Friday, May 30, 2014

Not So Live from Book Expo--The Show in Five Photos.

Since my brain is a bit fried from three days of conventioning, I thought I'd let the pictures talk for me.

1 . Here our buyers Jason talks with Brad at the Columbia booth about The Insect Cookbook: Food for a Sustainable Planet, which came out this year from Arnold Van Huis, Henk Van Gurp, and Marcel Dicke. In the book, two entomologists and a chef make the case for insects as a sustainable source of protein for humans and a necessary part of our future diet. The publisher was offering a chocolate and peanut butter cricket bar. We were so glad to see Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, and a few other university presses at the show. Many have dropped out, and some, like University of California, have cut their discounts and raised their prices, pretty much spelling out that they do not see retail as a viable option for their wares. A lot of bookstores are worried about this. The solution? Look for more viable titles like The Insect Cookbook. 

2. There are several new publishing imprints and divisions popping up this year. Among them is Bob Miller's Flatiron Books, part of Macmillan, which is of course based in the Flatiron Building. Miller had runs at Workman and the maverick no-return, no-advance HarperStudio, but he is probably best known for spearheading Hyperion Books for Disney. It was a good name and I found it odd that both Disney and Hachette (who bought much of the backlist) wound up eschewing the name for their continuing publishing program. Several of us wound up attending a cocktail party in one of the meeting rooms. I thought it was some of the best swag of the show--a fine tote and a sturdy mug, plus the promotional piece that mimics the Flatiron. Their first release is Oprah Winfrey's What I know for Sure, collected from her columns.

3. Speaking of swag, I have heard that ten-year-old-girls find that temporary tattoos are a bit babyish, but a number of publishers bet on them to entice an older crowd. I came across a signing line for Garth (The Art of Racing in the Rain) Stein and the option to get tat myself up for the day was just too enticing. I told myself going into the show that I wouldn't stand on any lines, but I use a mathematical formula that involves length of line, how much I think someone might want the book, whether I know someone in the line, and how fast the author is signing. In this case, I already knew that Mr. Stein would be visiting Boswell for the new book, A Sudden Light, so I just wanted to say hi and get the ball rolling on reads. You know that when a book is personally inscibed to you, you must read it. It's the rule. Our event, by the way, is Saturday, October 4, 7 pm, so mark it on your calendars.  A big thank you to Stein for contorting himself such that the photo included him, the book, and the tattoo.

4. It's always interesting to see what books get what marketing. When we arrived at the hotel, we got a pile of galleys in our welcome bag (including the aforementioned Stein.) Many author attendees also got featured in the Publishers Weekly print daily edition. And of course while we don't see one author parties or dinners, one always pays attention to which authors got a coveted spot at a group shindig. Sometimes it has to do with geography--it's much cheaper to include New Yorkers in the promotional plans when the show is at the Javits. There were not quite as many outside billboards this year, but the entry doors to the show were plastered with Lauren Oliver's first adult novel, Rooms, and there were lots of hanging banners too. It was nice to see one for Mary Kubica's The Good Girl, being published by Harlequin's Mira imprint this summer. It's a Gillian Flynn-esque novel that has already gotten a good read by Sharon at our store, and she'll be appearing at Boswell along with Heather Gudenkauf on Tuesday, August 5.

5. It's not that I want this to be the Daniel show, but it is nice to see old friends at Book Expo, and it was a particularly memorable evening to attend the retirement party of Adena Siegel, the longtime East coast Harvard-Yale-MIT rep, who, previous to this position, was the Midwest Harvard-Yale-MIT rep. One of my favorite people to see is Anne Bunn, the MIT sales manager, who gave me permission to use this photo in the blog. To be honest, she told me to use it.  I thought I'd say something kicky about the MIT Press books, but the best I could come up with is that I have in fact read one of their top ten demand titles, according to Ingram. It's John Maeda's The Art of Simplicity, almost nine years old, but it has become a must read for design professionals. Those were the days when I could just read something like that on a whim.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Best Adventure Story of the Year, Now in Paperback--The Boys in the Boat's Daniel James Brown at Boswell, Thursday, June 12, 7pm, Plus the Special Milwaukee Connection.

I was having dinner at the annual FSG dinner, and wound up striking up a dinner with Jake Halpern, whose name I recognized from his New Yorker articles. As we talked more, I realized he as everywhere--a children's series called Dormia, a This American Life contributor with a story called "Switched at Birth" that continues to be one of the top five most popular pieces five years after airing.

His new book, coming this fall, is Bad Paper: Chasing Bad Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld, immediately went onto my must read list. It's about a banker and a former bank robber who collaborate on finding "paper", spreadsheets of uncollected debt that can be purchased for a fraction of the original amount, which can then be profitably collected, sometimes using nefarious tactics.

The thing I got from Halpern is that this guy is a storyteller. In conversation, he mentioned that David Grann's The Lost City of Z was one of his heroes. Holy moly, that's the second time David Grann came up in conversation in two days, and neither time by me. The thing was that the previous day, I had been trying to come up with his name to use as a comparison for Daniel James Brown, as I was putting together a Facebook promotion for our event with Daniel James Brown, author of The Boys in the Boat. A lot of folks are saying that this true story is the best adventure book of the past year, and sales have been explosive, particularly on the west coast.

These are the comparisons I was looking for--Laura Hillenbrand, Nathaniel Philbrick, James Bradley, Jon Krakauer--folks who are really great storytellers whose tales are sort of part history, part adventure. These are all folks who developed a following where folks say "this is the best book I've read in years!" OK, sometimes it's just months, but the point is that the story generates that kind of enthusiasm.

