Thursday, February 28, 2013

We Like Books. A Round-Up of Boswell Quotes for Titles from Jamie Quatro, Melanie Benjamin, Karen Russell, Jeremy Bernstein, and Kent Haruf.

One of the exciting things about our road trip was that I gave myself permission to read a book that wasn't a booked event, wasn't a potentially booked event, and wasn't an upcoming book club selection. Hannah told me that she reserves a portion of each month for these sorts of pleasure reads, and looks forward to that period the way I get excited about maybe stopping for chicken tikka masala soup from The Soup House.

I am grateful that most of my booksellers are great about reading our upcoming event books, but they also read a lot of the new releases that aren't scheduled for Boswell. Even better, they write them up so we can let the publishers know what we're excited about. Sometimes we get one of these quotes in the Indie Next list. But even if we don't, it's nice to be able to give a shout out to great new titles. Here are a few of our recent picks.

From Hannah:
Benediction, by Kent Haruf  (Knopf) In Benediction,"Haruf's gracious and honest examination of the intricacies of human nature shines through his characters like a beacon guiding us towards unequaled prose. Dad is dying, there's a new preacher, and Alice has come to live with her grandmother. Haruf weaves these events effortlessly into the tapestry of small town life."

Benediction is the #1 Indie Next pick for March. Read Gayle Shanks review from Changing Hands, plus 19 other picks from booksellers here, or browse the Indie Bound case at Boswell. 

From Paul:
I Want to Show You More, by Jamie Quatro (Grove Press). "Quatro mixes surreal and fabulist elements with sharp and illuminating details about everyday life to create a collection of compelling stories that challenge us to think about the stories that we tell ourselves each day. Her characters are always unpredictable in their pursuit of their sometimes desperate desires. Many of the stories focus on characters attempting to reconcile modern secularity with the surreal stories with which they have been raised, and the powerful, earnest, disquietude this creates is the unique joy of reading this collection. Really solid collection. I love, love, love it!"

In the Daily Beast, Jane Ciabattari recommends Quatro's collection, along with new short story works from Jess Walter (did I mention he's coming May 6?) and Yoko Ogawa. As you know, Jim Higgins at the Journal Sentinel loved Ogawa's Revenge, as did our buyer Jason.

From Stacie:
Vampires in the Lemon Grove, by Karen Russell (Knopf). "Continuing what she started in her first collection (St. Lucy's Home for Girls, Raised by Wolves), which I also loved, Russell takes metaphor and fabulism to a new level without resorting to cliche. At once fantastical and imaginative, as well as layered with thoughtful depth, the stories in this second collection are maturely voiced, artfully styled and haunting."

Maureen Corrigan raves about Russell's collection on the beloved talk show, Fresh Air.

From Halley:
A Palette of Particles, by Jeremy Bernstein (Belknap). "A must for fans of chemistry and physics, Bernstein illustrates the different particles that make up our universe. His descriptions, appropriately enough, are colorful and detailed, making the most abstract pieces of science seem within grasp. The book is modern, touching on current hot physics topics like the Higgs Boson and particle accelerators."

The Kirkus review said "Bernstein delves into some areas that will flummox beginners, but few will resist his accounts of the history, flamboyant geniuses (many of whom he knew personally), and basics of protons, neutrons and electrons that make up the familiar world."

From Anne:
The Aviator’s Wife, by Melanie Benjamin (Delacrote). "Like many others, I have long been captivated by the Lindberg myth—a heroic legend, wonderful story, and a tragedy of huge proportions. It’s all here, along with the hidden reality of their lives. A fascinating read!"

Jason noted (and I may have said this elsewhere) that The Aviator's Wife is selling better than Benjamin's last, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb. Reviews have been good. Robin Vidimos in The Denver Post reports "Benjamin's first person narrative is remarkable in capturing the contradictions that form Anne's life. She is intelligent and well educated, but when it comes to her relationship with her husband, she is an invertebrate."

I'd give you one of my recs but just about everything I find interesting gets turned into a blog post. There's one tomorrow, in fact.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Winter Institute Inspiration--Looking for Kansas City Between the Pages.

After spending a weekend in Kansas City, bookended by snowstorms, I was hungry for more. I hadn't been to the town since 1989, when I visited with a friend. Back then the Macy's department store from the first go-round (the purchase of the John Taylor Dry Goods Company in 1949) had just been sold to Dillard's, but the Jones Store (part of Mercantile Stores) were still downtown.We had visited a store called Whistlers in Westport. Still I had missed the golden days of Bennett Schneider (at least according to Burt, one of my long-time sales reps), which closed as a stationery store just last year, but once upon a time sold a ton of books out of Country Club Plaza.

Alas, the show was so packed with sessions that we didn't have time to explore, though several folks headed to suburban Fairway's Rainy Day Books for an anniversary party. In addition, I noticed that a new second-hand store called Prospero's opened earlier this year in Uptown. Never got there! I'd have to explore the town through books.

To prepare for our visit to the City of Fountains, I read Steve Paul's anthology, Kansas City Noir. This well-regarded series from Akashic still hasn't reached Milwaukee, but I haven't stopped hoping. The Kansas City edition was a pretty somber collection, filled with lots of wronged folks down on their luck, who perpetrated a last-chance violent act. It's all set up by a loss of faith, whether that is Nancy Pickard and the local church in "Lightbulb", the movie theater collapse that Mitch Brian chronicles in "Last Night at the Rialto" or the infiltration of the mob into the barbecue business in Nadia Pflaum's "Charlie Price's Last Supper." Noir is dark, after all.

