Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I Went Through My Comic Sans Phase, but an Intervention Got Me Back on The Right Path--a Meditation on Simon Garfield's Just my Type.

When we opened Boswell, we had several discussions about branding. I decided, to follow up on the department store discussion of yesterday, that I wasn't going to have a distinctive color, much as I love the old forest green of Marshall Field's or the cornflower blue of L.S. Ayres. That said, I did want a somewhat unified look for our signage. I turned to Sarah, my now Oklahoma librarian colleague, and asked her for a suggestion.

"Century" was her immediate thought. Bookish but not staid. Free on our computer but not totally a cliche. Or maybe just a little cliche.

I am one of those people who when they got a personal computer, started sending my memos out in a different typeface every week.  It goes back further. When I first started working in publishing in the 1980s and got use of an IBM Selectric, I went out and bought additional golf balls with my own money so I could vary my type. And before that (as seen in the accompanying photo of my old music charts lauding the talents of the Carpenters and Gloria Gaynor when I was 14), I would copy typefaces out of a typeface book that I borrowed from the library.

And I can remember the day when I walked into the Palette Shop and discovered Letraset letter transfers. Where had you been all my life? Instead of copying out typefaces, now I could just rub. If I remember correctly, even Oriental Drugs had a spinner of these transfers, though perhaps not the professional brand. No, these were making things like zines.

So you would have thought I would have read Simon Garfield's Just My Type: A book About Fonts (the UK version pictured at right) months ago. And yes, I had done that thing where you dip in and out of it. We featured the book in one of our email newsletters, and I would have to say it was our more successful email sales pop of the year. People would come in and discuss their own font memories. I learned about the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers. But I still can't spot the difference between Helvetica and Arial.

When I realized that I wanted Just my Type featured in the front of our store for the holidays, I decided that it was my obligation to read every word. Why was I putting this off; I knew I'd be fascinated. But every new revelation led to questions. How come I didn't notice when Ikea changed their font from Futura to Verdana? And how could I have not seen the documentary "Helvetica"? Yes, our friend Tom, browsing graphic novels, wondered the same thing when I told him how much I liked the book. How? How?

On the other hand, so many questions have been answered by Mr. Garfield (pictured at left). I now know why the default typefaces changed on the new versions of Word and Excel. I feel comfortable with my choice of Garamond for the email newsletter.  And I have no idea what I am using for the blog--it shows up as something like Times New Roman, but I think it actually turns into Arial Black. I learned here how to change a font to something not standard, but I also learned that if the font is not installed on your recipient's computer, he or she won't see it.

Great! I can now display my blog in the much-maligned Comic Sans typeface. Is it better or worse than Brush Script? I'm going to have to go with worse. And why? Because we used Brush Script in our holiday newsletter.

Being an amateur, I don't seem to get incensed by the use of some now-clichéd typeface like Cooper Black or Souvenir. But I am sad about the slow homogenization of typeface use around the world, even though I never go anyplace. Thank goodness for heavy metal, beer, and tattoos, so German Gothic had someplace to go.

Oh, there is so much to enjoy about Just my Type. I got to meet the interroband. I've fallen back in love with the ampersand. I'll always pay a little more attention to the lower case g and the capital Q. And Helvetica? We were like two people introduced at a party who started off with a bad conversation. But by pointing out to me the square dot on the i*, I've come to understand that typeface just a little bit better. Though we've sold Mr. Garfield's book very well, I know there are more folks out there who would like this book as I did. And now here's your chance to buy it for them. More on Just my Type here. And here's a great blog called Font Bureau that is written by our friend John's childhood friend.

*Oddly enough, the Wikipedia article on Century claims that it also has a square dot over the i, but at least on Microsoft type packages, it is clearly round. Goudy Old Style, however, clearly has a diamond-shaped dot.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Happy News About Our Gimbels Talk on Monday, December 12, 3 pm; Less Happy News About Our Holiday Shopping Bag That I Hinted At.

When I was a child, my mother and I would go to Manhattan to look at Christmas windows every year. The three highlights were Lord and Taylor, B. Altman, and Saks Fifth Avenue. I seem to remember that even when I was young, Macy's had stopped doing the special  Christmas windows, and though Bloomingdale's continued the tradition, they were just a bit out off our route.

And Gimbels? I just don't remember anything except that there was a branch of Zaro's Bread Basket inside, and they made good black and white cookies. I remember as an adult wandering through the stores on Greeley Square and the Upper East Side, a bit bemused. That 86th Street location was so strange, one small footprint of a floor after another, each looking summoning a future of cement boxes and generic layouts of big box discounters.

But then I moved to Milwaukee, and this division of Gimbels was beloved in a way New York was not. It had rituals like Gertie the Duck and Billie the Brownie (which admittedly, they acquired when they absorbed their rival Schusters), talk of eating at Tasty Town, and the tea room upstairs.

Our Gimbels closed soon after I arrived, and Milwaukee never quite took to Marshall Fields, outside of the Mayfair location. Little did they know that British American Tobacco had already outsourced some of Gimbels; operations to the Marshall Fields division--what they feared had already come to pass. And when that happened, the bargain spirit of Gimbels transferred to Kohls, where it is said that many key staffers moved, ready for its enormous growth spurt. But there is nothing romantic about visiting a Kohls in quite the way there is with an old downtown department store.