Here's what some of the above authors have said about the story.

From Nathaniel Philbrick: “The Boys in the Boat is not only a great and inspiring true story; it is a fascinating work of history.”

And this from James Bradley, author of Flags of our Fathers and Flyboys: “In 1936 nine working-class American boys burst from their small towns into the international limelight, unexpectedly wiping the smile off Adolph Hitler’s face by beating his vaunted German team to capture the Olympic gold medal. Daniel James Brown has written a robust, emotional snapshot of an era, a book you will recommend to your best friends.”

Here's Matt Damsker in USA Today. "The Boys in the Boat is Daniel James Brown's cogent history of that shining moment, and a surprisingly suspenseful tale of triumph. But it's not about individual glory; in crew, the winning boat is a clockwork mechanism of timed strokes, each rower almost mystically attuned to the other as they strive, often in agony, for the swing of perfect rhythm and maximum speed."

Still need to be convinced? Here's an interview in the Chicago Tribune with Daniel James Brown and Joseph Sutton-Holcomb.

The truth is that I could go on all day with these. But I want to end with a story. And it's the story about how Daniel James Brown got this story. As you may know, Brown has written several other books, including Under a Flaming Sky, about a disastrous fire in Minnesota in 1894. So out in Washington, a woman was reading this book to her father, and he was captivated.

She asked him if he'd like to meet the author, and he said yes, so she invited Mr. Brown over. They got to talking and eventually, the father, Joe Rantz, told Brown a little about his experiences on the 1936 crew team. Brown said I think this is a story, and Rantz said, you can tell it, but the story isn't about me, it's about the whole team. And what a story of teamwork it is--the book made news when the new CEO of Microsoft quoted from The Boys in the Boat when talking about teamwork.

So what you may not know is that Joe's other daughter, Jenny, actually lives in Milwaukee. She and her son Matt recently visited the store, and we had a great conversation about her father and how inspiring his story has been for so many people.

We are thrilled that Jenny and Matt are attending our event with Daniel James Brown on Thursday, June 12, 7 pm. We've been billing our event as a great tie-in to Father's Day and I'm touched to say that we're celebrating Joe Rantz not just as part of a celebrated team, but as a father too.

As you know, tickets to this event are $18 and include a paperback copy of The Boys in the Boat paperback, plus admission for two. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Jonathan Lethem, Sunnyside Gardens, Communists, and More. Did I Mention that Lethem is at Boswell on Monday, June 30, 7 pm?

Story Number One:
One of the tales my mom has been known to tell is the one about how when my parents moved into their house in Bayside (in Queens), several of the neighbors didn't take to them. And then a whisper: "They were communists." And you would think that was my mother writing them off. But actually, though my mother really didn't have strong political opinions, the key here is that there was this club, and it didn't matter what my mother felt, they wouldn't let her in. At the time, my dad's family owned a business which was strike one. And strike two is that they were all intellectuals and my mom had not gone to college. The only thing my oldest sister can say on the subject is that they did like their folk songs. Who cares, right? So why does my mother still bring it up on occasion?

Story Number Two:
It's the week of Book Expo, the annual publishing convention in New York and I had just enough time to do something off the schedule. Since I was reading Jonathan Lethem's novel, Dissident Gardens, and we were staying at the Grand Hyatt, on the number 7 line, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to hop on the train and take a walk.

Sunnyside Gardens was a bit of a mystery to me growing up, way on the other side of the borough. Once in my twenties, when I developed an interest in urban planning, it reared its head as one of the legendary planned communities of the 20th century. Basically a collection of low-slung garden apartments, which are sort of similar to row houses, though they often are connected two-flats, instead of single families, most of the homes back up to public space.

Queens was filled with garden apartment communities but Sunnyside was just a little denser, and the public spaces were definitely more lush. Plus the later communities had way more space allocated to drives and garages, and put the public land in front of the homes, making them more like walking cul de sacs. One of the signifcant details of Sunnyside Gardens is that most of the homes themselves front the street, with very small yards. There's a street named after Lewis Mumford!

The only problem is that the development is that over the years, the homes were not part of a centralized development company, and modifications were rampant. Some people cemented their front yards. Others turned them into parking pods. The remodels are all over the place. Lots of folks put cinder blocks in their 3rd floor dormer windows. And most of all, much of the public space became gated off.

Now there is historical designation to the district, and new modifications are said need approval. I'm sure for many that's great, while other folks fume. But while Sunnyside Gardens has been surprisingly stable over the past 100 years, when other neighborhoods in Queens deteriorated, now I assume the problems are more about development pressure, being only five or so stops from Manhattan.

Story Number Three:
So back to the reason I took my walk, Jonathan Lethem's latest novel, Dissident Gardens. Apparently the story was inspired my one of Lethem's grandmothers, who once lived in the neighborhood.

Jonathan Lethem (photo credit John Lucas) is one of those writers whose been in my consciousness for a long time. I always worked with at least someone who was obsessed with his books, and after his breakout, Motherless Brooklyn, often several. I still recall traveling to an earlier Book Expo with Mary, my co-worker, who was engrossed by The Fortress of Solitude on her trip in. I can't actually recall what I've read on these trips, but they do take on a sort of gravitas, and Jason recently reminded me I read the advance copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on one of them. He was a bit surprised. So you could say that my decision to read Dissident Gardens on my way to BEA was an homage to that earlier trip.

