Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Journals Journals Journals! Granta, Tin House, Verse Wisconsin, Acreage

I don't know if we mentioned this, but we almost had the honor of hosting John Freeman, the editor of Granta, at Boswell. It wound up not working out, but I had the pleasure of working with Patrick Ryan, who it turns out, was the same Patrick Ryan who we hosted several years ago at the Harry W. Schwartz Readers Retreat at the American Club in Kohler!

I had been wondering what he was working on since Send Me, his wonderful collection of stories. I feel like a dodo for admitting this, but I had no idea he was writing young adult novels under P. E. Ryan. I ordered the most recent, In Mike We Trust, for purchase. Can't wait!

Patrick informed me that the new issue of Granta, #111, subtitled "Going Back" should be at Boswell in mid-July. It features new work from Elizabeth McCracken, Richard Russo, Adrienne Rich, as well as an excerpt from a new biography of Mark Twain. Here's a link to the Granta site.

If you missed #110, the Sex issue, we still have it. Contributors include Jennifer Egan, Mark Dota, Roberto Bolano, Jeanette Winterson, and Chris Offutt. I wondered what happened to him!

The Tin House summer reading issue (#44) also recently arrived. There's an excerpt of Per Petterson's new book, I Curse the River of Time, plus stories from Steven Millhauser, Lydia Millett, and Rawi Hage. Poetry too.

Speaking of poetry, sales are pretty good on the locally produced Verse Wisconsin. B.J. Best and Marilyn Taylor are both involved in this. It was nice to read something from our DeWitt Clinton, who I've seen in the store, and of course something from Susan Firer. We've still got a few copies left!

On the virtual front, a link to a new journal out of Oklahoma with Schwartz and Boswell ties appeared in my inbox. It's called Acreage Journal. In the quest for simplicity, the editors have chosen to remain anonymous, but I can say the contributors include Bayard Godsave, who read at Boswell last year with Joe Meno. Here'a link to Bayard's story. Their next issue appears August 1st, and are currently taking submissions.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Today's Lonely Polygamist Posting is...Dave Weich's Read Road Show

Remember those short movies that were put together by Powell's? Who could forget Boulevard Theatre multi-character presentation for Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach that Schwartz co-hosted in Bay View? Or the panel of Korean War vets at the Schwartz Mequon location for David Halberstam's The Coldest War. Or...whatever we did at Downer Avenue for State by State? (I was out of town, apologies all around).

Well, Dave Weich, the force behind this project, has gone off on his own and put together something called The Real Road Show Project. Here's King Udall talking about the salaciousness of polygamy and how so many interviewers wind up focusing on the subject, and why they so often get it wrong.

Go to Dave's site and watch the rest of the interviews, or if you're lazy and/or forgetful, I will occasionally post them here.

Dave, I'd like a video of you explaining what all those strange drawings are on the dry-erase board in back of your subjects.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Books That Sell Themselves--A Special Post Half-Directed at Booksellers, but With Luck, of Interest to Plain Old Readers Too

There are books that people are naturally drawn to, and sometimes you don't exactly know what they are going to be. Put a pile of Murder on the Eiffel Tower on your paperback table and it will sell. It worked for us in hardcover at Schwartz and in paperback at Boswell.

We've sold 71 in the last year (for folks in the know, that makes us #1 on Above the Treeline, almost double what the #2 bookstore sold) despite the fact that if they ask, Anne will tell inquirers that the murder does not take place on the Eiffel Tower. The book did win a prestigious French mystery prize (the Michel Lebrun prize) and the hero is a bookseller, which is reason enough to make sure we have enough stock.

Similarly, since we got the idea to sell The Power of Kindness from Garrison Keillor's Common Good Books, via our sales rep Joe, we've kept it on our front table, and just passed the 100 copy sales mark. In this case, there are other bookstores that know the secret--we're barely in the top ten on Treeline. That said, every independent bookstore should put this book on your impulse table, or your new paperback table, because if you are a general independent bookstore, it is perfect for your clientele. Great title, great package, and the book delivers--what more do you want? A concerted effort could get this book on national bestseller lists. Tarcher, the ball is in your court.

Carl Lennertz was the man who convinced us to carry a stock of Joseph Caldwell's The Pig Did it, and now it's been on and off our bestseller list for the last year. It's another book that sells in lots of indies, as so many of us listen to Carl. Here's a scooop--the rest of you should also listen to him about this book; it sells from the package, and the word of mouth is good too. Now we have an event with Mr. Caldwell this Saturday, July 3rd, at 2 PM, and I hope we've primed the pump, as he deserves a nice audience for the paperback of book #2, The Pig Comes to Dinner. I know it seems like a weird day for an event, but did I mention he's in the state for a family reunion, and you take what you can get. Actually, we were quite busy last year on the 3rd--lots of visitors with nothing to do but hang out and browse.

Folks might wonder if I would include The Tortoise and the Hare in this assortment, and I would say, not quite. We're selling the book well, but it doesn't sell itself--it needs the bookseller rec. Bev just finished it, by the way, and despite a lot of anger directed at the husband, she liked it quite a bit. A round of thanks to Jennifer at Paper Moon in McGregor, Iowa, who handsold the book to John who handsold the book to me. Here's her delightful viral video promoting visits to McGregor. Yes, it's true. They do have the loosest slots. Take that, Ames!