Now the only holiday traditions most of us have left that connect to department stores are those doorbuster sales. No more holiday windows. No more meals with Santa. No more department store parades--you know that the idea of the original parades was that Santa and the toys were marching to their show windws, right? No more kid-sized trains running through toyland either. This was never on my radar as a child, but a surprising number of cities had a store like this--L.S. Ayres in Indianapolis and John Wanamaker in Philadelphia are two that come to mind.

I'm sure you're not surprised that I really love the History Press's series that celebrates old department stores. These are the kinds of books that used to be published by the stores themselves, on their 50th, 75th, 100th, or 125th anniversary. I have several older books in my collection, on Frederick and Nelson, Rich's, and Marshall Field's--not just Give the Lady What She Wants but at a cookbook too. But then my friend Anne gave me Harzfeld's, a history of the notable Kansas City specialty shop. I soon added to my collection Wanamaker's: Meet Me at the Eagle and Under the Clock: The Story of Miller and Rhoads. The latter was a store in Richmond, Virginia.

Gimbels warrants not one, but two titles in the series. The first, Gimbels Has It! is about the entire chain. Michael J. Lisicky (also author of the Wanamaker's book), as you may have heard, is speaking at Boswell on Monday, December 12, at 3 pm. And sometime next year, Paul Geenen's history of Gimbels and Schusters in Milwaukee will be published. It turns out that Lisicky's history is heavy on the Milwaukee material too, being that Milwaukee had the best archive. But having read Gimbels Has It!, I know that there's lots more material available. I'm really looking forward to it.

And now for the sad news. At Boswell, we got the idea several months ago to play with one of my favorite shopping traditions and commission a paper handled holiday bag. Needless to say, I was very excited.  You do know I have an enormous collection of paper handled shopping bags, right? But then we ran into several problems. There was some miscommunication about size of our image on the bag, and though we were initially told it would work, we later learned that they could not print at the size we wanted. There was also some problem with how our artwork would transfer. After all the delays, I realized that we'd be lucky to get a bag in January. So we decided to postpone the project until next year.

In addition to the two Gimbels books, I have been talking about bringing in more titles in the History Press series for a shelf near our urban planning books. I figure that while not everyone is interested in these books in general the way I am, many folks shopping at Boswell are from somewhere else and might take to a book in this well-priced series. But mostly I just want to look at them all.

And yes, I know that the event with Lisicky is at a crazy time. He wasn't staying until the evening and though I know that so many folks will come out, I realized after speaking with him for five minutes that I would have a great time listening to him talk for an hour, even if I were the only attendee.

Monday, November 28, 2011

What's Going on at Boswell This Week? Seems Pretty Festive to Me.

While our holiday event schedule is a bit more low-key, we've still got a lot of things going on this week.

Wednesday, November 30, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Drew Magary, author of The Postmortal.
I've already written in detail about this dark and humorous apocalyptic novel about what happens when they find a cure for aging. The author is a well-known sports blogger.

Thursday, December 1, 7 pm, at the Katie Gingrass Gallery, 241 N. Broadway.
Fill the Shelves kickoff.
Buy a book at Gingrass Gallery and help the Milwaukee Public Library buy books most in need for the branches.

Friday, December 2, 4-8 pm
Boswell's Holiday Market and Festive Friday.
Angela has found several copacetic vendors to spread holiday cheer on Friday evening. The market will also repeat on Saturday, December 10 from 12 Noon to 4 pm.

Friday, December 2, 4 pm, at Boswell:
Barbara Joosse, author of Dog Parade.
This adorable book featuring dogs in costume transitions well to the dog costume contest taking place outside Cafe Hollander. Ms. Joosse will help judge, if all things go smoothly.

Friday, December 2, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Erika Janik, author of Apple: A Global History.
Wisconsin Public Radio producer Janik offers a social and cultural history of la pomme. Ela's Orchards will have several varieties of apples on hand to purchase and yes, sample.

Saturday, December 3, 2 pm, at Boswell:
St. Robert's Student Readings.
Now you might think that this is an event targeted mostly to parents and grandparents, and honestly, you'd be mostly right. But we always have some outsiders come to hear the kids read from their favorite works.

Sunday, December 4, 12-4 pm, at Lakefront Brewery
The Buy Local Holiday Gift Fair is upon us, sponsored by Local First Milwaukee and Outpost Natural Foods. And don't forget that DJ Dori Zori is spinning non-traditional holiday tunage. Here's a list of attending vendors.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What's Selling this Week, including Our Post-Thanksgiving Pop?

Tis the season for book recs. Here's the Journal Sentinel's big fat list of holiday must-reads and must-gives. Expect to see some of them on next week's recap.

Hardcover fiction:
1. The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
2. The Emperor of Lies, by Steve Sem-Sandberg
3. The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes
4. 11-22-63, by Stephen King
5. 1Q84, by Haruki Murakami
6. The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides
7. V is for Vengeance, by Sue Grafton
8. The Prague Cemetery, by Umberto Eco
9. Explosive Eighteen, by Janet Evanovich
10. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

Doubleday successfully moved John Grisham to the fall, so I guess there was the thought that Janet Evanovich could also improve her sales by getting on Christmas wish lists. I suppose she didn't expect to be in competition with Sue Grafton.

