Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday Bestseller Post--Tidbits on Kevin Powers, Andrew Weil, Andrew Sean Greer, Simon Van Booy, Phil Stutz and Barry Michels, Charles de Lint, and Jorge Luis Borges.

Hardcover fiction:
1. The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, by Andrew Sean Greer
2. TransAtlantic, by Colin McCann
3. And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini
4. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
5. The Illusion of Separateness, by Simon Van Booy

Elaine Petrocelli at Book Passage has a recommended list that we can get behind in a big way. not only are several of her recommendations match Sharon's picks this past Tuesday (Sisterland and The Yanahlossee Riding Camp for Girls), but two of them make our top two. She calls The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells "a terrific story" and she also picks The Illusion of Separateness, "an intricately woven story based on true events." Read about all her picks here.

Hardcover nonfiction:
1. Dad is Fat, by Jim Gaffigan
2. Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, by David Sedaris
3. Dirty Wars, by Jeremy Scahill
4. True Food, by Andrew Weil
5. Nothin' but Blue Skies, by Edward McClelland

True Food, Andrew Weil's new book of healthy eating, an IACP Crystal Whisk Award finalist, came out last fall, but I don't remember it hitting our top five before this week. This is based on True Food Kitchen, an Arizona restaurant opened with co-writers Sam Fox of Restaurant Concepts. The restaurants seem to be at malls and lifestyle centers in Arizona, California, and Colorado. Here is a nice piece (not a review) from Mary McVean at the Los Angeles Times, tied into the opening of one of their restaurants.

Paperback fiction:
1. Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
2. The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman
3. Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple
4. The Buddha in the Attic, by Julia Otsuka
5. The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers

You may be thinking that two out of our top five fiction titles are event alums, and yes, Jess Walter and Maria Semple read at Boswell in May. But don't forget that Kevin Powers made a visit for the hardcover, a last minute addition that nonetheless made an impact. The Yellow Birds won the UK Guardian's First Book Award and he has an interview in that paper that is very useful to book clubs. He also hints at the next book, about the murder of a former plantation owner, set just after the Civil War.

Paperback nonfiction:
1. You Don't Know Me, but You Don't Like Me, by Nathan Rabin
2. The Stolen Dog, by Tricia O'Malley (event on Friday, July 12, 7 pm)
3. Mary Nohl: Inside and Out, by Barbara Manger and Janine Smith
4. Monkey Mind, by Daniel Smith
5. The Tools, by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels

A little inspiration from Phil Stuz and Barry Michaels this week, as The Tools: 5 Tools to Help You Find Courage, Creativity, and Willpower--and Inspire You to Live Life in Forward Motion cracks our bestseller list. It is, after all, "the motivation book that everyone in Hollywood is obsessed with", according to Punch Hotton's gift guide in Vanity Fair.

Books for Kids:
1. Mary Nohl: A Lifetime in Art, by Barbara Manger and Janine Smith
2. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
3. Heroes of Olympus #2: Sons of Neptune, by Rick Riordan
4. The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles de Lint, with illustrations by Charles Vess
5. One Gorilla: A Counting Book, by Anthony Browne

Quill and Quire (T=the Publishers Weekly of Canada) recommends Charles de Lint's book, The Cats of Tanglewood Forest. "No simple rehash of an old tale, this newly expanded version of a de Lint classic (A Circle of Cats) has a wonderfully old-fashioned fable-like feel to it, imparting a message of “be careful what you wish for” through beautifully descriptive, finely tuned prose that leaves no doubt about the lesson being taught, yet makes the learning of it a joy."

In the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins celebrates the release of a collection of interviews with Jorge Luis Borges called The Last Interview and Other Conversations. Higgins suggests novices start with Ficciones, Labyrinths,  or Collected Fictions.

And here are Summerfest performers, the Avett Brothers, talking with the Journal Sentinel's Piet Levy about their love of reading. Among their recommendations are Middlesex and Hellhound on his Trail. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Saturday Gift Post--Updated Magnetic Play Sets, New Write Now Journals.

We got a new shipment of Melissa and Doug last week and because it generally makes sense to order in enough to get to the freight-paid level, it means 13 cartons of receiving, which can take up a hunk of time. It also meant that I ordered some of their holiday-themed stuff now, as last year, when I ordered it in September, it was mostly gone.

One thing I noticed was that they redeed a lot of their magnetic playsets with new artwork. Princess Elise became Princess Alyssa, and Nina Ballerina became Leah Ballerina. Even Abby and Emma, the double set, became Chloe and Zoe. The old skus are still on their website, but no longer in the catalog. I was curious what market research led them to make the changes.

Anyway, we're now quite well stocked up in their popular kits, which are still selling well, though not quite blowing out the way they were a couple of years ago. I don't think the reason is competition (though the New York Times notes that they've trippled the business in the last five years, which means they are in a lot more retailers, and no longer focusing solely on independents), but because Amie put in a Klutz rack, which if pretty direct competition for party gifts.

The rest of the order were puzzles, baby toys, and a plush Jack Russell terrier, which was the closest approximation we could find to a coonhound for Halley's Maddie on Things display. Maddie's coming with her author pal Theron Humphrey on Tuesday, July 23.

