Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sophie Hannah in Two Acts, Regarding her Appearance on September 19 at Boswell. Part One: Mystery or Novel?

Part I: The Mystery or the Novel, That is the Question.

I just finished reading my first Sophie Hannah novel. In a sense, The Cradle in the Grave is a traditional mystery series.  There are two detectives, Sgt. Charlotte (Charlie) Zailer and Sgt. Simon Waterhouse, that have appeared in all her novels since Little Face.

Here's the setup. There are three women (perhaps more) who've claimed SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) but may have actually murdered their children.  A production company is working on a documentary that attempts to defend the three, blaming a medical expert who gave the damning evidence. Felicity (Fliss) Benson, one of the staff producers, is given a big promotion when her boss, Laurie Nattrass (a guy, this is British) mysteriously resigns his post.  And everyone is getting these cards with 16 digits in a four-by-four grid.

In another sense, Hannah's novel is anything but traditional.  Like Kate Atkinson and Tana French, Hannah plays with the structure of the mystery novel. For one thing, Hannah takes much longer to play out the crimes, and spends a lot more time developing the characters. Fliss is half in love with her ex-boss Laurie, and this promotion has thrown off her friendship with her once colleague, now laid-off friend, Tamsin. The three accused women, Helen Yardley, Rachel (Ray) Hines, and Sarah Jaggard, all have very different stories.  One of them, Ray, has befriended Judith Duffy, the doctor who testified that the children were murdered.

Until the story settles in, the story begins with several pieces of evidence--a news report, an interview with a suspect, and an excerpt from Helen Yardley's memoir, Nothing but Love.  Yardley is perhaps the most notable of the three cases, having served prison time before having her case reversed, and her memoir is a vital piece of evidence, particularly when (and I'm not giving away anything more than the back jacket copy here) Helen is murdered.

As you know, I often suggest to folks that they read series novels in the order they were written, but there are exceptions. My former colleague Jack always reminded me to start folks reading Lee Child somewhere around book #5 and then let them revisit the older titles later, once they are into the series.

In the case of Sophie Hannah, it's something different.  In many mystery novels, whoever else is in the book, the detective is the true protagonist.  The victim, the accused, the next target, are all secondary.  But Hannah really tries to bring the other characters to the fore; it could be argued that Fliss, the amateur trying to figure out what is going on as the detectives are also piecing together the puzzle, is the real protagonist here.

Having not read psychological thrillers, I wonder if this is one of the hallmarks of the subgenre. Another is the focus on the motivation, and to do this, you really need to develop the backstory more. The Scotsman says it best: "It is the most adept of psychological thrillers, in which--as with Hannah's other novels--the psychosis lying just below the surface of the human personality is exposed." That of course makes the story quite a bit longer--at 450 pages, The Cradle in the Grave is one of the longer mysteries I've read. And unlike some of the other books of that length, it is not one of those rollercoaster-chasey novels. There's a denseness here and if you read too quickly, you'll lose some strands of the plotline.

Much like the three women (Hines, Jaggard, and Yardley) who make up the mothers accused of murdering their children, I am finding threes everywhere connected to Hannah's story.  To my knowledge, this is Hannah's third time in Milwaukee, and we have three readers on Hannah's new novel, which besides me, consists of Sharon and Anne.  Anne's mystery group also read The Dead Lie Down on September 22.  I was hoping to attend, but as folks who read this blog know, I was in Seattle. Want to join our mystery book club?  They meet on the third Monday of each month, at 7 pm.

I've got some reviews for you in threes too.  Here's Rebecca Armstrong in the Independent, meditating on the protagonists, which I have actually spent little time on: "Hannah has given Waterhouse rather more backbone than in his previous outing, even if he and Zailer's engagement is still as dysfunctional as ever. But it's this dysfunction that makes Hannah's characters so human. They're plagued with doubt, embarrassment and regret, living flawed lives as best they can." Read the whole review here.

Jeremy Jehu in the Telegraph posits that "Sophie Hannah has a poet’s eye, and she creates characters and settings of closely observed complexity in her psychological mysteries." More on their website.

I can't find the link, but Hannah has the Daily Express review on her website: "‘When it comes to ingenious plots that twist and turn like a fairground rollercoaster few writers can match Sophie Hannah. This complex and beautifully written tale kept me guessing right till the very last page."

Can I analyze this text any further? Sure I can! That's why tomorrow's blog post is about changing Sophie Hannah's titles for the American market. I've also put together a lovely jacket design for Nothing but Love, Helen Yardley's memoir. And don't forget--Sophie Hannah is at Boswell on Monday, September 19, 7 pm.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday is New-day...Yes, I'm the First One Who Thought of That.

The rhythm of the bookstore gradually adapted over the years with the rise of laydown titles. In the past, books came whenever, and you put them out when you got them.  With the rise of better logistics, most publishers were able to adapt to the system in use by the music and film industries, where most new titles come out on Tuesdays...though Penguin has a two-tier system where the blockbuster releases have a firm Tuesday release while the other titles (generally all our favorites) have a system where you can't put them out before the prior Thursday, but you might not get them until Friday or Monday. It took me about five years to figure out that one.

All books are 20% off in store both in store and by our website, at least through Labor Day.