The book that roared back up with serious holiday shopping was Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding. It also made Michiko Kakutani's top ten of the year, as did Téa Obreht's The Tiger's Wife (in paperbacks).

Hardcover nonfiction:
1. Simply Truffles, by Patricia Wells
2. Everyone Leads, by Paul Schmitz
3. Catherine the Great, by Robert K. Massie
4. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson
5. Then Again, by Diane Keaton
6. Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
7. The Making of Milwaukee, by John Gurda
8. Back to Work, by Bill Clinton
9. Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, by Chris Matthews
10. Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand

It's not too often that we get multiple reads on big fat nonfiction books, but we've actual got dual recs on Catherine the Great.

Paperback fiction:
1. Show Up, Look Good, by Mark Wisniewski
2. The Tiger's Wife, by Téa Obreht
3. Room, by Emma Donoghue
4. Montana 1948, by Larry Watson
5. Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay

We had a very nice homecoming event with Mark Wisniewski. All the rules are broken when you're talking about events that are driven by family and friends, though I should say that we had a contingent of folks who didn't previously know Mr. Wisniewski. In fact, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is a great date for authors returning home to Milwaukee. There were a rash of reports about Black Wednesday this year; lots of people are predisposed to go out the night before the holiday.  I expect to get inquiries on 2012 soon.

Paperback nonfiction:
1. F in Exams, by Richard Benson
2. Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff
3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
4. Anatomy of an Epidemic, by Robert Whitaker
5. The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal

Not that I don't love our regular members of our nonfiction paperback bestseller club, but it's nice to meet new people. Robert Whitaker's new-in-paperback book looks at the question why the number of disabled mentally ill has tripled over the last two decades. Oh, and I love the jacket--can I mention we sell a matching card from Potluck Press?

Hardcovers for kids:
1. Cabin Fever, with Jeff Kinney
2. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
3. Inheritance, by Christopher Paolini
4. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick
5. Balloons over Broadway, by Melissa Sweet

Let's hope that Mr. Kinney's plotline doesn't play out until after New Year's, for the sake of bricks-and-mortar stores everywhere.

Paperbacks for kids:
1. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Colllins
2. Freckle Juice, by Judy Blume
3. Time for Bed, by Mem Fox
4. Julius the Baby of the World, by Kevin Henkes
5. The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak

As usual, it's hard to get paperback kid book sales in quantity, as opposed to bulk--by that I mean when someone orders five copies, as opposed to when five people buy one copy.  That's why I often merge our hardcover and paperback numbers. But there is always Suzanne Collins!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Day at Changing Hands, My Bookselling Home Away From Home in Metro Phoenix.

My goal was to work at Changing Hands in Tempe for much of Friday, but when you're really only in Phoenix for two days and you've got a lot of family, it just isn't going to happen. In the end, I shelved books for about two hours, and that included a lot of chatting.

Since my last visit, at least three years ago, the store has upgraded their computer system. They use Booklog, which is similar enough to IBID for me to look things up, though I was continually tripped up by the order of the database--IBID is ISBN and then title, whereas Booklog is title then ISBN.  One nice breakthrough for a shelver (like me) is that the second-hand books are now in their database.

If you live in the Phoenix area or have family within 50 miles of the store, I am now going to list five reasons why you should visit:

1) It's a really great space. They upgraded a lot of the signage and flooring when I was last there, but I was crazy about several of the new signs. As Jason and Amie know, 2011 was supposed to be the year of the signage, but I'd give  me a grade of C+ on my project.

At least on the day after Thanksgiving, the store was not a madhouse, and yet was bustling enough to feel lively. I convinced one friend to come out and shop and say hi and she replied that she wouldn't normally go out shopping on a day like today, but for me, just this once.

2) So many energetic and interesting booksellers. There are lots of staff recs all over; it's just the kind of great place to browse and get ideas. And like many of my favorite stores to shop, they mix together new, second-hand, and much of their bargain selection.

Here are Gayle's picks. I generally swear by them. She's also a big fan of Alice Laplante's Turn of Mind. And this is crazy--Cindy and I hardly ever talk about books, but two of her favorite books this year, The Art of Fielding and Life, on the Line, are two of my favorite books too. They are two of my staff picks discounted on our year-end Boswell's Best, which I wrote about yesterday. Oh, and The Lonely Polygamist? Cindy, why aren't we sharing more recs?

3) They have so many gift items. There buyers do a great job finding all sorts of items that fit the personality of the store. Gary and Noah (Merrill's friends who picked me up when it was time to return for brunch) bought some key chains. I bought a book and calendar. I could have bought much more.

4) They have so many great and innovative ideas on book retailing. Now I'm not going to mention any of them because I don't want you other retailers stealing them. But the "books taste delicious" onesie? That was totally Cindy's brainstorm.

5) I prefer something delicious nearby, and Changing Hands has a pass through to Wildflower Bread Company. I didn't get to eat their this time, but I'm very hot on the roasted sweet potato sandwich with mozzarella, fig confit and balsamic.

Oh, and I LOVE their website. But you don't have to get on a plane to experience it.

In the end, I had hardly enough time to say hi to everyone, share ideas, and help some booksellers. I still fondly recall the query I had several years ago: "What would you sell to someone who liked true crime, being that we don't have a true crime section?"