I decided to read Dissident Gardens because Mr. Lethem is visiting Milwaukee for his paperback tour in June. To be exact, the event is scheduled for Monday, June 30, 7 pm, what we call Summerfest Break day. They've started closing on this Monday for the last few years, since attendance on that day is always the weakest. It comes halfway through the festival, and gives them a chance to do some cleaning.

If you know me, you'd probably think Dissident Gardens would be a slam dunk read for me, and in retrospect, you would be right. It's about Queens, where grew up. It's populated with a lot of Jews, and I like subcultures in general and Jewish stuff in particular. There's a bookish gay kid in it, and while I'm not a 300 pound dreadlocked academic, I certainly had some identification.

Oh, regret. Why can't I just love a book? Do I have to finish it and think, why didn't I read it last year?

Coincidentally I had the same sort of regret walking through Sunnyside. Oh, if I'd only known about this earlier! Would I have lived here instead of wherever I wound up living that in part drove me to Milwaukee? Would my life be different? Would I want my life different?

There's a lot of regret in Dissident Gardens as well. Just about every character makes a bad choice if not several. One minor one might be to not get high before you go on a game show. A more serious one might not to play with the Irish mob or assume that the counter-terrorists in Nicaragua can be swayed by passive resistance.Perhaps you might not want to invest your life in apologizing for Germany by researching atrocities committed by Nazis during the war. Or perhaps you'd be like Ruth and have no regrets forever, sublimating your anger into becoming an activist on the board of the Queensboro Public Library.

Here's my rec for Dissident Gardens. Drummed out of the communist party for sleeping with a Black guy (and a police officer to boot), Rose Angrush Zimmer isn’t one to have anyone tell her what to do. The same can probably set for her lefty daughter Miriam Zimmer Gogan, which is why their relationship consists of a lot of ideological arguing. But this sprawling novel is more than just mothers and daughters; it’s a multi-generational, heartfelt Franzenesque story about identity and belonging, with an emphasis on rejecting said identity. Everything I love about a novel is here, from dysfunctional family politics to a sprawling subculture that is the political left, to the Queens setting, which of course is where I grew up. The result is a super-smart, funny, heartfelt, intensely discussable and often cantankerous novel."

Now that I've read Dissident Gardens and walked Sunnyside Gardens, I have no regrets at all. And I want to make sure you don't have any either. I'll make it simple. Dissident Gardens goes on sale in the paperback edition on June 3 and our event at Boswell is June 30.  In town for Summerfest? You might even enjoy Tommy Gogan's protest songs.


Coming up next, why were Queens homes riddled with these old-timey images of horse and carriage? This is a motif I have never come across in all my years in Milwaukee, but it was constant in my childhood and I started spotting it with regularity only a few blocks into my walk through the residential area. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Literary and Commercial Triumphs Abound in This Week's New Book Roundup, Or So I'm Told--Karl Ove Knausgaard, David Peace, Terry Hayes, Emma Straub, Sally O'Reilly, and Matthew Quirk.

How have I not been paying attention to the six-volume autobiographical novel that is My Struggle? While the first two volumes focused on the death of author Karl Ove Knausgaard's father and the second concerned his father's courtship of his second wife, the third (My Struggle: Book Three), published by Archipelago and translated by Don Bartlett, focuses on his childhood. Everyone's crazy about this series, which is being compared to Proust, from Zadie Smith whose Twitter feed read "It's unbelievable. I just read 200 pages of it and I need the next volume like crack" to Norwegian paper Dagens Naeingsliv, which writes "A gripping novel ... This childhood portrayal drifts off with a lightness and sensitivity that not many will associate with him ... There is no doubt that the series is worth following the author all the way."

And since I'm currently reading Dissident Gardens, in readiness for Jonathan Lethem's visit on June 30, 7 pm (Summerfest Break Night), I'm particularly interested in anything Lethem has to say. The publisher edited his review in The Guardian for the juicy bits: "The book investigates the bottomless accumulation of mysteries everyday life imposes. . . Knausgaard's approach is plain and scrupulous, sometimes casual, yet he never writes down. His subject is the beauty and terror of the fact that all life coexists with itself. A living hero who landed on greatness by abandoning every typical literary feint, an emperor whose nakedness surpasses royal finery."

Speaking of small presses distributed by Random House, Melville House releases Red or Dead, which has already been shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize. Fascinating how all the literary prizes have commercial sponsors. You caught yesterday that the Orange Prize (itself a French telecom company) is now the Baileys (as in liquor) Women's Prize for Fiction. The winner gets a free case. That said, Goldsmiths seems to be a campus of the University of London...huh? In any case, David Peace, the author, was named one of Granta's Best Young Novelists in 2003.

Here's a little plot. In Red or Dead, the acclaimed writer David Peace tells the stirring story of the real-life working-class hero who lifted the spirits of an entire city in turbulent times. But Red or Dead is more than a fictional biography of a real man, and more than a thrilling novel about sports. It is an epic novel that transcends those categories, until there’s nothing left to call it but--as many of the world’s leading newspapers already have--a masterpiece. Yes, that's publisher copy.