By far the highest-profile release this week is Tom Perotta's The Leftovers. I've been very excited about the book since it was announced, as he is one of those authors where I've read everything he's published in book form. Yes, including Bad Haircut: Stories of the Seventies.  But with my reading load piled high, and with it including some seriously dense titles that you can't whip through in a day (more on that in another post), I still haven't read it.

Did you need me to read it? No, as it just got the coveted New York Times literary trifecta, which consists of:

All that and a glowing Fresh Air piece with way more to come.  We've got 15 first editions of The Leftovers waiting to be bought.  Come and buy them!

More books out today, both of them a beautiful shade of blue:
What it is Like to Go to War, by Karl Marlantes
Folks are calling this a brilliant book about the Vietnam War, from the author of the bestselling and critically lauded Matterhorn. From Publishers Weekly, Marlantes "reflects in this wrenchingly honest memoir on his time in Vietnam: what it means to go into the combat zone and kill and, most importantly, what it means to truly come home."

A Trick of the Light, by Louise Penny
Let me hand this over to our mystery maven:
"In A Trick of the Light, Clara Morrow's long awaited, hard earned art showing seems to be a wonderful success --until the body of an art critic from her past is discovered in Clara's garden at Three Pines the morning after her celebratory party. As Chief Inspector Gamache investigates, things are less and less straightforward; the light seems to obscure. Just when it seems that Louise Penny can't possible get any better, she does. The sensitivity and compassion in her work make them a joy to experience."

Monday, August 29, 2011

I Contemplate This Week's Events (Ernie Cline, Clark Howard, Music for Aardvarks) from the Comfort of the Sea-Tac Airport

I can't believe that by the time you read this, I will most likely be back in Milwaukee, and probably already at Boswell, staring at a brand new pile of paperwork.  But for now, being that I arrive in Milwaukee at 5 AM and will probably be too tired to write anything for the rest of the day, I'm thinking I should let folks know what's happening on Downer Avenue's premiere (and only) bookstore this week.

We've got two highly anticipated evening events and one morning demo. 

Monday (that's tonight), August 28, 7 pm, we're hosting Ernest Cline and his DeLorean for Ready Player One.  Heck, I wish I had been able to promote this event at Pax Prime, the gaming convention that was going on in Seattle while I was here.  These folks would love the book. I know you've been reading all about it.

Here's our enthusiasm checklist:
--Carole E. Barrowman raves in the Journal Sentinel
--Jim Higgins reminds folks in the Journal Sentinel that Cline wrote the screenplay for the cult classic, "Fanboys." And we jump to the Internet Movie Database.
--Entertinament Weekly  suggests we "give Cline credit for crafting a fresh and imaginative world from our old toy box, finding significance in there among the collectibles."
--And Janet Maslin offers a surprisingly strong (that means mixed positive) recommendation in The New York Times, noting that "With its Pac-Man-style cover graphics and vintage Atari mind-set Ready Player One certainly looks like a genre item. But Mr. Cline is able to incorporate his favorite toys and games into a perfectly accessible narrative.
--There are no caveats in the rave from the AV Club/Onion, positing "Ready Player One borrows liberally from the same Joseph Campbell plot requirements as all the beloved franchises it references, but in such a loving, deferential way that it becomes endearing."

Here's a link to Bookpeople's 80s-tastic event with Cline. We're not wearing our jazzercise outfits, but we are giving away tee shirts.  Mandy, I hope you don't mind that I'm using this photo--blame it on Liz.

If you don't think we love Ready Player One enough, read Stacie's blog piece.


It's just about time for our new season of Music for Aardvarks with Jennifer Murphy-Damm, and imagine that--we're already sold out for our regular fall session on Friday mornings. Ms. Murphy-Damm is taking names on a waiting list, and may have spots available at her other location.

Find out what all the fuss is about. We have a free session of Music for Aardvarks, a program for toddlers and their parental figures, filled with singing and games and many things that get put away aftewards to a bouncy tune, on Tuesday, August 30, at 10:30 am. Can't make that? She'll also be at the Betty Brinn Children's Museum on September 12, also at 10:30.

Another big event for us this Wednesday, August 31, 7 pm. Clark Howard is appearing at the store in conjunction with his new book, Clark Howard's Living Large in Lean Times. The new book is "Clark's ultimate guide to saving money, covering everything from cell phones to student loans, coupon websites to mortgages, investing to saving on electric bills, and beyond. In his candid and friendly next-door-neighbor manner, Clark shares the small, manageable steps everyone can follow to build a path towards independence and wealth." More on his book here.

This event is co-sponsored by AM 620 WTMJ.  Howard airs on WTMJ radio daily, though I think I got the time wrong, as he's moved around a bit on the schedule. I think he is going to start airing from 11 pm to 2 am, according to a recent column from Duane Dudek in the Journal Sentinel. Now you can spend your silky sunset hours grooving with the smooth saver. And for you day owls, you can listen to archived shows here.

Get a signed copy of Mr. Clark's or Mr. Cline's books.  Just order and request an autograph.  Ms. Murphy-Damm will also autograph a book of your choosing. Just ask!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Last Literary Look at Seattle Through the Eyes of University Bookstore--Plus Our Weekly Bestsellers

It's my last day in Seattle and I'm a little sad.  Not because it's going to start drizzling in a month and it won't stop until June.  That's just something old timers used to say to stop people from moving here.  Nobody listened.  And not because I'm going to be on a red eye tonight, groggily recommending Sophie Hannah's The Cradle in the Grave (our event is on September 19th), assuming I finish it on the trip back.