Not too much received except for cards this week, but we did get more of our Write Now journals from Compendium. Stacie had noted previously that there was one with a Jane Austen quote on the jacket, and another, featuring Audrey Hepburn on the front, was Paris themed.

Now what bookseller can say no to that, especially with two important Paris-themed events coming up, Toby Barlow's Babayaga on Wednesday, August 21, and Antoine Laurain's The President's Hat on Tuesday, September 24. OK, I know I do a little too much event dropping, and I'm sure if I wasn't both buying gift items and booking events, that they wouldn't find themselves seeping into the Saturday blog, but we're excited about all three, so how can I not say something?

These journals have sold quite well, as unlike many, there are additional drawings inside--it's not just one jacket illustration and then take your pick of lined or unlined (or with Moleskine, squared). And even though they are soft cover, which in my experience does not sell quite as well as hardcover, they are also $6.95. We double checked at one point to make sure that was not the net price. 

If you're curious, Nathan Rabin's Phish-inspired mushroom table turned into a non-Phish-inspired mushroom table, with a few field guides and a cookbook mixing with the mushroom wind chimes and storage boxes. I do think, however, that the Insane Clown Posse clown is still hovering nearby.

We're hoping that we'll sell a good amount of bicycle mugs and coin purses for the Downer Classic bike race. If you're planning to drop by the store today, remember that you're going to have to park several blocks to the south of us, and it could be crowded.

Friday, June 28, 2013

On the Menu Today at Boswell--Fiction Staff Recs of New Releases from Curtis Sittenfeld, Max Barry, Maggie O'Farrell, Eli Brown, and More.

Staff recs for new fiction! As you've been seeing on the blog and our last email newsletter (and in the bookstore, of course), there's a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for Colum McCann's TransAtlantic and Simon Van Booy's The Illusion of Separateness. But those are not the only novels were touting of late. Here are some books that came out in the last month that Boswellians have been crowing about.

Sisterland, a novel by Curtis Sittenfeld (Random House)
"Vi and Kate are sisters who are gifted with what they call senses; in other words they are psychic. Kate has done her best to suppress her talent, choosing to live a conventional life as a wife and mother. Vi, on the other hand, has embraced her intuition and become a professional medium. When Vi predicts, in an extremely public way, that a deadly earthquake will hit St.Louis, Kate must choose whether to support her sister or separate herself from the ensuing uproar. This latest offering from the author of Prep and American Wife is a beautifully-written exploration of the relationship between sisters, both as children and adults, and the way that we react to the people that are closest to us, as well as the most like us."
--Sharon K. Nagel (Jannis is also a fan!)

Instructions for a Heatwave, a novel by Maggie O’Farrell (Knopf)
"What happens to one Irish family living in London during the oppressive 1976 summer heatwave when patriarch Richard Riordan mysteriously disappears when on a seemingly simple walk to buy the morning newspaper? As his three adult children return home to support their mother, Gretta, past resentments and longstanding secrets emerge in this insightful portrait of a family in crisis. I was immediately engaged with all of the characters, who are not only vulnerable, but also endearing. Subtle, graceful writing at its best!"
--Jane Glaser (Jane has the Indie Next pick for this book)

Cinnamon and Gunpowder, a novel by Eli Brown (Farrar Straus Giroux).
"Ahoy, ye scallywags! Behold the most entertaining (and perhaps only) pirate-adventure-romance-cookbook you will ever read. Persnickety and fainthearted chef, Owen Wedgwood, has found himself in a most disheartening situation: he has been kidnapped and held captive aboard the ship of the nineteenth century's most feared pirate, Mad Hannah Mabbot. Wedgwood shall live, he is told, so long as he provides the lady captain with a weekly feast. The situation seems dire, as the ship's galley is less than adequate - but what choice does Wedgwood have? To survive, the chef must learn to rely upon his talents, his guts, and the members of an absurdly colorful pirate crew. Eventually finding his place among the motley bunch, Wedgwood soon realizes that the voyage has only just begun. Cinnamon and Gunpowder is hugely entertaining, mixing high-seas adventure, seaborne romance, danger, laughs, and some of the tastiest, albeit strangest, food ever served aboard a pirate's ship.
--Nick Berg

Lexicon, a novel by Max Barry (Penguin Press).
"Max Barry has always been one of my favorite writers, but with Lexicon he has catapulted to all new heights. A secret society operating behind the scenes controls people all over the world using persuasion words that can kill and manipulate. Wil Parke wakes up in airport with two guys interrogating him. The questions seem pointless, the situation seems bizarre, but Wil can't convince them that he has no idea what they want or need. Then the story explodes with action, with Wil is being attacked from all sides. At the same time, we learn about Emily Ruff, who is training to be a persuader in this secret society. She does the forbidden and falls in love, and that is when everything hits the fan. The clever use of flashbacks and the alternating point of view (between Emily and Wil) make this one hair-raising adrenaline rush."
--Jason Kennedy