One novel that's getting a lot of buzz is Terry Hayes' debut, I am Pilgrim (Atria). Here's what the publisher says. At the novel's opening, we find ourselves in a seedy hotel near Ground Zero. A woman lies face down in a pool of acid, features melted off her face, teeth missing, fingerprints gone. The room has been sprayed down with DNA-eradicating antiseptic spray. All the techniques are pulled directly from Pilgrim's book, a cult classic of forensic science written under a pen name (the code name for a world class and legendary secret agent).In offering the NYPD some casual assistance with the case, Pilgrim gets pulled back into the intelligence underground. What follows is a thriller that jockeys between astonishingly detailed character study and breakneck globetrotting. The author shifts effortlessly from Pilgrim's hidden life of leisure in Paris to the Saracen's squalid warrior life in Afghanistan, from the hallways of an exclusive Swiss bank to the laboratories of a nefarious biotech facility in Syria.

Publishers and reviewers are throwing around every comparable writer around, from John LeCarre to Robert Ludlum to Tom Clancy. One even mentioned Robin Cook; who even thinks about Robin Cook anymore. Give me the next Arthur Hailey, please. Though I haven't seen a comparison to David Baldacci, the B-man himself offers these words of praise: "Hayes delivers muscular prose, sniper-round accurate dialogue and enough superb and original plotting to fill three volumes. He balances it all with the dexterity of the accomplished storyteller that he so obviously is. I Am Pilgrim is simply one of the best suspense novels I've read in a long time."

We sent out our email newsletter yesterday. Because of the holiday weekend, and my tight timetable, I wasn't able to have my normal round of proofing--apologies all around. I'm also experimenting with a first person plural voice for the newsletter, while sticking with first person on the blog. That made my rec for Emma Straub's The Vacationers (Riverhead) sound a bit forced. Here's Sharon's quote for Straub's second novel.

"There is nothing quite like a family vacation. Trapped in a hotel or a rented house with the same people you usually go out of your way to avoid. Everyone can relate to this, whether you are vacationing down the shore, or on the exotic island of Mallorca, like the Post family in Emma Straub’s witty and fun new novel. Franny and Jim Post are celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary. They are spending two weeks in Mallorca with Sylvia, their daughter, who is soon to be leaving for Brown, Bobby, their 28 year old son, Carmen, his 40 year old girlfriend, and Lawrence and Charles, a married gay couple who are trying to adopt a baby. Add to this mix the fact that Jim has had an affair with a 23 year old intern, and has lost his job and his wife’s trust in one fell swoop. I read The Vacationers at the beginning of February in a vain attempt to feel warmer in the frozen snow globe that is Milwaukee at this time of year. I did, however, spend several enjoyable hours with Emma Straub’s extremely knowable characters, and enjoyed a story of family, love, and loss that we can all connect with." --Sharon

Speaking of books with lots of advance quotes (and we were, just two books ago), Sally O'Reilly's Dark Aemilia: A Novel of Shakespeare's Dark Lady (Picador) has them in spades. Among its fans are Anne Fortier, Danielle Trussoni, Paula Brackston, Sena Jeter Naslund, and Fay Weldon. Fortier, author of Juliet calls Dark Aemilia "a magical, ravishing literary masterpiece." and the rest of the raves are just as enthusiastic.

The daughter of a Venetian musician, Aemilia Bassano came of age in Queen Elizabeth's royal court. The Queen's favorite, she develops a love of poetry and learning, maturing into a young woman known not only for her beauty but also her sharp mind and quick tongue. Aemilia becomes the mistress of Lord Hunsdon, but her position is precarious. Then she crosses paths with an impetuous playwright named William Shakespeare and begins an impassioned but ill-fated affair. A decade later, the Queen is dead, and Aemilia Bassano is now Aemilia Lanyer, fallen from favor and married to a fool. Like the rest of London, she fears the plague. And when her young son Henry takes ill, Aemilia resolves to do anything to save him, even if it means seeking help from her estranged lover, Will--or worse, making a pact with the Devil himself. In rich, vivid detail, Sally O'Reilly breathes life into England's first female poet, a mysterious woman nearly forgotten by history.

And finally, a Hachette bonus, just because we have to do our share to help this publisher. The Directive is by Matthew Quirk (Little, Brown), his second novel following The 500. This time, Mike Ford is again playing a dangerous game--this time the stakes are even higher. Mike's brother is in over his head in a powerful conspiracy to steal a secret worth billions of dollars from the little-known but unbelievably influential trading desk at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. In an effort to help, Mike soon finds himself trapped by the dangerous men in charge--and forced to call on all the skills of his criminal past in order to escape. Booklist's starred review writes "Solidly researched, with elements of a technothriller, this is a nonstop, heart-pounding ride in which moral blacks and whites turn gray in the efficient alignment of power and interests that is big-time politics. Quirk has another high-powered hit on his hands."

Monday, May 26, 2014

Boswell Events This Week: Harvey J. Kaye at Turner Hall on Tuesday, Rachel Kapelke-Dale and Jessica Pan at Boswell on Wednesday, a Ticketed Event with Jessica Vealitzek on Wednesday as Well.

We're open Memorial Day from 10 am to 5 pm. We've also helping host three events this week. Here's more info.

Tuesday, May 27, 7 pm, at Turner Hall, 1034 N. Fourth St. 53203:
Harvey J. Kaye, author of The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great.

In The Fight for the Four Freedoms, Harvey J. Kaye challenges us to remember what conservatives have never wanted to acknowledge and liberals have all too often forgotten: that the Greatest Generation was also America’s most progressive one. Franklin Roosevelt, their iconic and beloved president, endowed Americans with the promise of the “Four Freedoms:” freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. In their spirit, the United States confronted the Great Depression and pursued the labors and struggles of the New Deal. Those Four Freedoms became the aims that mobilized Americans to defeat the Axis Powers and strengthen America’s prosperity after the Second World War.