It turns out that Steve Paul interviewed Alex George, author of A Good American, the "One Conference, One Book" (paraphrased title) selection for Winter Institute. It's a tough thing to pull off, as most of the attendees are quite busy in the weeks leading up to show. There's inventory and returns and spring buying and events and maybe like me you're setting up for a construction project. That said, I decided to read George's first novel, as it was also selected as a #1 Indie Bound pick for its hardcover release.

It's the story of three generations of the Meisenheimer family of Germany, from Frederick and Jette, who came over to avoid the wrath of Jette's parents, to their children Joseph and Rosa, and then Joseph's four sons, most notably James, who narrates the story. Mr. George chronicles the American century through this family, with everything from wars to race relations to the chaining of America told in the pages. The continuing strands are the family restaurant (which starts out German and morphs from there) and good singing voices, which culminates in a barbershop quartet of the grandsons. 

The book's had some big fans (including writers Sara Gruen, Eleanor Brown, and Emily St. John Mandel), and was named a best book of the year by Library Journal and Bookpage (a review journal/marketing platform for indie bookstores), but didn't work for me, alas. As I say to folks who wonder why a book they absolutely love might not be appreciated by others, every novel sets up hoops we have to jump through to appreciate it, and sometimes we just can't make the leap. But I should also note that A Good American was centered in central Missouri, near Columbia, and I had been hoping that the story would be more local in flavor. Milwaukee's had a number of books in the last ten years or so that tried to capture the flavor of the city, so I decided that KC, a larger metro area than MKE, should surely have the same.

A blog called "My Porch" had an entry exploring this subject, but his top pick, Stoner, the fabulous novel by John Williams, is also centered on Columbia.  His other suggestions were In Cold Blood (Kansas, and not the KC suburbs) and Willia Cather's fiction (Nebraska). Good try, but I'm still searching for jazzy riffs, barbecue, and Stroud's fried chicken on the banks of the Missouri River.

But finally I found the book I wish I'd read. Browsing a list of famous Kansas Citians, I came across Evan S. Connell. Yes, it turns out that Mrs. Bridge (1959) takes place in the town of Connell's birth. I know we've got a copy at Boswell because we did a memorial display of Connell's books, as he died only recently.  I'd include the companion novel Mrs. Bridge (1969) as well, but Bev always told me the first book is better, and you know how I am about series.

But what about contemporary fiction? What books have been set in and around this city?  Was there a nostalgic taste of the past in some book like Lesley Kagen's Whistling in the Dark? Did an outsider find inspiration amidst your fountains and come up with something like Pauls Tougtonghi's Red Weather? Was there someone who made a puzzle out of figuring out just where the settings were like Lauren Fox did in Friends like Us? And you had your local controversy with a book like Colleen Curran's Whores on the Hill? We all want to know!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Boswell + Best + Possessive = Boswell's Best for Tuesday, February 26. Food for Thought from Al Gore, Amity Shlaes, Cristoph Irmscher, and the Writing Teams of Po Bronson/Ashley Merryman and Kevin Cullen/Shelley Murphy.

It's Tuesday, and that means new releases. Last week I asked Greg to pick out a few books to feature with some guidelines (it had to be on Boswell's Best, for one) and he came up with Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing (Twelve), by Po Broson and Ashley Merryman. The authors previously collaborated on NurtureShock, and separately, Bronson wrote the #1 bestseller, What Should I Do with My Life? It's in the vein of Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Pink, both of whom just spoke at Winter Institute. Pink actually wrote a great rec for Bronson/Merryman's last collaboration, Nurtureshock. Of Top Dog, Publishers Weekly's take: "Accessible for fans of pop science, yet substantial enough to have practical applications, Bronson and Merryman's investigation will have folks rethinking the impulse to win at work and play"

Our trip to Kansas City over the weekend left us with a lot of time in the car. There was some quiet time, some doing that thing where you scan every radio station for ten seconds time, and best of all, the we found a public radio station and we're going to listen to it until it gets all fuzzy time. Yesterday we heard Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy talking with Terry Gross about Whitey Bulger: America's Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt that Brought Him to Justice (Norton) on Fresh Air. The interview was very fascinating and I stopped reading during the segment, which is highly unusual when I like the book I'm immersed in (and quite common when I don't). Michael Connelly called this "the definitive story" and noted, "I couldn't put it down." I confirmed that the publisher did not trick Connelly by putting glue on the cover.  Everybody else likes it too, as Jason noted it's on The NYT bestseller list next week.

I thought when we got in copies of The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change (Random House) a few week's ago that Al Gore would not need my help selling at Boswell, but despite a strong showing on some lists, we still have signed first editions. Chrystia Freeland in the Washington Post reports "Sprawling, earnest and ambitious--its modest title is The Future--Al Gore’s new book embodies both the virtues and the flaws of its author. But those hardy souls who slog past the weaknesses will be rewarded by a book that is brave, original and often fun"

Speaking of national bestsellers with presidential confidence, Amity Shlaes's Coolidge (Harper) is also a huge hit, but while we generally do swimmingly well with serious presidential biography, we're a little slow out of the gate with this one. Like Gore's book, we're discounting this new biography 20%. This essay in the Wall Street Journal explains Coolidge's timely appeal--he was known as a budget balancer and Shlaes directs the Four Percent Growth Project at the George W. Bush Presidential Center.  Aha! The secret is that this is probably getting a lot of enthusiasm from conservative news sources (I still don't know the answer for Gore), and while we do sell conservative titles, particularly ones with intellectual heft, there are other venues that sell them better. A rather famous liberal author confided to me that he wished his followers had the purchasing loyalty of the counterpoints on the left, who will buy a book out of duty, much like family will do at a launch event.