No, it's because I have hardly any time to write this blog post, and in addition to reporting on our weekly bestsellers (Ready Player One is our top fiction title this week, in advance of our event tomorrow), I want to get a word in about my trip to two branches of the University Bookstore in Seattle and Mill Creek.

The store had been remodeled when I had last been there, with a spiffy new logo (so that would have been before 2004) and yet my first emotional impression was of Madison's University Bookstore circa mid 1980s.  Clearly a college bookstore yet with a trade section so extensive (including traffic, with a bustle no less), that it got me a little teary.  Sure it had staff recs and very trend-on gift stuff and they sell Apple product and there's a cafe and well, everything that would confirm that this was indeed 2011.

But tucked in the back was of the second floor was a cashier where you bought gift cards and did things like pay off your account.  A cashier! You can't even find those in department stores anymore.

Plus there was lots of nostalgi-tastic old advertisements tucked away.  This store has been through some great typefaces.  And I'm very grateful that the store gave me a commemorative copy of their first 100 years. It looks great, and they printed it on their EBM (Espresso Book Machine).

I normally buy books at these things, but I wound up buying several pens from their office and art supply area, plus the new Original Toy Company robot that I hadn't yet brought into Boswell. 

Oh, and I also had a blueberry glazed donut at the Top Pot Stand inside the Mill Creek Store, and I also ventured over for an Aztec Chocolate one at Frost, a prototype-y store across the shopping center.

So what did I miss?  Here's what we sold this week at Boswell.

Hardcover fiction:
1. Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
2. The Keeper of Lost Causes, by Jussi Adler-Olson
3. The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson
4. The Bourne Dominion, by Eric Van Lustbader
5. The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larsson

Hardcover nonfiction:
1. 1493, by Charles Mann
2. In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson
3. Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand
4. Cyril Colnik: Man of Iron, by Alan Strekow
5. Dog Sense, by John Bradshw

Paperback fiction:
1. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
2. David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens
3. Montana 1948, by Larry Watson
4. Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay
5. Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese

Paperback nonfiction:
1. Memoir of a Sunday Brunch, by Julia Pandl
2. Summers, by Margot Peters
3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
4. Final Gifts, by Maggie Callahan
5. Life, by Keith Richards

Children's Books
1. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
2. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
3. Me...Jane, by Patrick McDonnell
4. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
5. Out of Sight, by Gervais & Pittau

Don't forgot that all these books are available for sale on our website,, many in both paper and electronic editions.  And on most ebooks, our prices are the same as that tax-hating website, unnamed here.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday Gift Post--Cards and Toys that Came in (or May Have Come in) While I've Been Gone.

Being on the road, it's tough to put together a post of good gift items. I did learn that we did get our new shipment of blue fishy tees. I'm pretty sure we had a couple of special orders for those, so hope that got taken care of. I also heard we had got in some new card orders, which Anne was able to take care of. I am looking forward to seeing the new designs from Ghost Academy.  These $4.95 cards are made from block prints and have a great personality.

Chatting with some of the other booksellers here, one asked what kind of greeting card overstock we had. Aside from about three months ago when I had enough stocked away that I didn't do any orders for about a month, we generally usually have a few week's supply of new items to put out, and we're usually short of something.  Before I left, there were several holes in the congrats/wedding/anniversary/baby case.

Another shipment that I was told arrived were our new and restocked selections from Blue Orange Games. Blue Orange is that French company that makes Gobblet Gobblers, the wooden version of tic tac toe with the "I'm going to eat your game piece" variation.  They've done a great job penetrating bookstores--it seems like any store with even a little amount of nonbook space has brought in some of their line.

In addition to some of the titles we've sold well over the last year, we've brought in two games we didn't have before.  Froggy Boogie is another wooden game that involves frogs racing around lilypads in a pond, while Tell Tale is a tin of circular cards which in packaging matches the popular Spot It. There are several ways to play Tell Tale, but the most involve storytelling.  Imagine having to tell a story based on cards you are dealt.  Competitive storytelling, no less. Amie and I played the game at Book Expo (along with Jenny, one of our kids' book reps) and we had a lot of fun.

And yes, I wrote a couple of ideas down on my trip. One day I'll get them in and then a visiting bookseller can get ideas for their store.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Uncovering the Secrets of Lesley Kagen's Vliet Street Gang of Milwaukee, Plus Another Secret About Reading Event Books--Event is 9/14, 7 pm.

You may have noticed in the last email newsletter that I made reference to Lesley Kagen's new book Good Graces, with perhaps a little too much focus on the Nancy Drew. Ms. Kagen wrote back and noted I wasn't quite on the mark.  It was my flippant nature and noted the Nancy Drew references in the story.  But it struck me that I hadn't done justice to Ms. Kagen's story.  Hey, we're hosting an event at Boswell with Ms. Kagen on Wednesday, September 14. I don't want folks having the wrong expectations for Good Graces.  So what do I do?

There's no other option--the towering pile of books to be read was tossed aside and I moved Good Graces to the tippy top. As you imagine, I wish I could read every book for every event we host, but I'm simply unable to do it. I read about six books a month, and I would say four tie into events.  One of the others is for our in-store lit group and the last one is something that is pretty much picked out of a hat. Out of a hat, yes, but if it's good, you'll no doubt see a blog piece on it someday.

