Thursday, October 31, 2013

The History of Whatever Through Recently Released Nonfiction--On Baseball and Balloons, Servants and Secrecy.

One doesn't generally expect to see a baseball book in the fall, despite the uptick in interest from the World Series. That said, The 34 Ton Bat: The Story of Baseball as Told Through Bobble Heads, Cracker Jacks, Jockstraps, Eye Black, and 375 Other Strange and Unforgettable Objects (Little, Brown) might also be counterprogramming genius. It's hot to document history through objects, as we most recently saw with A History of Britain in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps. Sports Illustrated writer Steve Rushin has also appeared in Best American Magazine Writing. His history through objects includes the evolution of the uniform, the batting helmet, the gloves, and of course, the memorabilia. For more, here's a conversation with Bill Littlefield on WBUR.

Eclectic histories can be of a traditional subject told in a different way, or a little-known topic told traditionally. In the case of Richard Holmes, he's chronicled the history of ballooning in the new Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air (Pantheon). I particular like the texture of the jacket, which mimics the rubber of a balloon. Holmes was short-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize for The Age of Wonder (you know who that is, the subject of James Boswell's famous biography) and in his new book, he offers an account of the early Anglo-French rivalries, the long-distance voyages of entrepreneur John Wise and photographer Félix Nadar, and the Civil War flights used to document the horrors of the battlefield. Charles McGrath and Lori Holcomb document a balloon journey with Holmes in The New York Times.

The Yale "Little History" series has been a nice success at taking general subjects that have been covered exhaustively, and eloquently making them not just palatable, but mouth-wateringly readable. The original Little History of the World continues to sell well, with the illustrated version being a surprise hit. Additional entries covered science and philosophy. This fall John Sutherland's A Little History of Literature has been published, covering everything from Beowulf to Moby Dick to 1984 and dozens more, enlivening his his offerings with humour (ah, not reset for the U.S.) as well as learning. As you know, Yale has a British office, so unlike the Holmes, which was an acquisition of a UK title, this was published in both countries by the same publisher. My interesting link has nothing to do with the new book, which like all books in the series, is a great cross-over to young adults. Instead, I note this quote from Sutherland on judging the Man Booker prize and not completely reading all the submissions: "You don't have to eat the whole fish to tell that it's off."

A more traditional history is the new Peter Ackroyd volume, The Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I (Thomas Dunne Books). Why cover this well-trod territory? In this case, the key is to put the author's own spin on it. The publishers note that Ackroyd take is rich in detail and atmosphere. It turns out this is #2 in a six-volume series, the first of which was Foundation. In this interview with Gabrielle Pintera in British Weekly, he notes that the idea for this series came to him in a flash. He talks about the research, and how the arc of the book's narrative came to him. It came to be as much about the Church as royal family. John Cornwell reviewed the book in last year's Financial Times, when the book was published in the UK, after which, surely a customer came in to get it, found we didn't have it as it was not published here, and ordered it online. I hope that St. Martin's will come to the realization that for high-profile books, simultaneous releases need to be the way to go.

Aren't we Anglophiles today? Another book on our new and noteworthy cases is Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times (W.W. Norton), by Lucy Lethbridge. This renewal of interest in servant life obviously has Downton Abbey connections, and London writer Lethbridge has had very nice recommendations from Amanda Foreman, author of Georgina, and Hugh Brewster, the man behind Gilded Lives. Like Ackroyd, Letbridge's book came out in the UK first, with Ben Wilson reviewing it in The (London) Telegraph. But I don't mind this so much, because I suspect the book wasn't sold to Norton until well into the UK publishing process, as opposed to the Ackroyd, which would definitely come out in the USA.

What did Wilson think? "Servants is full of eyebrow-raising and laughter-inducing vignettes. But what is most fascinating is Lethbridge’s account of the dark side of the master-servant relationship. In the first decades of the century, thousands of young women slept in airless cupboards in the homes of the urban middle classes. Their stunted lives make for painful reading. It is told with great sensitivity"

One last title, an American release, that is likely to get some European coverage is The Family Jewels: The CIA, Secrecy, and Presidential Power, a timely book that documents the release of formerly classified CIA archive information, written by John Prados. Senior fellow in the National Security Archive, Prados is writer of over 20 books, and this new volume is part of the Discovering America series, which is overseen by Mark Crispin Miller. On the new release, Kirkus Reviews calls this "an impressive research effort showing how, when it comes to current political affairs, the past is almost always prologue."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hanukkah Table and a Bit of What's Featured On It, Including Our Events with Nina Edelman (11/17) and Alisa Solomon (11/21).

I was originally going to post this Hanukkah piece on the Saturday gift blog, and then I thought maybe it wasn’t the most respectful day to write about a Jewish holiday. So I found this slot in the middle of the week that hadn't had a post.