We leave politics behind for another biography, Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), by Christoph Irmscher. A pioneer of field resarch, Agassiz was a Swiss immigrant who settled in Boston after coming over to leacture. He was known for his obsessive collecting, and convinced the American public to send him specimens. (If you like this, stay tuned for The Edge of the Earth, by Christina Schwarz, a novel that covers this time period and specimen collecting from a different angle). Rebecca Stott informs us in The New York Times Book Review that "The range of Agassiz’s interests and expertise seems remarkable to a modern reader, given the narrow specialties of contemporary scientific practice, but in many ways, it was this restless curiosity that made him a transitional figure. He may have forged the path for research as a profession ensconced in universities endowed with posts and chairs, but he also belonged to the older age of the ­polymathic natural philosopher."

If I was caught up on everything else I have to do today, I would tell you about Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (Random House), by Michael Moss. But there are things to be done, so I'll just link you to this UK Guardian review.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Only Two Events This Week, but Hosting Christopher Castellani and Kevin Henkes is Kind of Dreamy (and Even Moreso with Fox & Branch Opening for Henkes).

Wednesday, February 27, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Christopher Castellani, author of All This Talk of Love.

Remember back on January 18, when I wrote about Castellani's novel? It seemed so long ago, but that time is upon us--if you've forgotten what I said, you can review the post now. Since then, the interview with Paul Salsini in the February issue of the Italian Times appeared. In addition, I received several emails from folks around Milwaukee (including local writers Liam Callanan and C.J. Hribal), telling me how much they liked Castellani and how they were looking forward to his appearance.

The story is of the Grasso family of Wilmington, Delaware. Maddalena has lost her husband and one of her sons. Her daughter Prima is a mother of four, a perfectionist who has tried to keep the family together. Her son Frankie has moved away and distanced himself. Prima's convinced that she can rekindle the spirit of the family by arranging a trip to Italy. Alas, Maddalena does not want to go and while still vibrant at 72, is beginning to experience spells. Katherine Bailey in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune raves that "Castellani’s book is a riveting portrayal of a decent family spinning in a vortex of love, loss, hope and memory."

Christopher Castellani is the artistic director of Grub Street, where he hosts one of the largest (and from what I've heard, best) writing events in the country.

Saturday, March 2, 1 pm, at Boswell:
The kids' folk music duo Fox and Branch.

I've been hearing for years about the band Fox and Branch, and maybe my ears were listening a bit harder because I enjoy Will Branch and his family so much. As their website notes, "Dave Fox and Will Branch play a timeless kind of music. Their crowd-pleasing mix of old blues, jug band songs, fiddle tunes, New Orleans-flavored numbers and Cajun tunes makes people stop and smile. The duo has played to appreciative audiences at clubs, festivals, schools and libraries all over the midwest, as well as on the east coast and south to Louisiana. Their music has been played on folk radio across the United States and Canada."

And that's just the opener for...

Satuday, March 2, 2 pm, at Boswell:
Kevin Henkes, author of Penny and Her Marble and many other books.

You have been asking us if we'd be getting Kevin Henkes to visit since...the day we opened. There have been teases. And then Mr. Henkes appeared at the Milwaukee Public Library for the Wisconsin Writers Wall of Fame ceremony and he confirmed he'd be interested in appearing for the next Penny book. We cheered! You cheered!

The new chapter book's premise is pretty simple. Penny finds a marble while pushing her doll Rosie in a carriage. She brings it home. Her conscious begins to bother her. How can she rectify this situation. Kirkus gave the book a starred review, noting that Henkes plumbs the emotional depth of childhood as few author/illustrators can.

And Booklist also gave Henkes' latest a starred review. "Told in short sentences and simple words with a natural cadence, the story lays out a moral dilemma, lets the heroine find her own solution, and concludes with a reassuringly good outcome. Expressive ink-and-watercolor illustrations complement the text on every page. This small-scale yet immensely satisfying drama is a fine addition to the Penny series."

We're happy to let you bring books from home to be signed, though we hope you will purchase a book from us as well. We've got everything from board books to young adult novels. We even have the Penny doll for sale.  This should be about as much fun as you can have on a Saturday afternoon. Hope to see you there.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Dateline Kansas City--Boswell's Bestsellers for the Week Ending February 23, 2013.

Hardcover nonfiction:
1. Thinner This Year, by Chris Crowley and Jennifer Sacheck
2. Detroit City is the Place to Be, by Mark Binelli
3. Going Clear, by Lawrence Wright
4. Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand
5. Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo

After chatting with the publicist at Workman about Chris Crowley's new book on the bestseller list and how maybe a firm on-sale date would help a book like this pop better in the new world order, Thinner This Year has a strong sales pop at Boswell this week. I also wondered if the Binelli Detroit book was keeping up with LeDuff in other channels the way it was here, or are our sales an anomaly due to 1) a particularly good review from Mike Fischer in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and 2) the fact that we share some of Detroit's problems gravitates us to the more positive prognosis.

