Monday, January 31, 2011

Celebrating Holidays Wade Rouse Style--by Laughing with Food in Your Mouth (Event is Tuesday, Feb. 8th, 7 PM)

My holiday stories are boring. One of my sisters won the Thanksgiving sweepstakes but the other sister certainly wishes it was at her house. Merrill simultaneous wants to host but sort of complains about it. But she can’t complain too much, or she’d have to give it up, right?

There are some turkey-appropriate table settings. The dishes don’t vary much from year to year, like most folk’s holidays. Some guests will bring a dish, and either it will be liked or not. If it’s liked, we will genuinely compliment it. If not, we will ingenuously compliment it and complain later.

But laughs? Not likely.

Similarly, there’s not much to be said for other holiday rituals. Being Jewish, many of my family memories revolve around Passover. When my maternal grandfather was alive, he would do a complete service. People paid some attention before the meal, but afterwards, not so much. Other variations involved a little editing. My father liked to play a Richard Tucker album. Sometimes we’d take a very, very long journey to my aunt and uncle’s.

What could be said? You liked the food and complimented or you didn’t like the food and complimented it.

And birthdays? My mother invited kids over. When I was young my sisters helped out. On a good year, there was Ebinger’s Chocolate Blackout Cake. Back then, my compliments on the food would be genuine, but not I’d probably prefer a butter cream frosting to that fudge. One year my neighbor Carol didn’t go. She was too old to attend, but I didn’t get it at the time. I saw her playing outside. I was sad. Not much of a story, really.

That’s just one of the many reasons why I didn’t write It’s All Relative: Two Families, Three Dogs, 34 Holidays, and 50 Boxes of Wine, and Wade Rouse did.

Here are just ten of the reasons why Rouse’s holiday stories are better than anything I could tell you.

1. Admits to buying bad presents. Discovers repercussions. Two traps to watch out for are Valentine’s Day and your anniversary, though Swedish Day also can be a problem.

2. Admits to tipping badly on Chinese New Year’s. Discovers repercussions.

3. Drinks a lot to hide his shame on St. Patrick’s Day. Discovers repercussions.

4. Mardi Gras? Same.

5. Discovers that boyfriend Gary’s Easter rituals are even stranger than his own, but not as disturbing.

6. It is best to check out the nightlife (or at least the average age of the inhabitants) of a town before planning a spring break getaway.

7. A good way to celebrate Secretary’s Day is with a very creepy job memory. See, I have blocked all those out and the amount of therapy it would cost to unlock them is beyond my means.

8. While a group of openly gay men might not mind their baseball team being sponsored by the local Mary Kay Cosmetics salesman, it might be an issue to young boys, whether straight or closeted gay.

9. There are probably a lot of good Halloween stories out there, but I’m not willing to dress up in costume to find them. When you live outside of Saugatuck, however, you might not have a choice.

10. Barbie’s birthday is a holiday in many cultures and should be celebrated as such.

And what did I learn about myself, besides that I can’t spell “repercussions”? It’s that I’m really looking forward to Wade Rouse’s talk on Tuesday, February 8th, at 7 PM. As funny as the book is to read, I’m guessing that he’s even funnier in person.

So we celebrate tomorrow, a wonderful occasion--the publication of Wade Rouse's new book, It's All Relative: Two Families, Three Dogs, 34 Holidays, and 50 Boxes of Wine. A toast to Wade, or at least a new outfit for Barbie (and I haven't even mentioned our shared interest in Pez dispensers).

Rouse will be speaking at Boswell on Tuesday, February 8th, co-sponsored by Winkie's of Whitefish Bay. After having read two of his books and spoken to folks who've heard him at Next Chapter, I know it's going to be a very, very funny event.

Tomorrow: Jocelyn and I head to Winkie's to buy decorations!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Event with Peter Filkins Proves to be Bigger Deal than we Thought, A Visit to a Girls' Night Out, a Little Bestseller Talk

You know we love books in translation, so when we were offered Peter Filkins, in conjunction with a guest visit to UWM, we jumped at the chance. Filkins is a poet, author of the recent collection, Augustine's Vision, but I've learned that poetry and translation often go hand in hand, and his new translation of H.G. Adler's Panorama, has turned out to be a big deal.

Adler was a Czech writer, a Holocaust survivor whose work is often a witness to the experience. In the new novel, the protagonist, Josef Kramer, moves from an unhappy childhood in Prague to bureaucratic suffering as an adult, and yes, life in a concentration camp. It's a delicate structured novel, in a stream of consciousness style, layered like...a panorama. Comparisons have been made to W.G. Sebald, who claimed Adler as an influence. I've also seen "direct literary descendent of Kafka."

It's not linkable (yet), but Panorama was the major review in this week's issue of The New Yorker. Judith Shulevitz in the New York Times Book Review called Filkins' translation "mellifluous." I also just learned that Adler was also the translator of The Journey, considered Adler's masterpiece, though Panorama is said to be more accessible. It's out of stock with our wholesaler, but I'm hoping we'll find it at Random House.

Peter Filkins, poet and translator, is appearing at Boswell on Friday, February 18th, 2011.


Our bestseller list is filled with award winners this week, with Jaimy Gordon and Paul Harding taking the top spots in fiction. Nonfiction was dominated by our outing to sell books for Bethenny Frankel's appearance at the Pabst. The event was a prelude to the release of her new book in March, A Place of Yes: 10 Rules for Getting Everything You Want Out of Life. We stuck a promo postcard of each of her other books, as well as her recent exercise video. From what I heard, there was enthusiasm for more licensed Frankel product. If only we had embroidered jackets! That said, the Skinnygirl Margarita proved to be quite popular. Who knew?