The big news is that while our Hanukkah boxed cards are out, we can only find two of our loose designs. In the past, we’ve filed carry overs with Christmas, but for some reason, they’ve disappeared. I have not idea why, but if we don’t come up with something, I’ll probably break up some of the boxes. Our sale is a tiny fraction of Christmas cards, but we do have a good amount of business, especially for kids, and always have a holiday-themed wrap for customers. Everyone was excited that we worked our way through the roll we used for the last three years.We've gotten several compliments.

I guess I was most excited about the Hanukkah ducks. There’s one with a dreidel, one with a menorah, and one who just seems to be going to bar mitzvah class. The minimums were a little high for us, but I emotionally spread out the sale over two years. No, we don’t mark everything down at the end of the holiday. Last year we’d brought in a Jenga-like game with skeletons, and it actually sold better the second year than the first (3 in each year, but we sold out faster in 2013). Maybe the placement in the store was better the second time.

We also have two events that tie into Hanukkah and National Jewish Book Month, which is November. On Sunday, November 17, we are hosting Shir Hadash shopping day, where a percentage of designated sales goes back to this Reconstructionist congregation. By designated, customers have to tell us that they are participating, and forgo their normal Boswell Benefits (but the benefit is double—10% instead of the 5% that customers get). The featured speaker at 3 pm is Nina Edelman, who is talking about her father Max Gendelman’s book, A Tale of Two Soldiers (Two Harbors). The story is a remarkable tale of friendship between and American and German solider, and is a great tribute to her dad. Now I just have to continue to panic over whether the books will arrive on time—it’s one of those deals where we order from Baker and Taylor and they order from the publisher.

Our second timely event is Alisa Solomon’s Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof (Henry Holt). This event is co-sponsored by the UWM Sam and Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies, the UWM Theater Department, and the Harry and Rose Sampson Family JCC, which is a mouthful. I’ve been working my way slowly through Solomon’s book. I was just a little young to know that Fiddler on the Roof’s success was built on a decade of Sholem Aleichem fever. This event is Thursday, November 21, 7 pm, and should be a lot of fun.

Wonder of Wonders has been getting some great attention: Shelley Salamensky in The Wall Street Journal called the book “ exuberant” as it “careers through the countless twists and turns of the "Fiddler" phenomenon.” And Eileen Reynolds in the Jewish Daily Forward praises the “particularly thoughtful analysis of how the story “has achieved something like folklore status in the American imagination, and grapples, as any history of this musical must, with fundamental questions about Jewish identity.”

Another interesting book for which we are not hosting the author is Hanukkah in America (NYU Press), by Dianne Ashton. It sometimes seems that there is little variation with the menorah, dreidl, latke triumvirate but Ashton proves this is not the case. In New Orleans, you decorate your door with a menorah made of hominy grits. In Texas, latkes are seasoned with cilantro and cayenne pepper. And per the author, a Cincinnati custom is to celebrate with oranges and ice cream. Ashton, a professor of religious studies at Rowan University, has gotten a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal called it a “a successful and accessible history.”

Speaking of cultural traditions, Barbara Brown’s new book is Hanukkah in Alaska (Holt), with illustrations by Stacey Schuett. In it, a family celebrating not only see the northern lights, but a moose too.

And then there is Emily Stone’s Did Jew Know: A Handy Primer on the Customs, Culture, and Practice of the Chosen People (Chronicle), which is more meant for the impulse table. There’s not just info on how to keep kosher, but the history of the Jewish gangster, and Jewish influences on television, the movies, and the American musical (see above for Wonder of Wonders).

Finally there was a meow of enthusiasm for the 20th anniversary edition of Hanukcats: And Other Traditional Jewish Songs for Cats (Chronicle), by Laurie Loughlin. I have nothing to say about his, except that it’s pretty silly.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Event Wrap Up in Photos--Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, Sara Paretsky, CJ Hribal

It's been close to a year now that I lost my camera, and since then, like most of the world, I've taken to using my phone. Though I've heard that the cameras in phones are often better than the stand alones, I feel like my pictures have gone a bit downhill, perhaps because I'm not using it correctly. But it's not like they are terrible, and I realized that after documenting the author visits I attended in Austin, I probably was giving short shrift to our homegrown events, post-event, and needed to fill you in on some of the interesting details.

We'd hosted Tom Franklin for Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, and this time, we were lucky to have both Mr. Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly together, having collaborated on The Tilted World. How nice that Ms. Fennelly's mom lives within commuting distance of the store, so there could be some famly time as well. We showed the two our flood display, complete with two dead bodies.  The flood novels continue--Wally Lamb's latest, We are Water, has a Connecticut flood as an important plot point.