Hardcover fiction:
1. Tenth of December, by George Saunders
2. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
3. The Dinner, by Herman Koch
4. A Week in Winter, by Maeve Binchy
5. Vampires in the Lemon Grove, by Karen Rusell

Jason got an email from our rep Jason after the first week of sale that A Week in Winter, Maeve Binchy's newest, her first since passing last year (who knows what they'll find in the trunk?) was selling better than her usual pace, but at that point, it wasn't for us. Apparently just that contact jump-started sales. And we also noticed that The Dinner looks like their first breakout bestseller. Jason's hoping for a repeat performance with A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, coming in May, mostly because he loved it. It's one of the buzz books at the Winter Institute we are currently attending. Why not have us call or email you when Marra's novel arrives?

Paperback nonfiction:
1. Milwaukee Garage Bands, by Peter Roller
2. Quiet, by Susan Cain
3. In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson
4. Schuster's and Gimbels, by Paul Geenen
5. The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson

Peter Roller's event for Milwaukee Garage Bands last Tuesday was quite popular, and if you want to know what all the fuss was about, he'll be at Books and Company in Oconomowoc on Sunday, March 3, 1 pm. Meanwhile Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of  Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking continues to get new press and buzz. Recently Fast Company announced her foray into public speaking for introverts.

Paperback fiction:
1. DEROS Vietnam, by Doug Bradley
2. Learning to Stay, by Erin Celello
3. The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker
4. The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain
5. The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Our joint event with Bradley and Celello turned out to be a nice match. I see a bunch of fiction events coming up in April and May, and I  wish I could figure out a way that I could put two authors together in an interesting way, the way these two authors talked about veteran's issues. Aside from that, the rest of the top five come from authors in the Random House group. Cathryn at a bookstore we went to in Des Moines (more about that on another post) is a huge fan of The Language of Flowers, and was rather disappointed in me that I haven't read it yet.

Books for Kids:
1. I am a Bunny, by Ole Risom and Richard Scarrey
2. Penny and Her Marble, by Kevin Henkes
3. Exclamation Mark, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld
4. Adventures of a South Pole Pig, by Chris Kurtz
5. Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes

It's just a week away now, our afternoon with Kevin Henkes. He'll be appearing at 2, with an opening kids' concert from Fox and Branch, starting at 1 pm. Our customers clearly can't wait either, as several Henkes titles wound up on this weeks' bestseller list. Sign up for a signed copy of Penny and Her Marble here.

New to the list is Exclamation Mark, from the folks who brought us Duck! Rabbit! Publishers Weekly offers this praise: " Thanks to savvy design, the exclamation mark’s announcements are printed in different sizes and colors to subtly indicate emphasis and tone, yet the mark never meets others like himself and therefore never suffers from overuse"

In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Michael Schumacher and Denis Kitchen collaborate on a biography of Al Capp called surprisingly enough, Al Capp: A Life to the Contrary. Jim Higgins offers a positive review on "the tumultuous life of a talented, complicated, difficult man, whose satirical strip paved the way for the commentary that Garry Trudeau, among others, delivers in the comics

Kathy Flanigan interviews Philip Galanes, author of the Social Q's column in The New York Times, and the resulting book of the same name.

Kent Haruf's new novel, Benediction, is the #1 Indie Next book of March, and being among the very booksellers that voted for it at Winter Institute, there's been much talk about the quality of the new novel. Michael Fischer would agree, calling the story "splendid" and comparing it to Our Town and The Country of the Pointed Firs.  Read his review here in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Traipsing (No, That's Too Negative, Despite the Snow--Frolicking)Through Iowa City in the Snow--Mostly at Prairie Lights and Iowa Book.

One of the reasons I was happy about driving to Winter Institute is that we' would be able to spend more time in Iowa City. I hadn't been there in over twenty years, since I drove down to see a college friend when he was in grad school. I think at that point there was still some department store viewing--I think I went to my first Von Maur store in the quad cities, though I think at that time it was still called Petersen Harned Von Maur, transitioning from its original nameplate of Petersens.

We think that the last time I visited Prairie Lights, it was already in its current location. The only major change I knew of was the coffee/wine bar. We visited both in the evening and the next morning, and there was a good crowd on both occasions. The store is three floors, which of course makes it a bit of a pain to staff. That means that even though it's comparable in size to Boswell, it probably always needs four people on a shift, and we can make do with three, two in an emergency for short periods. My sympathies!

The first thing you notice when you come in the store are the power tables, which in PL's case are their new releases, discounted 25%. That's a solid incentive, though when I thought about it, pretty similar to Boswell, as we are 20%, plus 5% on a loyalty program. I asked some of the booksellers (the first night we had nice conversation with Tim) if they had a loyalty program and the response was "We've talked about it" and I certainly know how it feels. We've talked about a first edition club a lot, and lately we've been talking about putting the Kobo display out. Next week, I promise.

Paco Underhill would be pleased with the front of the store. As Jason noted, they had the right books and sections that set the tone for the rest of the store just as you arrived. And the Prairie Lights swag was quite tempting. Both Jason and I bought their fine tote bag, which had that sometimes elusive pocket. Boswell is on the market for a new tote (yes, we finally sold through), but I haven't decided what we're going to do. And we need a coffee mug. And a baseball cap. 

Jason and I wandered the floors, looking at the charming kids' area in the basement, a nice discrete space that while without windows, was still bright and inviting, and the second floor, which had about half the nonfiction sections, science fiction/fantasy, and assorted bookmarks and journals. There was also a gift gallery on the 1st floor. One of the funny things was that both stores we visited featured Flower Farm bookmarks from Mequon, which we've never carried.

