Friday, September 30, 2011

Unpacking, Stacking, New Couching...

1. We got a new shipment of animal banks.  I find it interesting that it is hard to get blue designs in and when there's a new color, several animals appear in the new hue in question.  The two trends I noticed in this batch were a mauve (sort of a dusty purple) and a maroon.

2. We're slowly stocking up on holiday titles where we think we might have a problem with stock.  The problem is that if we put everything on the floor now, it will look stale by December.  So yes, we got five more copies of Modernist Cuisine.

3. If you look carefully, you can see extra copies of The Louvre also hidden away. Amie's got copies of Wonderstruck in overstock.

 4. We bought a new couch to replace the fouton, which we are selling to a customer.  Who knew it was a coveted model?  Since I have yet to spend an overnighter in the store, it seems like a portable bed isn't necessary.  And it's also very, very heavy to move, and we move furniture for the events at least a couple of times per week. 

I'll post a picture when it arrives.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

In the "I Could Tell You Stories" Department...

Today I'm writing from the selling floor, as my battery died on the laptop I take back and forth between home and office. My battery has slowly losing its charge over the course of the year and a half since I've owned it, going from about two hours to one.  One of my booksellers told me that he's at the point that his laptop dies as soon as its unplugged.

I don't know the state of everybody else's batteries, but I thought about it when reading this story of Starbucks covering up outlets in some of their busy New York stores.  It's one of those things that's tricky to me--I use my laptop in coffee shops too, but I also have often been frustrated by the lack of a table at places with no restrictions. My rule is that I sit at the smallest table possible and buy something once an hour (I also don't work during rushes, generally 11-2), but it seems to be the case that people don't have that inner compass. I don't have to look far; since the Starbucks free wifi extended into Boswell, we have folks who spend all day in our store working.

We're generally not so busy that it's an issue, but I've taken to talking to folks who use our plugs, asking them to buy something from us in order to use our electricity.  Honestly, most folks look at me like I'm crazy--I had a fellow (I can't call him a customer because the way the story ended) walk around the store for almost ten minutes before he left empty handed, noticing a table open up next door.

We plugged the outlets, and people just remove them. 

My favorite story was a woman who moved a couch about ten feet, into a traffic aisle, because her extension plug couldn't reach.

The thing is, I'm still resistant to signs.  Offenders just ignore them, and for everyone else, it sort of ruins the friendly ambience of the store. I think about this as we've had a run of destroyed books in kids, sticker books destoryed, magnetic doll kit opened and played with, pop-up books unwrapped and destroyed. No, gentle controntation is usually the only good method, and sometimes that can go awry.

Coming up--the dirty diaper left in one of our cabinets until the stench became unbearable.


Book of the day for me is Mark Bowden's Worm: The First Digital World War.  I haven't read it, I'm petrified by it, but I'm also fascinated by it. The Conficker malware has infected over 12 million computers worldwide. Despite being up to date on our virus protection, not only am I sure we have it, but I suspect our computers have been relegated to some sad grunt-work task.

The idea is that the world's super computer has been built by linking together devices into botnets.  This somehow tied into a feature on this week's On the Media about hacking.  For some reason, I heard it three times, twice in the car and once online. The media doesn't really understand what hacking is, calling things like guessing someone's password a hack.  It isn't! Now I know better.  If I get around to reading Mr. Bowden's new book, I'll know even more.  And yet still be thoroughly unprepared, alas.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Another Email Newsletter Goes Out, and I Think About How Different Marketing Was at the Bookstore in the Past.

I was talking to Liz at Little, Brown getting our details together about Stacy Schiff's event for Cleopatra: A Life at the Milwaukee Public Library's Centennial Hall next Tuesday (October 4, 7 pm, free, buy tix to the Cleopatra exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum here).  She mentioned it would be nice for her to be able to put a note in her email newsletter saying she can't reply because she's working.  Needless to say, that's something you can't do at a big publisher.  Isn't it great being a little bookstore?

That said, I find that while the email is up, I can't get much else done.  I'm so glad Stacie is managing our Twitter deck because it just seems all-consuming to me.  I'm trying to remember what my life in the bookstore was like twenty years ago.  We had computerized our inventory at most of the stores before I started.  The Grand Avenue Schwartz get their inventory once a week on a fiche (plastic sheet that you read through a magnifier), which was also the way we checked stock from our wholesalers. We did our ordering through phone, though I actually did mail orders to sales reps in the 1980s.  With a stamp and everything. 

Folks still complain that we don't send out enough print newsletters, and if we had a little more time, we might do three instead of the two we do per year.  But there was a time that Schwartz sent out ten newsletters a year. Between the postage and the printing, the costs were quite high, which is why we got aggressively into using coop funds.  But that newsletter was only around for about 15 years.  When I started, there was no customer newsletter and our holiday catalog was a package that we purchased. We used an agency for ads and they had to be laid out with advance book jackets we'd receive from the publisher.

With my comments on Just my Type in the newsletter, one of our customers wrote back, saying she loved the book, and hadn't seen the website.  She in turn told me about the Hamilton Wood Type and Print Museum in Two Rivers.  She's attending the Wayzgoose type conference in November.  It's sold out, but there's a waiting list. Oh, to think about setting type for a book old school. It wasn't really that long ago. 

No comment on the rate of change and all that. Here's this week's email newsletter.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Banned Book Bracelets, and What's Going on This Week at Boswell.

Confession--we don't have a "banned book week" display this year. Between our event displays and other programming displays, plus the tables needed for calendars and other stuff, we simply ran out of room.  My apologies, and I hope to do a better job in 2012.

We did bring in the banned book bracelets that many indie bookstores are selling. Anne had gotten one as a gift several years back, and when she showed it to me, I agreed that we could try carrying them.  They come in two sizes--the smaller icons are mostly young adult novels. A percentage of sales goes to ABFFE (the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression).