Feel free to drop by Boswell and spring something like that on me.

Friday, November 25, 2011

New Boswell's Best, Through December 5--Selected Staff Picks Added.

Every Monday evening or Tuesday morning, Jason and Amie update our Boswell's Best of 20% off titles. We know that folks don't really think about us as a price store, though we do have plenty of second-hand and bargain books at very good prices, and markdowns at really great ones. The dollar cart (actually $1-4) goes away for the winter, but the store still has a $5 markdown cart with many great books on it. And the Boswell's Best gives you a good assortment of titles at a decent price. If you're on the Boswell Benefits program, you can think of the discount as effectively being 25%, as you get 5% of your purchase back in a coupon.

Publishers usually slow down their release schedule at this time of year. You'd want your books for the holiday season out already, to make sure they are well-positioned. That said, there are always a few new releases any time of year. For example, we just received and jason just added Luis Alberto Urrea's Queen of America to the list, his new novel that Stewart O'Nan called "jaunty, bawdy, gritty, and sweet."

Most of the year the Boswell's Best runs about 50 books, but we expand it for the holidays, by having every bookseller pick a few titles that they count among their favorites for the year. Yes, I know it is not Tuesday. Here are some of our selections:

When She Woke, by Hillary Jordan
Stacie's also a huge fan of this novel, an apocalyptic take on The Scarlet Letter. Hannah Jordan wokes up in a ward where she's been injected with a virus that makes her skin turn red for having an abortion. Both readers compared the new book to Margaret Atwood. It was also the #1 Indie Next Pick for October.  And Jordan won a lot of fans with Mudbound, though this is a very different kind of novel. We've been a little disappointed with our sales so far, but we're hoping we can have a good holiday with this solid novel.

The Cat's Table, by Michael Ondaatje
This novel with autobiographical elements (he's sent on a voyage from Ceylon to London to join his mother) has had magnificent reviews, and I think has been a bigger success than his last, Divisadero. Honestly, I read it and though it was beautfully written, I kept thinking that Ondaatje's secret message to me was "I dare you to love me. I dare you."  This novel is more straightforward. We've already sold substantially more copies than the Schwartz location did of his previous novel and a Christmas push should bring us to about double the sales.

The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka
Otsuka's "delicate and heartbreaking" (I'm paraphrasing Publishers Weekly) novel about Japanese mail-order brides was shortlisted for the National Book Award, and if you're wondering, Jason just added the winner, Jessamyn Ward's Salvage the Bones, to the Boswell's Best this week too. This novel falls also falls into the first-person plural camp, along with Hannah Pittard's The Fates will Find Their Way. Based on other novels I can think of that use this device (from Dean Bakopoulous and Jeffrey Eugenides*), I hearby challenge someone to write a book that isn't sad and whistful--a gruesome zombie novel or something like that. But no parodies.

*And Joshua Ferris too, right? Doesn't Then We Came to the End qualify? I can't remember.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Getting Last Minute Things Done for Friday Morning, Even Though I Won't Be There.

This morning started late and that was a good thing. As we don't have any events this weekend and not really any requests for staff to be off extra days, I was able to visit my family for a few days in the Phoenix area. Alas, I am not involved with the cooking or anything; I'm just happy to have made the flight, as I woke up rather late.

As of yesterday, we were staging the store for Christmas, and there's more to do tomorrow. Amie and I wound up staying late on Wednesday. She worked on our new Klutz display (seems rather large for a "junior" display if you ask me) while I restocked our Folkmanis display and brought out more Coelacanth bags and coin purses. Did you know that the #1 Klutz book on Ingram demand is Lego Crazy Action Contraptions? I'm not sure if we bought this or not, and since it's Thanksgiving, I'm not even going to check.

Being that we had some free endcap space, I put out more of those Command wall hooks. You should know that I am not brand dropping because someone is paying me--I really like them, though if you hang too much, they do sometimes fall down.

There's still more to go. On Friday Jason creates our holiday Boswell's Best, another bay of discounted titles that all the Boswellians picked (including me) as their annual favorites. There are also buyer's choice. So yes, that means we discount a few more books for the holidays. On the other hand, we're just opening Boswell at the regular time on Black Friday, at 10 am. Like many indie stories, we actually get busier later in the day.

I'm very excited to be working a few hours at Changing Hands in Tempe on Friday morning. If you are aching to get some book recs between 10 am and 12 noon, I might be able to help.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Not the Thanksgiving Story You Expected--A Discussion of Larry Watson's American Boy

I keep telling myself that I can skip one post a month. I thought that no post on Thanksgiving would be an appropriate gesture. But then I read a novel that started on the storied holiday, and that inspired me that today would be the perfect day to write about Larry Watson's American Boy. And then I thought, well what if I write about a Thanksgiving novel on the Tuesday before?

The story begins in the southwest corner of Willow Falls, Minnesota, 1962. Matthew Garth's mother works as a waitress at Palmer's Supper Club. His dad is gone, not that his being there would have changed the family's situation; by now, the struggling screen door plant would have probably laid him off.