We had to go back the next morning to see Paul Ingram, who once ran around Boswell hand-selling titles for what seemed like an hour, as a side note to seeing the quilt exhibit at the art museum. I am sad to say I sold nothing to nobody in my run, and am the worse for it. We asked Paul to chat about books for a while. "Hey, Paul. Hold up some books you're excited about." He went with Speaking from Among the Bones, by Alan Bradley (who seemingly broke out onto the New York Times top ten with his new installment) and Next of Kin, by Rilla Askew, previously featured here.

I always like seeing different ideas at stores, and wondering how these might work at Boswell. Paul keeps the back selections of his in-store book club on the shelf, and Jason and I were more than intrigued with that. We liked their staff recs, but thought they could have more space, and we were glad to see an Indie Next display, and were amused that they, like us, have to make their own shelf talkers because the ABA versions don't quite work, alas.

The night before we had dinner with Matt at an Italian pasta place the night before named Giovanni's, which we both enjoyed. the next morning we went to this vegetarian cafe and coffee place called Fair Grounds and Howling Dog Bakery. Excellent waffles--it's so rare that restaurants vary their waffle selection with different kinds of batter. As Jason would say, "they just put schmack on it." Jason had a lemon blueberry waffle while mine was potato dill. And yes, there were chunks of potato in my waffle. Delicious with a bit of sour cream on top. But I digress.

Matt works at Iowa Book, and the next day we visited him at the store (yes, I know that the picture is of Paul holding Rilla Askew, but I just got the feeling Matt wasn't going to pose for a photo. I tilted the photo Batman style, but I don't want anyone to think that Paul is villainous. In fact he is heroic).

Matt was excited that they had just picked up the Unemployed Philosophers Guild plush, and I told him we called them "literary taxonomy" and he's thinking of using that. It's a classic college bookstore, only with a nice trade section in the basement. Matt's a great reader, and I've heard from visitors that he's got a very good selection of sale books. I saw his touch on at least one shelf, where I spotted Alan Hollinghurst, David Leavitt, and Andrew Sean Greer. For some reason, I'd missed Leavitt's Collected Stories when it came out some years ago. Not sure how I felt about $24.95 paperback price point, but at bargain, it worked for me. We learned Leavitt's got a new book this fall--Jason read and enjoyed The Indian Clerk, so we were both enthused.

Speaking of new books, we chatted a bit about Andrew Sean Greer, who is teaching at Iowa this semester. He's got a new book as well, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, and I thought "How great for you all." One catch--the book comes out after his term finishes. No such problems for Ayana Mathis, whose novel, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, has been a huge seller for Prairie Lights, and is one of Matt's picks at Iowa Book. "Spectacular," enthused Matt, though it made have been a word just like spectacular, as I wasn't taking notes.I should note that Matt and I had vowed to never meet. I broke the vow and apologize, but honestly I have no regrets.

I love a good college bookstore, and good thing, as ABA is hot on us visiting the CAMEX show tomorrow. But our voyage southwest was only halfway done. But I have to get to a Winter Institute lunch, so I'll stop here.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Short Post--Driving to Kansas City.

Maybe not everyone wants to know how Jason and my trip to Kansas City went, but several folks did ask, being that we were driving into a snowstorm and all that. The good news is that we arrived at Iowa City just as the snow started, and left just after it ended, leaving enough time for all the major roads to be plowed. On first glance, it doesn't appear that this storm was one for the record books (and by the way, it appears from this news story that they were referring to a record snowfall for this particular date). The total for the airport is just over 9 inches. We did pass a number of cars that had been stranded on the side of the highway.

Jason wound up driving most of the way, partly because he loves to drive and also because he can't read in a car while I can. I chose to bring along Kansas City Noir (Akashic), edited by Steve Paul, which I picked up in Washington DC (though Boswell carries it too). There are short pieces from Daniel Woodrell, Nancy Pickard, John Lutz, and more. I'm enjoying reading it, though I must admit that they might not be the best travel reading, being that you start getting the feeling that the city is awfully violent. I guess if that's the way I was going to react, I should have read Kansas City Smooch Fest (Harlequin, June 2013, $15.95). This is the second in the "Noir" series that I have read, and reading short fiction in the genre reminds me that there are two ways to go about this and the authors seem evenly divided as to which works best. Some write their pieces as traditional short stories, adding mystery elements, while others use the format of a traditional mystery/thriller and edit it down to short fiction length. Which works better? I have no idea--I've read good examples in either format (and yes, duds too).

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Film Novels Part II: Focus on Christine Sneed's "Little Known Facts."

Yesterday I wrote about all the Hollywood novels floating around, how we seemed to be doing events with half of the new ones, and how I'd been obsessing about doing a film novel table for months. It's true--every great author seems to tackle Hollywood eventually, from Vidal to Fitzgerald to Bukowski. It's probably because many writers are tempted to try their hand at screenwriting, and come away from the experience with a lot of fodder for future novels.

I'm not sure why Sneed was drawn to the genre; I'm hoping to learn more when her new book, Little Known Facts (Bloomsbury) is such a success that every interviewer is drawing out the story behind the story. I do know that Sneed was shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times book prize for her short story collection, Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry. She's not from California though; Sneed was raised in Green Bay. She read at the store for the collection, accompanying National Book Award winner Jamie Gordon. I wanted to read the stories, but the print was so small in the original collection. They were reprinted recently with bigger type!