I was on the fence as to how to lay this event out. One shared podium or two conversation chairs? In this case, I thought podium, as I find it is difficult to read sitting down. On the other hand, because our event with Robert Boswell, in town to talk about Tumbledown, was structured more as a conversation with C.J. Hribal, we did set up the comfy chairs with coffee table (also known as bargain book bench) between them. Hribal read at a podium and then had the conversation. For Valerie Sayers, a more intimate group led us to do everything from the conversation chairs, including the reading.

As I had mentioned in a previous post, both Boswell and Sayers were authors that I had read in the past. That said, when it came time to get books signed, I didn't bring in the backlist. Oh well, I guess that puts them on the same level as Cathleen Schine, Alice McDermott, and Andrew Sean Greer. I guess that like our good customers Pat and Suzanne, I don't really value the signature as much as I thought I did.

Sara Paretsky had a more traditional event, a solo talk with a bit of reading from Critical Mass. I figured that as a Chicagoan, this trip would be leisurely for her, but some scheduling issues led her to have to rush from Houston. We learned about a short delay from one of our customers (the power of social media), but in the end, the event started pretty close to 3 pm, as promised.

I find that mystery writers understand that talking about the book seems to connect them with customers more than reading from it, though Paretsky did a nice reading that was much appreciated. The audience gave her a lot of love, and she threw the love right back. We had lots of feedback from attendees about how great the afternoon was (and they showed their appreciation by buying the book), and I couldn't agree more.

Monday, October 28, 2013

What's Happening at Boswell This Week?--Robert Boswell, Barbara Manger, Valere Sayers, Abby Geni, Janice Deal, Lisa Moser, and the Stephen King Book Club.

Monday, October 28, 7 pm, at Boswell
Robert Boswell, author of Tumbledown, in conversation with C.J. Hribal.

One of the finest speakers on creative writing and literary criticism, Robert Boswell is also a highly underappreciated writer of fiction. His new novel, Tumbledown, received a glowing review from The New York Times Book Review earlier this year, with the reviewer noting, “Boswell can write the most refreshingly old-fashioned kind of narrative: one that evokes deep sympathy for all its characters. . . . All the novel’s characters know that in adulthood they’re supposed to settle for ‘what could pass for a normal life. Maybe it was a C- sort of life, but that was a passing grade.’ Still, they want to keep hope, wonder and love in their lives. . . . Without a whiff of sentimentality, he shows exactly how elusive such balance can be.”

My rec on Tumbledown: "At the Onyx Springs Rehabilitation Center, not that far from San Diego, James Candler is a counselor being fast tracked for the directorship by the outgoing head. His clients (formerly known as patients) include a schizophrenic, a chronic self-groper, and a mildly mentally impaired beauty. He’s also got a girlfriend coming to town (his sister’s assistant in London) who he’s only really known for a short time, which might cause some complications, since he’s already sleeping with a local. Did I mention she’s a former patient he doesn’t recognize, and you might call her a stalker? Candler also just hired his best friend from childhood, Billy Atlas, as a supervisor, and he’s pretty much the only one who knows Jimmy’s secret about his deceased brother Pook. Yes, this is that kind of multi-character, multi-perspective funny-but-not-comic novel that I gravitate towards, with Boswell giving new meaning to flawed-but-sympathetic characters. But Tumbledown is also a powerful story about life in the face of illness and loss, control when confronted by chaos, and love and lust in the midst of desperation."

Joining him in conversation will be C.J. Hribal, author of The Company Car, a novel which Robert Boswell called “wonderful,” adding “Hribal writes with grace and unerring wit in this celebration of the American family.” Both authors teach at the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers.

Tuesday, October 29, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Barbara Manger, author of Riding Through Grief.

From the Midwest Book Award winning author of Mary Nohl: Inside and Outside, comes a memoir about resilience and renewal. With the same down-to-earth tone that permeated that biography of one extraordinary artist’s life and work, Manger relates her own family’s struggle to return to normal in the wake of a debilitating loss: the death of Barbara’s son, Matt.

Weaving backward and forward in time, Riding Through Grief takes the reader through Matt’s childhood, offering glimpses of his zest for life and sense of adventure, set against the events surrounding his death and funeral. In their shared attempts to create meaningful life without Matt, his loved ones discover unique ways to honor his memory, offering gratitude for all the time they did get to have with him while also knowing that he will remain with them always.

Wednesday, October 30, 7 pm, at Boswell
Valerie Sayers, author of The Powers and Due East, in conversation with Liam Callanan.