He has a surrogate family of sorts. His friend Johnny is the son of the town doctor, and Dr. Dunbar has high hopes for his son to follow him into the field of medicine; Matt has sort of come along for the ride. He clearly looks up to Dr. Dunbar, who has in many ways come to treat him like his own son. But their are limits to that love, as Matt learns during a particularly rough hockey game.

So back to that Thanksgiving dinner. In the midst of the meal, there is bad news. A young woman has been shot by her boyfriend; she turns out to be the soda jerk  at the pharmacy in town, and her life is clearly hardscrabble-y. Matthew And with a new reversal in circumstances, the Dunbars take the young woman in to be the doctor's assistant. So now, Matt has too things to obsess over--the Dunbars and young Louisa Lindahl.

A triangle of sorts begins to develop, but things don't always go where you expect, despite a sort of fated quality of the whole thing. Like all of Mr. Watson's work, the writing is spare and elegant, Shaker furniture-esque. If you've only read Montana 1948 (and between the book's likestanding populartity and the Shorewood Reads program, it seems as if everyone has in fact read this now classic novel), you might think that Watson's voice is always that of a male teenager. I assure you that is not the case. But if you did like the voice of Montana 1948, this is not that far afield.

I had a very good talk with Carl, who had a handle on the details, being that he read it twice, and I'll probably ask a few questions of Beverly, who has picked the book as one of her holiday recommendations. What exactly did Dr. Dunbar think of Matt anyway? Carl noted that he sometimes seemed to think of him as more of a son than his own son Johnny. And yet their conflicts seemed to almost be a proctection response of the doctor to his biological son. I wrote more but I thought it gave away too much of the plot.

The title of the novel is apt; the story really is about adolescent versus adult urges and how we respond to them differently and how they play out, based on how old you area and where your place in society is. For this is surely a novel about haves and have nots. The question is whether Matthew can transcend all the roadblocks that stand in his way to breaking the class barrier. For those who read the end of novels first or somewhere in the middle (and I know you're out there), Mr. Watson is on to you and doesn't really give too much away in the coda.

This has been the fall of partly read books. American Boy was one of those titles where I got partly through and moved onto something else. Oh, how I hate when this happens, but the bookstore gets in the way. And when I have two recs from booksellers, I tend to gravitate towards the orphans that didn't get any recs at all. It's my responsibility to care for the less fortunate books, but just like Dr. Dunbar, I can't take care of everybody, and some would say, just like Dr. Dunbar, my universal concern belies an underlying selfishness. I'll leave someone else to sort that out.

But sometimes I get back on track and finish what I started. To get in the spirit of the holiday, I'm thankful for that. But isn't that really a lot of what Watson's novel is about? It's the fateful things that determine our life path, the people that help along the way, or don't, and the gifts they give. I suspected that Matthew, despite his tortured relationship with Dr. Dunbar, did wind up becoming a doctor, and probably would not have if this chain of events hadn't happened.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Two Events This Week--One from Far Away (Sweden) and the Other From Next Door (Because He Used to Live in the Area)

Two events this week. Details below. I've been kept busy all weekend. This morning we put up a temporary display on our art wall to replace Aries's beautiful paper art sculpture. Next week students from Maryland Avenue Montessori will fill the wall, but for now, we're talking up our afternoon event with Michael J. Lisicky, author of Gimbels Has it!  He's doing another talk on the book at the Milwaukee County Historical Society at 12 Noon (I think) so our event at 3 is more about holiday store traditions. Alas, my battery on my camera gave out, and my phone does not seem to be sending photos to my email. It reminds me how simple the technology is on a printed book!

Tuesday, November 22, 7 pm, at the Samson Jewish Community Center, 6255 North Santa Monica Boulevard, co-sponsored by the Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center: Steve Sem-Sandberg, author of The Emperor of Lies. This event is free and open to the public.

Winner of the August Prize*, Sweden’s most important literary prize, and translated by Sarah Death, The Emperor of Lies tells the story of the second-largest Jewish ghetto, in the Polish city of Łódź . Established by the Nazis in 1940, they appointed as its leader, Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, a sixty-three-year-old Jewish businessman and orphanage director, whose authoritarian rule over the ghetto defined its existence. Driven by a titanic ambition, he sought to transform the ghetto into a productive industrial complex and strove to make it—and himself—indispensable to the Nazi regime. These compromises would have extraordinary consequences not only for Rumkowski but for everyone living in the ghetto.

Here's a quote from Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall, the 2009 winner of the Man Booker Prize:
"This is fiction of moral force, brilliantly sustained and achieved...Fiction here is operatinig at its best, to close the gap between past and present, between them and us: not through sentiment, but through real understanding. This is a stunning achievement and one to be applauded."

And just one more quote, from Sebastian Barry, author of The Secret Scripture and On Canaan's Side:
"Sem-Sandberg has achieved something monumental, but with a strange and necessary lightness of tough. The Emperor of Lies is sobering scarifying, and in its hunger for the truth, enthralling."
Wednesday, November 23, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Mark Wisneiewski, author of Show Up, Look Good.

Set in NYC before and just after 9/11, Show Up, Look Good is a novel about a jilted woman whose move to Manhattan and relationship with an elderly, mute former New York Yankee help her accept her innocence in her mother's death and admit her complicity in a secret crime too disturbing to report.