We're not quite sure, but I think we've inadvertently uncovered another sleeper, and in this case, we seem to be the only Treeline bookseller stocking it (though a few had special orders). It's Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Dr. Who by the Women Who Love It. Our purchase started with a special order from our pal Kathy, who suggested an event. Our local contact, Carole Barrowman, rounded up three editors and contributors from metro Chicago, and another from the Twin Cities area. Our event was way bigger than we expected, and we ordered in more stock to cover the bookplates we gave out when we ran out of books.

So here's the thing--we've continued to sell the book off our front table to folks who don't know any of the contributors, and didn't come to our event. We're closing in on 50 copies, and we're ready to do a decent-sized reorder to keep it on our front tables. I'll let any bookseller know how it winds up doing, but be warned--even if you don't sell much science fiction and fantasy, the audience for this book among your customers may be bigger than you realize.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Girl Who Played at the Downer Theatre

The rumors were out there, but it's not until you see it on the marquee that you know it's true. The Girl Who Played with Fire opens at the Downer Theatre on Friday, July 16th.

Sales continue to rise for the first two volumes in the series and are opening sales for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest were more the double the previous title.

Playing at the Downer this week are "Ondine" and "Please Give." More at their website.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

We Advertise on a Bumper Card at the Downer Classic, Which is Going on Today

I'm slowly putting together my pitch for The Lost Cyclist. It's Born to Run on two wheels. It's the book Erik Larson would have written, if he could handle foot breaks. Or maybe if he could ride without foot breaks.

Today is the Downer Classic. Be prepared to park several blocks away. We're right on the course and the street is blocked north of Bradford. I'm excited to say that the bumper that Stacie put together looks great. It's on the west side of the street, in front of CVS. Mike and Lynn, we'll get you that check!

Here's the New York Times review for The Lost Cyclist.

I can't find a website with this, but I've pieced together part of the remaining tour:

Monday, July 28th, 7 PM
Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC

Tuesday, June 29th, 7 PM
The Regulator Bookshop in Durham, NC

Friday, July 9th, 7 PM
Our pals at Longfellow Books, Portland, Maine

Saturday, July 10th, 12 PM
Brown University Bookstore, Providence
Someday someone can explain to me why there was so much agitation over Brown's bookstore being outsourced to a book chain in 2006, but nary a peep when a museum and zoo bookstore chain took over operations and dramatically reduced staff.

Monday, July 19th, 7:30 PM
The gi-normous Burnside Powells, Portland, Oregon. Does one hyphenate gi-normous? I think not.

Tuesday, July 20th, 7 PM
Seattle Public Library (central branch)

Eh, that's enough of that. We have to give out pins to kids on the bike race treasure hunt. Thank you to the very generous HarperCollins for supplying us with promotional kiddy swag.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Poets and Writers Arrives in the Store, but Not Just Any Issue

Our magazine shipment for the week arrived yesterday and with it was the long-awaited July-August issue of Poets and Writers with the Boswell Book Company profile. We're on page 59.

It's the first fiction issue, featuring profiles from Michelle Hoover, Belle Boggs, the recently-hosted Aaron Michael Morales, and others. But everyone is a bit overshadowed by the cover guy, the bare-shirted, tattooed 23-year-old James Kaelan, who is touring for his book of stories by bicycle (west-coast only). It's a 21-city tour.

In the spirit of his low-carbon touring, I tried to do today's offsite at the UWM Extension by bus They had a well-received, one-day confernce on aging, , with a keynote talk by Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot. We sold out of her new book, The Third Chapter. It's about making the most of your life after 50. I'm putting a copy on hold for a year.

Kaelan's book of stories, We're Getting On, has a limited first printing where the jacket has spruce seeds embedded in it, and for the Zero Emission tour, he's planting a cover in each of the 21 stops. The stories themselves? Haven't read them, but Poets and Writers describes them as Beckett-ian. But we can't tell if the POD editions from Ingram have the seed-studded covers. Help us!

Thanks to Poets and Writers for the lovely interview. If you are embarrassed that I am touting Little Bee months after it hit #1 on the bestseller list, might I mention that part of the interview took place last fall, before the book exploded in paperback.

Other features in this month's issue:
--Anatomy of an Author Agreement
--Necessary Agent: An Editor reveals how the best agents work behind the scenes to help their clients' books get the attention they deserve
--Seek and You Shall Sign: How agents find potential clients and what writers can do to seal the deal.

And for poets, there are features on C. K. Williams and Daniel Halpern's poetry series.

Here's a piece from the Fiction Writers Review blog about the Boswell article.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Funny Gay-moirs: Not Just for Gay People Anymore

As we close on June, National Lesbian and Gay Pride Month, and head into July (which is, among other things, National Baked Bean Month, really ), I reflect a bit on the phenomenon of gay-moirs.

The success of the humorous but clearly biographical essays of David Sedaris and the essays of Augusten Burroughs (the memoirs can be pretty serious) has led to these mostly humorous essays (long and short form) by openly gay men that are really not about gay issues (like an old-school Michelangelo Signorile tome) but simply accept the fact of the author’s sexuality, and include it in the narrative (as opposed to, say, Ellen DeGeneres’ pre-coming-out bestseller, My Point…And I Do Have One).

Not having access to national purchase data, I can only wonder at the makeup of these books' readerships, though I can offer an anecdote about our recent event with Stephen McCauley, for his novel (yes, I know, not a memoir, not even an autobiographical novel, but still it gives me another mention of his wonderful book) Insignificant Others.

In addition to our normal marketing plan for events, which includes an email newsletter feature, in-store event calendar, generous table and window display, a listing ad in at a local paper, and a press release to a list of contacts (which led to a nice write-up in the Journal Sentinel that did lead to some extra attendance), and a blog feature, I tried to a little extra for this wonderful book.