Kaye calls the children and grandchildren of that generation, the inheritors and guardians of those dearly earned freedoms, to take up the fight for them again. By making America more progressive, the Greatest Generation had their true rendezvous with destiny. And Kaye convinces readers that to honor them, it is time for today’s generation of Americans to follow suit, before it is too late.

"Harvey Kaye has done it again. The Fight for the Four Freedoms reaches back into history - to Franklin Roosevelt's vision of a truly just and fair America - for inspiration about how we can re-imagine a progressive future. Just as he did with his important work on Thomas Paine, Kaye shows how the victories and defeats of the 1930s and 1940s - the struggle of our parents and grandparents - contain the bricks and straw for rebuilding democracy. Once again, he tells a spirited story written for you and me.” —Bill Moyers

Wednesday, May 28, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Rachel Kapelke-Dale and Jessica Pan, authors of Graduates in Wonderland: The International Misadventures of Two (Almost) Adults, in conversation with Milwaukee Magazine’s Claire Hanan.

After graduating from Brown University in 2007, Rachel Kapelke-Dale and Jessica Pan made a pact: to stay in touch and never gloss over the bad stuff. Graduates in Wonderland is the epistolary account of what happened to them on the road to adulthood in the frank and stark manner in which good friends relate the details of their lives despite the time and distance that separate them.

A coming-of-age story told through two friends’ most intimate emails about the winding path to adulthood, from New York to Beijing to Paris to Melbourne, Graduates in Wonderland exposes the good days and bad dates depicted with epic hilarity in the vein of Lena Dunham’s Girls. Jess and Rachel gamely navigate language barriers, romantic flirting and flattening, workplace success, abandoned jobs, networking pitfalls, fragile friendships, office love, general pangs of loneliness, and bouts of youthful euphoria, all with open hearts and wry asides.

Self-aware and ever-hopeful, Graduates in Wonderland traces the young women’s journeys from their beginnings as fresh-faced graduates to their later incarnations as (almost) adults. But most of all, Graduates in Wonderland is about the endurance of friendship throughout the turbulent years of one’s twenties.

Milwaukee-raised Rachel Kapelke-Dale is pursuing a PhD in cinematographic studies at University College London. She has a BA in the History of Art and Architecture from Brown University and a master’s in Cinema Studies from the Université de Paris VII. Jessica Pan has a BA in Psychology and Literary Arts from Brown University. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. She was the editor of a magazine and a TV reporter in Beijing.

Moderating this discussion will be Claire Hanan, assistant editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Hanan’s writing has appeared in FutureClaw Magazine, (UK), Mizzou Magazine, and Vox magazine.

Also on Wednesday, May 28, 7:30 pm, a ticketed event at the Lynden Sculpture Garden, 2145 W. Brown Deer Road, 53217: A ticketed event with Jessica Null Vealitzek, author of The Rooms are Filled.

This event is produced by Milwaukee Reads, and co-sponsored by Bronze Optical and Localicious. Tickets are $22 ($18 for Lynden Sculpture Garden members) and includes light refreshments and a copy of The Rooms are Filled. Doors open for mix and mingle at 7 pm; the talk begins at 7:30.

Set in 1983, The Rooms are Filled is the heart-wrenching story of two castaways brought together by vastly different circumstances. At 39-old, Michael Nygaard is transplanted from his Minnesota farm, and the sacred wolf-filled wilderness that surrounds him, to small-town Ackerman, Illinois after his father dies abruptly. Simultaneously, Julia Parnell escapes to Ackerman in hopes of beginning her life anew after a failed attempt to live openly with her lifelong girlfriend, Rose.

In his new town, Michael doesn’t fit with the characters that surround him. He finds temporary refuge with his proper, young—closeted—teacher, Miss Parnell. When Julia’s secret is exposed, she faces a choice: accept herself or deny her true nature. Michael must also choose whether to simply endure or fight back. Coming of age will take bravery from these two lost souls and if they cannot find the strength to change, neither will have the life they deserve and desire. Boswellian Jen found The Rooms are Filled to be "a touching, character-driven story."

A former communications director for a gubernatorial candidate and an exhibit writer, Jessica Vealitzek writes for Rebellious magazine, Great New Books, and PDXX Collective. The Rooms are Filled is her first novel.

And looking ahead to next week:
Tuesday, June 3, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Joël Dicker, author of The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair.
This event is co-sponsored by Alliance Française de Milwaukee. Mr. Dicker will be reading in French and English. At the event, you can enter to win a drawing of the French edition, La Vérité sur l'affaire Harry Quebert.

Winner of three French literary prizes and having alerady become a international bestseller, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is a fast-paced, tightly plotted, cinematic literary thriller and global phenomenon about the disappearance of a 15-year-old New Hampshire girl and, thirty years later, a young American writer’s determination to clear his mentor’s name while finding the inspiration for his next bestseller. To save his mentor Harry, his writing career, and eventually even himself, Marcus Goldman must answer three questions, all of which are mysteriously connected: Who killed Nola Kellergan? What happened one misty morning in Somerset in the summer of 1975? And how do you write a successful and true novel?

“This sprawling, likable whodunit [is] obvious ballast for the summer’s beach totes…Dicker keeps the prose simple and the pace snappy in a plot that winds up with more twists than a Twizzler…[An] entertaining debut thriller.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A literary murder mystery that is expertly paced over 600-plus tautly written pages…A powerful novel about passion, jealousy, family, redemption, friendship and love, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is a Great American Novel—written by a European.” —The Bookseller

Here's Stefanie Cohen in The Wall Street Journal on the book's journey to America.