Earlier this year, Valerie Sayers, a widely regarded novelist and professor of English at Notre Dame, saw the release of her first novel since Brain Fever in 1996, which was Sayers’ second novel to be named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. The Powers—set in 1941 against a roller coaster backdrop of historic events: DiMaggio’s record season, Pearl Harbor—is an inventive novel about how three friends on the cusp of adulthood are changed because of their experiences with such giants of the time as Dorothy Day, Walker Evans, and, of course, Joltin’ Joe.

In conjunction with her new novel, Northwestern University Press has reissued Sayers’ earlier novels in attractively designed uniform paperback editions. Particularly appreciated for her ability to examine moral issues through complex lenses tinted by Catholicism, Sayers does so with stories that border on the fantastical. Joining her in conversation about her work will be Liam Callanan, author of the novels Cloud Atlas and All Saints, and professor of English and Creative Writing at UW-Milwaukee.

Friday, November 1, 7 pm, at Boswell, New Story Collections from the Midwest:
Janice Deal, author of The Decline of Pigeons, along with Abby Genni, author of The Last Animal.

In 2011, two authors joined a list of established names in an anthology titled New Stories from the Midwest. Now, two years later, both authors' fiction will meet again, but in person this time, rather than simply on the page, as they present work from their debut story collections.

My rec for The Last Animal:"When people let you down, the natural world might just be the place to find solace, or so I surmised from this fascinating new collection of short stories. Whether it be Alheimers, depression, affairs, or reasons yet to be determined, the family members of Abby Geni's characters keep disappearing. Even the surrogates, like one beloved camp counselor, can't be depended on. But fortunately there are substitute connections, whether it's the teen student of "Dharma at the Gate" who has her dog, or the young aquarium worker of "Captivity" who is quite aware of the intelligence of the octopus. One museum worker turns to specimens to process his grief at losing his mother, while another man turns to his clients' plant woes after his wife's miscarriage. Even in the stories I wasn't as drawn to, Geni's work is filled with unique images and situations. In my favorite stories, her characters and imagery are heart-stopping."

Booklist also has praise for The Decline of Pigeons, by Janice Deal, saying: “Throughout these nine striking stories, Deal deftly explores the moments during which her characters' lives shift or unravel.” These characters, isolated and flawed yet hopeful, exhibit the bravery that profound loss demands; even as they make choices that might damn them, they are magnificent in their potential to break free.

Janice Deal's stories have appeared in literary magazines including The Sun, The Ontario Review, The Carolina Quarterly, and StoryQuarterly. Her collection was a finalist for the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, and she is the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Artists Fellowship Award for prose.

Saturday, November 2, 11 am, at Boswell:
Lisa Moser, author of Cowboy Boyd and Mighty Calliope.
This event is recommended for cowboys and cowgirls aged 3-7.

Featuring story time with Lisa Moser, author of the delightful picture book, Cowboy Boyd and Mighty Calliope, wherein a cowboy and his loyal steed (actually, a rhinoceros) might be the only ones at the Double R Ranch who can save the day. We’ll also have activities for those cowpokes who might want to try their hand at drawing the scene for a ranch of their own, practice lassoing, or sing ballads around a fire (okay, not a real fire).

Lisa Moser is a Wisconsin-based children's author whose books include Squirrel's World, included in the 2010-2011 Texas Bluebonnet Master list of recommended children's books for libraries; The Monster in the Backpack; Kisses on the Wind, which received an Oppenheimer Toy Gold Seal; and Railroad Hank.

Saturday, November 2, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Two Month Book Club featuring featuring  Stephen King's Doctor Sleep.

Join former Boswellian Halley Pucker for what is bound to be a lively discussion about Stephen King’s latest novel, Doctor Sleep, the riveting sequel to The Shining.

Monday, November 4, 7 pm, at Boswell:
SHARP Literacy presents Francisco Mora, illustrator of A Great Lakes Adventure: Salmon's Journey Home.

Books published by the SHARP program are a result of the collaborative efforts of educators, artists and literacy students. After working with a teacher to come up with a core concept, the students work together to research, create and produce a complete book. Their guides are educators and professional artists, and their final work is even translated into Spanish.

Illustrated by Mexican-American artist Francisco Mora, SHARP’S 11th book invites us to join Salmon as he undertakes an exciting journey to discover the place of his birth. As Salmon seeks to uncover mysteries and reach his goal, he makes a special friend who will teach him much about life and the Great Lakes.

RSVPs encouraged to Betsy Mitchell,, or (414) 977-1768.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

36 Minutes Compiling the Boswell Bestseller Lists for the Week Ending October 26, 2013.

I still haven't given up on the blog for this crazy week. I've got several half-written posts, and plan to finish and post them in their originally scheduled day. We'll see if that actually happens.