This seemed like the opportunity to go after a gay male reader, much the way we’ve targeted Latino or Irish audiences for certain authors. Though of course many readers are always trying to expand their reading horizons, who doesn’t like to at least occasionally read about someone akin to his or herself?

That said, our not-embarrassing-but-certainly-should-have-been-bigger audience of just under 20 people was about 75% women, and I’m not counting me or Kirk. One of my longtime customers who did attend put it bluntly, “Where is everybody? This guy’s hilarious.” And he is. I wish I could link to a video of his Q&A. Alas, someday. Buy the book.

I can’t link to it at the moment, but I’ve written a review/essay on this conundrum for Wisconsin Gazette, where you can read more of my thoughts on McCauley’s novel. Also reviewed, and included in their website, are my thoughts on the new memoir by Eric Poole, Where’s My Wand? It's the story of a young midwestern boy who takes magical thinking a step further, by dressing up like Endora to make it so.

Twenty years ago, Poole’s story might have been a coming-of-age novel published by Dutton, or as a fallback, Alyson. Now it’s published by Amy Einhorn/Putnam (a very broad publishing program), and the bold-face-iest quote on the advance copy was from Laurie Notaro, a very, very funny and very straight writer who sells very well in bookstores.

Who doesn’t like to laugh, and why box in the potential readership? Read more about Poole’s funny/sad story here. And note to Electrolux—my very scientific test-marketing has shown that folks under 30 don’t know what “Bewitched” is, so if you want young purchasers, you’re wasting your money licensing that theme music. Here’s my babbling review at the Gazette website.

Random House went one step further when they toured Wade Rouse for the hardcover of At Least in the City, Someone Would Hear me Scream, now available in paperback on our new release tables. It’s the story of a funny gay man who gives up on city life to repeat Thoreau’s experiment. And though I haven’t read the book, I know enough to know that Saugatuck isn’t exactly wilderness—there’s a thriving arts community and enough gay men to host a tea dance (that means daytime frolicking at a bar, preferably at least partly outside, if you haven’t accompanied a gay man on vacation). Very different from a tea party, by the way.

In Milwaukee, they put Rouse at Next Chapter in Mequon. My first thought was, “Huh?”, but when I looked at the rest of his tour schedule, I got it. His entire tour was to thriving independents in outlying suburbs and smaller towns, most likely targeting women looking for a laugh. My friends at Next Chapter actually went to Pridefest to hand out fliers. I think they got mistaken for evangelical Christians—apparently there were some amusing stories (for one of their own humorous memoirs, perhaps focusing on bookselling). More on Rouse’s website about the book.

Rouse has a dog anthology coming up. Good angle! just out in paperback is Robert Rodi’s Dogged Pursuit: How a Rescue Dog Rescued Me. Rodi was previously known for writing very funny comic novels with gay protagonists (for Dutton of course) but in his recent nonfiction outing, at our store at least when we hosted him for his hardcover event, the winning angle was dog lovers! Rodi and his partner brought their Sheltie, who did some basic tricks. One 90-something attendee confided to me later that she was not impressed with the sheltie.
One author who included his partner in the narrative is Josh Kilmer-Purcell, whose new book, The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers, chronicles their lives at Beekman Mansion, which they discovered while apple picking. Stacie raves about this book in a previous email newsletter. The New York Times liked the book but was so-so on the related Planet Green series, "The Fabulous Beekman Boys." Really, it's not on Bravo. Can you believe it?

The marketing program for these kinds of books seems to be to try a little of this and a little of that, hoping that they will work. If all else fails, you can copy Justin Halpern and turn your father’s amusing and off-color musings into a book (and a television show!). Or did Bob Morris already do that in Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating with my Dad? I haven’t read it, but it's supposed to be very funny.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

We're Selling Rain Taxi Review for the "Radical Price" of Nothing

Free, free free. That's what we're competing with, nowadays. Alas, I can't figure out how to make the numbers work yet using Chris Anderson's algorithm (a reference to his book, Free).

I'm fascinated by why they changed the subtitle on that book from "The Future of a Radical Price" to "How Today's Smartest Businesses Profit by Giving Something for Nothing." I think the new subtitle changes the focus from big-idea nonfiction to practical advice and how-to in its targeting.

As we mentioned previously, we are giving away Robert Beets' literary journal, Mad Rook. We also just received our allotment of Rain Taxi Review of Books, a literary journal out of Minneapolis. Rain Taxi offers about 40-plus reviews per issue, with this issue featuring interviews with Scott Bradfield, Sam Cutler, and Benjamin Alire Saenz. Before reading this issue, I didn't know who in the world Sam Cutler was; now I do.

The journal is a nonprofit, and I love that they got a grant from Target, only they don't say the name, just show the bullseye. It's similar to their old private label, which some years ago removed the Target name. The private label is now called "Up and up." I get that the arrow is a clever counterpoint to their target logo, but I agreed with Kirk, who thought it implied that Target's prices were going up, as opposed to their competitors, which they were said to be falling. Whew, that was quite an aside.

Another big question--do they give out Rain Taxi at Target? I can't say I've seen a copy at the one I occasionially visit on South Chase Avenue.

Coming soon, a report on another magazine, one that has a feature on Boswell!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

One More Blog Post on Our Wisconsin Conservatory of Music Post for the Paperback Release of Good Things I Wish You

It's hard to believe that tonight is our last event for almost two weeks. I didn't exactly do this on purpose, but it's a perception that it's hard to get press in Milwaukee during Summerfest.