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, by Anton Disclafani (Riverhead)
"This is a lovely coming-of-age story set in North Carolina in 1930. Fifteen-year-old Thea has done something dreadful, so she has been sent away from her family home in Florida to an all-girls boarding school. The novel unfolds slowly and beautifully so that the reader is given hints about what heinous act Thea has committed. Although the plot includes young girls, boarding school, horses, and forbidden love, the storyline feels fresh. I look forward to reading more from Disclafani."
--Sharon K. Nagel

A Questionable Shape, by Bennett Sims (Two Dollar Radio)
"Mazoch discovers his father missing from his home. All that is left is a smashed window and a pool of blood. The worst is feared, that his father has turned into a zombie and is lost. However, in Bennett Sims’ zombie universe, zombies return to what was familiar in the lives before they turned. With the help of his friend Vermaelen, they attempt to track all of Mazoch's father’s old haunts in life before a hurricane hits Baton Rouge, threatening to wipe out any undead left out in the elements. I loved how humanity has to functions after a zombie apocalypse, as Bennett Sims explores the ideas of memory and what remains in us and what will be forgotten after our loved ones are gone"
--Jason Kennedy

And finally, though I wrote a whole essay about Andrew Sean Greer, I didn't post my staff rec. It's not like I'm late or anything--the book's only been out for three days.

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, by Andrew Sean Greer (Ecco)
"Greta Wells is a woman living in the West Village in 1985. Her twin brother has died of AIDS, and his lover is also ill. Her long-term partner tried to be supportive through this long crisis, but eventually bailed. Nothing seems to help her depression, until her doctor suggests electroconvulsive therapy. She agrees, but then next morning, she winds up as another Greta in 1918 and after the next treatment becomes a different Greta in 1941. I have been excited by the possibilities of all the new time shifting novels, with this one more akin to “Sliders” than anything else. But of course at its heart, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells might indeed make your head spin, not because of the plotline, but for the emotion, beauty, and wisdom at the heart of the story."
--Daniel Goldin

Thank you to the Boswellians, for taking that extra step of writing up your recs. There are a lot of folks out there who are happy you did it.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Happy Hollisters Haul Leads to My First Read in Too Many Years to Count, Plus Some Memories and Interesting Iceland Facts.

Several months ago, one of our second hand buyers brought in some Happy Hollisters books. While I guess I had spotted these at various second-hand stores and fundraiser book sales over the years, I hadn't seen quite so many in such good shape since I discovered them in the basement of my childhood friend Stuart B. This was as opposed to my Uncle Stewart, who could be distinguished from each other in many ways, but the most fascinating to me was the spelling variation. This was in the decades before ten different ways to spell most common names, and really the only other issue I'd had before this was two classmates named "Janine" and "Jeannine."

When I look back now, I realize they actually could have been new. The Happy Hollisters was developed by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, the same operation that came out with The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and the Bobbsey Twins (one of many series that did not survive). It went from 1953 to 1970 and like all Stratemeyer series after the first few (thank you Wikipedia), the characters did not age and the book was written under a pseudonym, to allow for continuity

Like most Stratemeyer titles, the books were shunned by public libraries as trash. I remember my branch in Queens wouldn't carry them (I asked) and if you think about it, it's really quite interesting how different the library's mission is today. Hardy Boys are evil, comic books are evil--now most librarians are happy when a kids is reading anything.

I noticed that our copies were "book club editions" and sure enough, this series was originally distributed by Doubleday, book club style. Doubleday back when it was an independent company had a huge book club operation based in Garden City. It was sort of the A word of its day, supplying the market with incredibly cheap books printed on their own presses--many of which printed Doubleday's bookstore books as well. Who can't forget a classic Doubleday title, lighter than air?

Unlike some series, the Hollisters were based on real people, the family of the actual writer, Andrew Svenson, who wrote as Jerry West. It turns out that the Svenson Group (I'm assuming his family) acquired the rights to the books and now publishes them, though it seems to be limited to web sales only.

So of course I thought I can't write a post about the Happy Hollisters without rereading one. After a little contemplation, I decided on The Happy Hollisters and the Mystery of the Midnight Trolls. What Wisconsinite doesn't love trolls? In this episode, the Hollister kids get a letter in Braille from Gram, and she invites them to stay wither her and Gramp in Canada while Mr. and Mrs. Hollister fly to Iceland to test his seaplane.

Here is what I learned in this story.

a. The world is a very small place. It turns out the little blind girl, Helga, staying with Gram and Gramp is the daughter of the inventor of the sail plane (it's sometimes called a glider, but we learn that this is not really the correct name) that Dad is testing.

b. There's nothing like a good theme or two. Iceland is a running theme in the story. We learn how Icelandic people name their families, and how the country was founded and governed. And we learn a bit about being blind, not just from Helga, but from a new neighbor back home in Shoreham. The Icelanders are very good at filigree, by the way, and this seems like a good time to mention that there's a third line of Filigree journals coming from Paperblanks, this time tinted Maya Blue. Let us know if you want to see them when they arrive at the bookstore.

c. The world is a very dangerous place. There's a lot of thievery going on. A local bully steals the Hollister letter. A strange man tries to take their package. Gram and Gramp's home is broken into. Even little Pete, gets into the act--he steals a horse. And yet the family lets five Hollister children, ranging from ages twelve down to four, take a bus by themselves to Canada. And later on, the kids trail a set of thieves with nary a scolding.

d. One of the clues in the book is an Icelandic candy wrapper called "Snaefell Stikki." I am always keen to learn about candy. I couldn't find info on this bar, but I di find the Freyju Rosa Dramur, which is apparently milk chocolate with licorice inside. Not to get your hopes up that this is like the chocolate covered red licorice I used to tout, I suspect from our friend Alex's report that this is likely black licorice, or anise flavored. Yes, if we just said it was anise, all the people who didn't like the flavor would not be tricked and would just give it to those seven or so people who enjoy it and everyone would be the happier.