The big news for today is a small piece that you've probably already sent me. It's the Boswell mention in the 36 Hours column in The New York Times. If you're wondering, the Times covers Milwaukee about every five years. The 2008 edition gave a shout out to the old Renaissance Bookshop on Plankinton. The 2003 report had no bookstore but gave a high five to Beans and Barley.

Long-time readers of The New York Times column remember that it used to be configured as "What's doing in..." Here's a link to the 1989 write up in which definitely is less quirk and more mainstream tourist, highlighting Summerfest, the Lakefront Festival of the Arts, and the old John Byron's, which you either classify as Sanford's first home, or the fanciest Heinemann's in town. Oddly enough, I cannot find any reference to Milwaukee between 1989 and 2003. It was a dry period, apparently.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
2. The Tilted World, by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly
3. Identical, by Scott Turow
4. The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton
5. Critical Mass, by Sara Paretsky (coming today, Sunday, at 3 pm. At Mystery One at 5 pm)

So yes, The Goldfinch finally landed. Did all that early New York Times buzz lift sales beyond where they might have been? Who knows? Here's a great on time review from Meg Wolitzer on NPR: "The day The Goldfinch arrived I promptly cracked it open, remembering how my sons would pounce on the latest Harry Potter on the day it was published. J.K. Rowling transformed a generation of kids into passionate readers. Donna Tartt does something different here — she takes fully grown, already passionate readers and reminds them of the particularly deep pleasures that a long, winding novel can hold. In the short-form era in which we live, the Internet has supposedly whittled our attention-spans down to the size of hotel soap, and it's good to be reminded that sometimes more is definitely more."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Driven, by Donald Driver
2. Limping Through Life, by Jerry Apps
3. David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell
4. I Believe in ZERO, by Caryl Stern
5. The Quiet Season, by Jerry Apps

While Jannis handled Caryl Stern's event at the Milwaukee Public Library and Hannah sold books at Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro for Patricia Wells (the big sale on that will show up next week), I trekked to Grafton for their book festival on Saturday. While we've hosted Julia Pandl and Jerry Apps numerous times (this was actually our third Jerry Apps event in 2013!), this was my first time with Victoria Houston, who has a series of mysteries set in Milwaukee, the latest of which is Dead Insider (below). The Quiet Season isApps's new memoir of life during Wisconsin winters, and will be a public television special in early December. We all agreed that the Wisconsin Historical Society did a great job on the package.

Paperback Fiction:
1. Birth Offering, by Anthony Hains
2. Badlands, by Thomas Biel
3. The President's Hat, by Antoine Laurain
4. Dead Insider, by Victoria Houston
5. Dear Life, by Alice Munro

Two locals dominated this week's list. Thomas Biel's short stories were celebrated on Tuesday, while Hains launched his horror novel on Wednesday. Both had many Boswell regulars in attendance. I'm not Boris and Doris, or I'd name names. Signed copies of both books are available. Regarding ex-bookseller Alice Munro, we're selling more of a breadth of books than the national bestseller lists, where the newest, Dear Life, has been the focus.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Memoir of the Sunday Brunch, by Julia Pandl
2. Rural Wit and Wisdom, by Jerry Apps
3. 100 Things Packers Should Know and Do Before They Die, by Rob Reischel
4. Garden Wisdom, by Jerry Apps
5. The Great Cholesterol Myth, by Jonny Bowden

I told you we sold a lot of Apps! But we still got requests for things I didn't bring. Where's In a Pickle? Heck, Apps wrote three books this year alone.  Regarding 100 Things Packers Should Know and Do Before They Die, I feel like Rob Reischel didn't really get his time to talk about this brand new book when he appeared with LeRoy Butler. He's now been on our bestseller list for three weeks running.

Books for Kids:
1. Allegiant, by Veronica Roth
2. House of Hades, by Rick Riordan
3. Desmond Pucket Makes Monster Magic, by Mark Tatulli
4. Letters from Hillside Farm, by Jerry Apps
5. Goodnight Moon Board Book, by Margaret Wise Brown

So I was out of town for our mini Veronica Roth party. Apparently Allegiant had a spectacular first week and I have to say, we also had a good sales number.  Our first week was well more than double the best week we had on the hardcover of Inusurgent. I wish I'd seen the cupcakes!

In the Journal Sentinel., Jim Higgins looks at the slew of JFK assassination books on the 50th anniversary of the event.

Higgins also reviews The Rosie Project in the Journal Sentinel. He writes: "The first third of "The Rosie Project" opens as strongly as any comic novel I've read in a long time. The middle slice wobbles occasionally, perhaps in keeping with Don's own wobbly attempts to integrate what he's learning from Rosie. The book roars at high speed to its conclusion. It's a comedy, so we know where they're going."

