Thursday, March 31, 2011

China in the Pages of a Novel--Anchee Min at Boswell on April 13, 7 pm.

I've been reading Anchee Min for years. This should not be shocking to readers, as they should not that my sister Claudia teaches Chinese and is interest in all things Sino. Back when I first read Katherine (it's out of stock indefinitely so alas, I am not linking it), we discussed how Min had totally captured the experience of an American immersed in Chinese culture. It was hard to believe it was a novel.

It was equallly difficult to believe that Min's memoir, Red Azalea, was real. So many amazing things had happened to her, growing up in Shanghai under Mao's reign. As a teenager, she was sent to live in a collective farm. And though most folks in this situation would wither, Min was picked to train as an actress at Madame Mao's studio.

Since Katherine, Anchee Min's novels would be classified as historical. I particularly enjoyed Becoming Madame Mao, a fictional treatment of the life of Jiang Qing. Also popular were two novels on Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi, The Empress Orchid and its sequel, The Last Empress. It was a thrill to get the call from Bloomsbury to host Anchee Min for the paperback of her newest novel, Pearl of China. Our event is at Boswell on Wednesday, April 13 at 7 pm, and yes it is free!

If you haven't seen Min before, you're in for a treat. No boring talk/reading/signing at this event. Just ask anyone who had attended one of Anchee Min's events. While Buck was awarded numerous prizes, including the Pulitzer and the Nobel, she was villified by some after she refused to kowtow to Mao Tse Tung. Min created this novel to return Buck's stature to that of a hero of Chinese culture. There is an exploration of the political machinations that drove such doctrine, which Min explores not just through Buck but through Willow and her husband, Dick Lin, who found themselves on the receiving end of the red wrath.

Anchee Min explores Pearl Buck’s life from the vantage point of a Chinese woman, Willow Yee, a mash-up of various friends from Buck’s life. I think this sometimes throws people off, as they want a biographical novel to be a biography, so they can quote facts. Sometimes this just doesn't work. It would have been much harder to tell Buck's story through four or five different Chinese observers. Not impossible though. Might have made an interesting, but possibly less accessible story.

The daughter of missionaries, Buck was immersed in Chinese culture at a young age, and when she finally was forced to leave the country, found herself more Chinese than American. She wrote her life experiences into a series of novels, most notably The Good Earth, and was awarded the Pulitzer for that novel and the Nobel prize for her body of work. And of course there is the tragic love triangle with Hsu Chi-mo; the affair has never been proven, and the triangle clearly didn’t exist (Yee is not a real character) but you have to remember that this is a novel.

The straightforward, heartfelt narrative and wonderfully realized Willow, balanced by the Chinese history and politics, could well appeal to readers of Lisa See and Jamie Ford. And reading about China can get you in the mood for the Milwaukee Art Museum's summer collection of China exhibitions, including The Emperor's Private Palace: Treasures from the Forbidden City.

To summarize, Anchee Min is appearing for the paperback release of Pearl of China at Boswell Book Company on Wednesday, April 13 at 7 pm. Discuss!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Email Newsletter Goes Out (With a Link Here), Selling at the Women's Leadership Conference, Cookbook Sale

After spending the entire day writing the email newsletter, I'm finding it hard to write today's blog post. Our newsletters do tend to be event heavy, but I always try to write up one or two new books. This week I was inspired by holy places, writing up new books by James Carroll and Colin Thubron. So if you don't get our email newsletter, click here and double your reading pleasure.

I always get several replies back after the newsletter is sent out. Today I heard from my old colleague Jeanne, who has settled in Florida. As it must have been officially old home day, I also got an email from Nick, who moved back to Bristol after several years in the United States. Old Schwartz customers may fondly recognize both names.

Tomorrow I spend the day at the Pfister. It's the Women's Leadership Conference and several authors are speaking. The conference celebrates women who have pioneered their fields and uncovers their proven methods for success. Attendees will learn from accomplished women, discover what inspires them and harness the energy to empower themselves. Highlights of this year's conference include keynote speaker and UWM alum Beth Pritchard - Alshaya North American Advisor, and former President and CEO of Bath & Body Works and Dean & Deluca. Get more information here.

At Boswell, we're having a four-day cookbook overstock sale. I wound up bringing in too much inventory for our Wisconsin Restaurant show event, and it seems to make sense to sell some of it down. We've got a great selection of books, including a number of professional titles that are not only rare to get, but are priced very competitively with certain low-price websites. You can save 20% off our regular prices from now until Sunday, April 3rd.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New Boswell's Best for March 29th--Little Girls, Little Women, and Cave Gals

Oops, just about missed a day! I've been butting up against a bunch of deadlines and decided they were more important than a post. First our fall Random House event grids were due, and the next day was the last day for us to file 2010 co-op claims. All that, plus a whole bunch of events in the next few weeks, and time slipped away. Today was new-release day and Jason put several new books on Boswell's Best, which are the new hardcovers we feature at 20% off their list price. Let's investigate some of the new fiction releases, shall we?

Big Girl Small, by Rachel DeWoskin (FSG). Several years ago I read and enjoyed Foreign Babes in Beijing, DeWoskin's memoir about starring in a Chinese soap opera, as the vixen of course. Her second novel, after Repeat after Me, is about a little person, Judy Lohden, who gets caught in a sexual scandal. Library Journal praised DeWoskin for giving an old story line new depth. No reads in our store, but I've heard good things from other booksellers. I hoped DeWoskin might make it up to Milwaukee, as she spends part of her time in Chicago. Here's an update--this book is not out until May 5th!

Mothers and Daughters, by Rae Meadows (Holt). The story of a woman mourning her mother while caring for her newly born daughter, Meadows lived for a number of years in Madison, and I hosted we hosted a joint event with Meadows and Darin Strauss at our Brookfield Schwartz. With Strauss touring for Half a Life in paperback (recent winner of an NBCC award comes out in paper on 5/31, though I am quite fond of the McSweeneys hardcover), could a return engagement be possible? Only problem #1: I think Meadows moved to Minneapolis. And #2: we're not on the list of tour cities for Strauss. That said, we're rarely on the list of tour cities! I've read Meadows' first two novels so I suspect I'll read this one too, only not yet!

