Friday, September 13, 2013

Hats Off to Antoine Laurain, Who Has Charmed Many of Us with His New Novel, "The President's Hat." (Yes, He's Coming to Boswell on Tuesday, September 24,, But We Were in Love with the Book Before the Booking.)

As I said to Stacie when we were putting the event schedule together, our week of September 23-29 could be a book festival. We've got Paul Harding, Hannah Kent and Kathleen Kent, plus Alice McDermott. We've got a high-profile local launch in Layton's Legacy, with Eric Vogel and John Eastberg. We've got two local authors discussing their projects for kids in Andrea Skyberg and Michael Greer. You can get more details about all of these on our website.

And we've been lucky enough to get multiple reads on lots of the high-profile national releases. Karen Joy Fowler (I'm reading We are All Completely Beside Ourselves now and having a great time of it!) is on a midwestern mini-tour in conjunction with her multi-author Ragdale novel affair program, which is going on at their Lake Forest Novel Affair on the 27th. Yes, Karen Joy Fowler plus Ruth Ozeki and Benjamin Alire Sáenz and Lauren Groff and Lisa Genova and more.Wow!

But as I say in my event introductions, all that pales in comparison with the subject of today's blog post. I bring to you a book that has not had just one lonely reader, nor two, nor even three. Four? No, more than four. I'm talking about a book that's been read and enjoyed by Boswellians Stacie, Conrad, Sharon, Nick, Anne, and myself. Do you know how hard it is to get six cantankerous booksellers to get behind a single title? (And yes, there's a seventh person who is naysayer, but that just keeps it real. We'll say no more of her in this post).

We're of course talking about Antoine Laurain's The Presdient's Hat. It starts with our rep, John Mesjak. He almost always comes to the selling table with a number of reading options from his many lines. But there's always something from Consortium that stands out, an out-of-the-box candidate that we can surely put in a customer's hands and  say, "I'm pretty sure you don't know about this, but we're going to give you your next favorite book."

Sometimes, as with Nina Revoyr's Wingshooters, the book had several reads, both at Boswell and at Next Chapter (our customer base overlapped, and when they were really behind a book, we'd see some increased sales if the book really got some traction). With Alex Capus's Leon and Louise, we didn't get the reads, but we got some momentum off our in-store book club and placement in our seasonal brochure.

But nothing compares to the enthusiasm for this joyous novel by Antoine Laurain (photo credit Jean-Luc Bertini). One of the key early indicators was the breadth of the read. As I mentioned when we were buzzing over Michael Ennis's The Malice of Fortune or Simon Van Booy's The Illusion of Separateness, the key is finding enthusiastic reads from really different readers.

I probably had a past-life career as a low-level Hollywood producer, as I am a sucker for the elevator pitch. I love finding comparisons and twisting them enough to make it clear this is not a copy. The publisher had a comparison at hand too. Gallic is a British press that specializes in French translation. They did the UK edition of Muriel Barby's The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Talk about an indie handsell. It was the last great word-of-mouth sensation at Schwartz before we closed, and that sale continued to blossom in our first years at Boswell. With the help of lots and lots of similarly enthusiastic booksellers around the country, it became a national phenomenon.

Gallic, like several other UK presses before them, they saw opportunity and opened a US division to directly hit the market. As an aside, I can think of three other UK presses whose American divisions were started after they had runaway successes in the US where they didn't share the bounty. Can you name the phenomenon associated with each? The presses are Candlewick (Walker UK), Bloomsbury, and the brand-new-to-us Quercus*.

The other book I thought of as I was reading The President's Hat was The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett, a short novel about the Queen, after she discovers reading when a stray bookmobile wanders into the royal estate. This new obsession gets her in big trouble with Parliament. This joyous book was spearheaded by the late Mark Gates, our beloved FSG rep who, for some reason, had no mention in Hothouse, the recent history from Boris Kachka. Don't worry, I've scribbled his name into all our copies.

In the case of The President's Hat, it is of course a hat, not a book, that makes our characters become better people. It's the hat of François Mitterand, that our first hero, Daniel, grabs onto, when the hat is left behind after a dinner. As each character comes into possession of the hat, it changes them in some way, giving them the ability to become a better person. He or she might stand up to a boss, or a lover, or maybe a political foe. The problem is, of course, that the folks who lose the hat to the next character might still want it, and that causes complications.

Like several other books we've been excited about, The President's Hat is featured in the ABA Indies Introduce promotion going on this fall. It's no secret that I was on the committee, as we had a little reception, and the attending committee members had to stand up and give a shout out for their favorite books. This was mine, and since the mike wasn't working, I literally did shout out my love for The President's Hat.

We've got several other shouters as well, but I like using the quote from Conrad, as a recommendation from him is a rarer thing than one from me.

"Most of us are plagued with self-doubt, inaction and regret. We fail to make critical decisions because we freeze at the repercussions; we come up with the perfect retort for an argument that has long since lapsed; we writhe in sleepless anxiety over our inability to extricate ourselves from circumstances we deem out of our control. But what if there was something with the power to change all that? What if some talisman of mystical power could imbue its possessor with the self-confidence to overcome even the most intransigent obstacles? A talisman like, say, a hat. The President's hat. I loved this book."
--Conrad Silverberg, Boswell Book Company

We've got a lot more to say about Antoine Laurain. Look for another post from Stacie on The Boswellians, about how she put our Paris window together and a trip to our co-sponsor The Brass Rooster. Alliance Française de Milwaukee is also co-sponsoring. Laurain will be reading in both French and English when he visits Boswell, on Tuesday, September 24, 7 pm.

But whether or not you can come to our event, you should get in on this one early. Small press, translated from French? It's unlikely that you're going to hear about this book from mass media. And there are too many high-profile releases out there for The President's Hat to be featured on whatever website you're following. We know that lots of you are Francophiles--slap an Eiffel Tower on anything at Boswell and it doubles the sale, I always say.

Here's the official website. Here is our Facebook event page. Read this book and you'll be recommending it to your friends (yes, we already had at least one fan come back and buy a pile) and they will thank you for sure. And who doesn't want to be that person?

I won't be posting tomorrow, but Stacie will. Please turn to The Boswellians blog for another take on The President's Hat from Stacie. She visits our co-sponsor, The Brass Rooster, in Bay View.

*Where's Waldo, Harry Potter, and The Girl with Dragon Tattoo, respectively, at least according to publishing folklore.

1 comment:

Charlie Quimby said...

No only was the mike not working at the reception, but Daniel didn't have Antoine there to hear his praise——or a copy of the book to wave as he spoke.

I lent him mine as prop but was sure to snatch it back!

So happy to see this great reception for his novel and look forward to meeting the author when he hits Minneapolis/St. Paul.