For those who love Iceland, we have an Iceland-themed event this fall. Of course we do. It's Hannah Kent's,  Burial Rites and it's a historic novel based on a fascinating story in Iceland's history. I've already read it and now Jane is engrossed. Our event is Thursday, September 24, 7 pm. Filigree it up for this event. Did you notice that the book jacket for Kent's novel is the same shade of Maya blue?

e.  And one does really learn a bit about trolls, although most of the lore is learned from young Olaf (Pam's crush), who tells us they turn to stone in the daytime. But the trolls the Hollisters spot are scene in the bright of day. Sounds like another mystery. This one isn't quite so believable as the three bad guys with no weapons who keep getting tripped up by seven year olds, but it's not like this adventure was ripped from the headlines.

f. I'm still working out the genetics of the family, or if perhaps some of the kids are adopted. Three variations of blond(e), a redhead, one brunette. Is that possible? Or perhaps it's along the lines of a book that Stacie and I recently read and the characters were outside for a month, it wasn't a desert (there were several rivers and lakes) but it never rained. For some things, you just have to turn off part of your brain.

And that's the end of the story. Really! I inadvertently decided to read the very last original Hollister adventure. The Happy Hollisters and the Mystery of the Midnight Trolls was #33 in the series, when they all wind up staying in Iceland and working in a filigree studio, changing their names to Pamela Johnsdottir, and riding ponies in Viking reenactments. Not really--if I'd been reading the series when it came out, I would have been primed for #34.

Just one more link, to the Happy Hollisters Facebook page. They sort of celebrate every occasion with a Happy Hollisters reference, from Mother's Day to Dance Like a Chicken Day. We have about ten different Happy Hollisters titles at the moment, including The Secret of the Lucky Coins, The Mystery of the Golden Witch (pictured), and The Mystery of the Little Mermaid. They are all priced at $4.95 and are in better condition than you'd expect.

So today I'm off to Worcester to celebrate my mom's 90th birthday in Worcester with my siblings, nieces and nephews. There was a time when were were known as the Giggling Goldins, but that's another story.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

If "Divergent" is the Next "Hunger Games", Is "The Testing" the Next "Divergent"? We Find Out on Joelle Charbonneau's Visit, Monday, July 8, 7 pm.

I just got my copy of Entertainment Weekly and the cover story was "Divergent: Is This the Next Hunger Games?: I think for many folks with the wallets, the answer is "it better be." In that story, Beatrice "Tris" Prior has to declare her allegiance to one of five predetermined factions, but since she doesn't have an obvious allegiance, she surprsies everyone. Needless to say, the civilization, which benevolently honors honesty, bravery, selflessness, peacefulness, and intelligence, is not exactly what it seems. The good thing is that Shailene Woodley and Theo James are probably just the right actors to get to the bottom of things.

So now I ask, is The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau the new Divergent? We've hosted a few dystopian authors, most recently on the HarperCollins Dark Days tour, but nobody solo since Lisa McMann's The Unwanteds. Of course McMann's series is geared to a slightly younger kid and at first we have no idea that it's dystopian at all; it just seems like a fantasy story. I should note that I like the middle grade stuff as the violence is a little less graphic and there's not so much smooching. But I know from experience that the smooch is a key part of these stories.

In the way that McMann's story was inspired by the cuts in arts classes, Charbonneau's trilogy looks at the overabundance of testing in today's society, and how it can lead to poor choices, bad behavior on the part of students and teachers alike, and causes us to do things like cut arts programs (see above), since they don't help kids succeed at testing. For the kids in Charbonneau's world, testing is a life or death matter; only 20 kids get into "university" and for the kids who get a chance to test in and don't make it, the results are not so great. Death's not so great, right?

So Cia is in the far-off Five Lakes Colony (like Divergent, part of The Testing is set in a bombed out Chicago) in a world that has had seven stages of war, including massive bombings and ecological devastation. Her dad and older brother works on using genetic modification to create plants that can adjust to the new environment. Her brother Zeen is clearly a genius, yet he wasn't called up for the Testing. In fact, nobody's been called up for ten years. But then a new teacher comes in and four get chosen. What's up with that?

So Cia goes with three others, including the dreamy Tomas, travel to Tosu City for the four stages of the test. It starts out pretty standardized, but each stage gets weirder and more brutal, until Cia and the reader start to question exactly what kind of leaders this government want. Is her mentor Michal protecting her or is that part of the test. And are they being monitored like lab rats? And boy are some of these kids ruthless! Yikes.