But I digress.  Though I thought we'd have enough local coverage and other reads to read something from an upcoming event that was a bit more orphaned and needy, I had to make sure I had a handle on Kagen's story. And it's true, my Nancy Drew reference couldn't have been farther off the mark. 

The story starts with sisters Sally O'Malley and her sister Margaret "Troo", living on the west side of Milwaukee around 1960. They've already been through a lot of trauma.  They moved off the farm to the city.  Their dad died, and since Troo was playing peek-a-boo with him while he was driving, there are some guilt issues, and Troo is acting out.

Sally's had a better time of it.  It turns out that Mom's new boyfriend Dave the detective is her birth father.  But Troo's taking to calling Mom by her first name and swiping things from stores.

It's not that Sally plays Nancy Drew, mind you, though in both stories, there are a series of crimes, and Sally does come up with a suspect that she attempts to catch him, pretty much going outside the normal channels.  She's got her idea of justice, a child's idea, and I leave it to you to ponder the implications of that.

It's that Kagen in the novel, even moreso than in the first, has taken on the wide-eyed innocence of a child, and sort of plays off that innocence to look at our views of the past. From Happy Days (the fifties through the lens of the seventies and eighties) to the current obsession with some political and religious groups of returning to the good old days, we've been doing this forever.  As long as we are not reminded of the horrors of the past, we tend to idolize it.

But Kagen sees through that and tries to hint at what's really in the viewfinder.  Ethel the African caregiver is hardly accepted in the community and easy to target with wrongdoing.  Father Mickey, whatever he's doing, certainly was a bad egg in the past. The different ethnicities intermingle, but anyone who's not Catholic is an outsider.

What we are drawn to with Sally is that she's both an innocent child and incredibly mature.  She's got a depth of insight into character and is certainly not afraid to embrace the otherness of Wendy Latour, the neighborhood kid with what I assume to be Down Syndrome. She's sees and is comfortable with the differentness of Gary Galecki, and there's a hint of differentness about her pal Mary Lane too. She's not just any kid in the 1950s. She's Nancy Drew, our heroine, the modern astute, brave, open-minded, and empathetic person we all want to someday become. It wouldn't be a bad thing if we could also solve mysteries, but honestly, that's secondary, both to life and this story.

I'm glad to say Sharon also read Good Graces, and what a joy it is to have so many good readers at Boswell. Here are her thoughts on the new novel:

"Who knew that Milwaukee in 1960 could be such a dangerous place? In Lesley Kagen’s follow-up novel to Whistling in the Dark, we find out just how perilous it can be.

"Sally O’Malley and her sister, Troo, are still recovering from the sudden death of their father. Their neighborhood is hit with a string of burglaries, the escape of a bully from reform school, an orphan’s disappearance, and the suspicious behavior of a beloved priest.

"Sally is the voice of this novel, intelligent and funny, but also achingly naïve at times. Milwaukee natives will enjoy all the details of life in this city 50 years ago."

Kagen also let us know that she got a great write-up in Milwaukee Magazine.  Here's just an excerpt:

"Spend happy hours following the O'Malley sisters through the sweltering summer of 1960 on Milwaukee's West Side. This humorous, passionate novel of childhood is full of evocative local detail and the lives of wild, smart children."

Ms. Kagen's events in and around the Milwaukee area for Good Graces:

Thursday, September 1, 7 pm
Next Chapter, Mequon
This is a ticketed release party. Details here.

Tuesday, September 6, 7 pm
Books and Company, Oconomowoc
More with a click.

Our event at Boswell is Wednesday, September 14, 7 pm
2559 N Downer
It is a free event.
If I could find a box of Feeling Good Cookies, I'd bring them.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bookstore Purgatory--A Day in Vancouver, British Columbia

A lot of people equate Seattle and Vancouver, almost like twin cities.  Their weather is similar, their arts scenes are vibrant, and both attract folks not only from the rest of their respective countries, but from around the world.

But as much as Seattle is book heaven, Vancouver is something else entirely. I figured if I simply walked and drove around interesting neighborhoods, I'd find the stores.

But like many vibrant downtowns and their surrounding areas, Vancouver has priced its indie bookstores out of that market.  Sophia Books closed its doors downtown in April of 2010, just months after the legendary Duthie Books (generally ranked #1 in reader surveys) closed in January of that year.

I had read that the manager of Duthie was going to open Sitka Books and Art in a nearby location of the same Kitsilano neighborhood.  But when we drove by, the bookstore in that space (which wound up being named Ardea, due to a nearby skate shop with the same name) had already opened and closed by this past May. Sigh.

That left Blackberry Books on Granville Island. Kirk and I spent the afternoon walking around with my niece Jocelyn's fiancee Chris.  By the time we got to Granville, I had sort of lost track of my agenda.  But what literally distracted me from my search for Blackberry Books was a liter of blackberries that we bought at one of the market stands.  Go figure.  I had been to Blackberry when I last went to Vancouver, which was in 1991, give or take a year.  I learned that the store had renovated about five years ago, cutting out marginal sections, and adding internet service.

Once I remembered we hadn't found Blackberry, it was too late to go back.  But I did know of one more bookstore that we could head to, and it was not too far from The Naam, the popular vegetarian restaurant that we were hoping to visit for dinner. Banyen Books and Sound was located further down on Fourth Avenue, still in the Kitsilano neighborhood.