The School of Night, by Louis Bayard (also Holt). After an initial foray of writing contemporary fiction, Bayard has found his voice with historical, literary-influenced mysteries. The newest has dual plotlines, one contemporary, one Elizabethan, featuring protagonist Henry Cavendish. Was there really a group of men called "The School of Night?" Publishers Weekly called this "a superb intellectual thriller." And on launch day, who walked in but one of Bayard's friends from college. We agreed the new author photo is very becoming. The world is so freakishly small that sometimes I worry that if I slip I might fall off.

The Troubled Man, by Henning Mankell (Knopf). The first Kurt Walldender mystery in a decade is also his swansong, with advance reviewers comparing this installment to Ian Rankin's final Rebus novel. This time a retired Naval commander goes missing after relating to Wallender a strange story about a territorial invasion of Swedish waters, followed by his wife. It's hard to remember which advance critic said "masterful" and which said "intricate" and "deft." There's no way around it--those are positive adjectives.

All this and the final Jean Auel too, The Land of Painted Caves. It's said that once you discover fire, it's all downhill.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bestsellers, Plus Josh Alan Friedman Tonight (3/28)

Let’s get right to the bestsellers. Alas, adding photos is suddenly destroying my formatting, so I'm going to skip on jacket candy for this post.

Hardcover fiction:
1. The Tiger’s Wife, by Tèa Obreht
2. A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness
3. The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, By Alexander McCall Smith
4. Drawing Conclusions, by Donna Leon
5. The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain
Another big pop in sales for Obreht, dwarfing her challengers.

Hardcover nonfiction:
1. Wine Bar Food, by Tony and Cathy Mantuano*
2. Life on the Line, by Grant Achatz
3. Blood, Bones, and Butter, by Gabrielle Hamilton
4. The Physics of the Future, by Michio Kaku
5. The Information, by James Gleick
Food, science, and food science dominate this list.

Paperback Fiction:
1. Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese
2. The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman
3. A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
4. Lord of Misrule, by Jaimy Gordon
5. Every Last One, by Anna Quindlen
# 3 Egan wins the NBCC prize after losing the NBA to #4 Gordon. Event-heavy

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. The Bizarre Truth, by Andrew Zimmern*
2. Tattoos on the Heart, by Gregory Boyle
3. Life in Year One, by Scott Korb
4. The Cake Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten Free, by Anne Byrn
5. The Immomrtal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot *Our two headliners at the Wisconsin Restaurant Show.

Kids Books
1. Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad, by Jacky Davis
2. Danger Box, by Blue Baillett
3. Little White Rabbit, by Kevin Henkes
4. I am Number Four, by Pittacus Lore
5. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
I think this is dystopian Lore’s first appearance. The Ladybug Girl has a display at the front register, and is featured on our ladybug table.

Tonight we're hosting Josh Alan Friedman, author of Black Cracker, from Wyatt Doyle Books. I mention the publisher as Mr. Doyle and I have emailed each other back and forth a bit and feel like I know him.

Black Cracker is a memoir of growing up on Long Island, being white Jewish kid attending a predominantly African American school. He's a blues musician with the writing gene implanted--his father is acclaimed writer Bruce Jay Friedman. Friedman has already had customers coming in from his recent interview on Lake Effect. You can listen to it here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sarah Silverman Tonight at the Riverside, on Accepably Funny, Fathers, and Likely Some Autographed Copies at the Show.

I've been reading the Sarah Silverman comic memoir, The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee for several days now, gearing up for our offsite at the Riverside Theater tonight (3/27) at 8 pm. Tickets are still available--here's a link to the site.

Books by comedians can go in one of three ways, no, four I guess.

1. They can be a collection of bits.*

2. They can be more of straightforward memoir that could be funny.

3. Or intentionally not funny.

4. Or perhaps a book on some particular subject that is neither memoir nor standup, perhaps turning into more of a travel or food narrative, or popular history.

That doesn't usually happen until after a few books. And of course a funny memoir could be unintentionally not funny, but I think that would be more of option two. A great example of option three would be Steve Martin's Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life. I really loved it (which was why it was even sadder that I haven't yet read An Object of Beauty) but it was about being funny, not trying to be funny.

Or friend and customer Paul was telling me yesterday about a great example of option two, Samantha Bee's I Know I Am but What are You. He was listening (we've been talking to ABA about why we're about to start selling Google ebooks but are far from able to sell audio downloads) to the book in his car and had to pull over because he was laughing so hard. That's kind of a rec. And I just read a good example of type #1, but I'm saving that for a separate post, which I'll put up when the book is released.**

So back to The Bedwetter, which I finished reading this morning. It's a memoir that's meant to be funny (and succeeds at this) but sometimes is meant to not be funny, and it succeeds at this too. Silverman was indeed a bedwetter, well into her teens actually, and perhaps there's a bit of self-consciousness that permeates her work that comes from that. I wouldn't know, as I am not a psychiatrist. On the other hand, Silverman had a doctor who hanged himself (and she was told this, no screamed this, by his partner, and she had another nurse-practitioner who prescribed 16 Xanax for her per day. Yikes.

I don't want to talk about the book in a way that reveals the funny parts. It was funny, however, that I was asked over dinner with Kirk last night at Huan Xi restaurant on Murray what part of New York Sarah Silverman is from. And apparently, people assume this all the time. In fact, Silverman grew up in New Hampshire, in Manchester and smaller towns in the region (and Manchester isn't that big either, by the way). There weren't many Jews there, and she says the only Jews she knew until she moved to New York to go to college were family.