Little Known Facts is about fifty-something film star Renn Ivins, a successful actor who has also been able to make a name for himself with directing. He's left two ex wives in his wake, one from before he made it big, who is now a doctor, and a second, a troubled former caterer, who has penned a tell-all memoir. He's also got two children, a daughter in medical residency and a son who simply doesn't know what to do with his life. But just because his daughter seems to have a better moral compass than dad, doesn't mean that she can't also lose her way a bit.

So Renn's shooting this film in New Orleans (can I also put this on a New Orleans table? We're hosting Sarah Carr's Hope Against Hope on March 19, from the same publisher, no less) with two young stars, and he's asked his son to come out and assist. But aimless Will has trouble following directions, particularly as there's this weird dynamic between him and his dad. And it doesn't help that he's attracted to Elise, the young star (with her own family troubles) and it looks like his dad might be as well, even though Will has a perfectly good relationship with his girlfriend (only he doesn't know that she also had some father/son issues).

The novel's perspective jumps from character to character, which you know I love. Though there's a clear narrative arc to the novel, some of the chapters almost work like self-contained stories, which is not surprising, because as you've already surmised, Sneed is a darn good short story writer. I so enjoyed this novel, and at some points, it was more than that, I was swooning. There was this way that Sneed just captured moments. I think I used the term "sparkling prose" when I wrote this up, and I meant "sparkling." Not flowery or anything, just pure and moving.

We are very, very, very fortunate that Christine Sneed lives in Chicago (Evanston, even closer) and was not just amenable but enthusiastic about coming up to appear at Boswell. We asked if she would like to read with someone else, and she immediately suggested Mike Magnuson, a Wisconsin writer whose Bike Tribes had a nice sale at Boswell. He's going to probably read from his fiction, trying to keep more in the spirit of the evening, but I told him that we're up for anything. I've been told that Southern California has bike lanes too. Sneed and Magnuson are appearing on Thursday, March 28, 7 pm.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hooray for Hollywood--A New Table Featuring Film-Themed Novels.

There is something about the film industry that attracts writers. Maybe it's a glamorous mirror of the artistic process that writers themselves are part of. There are more players too. Though I can imagine loving a novel that focuses on the writer, the editor, the agent, the publicist, the critic, the bookseller (????) and so forth, it's hard to imagine a wide audience for this. But of course a film has not just behind the scenes operators, all of whom are more glamorous than the bookseller, but multiple on-screen stars to follow. And unlike the music industry, there's less age segmentation. I remember trying to sell Eleanor Henderson's Ten Thousand Saints, and being confronted with "But why would I read a novel about punk musicians. I'm not interested in the music." And I could argue this out, that you should see this the way you read a novel set in a foreign country you know nothing about, but it can be exhausting, can it? It's simply a hoop to jump through with music novels.

Of course Hollywood has its own baggage. There's the curse of Los Angeles, the idea that books set there simply don't live up to potential, at least outside of the Southern California market. They just don't travel well compared to books, say, set in New York. Of course that could partly be because the national media that covers books is centered there. Much as I like to link to them, book write ups in the Los Angeles Times don't seem to drive the same kind of momentum as a daily review from Kakutani or Maslin, or a front page New York Times Book Review (as long as only one book is featured--multiple front-page reviews don't see to pop for us as well).

When I think of the Los Angeles writer who most embodies the curse, I tend to think of Bruce Wagner, who always seems to wind up on at least some best-of lists, following a year of great reviews. His most previous, Dead Stars, was picked by Sam Sacks as a top ten by the Wall Street Journal, for example. And I have my own cross to bear with this, as one of my favorite writers, Michelle Huneven, author of Jamesland and Blame, had trouble getting sales momentum in our store at least, and that's with me practically begging folks to read it. Do you think my pleading got a little screechy and turned people off? I worry about that.

One of my biggest event disappointments also involved a Los Angeles novel. It felt like everything was coming together for Mona Simpson, in conjunction with the publication of My Hollywood. Attention in the New York Times, some local press, several reads, Simpson had family in the state, who had previously helped get the word out. But the day it, and it was a small crowd. I still feel terribly guilty about this (yes, I carry all event disappointments in a satchel around with me at all times, and to make things more memorable, I also include some heavy rocks)  and I keep trying to rethink it. If only I had asked Lorrie Moore (yes, they are friends and she showed up from Madison) to introduce her. Well, can't try that idea now, as Moore is off to Vanderbilt.

A classic test case might be Maria Semple. Her first novel, This One is Mine, was set in Los Angeles. Her second, Where'd You Go, Bernadette, moved its locale to Seattle. Which one was the runaway bestseller, I ask you. Answer: the latter. Semple is coming to Boswell on Wednesday, May 1, co-sponsored by Local First Milwaukee, as part of her paperback tour, which is what got me thinking about this whole business in the first place.

It all started last fall when I read Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, by Emma Straub, a different take on a Hollywood novel. And then another bookseller said to me that if I liked Straub's novel, I needed to read Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter (who, by the way, is also coming to Boswell on his paperback tour, on Monday, May 6). I started thinking about doing a table, following up the rock and roll novel table we put together last spring, but I just couldn't come up with enough new titles to balance out the classic novels like Gore Vidal's Hollywood, Joan Didion's Play it as it Lays, and of course, Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls. It just wasn't there yet.