Meanwhile, you're probably wondering what's going on at Boswell this week, aside from our Patrick Carman event at the Greenfield Public Library, which I wrote up yesterday. We've got four other great events at the bookstore.  Pardon me for a little paraphrasing and hats off to Stacie, who originally compiles this info for our press release.

Wednesday, September 28, 7:00 pm:
Mary Bergin, author of Sidetracked in the Midwest: A Green Guide for Travelers.

Did you know there is a Prairie Chicken Festival in Stevens Point every spring? Or that bicycles Lance Armstrong rode in seven Tour de France wins can be viewed at Trek’s headquarters in Waterloo?

Sidetracked in the Midwest features such wondrous, intriguing places as these Wisconsin novelties, and more, all grouped into four categories of ecotourism: food and drink, lodging and retreats, nature and wildlife, the old and the new. Whether you want to visit a Michigan art park, observe wolves and bears in Ely, Minnesota, or swing on ropes inside St. Louis’ City Museum, Bergin gathers together an eclectic mix of green nooks and crannies bound to educate, entertain and enrich with a conscience.

Mary Bergin is an award-winning travel photographer and writer who roams the globe but specializes in the Midwest, especially Wisconsin. Her work appears in AAA Living, Wisconsin Trails, USA Today, and DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. Bergin is also the author of two previous travel books, Sidetracked in Wisconsin and Hungry for Wisconsin.

Thursday, September 29, 7 pm:
Larry Watson, author of America’s Boy, Montana 1948 and numerous other novels.

We meet Matthew Garth in the fall of 1962, when the shooting of a young woman on Thanksgiving Day sets off a chain of unsettling events in his small hometown of Willow Falls, Minnesota. Matthew first sees Louisa Lindahl in Dr. Dunbar’s home office, and at the time her bullet wound makes nearly as strong an impression as her unclothed body. Fueled over the following weeks by his feverish desire for this mysterious woman and a deep longing for the comfort and affluence that appears to surround the Dunbars, Matthew finds himself drawn into a vortex of greed, manipulation, and ultimately betrayal.

“Larry Watson’s latest book, American Boy, may be his best yet. With the patient skill of a seasoned writer, Watson tells an engaging coming-of-age story of a young man in Willow Falls, Minnesota during the 1960s. Youthful passions, heartbreaks, loyalties and moral uncertainties are all rendered in vivid color.” —David Rhodes, author of Driftlesa.

And this from Carl: "A true, realistic, and intelligent novel of a teen-aged Minnesota boy in the early 1960s, in which a woman with a gunshot wound captures young Matthew Garth's imagination and continues to hold it in a fierce grip. Young Matthew first encounters Louisa Lindahl in the office of the town doctor, at whose home he spends much of his time. Along the way, Matthew endeavors to work his way into Louisa's affections, while pursuing typical teenage pursuits with Johnny Dunbar, the doctor's son. While Matthew ultimately finds out the answers to most of the questions he has about this mysterious young woman, many of these answers aren't the ones he wants. Watson does a wonderful job of peering under the masks of these small town folks and helping us see what their real selves are."

Larry Watson is the author of seven widely acclaimed novels, including the best-selling Montana 1948, which was awarded the Milkweed National Fiction Prize and a Best Book citation by the American Library Association, short-listed for the IMPAC Dublin International Award, and published in ten foreign editions. Montana 1948 was recently chosen as the official selection of the inaugural Shorewood Reads community book program. Larry Watson lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he is a visiting professor of English and creative writing at Marquette University.

Montana 1948 has been chosen as the Shorewood Reads selection for fall 2011, and Watson will be speaking about the book on Wednesday, October 5, at the Shorewood Public Library, at both 3 pm and 7 pm. Visit their website here.

Friday, September 30, 7 pm:
Martin Hintz, author of A Spirited History of Milwaukee Brews and Booze.

Crack open this comprehensive history of Brew City booze. Explore Milwaukee's "rum holes," discover how the city weathered Prohibition and which Jones Island sported the longest mustache. Copy down the best recipe involving Sprecher Special Amber, Rainbow Trout and sauerkraut. Sample the rich heritage of Pabst, Schlitz, Gettelman and Miller--the folk who turned Milwaukee into the Beer Capital of the World. And save some room for the more recent contributions of distillers and craft brewers who continue to make the city an exciting place for the thoughtful drinker.

Martin Hintz has been a freelance writer since 1975, after seven years with The Milwaukee Sentinel as an editor and reporter. Founder and publisher of The Irish American Post, he is also the author of hundreds of articles for major newspapers and magazines including American Archaeology, Milwaukee Magazine, National Geographic World, Chicago Tribune, New York Post, Midwest Living, The Writer, Home & Away, and the Wisconsin Academy Review. Hintz has authored or edited nearly 100 books about Milwaukee and Wisconsin, including Wisconsin Cheese, Got Murder, Celebrate the Legend: 25 Years of IrishFest, and several titles on the Images of Milwaukee series.

Saturday, October 1, 3 pm:
Sebastian Barry, Man Booker Prize shortlisted (and for the current novel, longlisted)author of On Canaan’s Side.

A lyrical writer of Irish novels often based on his own family’s history, Barry’s work steadily receives glowing critical praise and he has twice been nominated for the Man Booker Prize. A fictionalized account of Barry’s own great-aunt’s life, On Canaan’s Side is no exception. Mike Fischer, in a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel review, calls it “gorgeously written.”

