Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday Event Post--Could There be Anything More to Say About Jonathan Lethem Tonight? Yes, Plus Also David Kalis on Saturday, July 5

It's still sort of Summerfest break, but we do have two events this week. I'm going in opposite of chronological order, just to make sure you see the info about David Kalis on Saturday. I'm afraid the Jonathan Lethem is going to be a bit of a ramble.

Saturday, July 5, 2 pm, at Boswell:
David Kalis, author of Vodka Shot, Pickle Chaser: A True Story of Risk, Corruption, and Self-Discovery Amid the Collapse of the Soviet Union.

For David Kalis, graduating from college was a matter of course, but figuring out what to do next with his life turns into a paralyzing decision. Always pressured to be a high-achiever, he can do anything-but from corporate conformity to graduate school confinement, no choice feels right. On a whim, he decides to travel to the Soviet Union. His loose plans call for a thirty-day tour of Leningrad, but after finding himself caught up in the middle of a coup d'etat attempt that destabilizes the country, he ends up staying abroad for two and a half tumultuous years.

From surviving perilous run-ins with the Russian mafia and the Soviet military, to searching for his lost heritage in a remote village, Kalis finds that the road less traveled can lead to unexpected adventure, and that looking backward sometimes provides the best insight into how to move forward. Kirkus Reviews writes: "His first-person account of life in the Soviet Union at the tail end of the Cold War provides depth that history texts cannot. Well-written and absorbing, his memoir will appeal to general readers as well as those with an interest in Eastern Europe.A personal look at the disintegration of the Soviet Union, experienced through the eyes of an occasionally callow, but always likable, young man."

And now for tonight's event, Monday, June 30, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Jonathan Lethem, author of Dissident Gardens which we also have in hardcover.

At this point, I think you get it. Jonthan Lethem is coming to Boswell tonight. You've read the reviews, the interviews, my blog post about walking through Sunnyside Gardens.

So Jason and I were having this interesting conversation about Lethem, mostly because it seemed like we just had so many different kinds of Jonathan Lethem books, but somehow, in all the backlist that seems all over the store, I somehow forgot to bring in his The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. Jason assured me that folks coming to this event would probably not be requesting that title, and I thought, why is that?

This moved into a conversation of Jonathan Lethem's varied interests and how not every Lethem fan will read his entire body of work. Jason much prefers speculative stuff, which explains why he was a bigger fan of Chronic City than I was. And then I realized that the last time Lethem came to Milwaukee was also for a non-speculative book, for You Don't Know Me Yet. So will his speculative fans still come out to see him for a non-speculative book? I guess we will find out.

But classifying Lethem (photo credit John Lucas) as an author who writes novels, some of which are speculative and some of which are not, only scratches the surface of his writing. And so I bring to you the many moods of Jonathan Lethem, vaguely in chronological order, all of which we do have in stock (meaning I'm not including Philip K. Dick, thought we do have a lot of Dick backlist, which I think Lethem would applaud.

1. The Wall of the Sky, The Wall of the Eye (1996, Harvest, though I assume it will change to Mariner if it is reprinted). This story collection is full throttle science fiction/literary mashup. As the publisher notes, a dead man extends his stay on earth to support his family but the result is a zombielike existence, while in another story, basketball players where exosuits that lend them the skills of former superstars. Lethem is big enough that if he wants to publish stories, his stories get published. Apparently his next collection, A Different Kind of Tension (editor's note: it's now called Lucky Alan), is due for publication in 2015.

They Live: A Novel Approach to Cinema (Soft Skull, 2011). Lethem looks at John Carpenter's 1988 film, which the publisher calls a calssic amalgam of deliberate B-movie, sci-fi, horror, anti-Yuppie agitprop. Lethem alternates minute-by-minute analysis of the film with short essays on everything from "The Black Guy and The White Guy, Together Again for the First Time" and "Ghoul Motivation." This series does what 33 1/3 does for music. Which brings us to...

3. The Talking Heads: Fear of Music. (Bloomsbury Academic, formerly Continuum, 2012). Once again, Lethem writes an essay about each song, punctuating this journey with questions (and answers) to whether Fear of Music is a New York album, a science fiction album, or a work of paranoia.

4. The Ecstasy of Influence (Vintage, 2011). Life is more than music and movies, though those topics are covered here, in this collection of everything from liner notes, essays, memoir, short fiction, and criticism that in the best way, comes together to form a self portrait. National Book Critics Circle finalist and New York Times notable, there's probably no better recommendation than David L. Ulin's in the Los Angeles Times: "I love this book." He goes on to say other stuff too.