Tonight we're co-presenting A. Manette Answay at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. The event features:
*J. Mark Baker, baritone
*Jenny Gettel, soprano
*Teresa Drews, piano.
The program features songs from Schumann and Brahams, as a talk from Ansay. We will have books for sale at the event.

Tickets are $10, and are available at the door. The Conservatory is located at 1584 North Prospect Avenue. Parking is a bit tricky. I'd park south of there and walk up.

Interesting musings on Ansay's blog, including a Q&A from a recent book club appearance.

Monday, June 21, 2010

It's Almost the First Day of Summer--Time for Reading Adam Schitema's Freshwater Boys by the Lake of Your Choice

Is reading best in winter, in a cozy cabin, perhaps in front of a fireplace? Or is it best in summer, at a cottage, perhaps lounging on a hammock? Are summers for escapism, or are they the best time to get through that book you've been putting off all spring? Get out your copy of The Lonely Polygamist or Day for Night that I foisted on you this spring, which, despite your best intentions, you hadn't got around to yet.

One book that combines the best of summer and winter reading is Adam Schuitema's new collection of stories, Freshwater Boys. Despite one story taking place during a massive snowstorm, the setting on the western shores of Lake Michigan put me in mind of summer, much like Steve Amick's book from several years ago, The Lake, The River, and the Other Lake.

Schuitema's stories are summery in that they reminded me of youthful memories, but possess a gravitas which some associate with winter reading. An impulsive run leads to some treacherous falls and perhaps a run-in with a kidnapper. A youthful dare on the lake leads to a tragic accident, as does childhood game in the woods. Another weekend retreat unearths some family bitterness.

Schuitema captures the angst of adolescence, and the dark side of masculinity. Boy or man, there's a lot of questioning, these characters have a lot to learn. The stories are structured very differently from Ben Percy's collection, Refresh, Refresh, but have a similar dark undercurrent.

Or do I mean undertow? Whatever--these stories are good! Local writer Susan Engberg, author of Above the Houses, was in agreement when I last saw her. In fact, she recommended I read the collection before I even booked the event.

Yes, he's coming. Adam Schuitema, author of Freshwater Boys, will be visiting Boswell for a talk/reading/signing on Wednesday, August 12th, at 7 PM.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pay No Attention to that Magazine Bin Behind the Curtain!

Since Boswell. opened, we've been using some shelves under one of the fixtures on the floor to display magazine cases. Unlike book overstock, which can theoretically made to look rather attractive (not that we are doing this consistently or partiucularly well), these cases will always look like tubs from a home storage superstore, and the green doesn't even work well with our color scheme.

Well, we had this plan to make curtains to cover them, and these plans have been in place for a long time. And while they don't take a long time to make, it did take some concerted effort. Anne recently made the offer to try her hand, and in short order, we are positively draped. Yes, I know, a slipcover for a certain couch is next--but I'm going to try to buy one of those. I really love it, and feel like it's worth showcasing in the blog. Nice job, Anne!

One more shout out...we bought the fabric at Fischberger's Variety Store on Holton. Every time I go to this store (it's on the #11 bus and the parking is very easy), I find something interesting. I love their vibe. Yes, I know it's an odd neighborhood for something of this sort, but get over it--you'll be fine. Go on a Friday or Saturday and you can include Northern Chocolate in the same trip.

Back to the magazines--our sales have improved quite a bit since the first year, but are certainly not up to the level the store had as Schwartz. This is likely due to two factors--we eliminated the central display rack to include a meeting area, but we can't discount the decline of the magazine business in general. That said, we still think we can improve our sales, and are continuing to select new titles.

One local title we are trying actually came up in conjunction with an upcoming event. When we booked David Herlihy's The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance, the author suggested we do some promotion with locally-based Cog Magazine. Editor Peter DiAntoni icycled by with our copies, and I was really blown away by the design quality. In addition to bike enthusiasts, I can really see designers and planners really loving this magazine. The current issue (#8, a quarterly) includes an account of a six-day tour of Grenoble, France, and interview with a director putting together an urban cycling documentary, a travel piece on bicycling in Las Vegas, as well as profiles of various urban cyclists, equipment reviews, and a report from the Cylist Messenger World Championships. Here's a link to their website.

If you haven't heard us talk about The Lost Cyclist, the book takes place during the first bicycling craze of the 1890's. It follows Frank Lenz, whose attempt to bicycle the world led to worldwide acclaim through his reports in Outing Magazine, until his mysterious disappearance in Turkey. Outing sent another cyclist, William Sachtleben, on his trail to prove he was murdered. The book is classic adventure with a cycling spin, perhaps a Born to Run on two wheels.

And one last shout out--we are trying to put something together with Amaranth Bakery, also friends of Mr. Herlihy. The retail bakery doesn't have summer hours, but they showcase their wares at the East Side Green Market on Saturdays.

More magazine madness coming up--Boswell's featured in quite a nice one, just hitting the stands.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

We've Got Our Own Paper Bags

Much as I love our Eat Sleep Read bags, it was time, after one year in business, to get our own Boswell paper bag. This was our first chance to use the complete design for our logo from Joe and Tuc at Deep Sea Studios. Previous to that, on our gift cards and tee shirts, we've been using the just-the-b's version, without Bos or our address/phone info.

The small bags are chocolate brown and the large ones are olive green. Initial feedback seems to be that they are stronger than our previous kraft paper bags. We had them done through George at Brew City Promotions, of course.