Carl, one of Boswell’s own booksellers, describes and praises On Canaan’s Side:

“After her grandson dies by his own hand, a grief-stricken elderly woman chronicles her life in exile in the U.S. while trying to decide if she can go on. Lily Bere's journal of events and emotions thrillingly carries the reader through the different eras of 20th-century America, with all the accompanying details of language and mores. In a style that's both personal and inclusive, Lily's account also vividly captures her life in Revolutionary Ireland before being forced to flee for her life with her husband. This great novel is the best book I've read by the gifted Sebastian Barry, which is saying quite a lot.”

And, bookseller Sharon writes “It is by turns heartbreaking and funny. A fascinating read from an author who is a master of language and storytelling.”

Dublin-born Sebastian Barry is author of numerous plays, poetry collections, and novels, including Annie Dunne, The Secret Scripture and A Long, Long Way, the latter short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. His awards include the Irish-America Fund Literary Award, the London Critics Circle Award, The Kerry Group Irish Fiction Prize, and Costa Awards for Best Novel and Book of the Year.

It's a good week for Carl!

Monday, September 26, 2011

What Have I Gotten Myself Into Now? Exploring the Weirdest Hotel in the World with Patrick Carman, at Greenfield Public Library, 9/27, 4 pm.

Patrick Carman is not just a very talented writer; you can see ideas shooting out of him like electric bolts. He has worked in advertising, game design, and technology.  He's got so many different books from so many different series that Pam and I had to come up with new and unique ways to fit them all into our purchase form that we give to parents when we host school events.

And I'm happy to say that we're hosting Carman at a public event too; he's appearing at the Greenfield Public Library tomorrow, Tuesday, September 27, at 5310 West Layton Avenue.  Like all our library events, it's free. We'll  have lots of Mr. Carman's books for sale*, but the ones we are focusing on our 3:15 Season One: Things that Go Bump in the Night, a book of horror stories that were originally available as an phone app (did I mention those idea bolts?) and Floors, the first book in a series about the craziest hotel in the world.

Since I am of a delicate disposition, I was more attracted to Floors, which is what I believe to be the first volume of a new series for middle graders.  The hotel is the Whippet, and it's in New York City, though I'm not entirely sure where.  It's owned by Merganzer Whippet, who built this hotel and filled it with crazy rooms like the Cake Room, The Pinball Room, and the Flying Farm Room. 

Only one problem.  Merganzer has disappeared, and the hotel is now being run by the manager, Mrs. Sparks, and she is very mean.  She'll be the death of Clarence Fillmore, the maintenance man, and his son Leo.  And goodness, but the hotel seems to be falling apart--the koi ponds are leaking and the cakes in the Cake Room are melting, and well, the robots in The Robot Room are bothering Theodore Bump so he can't get his writing done--he uses nine different pen names, don't you know? The place is falling apart, which might be the doing of the mysterious Bernard Frescobaldi and his assistant, Milton. Yeeks.

But then Leo comes into a strange note that leads him on a series of quests to collect more information about what's happening to the hotel, solving riddles, finding boxes, and who knows what else, all rather fun and a little bit dangerous.  Leo befriends the new bellboy, Remi, who's filling in for the summer--his mom is a maid at the Whippet, so they can travel in from Staten Island together.

It's all quite fun, a new variation on any number of books where kids have to unlock a series of riddles. And there's the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory iconography, where earnest working-class boy connects to wacky industrialist.  But oddly enough, the book that most came to my mind as a comparison was Steven Millhauser's Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer, that novel from the 1980s that went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.  It's also the story of an American fortune sunk into a crazy hotel in New York.  Though I read that book more than ten years ago (oops--I originally wrote 20, my apologies), it immediately came to mind. 

So I now pronounce Floors to be Martin Dressler for kids.  Well, at least the first volume; perhaps volume two will remind me more of The Remains of the Day.

*Here are some of the series Mr. Carman is known for:
1. Skeleton Creek
2. Trackers
3. Land of Elyon
4. Atherton.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What's Selling This Week--This Week's Events and Next Week's Events, a High-Profile Graphic Novel, and Lot and Lots of Chad Harbach.

Every week when I put together the bestseller lists, the hardest part is scanning titles to determine what is fiction and what is nonfiction. Several years ago I changed a lot of our categories, such as the various mystery and science fiction sub-categories, so that they would all start with "F" in our category codes, but there are still some areas like poetry and humor, where the factual narrative and story intermingle, let alone blur. And since Boswell has opened, I have been hankering for a day when we were selling a graphic novel (code PGR) that would hit our list.  And it finally happened with the new book from the author of Blankets.

Hardcover fiction:
1. The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
2. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
3. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern (reserve a signed copy*)
4. The Leftovers, by Tom Perrotta
5. American Boy, by Larry Watson
6. A Trick of the Light, by Louise Penny
7. Readme, by Neal Stephenson
8. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
9. On Canaan's Side, by Sevastian Barry (reserve a signed copy))
10. Dead Reckoning, by Charlaine Harris

Two upcoming events also make the list--Larry Watson on September 29, 7 pm, and Sebastian Barry on October 1, 3 pm. Gioia Diliberto, who visited yesterday for Paris Without End, the biography of Hadley Hemingway, oohed when I mentioned Barry in my upcoming events shpiel.

Oh, and speaking of Gioia Diliberto, anyone who has read The Paris Wife will absolutely want to read Paris Without End as well, the true story behind the novel. And note to other booksellers, it was a very nice sized crowd of 25 for a twenty-year-old biography, and it brought in people who bought other things. We received a number of compliments afterwards, which is always a good thing. I might discuss this in another blog post.

Hardcover nonfiction:
1. 1493, by Charles C. Mann
2. Here Comes Trouble, by Michael Moore
3. The Swerve, by Stephen Greenblatt
4. In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson
5. Confidence Men, by David Suskind

And right after that is the Cleopatra hardcover, meaning I have to go back and get more hardcovers for our event--don't worry, I have a huge amount of paperbacks. Jason was wondering about Stephen Greenblatt's book subtitled "How the World Became Modern" but since we sold through pretty much all our initial order in the first week, I think we can safely say it's a hit.  Greenblatt is a professor at Harvard (what bestselling serious nonfiction author isn't?) and editor of the Norton Shakespeare.