Needless to say, Cia is smart and savvy, technically adept and though she's smart enough to dress in pants when the other girls don flowing dresses for their test, she still can turn the head of at least a couple of suitors.

This is Charbonneau's first book for young adults; she's best known as a mystery writer, and as a result, is doing an event at Mystery One at 5 pm. We've also had reads from Hannah and Stacie. The Testing is the #1 Summer 2013 Indie Next Kids Pick, and it had some really powerful competition. Five of the top ten have recommendations from Boswellians--Twerp from Pam, Far, Far Away from Amie, The Rithmatist from Jason, and The School for Good and Evil from Mel.

Here's the Indie Next Pick for The Testing from another mystery bookseller:
“In post-apocalyptic America, the key to survival is leadership and the training of great leaders takes place at the University. To make it to the University, a select number of students from colonies across the surviving landscape must first make it through The Testing. Charbonneau’s first foray into writing for young adults yields cliffhanger after cliffhanger, making it impossible to find a point for the reader to pause. Every scene, every word becomes important to the end of this story, so pay close attention: You do not want to fail The Testing!”
 —Nicole Porter, Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, CA

Charbonneau has a series of roller rink mysteries, the most recent is Skating on the Edge. Being that Mel's dream is a roller rink bookstore, I hope she gets to meet Charbonneau when she visits.

Our event is Monday, July 8, 7 pm, at Boswell. Schools and library contacts, we'll be doing another event with Charbonneau in January when the second volume of the series, Independent Study, comes out. And the third book, Graduation Day, comes out next June. This is a change up from the normal schedule of one book a year. Seems like a a good test to me, huh?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Boswellians Recommend New Nonfiction Titles from Mardi Jo Link, Lily Koppel, Jen Lancaster, Brandon Baltzley, Paul Farmer, and Wendy Jehanara Tremayne.

As I walked in this morning to receive the rest of our twelve-carton Melissa and Doug order, Jason said to me, "It's not a great week for new releases, particularly for Boswell's Best. All that seems to be out that we're promoting is Curtis Sittenfeld's Sisterland. Well we've had two great reads on Sisterland, but alas, we have no recommendation yet except my fallback, "it's great." I'm hoping I'll have something for later in the week. Instead for today, I'm going to share some nonfiction staff recommendations from relatively new releases.

From Hannah: Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm (Knopf), by Mardi Jo Link.
"When Mardi Jo kicks her husband out, she suddenly has to run her farm in Northern Michigan, raise her three boys, and pay all of her bills on her own. This is a story of badass bootstrapping that is honest, witty, and straightforward." I would also like to add that Ms. Link will be at Books and Company on Monday, July 15, 7 pm.

From Halley: The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story (Grand Central), by Lily Koppel.
"Anyone familiar with NASA and the Space Race of the second half of the 20th century knows the names Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin. Who they probably don't know are the amazing women who stood behind them throughout their journey as astronauts. The Astronaut Wives Club chronicles the hectic lives of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo wives as they experience elation, heartbreak, sorrow, and the pressures of newfound fame. Koppel brings the wives to the reader in a way that makes you feel along with them (some of their husbands were real dogs, cheating on them with the Cape Cookies), it's as if you're one of their exclusive club and in on all of the gossip and angst. I loved this book and I want everyone in the world to read this. Is that too much to ask?"

From Sharon: The Tao of Martha: My Year of Living; Or, Why I'm Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog (NAL), by Jen Lancaster.
"Jen Lancaster is back in the genre that she does best, with a humorous personal memoir. She is taking a year to follow the way of Martha Stewart, her style icon. The results of this experiment are pure Jen, profane, irreverent, and very, very funny. Whether she is gardening, baking, knitting gifts for friends, or stockpiling supplies in her basement for the zombie apocalypse, nothing goes quite according to Martha’s grand plan. Settle in with this book, and find out what Jen, Fletch, Maisie, and the Thundercats have been up to in the suburbs of Chicago."

From Nick: Nine Lives: A Chef's Journey From Chaos To Control (Gotham), by Brandon Baltzley. "Today it seems we hear the word all too often: prodigy. Well, make no mistake, Brandon Baltzley is the real deal. Raised in the deep south, it was in his single mother's modest restaurant kitchen in the back of a local gay bar that Baltzley got his start. At just nine years of age, he already showed serious talent and extraordinary imagination. By twenty, he was working in the kitchens of culinary giants like Paula Deen and Grant Achatz (editor's note--that's quite the combination). Then, at twenty-six, he was offered the opportunity of a lifetime: leading the kitchen of the nation's hottest new restaurant...but he walked away. You see, it wasn't just success and talent that found Baltzey at a young age, it was also drugs and alcohol--and their influence upon him was greater than any fame or fortune. Addiction has plagued the chef his entire life, and in his memoir, Baltlzey lets bare every personal detail of his struggle. The book of course remains unfinished, as Baltzley is currently undergoing treatment for his dependence. Such an extraordinary and inspiring, but especially heartbreaking story deserves a happy ending, and I hope Chef Baltzley can dig deep and earn it for himself. I will be rooting for him!"