For now, we're keeping the Eat Sleep Read plastic bags, but if we change over, I already have the color picked out. I'll leave it's revalation for another dramatic blog post.

Note that our bags do have the Indie Bound logo on them from the American Booksellers Association, as well as logos from the Downer Avenue Merchants Association and Our Milwaukee. Neighborhood, metro area, trade assocation--that pretty much sums it up, right?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Why Father's Day is the Right Time to be Thinking About Lily King's Father of the Rain--And Think About it Again for Our Event on July 14th

There's no question that I owe a thank you card to the greeting card companies for Father's Day. It really does lead to a nice pop in traffic, both for gifts and yes, cards.

You probably think you're going through the motions on a day like this Sunday, but really, it's interesting to contemplate your relationship with your own dad. Are you grateful that it's pretty good (or better yet, spectacular?) Are you regretful of the relationship you might have had? Or did you discover at one point that your dad was just a person who could be as good or as bad as any other person.

What better day than today to contemplate a novel about a complicated father-child relationship. The most popular book in the country right now is Justin Halpern's memoir Sh*t my Dad Says, which may in fact be incredibly funny, but has stood out among the other incredibly funny memoirs of the last few years by having 1) a genius title 2) a modern multi-pronged platform, including a Twitter following of more than 1,000,00 folks. I didn't read it and I'm not likely to, as we are almost always out of it. Happy Father's Day, It Books! Here's Halpern's website, if you haven't looked yet.

The father-daughter relationship can offer no fewer complications than the traditional father-son one, only with sexual tension substituting for rivalry. There've been other books over the years that have explored complicated father-daughter relationships, but Lily King's new novel, Father of the Rain, does a particularly wonderful job mapping this terrain.

Daley Armory's story (it's a novel! it's a novel!) starts with her as a vulnerable child, needy and not necessarily discerning. Her father is alternately charming and infuriating. His life is shaped by old money, bigotry, and in particular, alcoholism.

The story is structured like a play in three acts, focusing on several key moments in Daley's life, moving from her childhood (when her Mom left) to early adulthood (when wife #2 Catherine walks out, leaving her holding the caregiver bag) to a last attempt at reconciliation.

There are lots of disturbing moments along the way—giving up her professorship and her chance at happiness with her boyfriend Jonathan (who, either in spite of or because of her father's racism, is African American) are only part of the shortlist. Badly behaved is putting it mildly.

I was talking to Sue Miller at the Library Literary Lunch, where she told me how much she liked King's writing, and Miller is not alone. King's first novel, The Pleasing Hour, received a Whiting award and was a New York Times notable book of the year. Her second, The English Teacher, was a Publishers Weekly top ten book of the year and a People Magazine four-star critic's choice.

Here's it in a nutshell--Father of the Rain is probably not the best book for your dad, but is certainly a novel that might help you make sense of your own parent-child relationships. If nothing else, it might make you feel better about them. It's a beautiful, deftly-told character study, filled with wise moments and yes, a good amount of drama.

Lily King will be appearing at Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee on Wednesday, July 14th, at 7 PM. Details on our event page to come.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

We Love These Books--The Lonely Polygamist and Day for Night Display

One of the skills I have tried to master while being an independent bookseller is tenacity. Unlike mass merchants, as long as we have the desire to sell a book, the gift of time is on our side. We don't generally open big (The Girl who Kicked the Hornets Nest to the contrary), but we play for a long time, just like a classic art house movie theater (and what do you know, we are just blocks away from two, the Oriental and the Downer).

Little Bee came out last February, but we sold almost half our books in the fourth quarter. We didn 't discover last fall's Yarn until January, and it's selling for us much like a new release. The same for 1954's The Tortoise and the Hare (also released here in the fall). And The Power of Kindness has now been out for several years, and we've sold 100 times more books in its third year than in its first too (I love it because it sounds so dramatic, but really, we only sold one copy in its first two years)

That's why I'm not too worried that we've had the books for two months and we're just now putting up our dual display for The Lonely Polygamist and Day for Night. Now it's not like we haven't had the books on Boswell's Best and in our staff rec cases and in piles in various places--it's just that it took a while for me to get around to the special signage needed to do our full court Little Bee push.

Half court really, as the case is being shared. This is the same place where we did the Best Buddies case last spring and have periodically placed top 25 bestsellers lists. It's an odd case, but it is heavily shopped.

My goal is to sell 100 copies of each book. I thought Lonely P. would hit the bestseller list and be easier, but that's another thing it has in common with Middlesex--it hasn't cracked the top 15 of the New York Times, despite being comfortably in the top ten for independent bookstores.

In some ways, Day for Night has been a bit tougher as it is so difficult to describe. On the other hand, it's been so rewarding because not too many booksellers have jumped on the bandwagon. The thing about selling Reiken is, it's not enough to say you like it, you have to love it. In the end, it's definitely a "trust me" proposition.

Similarly, reviews have been coming slowly (nothing in either the daily or Sunday New York Times, even though I suspect that Janet Maslin would love this book) but the ones that have come in have been rather good, sometimes spectacular. I loved Julie Orringer's piece in the Washington Post, but that Joan Frank review in the San Francisco Chronicle I think best captured the essence of the book (shelf talker at left).