Family is an important part of the story, especially her father Don, known to all as Schleppy, who seemed to be the source of some of Silverman's esthetic. Winters in Boca Raton, he was known for hanging out in a Starbucks and heckling people with fancy cars. I don't exactly know what part of my personality I inherited from my father, but at Huan Xi, we had the steamed sea bass, as my father was obsessed with this dish in my youth. I probably haven't had something like this in 35 years.

I'm not sure what people want from books like these. The experience is certainly not exactly like the viral videos for Matt Damon or "The Great Schlep." And it isn't even exactly like her movie, that I have a very strong memory of seeing in Seattle, at an old theater that surely isn't being used for moviegoing anymore. It was near a Trader Joe's. Why haven't I stored this memory yet? It shouldn't be so easily accessed.

The Bedwetter is exactly what I'd expect--sincere and yet sly, serious and very funny, tasteless and yest principled. And if she has advice for the masses, it would be this--if MTV asks you to say a few words about a celebrity at an awards show, pass. They are just seeting you up for controversy, and it seems to get Silverman in more hot water than the sex, religion, and ethnic origin comments.

If I could have asked for one thing, it would have been for the paperback to have an after-afterword, as the world has changed. The story sort of ends with Lauren Corrao finding a way to continue The Sarah Silverman Program (originally spelled "programme") for a third season by getting Logo on board, but by the paperback, her champion was out of the network and the third season was the show's last.

Oh, and here's the biggest news. There is no autographing session with the author (there usually isn't at these shows, and if there is, it is limited to folks with VIP tickets), but if all goes well, I should be selling some signed copies of The Bedwetter at the show. I won't be able to get enough signed to have copies available back at the store, alas. See you there, and don't forget to say hi to me in the lobby.

And now just one plug for another show. Patton Oswalt is returning to the Pabst on Friday, May 6. Tickets just went on sale. It's probably ok with Silverman if I talk this up as I know Oswalt has been on the show. His new book, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, has already done quite well at Boswell Book Company, but I haven't read it yet.

*I think the bit collection has been around since Gutenberg, but a publishing high point seemed to be a series of hits edited by Rob Weisbach, penned by Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser, and Ellen DeGeneres. Then Whoopi Goldberg's didn't do so well and that was the end of that.

**It's the new collection by Demetri Martin, whose show in 2009 on Comedy Central was also under the regime of Lauren Corrao. I guess I'm a pre-fan of whatever she champions next.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Saturday Gift Post--Bird Pens, Squeekaboos, Dragon Keylights, and Other New Items.

In between running around town for the restaurant show, our great turnout at Marquette for Father Greg Boyle, a eco-historic evening with the Paulsons at the Urban Ecology Center, and getting ready for conferences next week (more about those tomorrow), plus of course the day-today work in the bookshop, we also got some nice new items in for sale.

The spring table is in full bloom, now at the front of the store with those hanging wooden birds. Yes, we sold them as Christmas ornaments (and yes, they are still 25% off the original price), but John convinced me they work particularly well in a cottage-y setting, and sent me a photo. We also just got in bird pens, which are $6.95 each. But what's really been hot are our enamel birds. We just restocked from the vendor and will be putting out more this weekend, now in the classic size and something a bit larger.

Our chick-tastic Easter table is beginning to get attention, and will likely get more when we move it to the table in front of our check-out desk this week. We love the chick finger puppets, and restocked a few more of those. I am quite fond of them, as well as the chick mugs. Like most things involved in the bookstore, I'm holding my breath until April 25th. Aside from that new addition, I think everything that we're getting for Easter is gotten.

Did I mention we got the new Eyebod eyeglass holders in, now in a rainbow of colors? Or that we have a new dragon keylight (picutred in a way that makes it look sort of like an pop art poster), that sort of breathes fire? So handy. Plus for kids, new noise-making animal rattles, and kaleidoscopes with new designs. I really think these rattles are cute, but I always worry that the cardboard display material cheapens the look. We just got a whole bunch of new stuff for kids that came in these kinds of displays, including magnetic games, kites in a bag, trucks that are also blocks, and a big marble-shaped tin of marbles. My suspicion is that sometimes we'll use them and sometimes we won't.
And all that leads up to our project for this week, an outdoor activities table. Yes, there was snow on the ground, but we're just ignoring it. More next Saturday!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Italy Window, Urban Ecology Center Tonight, Do You Know This Plush?

Lawrence Baldassaro came in today to test the projector for his event for Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball, the event for which is 3/31, 7 pm. We hit a few dead ends on getting our Italian flag for our themed window, but when I said to Larry, "You find me an Italian flag and you get our big window", he had one in days. Hurray! Here is the author posing with said window.


Normally I'm trying to sell you plush. Tomorrow I'll have our Saturday gift post, filled with new goodies (a lot came in this week). But in this case, I'm trying to get you to take back plush you already own. Not one, but two stuffed animals were left behind in the past few weeks. So consider this a figurative milk carton. Last seen March 17th.


Tonight I'm selling books at the Urban Ecology Center for Lisa and Belden Paulson. The Paulsons were eco-pioneers, two residents of the rural enclave High Wind, that focused on matters of education, ecology and spirit. The authors are talking tonight at 7 pm at 1500 East Park Place. The two featured titles are:

An Unconventional Journey: The Story of High Wind, from Vision to Community to Eco-Neighborhood, by Lisa Paulson
Voices of a Sacred Land: Images and Evolution, by Lisa Paulson


Odyssey of a Practical Visionary: Eco-Communities, Sustainable Futures, Refugee Resettlement, Poverty and Racism, Dysfunctional Schools, by Belden Paulson.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Galley-On Giveaway Today, Gluten-Free Tomorrow

We are doing our periodic giveaway of advance reading copies starting today through Saturday. The idea is that if you spend $5 or more, you get to choose from our case of galleys. Adult and kids choices included. They aren't brand new (we're hoping you buy the full-priced books), but there are a lot of interesting titles in many different areas...if you consider the various differentiations between genres of contemporary fiction different.