The store is great looking, nicely shelved with an attentive staff. Your first sensory experience--incense. Sections reminded me ofthe old Transitions Bookstore in Chicago.  Cooking focused on vegetarian, gardening was organic, current events focused on community.  New age, spirituality, and eastern religion sections were enormous, heavily subjected.  The store has such a strong presence, and I could not  help but admire their ability to infuse the entire store with personality. From the kids books to the blank books and cards, to the room filled with gift items, everything was all about spirit.

Really a superb job. There was only one problem--it just wasn't the store for me.  As much as I get antsy about stores that seem to focus overly on fiction, without the books that I love (or at least some of them), it's just not there for me.  Sigh.

So what did that leave?  At least two branches of Chapters, the Canadian equivalent of Barnes and Noble and Borders and Books a Million put together. The product of a merger between Smithbooks (W. H. Smith) and Coles, it was itself merged into Indigo Books and Music.  I don't exactly understand why there are still two nameplates (Coles is used for the smaller stores), especially when the kids' departments are branded Indigo.  Heather Reisman stickers her favorite books at Indigo as Heather's picks, just like at Indigo.  And the centerpiece of the ebook strategy is the Kobo, an also-ran in the U.S., but likely to have a much larger market share in Canada.

The stores are fine, and I'm sure Heather and I would have a fine time talking books.  Though the signage still played up Canadian content, sections were downplayed, compared to when the Chapters stores were separate. 

The selection of new releases was focused.  Room was on several different displays, both in paperback but also in hardcover. Some clever front tables had front and backlist mixed together, titled with intriguing headers like "books to make you think."  I don't think that was the exact title, alas.  It's all from memory. Little Bee was published by Vintage (though with Simon's American jacket, unlike the Canadian hardcover).  The Paris Wife was the only high-profile title I noticed that had a different look from the American edition.

There's one section that brings back memories.  The magazine area was packed to the gills.  I counted 150 copies of the Macleans guides to colleges, but that was soon surpassed by a Vancouver City Guide; I had counted close to 400 copies in stock in at least three different display areas.

But really, the most surprising find was Ann Patchett's State of Wonder as a paperback original. It's not like this was a common thing--The Family Fang (a recent favorite of Stacie) was an Ecco hardcover, just like in the United States. The Patchett was still published by Harper and had an identical jacket.

In the end, my best book moment happened at one of the department stores.  Sears Canada is somewhat more upmarket than its American counterpart, but hardly the Eatons of old. The Hudsons Bay Company is actually American owned; they own Lord and Taylor in the States. And Woodwards is just a memory, carved into the sidewalk, the building torn down and replace by a classroom for Simon Fraser University and some sort of office/condo hybrid.  But at The Bay, we found a history of the Hudsons Bay Blanket, and that confluence of obsessions made it a must purchase.

So that's my story of a detour north of the border.  John (who sells just about all of Canada for Harvard, Yale, and MIT except for Vancouver, Victoria, and Calgary--oops, John just informed me he does sell Calgary, but not Regina) would have told me to check out the UBC bookstore, as most Canadian college stores have more of a commitment to trade sections. I'll have to save that for another visit, when I finally also return to Blackberry.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wandering Around Seattle Bookstores (and Donuts and Ice Cream) Part II--Queen Anne, Third Place Ravenna, Elliot Bay

Situated at the base of Queen Anne in Seattle over a couple of days, I was of course compelled to climb to the top.  Fortunately we had a map of Seattle staircases and I headed up East 2nd, climbing four different staircases and taking one back down to my destination, a Top Pot Donuts on West Galer. Jason and I have ruminated on the joys of a creative donut shop on Downer, which I think hit its peak after we stayed near New York's Donut Plant on a convention trip, but it still periodically comes up.

I wound up tasting five donuts--plain cake (I like purity), blueberry cake, maple-frosted chocolate cake, old fashioned lemon glazed, and another chocolate combo of some sort. As you know, Starbucks had branded some of their donuts Top Pot, but a frozen and defrosted donut is a very different thing from one that at least was made, if not in the shop, then someplace nearby. If you want to know why I am not 300 pounds, I did not actually finish all five.  It was a tasting menu.

Top Pot is not far from Queen Anne Books, our first bookstore of the day.  I had a very nice conversation with Anne (no, not Queen Anne) when she figured out I worked in a bookstore.  How could she not, when every other word to Kirk is "What do you think of this display?" "Is this a good card line?" and so forth. They've done a great job of making their website and ebook options available in the store.  There's strong neighborhood support so I just say this to the Queen Anners--don't just give them lip service, keep buying.

I wound up buying The Hare with Amber Eyes, since I don't have a copy and yet based on the recs from Peter and John and the women from the book club I work with and all the reviews and the Costa Award, we've been selling a lot of copies, both in hardcover and paperback. It seems time to have this book stare at me from the shelves and make me feel guilty for not having read it.

We met up with Carol at the El Diablo Coffee House and headed to Ballard, where we went to the Ballard market and I ate some heirloom tomatoes that scream with flavor and are not mealy or mooshy in the least.  This follows up my two outrageous peaches from Peach o Rama at my new home away from home, The Metropolitan Market on Mercer. Debbie (remember her from yesterday?) had said she missed the Wisconsin corn most of all, but hadn't really known the joys of a peach until she moved to Washington.