If you're a bookseller, I'd love to use your rec somewhere, maybe on the shelf talkers that we've come up with, maybe on a poster. Email me or just post a comment on this blog.
Oh, and if you're wondering whether it's all me, the answer is no. I've got 4-5 bookseller recommendations on both, and I didn't read one of our big pushes from last fall, The Magicians, now available in paperback. And there our books I've really loved that I never got traction on from other Boswellians. But that's for another post.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Happy Bloomsday, and Other One-Day Books

So I get on the bus yesterday, and the bus driver looks at me and says, "Hey, bookstore guy. What day is tomorrow?"

"Uhhhhh, Wednesday? That would be Martin Hintz." Yes, tonight (Wednesday) is Martin Hintz talking about Forgotten Tales of Wisconsin. It's from History Press. It's a very nice package, and many of the stories are rare enough that I hadn't heard them for. See you at 7. But I digress.

"No, what happens tomorrow?" The bus driver knows the answer, and that isn't it. It comes to me.

"It's Bloomsday," I rather quietly reply, just in case he's referring to something to do with the World Cup.

Yes, that's it! The driver mentions Kathleen Dunn's show on Wisconsin Public Radio, and then I think about whether this the guy who called me on the carpet last year for not celebrating Bloomsday?

Ha! I can only thank Jim Higgins at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for a display idea to tie in Bloomsday, which is of course today (June 16th), the day when Ulysses takes place. Another aside, we have the Gabler, the revised, and the annotated editions. The piece was on books that take place in one day. Alas, we weren't able to stock every book--can you believe that David Lodge's The British Museum is Falling Down is currently unavailable?

But back to the bus ride. Our exchange inspired the bus driver to offer a quiz to all passengers, a free copy of Ulysses to anyone who could answer three simple questions about the books opening. If he asks, I think the answers are "Latin, it's a mass, and it takes place outside of Dublin." I'm not positive; thought I did read Dubliners and Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, I've never read Ulysses. Maybe next year. But probably not Finnegan's Wake, even though it's on the table, taking place, as it does, in one night.

Monday, June 14, 2010

How Did Last Week Go? And What About This Week...

Our experiment with Sugar Maple proved to be a success, with some caveats. The space is great, Bruno and Adrienne are great, we had a good turnout, and everyone had a good time. One last shout out to Sugar Maple--here's a link to their website.

Caveat one--bars are dark! Everyone let Dan know that we apologize for the lighting, and we're now packing one of our Mighty Bright booklights in our offsite kit.

Caveat two--sales at bars are tough! I remember this from the Schwartz days. I'd like to experiment with a cover that includes a book, particularly for a high-profile author like Justin Cronin. Admittedly the event took place two days after the book came out, but still, there was certainly no shortage of press.
Here's a picture of Dan reading Await Your Reply at the bar.
Oh, and yes, we do have signed first editions of The Passage. And they are not tipped-in signatures.

Here's a picture of Alexis and I and the Penguin 75 Mini Cooper. Want to buy it? They are auctioning it off on Ebay after the tour.

Now this week--all events are at 7 PM:

Monday (tonight): Stephen McCauley, author of Insignificant Others.

Tuesday (tomorrow, 6/15): David Benjamin, author of Sumo

Wednesday (6/16): Martin Hintz, author of Forgotten Tales of Wisconsin (email us on this one).

Thursday (6/17): Alan Furst, author of Spies of the Balkans. Come to our in-store event at 7 or meet us at the party at The Safe House at 9. The book goes on sale tomorrow, 6/15.

In the afternoon of 6/17, we're selling books at Richard Cutler's talk at Eastcastle, at 2 PM.

Friday (6/18): Howard Bryant, author of The Last Hero: The Life of Henry Aaron.

Saturday (6/19): I'm selling fresh bargain books at Urban Garage Sale at Turner Hall.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Stacie's Field of Dreams--A Baseball Display and Two Baseball Events

Stacie put together this lovely baseball diorama for the Boswell Book Company front window. Though I was all-around impressed with the construction (I think she picked up some professional tips), I think her genius moment was creating the white tissue paper balls for clouds and a bright orange one for the sun. Speaking of sun, I apologize for my photos being so glare-y.

And it turns out, if you build it, they will come. Shortly after its creation, I booked two great baseball events for this season. On Friday, June 18th at 7 PM, we're hosting ESPN sportswriter Howard Bryant, author of the acclaimed new biography, The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron.

Here's Allen Barra writing in the Denver Post: "Just when it seemed like all the great baseball subjects had been done, Howard Bryant checks in with The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron, which, amazingly, Aaron had to wait 34 years to get. Bryant, author of Shutout, the definitive study of race in baseball, and Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball, is a great writer for a great subject."

Read the rest of the review here.

Needless to say, Aaron is one of the heroes of Milwaukee baseball, a Braves star when the team relocated to Atlanta. Bryant's talk is highlighted on the Journal Sentinel's list of top entertainment picks for June. And here's Bob Wolfley's column on The Last Hero, if you haven't yet read it.

On Monday, July 12th at 7 PM, we are hosting Jason Turbow, one of the two authors of The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America's Pastime. Turbow's book has been also getting great press.

Here's a teaser from the recent review in The New York Times:

"Jason Turbow and Michael Duca, obvious baseball obsessives from the San Francisco Bay Area, have collected dozens of stories from baseball history about situations that are not governed by the rule book but that pertain to the fuzzy notions of rightness and respect and that describe the contours of the so-called baseball codes. When is it legitimate for a pitcher to knock down a hitter? When is it unsportsmanlike for a base runner to steal a base? Spitballs may not be legal, but are they ethical? Why might a player lie to his manager? Is it ever O.K. not to join your teammates when a brawl starts on the field? And how about stealing your opponent’s signs? Is it proper? Always? Are some methods of thievery more tolerable than others?"
Both books make a great Father's Day gift.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Matching Gift Items to Tattoos, a Continuing Challenge

One of my favorite customers came in to introduce me to her daughter. They were sad that they missed the Penguin Mini this morning. It's hard to get a crowd at our store at 11 AM on a weekday, but our "Buy a Penguin, get a Penguin Classic book bag" proved to be very popular and we'll run it until we run out of bags (tomorrow). We've also still got some free posters.