Joël Dicker was born in Geneva, Switzerland, and spent his childhood summers in New England, where he later studied law. He lives in Geneva. Like his character, he is a handsome young man who has become a literary sensation.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Bestseller Wrap-Up-a Palooza, for the Week Ending March 24, 2014.

Greetings from Worcester, where I am visiting family before I head to New York for the big BEA convention. I should be continuing to blog during the week...or so I think at this point, before I am overwhelmed. I am clearly thinking I can take on anything, which is why I'm listing our top tens this week (instead of the normal five).

Hardcover Fiction:
1. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, by Joshua Ferris
2. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
3. The Serpent of Venice, by Christopher Moore (signed copies available)
4. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
5. Lovers at the Chameloeon Club Paris 1922, by Francine Prose
6. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin
7. Beowulf, by J.R.R. Tolkien
8. The Skin Collector, by Jeffery Deaver
9. The Target, by David Baldacci
10. The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd

One of the reasons why I moved to a top ten is that I noticed that four of our top ten fiction titles are from Hachette--To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (which was an event and yes, we have signed copies), The Goldfinch, The Skin Collector, and The Target. I assumed that Amazon customers would simply move to another website when their favorite Little, Brown and Grand Central titles were not available, but it's possible some might be moving to bricks-and-mortar stores. Of course Amazon hopes that their customers will just switch to another title, but while that's true for browsers, Amazon's customer base is very title driven. Just like we often lose the sale when we're not in stock, it's likely that they do too.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Capital in the Twenty First Century, by Thomas Piketty
2. Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book, by Diane Muldrow
3. No Place to Hide, by Glenn Greenwald
4. Delancey, by Molly Wizenberg
5. Sons of Wichita, by Daniel Schulman
6. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant, by Roz Chast
7. Jesus, by James Martin
8. This is Water, by David Foster Wallace
9. Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook, by Josh Kilmer-Purcell Brent Ridge, and Sandy Gluck
10. Stress Test, by Timothy Geithner

Speaking of Hachette, let me point out that five years after release, David Foster Wallace's graduation book, This is Water, is still one of the titles that sells off the table best. I probably could have sold at least one more copy of the Roz Chast (at least to me) as my sister told me she's interested in reading Can't We Talk About Something More Interesting? I should also note that a customer came in and asked us if Thomas Piketty was coming, because we had so many copies on hand, which I guess is a bit unusual for us outside of the holiday season. The obvious reply? "I wish."

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer
2. TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann
3. Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent
4. A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki
5. Saving Kandinsky, by Mary Basson
6. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
7. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra
8. Montana 1948, by Larry Watson
9. A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
10. A Delicate Truth, by John LeCarre

I just learned that the same editor at Crown is responsible for Gone Girl and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, or so it appeared from my invite to meet the editor on Wednesday (and coincidentally next to each other on the list). Actually I am sort of super-excited as I think me and my fellow booksellers might be sitting down with three of the most talented editors in publishing.

Several of the books on this week list popped from a book club presentation that I did with Jane Glaser--five of the ten titles, including The Interestings, TransAtlantic, Burial Rites, and A Tale for the Time Being, our top four. We're happy to do one of these in the store for your group of five or more people, but we ask that you commit to buying at least a good amount of your books from us.

Paperback Nonfiction.
1. A Hidden History of Milwaukee, by Robert Tanzilo
2. America's Romance with the English Garden, by Thomas Mickey
3. Studying Wisconsin, by Martha Bergland and Paul G. Hayes (event at MPL on June 9, 6 pm)
4. All God's Dangers, by Theodore Rosengarten
5. The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt
6. Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon
7. Show Your Work, by Austin Kleon
8. The Widows' Handbook, edited by Jacqueline Lapidus
9. Strength for the Struggle, by Joseph Ellwanger
10. Graduates in Wonderland, by Rachel Kapelke-Dale and Jessica Pan (our event is Wed. May 28, 7 pm with Claire Hanan)

Several of the contributors to The Widows' Handbook are doing talks around the Milwaukee area, mostly senior housing. If you are interested in having them visit, contact me and I'll pass on the info. Summer is time for regional books and this week's list sure represents that. We'll be putting up a nice regional table after I come back from New York. I expect that our recent visitors Bobby Tanzilo and Joseph Ellwanger will be doing more events in the area.

Books for Kids:
1. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
2. I am a Bunny, by Ole Risom with illustrations by Richard Scarry
3. The Wheels on the Bus, by Paul Zelinsky
4. The Thickety: A Path Begins, by J.A. White
5. Three Times Lucky, by Sheila White
6. Love Your Forever, by Robert Munsch
7. The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt, with illustrations by Oliver Jeffers
8. Oh the Places You Go, by Dr. Seuss
9. Insurgent, by Veronica Roth
10. We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

I do a few book fairs at St. John's on the Lake every year and this Friday, I spent a few hours chatting with the residents and recommending titles. Our #1 book was no surprise, The Hidden History of Milwaukee, but though I try, it's hard to exactly figure out what folks want. Among our sales were Three Times Lucky and The Day the Crayons Quit. One thing I have figured out is that the residents want boxed cards and in season, calendars, but not so much journals and anything else I have tried. My favorite transaction? A charmer who walked up Cathleen Schine's Fin and Lady who said to me, "I always find a gem whenever you visit."