Show Up, Look Good is a rollicking, laugh-out-loud romp of a novel, a picaresque spin through fin-de-siecle New York as seen through the eyes of its intrepid, Midwestern-born heroine. Love, loneliness, roommates from hell, hipsters, the mob, and murder all play starring roles in this delightful book, and Wisniewski does justice to them all.” —Ben Fountain, author of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara.

Milwaukee native Mark Wisniewski is the author of the novel Confessions of a Polish Used Car Salesman, the story collection All Weekend with the Lights On, and a book of poems, One of Us One Night. His fiction has appeared in magazines such as Virginia Quarterly Review and the Antioch Review.

On Saturday, Mr. Wisniewski is presenting at All Writers' Workplace and Workshop in Waukesha.

And here's some more on the Gival Press website.

*If you want to read more about the Swedish Publishers Association, here's a link, in Swedish, no less.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What Sold This Week? From Sufi to World War II to Some Nice Mystery Pops...

I usually think that top 5 is plenty of books to report on a bestseller list blog, but I feel like my posts for the last few days have been spotty, so adding more titles seems somehow more meaty.

Hardcover fiction:
1. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
2. The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides
3. The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes
4. Blankets, by Craig Thompson
5. 11-22-63, by Stephen King
6. The Litigators, by John Grisham
7. V is for Vengeance, by Sue Grafton
8. The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
9. 1Q84, by Haruki Murakami
10. The Conference of the Birds, by Peter Sís

It's tough to categorize the new book by Peter Sís, who here has illustrated an epic Sufi poem. In the end, even though we had it in a nonfiction category, I tend to put poetry in with fiction, and really, it doesn't even matter. Coincidentally Thompson's Habibi also touches on Sufi themes.

Hardcover nonfiction:
1. The Oxford Companion to Beer, by Garrett Oliver
2. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson
3. Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945, by Max Hastings
4. And So it Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, by Charles J. Shields
5. Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
6. Little History of the World: Illustrated Edition, by E. H. Gombrich
7. Desiny of the Republic, by Candice Millard
8. A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France, by Caroline Moorehead
9. Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, by Chris Matthews
10. In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson

History and biography dominate the list this week. I was reading more about Caroline Moorehead's depiction about the French resistance to the Nazis in France, and noticed that not only did we sell out, but so did Ingram for restocking. It was probably this NPR piece that popped our sales.

Paperback fiction:
1. Blankets, by Craig Thompson
2. The Tiger's Wife, by Téa Obreht
3. Bill Warrington's Last Chance, by James King
4. The All of It, by Jeannette Haien
5. The Postmistress, by Sarah Blake
6. The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, by Walter Mosley
7. An Uncertain Place, by Fred Vargas
8. God of the Hive, by Laurie King
9. Luka and the Fires of Life, by Salman Rushdie
10. The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise, by Julia Stuart

Seconds after I sent my fall-winter book club brochure to the printer, I remembered that I forgot to include The Tower The Zoo and The Tortoise. I made up for it by talking about it several times over the next few days.

Paperback nonfiction
1. The First America's Team, by Bob Berghaus
2. Gudrun's Kitchen, by Ingeborg Baugh and Irene Sandvold
3. Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff
4. Listening for the Heartbeat of God, by Philip Newell
5. At Home, by Bill Bryson
6. The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson
7. The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal
8. Paris Without End, by Gioia Diliberto
9. Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness, Only Moreso, by Mark Vonnegut
10. You Had me at Woof, by Julie Klam

Dog books are no stranger to our bestseller lists. Klam's canine-friendly memoir was the focus of this profile in the New York Times upon hardcover publication. I don't think this was a media pop for us, but just a cute little dog staring at customers on the front table.

Hardcover Books for Kids
1. This Dark Endeavor, by Kenneth Oppel
2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever, by Jeff Kinney
3. The Other Felix, by Keir Graff
4. Home for Christmas, by Jan Brett
5. Aldo Leopold's Shack, by Nancy Hunt
6. The Inheritance, by Christopher Paolini
7. Family Storybook Treasury, by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
8. I Want my Hat Back, by Jon Klassen
9. Ivy and Bean: No News is Good News, by Annie Barrows
10. Wizard of Oz Scanimation, by Rufus Butler Seder with the help of L. Frank Baum

At the Woman's Club holiday books luncheon, our two top bestsellers were very different, and both books that had not yet made much of an impression at the bookstore. One was The Family Storybook Treasury, a value-priced collection of picture books. The other was The Limit: Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit, by Michael Cannell. It came out #11 on the nonfiction hardcover list. Hachette's Mike talked it up to me at the GLIBA conference and our rep Randy seconded it at rep night. While auto racing is not a category that in itself is a winner for us, it fills the sweet spot of an exciting book for a guy who previously liked books on mountain climbing, sailing, long distance running, all of which went well beyond their expected core audiences.