Paperback fiction:
1. The Secret Scripture, by Sebastian Barry (get a copy signed!)
2. A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
3. Blackout, by Connie Willis
4. Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese
5. Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay

In a weakish week for softcover sales of a fictional flavor, our bestselling book was beloved backlist from Barry, who is signing next Saturday (October 1, 3 pm). 

Paperback nonfiction:
1. Paris Without End, by Gioia Diliberto (signed copies available)
2. Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff (and we can get one signed of this too)
3. Yarn, by Kyoko Mori
4. A Spirited History of Milwaukee Brews and Booze, by Martin Hintz
5. Paris Paris, by David Downie

Our event with Stacy Schiff is at the Milwaukee Public Library's Centennial Hall, Tuesday, October 4, 7 pm. Martin Hintz is also speaking, but at Boswell, this Friday, September 30, 7 pm. And David Downie's book is yet another title popping off the Paris table. 

Hardcover Children's  Books:
1. The Unwanteds, by Lisa McMann (signed copies available)
2. Torn, by Margaret Peterson Haddix (likewise)
3. Cryer's Cross, by Lisa McMann
4. Wonderstruck, by Bryan Selznick
5. Every Thing On It, by Shel Silverstein

Event books yes, but high profile releases too. Selznick's novel is the long-awaited follow-up to The Invention of Hugo Cabret, while Silverstein's is his posthumous collection of unpublished poems and art.

The kids' picture books list has a lot of large numbers but the top five are all titles from Margaret Peterson Haddix, #1 being Found, the first title in the Among the Missing series, and #2 being Among the Hidden, the first title in the Shadow Children series.  You have to go all the way to #13 to find a title that is not Margaret Peterson Haddix or Lisa McMann, which would be Neil Gaiman's Blueberry Girl. And no, I don't expect Gaiman to do a school event with us in the near future. Sigh.

Don't forget that all books are available on our website, and many are also available as ebooks as competitive prices, as long as you're not using a Kindle.

*Morgenstern will be at Next Chapter on Tuesday, October 4, and at Books and Company's Oconomowoc Arts Center (north on the Summit Avenue exit on 94) on Wednesday, October 5, but she will be signing stock at Boswell and we can reserve one for you.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Saturday Gift Post, Halloween Edition, Part One--Ravens.

There doesn't ever seem to ever be enough time to do anything in the store.  Today we already used an underutilized magazine display to make a football/baseball display, what with the success of the Brewers and high hopes for another great Packers season.

We filled in some event display holes last night, and checked through our "new in hardcover" display case to make sure we had the right titles, and that old titles had been unmarked from our inventory system. There's a new display up about the Big Read program, which is a whole season of events themed around To Kill a Mockingbird.  I suspect we'll have another post soon that is totally dedicated to that subject.

But it's Saturday, and that means a gift post.  I noted the apple-filled fall table, but I decided to not be too literal this year and fill our Halloween table with ravens, since that seems to be a popular icon that covers not just Halloween but fall too.  We have flying raven fingerpuppets--yes, I spent a lot of this week hanging fishing line.

We have raven mugs.  I don't have the expectations of the owl mugs that we reordered aggressively and sold through successfully, but I can already tell that they are a bigger hit than the watering can mugs of the spring.  No question about it--it's not easy being a mug store.

And in the centerpiece, some sparkly ravens made out of I don't know what.  I'm thinking they are pretty swell (Sharon agrees) and should keep a house Halloweenesuqe, Edgar Allan Poe style.

There's another component to our Halloween, but I need to get a few events finalized first. Should be all set by next week. Meanwhile, I have to figure out how to display our banned book bracelets.

Friday, September 23, 2011

So Many Book Tie-ins Regarding the Local Arts Scene I Don't Know Where to Begin...How About the Milwaukee Film Festival?

As you all know, the Milwaukee Film Festival is going on from now through October 2, at the Oriental and Downer Theatres in Milwaukee, the North Shore Cinemas in Mequon, and the Ridge Cinemas in New Berlin.

When I was chatting with Ghazal from Milwaukee Film about our event with our Patrick McGilligan last month, she mentioned there was at least one event that she knew we'd be excited about getting behind.  For how could Boswell resist a documentary about the foremost translator of Dostoevsky from Russian into German?  It's called "The Woman with Five Elephants" and it will have two screenings during the festival, on Friday, September 30, 4:45, at the Downer, and Sunday, October 2, 12 Noon, at the North Shore.

Visit the Milwaukee Film website for a complete list of films. And don't forget, we're hosting a series of discussion groups in our book club area after selected screenings at the Downer, starting tonight with a talk about the film "Somewhere Between" at 6:30 pm.

Later on in October, there are five nights of the Jewish Film Festival at the North Shore Cinemas. There are two book-related films playing there as well. On Monday, October 24 at 7:30, there's "Shalom Aleichem: Laughing in the Dark."  Aleichem's stories were the basis of the musical, "Fiddler on the Roof" and Tevye the Dairyman is available as a Penguin Classic. On Wednesday, October 26, at 7:30, an Argentinian film called "I Miss You" looks at the Dirty War of the 1970s from the perspective of one Jewish family.  It's not a direct tie-in, but the JCC highly recommends (as do both Conrad and I) Nathan Englander's The Ministry of Special Cases. More the Jewish Film Festival here.

I was talking to Carl, who programs the LGBT film festival, who said that there showing of "Mary Lou", an Israeli miniseries, on Thursaday, October 27, would have been in his festival had the JCC not snagged it first. I couldn't find any book connections, but many of his picks could be books, of course, so may I just note that his opening night film, "Weekend," will be shown at the Oriental Theatre on Thursday, October 20, 7:30 pm, with the rest of the showings at the Union Theater at the UWM Union.  Here's a link to the website.