5. Fridays at Enrico's, by Don Carpenter (Counterpoint, 2014). Lethem's most recent collaboration (there are many) is finishing this autobiographical novel. Lethem writes in the afterword of how he discovered Carpenter while working at Moe's, the Berkley Bookstore where one of his duties was to mark down the dead fiction. He read one of Carpenter's novels and then went back and read his first novel, A Hard Rain Falling, proclaimed them both classics, and spent the next few years trying to find the author, only to find that he had taken his own life in 1995.

Did Lethem write the introduction for the new edition of Nathaniel West's Miss Lonelyhearts and Day of the Locust? Yes. And Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle? Yes again. And Vivan Gornick's Fierce Attachments? Once again, affirmative. The list goes on and on. Does he have an imprint at New York Review of Books Classics or something?

If there's ever been a writer out there that should have a bookstore, Lethem fits the bill. I'd only worry that all that work would stop him from writing and reading, and we wouldn't want that.

Hope to see you at the event tonight.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Sunday Bestseller Recap of Boswell Book Company for the Week ending June 28, 2014.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. In Liberty's Name, by Eva Rumpf
2. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
3. The Silkworm, by J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith
4. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
5. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

I have mentioned in the past that sometimes it takes some time to process offsite sales. Eva Rumpf appeared at a fundraiser for Youthaiti and we've finally processed the sales of In Liberty's Name. You'll also see that David Sheff appeared at Serb Hall for an event with St. Charles Youth and Family Services.

Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See continues to get strong reviews. Christine Pivovar notes in the Kansas City Star that this is a war novel without letting the usual war-is-ugly sentiment overpower  the narrative.  "Every incident and detail seems tailor-made for this sense of the world as both magical and cruel, fated and random, and speaks to one of the book’s central tensions: Can legends be true, or are our circumstances merely controlled by chance? Can we believe in the happy ending while the city is being demolished around us?"

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. World War 3 Illustrated: 1979-2014, edited by Peter Kuper
2. The Bully Pulpit, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
3. Jerusalem, by Yottam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
4. The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses, by Kevin Birmingham
5. The Making of Milwaukee, by John Gurda

Two week's ago's Journal Sentinel review topic is this week's bestseller. Kevin Birmingham, a lecturer in history and literature at Harvard, chronicles, as Louis Menaud puts it, "how modernism brought down the regime of censorship" in The Most Dangerous Book. In this review in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, Patricia Hagen calls the work "an engaging, fast-paced read about a time when literature mattered deeply" though she does claim that Mr. Birmingham's facts are sometimes wrong. I'll leave the two of them to argue this out.

Paperback Fiction
1. The Dog Year, by Ann Garvin
2. Saving Kandinsky, by Mary Basson
3. The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer
4. The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert (event is 7/9)
5. My Struggle, volume one, by Karl Ove Knausgaard

 It's only ten days to our event with Elizabeth Gilbert in conversation with Lake Effect's Bonnie North (co-sponsored by WUWM) for The Signature of All Things, and needless to say, I'm obsessing a bit over it. While the publisher knows that being the author of Eat Pray Love is a strong calling card, I think the cover treatment is meant to recall recent novels from Barbara Kingsolver and Ann Patchett. It was Kingsolver herself who reviewed the book in the Sunday New York Times. She wrote: "The prose is modern and accessible, leaning on plot rather than language to draw readers in. Gilbert has established herself as a straight-up storyteller who dares us into adventures of worldly discovery, and this novel stands as a winning next act. The Signature of All Things is a bracing homage to the many natures of genius and the inevitable progress of ideas, in a world that reveals its best truths to the uncommonly patient minds." Buy tickets here!

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Clean, by David Sheff
2. Beautiful Boy, by David Sheff
3. Knocking on Heaven's Door, by Katy Butler
4. The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
5.  Studying Wisconsin, by Martha Bergland and Paul Hayes

Our top five nonfiction titles is a post-event sweep, with three, four, and five continuing their momentum week's after the authors appeared. For the week ending July 6, The Boys in the Boat is #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List, one of eight authors in the nonfiction top 20 who appeared at Boswell for their most recent books. In addition to Brown there is Malcolm Gladwell, David Sedaris, Jeannette Walls, Eben Alexander, Cheryl Strayed, Rebecca Skloot, and Jim Gaffigan. That's a cool statistic, no? 