We did have a little pop of The Invisible Bridge in paperback as I started talking it up. Our event is now scheduled for April 29th. Re-mark your calendars, please. And speaking of events, here's the Journal Sentinel round-up of events for the week, including one at Stan's Fit for your Feet in Brookfield!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Another Lil' Valentine's Day Post--Something for the Brainy Lover, and Also for the Lover who Finds Brains Delicious

So I came back from the east coast rather overwhelmed by Valentine's Day. I was shocked by how much display space was allocated to it, even in bookstores. We have a nice card spinner and a table of books and gifts, but it ain't nothing comparatively.

A few things have come in since I originally posted about it. We got these Valentine's puzzle lockets, with sweetie pie pictures of kittens and puppies. A little precious for me, but perhaps mitigated by the potential confoundedness of the puzzle.

There are some new brainy Valentine books in. Irving Singer's Philosophy of Love: A Partial Summing-Up is abridged from his 1984 opus, The Nature of Love. MIT professor Singer discusses romantic love, the Plantonic ideal, 19th-century remonatic love, and what the future holds, based on scientific research.

I'm also intrigued by Andrew Shaffer's Great Philosphers who Failed at Love. I don't know if this is failure, but did you know Jean-Paul Sartre adopted his mistress as his daughter? A. J. Jacobs calls the book, "Thought-provoking and mildly distubing." The book is printed with dark blue ink! I don't see that much, so I like to put these things on the table. To sweeten the deal, I might suggest pairing your book with Lil' Smoochers cinnamon candies. "They make kissers kissable." Patent pending.

Want something less brainy? How about no brain at all? You might want to pick up Every Zombie Eats Somebody Sometime: A Book of Zombie Love Songs, by Michael P. Spradlin. A sample:

"Oh yeah, I've turned into something,
You just won't understand.
When I say that you're delicious
I want to eat your hand,
I want to eat your hand,
I want to eat your hand!"

Perhaps you might want to add on a tin of Zombie Mints with that. And yes, they are brain flavored.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Five Very Exciting Things to Tell You About Our Event with Jennifer Chiaverini on Tuesday, February 22nd.

1. First of all, the new book, The Union Quilters, is coming on Tuesday, February 22nd. Still in the series, it reaches back to Civil War times to document the travails of the women of Elm Creek Valley. Let's just say that these Civil War wives* are having some issues on the home front. Publishers Weekly found this heartwarming story heartwarming and accessible enough to attract to readers. And yes, we have the launch event, that Tuesday, this time at a special location. Read on!

2. We're hosting an event, once again with our pals at Patched Works of Elm Grove. I went out to visit Julie again, this time when they were actually still open. Julie showed me Chiaverini's new collection of fabrics, being sold at the store. One of the fabrics was actually used on the jacket of the new book.

Can I just say again how much I love fabric stores? I roamed the aisles for about 15 minutes, looking at all the fascinating patterns. Some were quite beautiful, some funny, others odd. Yes, something for everyone. Need a pattern with a coffee bean? Patched Works have several. If I knew how to sew, I'd be a fabric junkie.

OK, this one is my favorite, it's 5th from the left (or 6th, if you count that little sliver at the bottom). Very Danielish.

3. Whereas last time we hosted the event at Boswell, this time it's at the Sunset Playhouse! After visiting the Patched Works, I headed over to the Playhouse (at 800 Elm Grove Road, only blocks from the store) to take a look around. But the box office is open 1-5 pm (Tuesday through Friday, till 4 pm on Saturday) and I was about two hours early. Rats. And no, this is not the best picture, but it shows there is plenty of free parking!

Coincidentally, the Playhouse is making a bit to get more attendees from Milwaukee. I came back to Boswell to find that our activity display in our vestibule (this is placed in the store by a third party) had not one, not two, but three fliers advertising upcoming shows.

a. January 27-29 is "Caps for Sale", based on the classic children's book by Esphyr Slobodkina. It's a "bug in a rug" show. Hey, you only have one day left for this one. It's 10:30 am and 2 pm on 1/29. Ticket info is at 262-782-4430.

b. January 31-February 1st is "Best of Broadway", three shows. Tickets are $17 for this one, a tribute to The Showstopper.

c. Now through February 6th is "Guys on Ice", the ice fishing musical comedy which has previously played at the Milwaukee Rep, or so I remember! Tickets range from $10-22.
I know you want to sing along to "The Beer in the Bucket."

4. Yes, you can get a free pin with purchase. Once again Jennifer Chiaverini is offering a commemorative pin with purchase of the new book, The Union Quilters. I asked Chiaverini if I could show a copy of the pin and she gladly obliged me. So yes, if you buy the book from our website in advance of 2/22, you will also get the free pin. Purchase here. (And also yes, you can buy the book on our website and have us bring the book to the Sunset Playhouse to get it signed. Of course you can!)

5. It's going to be a great event, and it's free too. Use that money to buy a copy of the book, get a free pin, get some beautiful fabric. What more could you want? RSVP to our Facebook page.

*For a historical perspective, why not have someone in the group read Carol Berkin's Civil War Wives, now out in paperback.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

My Public Admission that I Bought a Car for the Store (Which Was, By the Way, in the Original Business Plan Almost 2 Years Ago)

So it's come to this. I bought a car for the store. Up until now, I've been taking public transportation and bumming rides and setting up rentals. We got to the point where I was renting a car one week per month, and it became harder and harder for me to shoo all my offsites and deliveries into these one-week boxes. Here are some other funny don't-have-a-car moments of my first 663 days of Boswell:

1) I've taken the bus to at least two events, complete with boxes of books. The good news is that the 30 bus runs straight down Wisconsin Avenue, giving me good access to the Milwaukee Public Library, Marquette University, and several other destinations.