There are so many book-related theater events this fall I think I won't be able to fit them all into one blog post.  First Stage is currently performing "Suessical," now through October 16.  First Stage performs the musical Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays--click here for ticket info.  And did you know that the musical was co-conceived by Eric Idle of Monty Python fame?  I only note this because I just spent the evening planning a television network at a dinner party, and this was one of our selections.

And then of course we have a full schedule of arts events. Michael Pink will be talking about the new production of "Dracula" in the Milwaukee Ballet's Dialogue for Dance program on Friday, October 14, 7 pm. The Ballet production is October 27-30.  Buy tickets here. Bram Stoker would be proud.

And then there is our feature event with Kathleen Russo in conjunction with Theatre Gigante for their new production, "Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell."  Russo, Gray's widow, is also a co-editor of the soon-to-be released Journals of Spalding Gray.  We're hosting a talk at Boswell on Wednesday, October 26, at a special earlier time of 6:30, so that Russo can get to the Theatre Gigante show at 8 pm.  Say hi to Theatre Gigante.

Oh, and Soulstice Theater is working with us on our Dava Sobel event for A More Perfect Heaven on Wednesday, October 19. Tickets here.

And Boulevard Theatre is doing "The Importance of Being Earnest" this fall.

Stacie and I had an interesting discussion about why so many Milwaukee companies use the "r-e" spelling instead of "e-r."  It got heated!  Here's a story about why the Guthrie changed their spelling to "theater" in 1970 and the ins and outs of the two usages.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different--Musing on Diana Abu-Jaber's Enchanting "Birds of Paradise." Yes, I'm Writing About an Author Who is Not Coming to Boswell.

As you all know by now, the American Booksellers Association put together the Indie Next list every month, highlighting 20 new books that booksellers have deemed of merit.  We vote with recommendations.  You've got to be on top of these things--the votes are due two months before the book comes out.

In this age where people are pretty suspicious of recommendations, particularly when so many individuals and companies are, so to speak, stuffing the ballot box, we're fiercely honest when it comes to recs.
1. No recs on books we haven't finished.
2. No bookseller is ever forced to write a rec for a book he or she didn't like.

I will say if we liked a book with caveats, we're willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and champion what we did like about it.  If you took one of us aside privately, we might mention a shortcoming or two. But I have learned from experience that there's little to be gained by a bookseller publicly complaining about a book or author.  Instead, we'll usually just keep quiet.

We're not represented with titles on the October Indie Next list, but rumor has it that we've got two recommendations in November.  You'll hear about those in short order, but I think it's time to talk about our September recommendation.  It's for Birds of Paradise, by Diana Abu-Jaber, and hooray, it's one of mine.

"Avis Muir is an architect in the kitchen, who builds acclaimed pastries from flours and fondants and candied decorations. Her husband, Brian, is a lawyer for one of the most respected developers in Miami, who helps create a new international hub of wealth and opulence. So why have they had so much trouble constructing a nuclear family? Abu-Jaber's novel of family dysfunction, cultural adaptation, and human resilience in the face of tragedy ponders the joys and limitations of family, friendship, and career with powerful results."--Daniel Goldin, Boswell Book Company. The original was longer but how much space do you think they have?

As you know, I do like family dysfunction novels and enjoy distinct settings, so I was predisposed to like this Miami-tastic novel. One of the things I've noticed about books of this type is that they often have a tight structure.  Both Joe Meno's The Great Perhaps and Eric Puchner's Model Home come to mind.  Both also have strong sense of place--perhaps this is another reason why I like books of this sort so much.

On top of all the structural rigors of the characters, the novel is also a balancing act. Abu-Jaber had to create a 2005 that had some but not too much technology, and was just at the point of Miaimi's real estate heights. The city had reinvented itself as an international capital, South Beach had grown up from a neighborhood of dilapidated hotels and synagogues to a modeling heaven, giving Felice a way to survive while homeless, which she might not have been able to do in any other city on her terms without say, prostitution or theft. I suspect Abu-Jaber meant to write the book during Miami's boom, and everything else fell into place, but I wonder, could she have written this novel in any other time period?

Of this aspect, the novel reminds me of Real Estate, by Jane DeLynn, and Adam Langer's Ellington Boulevard, set in New York, but during two different housing bubbles.

Speaking of balancing acts, one of the toughest was Stanley's age (Stanley is Felice's brother) during the bulk of the story. He had to be young enough to have an intense bond with Felice and also to have still been hurt by the lack of attention when Felice disappeared, but old enough to have a functioning market that if not financially successful, had some cache, all by the time she was 18. I imagined what it would have like had Stanley been 10 years older than her instead of 5. He would have been old enough to have his ownership of the market be more likely. He still had his own baggage with Avis (she didn't really want him to bake) and could have had a particularly intense bond with Felice, being that his mom would have most likely left her in his care a lot, the way my mom had my nine-years-older sister babysit me when she went back to school. But then he might have been old enough that Felice's disappearance might not have affected him. So maybe five was the right number.

Regarding Stanley, I wonder why his voice is so muted compared to others in the family. Was he also downsized from the original draft? I guess we will never know.

One thing I noticed was that Abu-Jaber seemed tenuous about letting her characters truly fail. It seemed she loved them too much for Brian to lose the family money or have an affair, for Felice to be raped, for Avis's or Stanley's businesses to collapse, for Avis to reject Solange before she disappeared, the way Felice did Hannah. Obviously the beauty of whether a novel is dark or light, comedy or tragedy, is where you end it. That said, in the end, the family is able to skirt family with their reputations intact, and in that sense, the story is almost a comedy. I'm not saying their had to be terrible things that destroyed them--we know Felice has had a hard life on the streets, but there's really only one terrible incident in the book, and she is saved by her perhaps true love Emerson, and what were the odds of that? Coincidence is another hallmark of comedy. But...there is a clear decision to skirt the worst that could happen. It would have been a different book. In the end, you can say that the ending, much like the recent Ann Patchett, was Dickensian.