Paperback Books for Kids
1. Darker Still, by Leanna Renee Hieber
2. Silverwing, by Kenneth Oppel
3. Sunwing, by Kenneth Oppel
4. The Misfits, by James Howe
5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had an intense run of offsite sales this week, and we're doing another event tonight, a co-sponsored truffle dinner with Patricia Wells for Simply Truffles at Lake Park Bistro. At the Cudahy Family Library, I learned about Hieber's new teen series, Magic Most Foul. In Darker Still,  a young man is trapped in a painting while his body commits horrible crimes in 19th century New York City. He finds a teenage girl who can help him break the spell, but first she'll have to enter the painting. Apparently it's a play on The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday Gift Post--Christmas Stuff, Part One

The verdict is in--I don't know what our sell through will be like, but everyone at the store is very happy with our ornament selection. We found several nice new vendors, and picked up some great little things from our old favorites. We even sold out of our first ornament--a resin pheasant. We also bought the pheasant in a larger size as table decor, but 4 of the 6 came damaged and the other two sold out within a couple days of putting them out.
The new tree with the brush animal ornaments went up today. Here is a picture of the fox and one of the dogs.
Several of our ornaments come in sets.  These ceramic elves and snowmen share an artist, and snowman also doubles as a mug.
These felt ornaments all have a jolliness about them, whether they are Santa, snowman, or penguin. They are made out of felt.
And these feathered balls or deceptively light, as I think they have a styrofoam ball inside. We are also selling matching feathered trees.

More in another post.  We've got plenty more stuff for the holidays.

Friday, November 18, 2011

An Evening at the Front Desk. For Some Reason, We are at Our Busiest at 8:45. Must be a Movie Starting Soon.

It's Friday evening, the shift when I generally work the front desk. I just had a spirited discussion of A Visit from the Goon Squad with a customer who had bogged down in the telling, and had switched to The Human Stain.  I noted that there was something in common with the two authors--they both had dark senses of humor. But I did note that the structure of Egan's novel is not for everyone. As I like to say, every book has various hoops you have to be willing to jump through, and if you don't want to jump, there's little likelihood that you will be satisfied in the end.

I decided to receive some gift stuff at the front desk. First up was a box of stuffed bears. I think our teddy assortment is a bit larger than the last two years. I'm not exactly sure why I thought it should be ramped up, but let's just say, at least one of my booksellers did a little bear hugging.

We just got our last boxed Christmas cards; the story of why they showed up in November is long and boring. Let's just say that we had a difference of opinion as to whether our account was up to date; it turned out that the publisher had credited the wrong invoice with one of our checks. So in effect, we were both right and wrong. We cut the order and half but still took it. It's just about time to bring the cards to the front of the store anyway.

We're still putting out ornaments and Christmasy stuff. Anne decided she wanted a separate tree to showcase the items from a new line we brought in with an upmarket Etsy feel to it.  That said, we're getting a good reaction from the other new line I brought in, that has a more mainstream feel to it, though I did tend towards the more whimsical items. It was interesting speaking to the rep about the line--we were the only vendor in the 53202 and 53211 zip codes, but there were at least three shops in 53217 carrying it. I don't always get to see data like this, and I got a rush from it.

Greg likes the new mushroom ornaments.

Oh, back to the tree. After the Woman's Club luncheon, an annual soiree where we dined on shrimp salad and coveted cinnamon rolls, Anne and I went to Stein's #1 on South 27th Street for our tree, a 4.5 foot slimline model. I like that not only is Stein's based locally, but this store is actually in the city limits, albeit 50 or so feet from the edge. As you may also know, there is a very good Asian supermarket across the street. The bad news? It's really easy to get there, but due to the 894-43 mess, it's really hard to get back.  It's the road equivalent of stores that have up escalators but not down ones. DSW anyone?

Paramount Pictures called and I let them talk to Sharon, being that they probably weren't interested in buying the rights to my life story. It turns out they wanted to send us swag for Hugo, or as we know it, the film version of The Invention of Hugo Cabret. It's not just posters and bookmarks and screening passes (Mayfair Mall on Monday, November 21 if you are interested, but journals and scarves too. Bev wore one today because she was cold. Apparently we somehow agreed to do all this marketing for the movie. Consider this stage one of our blitz. Here's a quote from Amie: "I want to see that movie."

The boxed cards are received, I got them all set on the table, and when I got back to the desk it was 8:45. Almost time to go home!

I'll add photos later. And probably more gift stuff tomorrow.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Five Questions for the Blog Writer.

Why is this such a short blog post?
I have just done six offsites in five days. Strangely enough, two of them smelled a bit like bacon.

Was it worth it closing at 11 pm to get all everyone who attended their suitably signed copy of Habibi?
Yes. Proof below.

Am I happy about the store being featured on the front page of the New York Times?
A great big sloppy yes. Thank you, Ms. Patchett for your gracoius mention. Hooray for Parnassus Books!*

Why is Daniel so over-the-top excited?
Here's a snippet.

How about another clue?
Michael Lisicky is doing a talk about holiday department store traditions, in conjunction with his new release, Gimbels Has It! on Monday, December 13, at 3 pm. I know it's an odd time, but he's in and out in one day and honestly, I'd be happy to talk to him alone about this.

Really, that was a clue. Think about it.

*A note about the New York Times piece. Several people came in and asked where all the hanging signs were. I actually was referring to hanging stuff, not signs, as readers of the blog will know. Though we are not heavily strung out at the moment, this year we've had stars, snowflakes, bats, owls, puzzle pieces, wooden birds, and a couple of other appropriate stuffed animals. I have the idea for a rock and roll novel table with some of my old 45s hanging above, but while I know all the older books I would include, I need one or two new releases for it to be timely.

