salt Lake City, blocks are something like half a mile long. I do love the goldfish option. For a good time, browse the Kimpton website and pretend you are staying at these places.)

These interviews are hard. Does the author want to answer the same questions over and over again? What can you ask that other folks aren't asking? So I started with my "big fat book" obsession. It's my thesis that a book at 600 pages didn't start at 350, with the editor asking the author to add more. I guessed it was bigger.

Udall: It was originally 1400 pages. I had a lot more historical background. Royal had hundreds of pages cut. Beverly's story was told over 90 pages.

Goldin: You could publish a novel using material you left out.

Udall: No, I could publish six novels.

Goldin: What's the best thing you left out?

Udall: There's a scene where Royal, Golden's father, has a fight with John Wayne on the set of "The Conquerer." Wayne is playing Genghis Khan. Almost all of the people in the movie died of cancer from the radiation tests that were going on, possibly including John Wayne.

(Read more about this "travesty of filmmaking" here. The movie was directed by the Busby Berkleyan Dick Powell, and also featured Agnes "Endora" Moorehead!)

Goldin: How important was the nuclear testing to the core of your story?

Udall: It wasn't important at first. The more I got to know polygamous families, the more I saw how much it was a part of their lives. I saw my book as a history of the American West, and this was a part of it, a part that's not well known. It was only fifty years ago that our government was conducting radiation tests on its citizens.

Goldin to myself: history of the American West! Oh yeah, that was going on in there. Out loud: Did you have an outline for the book?

Udall: I didn't plan or write anything down. I didn't even write down the kids' names and ages. At one point a kid would be 15 and by 600 he would be 13. There are over 100 characters in the book. I slowly had to bring it home and refine the story.

Goldin: Was there a defining moment that led you to write the story?

Udall: There was! It was the gum in the pubic hair. I knew the book had a heavy subject and I wanted a goofy plot point driving it forward.

Goldin: I see The Lonely Polygamist taking an alien topic like polygamy and making it everyday. I compare your book a lot to Middlesex. Do you mind that?

Udall: No, I love that book. The strangeness becomes intimate. It's also a very human story against the backdrop of history. That's a very American way of writing.

I forgot to ask him about my Anne Tyler comparison!

Need more interviewin'?
Jill Owens of Powells talks to Udall on their website.

And here's one from Jenny Shankman on the New West site.

One last pitch! Brady Udall is not coming anywhere near Milwaukee, but if you live within 50 miles of St. Paul, I very highly recommend that you head to Micawber's to see Brady Udall on Wednesday, May 19th at 7 PM. This guy is the real deal and I'd hate for you to be kicking yourself later that you missed the event.

Monday, May 10, 2010

On Supporting Next Chapter's Decision to Host Karl Rove

As many folks know, Karl Rove is visiting our friends at Next Chapter in Mequon on Sunday, May 23rd to sign copies of his book Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight. You also may know that the store has received a lot of negative comments on social media, with folks (some anonymous, some not) proclaiming they will no longer patronize that store.

Now I have no idea whether these are real patrons of Next Chapter who are no longer going to patronize that store, or rather, social media posters that feel obligated to comment on everything they can. In a way, one of the dangers of web 2.0 is that the political ideas get more polarized as people have less and less interaction with folks who don't share their opinions.

It strikes me that Next Chapter's loyal customers know full well that Schwartz supported a diverse roster of speakers, from Pat Buchanan to Bill Ayers, both of whom led to threats of boycotts. There are general bookstores that do subscribe to the "I don't like it so I ain't carrying it" vision, but it's hard for us to change from A. David Schwartz's conception of the bookstore being a center for a broad marketplace of ideas.

Here the truth comes out. I was offered Karl Rove first, and I passed it to Lanora. And though I knew I would be the target of similar wrath (or perhaps even worse, due to my location in a more liberal part of the metro area), that was not my reason for declining the event. I actually offered two options, one of Next Chapter and the other of us selling books at the Centennial Hall for the Milwaukee Public Library, but that would still be passing the buck, so to speak, to another entity.