In the true spirit of over the top, Stacie and Jocelyn created a pirate ship to commemorate the occasion. I suspect we will be using it for a pirate display sometime later. I certainly hope so. Now a publisher just has to throw us a pirate event.

The giveaway continues through Saturday, and maybe Sunday if we have a lot less. The rules are one per customer per day, but they'll probably be slightly looser on Saturday.


Tomorrow is our event with Anne Byrn, the Cake Mix Doctor. She's now cooking gluten free, which is why she named her new book The Cake Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten Free. It's like your podiatrist also became your dermatologist. I'm impressed.

Though more people can tolerate gluten than not (they are, of course, intolerant), there seems to be a strong demand for books of this sort. It's the one area of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association show that we restocked.

So here are our co-sponsors:

1. The Gluten Free Trading Company. On Chase and Oklahoma, they have a large assortment of specialty needs.

2. Celiac in the City. This blogger explores the world of gluten free living. She will be baking treats, using ingredients from sponsor one.

3. Milwaukee Reads. Also blogging. Also baking treats. Had a good time at Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal) event. I think Lisa is now more active on Facebook and Twitter. Links are on the page.

4. Molly's Gluten Free Bakery of Pewaukee. It ain't that far if the product is good. I just spent time with one of our best customers, who jaunts over from Madison. I special ordered her some Nomskulls, which are skull shaped cupcake molds. We'll have them on display closer to Halloween, unless I come up with a different skeleton/skull themed display.
And did I mention that Molly's is bringing treats? Hope this is co-sponsory enough for you. See you at 7. Byrn will also be at Books and Company in Oconomowoc on Saturday, March 26th, at 1 pm.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Inspiration from Ferran Adriá and elBulli at the Wisconsin Restaurant Show, A Review of The Sorcerer's Apprentices.

It's the third day of the Wisconsin Restaurant Show. It's a lot of work running in place, and unlike the writing conference, there's no downtime. Another weird thing about convention centers--there are no outlets for a laptop or even recharging our credit card processor. Everything is a la carte. And you have to keep watching, to make sure somebody doesn't think the books at the table are free, or that they spill coffee on them.

OK, you booksellers out there, sympathize with me. Some schmo walking down the aisle with a small cup of ice cream that is seemingly unable to be finished, comes to the booth, and proceeds to grab every book worth more than forty dollars, pulling it out, pawing through it, and squeezing it back onto the table, smashing the book next to it. I had to leave for a while--fortunately Stacie is working with me today.

After the first day, there were enough breaks in the crowds that I felt comfortable enough reading (yeeks). The problem is that I am not getting into either of the books I brought along. Both for upcoming events (and you'll never know I had issues), I did the unthinkable. I picked up a book that is neither for an upcoming event or book club. And it's not even a galley with a deadline for a quote to make the Indie Next list. No, this book is for me!

The book in question is The Sorcerer's Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen with Ferran Adriá's elBulli. There have been plenty of other books on elBulli over the years, including cookbooks, Phaidon's lush A Day at elBulli and a recent biography called Ferran. But I was more interested in elBulli than in the past, as it played a pivotal role in Grant Achatz's career, and having just finished our event with Achatz and Kokonas for Life, on the Line, I was intrigued to learn about the experience from an apprentice's level.

The book is a fascinating look at a unique restaurant that has been at the forefront of what I think is now referred to as modernist cuisine. Like modernist architecture and art, it sort of sweeps away cultural traditions. Like now, you don't have to build on the basic sauces. Many of these restaurants were grouped in the molecular gastronomy movement, and earlier on, Ferran Adriá (I have just re-figured out how to add accents using the alt-plus-code formula so I should be better about this) embraced his scientific connections. Now he has moved away from this, and gravitated towards the art world.

Author Lisa Abend divides the book into chapters, coinciding with the seven months that the restaurant is open per season, focusing on one or two fragiaires per chapter. Some are couples (six of the 32 are women, which is considered a high number), many are Catalan, with the rest coming from all over the world, though none are pointedly French. One man, an ex-Korean solidier, camps on the grounds outside until he is finally taken on. I was surprised how well the author captures the lives of these folk; I didn't expect to really come to empathize with the eight or so folks who are the focus of the stories.

And they are incredibly talented, coming from restaurants at the level of The French Laundry and yes, Alinea. But at elBulli, it's back to square one. The stagiaire (apprentice) program is historical tradition. Chefs work unpaid, gaining experience and insight to use in their career. But it becomes clear that the program at Adriá's restaurant is different from many others, mostly in that it doesn't really have an educational component. And even though chefs are referred to by their first names, and there is no yelling allowed, it turns out the hierarchy is as rigid as in any army. And it also becomes clear that without the stagiaire program, elBulli would not exist. So what really is the program about--preparation for a career or indentured servitude?

And yet, while many of the chefs are frustrated by the experience, most of them come out of the experience grateful for the experience. Well, at least on paper. And for some reason, I identified with the stagiaires while working this show. Working it was like making the neverending faux lentils.

All this, and a lot of detail involved in how so many of these creations happen. Lentils that aren't lentils, artichokes that aren't artichokes, nuts that aren't nuts. How to make foam (which Ferran has now left for other restaurants), the magic of agar, the liquid nirtogen, and the details behind spherification. That alone is fascinating. Add to the triumph of The Sorcerer's Apprentice that Abend was able to structure a satisfying narrative for the story and you've got a great addition to any serious food library. I bought my copy today.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What Happened at the Wisconsin Restaurant Show Yesterday, Plus What Happens Today, Plus a Foodie Narrative Roundup.

Set up is from 7 to 10:45 AM. I got there at about 8. First of all, I brought too many books! Second of all, it's hard to sort them all out. Third of all, we had that panicky moment when we think we're going to run out of the author's books at the event. Eh, I have that moment a lot, even though we usually have enough.