You've probably noticed all our enthusiasm for The Thickety (there might be a dedicated blog post on this later) but one book I haven't mentioned to date is E. Lockhart's We Were Liars. Our #1 author John Green has given the book a great quote: ""Thrilling, beautiful, and blisteringly smart, We Were Liars is utterly unforgettable." It's about a girl's summer on Cape Cod.

On the Journal Sentinel book page, the big news is a talk with Roxane Gay, whom you've certainly been reading about everywhere, including this blog. Here's a bit from Jim Higgins' profile:

"Roxane Gay's breakout year should give readers hope that serious writers still have a place in the hot mess of today's publishing industry. Gay's recently released debut novel, An Untamed State, the story of a young mother kidnapped for ransom by a Haitian gang, earned a glowing review from Holly Bass in The New York Times Book Review. Comparing it to dark Brothers Grimm tales, Bass wrote that the novel's 'complex and fragile moral (is) arrived at through great pain and high cost.'"

There's a chance that Gay is coming back for her next book, the essay collection Bad Feminist. Read more here.(Note: the link is fixed!)

And here's Mike Fischer on Revolution, a book he's crazy about. Here's just a tease from the Journal Sentinel review:

"The setting is a sleepy Southern town, in which little has changed since Reconstruction. The season is summer, in which the weather is muggy and fans useless. The protagonist is a headstrong and vocal girl who doesn't remember her mother, reveres her father and admires her athletic older brother. The action toggles between daring childhood adventures and a seismic rupture in long-settled race relations."

"I could be describing Harper Lee'sTo Kill a Mockingbird, but I'm actually referring to Deborah Wiles' Revolution, during which 12-year-old Sunny Fairchild recalls the summer of 1964, when her town of Greenwood became the epicenter of efforts to register Mississippi's long-disenfranchised black population so that it could vote for change.

And Christi Clancy reviews Emma Straub's change-of-pace novel, The Vacationers. "Straub's prose is bright and breezy, and her vivid, sensual depictions of Mallorca offer a pleasant escape. "The Vacationers" makes for good, light vacation reading, albeit with a reminder of the personal baggage we can't help but bring when we try to get away..." She has some quibbles, but hey, it's vacation reading!

And finally, here's the Journal Sentinel's summer reading preview. 96 books! I'm going to read 96 books. Read, read, read, read. OK, I am hit with a memory of listening to a 45 (that's a vinyl single, kids) by ? and the Mysterians that I inherited from my older sister, most likely the Arizona one, not the Massachusetts one I'm with today.

I think the 96 books are going to be featured in a different blog post this week. This one is already too long, and I'm due to have lunch with my mom.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Beach Food, Beach, Food.

The Northpoint stand is open at Bradford Beach for the season. I walked over and had cheese curds. A fellow was running up and down the stairs. I think he scoffed at the curds.

Yes, the bookstore is walking distance from the beach. It's something I don't think about often enough. Just think, I could run down the stairs, play a round of beach volleyball, and rush back. 

Speaking of beaches...

We're still down one display, despite several new ones going up this week. It felt like time to do our summer reading display. I said, "Let's do a beach read display" only all the books should take place literally at the beach.

I'm not sure how successful we were on this one. There's water involved, but many to me send the spirit of the beach a little too far off the beaten (sandy) path. I'm going to contact my reps to see if they have some ideas. Remember gang, it display is Beach Read Smackdown: Ocean vs. Lake.

Speaking of food...

In the "Well, duh!" category came this accidental placement which I noticed in the store. We're talking about Delancey and Delicious. To make the pun work, you've got to pronounce them "Duh-lancey" and "Duh-licious." Because we alphabetize by title and mix fiction and nonfiction together on the Boswell's Best, the books wound up neighbors. This really was a coincidence. Note the similarities in the cover design, particularly that hand-lettered script-style typeface.

So far Reichl's outselling Wizenberg by a decent margin in the store, but the buffet hasn't shut down yet, so we'll see what happens in the long term. Jason told me that his household is a fan of Wizenberg's A Homemade Life, with several of that book's recipes in rotation in the family kitchen. Alas, even when I am a huge fan of a book with recipes, none of them wind up in rotation anywhere near my kitchen.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Our Event with Michael Mair for Tonight is Cancelled. Will be Rescheduled. Being Sick Sucks.

So I get an email from Michael Mair, the author of our scheduled event book tonight (May 22, 2014, if you're browsing the archives), Kaiten: Japan's Secret Manned Suicide Submarine and the First American Ship It Sank in WWII. "I am very sick." Details omitted. "I will be able to get to the event, but will be too sick to drive home. Please send info on area hotels."

Mr. Mair is driving from Platteville, three hours away. I call.

"Don't worry, my wife is going to drive me," he reassures me.

"How are you feeling?" I ask.

"Terrible. But I'll do it."

But I talked him out of it. I didn't think he'd make it all the way anyway and how could I do this to him? This strain of stomach flu is awful. Mr. Mair gets points for making the effort, but we want him to get well soon and wish him the best, and the best way for him to do that is to rest.

So my apologies, but we're cancelling tonight's event. We'll be able to reschedule this one, and we'll get you details as soon as we have them.

When The Read Comes After the Wrap Up--I Recommend Roxane Gay's "An Untamed State" After The Event, But There May be a Happy Ending for This Fairy Tale...