Chris Foran covers A History of Britain in 36 Postage Stamps. As Foran notes, "Author Chris West comes by his philatelic fixation honestly. When he was a boy, he inherited his great-uncle's stamp collection, going back to the turn of the 20th century."

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Saturday Gift Post--Ladybug Girl and Willie plush, Bristle Blocks, Smencils, Retro Pets magnets.

This past few few weeks involved a lot of restocking. I received a four box shipment of Melissa and Doug, and that reminded me I have to pull down a few more boxes of product that I bought earlier and was planning to stage. Oh, the best laid plans!

Sometimes the timing is right on backorders. We got in a few Ladybug Girl dolls while we still had the display up for Ladybug Girl and the Big Snow. That Ladybug sure has a lot of adventures. I already see four books scheduled for 2014, including one featuring her Halloween adventures. That's handy, as she is already in costume.

On the other hand, I forgot to tell Amie that I was bringing in the Whistle for Willie dog. Though we carry several other books from Ezra Jack Keats, we don't have that one. Now we have to decide, hardcover, paperback, or board book. Believe it or not, our experience is that folks will generally by the hardcover with the plush, not the paperback. We'll see how it goes.

Several other out of stock items came back in the last few weeks. We're loaded up on Smencils, for example. That order was placed in July, with the hope of a little back-to-school action, but now it's a stocking stuffer. 

One other item in the kid section that has been doing pretty well is Bristle Blocks. I don't have much room to display them, and I really like the plastic bucket format, as opposed to boxes. But one thing I've noticed is that folks have been trading up from the basic assortment to the jungle-themed one. Also pictured are some nice basic wooden blocks.

We still have some Folkmanis puppets to receive, but Anne just informed me that our tagging gun has gotten clogged and the finger puppets need some sort of price tag, as unlike the hand puppets, they don't come with one to just label. These things happen.

Also back in stock are the Schylling toy tops, magic wands, and some Peaceable Kingdom friendship bracelet kits. The first two have sold well for us in the past, and the bracelet is pretty much another variation on their sticker program. I also bought some assorted small sticker packs from Peaceable Kingdom, but our plexy display that I planned to put them in seems to be missing, alas.

On the adult side, we're still selling the Retro Pets dog magnets well, even after saying goodbye to super fan Halley. I think we've now brought in enough to get us through the holidays.  I'm a particular fan of Pugtato Chips, which we hadn't previously stocked. I'm not sure why we skipped them.

Friday, October 25, 2013

No Visit to Austin Would be Complete Without a Trip to BookPeople.

Austin is famous for several things--music, technology, politics, and bats, among other things. But for a bibliophile, the biggest star on the map is reserved for BookPeople. Founded in 1970, it's just about four times as big as Boswell, spread over two selling floors, plus a third floor event space. I was in town for a bookseller conference, and I knew we were touring the store on Tuesday. That said, I couldn't resist taking an early peak and no surprise, I wound up spending well over an hour at the store.

Like many an independent store in a college town, their neighborhood was apparently once on the funky side, but now, aside from the Waterloo Records across the street, there are a lot of chain shops, like REI, Anthropologie, and Chicos. That said, I don't think you'd mistake BookPeople for a chain. They really play up their independence, and I'd expect nothing less from brains behind the "Keep Austin Weird" campaign, a mantra that is now part of Austin's DNA. There are staff recs everywhere, and though the signage is quite professional (not like our makeshift photocopied signs), there are a number of crafty signs for key displays too.

I'm always keeping an eye out for interesting sectioning, and Jason and I have talked about how unwieldy our fiction section is. I was intrigued by their breakout of historical fiction. It's a nice separation, and I wonder how it works. I like it!

BookPeople does a great job with their gifts too. I'm a bit nosy about these things, and usually decode the received date on labels. Yes, you can do this on many of our labels too. I was shocked by how up to date the bulk of their merchandise was. I went to an unnamed store in New England where I found gift product that was 4-5 years old.

Only long-timers know that BookPeople's origins were as a new age store. You can see a bit of it in that they sell Buddhas and incense.  One of the Buddhas is well over $1000. Based on their assortment, I think they do very well with the pop culture-y stuff from vendors like Kikkerland, DCI, Fred, and Accoutrements. I bought a great UK card that if I bring in to Boswell, I will shout out BookPeople in a Saturday posting.

As I mentioned previously, I attended a reception at BookPeople where we got a tour of the store. The evening was sponsored by the University of Texas Press, where were treated to a presentation of some titles of interest, with a bag of bookish treats for later. Among the highlights was Diana Kennedy's My Mexico, a micro-history of the pecan (called The Pecan), and a timely history called The Family Jewels: The CIA, Secrecy, and Presidential Power. Texas is said to have a strong photography list, and I was intrigued by one of the entries they were touting called Photojournalists at War. 