2) In my early days, I walked home from the Italian Community Center with a hand truck of books. For those who don't know, that was about 3.5 miles.

I looked at Zipcar, which has a station at UWM, but becomes very expensive if you use it regularly for more than a couple of hours at a time. The cars are often small, not having storage space for our boxes. I needed something with a decent amount of cargo space, but I still wanted a car frame that would give us reasonable gas mileage. I went almost fifty years without a car and I didn't want to blow my track record on a guzzler.

After a number of suggestions and some research, I wound up buying a Scion. I thought the older models were cuter (those boxy things you see all around the store) but they are almost too small for our needs, and turned out to be quite expensive used. High demand, apparently. It suprised me that the current model is far less iconic, but apparently it has better wind resistance. And I could also do a separate post on colors in the car industry, which are currently very blah. Many car lines follow the makeup industry, doing the equivalent of turquoise lipstick*, a limited edition in a crazy color that gets some press, but the cost of the crazy color (bright blue for 2011, a purplish blue for 2010, which they did have in stock) didn't warrant the extra cost for the store. The xb used to be on the Yaris body, but to my knowledge, the second generation is a Corolla in a fancy dress.

In a way, this car is a return to the wood-paneled station wagon that Schwartz used for stock transfer (before the van) and I used to get to my position managing the Mequon store in the mid 1990s. There's a pretty good story about one of my breakdowns, involving an exit ramp and a call from the police.

We're hoping that having the car will allow us to more easily do the offsite events and conferences we've been putting together. We already do some school deliveries, and I'm hoping to be able to step that up. And maybe to some other locations around town. I don't want to over-promise. For now, the car will help us get to Bethenny Frankel's event tonight (1/27, 8 pm) at the Pabst Theater. Tickets are still available.

My only regret is that I'd gotten rather friendly with the clerks at one of the rental counters, and had some nice book discussions. Not friendly enough that they shopped at Boswell, but I guess i would have had to become a super-deluxe gold customer to make that happen.

Are you kidding? I have plenty more regrets than that. I'm not crazy about driving, and have so far been taking the bus to work when I don't have any auto needs. I'm worried about my book reading--the bus offers 45 minutes of reading, often uninterrupted. Sometimes interrupted, but better since they turned off those awful televisions.

*I read an interesting book about the makeup industry once, but for the life of me, I can't remember its title.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Serendipity Strikes! A Found Review by an Old Friend, an Author Event that Finds me Meltzered!

This trip east has been full of pleasant surprises, though it will be an unpleasant surprise if my flight doesn't get out of Boston before the 6-10 inches of snow that is expected.

In between Winter Institute in DC and my Mom in Massachusetts, I visted my nephew in New York. After we made plans, he learned he would be posted to Asia the day after I left. Looking for reading material, I spotted a copy of New York County Lawyer, a free publication that at one time was likely filled with ads targeting, well, New York County lawyers. He could not explain the quarter page ad highlighting the services of a personal injury lawyer based in Miami.

Turning to the book review, I read a piece on Tales from the Sausage Factory: Making Laws in New York State, by Daniel Feldman and Gerald Benjamin. The authors will appear at the New York County Lawyers Association for a discussion and signing on January 31st at 6 pm, 14 Vesey Street. All my lawyer readers should take note! And why am I so excited to read about why making laws turns out to be not like sausage making at all? It's because the review was written by ex-coworker Eugene Strupinsky. It was like a visit from an old friend!

So Eugene (a long-time reader of smart mysteries and thrillers) was probably with me when I made a spontaneous decision to see Brad Meltzer at Brookline Booksmith this past Monday. I had already decided to purchase a couple of books there (see previous post), but in all my visits, I've never actually gone to one of their events. Meltzer was appearing for his new thriller, The Inner Circle, the story of a Washington DC archivist who discovers that the George Washington's secret spy ring still exists.

Though I'm not generally a thriller reader, I do divide the genre into books that I would read if I read thrillers and books that I probably would not. Meltzer's always been on my shortlist of the former, partially because he takes his time writing books (generally not more than one per year) and seems to enjoy playing with the genre. I also like that he dabbles in comic books, and well, he seems to have a sense of humor about the whole thing.

Meltzer's got a lot going on right now, as his History Channel series, "Brad Meltzer Decoded" is also currently airing. You known I'm not always crazy about slide shows and Powerpoints, but the piece showed about putting together promos for the the series was hilarious. I now know that "the pose" (arms crossed, looking off to the side) is so difficult that an amateur needs a bit of training. Meltzer's a natural, however, and self developed "the squat."

There was something about the combination of cocky and self-deprecating that was incredibly charming, a forthrightness mixed with intelligence and quick-wittedness that left me sort of in awe. I had already spent my budget for the evening, but I'm going to pretend to be a customer and sit in one of our comfy chairs and try reading The Inner Circle. Sadly, today is the last day of his tour so only readers in Los Angeles (likely none) would be able to take my rec and see him, but there will be other tours.

Meltzer, you are something else.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

When my Mother Starts Talking About a Book, You Know Something is Up--On Large Print, Steve Martin and Julie Orringer

Greetings from Brookline, or should I say Bookline? I'm sure I'm the first person in recorded history to use that pun. My job, besides cooking oatmeal, was to bring my mom some books as a gift for a friend, large print please. Does she know how hard that is? It's one of the reasons, frankly, that the new news is that older customers are moving to ebook readers faster than expected. The selection of large print titles has deteriorated, and there is very little published that is beyond genre thrillers. HarperCollins aggressively publises Luxe titles into midlist, but Random House and Hachette are very selective. And Macmillan, Simon, and Penguin sell off to Gale, which usually means high prices, short discounts, and ugly covers. Let's just say we aren't their target customer.