The reason I passed was that I would not be able to attend the event. Like Lanora, I was headed for the Book Expo trade show in New York later that week. But unlike Lanora (who also changed her plans to make this event work), I had a family gathering to celebrate my Uncle Leon's 80th birthday in New York, and after much thought, I decided that if I could find another place for the event, I wouldn't miss it. I've already had to turn down a lot of family functions in the past year, as you can imagine.

And I was not going to let my store deal with this event without me at the front and center. It was just not fair to them.

Aside from the name-calling and the boycott threats, there's one other thing that disappoints me. Rove's event is a straight signing, and I would have much preferred for him to talk. I know why he's not doing so, as he probably needs to have a thoroughly vetted crowd so they don't overpower his words. But think about this--that anger isn't going to change anything at this point. Wouldn't it be more useful to listen to what he had to say? What was actually going on in his brain? That's probably something to which I'm not going to be a witness, alas.

Jim Higgins says it best, in yesterday's piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel section. Read it here.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Every Good Fairy Deserves Favor--Daisy Meadows Inspires Gift Display

There was a lot of eye rolling in the store when I told everyone I wanted to do a fairy display. There's only so long that I can watch all these Daisy Meadows books come out before I, as the children's stuff buyer, must react.

At random, I just grabbed two titles from the seires. Here's Fiona the Flower Fairy. (editor's note--I mean "flute!") Hey, I was a flautist from sixth through eleventh grades. Oh, look, it's Zoe the Skating Fairy. And in fact, I grew up ice skating with my Dad at Flushing Meadow Park almost every Sunday. It's like the series was made for me.

Here are the top 10 fairy titles (over the last several months) from Daisy Meadows, according to Ingram's demand list:

So Manhattan Toy came out with these Beneath the Leaf dolls at the same time that Accoutrements was pushing fairy mints and finger puppets and another line had fairy magnets. I know that some of this stuff is serious while other items are tongue in cheek. No matter. It calls to me. Fiona, this one's for you.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Stephenie Meyer and Peter Paik See Eye to Eye

One is the story of a woman whose body has been invaded by an alien species. The other is an analysis of speculative writing, and how these otherworldly stories often reflect our own societal ills.

Stacie swears that they were placed next to each other accidentally. Stephenie Meyer's The Host has just come out in paperback. So has Peter Y. Paik's From Utopia to Apocalypse. I actually brought in his new book as he is a professor at UWM (and a customer too, hurray.) His book was originally meant for the Read Local case. But it really needs to have at least a little time with Meyer, doesn't it?

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Story of a Dinner Inspired by Mario Batali's Spain: A Culinary Road Trip

It was Conrad's idea. Pick a cookbook and have everybody cook from it, a book-driven potluck just a bit outside our comfort zone.

The choice for the first evening was Spain: A Culinary Road Trip, by Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow. You can see more about this PBS show by visiting the "Spain on the Road Again" web site.

Conrad set the mood with his paella. And yes, the pan is supposed to make a crackling noise just as it's done.

Jason brought the chorizo empanada. Surprise, surprise--the base called for frozen pizza dough. Jason said it was quite easy to make, and just changing the seasoning convinced the palate that there was no pizza involved.

Rebecca brought pineapple with lime and molasses. Simple, different, and immediately eaten. The leftover molasses made a thoughtful gift to the hosts!

Anne brought pan con tamate, "the most emblematic of all Catalan food." Once again, changing the seasoning eliminated all thoughts of bruschetta. There's another recipe that involves pairing tomato and eggplant on toast, a Spanish ratatouille

Sharon stewed over stewed beans. Only 2 cloves of garlic? I would have added 8 at least. It was nice to have a few vegetarian options. There's a lot of meat and fish in this cookbook.

Pam made sopa de ajo (garlic soup). The poached eggs threw us for a loop, but I, like most of the attendees, was brave and tried it. There was talk of putting the beans in the soup. The idea was scratched, as it would make unclear who was to take home what.

The photo at left is of the soup in process. The poached eggs are ready to be added.

Amie made Batali family blackberry pie. She added a little extra sugar as the berries were particularly tart. Well, in retrospect that's why she did it.

I was lazy and brought sangria. The recipe isn't in the cookbook, but we improvised. I bought my fruit at Sendiks (Downer Avenue) and picked out a good bottle with Mike at Downer Wines and Spirits.