Featured author Andrew Zimmern headlined Monday's show. His book The Bizarre Truth: Culinary Misadventures Around the Globe* is now in paperback. Remember, Zimmern's show "Bizarre Foods" airs on the Travel Channel, so it's more of a narrative than a cookbook. And I'm not sure that you'd want these recipes of the exotica tackled in the show--cow vein stew from Bolivia, giant flying ants in Uganda, raw camel kidneys of Ethiopia, and putrefied shark in blood pudding from Iceland.

That said, his demo was for mouth-watering Chinese Street Food. He offered recipes for wok tossed, twice cooked, crispy salt and pepper shrimp, as well as back ribs with black beans and green onions, a popular dish of central and northern China.

Today's demo is for Wine Bar Food, from Kenosha's Mangia Trattoria and Chicago's acclaimed Italian restaurant Spiaggia. The book travels the world to ten iconic cities, offering about ten dishes per market, along with wine pairings and sections on cured meats, cheeses, and pantry items for each (I'm paraphrasing here). The focus is on Italy, home of half the cities covered, with the rest being Mediterranean-esue (Athens, Barcelona). An interesting aside--Spiaggia is at least part-owned by Levy Restaurants, who also does the food service for the Frontier Center, home of this convention.

Our non-event bestseller so far is no surprise; signed copies of Life, on the Line, from Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas. I talked to one culinary student (the convention was heavy with students, as there was a competition going on) who dreamed of moving to Chicago to work at Alinea. I'm sure that's not an uncommon dream!

Some other foodie* books that we took to the event:

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, by Gabrielle Burton. The making of a chef/owner, in this case, of Prune in the East Village of New York. I guess Burton's trajectory was a bit unorthodox; instead of culinary school, she started out by waiting tables. This book came out of nowhere for me--now that I'm not buying, I don't always know what kind of marketing money is thrown at which books, but an attendee came up to me at the show and said, "That book is a pick on Amazon." Thanks!

Scars of a Chef: The Searing Story of a Top Chef Marked Forever by the Grit and Grace of Life in the Kitchen, by Rick Tramonto, with Lisa Jackson (yes, the romance writer). I remember him from Tru, which was his restaurant with Gale Gand, his first wife, but his restaurants now include Traamonto Steak and Seafood, and Osteria di Tramonto. You wouldn't think I would have much in common an acclaimed chef, but we both started our culinary careers at Wendy's. I detoured. SaltRiver, his publisher, is an imprint of Tyndale, so the book is squarely Christian in focus, with Tramonto counting T. D. Jakes as one of his inspirations.

Knives at Dawn: America's Quest for Culinary Glory at the Bocuse D'Or, the World's Most Prestigious Cooking Competition. Now out in paperback, Andrew Friedman's chronicle of one year of the Bocuse D'Or competition, focusing on Timothy Hollingsworth, the American entrant from the French Laundry. It's foodie manna, though like many of these narratives--read more in my blog on the hardcover, back from November 2009.

Plus lots and lots of pretty cookbooks.

*The publisher changed the subtitle for the paperback. I do think it's an improvement over the hardcover, which was "How I Walked Out the Door Mouth First... and Came Back Shaking My Head."

**Appropriate, as the show is co-sponsored by Wisconsin Foodie.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Getting Ready for the Wisconsin Restaurant Show, Plus a Little Procrastination

Tom Olson met me on Sunday morning to take books to the Wisconsin Restaurant Show. Since he was proactive, it's the only order (except for the two event books) that I wound up placing direct. We had little time to put this together, as we picked up this gig from another bookstore.

Two trips in the Scion (and yes, Amie noted that the car was sagging a bit--cookbooks are heavy) and a bit in between pulling lots of books for our cooking, business, and gardening sections, plus a wee bit of self-help. Most books came from the cooking sections though. I got to hear Scott Korb talk about Life in Year One. We had 50 people and decent sales--very happy.

Carrie Bachman sent me fliers for the show on Modernist Cuisine, that ridiculously lavish cookbook that is out of stock everywhere but is in high demand. It came up because I got a bunch of Life, on the Line signed for the show. Jason was wary, but I said let's get two. We'll figure out a way to price it decently and treat it like the Jung Red Book. I think we can sell some...gulp.

Decided to help Greg and clean up the receiving room by pulling some returns. If you don't return books after an event, it means you sold out, and that's not a great thing either. Double-checked that we have Greg Boyle's event at Marquette on Wednesday, Anne Byrn's at the store on Friday, and Lisa Paulson's at the Urban Ecology Center, also on Friday.

Stacie made new event fliers. We ran out again! The new design with author photos and book jackets has proven quite popular.

Came home and had dinner. Went on something called Wikimapia, a dated bird's eye mapping program, that still had Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop in my store's location. Registered so I could change it over to Boswell. Couldn't think of anything clever to say.

Sent out wrap-ups regarding how this weekend's events went. It's sometimes hard to do this when an event is disappointing, but lately I haven't had any bad news to report, and let me just say I'm very happy about that.

"Family Guy" seems to be getting more odd than funny. Last week's was too violent for me to watch. It's come to this. That was my television for the night. I know, you thought more of me.

Off to read and then go to bed. The convention floor opens for exhibitors at 7 AM!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Joyce and Vowell and Rankin in the Journal Sentinel, and Not Surprisingly, Téa Obreht has Big Bestseller Pop.

We’ve got a relatively quiet event week coming up, with just Greg Boyle at Marquette’s Eckstein Law School building on Wednesday night and Anne Byrn, the Cake Mix Doctor who is now cooking gluten-free, on Friday. (Use the same link to either--it's for our event page). That’s actually not a bad thing, having picked up the Wisconsin Restaurant Expo on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

We also signed on to sell books at Sarah Silverman’s show at the Riverside Theater on Sunday, March 27th. How kismet-ish that the paperback of The Bedwetter** has just released. I was looking at reviews on our industry website and was pleased to see that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was included:

"Without curtailing her trademark potty-mouth humor and shock tactics, comedian Sarah Silverman has written a memoir that's sweet, funny, real and, dare I say it, occasionally even touching... Silverman's book suggests that, behind the cute face and dirty mouth, there's a clever woman with a warm heart." Read the rest here, from the Lincoln, Nebraska Journal Star of course. Want to read more about Lincoln? Here's a photo of licorice. Is this a licorice store or a licorice company? Either way, I'm intrigued.