Did I mention how impressed I am by BookPeople's step and repeat? I learned this terminology from Kohl's, by the way, when we were working on the Lauren Conrad signing. It's what you see behind red carpet presentations. Talk about getting your name out there!

Most folks left after the reception and tour, but I was excited about that night's author event. It was our old friend William Joyce, whose new book is The Mischievians. This picture book chronicles those heretofore unknown creatures who are responsible for responsible for the disappearance of socks and the appearance of belly button lint. This field guide tells of two kids who meet Dr. Zooper, and learn about creatures like The Stinker, The Itcher, and The Endroller.

I am apparently bad luck, because the BookPeople folk were going to play the Academy Award winning short, "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" but couldn't get the machine to play. Last year when we hosted Mr. Joyce, we pulled the short from Youtube, only it turned out to be an unauthorized edit. Fortunately nobody blamed me. I said hi and got a copy signed for Amie, who is a collector. Short or no short, we all enoyed the movie popcorn.

I mentioned there were lots of recommendations, not just from booksellers but from critics too. I found an end cap with recs from various media sources, and I was blown away that they had my NPR recs for Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, as well as Queen of the Air. It got me a little weepy.

On the way out of town, I had time to stop by the BookPeople store at the airport. I was glad I hadn't located this location on the way in. Though decked in BookPeople blue, it was clearly a licensed store (much like the Red Balloon in the Minneapolis St. Paul airport, and the Barbara's at O'Hare) where the BookPeople folk were probably not even consulted on stock. It's the only way I can explain a front table display of Sh*t My Dad Says and the sequel, I Suck at Girls, which came out over a year ago to little attention.

Airports do this all the time nowadays, as localizing the airport retail assortment is a hot trend. You see that with restaurants at the Milwaukee airport. But the Rennaissance Bookshop at our airport is about as authentic as you can get. I'm just not sure whether these kinds of deals unlock a brand's value or waters it down. But then again, nobody's asked me.

Last story. A fellow bookseller and I left the store late to take a cab back to our hotel. A taxi showed up and there was some confusion as to whether the taxi was for us or two other women. We decided to share, even though it turned out our hotels were nowhere near each other. But we wound up having a great talk with this mother and daughter, who were having a bonding weekend. Both Mitchell and the mom had attended UC (that's Colorado, I think) and there was some discussion of who looked comparatively younger than their age. And where did they go for the evening? A BookPeople bag filled with books was their souvenir of the trip. How could I argue with that?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Today is Our Event with Donald Driver.

Today is our Donald Driver signing. We decided to close at Noon so we could make this work. It's a very large event, and we wanted as little to go wrong as possible. Bag check? Check. Hall passes to go to Starbucks? Check. Lots of signage? Check. Themed Duck Tape indicating where the line goes? Check. Even more signage? Check.

Are you attending? Don't forget there is no memorabilia, no books from home, and no personalizations. There are no posed photos,and we ask you to not have a camera phone out on the line, much like Lauren Conrad's event.

That said, Troy Freund of Troy Freund Photography will be taking candid shots of folks getting their books signed. Afterwards, these photos will be posted on the website. You'll be able to get a low-res picture free, but of course you can trade up to something higher res.

We were sold out for a while, but then it turned out that Mr. Driver's schedule was adjusted so that we could have slightly more time to accommodate more attendees. So yesterday we opened up more tickets. I'm glad I was able to make some more people happy.

We cannot offer any more signed copies, though we have a small stand-by list if we have leftover books after all the math is done. We had to figure in some damaged copies, for example and a possible shortage in our last second reorder.

It's all very exciting, but needless to say, I'm a little stressed! Let's hope everything goes swimmingly? Or should I have used a football metaphor. Let's redo that. Let's hope that this event is a touchdown!

I'll see you 700 books later.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Day in Austin. There's Nothing About Books Here, but I Should Note I was Reading Amy Tan the Whole Trip. Sometimes While I Was Walking...

Sometimes the only way to dig your way out of a blog hole is with a tiny shovel. And that's why I'm going back and finishing the posts that weren't done in my recent slew of 12 hours days and crazy events. My fallow period started with my trip to Austin. I'm not good at using electronics on flights, though we did get an email newsletter out during that period. I really, really like to read, and actually finished two books over the trip, which was much needed. And of course when you go to a conference, you're there to pick up ideas that you wouldn't get if you wouldn't attend. That means paying attention and not writing. So here we are, a bit of a mess.

No, this is not a book blog, though I can tell you that my soundtrack for the whole visit was Amy Tan's The Valley of Amazement. She's coming to Alverno's Pitman Theater on Monday, November 11, 7 pm. Buy tickets here.