I remember years ago, Shelby Hearon, a literary obsession of mine for some time, would tell of fighting with her editor. "You know, Shelby, this character is supposed to die." And Shelby would say something like, "Oh, I know, but I like him too much to let him go."  It's always a tough call.

As an aside, I noticed was that Abu-Jaber left glimpses of her culture in the character of Hannah, and there's also a hint that Avis is part Arabic, with the reference to Turkish coffee made by one of her grandmothers. One felt like the story of Hannah and her family could have been a novel on its own, surrounding the family that Americanizes its names and moves around the country searching for acceptance. It's a story that could also be comic or tragic, and one day, I'd like to read it.

Birds of Paradise is very traditional in a sense that I think it favors family and true love over friendship, very different from all those friends are just as important or moreso novels. (Jamesland comes to mind). Every character is either friendless or is ultimately hurt by their friends. Who comes through for you in the end? Your spouse or spousal equivalent. There's never any question that the loyalties of Felice's friends Reynoldo and Berry are fickle at best, and the high school friendships are one betrayal after another. I think you'd say Avis is betrayed by Solange--she disappears, and unlike family (Felice), she never comes back. I guess the closest to a good friend you get who sort of comes through for you is Javier, though even he has some issues.In the end, like many novels of family dysfunction, the family fractures apart and then is at least somewhat glued back together again.  In the case of Birds of Paradise, the bond is a little stronger than I sometimes find.  Perhaps it's the extra honey added to the mix. 

This is what it's all about--a novel that keeps you contemplating for days afterward.  Days? I read this book in June and I'm still thinking about it.  Deadlines, you know.
Diana Abu-Jaber is not coming to Milwaukee but it looks like she's going to be at the Madison Book Festival on October 20.  I won't be going, alas, as Boswell is hosting another of my favorite fall books, Stuart Nadler's The Book of LifeHere's a list of her other tour cities.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Everything You Want to Know About Stacy Schiff at Milwaukee Public Library's Centennial Hall, Tuesday, October 4, 7 pm.

One of the biggest hits of 2010, at least at Boswell, was Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra: A Life. After winning the Pulitzer Prize for Vera (Nabokov), being shortlisted for said prize Saint-Exupery, and winning countless other prizes for A Great Improvisation, Schiff finally found a popular biography subject that would take her talents to new levels of success.  Some would say Benjamin Franklin of A Great Improvisation is a similarly worthy character, but Schiff's biography came after a string of popular Franklin tomes, and it being Franklin in France, it didn't necessarily have the same kind of widespread appeal as some of the other Franklin bios.  Now at Boswell, a Franklin in France bio would have been a runaway bestseller.  You know how we are about anything that remotely involves Paris.

Michiko Kakutani offered this praise in The New York Times: " As she did in “Véra: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov,” her Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Ms. Schiff also demonstrates a magician’s ability to conjure the worlds her subject inhabited with fluent sleight of hand." and Cleopatra went on to lauded by said paper as one of the top ten books of the year.

So it was a wonderful honor when we were offered the opportunity to host Ms. Schiff on her Milwaukee visit for the paperback of the book.  Schiff sold out venues all over the country for the hardcover edition of this book. Below Tavis Smiley discussing Cleopatra with Stacie Schiff.  I'm sure you'll see be marking off your calendar for our event, which is Tuesday, October 4, 7 pm.

Watch the full episode. See more Tavis Smiley.

Liz  from Little, Brown and I pondered all kinds of venues for her talk.  In the end, we wanted to hit the most people we could, and decided to not have any barriers to entry, so we went with Centennial Hall at the Milwaukee Public Library. We're co-sponsoring the event with the Friends of the Milwaukee Public Library too, and like all our library events, we tithe our book sales to this cathedral of learning.

The hall holds 700, with another 100 folks able to listen in the overflow area. We decided not to ticket the event, with the caveat that folks would know that we would close the hall when we reached capacity.  Will that happen?  It hasn't happened to me yet with an author event, though back at Schwartz, we had an overflow crowd for Jon Krakauer.  I think if we're prepared for that possibility, we'll be just fine. I'm saying to you now not to come at the last minute.

Several weeks after we settled on an event venue, we found out that the popular Cleopatra touring exhibit would be opening at the Milwaukee Public Museum just two weeks after the talk. Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt is an exhibit from National Geographic, and will open at the Museum on October 14. The exhibit highlights nearly 150 artifacts of her reign, and has been wowing audiences in many cities around the country.  Tickets are available now; buy them here.

I don't read too many biographies, but who could resist Cleopatra?  I think sometimes its just a question of alloting time; I have so many books to read, and biographies, to really appreciate them, need careful reading. Schiff packs so much detail into her story, and there's a lot of contemplation too.  This woman led a great power in her teens, and held onto her power despite family treachery, and Rome's desire to expand their empire.  She kept not one but two great men--Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony.  She built back Egypt's coffers from near ruin, and helped revive Alexandria's cultural greatness.

I read it. It took me several weeks to devour it.  It was worth it.

It's clear that anyone interested in seeing this event will get more out of it by reading Cleopatra first.  And I'm not just saying that because Schiff, in another life, was a great editor who was responsible for one of my favorite books of all time, Elinor Lipman's Then She Found Me.


To get the word out, we've got to pull out all the stops:
1) We'll have a special single-event email going out this week.

2) There will be a wee bit of public radio underwriting.