Also from Hannah: To Repair the World: Paul Farmer Speaks to the Next Generation (University of California), by Paul Farmer. "Paul Farmer speaks justice in an approachable, inspiring fashion befitting the modern day change maker who walks his talk that he is. Viewed through a lens of public health, Farmer reminds those of us with privilege of the people who are easiest to forget, those stricken with poverty, disease, and violence and calls us to take action on their behalf."

And in case you are not on Facebook, here's one from Mel. It's not a hardcover either, but a paperback original, and one thing you don't get from the review is the beauty of the package. It has a stitched binding, instead of glued, and the way the created the book, the binding becomes integral to its look.

From Mel: The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living (Storey), by Wendy Jehanara Tremayne.
"In this powerful collection, you will learn how to make kombucha tea, your own homemade soap, various electronic devices, and the secret to a gift economy. All hail the power of repurposed everything, of sustainable communities built on relationships in which people don't take more than they need and everything they want is abundant. This kind of life is possible right here and right now: The Good Life Lab will teach you how to get there one simple, purposeful step at a time

Monday, June 24, 2013

This Week's Events at Boswell--Edward McClelland, Nathan Rabin, Andrew Sean Greer, and Benjamin Lytal.

We're getting into summer, but just before Summerfest break, we've got a going away party, or rather three of them, for you. I should highlight our Edward McClelland event by noting that C-Span is taping this event for Book TV. Not only will you get a good talk, you'll make the store and Milwaukee look good on cable later.

Monday, June 24, 7 pm, at Boswell
Edward McClelland, author of Nothin' But Blue Skies: The Heyday, Hard Times, and Hopes of America's Industrial Heartland.

The midwest has long been known as the place where manufacturing is still king, and a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel special report showed that we're at the forefront in the region--#1 in manufacturing employment among 15 other large midwestern cities. But that blessing has come with curses--in addition to our various social and economic problems, we are at the bottom (14 out of 16) in small business start ups, for example. 

In McClelland's new book, he looks at this on a regional scale. From the publisher: The Upper Midwest and Great Lakes region became the "arsenal of democracy"-the greatest manufacturing center in the world-in the years during and after World War II, thanks to natural advantages and a welcoming culture. Decades of unprecedented prosperity followed, memorably punctuated by riots, strikes, burning rivers, and oil embargoes. A vibrant, quintessentially American character bloomed in the region's cities, suburbs, and backwaters.

But the innovation and industry that defined the Rust Belt also helped to hasten its demise. An air conditioner invented in Upstate New York transformed the South from a sweaty backwoods to a non-unionized industrial competitor. Japan and Germany recovered from their defeat to build fuel-efficient cars in the stagnant 1970s. The tentpole factories that paid workers so well also filled the air with soot, and poisoned waters and soil. The jobs drifted elsewhere, and many of the people soon followed suit.Nothin' but Blue Skies tells the story of how the country's industrial heartland grew, boomed, bottomed, and hopes to be reborn. Through a propulsive blend of storytelling and reportage, celebrated writer Edward McClelland delivers the rise, fall, and revival of the Rust Belt and its people.

"It is difficult to describe how truly outstanding the book entitled Nothin' But Blue Skies is to read. As a nearly lifelong Rust Belt resident, I can attest to the fact that Edward McClelland’s newly released book simply nails our industrial heritage, decline, and hopeful potential squarely on the head. From nationally known politicians like Dennis Kucinich or Coleman Young to the everyday blue-collar laborer toiling in our mills and factories, Mr. McClelland personifies the Rust Belt like no other book I have ever read on the subject. As a Lansing native, he has personally witnessed the dramatic (and sometimes catastrophic) changes just in his lifetime. In Nothin' But Blue Skies, Mr. McClelland takes the reader on a quasi-chronological step-by-step sequence of events that shook the Rust Belt down it its very core."
--Rick Brown in Rustwire

"At its best, McClelland's book reminds us of what has transpired in the heart of the country over the past 30 years and of the battering endured by hundreds of thousands of working-class families as global corporatism and federal trade policies gutted the American middle class."
--Scott Martelle in the Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, June 25, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Nathan Rabin, author of You Don't Know Me but You Don't Like Me: Phish, Insane Clown Posse, and My Misadventures with Two of Music’s Most Maligned Tribes.
Co-sponsored with 91.7 WMSE.

This is our third event with Rabin, our fourth if you include group events, and his brain just takes him in places I would never think of going. In the new book, he hits up the trail to follow Insane Clown Posse and Phish, two of pop culture's most maligned "tribes." I've already written about the book at length last week, so this time let's give you some quotes.

“I love this book. Not only is it funny and well written, but it is, dare I say… beautiful. People could learn a thing or two from Nathan. Instead of judging new things and keeping them at bay because they’re “scary” or “shitty,” he embraces them and walks away with rich life experiences. So, give yourself a rich life experience of your own and read this book Then, when you’re finished, go and see a Phish show. What do you have to lose? Nothing. What do you have to gain? – maybe they’ll play a thirty minute “Tweezer” and you’ll get to see god.”
--Harris Wittels, the actor/comic/writer/musician, perhaps best known for his work on The Sarah Silverman Program and Parks and Recreation. And yes, he also has hosted the Analyze Phish podcast.