As I may have mentioned before, I hate reading books at the last minute for events. When I’d catch an event coordinator continuously finishing up a book right before an event started, I’d say, “You need to triage. Move on to something further out in the schedule.” This was especially true for us in the pre-internet days, as it was much more difficult to post-promote events. Were you going to use limited space in a print mailing to talk about how great the event was the customer missed? But now we can send out event photos, or take a day to blog event recaps, and share with our customers anything from the author’s book recommendations to amusing questions, to just that the author was really great and you’d best mark your calendar next time they* visit.

And that was certainly the case for Roxane Gay. I knew we had something special. The profile in Poets and Writers was fascinating. Our recommendation from Sharon was very positive, as were advance reviews. She had folks like Edwidge Danticat and Tayari Jones and Jami Attenberg and Tom Perrotta cheering her on, and honestly, I don’t care if they were friends or writing profs or sisters—I was going to listen.

So, stuck in the middle of An Untamed State, I introduced the author last week. I’ve usually read the book or realized I’m not going to read the book, but being stuck in the middle is the worst. Before I’ve started a novel, spoilers are a trade-off. Yes, they might give something away, but they also might convince me to read a book I might otherwise skip. But once I’ve started, I don’t need the extra push. The only reason spoilers help me at that point is if I’m having trouble understanding a plot point, but that wasn’t the case here.

I wound up spending my next day off (yes, it happens occasionally, how else am I supposed to read?) finishing An Untamed State. I thought it was great, and I'm not alone. Jim Carmin in The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune wrote: "Roxane Gay’s debut novel, “An Untamed State, is a bold yet troubling book because of its disturbing, graphic telling of the events that follow the kidnapping of a young Haitian mother. But if one can wrestle through the brutal agony that appears on so many of its pages, it’s a terrific read."

Here's Nolan Feeney in Time magazine: "Gay’s writing is simple and direct, but never cold or sterile. She directly confronts complex issues of identity and privilege, but it’s always accessible and insightful." And Holly Bass in The New York Times Book Review compares Gay's tale to a sort of modern fairy tale, one that reminds us that Sleeping Beauty was accosted by a passing stranger and that Snow White's mother hoped to eat her stepdaughter's organs. She calls An Untamed State "a fairy tale in this vein, its complex and fragile moral arrived at through great pain and high cost."

It was pretty obvious. Mireille Jamison was kidnapped while visiting her family in Haiti and her father wasn’t going to pay. He was going to negotiate and be tough, as if he didn’t, his fear is (spoiler) he would end up like his friend, who had his whole fortune ransomed away, one kidnapper at a time. So Mireille (or Miri) was at the mercy of this gang of thugs, kids almost, all armed with guns in their waistband, and angry at being rebuffed, they were going to have their way with her.

And the story is brutal. It’s not so bad at first, because Gay pretty much knew that we needed time to acclimate to the awful situation. But there’s no question that this book contains some horrific sexual violence, and if I’m going to recommend it to book clubs, and I am, it’s going to come with a bit of a warning. As Gay said to me (I’m paraphrasing), she leads you to a dark place and slowly brings you back. Yes, it does get better, but that doesn’t make it any less scary.

This is a story of Miri’s account, but it’s more like Emma Donoghue’s Room than Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, in that it’s also the story of the aftermath—the destroyed relationships with her husband Michael and her father Sebastien. We get just enough about Sebastien, a self-made construction magnate who returned to his homeland after a career in the States, and Michael, a farm boy from Nebraska turned engineer, to account for the decisions they made. And of course we get the details of Miri’s former life, particularly Michael and Miri’s courtship and her strong relationship with her sister Mona.

The thing to be clear is that kidnapping is not specific to Haiti. It’s a situation in many countries in the world, ones with disturbingly large inequities in wealth and opportunity, access to weapons, and an ineffective government. Italy and Columbia are two other prime examples of countries that went through waves of kidnapping.

One other interesting side note was hearing Alan Weisman speak about his book Countdown. Unchecked birth rates are one of the reasons that many of these countries have these problems. We’ve got countries around the world with shockingly high youth unemployment rates. So why are all the economists worrying about declining birth rates in Europe and Japan. It’s definitely the best thing to happen to our world, and what they are really worrying about is the ensuing rising wages that would come with these changes. Keep the birth rate up and you keep wages down. But get the birth rate voluntarily down (we’re not talking about anything forced—we’re talking about policies like access to birth control and educating women) and we’ll probably calm a lot of the world’s conflicts, which will be a boon to liberals and conservatives both.

An Untamed State is quite the tour de force for a first novel, a portrait of a woman broken to the point of no return, and her very slow journey to healing. So how could she have another project in the works, particularly because she’s also teaching, most recently at Eastern Illinois, but soon to be at the creative writing program at Purdue University? I think it’s fitting that she’s at West Lafayette, as the book as both Sebastien and Michael are engineers, and while we should be absolutely clear that this novel is completely fictional, Roxane Gay’s father is also an engineer. He’s said to be enthusiastic about her new posting.

Yes, there’s a book of essays coming too, Bad Feminist, to be released by Harper Perennial in August. Gay’s almost better known for her nonfiction work, so there’s been a lot of buzz about this, and with Leslie Jamison’s book of essays becoming a national bestseller, I suspect her publisher is stoked.

Oh, and she's also featured in The New Black, a neo-noir anthology.

We’re also stoked because Gay’s new teaching gig is a few hours closer to Milwaukee. I can’t promise she’ll come back, but if she does, take note and meet us back at Boswell for a fine literary evening, mixed with a little Channing Tatum love.

*”They”, of course, is the new politically correct way to say “he or she.” Yes, I know it’s a plural pronoun. Doesn’t matter.