I don't want you to think I am all braggy about Boswell. When I talk to potential booksellers (and I've talked to several others over the last few years), I am as quick to point out all the things I think I'm doing wrong, as I am to talk about things that we did correctly.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Motifs That Recur in James King's Bill Warrington's Last Chance (event is 11/19), How They Recall Other 2012 Favorites, and Our New Book Club Brochure is Almost Done.

If you follow our event calendar closely, you'll note that there is something that we've been doing semi-regularly that is missing from the Boswell fall calendar.  For the last few seasons, I've been taking a sleeper paperback novel and pairing it with a short book club presentation.

This fall we had an idea in mind but the booking never came together. Then I got all frazzled by our other fall events. And then Stacie mentioned to me that a customer noticed that our book club brochure still said spring-summer 2011. If I were smart, I'd stop dating them.

The sharing the spotlight thing doesn't work for every author. If the author is popular enough that we're going to get a crowd without me pitching other books, there's no reason for me to be there. And because we don't want the program to run too long, the author has to be ok with only talking/reading for 15-20 minutes instead of the usual 30-45. So nothing this fall, but I hope to have a nice program in the spring.

Regarding the book club picks, there's an art to that as well.  It's not necessarily 23 books that I like.  Why 23? Because that's what fits on a brochure.  Though more book clubs are choosing hardcovers, we're still trying to focus picks on paperbacks, to be fair to our customers who choose printed books, and this quandary warrants a whole blog. Short stories are tough, as is non-narrative nonfiction. Mysteries and science fiction/fantasy, even the more speculative mainstream stuff, have more limited markets for this kind of discussion. And honestly, so are really long books, though that doesn't stop me from trying. In fact, I try to break all these rules, but not with every book on the list.

Alas, there were a few books that would have worked for this kind of thing. Mary François Rockcastle's In Caddis Wood was one, though I was a bit suspicious of getting a crowd on a Friday night without the momentum I had going in with Julie Orringer. And this Saturday's talk/reading with James King, author of Bill Warrington's Last Chance, was another opportunity I didn't catch until it was too late.

King's novel fell in into my lap through the efforts of Yen in publicity, who inquired about an event with King on Saturday, November 19, 2 pm (we accepted!) I had really not noticed the book in hardcover, but I was intrigued, particularly by the really dramatic jacket change from hardcover to paperback. It was like the story had spent a week at a spa and came out with "softer, younger looking skin" as every other commercial on Lifetime seems to promise.  "Oh, and make me a little like Little Bee, orange and silhouette-like."

So Bill Warrington is not really in great shape. He's living alone in Lakewood, Ohio (a town the author knows well), with dishes and leaves piling up, respectively, in the sink and the yard. His wife passed away some years ago from cancer, and whatever relationship he had with his three kids is in pieces. Mike is a salesman, Nick a travel writer, Marcy a real estate agent. But their lives aren't going along swimmingly, and sadder than that, they don't get along particularly well with each other.

Marcy is also having trouble with her daughter April, who'd like nothing better than to skip town and become a rock star in San Francisco. And in hanging around with her grandpa, whose memory is begining to prove more and more erratic, she hatches a plan to do just that. And Bill? He's got his own plan; this escape is going to get his family back together.

It's funny how novels can play off each other in your head. Like Rebecca Makkai's The Borrower (which will likely be on this list in paperback), two semi-kindred sprits escape from a family situation, but the road trip doesn't exactly help the situation, at least in the short term. And like Alice Laplante's Turn of Mind (another book that I hope to have on our book club list), Mr. King features a character with developing Alzheimer's, not only trying to get into his head, but also into the heads of his loved ones.

And there is something akin to Little Bee as well; King has put together some pretty unlikable people. You read a book with one Sarah--how about one with five? I get folks complaining about unsympathetic characters all the time, but how many years did you watch Seinfeld?

As the story continues, the secrets of the family come out. Why is Mike mad at his father? Why is Nick resentful of his brother, albeit in a somewhat veiled manner? Why are men and women so awful to each other, and if that's the case, why do people wind up together anyway? And just to show you that the book skews young in at least one way, like many raunch film comedies, I have never quite seen so layered with meaning in a recent novel that was not apocalyptic.  There are three different projectile scenes in all, and each one resonates differently.

Here are the quotes  the publisher is using and why they are interesting:

Booklist: "Part road odyssey, part coming-of-age tale, King's novel achieves the exact right balance of humor, redemption, and reconciliation."
We had Keir Graff, who writes for Booklist, do a school visit yesterday, and we had a great book discussion while I drove him to the Amtrak station. And yes, there is a key scene in Bill Warrington's Last Chance that is set at Amtrak.

Sue Monk Kidd: "Perhaps the best thing you can say about a novel is that the story lingers after you finish it. I have gone on thinking about this one without trying."
That's it! I think the hardcover jacket reminded me of The Secret Life of Bees a bit.

Sue Grafton: "This is what reading is about and what a good book is supposed to do."
Not sure I would compare King to Grafton, but it's timely to include this as V is for Vengeance came out Tuesday, November 15 (in post terms, yesterday).

I'll be presenting to a Racine book club after our Saturday program. Come pick up one of our book club brochures (we'll probably have a link to this online eventually, but this blog post is too long already), and don't forget, I'm happy to set aside time to speak to your book club at Boswell.