And then I thought, I know what the problem is. Critics see Hollywood is too pulpy for attention. No, not puply, that's too positive--trashy. Literary novels shouldn't think to the depths of In Touch magazine and TMZ, right? But these novels are anything but, and it becomes hard to reconcile in your head. But it shouldn't be--I think a writer could write an amazing and yet erudite story inspired by Lindsey Lohan. How could you not?

I finally got things together after reading the advance copy of Christine Sneed's Little Known Facts. Immediately after finishing this wonderful novel, I thought, "We have to do that Hollywood table." Of course we're pushing our upcoming events, including one with Christine Sneed on March 28 (she's reading with Mike Magnuson), but it's also fun to promote some classic novels that folks haven't seen in a while. On Tuesday, when our pal Mark B. came to hear Peter Roller talk about Milwaukee Garage Bands, he spent some time telling me about the different books on the table he read, leading to a long talk about Charles Bukowski.  And Anne, Jane, and I had a discussion about Nathaniel West's The Day of the Locusts, which some consider the best novel about Hollywood ever written.

What other books made it? Why, these below:
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
Children of Light, by Robert Stone
Coldheart Canyon, by Clive Barker
The Day of the Locust, by Nathaniel West
Dead Stars, by Bruce Wagner
Get Shorty, by Elmore Leonard
Hollywood, by Charles Bukowski
Hollywood, by Gore Vidal
Jamesland, by Michelle Huneven
Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, by Emma Straub
The Lawgiver, by Herman Wouk
Less than Zero, by Bret Easton Ellis
Little Known Facts, by Christine Sneed
The Love of the Last Tycoon, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
My Hollywood, by Mona Simpson
The Next BestThing, by Jennifer Weiner
Play it As it Lays, by Joan Didion
Tell All, by Chuck Palahniuk
This One is Mine, by Maria Semple
Temptation, by Douglas Kennedy
Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann

We're hoping to make a window out of this when we get some good props. And after I put this together, we booked another event that features a film-themed novel, Paul McComas's Fit for a Frankenstein. He'll be appearing on Tuesday, May 7, along with David Luhrssen, whose new book, Mamoulian, is film-themed, but actually true!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Boswell's Best for Kids--New Books from Clare Vanderpool, Peter Lerangis, Chris Kurtz, and Lisa Graff.

When Jason told me it was a soft week for new releases, I realized that it was a good time to switch things up and focus on kids' books that are featured on our Boswell's Best. Like adult books, they are discounted 20%, at least through next Monday (February 25), but they tend to be priced around $17-18, so that brings the price to under $15. How can you say no?

Clare Vanderpool won the Newbery medal for Moon Over Manifest, and was also a big hit with several Boswellians. Her new novel, Navigating Early (Delacorte), is set after World War II and features a young boy uprooted from his home and placed at a boarding school in Maine. So Jack befriends this odd kid Early, and when left alone, set out to explore the Appalachian Trail. Mary Quattlebaum in the Washington Post Book World reports that "Clare Vanderpool deftly rows this complex, inventive novel — her most recent since her Newbery-winning Moon Over Manifest — to a tender, surprising and wholly satisfying ending." Publisher suggests 10+ for age range.

Our buyer Amie is a particularly big fan of Chris Kurtz's The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A Novel of Snow and Courage (Harcourt). It's the story of Flora, a big-dreaming porker who wants more than anything to be a sled pig, and journeys to Antarctica to make it happen. Kirkus called it "engaging fantasy adventure for preteen pig pals." And Amie's rec says that this is "a wonderful story that is also a great family read-alous" and she should know, because she's a boar-acious reader. The publisher suggests 9-12, though Kirkus starts it at age 8.

Speaking of adventures (and we always seem to be speaking of adventures at this age range), Lisa Graff's new novel, A Tangle of Knots (Philomel) takes place in a world where almost everyone is blessed with a special talent, and for 11-year-old Cady, that talent is cake baking. Really, she just looks at a person and knows what they'll like best and then makes it perfectly. Other people are just Fair. Needless to say, when Cady leaves the orphanage (of course she's an orphan!) for a room at the Lost Luggage Emporium, she's bound to meet new people, find herself in the center of a crazy puzzle, and learn a bit about herself. You can tell that Graff know kids' lit inside and out, and in fact, she teaches it at McDaniel College. Here's an interview with her in the Baltimore Sun. The publisher recs for ages 8-11.

I'm so excited to see a new book from Peter Lerangis, the delightful author who visited schools and the Bay View library for The 39 Clues. His new book is Seven Wonders: The Colussus Rises (Harper) which Rick Riordan calls "a high octane mix of modern adventure and ancient secrets." It of course starts with an ordinary boy with an extraordinary problem--in six months, he's going to die of a genetic trait he inherited from a prince of a long-lost civilization. He's dying because he's getting too strong too fast, but he has to stay strong to save the world. And yes, the series is likely to be seven books, and each installment is going to focus on one of the wonders of the ancient world. You know the Colossus of Rome, right? Lerangis is coming around these parts for his new book, but he might be hitting just about everywhere else. Check out his itinerary. Perfect for ages 8-12.

Note that these are all intermediate series. I hope I'm not showing my preferences here, but they all seem great. If only ten lasted more than 365 days.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Monday Event Post--Doug Bradley, Erin Celello, Peter Roller, John Tolan, plus Beau Boudreaux at UWM.