In the end, we thought the recipes were very interesting, and some were delicious. I tried everything, even the soup with the poached eggs. Very outside my comfort zone. The book is more of a travelogue with recipes, an advertisement for the cable show. Nobody was sure why Gwyneth Paltrow was given author credit. Why didn't Mark Bittman get any credit?

We're talking about doing it again, using the coming-in-July Rick Bayless cookbook, Fiesta at Rick's.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Finally! A List of the Books Discussed on my Ben Merens Visit in April

Here's your chance to hear my discussion with Ben Merens (and many readers) on Wisconsin Public Radio in April. When the discussion of favorite books comes up, there are always a lot of calls and Facebook posts, so it winds up being a discussion.

Here's Ben's audio archive. It's Friday, April 16th, 5 PM hour.

And I think this link will lead you right to the show. If I can't get this to work, you can scroll through the other shows until you get to mid-April (how embarrassing to be so late doing this!)

Daniel's opening recommendations:
Day for Night, by Frederick Reiken

His enthusiasm for this book rivals that of:
Little Bee, by Chris Cleave

Ben's response:
Night, by Elie Wiesel

And another book to be crazy about:
The Lonely Polygamist, by Brady Udall

customer recommendation:
The Help, by Katherine Stockett

Daniel's response:
The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, by Kelly O’Connor McNees
And another Amy Einhorn book:
This is Not the Story You Think it is, by Laura Munson

customer recommendation:
The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One, by William L. Black (this book is short discount and not widely distributed)

Daniel’s response:
Lords of Finance: The Bankers who Broke the World, by Liaquat Ahamed

customer recommendation:
Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer

Daniel’s response
Animal Factory. by David Kirby

With Animals, but Still Green:
In the Green Kitchen, by Alice Waters

And More about food:
Spain: A Culinary Road Trip, by Mario Batali

customer suggestion:
If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name: News from Small-Town Alaska, by Heather Lende

Don't forget about her brand new book:
Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs: Family, Friendships, and Faith in Small-Town Alaska

customer inqury:
The Gathering Storm, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
(It came out last fall, not this fall)

Daniel’s response:
Dragon Haven and Dragon Keeper, by Robin Hobb
Daniel Gets to Give a Nonfiction rec:
Yarn, by Kyoko Mori

And an Old Book to Recommend:
The Tortoise and the Hare, by Elizabeth Jenkins

Being Touted by the Author of this High-Profile Book:
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

customer recommendation:
1984, by George Orwell
The Sparrow and Children of God, by Mary Doria Russell

customer recommendation:
The Immigrants saga. I think the caller was referring to:
The Immigrants, by Howard Fast, which is the first in a six-book series about the Lavette family

customer recommendation:
The Conscience of a Liberal, by Paul Krugman

Daniel’s response:
Ill Fares the Land, by Tony Judt

customer recommendation:
What's Shakin': An Insider's Look at the Humorous Side of Parkinson's Disease, by John Brissette
(Alas, this is a print-on-demand, nonreturnable, short-discount book that is not likely to be on the shelves of your local bookstore. It is designed for website sales only, with spot consignments from the author's family or friends).

customer recommendation:
Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville

customer recommendation:
The Little Friend and The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

Daniel’s response:
The History of Love and Great House, by Nicole Krauss

customer recommendation:
The Kids are All Right, by Diana, Liz, Amanda and Dan Welch

customer recommendation as a book to reread:
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkein. There are many editions of this series. I linked to the one-volume trade paperback.

Daniel’s response, a book that I reread:
The Golden Gate, by Vikram Seth

customer recommendation:
all Raymond Chandler, such as The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye

Daniel’s response:
Elegy for April, by Benjamin Black, also the man behind The Infinities, by John Banville

customer recommendation, regarding foreign books that take too long to be released stateside:
The Sister Fidelma mysteries, by Peter Tremayne, most recently The Council of the Cursed

Daniel’s response of a book that took a long time to be published stateside:
The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, by Stieg Larsson

customer recommendation:
Arthur Conan Doyles’ Sherlock Holmes mysteries, an inexpensive option being The Complete Novels and Stories, in two volumes.

customer recommendation:
The Limits to Power, by Andrew Bacevich