3) We're doing a feature Journal Sentinel ad this Sunday**, also featuring our other two high-profile events for October, Dava Sobel at Discovery World on October 19 and Jeffrey Eugenides at Boswell on October 23. We certainly have plenty of other high-profile events, but to just note one, Jon Katz, our partnership with the Humane Society is already getting the word out, and we already have some nice press in place.  My big fear on our event for Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm (October 6, here's the link for tickets) is that it will be oversold.  The Humane Society space fits 150 people--I could probably fit more in the bookstore, but come on, it's so much cooler to be at the Humane Society.

But I digress. Stacie (not the author, the Boswellian, they are spelled differently) also put together a great window.  As always, there's a lot of glare and the photo didn't come out well, but you get the message.

I'm also trying to put signs up around town.  Today you might have spotted me on a ladder at Beans and Barley (also had lunch there, also ordered catering for our rep night this Sunday.  I highly recommend poppy seed torte as a sheet cake) and I hope to place the sign at a few more high-profile places.  Want to help? Come by Boswell and pick up a sign from us.

So you're probably thinking, Daniel, you're not forcing the sale (it's the library, we don't do that there), it's a paperback, how are you going to make back the money you're investing in this event?*

And I would say, we're talking about Stacy Schiff here.  This is the kind of event I dreamed that Boswell would be doing.  An amazing speaker, an incredible book, an event that folks will be talking about for months.  I love when folks come by the store, still whistfully talking about T.C. Boyle, Christopher Moore, Geraldine Brooks, Sherman Alexie, or Ann Patchett. I like to think maybe they made a few extra trips to Boswell because it triggers those happy memories, or cements our relationship.  I think Stacy Schiff's talk will do the same.  I'm hoping!

*Buying the book from us helps give us the track record to get more events like this to Milwaukee? Do you want to hear Pulitzer Prize winners speak in Milwaukee? Of course you do!

**There was a little confusion about the ad deadline with our new rep and the ad will now be in the Cue section on Sunday, October 2.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The 14-Hour Day, Some Shopping Philosophy, Dinner with a Genius.

I had another one of those 14 hour days yesterday, and since I was not scheduled on the floor today, and had sent out an email newsletter last week, I actually stayed home and gave our lawn an overdue mowing and our garden a good weeding.  Now you're probably either chiding me in your head for either having a lawn or not keeping it up particularly well. The truth is the matter is that I've found a way to fail everybody.  Had I realized how little time, energy, or inclination I would have to do anything homey, we would have stuck to our apartment.  But you don't know if you don't try, I guess.

So what did I do yesterday? We hosted two school events and one library event for Margaret Peterson Haddix, for one thing.  Amie did the schools, and I worked the Franklin Public Library.  It was a great group; Keri put out all stops to get a crowd. It was also a learning experience for me--I should probably play up the "purchase a book" angle a bit more in future events. And I really liked the presentation--who wouldn't like to think they were a famous missing baby as is premised in Found and its sequels?  This is a corollary to the "my parents actually adopted me and I'm actually the birth child of some famous celebrity" fantasy.

I drove back to Downer Avenue to catch the last bits of our event with Sophie Hannah.  We're sort of bummed about the small crowd, as we felt we did a good job of getting the word out--email newsletter, blog posts, targeted emails, a mystery reading group selection, lots of display, three staff reads. Maybe folks stayed away because they thought she was as sinister as her novels such as The Cradle in the Grave, but she's actually quite charming and fun.


Yesterday morning, I went to a meeting of Milwaukee children's librarians to give a little talk on display. I was a little taken aback because I thought our displays are hit or miss, and I see lots of good displays at the area libaries, but I suppose one should focus on your hits, so to speak, and so I gave a slide show/talk on what has worked for us. My battery gave out in my laptop about halfway through so the librarians didn't quite get to see everything that we can hang--leaves, snowflakes, puzzle pieces, watering name it. I think the biggest problem for a library is something we often come across--fear of taking the last book . Since most libraries an even greater percentage of onesies than we do, it appear that just about everything is the last book.  Do you think patrons go up to librarians and ask, "Can I borrow that?" the way they ask if they can buy the books we put on proppers?

I was hoping to find a photo of Gary dressed as a dog in our Wade Rouse/Jon Katz dog window (Katz's event is October 6 at the Wisconsin Humane Society) but I don't have it on my camera.  So why not have one last shot of our Paris table, promoting our Gioia Diliberto event for Paris without End this Saturday (9/24) at 2 pm?


As I was raking leaves today (yes, it's already that time), I chatted with my neighbor Sage, who owns Luv Unlimited, the retro vibed clothing/collectible/record/disco ball wallet store on KK. We traded "how's business?" stories and I mentioned that I've been worried about how the economy has been affecting a number of the entrepreneurial stores in town--I was saddened by the recent shuttering of several clothing stores on Brady, Future Green in Bay View, and our friends at The Loop in Riverwest.  When I thought about this, my first thought was to go over and buy a lovely brown plaid shirt from Olive Organic.  It was very reasonably priced and got a compliment from Wade Rouse's partner Gary the first time I wore it. Perhaps this will give you the idea to buy something from someone where the purchase will actually help your community. Who knows?


One of the nice things about Boswell is that we meet so many smart people, not just authors but customers too.  Even many of our sales reps are quite brainy.  But I have to say that I don't get to host too many certified geniuses, let alone have dinner with them.  That said, I can add one to my list.  Congratulations to Peter Hessler, author of Country Driving, Oracle Bones, and River Town, on his recent MacArthur Genius Grant. In retrospect, I'm not sure if Cafe Hollander was genius worthy. I think it is, but only if you upgrade to sweet potato fries.

Monday, September 19, 2011

How Losing a Printer Connection Can Crazy Up Your Life--and What's Going on This Week at Boswell.