No offense to anyone metioned here. If you feel otherwise, let me know.

So Mom gave me one request, and the other book was open for suggestion. I browsed the shelf of Brookline Booksmith and found a gem, the large-print edition of Steve Martin's An Object of Beauty. The book looks great, and Grand Central even included the color plates that are in the regular edition. It was one of our hits of the fall season, and my Mom (and likely her friend) are amenable to a little artiness. If you didn't read Mary Louise Schumacher's essay on the novel in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, you should now.

For her request, she told me that friends are beginning to talk about The Invisible Bridge. I was so excited that I started shaking. "Your friends want to read one of my favorite books of 2010?" I was ready to go out and buy five copies.

I got a little panicky as the book's paperback release is today (1/25) so maybe there wouldn't be hardcover still available. Since I know there is no large print edition of this book (it's already come up twice in the bookstore), I expected that the hardcover would be larger print than the paperback. Sure enough, when I got there, it had a staff rec, and face-out quantity. Let's hope the print suffices.

So now I'm telling you that my mother's friends are recommending The Invisible Bridge. What more do you need? Perhaps that it was Jason's favorite novel of last year. Perhaps it's me running on at the mouth about how spectactular it is. Tolstoy, I am telling you, War and Peace! Am I going to get in trouble for that? Eh, I'm just a bookselling schmo. What do I know?

There's been some tweaking of our event with Orringer, already scheduled for, well, we just found out that the exact date is up in the air*. I asked the publicist if I could partner this event with my spring book club presentation. Not that I'm worried about the crowd, but I'm always a little worried, and I want whatever it takes to get this event to the next level. I've done this event twice (with Valerie Laken and Eric Puchner) and we've had respectable turnouts both times. The other side of my diabolical plan is that I know Orringer is a big fan of at least one other book on my spring list of picks. If you were clever, you'd figure out what it is. And I know you are clever.

You also look good with that new hat. Where'd you get it?
*No, you're not hallucinating. It used to say April 7th.

Monday, January 24, 2011

NBCC Nominations and Random Thoughts

So the world is in fact passing me by. I leave and they annouce a bunch of awards. Here are the National Book Critics Circle Nominations.

Comedy in a Minor Key, by Hans Keilson
Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen
Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray
To the End of the Land, by David Grossman
A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan

Jason is particularly hyped about Skippy Dies, which he has been pushing all fall. They won't be able to write those "what happened to Freedom" pieces for this one. My thought is that if the news departments, instead of the critics, were in charge of this award, it would go to Franzen right now. With Franzen included, the book that seemed missing to me based on media review saturation was David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet, by Jennifer Homans
Empire of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, by S.C. Gwynne
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North America, by Barbara Demick
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson

Wow, this is the closest list to The New York Times best books of the year I can remember, with four of the five nonfiction books matching (Empire of the Summer Moon is the odd book out). Fiction only has Jennifer Egan in common. It probably happens every year.

And yes, we have our event coming with Jennifer Homans and the Milwaukee Ballet on Thursday, February 3rd, at 7 PM. I tried to take a picture of our front window but it did not reproduce well. If anyone has any advice on how I can take the store display photo without glare, please let me know, as this has continued to vex me.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Blogs Travel Too, Plus Bestsellers

While I was in Washington DC, our friend John was selling to accounts in the Pacific Northwest. Here are his last missives from Seattle and Portland. I spent the day in meetings, but did get to have dinner in Chinatown with my friend Eric. You might hear about that again when I finish reading Country Driving, by Peter Hessler; he's reading at Boswell on Friday, February 11th, at 7 PM.

It's Sunday! When I have nothing else to say, there are always the bestsellers.

Hardcover Fiction
1. Lord of Misrule, by Jaimy Gordon
2. The Empty Family, Colm Toibin
3. Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry, by Christine Sneed
4. We, the Drowned, by Carsten Jensen
5. Gryphon, by Charles Baxter

Hardcover Nonfiction
1. Welcome to my World, by Johnny Weir
2. Apollo's Angels, by Jennifer Homans
3. Decision Points, by George W. Bush
4. Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff
5. Life, by Keith Richards

Paperback Fiction
1. Tinkers, by Paul Harding
2. Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese
3. Little Bee, by Chris Cleave
4. The Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore
5. The Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson

And our #1 nonfiction paperback was Just Kids, by Patti Smith.

Jason's very excited to see We, the Drowned. It's a great novel of a seafaring culture (Danish) that takes place over 100 years, a brutal depiction of that life through the perspective of the Madsen family.

The only other interesting thing I have to say is that in 2009, our perennial fiction titles (Olive Kitteredge, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog) were all by women, while of late, it's men. When will it flip again?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Really Great Seminar on Organization

Over the years, I've sold quite a good number of copies of David Allen's book on organization, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity, as have most bookstores. Apparently a lot of businesses swear by the GTD model. So we were lucky enough to be able to attend a seminar with Allen at the recent Winter Institute. And just while I'm writing this, Jason calls out to me, "That David Allen thing was good." And it was.

Allen's point was that in order for us to be the best we can be about what we do, we've got to get the information out of our head and file it, at least temporarily. There was a lot of advice on overcoming anxiety and staying focused. We laughed about how many uprocessed emails we have (in the hundreds), but after his talk, I actually had some very practical ways to unload my inbox.