How could The Tiger’s Wife not have had a big pop in sales this week on our fiction hardcover list? And look at Patrick Rothfuss’s tenacity. You don’t always see that with fantasy. For the Penguin folk who look at this list, note that the author has yet to do an event in metro Milwaukee.

1. The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht
2. Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss
3. Drawing Conclusions, by Donna Leon*
4. A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness
5. Sing You Home, by Jodi Picoult

What could pop next week? Mike Fischer in the Journal Sentinel reviews The Silent Land, by Graham Joyce (arrives Tuesday). It’s a sort of philosophical horror novel where a couple vacationing in the Pryenees are buried by an avalanche. They survive, only to find the place deserted. “And then things get weird.” Read more here.

Carole E. Barrowman’s take on The Complaints, the new mystery series starting with Malcolm Fox, is that Fox could be a worthy successor to Inspector Rebus, but she misses the Scottish patter, and found the plot a wee bit complicated. That said, she’s already offering a toast to the new series. And we’ve already remarked here on the enthusiasms of others. More here.

Events drive our nonfiction bestseller list, though it’s nice to see three books getting national play selling at Boswell too. There has been so much turnover on the bestseller lists that it’s feeling like a cinema multiplex or a list of music downloads. One big pop of sales and then kerplatz. We’re a slow burn, just like those old theaters that would play Georgy Girl for a year. Hey, I learned at Milwaukee Movie Theaters this week that the theater in question was the Downer!

1. Life on the Line, by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas (request a signed copy)
2. Jane Addams, by Louise Knight
3. The Social Animal, by David Brooks
4. The Information, by James Gleick
5. Moonwalking with Einstein, by Joshua Foer.

Oh, those Foer brothers! Sources say he got a $1.2 million advance for this book. Meanwhile, Jim Higgins writes up Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell’s latest. He’s bummed that there’s no index. Read more here.

It’s not that her publisher is against them, as there’s one in Life in Year One, the Riverhead Book by Scott Korb that, coincidentally, is our event for today (Sunday), starting at 2 PM. More on our events list.

Look ma! No events in paperback fiction. And linking is exhausting.

1. Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese
2. Tinkers, by Paul Harding
3. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford
4. The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver
5. The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer...event on April 29th

Did you notice I don’t like ties? I break them generally by the price of the book. I figure if we took in more dollars, the rank should be higher.

1. Five Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth, by Matthew Inman. Request a signed copy of this.
2. Memoir of a Sunday Brunch, by Julia Pandl. Or this!
3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
4. The King’s Speech, by Mark Logue
5. Just Kids, by Patti Smith

They replayed that great interview with Skloot on Fresh Air this week. I heard it while driving back and forth from some offsite or other, and the rest of the week, people came in talking about it.

*This is the last week to reserve your seat at the Friends of the Milwaukee Public Library Literary Luncheon at the Woman's Club of Wisconsin on East Kilbourne for Donna Leon. The lunch is on April 5. More here.

**Yesterday I attended a website workshop that explained how searches now only came up with one version of a book. The problem is that version was the hardcover, and the additional versions that showed up when I made the request were the large print and the ebook. No paperback! I did find it by ISBN. Guess I have to email somebody about this.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saturday Gift Post--Easter Stuff 2011, Plus Wrap-Up on TheOatmeal

Easter gift marketing. It's a concept that was foreign to me before becoming as engaged with gift buying and display making. As the book buyer, I tended to find a few books to highlight in our newsletter that would appeal to our customers and leave everything else to other people.

Now there is a lot more to think about. For one thing, we needed a sign. Our artist friend Aaron (he of the fishy tee) happened to take a picture of a bunny family in his yard, which he passed around. OK, that's done.

So then there is the Easter basket. Now not everything in the Easter basket has to be Easter themed, just like not every Christmas gift has to be a Santa Claus (substitute dreidel for Chanukah). And we know that we can't just bring in exactly what we did last year, though yes, we restocked the rabbit puppets we sold so well in 2010. So here are some new items:

1. We have done so well with puzzles that we brought in these puzzle eggs. I'm feeling more confident then I did about the heart-shaped ones we got for Valentine's. For one thing, they give you a sample (we finally made one at the last minute for the previous display). For another, the pricing is much better, there's more variety, and the sweet artwork seems appropriate for the holiday.

2. We used a different vendor for small rabbit plush, non-puppet kind. The pricing is very good, under $5. For the puppets by the way, I went heavier on chicks.

3. Now that we're in our tabletop mode, having done pretty well for autumn and Christmas, we brought in some Eastery stuff there too. Not too much, only things we particularly liked. There's a chick mug, a chick votive candle holder, and some chick and bunny candles. Seems cute to me. One thing we noticed is that one of our vendors likes to package things in plastic wrap, and the product doesn't show well. So we've taken to unwrapping some of them.

4. From another vendor, we duplicated our surprising success selling ceramic penguins. They were meant to be in packages of six, but we didn't like the packaging and complained. Little did we know they would sell just fine individually. So now we have ceramic bunnies. Somebody bought one of each variety yesterday. Very nice at $1.75 each.

Now I'm off to our joint mini-conference with the Midwest Booksellers Association, Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association, and the American Booksellers Association, located at the glamorous Sheraton Four Points in Brown Deer. Tonight we sell books at the ACLU dinner. And tomorrow we get ready for the Wisconsin Restaurant Show.