Her daughter came in, ready to play her ukelele. "At first it was a joke, but now I like it", she observed. I notice that with a lot of our gift items, there's a fine line between joke and obsession. Take the thumb puppets. We just got in the big giraffe today, which by the way, is an excellent bender. No surprise, the robot turned out to be very stiff. It turns out she's got a giraffe tattoo.

"What, no pirate? I thought you liked pirates," her mom asked.

"Oh, that's my other tattoo. The giraffe looks like my tattoo, and also matches my dress, " The blue one, that is. The red didn't match so much, and we weren't sent any yellow.

That was one of the best parts of the conversation. The other part was how excited she got by David Lodge.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Penguin Tote Offer, but Beware of Faux Penguins!

Tonight's the night! In the store is Josie Brown, author of Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives. At Sugar Maple, Justin Cronin and Dan Chaon. Posters available for $5.

Tomorrow the Mini Cooper stops at Boswell, from 11 AM to 12:30 PM. The fabulous Penguin bags have arrived and we've got a special offer. Starting at 11 AM tomorrow morning, and while supplies last, you can get a free bag with the purchase of any Penguin book. Now it can't be corporate Penguin USA. It must have the Penguin on the spine.

Little known fact #1: for a year or two, the company put Penguins on their releases from Plume, the old trade paperback imprint of New American Library that they acquired. They eventually reversed this decision.

Another caveat--only "new" Penguin books count towards this offer. Second hand and bargain editions do not apply. To stock the table, I went around the store pulling Penguin titles for your easy browsing. Over the years, Penguin USA has alternated between making the spines orange, and not making the spines orange. Classics are usually with a black spine, but not all of them. The Penguin itself is generally in an orange field, except for mystery/suspense, which is on a green background.

Little known fact #2: Biographies originally had a blue spine. There were other category/color matches. If you know them, why not comment on this post?

One fascinating detail was what I call fraudulent Penguins. These are books that mimic the Penguin color iconography but are not Penguins. I do not include books that are predominantly orange, like Little Bee or Sam Savage's The Cry of the Sloth.

No, these are books that really don't use orange except for an accent detail on the rest of the book, but the spine is pretty much classic Penguin orange. Faux Penguins!

Did I find this stylistic tic with other colors, such as yellow or light green? Yes, I did. As often? No. As noticeable? No. It's clear that using this design detail seems to indicate to designers that the book is quality literature. There was nothing trashy (yes, we have plenty) in the bunch.

You can also distinguish yourself as quality by taking advantage of our free Penguin bag offer tomorrow. We also have free posters--no purchase necessary (one per customer) and postcards.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

How Did Book Club Go? A Discussion About Colm Tóibín's Brooklyn

It was just the kind of book club discussion that keeps things interesting--a divided jury for Brooklyn. As folks know, this novel of a young Irish woman who leaves behind her mother and sister for a job in Brooklyn received glowing reviews on publication, and was awarded the Costa Prize for fiction.

While most of the gang felt the story was a bit lighter than they hoped, and with a relatively happy ending, a minority thought the story was much sadder, and that Eilis's chosen future didn't necessarily lead to happiness. There wasn't anyone who didn't like the book (borne by Boswell's sales in paperback, a perfectly respectable 42 copies so far, putting us in the top quarter of indie bookstores on the Above the Treeline inventory system. Sorry, customers, I obsess over this.)

I had read somewhere that Tóibín did a different spin on the immigrant story; instead of being from the children and grandchildren of immigrants, Toibin's perspective was of a person whose family did not leave, and who himself has a home in the small Irish village of Enniscorthy that Eilis winds up leaving.

C. was taken by the story being similar in some ways to Lionel Shriver's The Post-Birthday World in that Eilis has two life paths laid out for her. She was struck by how young an inexperienced Eilis really was--just a sophomore.

There was some talk about how saintly many of the men were, which seemed unrealistic to several participants. It was my thought that they were just putting their best feet forward, and that we had no idea what they'd like to be when not courting.

The various minority subplots (the Jews, the Blacks, the Italians) seemed a bit light and undeveloped for some participants. G. had lived in Brooklyn at a time not too removed from the storyline. C2. had to be reminded that Brooklyn did not take place in the 1920's.

I was taken by how much the story reminded me of several of Alice McDermott's novels, only set 5-10 years early, before the families moved out to Long Island. N. thought the style reminded her of Henry James, which was funny, since she hadn't caught that Tóibín's previous novel was about Henry James.

It turned out to be a spirited hour of discussion. Next up we read Attica Locke's Black Water Rising on Monday, July 5th, 7 PM.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Gift of Swag--What I Got at Book Expo and What Folks Can Get at Boswell This Friday (at 11 AM)

For the first time in many years, I didn't bring home a single cloth bag from Book Expo, the book convention that previews fall titles. Well, I didn't bring one home last year either because I didn't go. There are less advance readers editions (galleys) as well, but they were certainly available (with some exceptions--I think HarperCollins only provided ebook access).