It didn't hurt that Allen's presentation was quite engaging. He didn't make us participate in any group exercises, which always makes me happy. I can't wait to go home and read the book. And yes, of course I already own it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Guilty and Guiltier--On Attending Presentations Where I Haven't Read the Book, & a Teaser about My American Unhappiness at the Winstitute.

I seem to be apologizing all over this bookseller convention. No, I'm reading stuff that's out already. No, I haven't read this or that galley that everyone is talking about. Ugh. I feel like I'm letting the team down. You've got to read out 3-6 months so you can help talk up the books. Of course, you do fall into the trap of feeling that you have to like everything you read. The excuse is that the stuff you didn't like, you didn't bother to finish.

I didn't feel guilty that I hadn't read our morning speaker's book, the Retail Doctor's Guide to Growing Your Business. I'm not one for gimmicks, but I thought the paper airplane bit was quite clever and made a good point. Mine was worth $5 and went about 2 feet. I will probably take a look at it and might even read it cover to cover.

Now we go up the guilt meter. We have these speed dating publisher presentations where you get a 15 minute presentation. Sometimes there are 3-4 books presented, but one presentation seemed to approach two dozen titles. I had one several years ago where there were only two books to talk about. I learned that 8 minutes is a long time to talk about a book. We get a packet with the list of titles. Some publishers provide supplemental materials, but I've been told this is frowned upon. Here's a photo of Wendy presenting for Simon and Schuster. I felt very guilty whenever we got to a book she had tried to get me to read, but I hadn't yet. Oops!

I feel guiltiest that I didn't read Carol Edgarian's Three Stages of Amazement. But is it me or is every other book compared to Rafael Yglesias's A Happy Marriage? Of course I feel a little less guilty now that I replaced the picture of Wendy telling me about the book during the lunch. I never asked her if it was okay.

And I was surprised that so many booksellers hadn't really carried Incendiary until it got the Little Bee-esque cover. They were talking about it like it was a new book. This is the 4th edition we've carried of it. On the other hand (get it?) we brought the new edition back in a big pile that we put right next to the Bee-ster.

No where do I feel guiltier than at the after-show dinners that are set up for authors. Last night we had one with Dean Bakopoulos, author of the forthcoming novel, My American Unhappiness. He's a former bookseller. I read the last book and liked it. It's dedicated to friends of mine. It's funny. It rather screams Daniel Goldin. So I ducked out of a session to finish the Pearl of China, the Anchee Min novel (liked it! more on another post) and then I could at least start reading My American Unhappiness and say I was (true confession time) in the middle of it.

Here's a picture of Dean. I blacked out the other two booksellers because I don't think they knew I was taking their picture and I felt a little bad about it. Dean, on the other hand, knew that this is the price of writing about him in the blog.

The good news is that you've noticed that once I commit to something, I generally follow through. And I laughed about seven times by page 30. Very different from Please Don't Come Back from the Moon....but I'll save discussing the book for another post. That said, June is just around the corner so feel free to email or call us and put one on hold for you when it is released.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Visit to Politics and Prose, a Dinner with Authors of Upcoming Books

It's our first full day of Winter Institute and already I'm feeling excited about books. Everybody's running around telling everyone else what to read. I'm embarrassed because I'm reading a lot of reprints (already confessed) but I can talk up the Hannah Pittard, which many other booksellers have enjoyed.

Last night Jason and I attended a dinner with Grove Atlantic and two authors, Alice LaPlante, who has a novel coming out in July called Turn of Mind, and Francisco Goldman, with a new novel called Say Her Name. Goldman's had some highly touted novels before (and at least one stop in Milwaukee in the Schwartz years) but this one seems to have more bookseller buzz about it. It's based on Goldman's own short-lived marriage to a woman who died while body surfing. Of course I immediately thought of Rafael Yglesias' A Happy Marriage, but honestly, I didn't read either. Before the dinner, both Lanora from Next Chapter and Mark from Politics and Prose told me how much they liked it.

And yes, Sheryl Cotleur of Book Passage has quotes on both advanced copies. Plus she also has a great advance read on Life, on the Line, the new joint memoir by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas. The Journal Sentinel reported that we're having a ticked event with Achatz on March 13th. Tickets go on sale soon. Check in with Stacie for details. I could be a happy camper just reading Sheryl's recommendations. I'm sure there are folks in Marin who do just that.

Yes, we spent the afternoon visiting Politics and Prose, one of the great bookselling pilgrimages. All of our former DC customers get all excited while talking about the store, and news that partner Carla Cohen passed away in 2010 made national headlines. There was a sadness to be in the store without Carla, but a happiness that the store looked great and bustling. I bought a delicious sandwich in the cafe, a copy of The Three Weissmanns of Westport (coming momentarily in paperback and for some reason, I don't own a copy), and a set of Moleskine green volant notebooks, a discontinued color. Thanks, Mark, for the tour, and I hope you don't mind if I copy an idea or two.

Oh, and I brought along my camera and didn't take any pictures. What's that about?

Tomorrow is lectures, meetings, sales rep presentations, authors, and lots more conversations with booksellers, publishers, and writers. Hey, I don't want to look stupid when you ask me that stumper about a book you just heard about.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Travel Day to Winstitute 6 in DC

Winter Institute began today with some workshops and visits to elected officials. Jason and I came in this morning, having stayed behind to host Johnny Weir. Nice event, nice author, nice crew. Wish it had been bigger. Stacie did a bunch of extra contacting of local news and sports crews, but it was hard to get pickup. He signed some skates. Here's a picture of Mr. W. with Stacie and me.