Last night's event for Five Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth with Matthew Inman (TheOatmeal) was pretty great. We had 160 people, enough, after we moved a bunch of cases, for just about everybody to be able to sit and still see the slide show. Since he we learned he had 700 people in Seattle, I got a little panicky. That was a hometown outlier, but he had been getting 200+ at some other events. The thing about Inman is that as funny a web cartoonist as he is, he might just be an even better storyteller. Much thanks to Inman and Kathy at Andrews McMeel for setting this up.

Friday, March 18, 2011

When a Riverhead Author Wants to Speak About Everyday Life in Palestine, I Don't Question How He Wound Up on Our Doorstep

I'm always excited to host an event that is a little outside of the normal realm of author appearances. Publishers know that a certain kind of fiction responds best to bookstore events, generating word of mouth, and sales at independent bookstores.

Less money is spent on touring authors of biography, politics, economics, history (to say nothing of theological history) and then, those events are usually limited to the top markets on the east and west coast. Reviews are usually the drivers of sales in these genres, though it's clear that a tour (like Rebecca Skloot's for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, now out in paperback) for an uneasily classified title (in that case, a mix of science journalism and sociology) can have an extraordinary effect. That said, more often than not, talks are more likely to be (financially) sponsored by a local organization or university, as opposed to being part of a promotional tour.

That said, we're always enthusiastic about any sort of local connection, any detour from Chicago or Madison (where the author might be making another appearance) or pretty much any reason for a noted author of nonfiction with a recently published book to stop by. I have no idea what brought Scott Korb to Milwaukee--I know it's not part of a traditional tour by looking at Penguin's tour page. I guess I'll find out on Sunday.

I found the book's premise intriguing and wound up (despite piles and piles of other books demanding to be read with a menacing glare) finishing it in just two determined reading sessions. Korb is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin (Madison) and the Union Theological Seminary; he previously co-authored The Faith Between Us: A Jew and a Catholic Search for the Meaning of God. His next book is a narrative account of life at the first four-year Muslim accredited college in the United States. Note that in his co-authored book, Korb is the Catholic. I don't know why that makes a difference, but I mention it anyway.

Life in Year One is divided into chapters that try to recreate home life, diet, cleanliness, waste disposal, religion, sex, war, death, and other areas. Though your first thought is that this is about the life of Jesus and his followers, it would be agreed, whatever your beliefs, that Jesus did not live like most people. No, most people lived closely with family, worked hard, and made do with little. And they probably used animal dung to seal the cracks in their shelter. Who wouldn't?

They probably didn't think about their lack of wealth too much, until the Roman Empire started demanding taxes. The period pretty much ended in 70 CE with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

Korb adds a bit of humor to the narrative. While his notations are many and bibliography large, you can tell he is an admirer of John Dominic Crossan, the DePaul professor emeritus and historical Jesus scholar well-known for books such as Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography and his collaborations with Marcus Borg, including The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem.

Who would enjoy this book? In addition to Crossan and Borg fans (we used to sell quite a bit of both authors at Schwartz) I think fans of Bruce Feiler (Walking the Bible, Abraham). And Jonathan Kirsch (The Harlot by the Side of the Road) offers this praise in

"Life in Year One will endear itself even to those readers who are afraid of footnotes. The author is chatty, witty and well-informed, and his book is a kind of revelation about real life in the time and place that we read about in the Bible. Indeed, the biblical text itself will never seem quite the same once we know the facts of Life in the Year One."

Here is a recent piece about our upcoming event in the Journal Sentinel. And I'm hoping all you folks who have been asking for more daytime events will come out this Sunday, at 2 pm. It should be a great talk (and signing--don't forget the signing.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Boxes of Books, Restaurant Show, Email Newsletter, The Oatmeal.

The last few days, I've been double-checking stock for the Wisconsin Restaurant Expo, which runs next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. We picked this up late, after another store pulled out, so I wasn't able to really go to publishers except for our two event authors (Andrew Zimmern on Monday and Tony and Kathy Mantuano on Tuesday). Oh, and from Wiley, since our rep Tom was so on the ball about this. He even gave me a suggested order. John, you've got competition for rep of the year!' If you haven't registered, here's a link to tickets.

I have now filled our receiving room with huge numbers of boxes. So normally I would not have been that upset when I created a Melissa and Doug 20-box order to ship April 1st that instead arrived March 10th. But I knew we'd have no room. So we carted off all those boxes to a storage area to clear space. Look for our new outdoor collection in early April. Oh, the bubbles of it all!

The spring event booking has slowed down, but we have plenty of follow-up to do on all the great things coming in April and May. Book ordering and outreach and partnerships and brainstorming and newsletters and signs and all of that. In fact, I was able to get out an email newsletter yesterday. Here's a link, just in case you don't subscribe.

One of my customers complained that the events never ended. No, they didn't, but I think that's a good thing. We recently had our first event where the authors didn't know they were speaking. A little panic, but we were able to pull it all together. Who knows what bodes for tomorrow's (Friday 3/18) event with Matthew Inman, Mr. I've heard the events are much bigger than expected. I've already upped my book order three times.

It's a free event so get here early. And buy your book beforehand. I think we have a lot but we could run out. It sometimes happens.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Opening Day Awaits...New Baseball Books

We moved the baseball table to the front of the store, even though opening day is not for another few weeks. For one thing, we're trying to promote our event with Lawrence Baldassaro, author of Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball. There are a few releases that have come out already including:

Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella, by Neil Lanctot. The first African American catcher in the major leagues. Note--also qualifies for Baldassaro's book as his dad was Italian American.

Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend, by James S. Hirsch. Now in paper!

But I think those came out early to take advantage of African American history promotions. Most of the other titles are not quite out yet, as the main market for these books turns out not to be opening day, but Father's Day. And for that, the books tend to arrive late April, early May.

Some of the titles we're looking forward to include:

Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball's Longest Game, by Dan Barry. The game was between the Pawtucket Rod Sox and the Rochester Red Wings, and took place in 1961.