In additon to perusing the stalls, Carol led me to some of her favorite home, gift and stationery stores, particularly Camelion Design, her favorite.  She bought some nifty glasses (couldn't find them in the move) and when I realized they were from Roost, I was excited to tell her that I had just picked up this line for the store.  We are going to have some spectacular ornaments this fall, but more on that later, when you care about that sort of thing.  Then we had coffee and quiche at Fresh Flours Bakery.

Off to Ravenna Third Place Books, where new and used mix together in happy coexistence. Airy with lots of recs and very nice stock, and I was quite jealous of their spacious parking lot. Carol and I mused over flat shelves--there are both advantages and disadvantages. If you face books out, you have to use proppers.

We didn't get a chance to talk with anyone (I know some folks from Third Place, but I expected that they'd be at the larger store, and if here, not late on a Saturday afternoon).  Somewhere along the way, Kirk wound up purchasing a copy of Little Bee. When I questioned him on his choice (I think we have a galley and a finished copy), he noted that I was certainly fond of the book and he needed something to read in Seattle, not in Milwaukee where our other books were.  I know, you're going to say something about ebooks traveling with your device. Well, I'm not listening to you.  We wanted to get something from each bookstore and we did.

A little more driving around, and then a visit to Carol's place, where from there, we could walk along Broadway to the new Elliot Bay. Everything I've heard was true--a beautiful space which echoes their old location. Lots and lots of recs. Carol and I talked about Donald Ray Pollack's The Devil All the Time, and she agreed that she should read him (knowing Carl liked it helped the cause).  We started her off on Knockemstiff.  And though she has so many unread books, I felt compelled to give her one of Stacie's favorite new reads, Yannick Murphy's The Call, the story of a large-animal veteranarian in New England and his family.  Let me just say that from what I've read, this is not your parent's James Herriot.

For myself, a copy of Martha Southgate's novel, A Taste of Salt, her novel about a successful scientist who struggles with her less than successful family back in Cleveland.  It's partly because she's working at Book Court and partly because I Lori Tharps recommended it to me and though I have a copy, I never wound up reading her last book.  I'm making amends...because whatever else happens, I bought this one.

Off to Oddfellows with Kirk, Carol, and Jason, touted by Carol and also recommended by our friend John, who was, until he took over Canada, a Pacific Northwest rep.  A little Molly Moon's ice cream, also recommended by Carol (and had the salted caramel, also recommended), and you'd have to say this day was about as bookish as  you can get.

Don't worry--I'm not going to document my every move on this trip.  But I still haven't been to University Bookstore, and there is Vancouver, BC to come.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Wandering Around Seattle Bookstores Part One--a Phoenix in the Lower Queen Anne

I'm in Seattle for a meeting with other bookstores later in the week.  I came in early with Kirk to spend a few days wandering around the city, with a side trip to see my niece and her fiance in Vancouver.  This is my first visit here with light rail available, so needless to say, we had to use it.  The Light Rail Link took us downtown, after which we elevatored to the monorail. The deserved-toued-on-Trip-Advisor Maxwell Hotel was a short distance from the Seattle Center, in the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood.

Off to Mercer Street Books, whose open windows siren songed me over. It's a second-hand store, pristinely organized, filled with riches. We were going to meet our friend and my former boss Carol, who recently located there from Milwaukee. I found a copy for her of Seeing Seattle, a book of walking tours, but like one of my favorite travel guides, Seeing Pittsburgh, filled with history, culture and interesting sidebars. It was also 20 years old, which I often find makes the book even more interesting, particularly in a city like Seattle with so much growth.

Wandering down the aisle, I caught eye of Nicholas Basbanes's Every Book Its Reader.  I remembered that this was the book that ruminated on the legacy of David Schwartz and the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops. Of course I had to take a picture of the two books together.  But the coincidences didn't end there.

As I was setting up my shot, Debbie (who turned out to be the owner) came over and I said, "I know you want to hear the story about why I'm doing this" and she said, "Yes, I do."  So I'm discussing how cool it is to see Carol's past and present on one bookshelf, and she (Debbie) seems unusually knowlegeable about the whole thing.

And yes, Debbie's from Milwaukee.  I know this is not unusual--Amie just went to Boston and started talking to someone in a hardware store who not only turned out to be a metropolitan Cream Citier, but also was leaving the next day to vacation in the small town where Amie's grandmother lives. But still, it was the first person I talked to on the trip where I had any sort of conversation except "I'm checking in and here is my credit card."

And to be precise, our new bookselling friend is from West Allis, where I had just been the day previously, bringing posters and a copy of The Unwanteds to the West Allis Library, who is hosting Lisa McMann with us on Thursday, September 22, 4 pm.  Catch all our library events on this earlier post, why don't you?

And what Debbie didn't tell me is that she took over the business only a year and a half ago; it was previously the larger Twice Sold Tales. She cleaned the place up, curated the selection, and added some low-key but friendly and knowledgeable service; her reviews on various websites are deservedly enthusiastic about the whole thing. I think one person said, I'll cross town to shop at Mercer Street Books, now the best used bookstore in Seattle. I paraphrase, but still.

That's a whole lotta rebirthing going on.  I guess that happens to all these midwesterners in the great northwest.  But don't worry, I'm not moving here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Margot Peters to Read From Her Memoir in Letters, "Summer", on Wednesday, August 24, 7 pm, at Boswell.