We're supposed to be reading ahead to talk up books at the trade show. Jason's reading Mary Doria Russell's Doc, which he's enjoying. I'm of course reading an event book, Anchee Min's Pearl of China*. We have so many paperback reprint events this spring that I'm spending my time reading books already out. I'm not complaining; I'm just saying that the event books take priority for me over the next buzz galley. I'm hoping to read at least one of the galleys of the authors at the organized dinners, but I'm concerned about time.

Of course we got a little lost getting to the hotel. Jefferson Davis Highway or Old Jefferson Davis Highway? And we both instinctually went to the hotel we were last at for Book Expo, instead of looking it up. This is the textbook definition of "winging it."

Things will be busy for the next couple of days. I should have pre-written some posts (I did this last year) but who can keep up?

*Right now, Willow has just moved to Nanking to edit the daily newspaper. Pearl is teaching. Her marriage is not going well. Well, neither is Willow's because she was effectively sold off by her first husband, an opium addict. Willow was hot on Sun Yat-Sen, but is suspicious of Chiang Kai Shek. We'll see what happens next.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hannah Pittard is Fated For Success? To be Argued Out at Various Bars? To Come to Boswell? (The Last One is a Sure Thing, on 3/2)

Though I only have a handful of high school friends that I keep in touch with (at this point, maybe 3, though it grew a bit at the beginning of social networking), I remember going to one of our reunions with my friend Rachel, who was a little bit more connected to the other alums (partly because she still lived in New York, partly because she was on the reunion committee) and thinking, "Gee, what have I missed by disconnecting from this?"

Maybe what I needed was to have one of my friends go missing. At least that's the thought that popped into my head while reading Hannah Pittard's The Fates will Find their Way, the accomplished first novel from Hannah Pittard, which is being published in February. It's about one group of boys, whose lives are shook and bended by the Halloween disappearance of one Nora Lindell, leaving behind her younger sister Sissy.

Of course the lack of connection could partly be because I came from a large high school in a large neighborhood in a large borough of a large city (Queens), whereas Pittard's story is in a more discrete neighborhood of a suburb, and most of the kids seem to be connected by a smaller school (seemingly Catholic, there are uniforms, though it is implied that some of the kids are Jewish), though one (seemingly poorer) kid goes to public school.

There are a lot of "seeminglies" here as that's the kind of book this is. It's told first person plural and meanders across time, moving along slowly but with lots of darting back and forth, almost like it was a group of men telling the story at a bar, after one such class reunion. But slowly you realize the group is smaller than first thought, as each boy proves to get pulled out of the crowd by divorce, an affair, a dalliance with another's daughter.

But the biggest "seemingly" seems to be what happened to Nora? Is she living out her life, as imagined by the boys? Has she died any one of a half dozen deaths? Has she been spotted in various photos, or on TV? Or could it not have gone further than that night? Pittard too imagines all options, and I would think readers would come to different conclusions.

I saw the word "elegiac" already used about the book, and that sort of captures the mood. Maybe not a reunion, maybe a wake (or shiva).

One of the things about hosting first-time novelists is that you really need some reads on the book. Of course, just because you read it doesn't mean you're going to love it. Most of the time we get an author without the budget for a tour large enough to encompass Milwaukee, there's some connection to Southeast Wisconsin.

But with our push to get more Chicago-area authors to make the trek, easy and inexpensive as it is, you can't count on hometown connections. So we either need to find a hook, a target audience, or if we luck out, let our customers know that we've got a special event.

There's no question that Hannah Pittard has the goods. Her fiction has already appeared in McSweeney's, the Oxford American, StoryQuarterly, and the Mississippi Reivew. She was awarded the 2006 Amanda Davis Highwire award (named in honor of the deceased author who left us before her buzz could flower into the major prizes and such) and made a Best American Short Stories shortlist.

And yes, she delivers. The Fates Will Find Their Way is mesmerizingly beautiful, one of those stories that stays with you for a long time.

Here's the Anne Beattie quote:
"Hannah Pittard's novel is about what's gone missing--not only literally but also metaphorically. The first-person plural certainly nods to Jeffrey Eugenides, but it seems to me the voice is rooted in the Stage Manager of Thornton Wilder's Our Town as well. Pittard gives the secret wink to the reader, becdause a story is only a story, but at the same time more than a story, aned that's why we love to invent and why we love to listen and to be taken in. At our peril."

Yes, it does seem an homage to The Virgin Suicides, doesn't it? Totally different, but playing off of it a bit. Of course it will turn out that Pittard never read Eugenides. No, it turns out she did. Here's an early interview with her on the blog Three Guys One Book.

I'm excited that Pittard is currently teaching at DePaul, which made her within convenient event distance to Boswell. DePaul is becoming our go-to school for events of late. After a very nice event with Rebecca Johns for her novel, The Countess, last fall, we hosted just last night Christine Sneed, author of the Grace Paley award for short fiction winner, Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry.

Just a word about our event last night with Sneed and Jaimy Gordon, author of the National-Book-Award-winning Lord of Misrule. There is something special about two authors reading together who share some chemistry. We had two attendees last night who said this event was the best one they'd ever been to, and one of our regulars told me the night was amazing. Here's a photo of Gordon and Sneed at our fun pre-event dinner at Cafe Hollander. If you're reading this today (1/18), Christine Sneed and Jaimy Gordon are reading tonight at DePaul. Info on the Chicago Reader website.

To make sure I didn't forget how I felt about Pittard's novel, I wrote this post a bit early, hoping that I would have another bookseller recommendation by the time I was ready to post (scheduled for the first day of Winter Institute, the coveted Day-for-Night slot. Sure enough, Stacie also read and enjoyed the book, and even got to have dinner with Pittard at a pre-pub dinner. If we play our cards well, she might even write about it).