Uppity: My Untold Story about the Games People Play, by Bill White with Gordon Dillow. An all-star first baseman who became a broadcasting leged.

Knuckler: My Life with Baseball's Most Confounding Pitch, by Tim Wakefield with Tony Massorati. How does a longtime Boston player stay sane with a pitch that drives baseball players crazy? And other questions.

The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter, by Ian O'Connor. How #2 became #1.
The House That Ruth Built: A New Stadium, the First Yankees Championship, and the Redemption of 1923, by Robert Weintraub
It tends to be the Yankees, the Red Sox, and then everyone else. The Red Sox books tended to come from Houghton Mifflin (now Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), as they were based in Boston. Likely in the old days, that was also true of Little, Brown, but this Hachette imprint now tends to skew New Yorkish.

Stan Musial: An American Life, by George Vecsey
How could the man considered one of the greatest hitters of all time not make the cut as one of the top 25 baseball players of the 25th century? This is Jason's buyer's pick for the season.

And it turns out that Baldassaro's new release is just one of three notable baseball books coming from University of Nebraska Press:

Under Pallor, Under Shadow: The 1920 American League Pennant Race That Rattled and Rebuilt Baseball, by Bill Felber. When we last left baseball in 1919, it was the year of the Black Sox scandal!

Pitching in the Promised Land: A Story of the First and Only Season in the Israel Baseball League, by Aaron Pribble. There was an alleged terrorist attack on opening day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Five Reasons Why I'm Thrilled That John Eklund is Sales Rep of the Year, Plus Three Books from Our Recently Published Section, Globally Speaking

1. He hired me. I wouldn't be in Milwaukee if it weren't for him.
2. He and Carol Grossmeyer pretty much created the bookstore that I own today.
3. He is my go-to source for obscure British and Canadian writers of a certain esthetic.
4. Massive amounts of invaluable advice.
5. He's a good customer.

Plus we talk almost every day. I felt that sort of disqualified me from nominating him, plus he said he wouldn't take the award unless the entire MIT/Yale/Harvard sales force shared the award. It's one of the few sales forces where I actually do know the entire sales force, so I can see why he wanted Adena and Patricia to share in the honors. But it turns out that there are enough booksellers with boundless enthusiasm for Eklund that he might have won the award even if I wrote a spirited argument against him. More on his blog.

In the spirit of this award, I start my roundup of world thought with Terry Eagleton's combative new book, Why Marx was Right, recently published by Yale, which recently hit the Boswell bestseller list. From Publishers Weekly: "Though he perhaps tries too hard toward the end to provide a foundational connection between Marxism and contemporary environmental concerns, Eagleton fluidly demonstrates the value of reappraising Marx in the current climate, offering a timely reminder that, despite the dominance of the free market, history is an ongoing process and that people still have the power to bend it toward justice." Now normally I would ask you to buy the book from me, but I think there is some sort of poetic justice in sending you to this website for the purchase.

From Dambisa Moyo comes How the West was Lost: Fifty Years of Economic Folly--And the Stark Choices Ahead. In this book, this Zambrian-bred economist argues that years of poor policy decisions by the United States have left us with a growing population of unskilled, unemployed and disaffected citizens. One of her arguments is the changing nature of fodder for magazines targeting young boys. Whereas fifty years ago the focus would have been on science and technology, today's kids are given sports and pop culture. Really? No Joe DiMaggio or Babe Ruth? Well, I haven't read it yet, but Moyo's argument is certainly provocative.

The world economy is also the focus of Dani Rodrik's The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy. Whereas Moyo promotes internationalism, Rodrik challenges the conventional wisdom that portrays the advance of globalization as inevitable. His claim is that you can't have globalization, the democratic political process, or the nation state. We can have any two, but not all three. Alan Blinder calls Rodrik globalization's most prominent gadfly.

I think I'm also a gadfly, but I'm not sure of what. Off to sell books at Alverno for Louise Knight and her talk on Jane Addams. Meanwhile, read more about PW's rep of the year, plus our friends to the south, Anderson's were honored with bookseller of the year. Congrats to Naperville's finest. Also Downer's Grove's dreamiest. Or something like that.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What's Going on This Week? Women's History, Mideast History, Bowling History and More.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, March 15) we're co-sponsoring Louise Knight at Alverno College. Her biography of Jane Addams was published on the 150th anniversary of her birth. Here's what noted historian Douglas Brinkley had to say about the book:

“Only superlatives like excellent and elegant can do justice to Louise W. Knight’s fine Jane Addams. Whether Addams was grass-roots organizing, founding Hull House, or fighting for women’s suffrage, she was always an indefatigable warrior. If there was any real fairness in this troubled world Addams would have won three Nobel Peace Prizes instead of one. Highly recommended.”
--Douglas Brinkley, author of The Wilderness Warrior.
The event is at Alverno's Wehr Hall. For more information about the book, visit the author's website.

On Wednesday, we have a double dose of Milwaukeeana at the store. Manya Kaczkowski appears for the release of Milwaukee's Historic Bowling Alleys while noted movie-theater-atician Larry Widen discusses Milwaukee Movie Theaters. Both books are recent publications by Arcadia Publishing.

The event is Wednesday, March 16, 7 PM, at Boswell Book Company. Roberta Wahlers notes that if you can "spare some time", this would be an interesting event to attend. More in the Journal Sentinel.

I've gotten early word on the crowds for Matthew Inman, mastermind of, and they are enormous. Get hear early for his talk/slide show on Five Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth. I've already come up with a case-moving agenda. The talk starts Friday, March 18, 2011, at 7 PM.
Now you can find out:
--Five reasons why pigs are more awesome than you
--The Nine types of crappy handshakes
--How to use an apostrophe
--Five reasons to have rabies instead of babies.

And finally, next Sunday we have Wisconsin Native Scott Korb, whose book Life in Year One: What the World Was Like in First-Century Palestine, has just come out in paperback. Here's an interesting piece from NPR that aired last year. And more in the Journal Sentinel.