With me gone for the week, we've kept our event schedule to a manageable load. There's just one event this week, but it's a local favorite with a nice theatrical addition.

Margot Peters is well-known for her biographies. I remember our event at Schwartz for Design for Living: Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine, but her legacy also includes May Sarton, The House of Barrymore, and Unquiet Soul: A Life of Charlotte Brönte.

It turns out that Peters has her own story to tell, and it starts on Bradford Beach where two young lovers meet in 1949. Jennie McAllister (Ms. Peters) and Rob Falkner (who prefers to remain anonymous) connect. "What harm is there in writing letters?," one asks, and so the correspondence starts up when Rob goes back to Des Moines and Jennie attends Downer Seminary (UWM).

Their relationship continues for over a decade, and Peters has collected and edited the correspondence into Summers: A True Love Story. On Wednesday, August 24, 7 pm, Peters will appear with beloved local actors Ruth Schudson and Dan Mooney for a special dramatic reading. Stacie hopes to see you there.

(And don't forget about Peters's new biography of Lorine Niedecker, coming later this fall.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What's Selling This Week at Boswell? It's Not Every Week That You Can See My Favorites Represented So Aggressively...

This week we have a very large book club that picks their titles annually, who are coming in to buy their selections. Usually I work with a theme of their choice, but this year they decided to Daniel's picks. Not all books sell the same because some people already have some of the titles, some folks don't come to all the meetings, and some books have extra sales during the week.  We sold a couple of extra Slap, for example, from my plug on the Kathleen Dunn show.  And yes, we also sold our in-stock Middlemarch that as well.

Paperback fiction:
1. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
2. The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas
3. Day for Night, by Frederick Reiken
4. Tinkers, by Paul Harding
5. A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True, by Brigid Pasulka
6. Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay
7. A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
8. Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese
9. Montana 1948, by Larry Watson
10. The All of It, by Jeannette Haien

Jason just told me "One Day" got bumped to The Oriental from the Downer, but as you can see, we've still got "Sarah's Key."

Paperback nonfiction
1. Half a Life, by Darin Strauss
2. The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edwin de Waal
3. Amazing Grace, by Kathleen Norris
4. The Trial of the Haymarket Anarchists, by Timothy Messer Kruse
5. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

Another book club success has been Kathleen Norris's Amazing Grace. Our Penguin rep wondered what was going on. It's just one large group, and they are physical book buyers who are mostly choosing the bookstore. Go figure!  Oh, and thank you.

Hardcover fiction:
1. The Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles
2. The Magician King, by Lev Grossman
3. Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
4. Turn of Mind, by Alice LaPlante
5. The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan (we're finally out of the bloody stain covers)

Yes, the blockbuster twins (Grossman and Duncan) have become a trio with the release of Ready Player One. Or rather, the trio's third tentpole switches out--this is our first week without George R.R. Martin in our top five. Our pop on Alice LaPlante is at least partly of national origin--the book is #27 on the New York Times print hardcover bestseller list.  Congrats!

Hardcover nonfiction:
1. Architect for Art: Max Gordon, edited by David Gordon and Nicholas Serota
2. Elvis Presley: Reluctant Rebel, by Glen Jeansonne, David Luehrssen, and Dan Sokolovic
3. In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson
4. 1493, by Charles C. Mann
5. It's All About the Dress: What I Learned in Forty Years about Men, Women, Sex, and Fashion, by Vicki Tiel

Vicki Tiel is the woman who is responsible for the miniskirt and Elizabeth Taylor's caftan. Oh, she would be a good guest judge on Project Runway to promote the book, wouldn't she?

Kids' Books
1. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
2. On the Night You Were Born, by Nancy Tillman
3. The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, by Jeanne Birdsall

For this list, I merged both editions of On the Night You Were Born, as I did for The Help.  I could probably locate all the other movie tie in and dual kids editions and rework the list, but you want me to get this out the same week  I run the numbers, right?

All titles available on our website (I highlighted a few), many also as ebooks and many of those at prices comparable to other retailers.  Visit our website for more information.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saturday Gift Post--A Side Trip to Little Monsters, Just a Hop and a Skip from Boswell

Not much exciting has come in this week that I can put out on the sales floor right away.  We received two more Christmas card orders, and several more cartons of fall stuff. What's on tap?  Well, a lot of apples and ravens and zombies, actually.

But what was more exciting this week was the opening of Andie Zacher's new kids' shop, Little Monsters, just a few blocks away on 2445 N Farwell Avenue, just below Dewan Dental.  Stacie had let me know that their soft opening was on Wednesday, and knew I'd want to check it out, particularly since I've been salivating over how beautifully the space is coming together for the last few weeks.

It's such a joyful store.  That shade of green can't help but make you smile.  The fixtures are so clever and there are lots of whimsical elements that you know I'm a big fan of.  Andie's years working at Boutique Bebe gave her a sense of what her customers want...she's taken what was great about the old store and added her personality, plus a variety of price points.  I was delighted to buy a Sky Bar from her candy rack to snack on. 