Here are Stacie's thoughts:
"Hannah Pittard's debut novel is one long conjecture, and that's not a bad thing. Her clean, crisp prose takes a plain subject and turns it inward, sweeping the reader along with the tide. We are a group of teenage boys pondering the disappearance of one of our female classmates - we take the rumors and construct fantasies of what could have happened to her. The unsolved mystery will haunt us our entire lives, no matter the endings we construct for her: one of death, one of abandonment, or one of adventure. Our lives move forward in time, leaving us only our memories, filtered through an intimate connection; something that feels like a secret keeps us bound to each other into our futures, which come too fast. You, too, will want to know the truth and you will be so glad you looked for it with us."

Our event is Wednesday, March 2nd, at 7 PM. This is the kind of author reading where you someday might be kicking yourself for not attending.

Monday, January 17, 2011

All Ballet, All the Time! More on Our Apollo's Angels Event with Jennifer Homans and the Milwaukee Ballet on February 3rd.

After our shopping bag holiday window came down (I hated to see it go, so it lasted through the full 12 days of Christmas, we needed a good idea for what's next. Since we have the ballet event and had some nice ballet kids stuff, we put together an event promoting Jennifer Homans event for Apollo's Angels.

I wanted some of our plush animals posing in tutus, but I couldn't find tiny little tutus or tutu material for the right price. Then I went to the chain drugstore down the block and found a ballet doll marked down. I'm not going to tell you how little I spent on it (it looks it). First we sat Little Nina on the shelf, but it was only when we had her leaping across the window (I love fishing wire) that she came to life. It's still a bit of an odd window, I must admit, so I'm not posting a photo of it. We did sell a magnetic ballerina playset out of the window over the weekend, which I consider a triumph.

On Friday, I headed over to the Milwaukee Ballet Studio to take a few pictures and pick up materials about their upcoming show. I had never been in the space on National Avenue, the renovated former home of the Tivoli Palm Garden. There are two wonderful practice studios--here's a shot of some ballerinas in training. I took this photo from the viewing room upstairs.

In the end, our event really ties in with the Milwaukee Ballet program, as Homans wonders what's next for ballet in Apollo's Angels. What do you know, the Milwaukee Ballet is trying to answer that question with their upcoming show.

It's the fourth annual Genesis International Choreographic Competition, going on from February 10-13 at the Pabst Theater. In this competition, three choreographers chosen by artistic director Michael Pink to present an original 20 minute work with 8 dancers and a maximum of 90 hours rehearsal. The winner gets $3000 and a commission from the Milwaukee Ballet to create a new work. Get your tickets to the performances here.

Then on Saturday, somebody finally explained to me the plot of "The Black Swan," which is currently playing at the nearby Oriental Theatre. I was having trouble understanding the previews. But who has time for a movie? I'm using that time to put together our event with Homans and the Milwaukee Ballet. Thank you to Alyson and Leslie for all the hard work they've done helping put this together. And much appreciation to Ms. Homans too. So the program? There will be demos and dance too. I'm very excited and I hope you will be too. It's all happening Thursday, February 3rd, at 7 PM. Mark your calendars!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Weekly Bestsellers with ALA Award Sales Pop, Upcoming Events,

A quiet, and somewhat snowy winter week left us with some uninteresting bulk sale orders, one wonderful event (Karen Abbott) and a sales pop for the awards announced at the ALA (American Library Association) midwinter confernce. A Sick Day for Amos McGee won the Caldicott, and Moon Over Manifest was awarded the Newbery.

Top Hardcover Nonfiction Boswell Bestseller's for the week ending 1/15
1. American Rose, by Karen Abbott
2. The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson
3. Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff
4. The Gourmet Cookie Book
5. The Bed of Procrustes, by Nassim Taleb.

The last is aphrorisms and meditations inspired by Taleb's The Black Swan.

Here are our bestsellers for hardcover kids books.
1. A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead
2. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
3. Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool
4. Spy in the House, by Y.S. Lee
5. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth, by Jeff Kinney

We had a pop in all of the Suzanne Collins. I think this from new information coming out about the upcoming film. Pam likes The Agency series, of which, Spy in the House is the first volume.
Three upcoming events this week to remind you about:

1. Monday (1/17) is National-Book-Award winner Jaimy Gordon, author of Lord of Misrule, along with Grace Paley winner Christine Sneed for Portraits of a Few People I've Made Cry. Some snow is expected. Be brave, Wisconsin!

2. Tuesday (1/18) is our Johnny Weir signing at 5 PM for Welcome to My World. Signature only, books only, and only line photos.

3. Wednesday (1/19) is our Poets Ink group reading, with Barbara Collignon, Cary Fellman, Mary Lux, Peter Piakoski, and Carolyn Vargo. Stacie will be running that one, as I'm off to Winter Institute in DC!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday Gift Post with a Special Valentine Carol (That Goes "Love Love Love Love Love Love Love Love, Fa La La La La, La La La La")

Have I mentioned that like every other store in the world, we put our Valentine's Day display up the day after Christmas? According to Jason, the fact that we didn't cover the entire front of the store with Valentine's Day stuff set us apart from many other retailers. The fact of the matter is that the product really has to come in before Christmas in order to get it in time, and so, as the only thing you really have that's fresh, you feel almost compelled to put it out.

And yet the holiday is a traditionally last-minute purchase. That said, we set up a display table and a card spinner in the center of the store and we've been selling some cards. I increased our assortment over last year as we pretty much sold out in 2010. Some of them say Valentine, others have hearts and will revert to being "blank" or "friendship" after the holiday. It is not unusual for card companies to repurpose love and anniversary artwork with Valentine messages. Now you know.