I'm not as interested in anything as much as Nathan Rabin is interested in everything.”
―Chuck Klosterman, who is coming to Boswell on Thursday, July 18 for his own book, I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined). Have you helped us put up a poster somewhere?

"Rabin writes like the secret love child of Woody Allen and Lester Bangs: Honest, erudite, neurotically manic, and very funny."
―Neal Pollack, who did visit us several years ago for his memoir Stretch. It was real yoga, not a parody.

Wednesday, June 26, 7 pm at Boswell:
Andrew Sean Greer, author of The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells and The Confessions of Max Tivoli, and Benjamin Lytal, author of A Map of Tulsa.

I don't want to duplicate last week's blog post, but I also want to make sure you attend Wedenesday's event. What to do?

From the publisher, a good description: It is 1985 and Greta Wells is a woman at a low point in her life: her twin brother is dead and her lover has left her. Undergoing electroconvulsive therapy, she wakes the next day in a different version of her life: first as a woman in 1918, then in 1941. Many details are the same—the same brother, aunt, and lover—but others have changed: she does or does not have a child, her brother is alive, she has a husband. Over three months, Greta cycles through these versions of her life, navigating each with its different problems and rewards. In the end, she must tie up the loose ends of these lives and, at last, decide which of these imperfect worlds to choose as her own.

From the author, a good genesis“The idea for alternate realities came to me when I misread the description of a new novel in a bookstore,” Greer says, when talking about the genesis of The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells. “When I realized it was not about the same characters put in three different time periods, I saw that the novel idea was actually my own….The basic question at the heart of the novel became, were you born too early to be happy? Too late? For we all live in difficult times, and find ourselves longing for some distant golden age; yet history is neither a story of progress or decline, but simply of lives led according to the limits and choices of that time. Would you be the same person you are in 1941? Are you really that indomitable? Or would you have been shaped in some way by that era, that war, and become more like your mother than you’d like to think? And by reflecting this way, one can begin to imagine how our own time shapes us…bringing up a new question: what is the essential part of ourselves that would never change?”

And here's a little more on Benjamin Lytal, author of A Map of Tulsa, including an array of spectacular recommendations from authors and critics.

After a year of college on the East Coast, Jim Praley returns to Tulsa for the summer, ready to disappear into his self-appointed reading regimen. Instead he meets Adrienne Booker: the abandoned daughter to a local oil fortune, 18 years old and living an independent, mysterious life in the family penthouse, with only her aunt Lydie occasionally looking after her. Adrienne is way out of Jim’s league, but somehow, as an unlikely couple, they click.

The relationship that unfolds defines the shape of Jim’s life to come. Through Adrienne’s eyes he sees the strange beauty of his hometown for the first time: they drink, they dance, they write and paint and sing. College feels very remote; the anonymous skyscrapers downtown have never looked better. Jim must return to college in September, but he is haunted by Adrienne. His literary ambitions lead him to New York after graduation, and he expects to see her around every corner. When tragedy strikes, Jim finds himself on a plane, Tulsa-bound.

“Lytal manages to make Tulsa’s humdrum cityscape seem newly observed, even a place that might enchant…A Map of Tulsa is a small but ambitious novel of stumbling, coming-of-adulthood love. It is witty without eliciting a single chuckle. It is wise without being preachy.”
—Ethan Gilsdorf, The Boston Globe

Superbly evocative…Mr. Lytal's exhilarating writing is reminiscent of winsome, confessional bildungsromans like Ben Lerner's Leaving the Atocha Station or John Cotter's Under the Small Lights.”
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

A Map of Tulsa deserves comparison with the very best novels of its kind, from James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime to Scott Spencer’s Endless Love. It’s also one of the most insightful books about the comforts (and traps) of small-city parochialism I’ve ever read.”
—Tom Bissell, Harper’s

“[A] fearless, serious and impressive first novel… Lytal holds our attention with unusual syntax and poetic concision…”
—Gary Sernovitrz, The New York Times Book Review

"For we who know Tulsa solely from attempts at two-stepping to Danny Flowers' country classic, one of the many joys of Benjamin Lytal's lithe, literate, heartfelt debut novel, A Map of Tulsa, is meeting an American mid-tropolis that's apparently as blue-collar-complex and quirkily irresistible as, well, Milwaukee. Just as I sought to serenade circa-1980 Cream City in Planet of the Dates, through his own coming-of-age novel Lytal brings his own hometown ('90s version) to bracing breathing-life."
--Paul McComas, The Shepherd Express

Did anyone notice the dramatic difference in impression when a critic compares a book to two other books you really don't know (Wall Street Journal) as opposed two you do (Harpers). But I was just as confused by the list of quotes provided--why did some authors get citations and some not?

In any case, it's settled--you now know what you're doing this week. You can go out and dance on the park benches from Thursday through Sunday, as we don't have an events scheduled. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Boswell's Sunday Bestseller Post for Week Ending June 22--McCann and Van Booy Battle it Out on the Staff Rec Stage, Pre Event Jitters and Post-Event Glows, Plus Recs for "Monkey Mind" and "The Rithmatist."