Kid Clothing is her specialty, but she's got some great toys and accessories too (and yes, some books).  Our selections are complimentary. Like Lynn at Beans, I can tell we are drawn to the same kinds of things--I'm pushing for Andie to buy the Rich Frog monster booties.  I would say, however, that aside from the Mudpuppy basics (magnetic dolls, puzzles, and flip and draw books), our stock does not overlap too much.  As we both agreed, we're not right next to each other and our customer bases do not fully overlap either.

Of course we're actually hoping they overlap more.  That's why I'm writing this blog piece--so you can check the place out and buy some great kid stuff. I'm not giving you the whole story of how it came together however; this story deserves a big-time story. 

Little Monsters is open 10 to 5:30 Monday through Saturday, plus extra hours on Tuesday evening until 7 pm. Their phone number is 414-964-2323 and you can find a bit more on the Little Monsters website.

Friday, August 19, 2011

This Burns My Heart--The Korean Immigrant Narrative Reworked by Samuel Park (who visits Boswell on September 7)

Immigrant family stories, whether as memoir or adapted into novels, are driven by the American dream. It's a trying business, and in a sense, it's all about trying.

1. The first generation tries to survive.
2. The second generation tries to forget.
3. And the third generation tries to remember.

There are variations of course. The poor acclimate differently from the wealthy, and usually need a few more generations.  There are those who are political refugees who yearn to return.  Somtimes they do, but other times they find that their kids don't want to come along.

It seems of late that the literary culture that is most on the upswing has been South Korea. From Janice Y. K. Lee (The Piano Teacher) to Eugenia Kim (The Calligraphers Daugher) to Kyung Sook Shin (Please Look after mom), Korean novelists are reaching new heights of acclaim, and I am not even thinking about two of my favorite writers whom I've been reading for a number of years--Chang-rae and Don Lee (not brothers to Janice, or rather, only siblings in talent-ness).

Even spouses are getting into the act, with Ben Ryder Howe’s My Korean Deli, where Howe followed his wife and Mom into the business of running a Brooklyn deli.  I think it's going to take another generation for writers to tackle the restauranting and dry cleaning and other entrepreneurial pursuits of new American arrivals.  For now, it's the stories of the homeland that resonate, and that's what Samuel Park has chosen to write about in his new novel, This Burns my Heart.

Samuel Park’s story takes the hallowed traditional road of a woman who has to overcome a number of odds for success. And Soo-Ja Choi has given herself a particularly tall challenge, as she wants to be a diplomat.  You've got to have just the right kind of husband to allow that.  And just to be clear, the option of not marrying isn't available.

She picks a snappy dresser from a well-off wealthy family, willing to do anything for her.  But then she meets an earnest doctor and she's got to make a choice.  Well guess what?  She makes the wrong one. She's been lied to on several fronts. The family's finances are teetering.  Her new husband turns out to be lazy, but hardly docile.

Oh, and the love of her life that she turned down?  He turns out to be a real catch.

Now many folks at this point would accept fate, but not Soo-Ja.  And folks that had the can-do spirit would be looking to America for their salvation. But Park turns the immigrant narrative on its head; Soo-ja has not intention of leaving her homeland and plans to make her fortune in Seoul.  And in a sense, the story is of twin meteoric rises in fortunes--of the Koreans in the United States and of South Korea itself.

Park captures South Korea in all its rich culture, at a time of great economic upheaval.  Using a traditional fiction framework, he balances poignancy and "unabashed melodrama" (I'm referencing a quote because I couldn't say that better), adding some sly, modern winks along the way. I really enjoyed This Burns my Heart, but I do warn you that Soo-Ja is both a tough cookie with some serious judgment issues. She's not always the most sympathetic heroine.  But the strength of a great novelist is to present a character with flaws and make you love her anyway. And that Park does.

Advance reviews were very strong, and there have been a number of powerful recommendations from other writers. 

"This Burns my Heart is at once a passionate and sensitve love story and a fascinating historical novel set against the cultural dislocations of a rising South Korea.  In his heroine Soo-ja, Samuel Park has created an emotionally resonant character that readers will root for and long remember."
--John Burnham Schwartz

"Quietly stunning--a soft, fierce story that lingers in the mind.  Samuel Park is a deft and elegant writer; this is a very exciting debut (novel)."
--Audrey Niffenegger

"Samuel Park's astonishing novel, This Burns my Heart, povides mesmerizing perspective into the life of a Korean wife and lover--intricate and intimate as only a woman's secret life can be."
--Jenna Blum

"The emotional world of the heroine, Soo-Ja, is beautifully realized; I found myself caught up in her dramas from start to finish, and was reluctant to part with her at the novel's close.  A lovely, romantic, haunting book."
--Sarah Waters.

Yes, I know, pretty great quotes, and I had my pick of a half dozen more.

I've had a few email interactions with Mr. Park and have found him quite charming. This is a good thing for all of us, as he is reading at Boswell on Wednesday, September 7, 7 pm, traveling up from Chicago where he is currently teaching.  I'm hoping to get the word out about this wonderful novel and author who has added another important chapter to the novel of immigrant experience.

It's been a little tougher than some of my other cultural events (Paolo Giordano and Oliver Pötzsch come to mind) as the author is not reading in Korean. We've been trying to do outreach to several organizations, but I still need more help.  Perhaps Mr. Park does know how to speak Korean? It seems to be a draw.  Eh, probably not.

Help us get the word out. If you know someone who might be interested, send them this blog's link.  Much thanks, and see you at Boswell on the 7th of September.