Our sales were so good that I brought back in many of the cards we sold last year. with the addition of some pop up cards, and some new designs from artists we do well with, like Misha Zadeh. We've got some nice pop up cards (only one person even noticed that I didn't bring in the Christmas pop ups*) and more designs from our fair trade Africa line.

I am still not going too heavy on Valetine gift items. Last year we sold through our heart-filled boxed cards, had a decent sell through on our Valentine ducks (there was some markdown involved) and had sadly, did not do well on the Valentine fortune teller. Somebody is making this work, as I saw it in the new catalog at full price. You can get ours at 75% off. Two dollars for a fortune? Seems like a good deal.

New? We've got Farrah the love bear, some thumb puppet love bugs and butterflies (with heart shaped wings), plus still to come are some heart-shaped puzzles. Hard to describe, but we all liked them. They are 3D. Sadly, I passed on a lot of product for either being too plain or too schmaltzy. I am looking for whimsy here. I think I am going to design my own stuff for 2012. Or I would if I could.

This year we are also selling multi-pack Valentines for kids to give out in class. We could only remember one year that Schwartz brought things like this in (I'm only going back about 10 years or so; our collective memories have issues) and they sold through quite well. The next year the buyer knew we were closing after Christmas and didn't restock. And the next year I didn't really see something in our price point that would still be nicer than what you find at mass merchants.

When I spotted these assortments at 20 for $5.95 with very nice artwork, I got excited, and so did other stores, as even though I placed the order in December, they were already out of three of the designs I requested. The minimums were a little high for us, not knowing how we'd do, so we contacted Next Chapter and decided to go in halfsies. The assortments we both have are monster cars, mermaids, monkeys, robots, and wacky animals. And if I may concur, these animals are nothing if not wacky. We're already selling them pretty well and we haven't even hit the prime sales time of February.

We've got a nice Valentine's display of books too. But I'll save that for a weekday. This is a gift post, dag nab it!

*I've got one customer who is saddened that we, like most other stores in metro Milwaukee, don't seem to be bringing in the high-end Robert Sabuda pop up cards anymore. I loved them too--having sent them to friends and business associates for a number of years, but their price point is tough. That said, he buys so many that we can probably put in an order just for him. So we might have something for holiday 2011.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Rather Random Assessment of the Assortment of New Titles on the Boswell's Best This Week

After the pent up demand of last week's changeover, it's back to a peaceful and orderly transtion. Here are a few throughts on the new titles on Boswell's Best, which as you may know, are always 20% off the list price until at least next Monday, but we rarely put a book on the list for less than two weeks.

I was talking up Robert Crais to Carl last week. I have even read the first book in the Elvis Cole series, and now he's writing a second series featuring Joe Pike, of which The Sentry is the third. Crais's books hit the bestseller lists, with a budget enough to support a full-page ad in the New York Times. What I particularly love about Crais is that he doesn't bang out his titles; when I was a book buyer, it was not unusual to see one of his mysteries delayed. The new book has Joe (former cop) helping out a sandwich shop that is getting a gang shakedown, but it turns out that the proprietors are not the innocents rebuilding their lives after Katrina that they claimed to be.

Susan Vreeland's going to be in the Milwaukee area for Clara and Mister Tiffany, her newest historical novel that touches on a historical piece of art, which in this case is the lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Vreeland imagines the life of Susan Driscoll, his chief designer. Driscoll oversaw his generally poor, unmarried female staffers called The Tiffany Girls. Will she get credit for her dragonfly (a once again trendy motif) lamp at the Paris Exposition? I'm worried. For more information about Susan Vreeland's appearance at Next Chapter on January 30th, visit their website. Tickets are $5 and include a spot of vittles.

One new book getting lots of press is Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. You might be thinking Chua would be writing another international policy book like World on Fire, but this is a parenting book. Chua and her husband chose to raise their kids religiously Jewish and culturally Chinese. That meant rigor and control, in a way that is contrary to current cultural trends, particularly among the intellectual and monied classes of the United States and Europe. The two kids are musical virtuosos. You can't miss the all the buzz about this, but if it's passed you by because you were watching a "Toddlers and Tiaras" marathon (I don't know why I immediately drifted to this), here's Chua being interviewed on NPR. Both audio and transcript are available.

And finally, one that got away. Charles Baxter's Gryphon: New and Selected Stories is scheduled to be on the front page of Sunday's New York Times Book Review. Since I've read every Baxter book in print (except for this one), I've probably read most of these stories before, though some are new. (Note that Boswellian Sharon read this and really enjoyed it). Do you think any of them have been in three books, as some stories from early collections were reworked into Saul and Patsy? Doesn't matter. I was talking to some folks at UWM Creative Writing (unnamed) and they noted that Baxter was one of their idols. Sadly, we came close to hosting Baxter for this book, only it was pushed back a bit and that took the book out of winter break. Since Baxter is teaching at Stanford this spring, it became too far to coordinate. But congrats to the lucky Northern California stores.

Speaking of events, we have Lord of Misrule on Boswell's Best, even though it is an event this Monday (1/17). Why?
a. It's a small press, and we want our sell-through to be extra clean.*
b. The book is coming out rather quickly in paperback (March), so we wanted to get the hardcover price (was $25, now $20) more in line with the paperback (scheduled to be $15).

Jaimy Gordon is appearing Monday with Grace Paley award winner Christine Sneed. Honestly, how many National Book Award winners will you see this year? You should hear at least one read in person, don't you think? More on events here.