Hardcover fiction
1. The Silver Star, by Jeannette Walls
2. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
3. The Illusion of Separateness, by Simon Van Booy
4. And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini
5. TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann
6. Inferno, by Dan Brown
7. Bad Monkey, by Carl Hiaasen
8. Jewelweed, by David Rhodes
9. The Innocence Game, by Michael Harvey
10. Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

You might think the big news here is about our event with Jeannette Walls, and yes,that was pretty great. Or maybe the good numbers that Wisconsinite Neil Gaiman is scoring on his newest novel, though hardly what he's doing on his last book tour ever. No, it's the rec challenge going on between TransAtlantic and The Illusion of Separateness, with Anne and Hannah on team Colum and Sharon and Stacie on team Simon. Van Booy took the lead this week, but alas, we're temporarily out of stock today, giving McCann a bit of a temporary edge. You can still vote this week, or split your vote and buy both. That way, everybody wins.

Hardcover nonfiction:
1. Behind the Kitchen Door, by Sarumathi Jayuraman
2. Queen of the Air, by Dean Jensen
3. Dirty Wars, by Jeremy Scahill
4. Dad is Fat, by Jim Gaffigan
5. Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, by David Sedaris

Well that's an event sweep on this list, sort of. Jeremy Scahill was at two screenings of "Dirty Wars" next door for the Milwaukee premiere and yes, we're still featuring the book version, also called Dirty Wars. Don't forget that the Sunday fundraiser at Via Downer is cancelled. Most notably, Jensen, Gaffigan, and Sedaris are all residue sales--their events were all in weeks previous.

Paperback fiction:
1. The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller
2. Pepperland, by Barry Wightman
3. The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories, by Ethan Rutherford
4. Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls
5. Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter

And Heller will probably join the post-event sales glow, on top of his three weeks at #1 on paperback fiction for The Dog Stars. I love two things about joint events. Firstly, if we're lucky, each author brings an audience. And secondly, if you pair the authors well, there'll be a particularly interesting conversation that develops during the question and answer period.

Paperback nonfiction:
1. The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls
2. Monkey Mind, by Daniel Smith
3. Daughter of the Queen of Sheba, by Jackie Lyden (University Club event on July 2)
4. You Don't Know me, but You Don't Like Me, by Nathan Rabin (event on July 25)
5. The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe

Now here we certainly haven't hosted every author, but we can say we've recommended every book. The way I see it,Hannah and I read the Walls, Mel read the Smith, Amie and I read the Lyden (yes, the first time around), I read the Rabin, and I think Jane read the Schwalbe. I don't have the rec cards in front of me, so I could have made an error.

Simon has been doing a good sized push for Monkey Mind in paperback. We don't often get finished book mailings of nonfiction paperbacks, but based on our enthusiasm, it's worth pushing. Here's Mel: "Smith's father is desperately introverted, his mom is a psychoanalyst, and his brother is a hypochondriac--not a great network for a guy with severe anxiety. This stifling memoir reads like a panic attack, unsettling and all too familiar. Smith is hilarious and unabashedly honest about how destructive anxiety is for sufferers and those who love them. He shares his hard-won secrets about coping and keeping on the road to recovery. This is the kind of book you want to keep a copy of at home and at work, and one you'll want to buy a copy of for most of the people you know."

Books for Kids:
1. One Came Home, by Amy Timberlaker
2. L.A. Candy, by Lauren Conrad
3. Penny and Her Marble, by Kevin Henkes
4. The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson (event this fall)
5. The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau (event July 8 at Boswell)

Joelle Charbonneau's new trilogy opener, The Testing, has been getting great initial buzz and reviews. She's already done a successful event at Books and Company, and will be hitting us and Mystery One on July 8 (them at 5 pm, us at 7 pm). Yes, it's teen dystopiana but Richard is a fan of Charbonneau's for her mystery series and wanted to get in on the action. We've had reads from Hannah and Stacie. The next book is coming out in January.

As for Sanderson, he's coming for Steelheart, his fall YA novel, on Friday, October 4, at Boswell. We've already had a great read on that, but right now it's all about The Rithmatist. Jason says "Brandon Sanderson does an amazing job of creating vividly defined worlds of magic and characters. In this world, which is similar to ours, yet has some distinct differences (there is no U.S. as the continent in this world is more of a lot of islands as water has seeped throughout the continent), Joel goes to a school that trains Rithmatists to defend the realm in Nebrask. Unfortunately for him, he was not chosen to be one of them, despite being more knowledgeable than the other students. When somebody starts kidnapping fellow students from Armedius Academy, Joel teams together with some fellow students to find the culprit. A brilliant start to a new series for Sanderson!"

 It's pre-Summerfest weekend, and that means an abridged book section at the Journal Sentinel, but we've still got a Mike Fischer review for On the Floor (on sale Tuesday), an "intelligent" and "well-written" novel from Aifric Campbell. "In addition to the writing, what's much more promising is Campbell's equally serious but more deftly handled meditation on how we create value and what it means to be a person in a world always in flux — an issue that informs Geri's breakup, the meaning of friendship, how financial markets work, how stories get sold, why wars get fought and why we should read Kant. Really." Read the rest here.