Now you might say that I had a free day and why didn't I just sit in my hotel room or at a coffee shop and write, write, write? I'd never been to Austin and had no idea when I'd visit again. I just don't expect to speak at an SXSW conference, whether it's for music, film, or technology. They are all outside my wheelhouse, alas. So I got up that Sunday and walked around. Here are some things I saw of interest.

1. I collect capital cities, but when I started sorting it out, I've still been to less than half of them, and there were three where I visited the town and forgot to locate the building. I last did that in Des Moines, but admittedly, we were just passing through and decided to take the bypass. We did at least visit Beaverdale Books.

2. Due to a convention of funeral directors (not a joke), our hotel was a bit off the beaten path, but it was a short walk to Manor (pronounce with a long A) Road in East Austin, where there were a number of interesting places to eat. I wound up trying Hoover's, a soul food place, and as I do with this kind of joint, I went with an assortment of sides--fried okra, yams, green beans, and potatoes.

3. For my free day, I decided to walk to South Austin, as there seemed to be a lot happening on Congress. I headed down Martin Luther King Drive, which gave me a good tour of the government area, the State Capitol (of course), and some of the old and new downtown. Austin's one of those cities that grew tremendously; the old infrastructure doesn't look that much different from how I remember Lafayette, Indiana back when my sister taught at Purdue. But the new construction makes it look more like Denver. Sometimes the new and old mash together--it's an interesting mix.

4. Everywhere I went,  I saw interesting public art. I am not a fan of the bronze sculptures of pioneer children I saw outside the State Capitol, but I dug this flower street lamp in South Austin and a buttered bread mural made me smile in East Austin. In one neighborhood, they took a cement wall and covered it with a mosaic of found glass. Art is good!

5. I wound up wandering through the food courts in the South Austin neighborhood. It wasn't quite like Milwaukee, where most of the food trucks move around to find customers, but more like Portland, where parking lots all over the city rented space to food trucks, which then became the destination. In Portland, however, it was more concentrated, whereas Austin's scene was more sprawly. I guess that's just Texas. Everything that was open had a long line, and that can be said for just about every eating venue I passed. If it was open and it had customers, it had a long wait. One of my friends said that some food trucks are purposely slow to make the line look longer. I withhold judgment on that one.

6. I almost had a donut at Gordough's. I was intrigued by the concept, but then decided the donuts might be too overwhelming, and I wasn't sure I liked the concept. I love donuts, but it seemed like this was one conceptual donut to which you added frippery. I am more of a Top Pot (Seattle) fan than Voodoo (Portland). I want the concept to start in the dough not just in the crazy stuff you put on top. I must say, though, I like the infusion concept that Donut Plant (New York) pushes. Yes, I think about this a lot.

7. The problem was that I was already full. I had just had two empanadas at the Fair Bean on 1st Avenue. I cut over to First as that seemed to be the street with all the coffee shops. At that point, I just needed the wifi to process our bestseller lists. But an empanada had just won the Top Chef challenge that week and I couldn't resist. I guess South First can be called Austin's coffee district; here's Yelp's list of the top zillion places to get coffee in Austin. I feel like the one with the longest line was Dominican Joe's. There were a lot of long lines--did I already mention that?

8. After meetings the next day, the suggestion was made to go to the river and see the bats. I guess 750,000 bats live under the Congress Avenue bridge, with more in summer. That evening, the bridge was several rows deep in tourists. Had I known this, I would have led gawkers through our college radio station, which also had bats. Alas, the photo didn't come out well, and it started pouring just before the witching hour when the bats come out, but you get the idea. Though this post was originally for October 23, it didn't get posted until Halloween. It all comes together, right?

9. I'm not going to tell you how great the hotel food was, because it wasn't, but we did have a very nice dinner at Swift's Attic, just a few blocks from our bat viewing. I thought it was great, though I think if you do a chef's choice menu, my advice is to be slightly more specific about how many dishes you want! Because we had vegetarians and pescatarians among us, the menu choices drifted to the veg and fish, but I'm sure the meat dishes were also good. I wish I'd been writing everything down, but I do particularly remember liking the albacore tataki.

10. I didn't visit a single music venue. I get tired at night! I walked down Sixth Street during the day. There was a lot of buzz about the female bicyclist riding topless.

11. It looks like I'll have to save my visit to Bookpeople for another blog post. But I will thank Bookpeople for being great hosts, and especially to Elizabeth, who led us to a great lunch spot, Salt and Time, back in East Austin. This butcher/salumeria made up for the lack of meat at our Swift's Attic dinner. I think salumeria translates as "salami store" but I wound up having a pulled pork sandwich. It was very exciting to see Sprecher root beer in the cooler.