We're keeping busy this week with several interesting events. I should note that on the Monday event blog, I use our press copy a bit more than I do elsewhere. We've got a number of folks on the distribution that have told me they really value this weekly reminder of what's going on, and it's more important to get the info out than to reinvent a wheel. You can only imagine how "I got out this amazingly creative post about this week's events out this week, only I didn't finish it until Thursday" would go over.

Monday, February 18, 7 pm, at Boswell, co-sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Doug Bradley author of DEROS Vietnam: Dispatches from the Air-Conditioned Jungle, and
Erin Celello, author of Learning to Stay.

When Bill from Veterans for Peace originally contacted me about taking a look at Doug Bradley's story collection, I wasn't surprised to learn that he drew an enormous crowd in Madison. In addition to co-authoring We Gotta Get Out of This Place: Music and the Vietnam Experience with Craig Werner, he also co-teach a popular course at UW-Madison entitled "The Vietnam Era: Music, Media, and Mayhem." He's also done a lot to help veterans over the years, having helped establish Vets House, a storefront community-based center for Vietnam-era veterans.

Doug Bradley used his experiences in war as a jumping-off point. Structurally based on Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time, DEROS Vietnam (the acronym stands for Date Eligible for Return from Over Seas) is a collection of 16 short stories and 16 interlinears about the GIs who battled boredom, racial tensions, the military brass, drugs, alcohol—and occasionally the enemy. From cooks and correspondents to clerks and comptrollers, Bradley distills the essence of life for soldiers in the rear during the war and, later, back home in a divided America.

So we were playing around with various options for the event, while at the same time booking several other and alas, saying to still others that I didn't think we could make it work, when I came across Erin Celello's novel Learning to Stay.  Not only was her novel mining the experiences of a veteran as well, but like Bradley, she also lived in Madison. I asked if they would be amenable to appearing together, and of course it turned out that they knew each other.

Of course Celello's novel has a slightly different take. Elise Sabato is proud of her husband, Brad, for serving his country, and grateful when he returns home to her. But the traumatic brain injury he suffered in Iraq has turned him from a thoughtful, brilliant, and patient man into someone quite different, someone who requires more care and attention than Elise can give while working in a demanding law firm. And when Brad ends up on his family's farm, hundreds of miles away, she wonders where their marriage is headed. While Learning to Stay is not based on Celello's direct experiences, she of course did a lot of research putting together the novel, and the experience of the Sabatos is not an outlandish fictional device.

Here's a case where I think we'll have a more interesting reading by having two authors read together. And I can't wait for the group question and answer session.

Tuesday, February 19, 7pm, at Boswell:
Peter Roller, author of Milwaukee Garage Bands.

Milwaukee hasn’t earned a reputation as a launching pad for hopeful rock stars, but for generations it has had the perfect acoustics for the garage band rock scene. Of course, the whole point of garage rock is that every place has the perfect acoustics, but just try telling that to the folks who heard “Blitzkrieg Over Kenosha” for the first time. With dual citizenship in the research library and the basement show, Peter Roller follows Milwaukee’s garage rockers everywhere they haul their amps, observing bands like the Stilettos, the Angry Daisies, the Palmettos, the Chevelles and the Violent Femmes in their natural habitat.

Peter Roller started out playing guitar in garage bands in suburban northern New Jersey as a teenager. He went on to accompany first-generation southern bluesman Yank Rachell during the 1980s—making the critically acclaimed record Blues Mandolin Man with him and writing a master’s thesis at Indiana University about Rachell’s performance style. Roller holds a PhD in ethnomusicology from the UW–Madison and is currently an associate professor of music at Alverno College. A frequent performer while working as a college teacher, Roller’s CD Blue Fog, was released in 2010.

 Thursday, February 21, 7 pm, at the Hefter Center, 3271 North Lake Drive, 53211:
Beau Boudreaux, author of Running Red Running Redder.

Our apologies! I mixed up the Boudreaux lecture and the Boudreaux talk. Yes, the man behind the Boudreaux has a book of poetry, and he will be reading at the Hefter Center on Thursday, February 21 at 7 pm.

"A fiery color scheme sparks through these tightly wound poems of desire, luminosity, loneliness, weather and place. Written in multiregisters of language, allusion, and imagery, they move effortlessly between high and popular culture. Filled with sonic pleasures and insights, the poems surprise and awaken with the sting of their 'wasp of words.'"--Susan Firer

Sunday, February 24, 2 pm, at Boswell John Tolan, co-author of Europe and the Islamic World

Originally from Milwaukee and educated at Yale, John Tolan is professor of medieval history at the Université de Nantes. He is also the author of Saracens and Saint Francis and the Sultan: The Curious History of a Christian-Muslim Encounter.

Written by three eminent historians, experts in the medieval, modern, and contemporary period, Europe and the Islamic World sheds much-needed light on the complex relationships between Arabic and European peoples, from the death of Muhammad in 632 AD to the recent Arab Spring protests. Aiming to refute, once and for all, the misguided notion of a "clash of civilizations" between the Muslim world and Europe, John Tolan, Gilles Veinstein and Henry Laurens, give a broad history of how the Muslim world and the West have shared not only in wars, but also in diplomacy, commerce, the slave trade, as well as intellectual and artistic explorations and experience.

Europe and the Islamic World describes this shared history in all its richness and diversity, revealing how ongoing encounters between Europe and Islam have profoundly shaped both and how a nuanced understanding of that history can affect domestic and foreign policy today and in the future.

And though we aren't promoting it officially in our schedule, if you stop by on Wednesday evening, you'll catch the Milwaukee Jewish Day School poetry night.