I did get one piece of swag, however, thanks to the alert eyes of Jason. It's this purple Mr. Toppit umbrella. And since Mr. Toppit wins best swag of the show (admittedly by default, but honestly, I think Mr. Toppit would have swept the category in most years), here's a bit of preview about the book.

"When Arthur Hayman, an unsuccessful screenwriter turned children's book author, is accidentally hit by a cement truck in London, his dying moments are spent with a passing American tourist, Laurie Clow, who is fated to bring posthumous fame to his obscure series, The Hayseed Chronicles, and the enigmatic and sinister Mr. Toppit who is at the center of the books. Spanning several decades, from the heyday of the postwar British film industry to today's cutthroat world of show business in Los Angeles, Mr. Toppit is a riveting debut novel that captures an extraordinary family and their tragic brush with fame to wonderfully funny and painful effect."

Swag, did you say swag? Why we're hosting Penguin Mini Truck this Friday, from 11 AM-12:30 PM, and we have a bit of swag ourselves.

Driving the Mini to Minneapolis (could there be a more obvious destination? It's like a magnet city) is Penguin editor Alexis Washam, who acquires literary fiction, upmarket commercial fiction, and mystery and psychological suspense, as well as a variety of non-fiction in subjects including pop culture, music, travel and memoir.

We have very nice 18x24 posters with the history of the Penguin logo, suitable for framing. We'll also have a limited number of balloons, assorted postcards, and, with purchase of any Penguin book, one of their great cloth bags (well, assuming they show up). Note that second-hand and bargain do not qualify for this offer.
Come meet Alexis, get some swag, take a picture with the Penguin Mini. It's all this Friday, 11 AM till 12:30 PM.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Getting Rich on Others Going Broke--The New Book by Gary Rivlin

Pawn shops. Rent-to-own stores. Check cashing places. And payday loans. Holy smokes, where did all these places come from? You go to certain strip centers and it's just one after another.

A lot of it has to do with changes in laws regarding interest rates, certainly in Wisconsin. But the industry says it also has to do with high banking fees. When it costs $35 for a bounced check, a $20 interest charge on a weekly loan doesn't seem so bad.

In his new book, Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.; How the Working Poor Became Big Business, journalist Gary Rivlin tells how the industry exploded, following the movers and shakes, as well as the critics and victims.

It wasn't a shock to my fellow booksellers that I was reading this. I'm both interested in business and economics from the market aspect, but also from the moral side. And boy, does Broke USA have a lot of both.

You just connect the dots to see how the subprime mortgage meltdown happened. A lot of the initial companies in the business, Beneficial and Household Finance, for example, were staid old companies. Household, though it practically printed money, hoped to burnish its image with diversification.

The change happened when the capital markets decided that it was ok to make as much money as you could off the working poor. So what if folks got caught up in neverending rolled-over loans. So what if your salespeople lied about interest rates and contract clauses to make a sale. You weren't breaking the law, they were.

It wasn't always the story I wanted told--for example, when the story started with a victim, I thought there would be these stories sprinkled throughout, but they vanish for long stretches.

And then there's the nonprofit Atlantia Legal Aid Society, which accidentally spearheaded subprime lending and probably never expected it to be so corrupted. They are sort of the heroes in the book, but their storyline is worthy but a bit dry. Still interesting, though.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Newly Releases in Paperback about Adoption from Mei-Ling Hopgood, and (go figure) Dan Chaon (with an Event Plug, Of Course)

I'm excited to say that Mei-Ling Hopgood's Lucky Girl arrived in paperback this week. I really enjoyed this book when it was published in hardcover, and it made our book spring-summer book club flyer for spring (we've gone back to press on it twice, to use old book publshing lingo).

We've already got a blog piece on this book, in conjunction with the book's hardcover publication and our Boswell event. Read it here.

Another book I wrote about in hardcover is Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply. Here's one of the pieces I wrote about the book, looking at it as a literary play on the horror genre. Could I really write a bit more about this book, which is part of our double-header event at the Sugar Maple this Thursday, June 10th, at 7 PM (no cover, at KK and Lincoln)?

Yes, I could. Because I was having a conversation with my friend Charlotte (here's her blog Follow the Reader) at Book Expo, and she said to me that she thinks that Dan Chaon is one of the few writers she's read that captures the identity displacement that comes along with adoption. It turns out that Lucinda Rosenfeldtalked about this in her New York Times Book Review piece last year, but I had glossed over that.

Now it turns out this is a problem when you come into an author's work later. It turns out Chaon has been talking about this as the source of his work for a long time.

Here's an excerpt from his 2004 interview in Poets and Writers. I like to the full review afterwards.

"Dan Chaon: I am adopted, so that issue has been part of my own mental landscape for as long as I can remember. When I was growing up, I thought about it a lot. Why did I end up in this particular family? What is my birth family like? Are they more like me than my adopted family? I was a weird kid: bookish, imaginative, and not athletic. My dad was a construction worker and nobody in my family went to college. At 10, I wanted to read the New Yorker. So I wondered if some mistake had been made.

"I met my birth father eight years ago and, as it turns out, he, too, is a construction worker just like my adopted father. They're both electricians. The experience of meeting my birth father and learning some of the answers to my questions was definitely the impetus behind the novel, as well as having kids. Your kids' personalities emerge early on, and as a parent you don't do much to make it happen. Both those events fed into my desire to write a novel about this particular material."

So I turned to one of my fellow booksellers and asked if they realized that Chaon was writing about adoption. His answer: "Really? Now I have to read that book again."

Read the whole interview here.