Between Jason and Stacie's work at trying to get our previously working connection to the good printer fixed after we upgraded the computer in our break room/marketing/programming/sign making office, we've wound up getting behind in doing some of our event signage. I wound up making a lot of signs yesterday. You would think I would now know how to describe our events like the back of my hand, but it turns out that aside from the popping out veins, I can't do that good a job with my hand.  So I'm using the crutch of repurposed marketing materials.  Forgive me!

Monday, September 19, Franklin Public Library, 5:30 pm:
Margaret Peterson Haddix, author of Torn.

Haddix is the author of many much-beloved works for middle graders through teens.  She's appearing for Torn, the fourth installment of The Missing series. The Franklin Public Library is not too far off Highway 100. The fastest way is likely to be the Loomis exit of 894.

Here's the premise: "One night a plane appears out of nowhere, the only passengers aboard: 36 babies. As soon as they are taken off the plane, they vanish. Now, 13 years later, two of those children are receiving sinister messages, and they begin to investigate their past."

It turns out that each child is a famous historical figure that went missing from history.  Book four involves John Hudson, the child of explorer Henry Hudson.

Regarding the Franklin Public Library, if I were looking for a place to eat around there, I'd probably eat at Ann's Italian Restaurant. It's not just Milwaukee's best pizza anymore, or so I've heard!


Also on September 19, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Sophie Hannah, author of The Cradle in the Grave and other novels of psychological suspense.

Being that I will be in Franklin, Stacie will be taking the honors on that one, but I would like to get back before the whole thing ends, as I read the new book and have written several blog posts about it.

Fliss Benson, a TV producer, is slated to take the reins on a documentary about crib-death mothers wrongly accused of murder. The work done so far has exonerated three of the women, and the doctor who did her best to send them to prison for life, child protection zealot Dr Judith Duffy, is under investigation for misconduct. But, when one of the mothers is found dead and additional mysterious clues arise, the cases begin to hit a little too close to home.

“This book’s triumph is that it is not just a perfectly executed psychological thriller, but a pertinent meditation on society itself.” says The Guardian, and the Daily Express raves “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.”

As I mentioned in the blog, Hannah is also a noted poet in Great Britain.  We've gotten in a few copies of her poetry collections and I've asked her to open and close the evening with her work.  She was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize for her most previous collection.


Wednesday, September 21, 7 pm, at Boswell:
It's another poetry event, with local favorites Suzanne Rosenblatt, Bill Murtaugh, and Lucille Rosenberg, which Suzanne has titled "Glimpses: Past--Present--Future." Each poet has at least one collection or chapbook for sale at Boswell. 

Want a copy of one of their books?  It's available on our Read Local page.


Thursday, September 22, 4 pm, West Allis Public Library:
Lisa McMann, appearing for The Unwanteds.

McMann, known for The Wake trilogy and Cryer's Cross, has written a new series that will expand her audience to middle graders, but should interest her existing young adult readers. Hence, what I think has been the jacket change from the early advance copy.  It definitely skewed a little young.  Apparently McMann will show both, and you'll get to vote on which you like better.  Here's the setup for the new book:

Every year in Quill, thirteen-year-olds are sorted into categories: the strong, intelligent Wanteds go to university, and the artistic Unwanteds are sent to their deaths.

Thirteen-year-old Alex tries his hardest to be stoic when his fate is announced as Unwanted, even while leaving behind his twin, Aaron, a Wanted. Upon arrival at the destination where he expected to be eliminated, however, Alex discovers a stunning secret--behind the mirage of the "death farm" there is instead a place called Artime. In Artime, each child is taught to cultivate their creative abilities and learn how to use them magically, weaving spells through paintbrushes and musical instruments. Everything Alex has ever known changes before his eyes, and it's a wondrous transformation.

But it's a rare, unique occurrence for twins to be separated between Wanted and Unwanted, and as Alex and Aaron's bond stretches across their separation, a threat arises for the survival of Artime that will pit brother against brother in an ultimate, magical battle.

If you were taking the freeway, the library is about equidistant from the 60th Street exit of 94 or the Greenfield exit of 894.  It just depends on where you're coming from.

I'm attending a formal dinner afterwards, but McMann and I agreed that if we were able to eat wherever we wanted afterwards, we'd head due east down National and head to La Merenda for delicous international tapas.

(Meanwhile, back at the ranch)
Thursday, September 22,  7 pm, at Boswell:
It's our first of the 2011-2012 UWM student/faculty reading.  Our featured readers are:
Melissa Olson
Jennifer Kontny
Brittany Cavallaro

In addition, Maurice Kilwein-Guevara will read some fiction by Lupe Solis, a UWM alum who passed away last month of pancreatic cancer at age 50.


Saturday, September 24, 2 pm, at Boswell:
Gioia Diliberto, author of Paris Without End: The True Story of Hemingway's First Wife.

With the success of The Paris Wife, novelist Paula McClain’s fictional account of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife, as well as the runaway Woody Allen film, "Midnight in Paris", it seems 1920’s literary Paris is back en vogue. Always part of the hottest literary trends, Boswell is proud to present the author of a new biography about Hadley, a fascinating woman who ran Paris’ literary circles with her husband as he wrote some of his seminal works of classic literature.

Gioia Diliberto’s impeccable research skills breathe new life into this haunting account of the young Hemingways. From their passionate courtship and their thrilling, adventurous relationship, to family life in Paris with baby Bumby, to its tragic end, Paris Without End is a riveting story of literary love. Compelling, illuminating, poignant, and deeply insightful, Diliberto provides readers a rare, intimate glimpse of the writer who so fully captured the American imagination and the remarkable woman who inspired his passion and his art—the only woman Hemingway never stopped loving.

Yes, we're keeping pretty busy. Hope to see you at one of these events!