Books for Kids:
1 The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
2. Wonder, by R.J. Palacio
3. Paper Towns, by John Green
4. The Pilot and the Little Prince, by Peter Sís
5. The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove

Here's our buyer Amie Mechler-Hickson's recommendation of The Glass Sentence, which is one of the reasons why the book has now been on our bestseller list for two weeks: "The whole world has gone through the Great Disruption, with different geographical areas shifted into varying time periods, prehistoric to the far future. Almost one hundred years after the Great Disruption we meet Sophia, who is living with her Uncle Shadrack, a master cartologer. When her Uncle is kidnapped, seemingly for his knowledge, she and her friend Theo set off on a dangerous and amazing adventure to rescue him and find out secrets of the time rift. A bit of magic, mystery, adventure, through a wonderfully crafted world-this is one of my favorite books this year."

The featured book review in the Journal Sentinel's book page in the Tap section is Mike Fischer's take on Song of the Shank, the Jeffery Renard Allen novel whose event timing was already documented here, and by documented, I mean "wish it happened when the book was officially released but when it comes to an author of that talent, I'd probably say yes to a 2 AM reading." Fischer writes "In Jeffery Renard Allen's phenomenal, difficult, exhilarating, exhausting, glorious and unforgettable Song of the Shank--a Faulknerian tour-de-force in which Tom's history is continually bent, heightened and remade--the prodigy's prowess knows no bounds."

Fischer ends with a warning, but even that turns out to be high praise: "I no more understood all Tom is trying to say than do those around him. And there were many times in this book--which makes frequent and abrupt shifts in time and voice--where I lost my bearings. Which meant I was right at home, in a novel that foregrounds how our blinders thwart our ability to read the world." I think we still have some signed first editions. They may be paperback, but the paper quality is that of a literary hardcover. Just sayin'.

Also featured is Valerie Miner's review of China Dolls, first published in the Los Angeles Times. Miner notes "See brings together considerable research skill with vivid scene setting to depict the paradoxical world of Asian women performing for mostly White audiences." My link is to the Portland Press Herald, as I think of the town as Milwaukee's now hipster cousin who once wore braces and orthopedic shoes. Where do you think Portland's suburb Milwaukie comes from, anyway?

From the Tampa Bay Times, Colette Bancroft notes that while "The Cuckoo's Calling was very good crime fiction; The Silkworm is even better. There's a real sense of Rowling enjoying herself, and that might well be a result of its setting: London's publishing world, which she satirizes gleefully."

Friday, June 27, 2014

Books in the News, Milwaukee Edition--Journal Sentinel, Shepherd Express, Kathleen Dunn, Lake Effect.

I would be remiss if I didn't flag Mike Fischer's interview with Jonathan Lethem in the Journal Sentinel on Thursday. Tied in to Mr. Lethem's visit to Boswell on Monday, it is (and I'm not saying this simply because I know Mr. Fischer) one of the fascinating interviews I've read about not just Dissident Gardens, but Mr. Lethem's body of work in general, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say ever. I guess part of the problem is that in researching books, I read a lot of interviews, particularly for upcoming author visits but also for books we are promoting for book club discussion, and so many of them, so many of them, are just going through the motions with generic questions. In fact, there are a lot of columns out there that simply ask the same questions of every writer.

I love how Fischer connects Dissident Gardens to the rest of Lethem's body of work, and explains why Lethem (photo credit John Lucas) is such a great writer; every book is different but each speaks to the themes and philosophies that he wants to explore in his work. This is a little longer excerpt than my normal one paragraph rule. But after you read this, I know you're going to link to the whole interview.

Q. At another point in Dissident Gardens, you imagine a conversation between Rose and Archie Bunker, during which Rose imagines true solidarity between people as existing in "the space between one person and another, secret sympathies of the body." Does that idea of being both separate from but also trying to forge connections with others provide a more realistic — perhaps more humble — way to think about how we might make common political cause?

A. Negotiating that space between bodies has been my subject, again and again, in my work. A friend of mine has suggested that utopia doesn't mean thinking you're going to live forever; it means you go to go the gym anyway. It entails an active critique of institutions of power — even though, as I said in "The Fortress of Solitude," it can seem like "utopia (is) the show which always closes on opening night."

My work is filled with images of such unsustainable but still meaningful utopian moments. A black and a white boy playing together on the street before being told they cannot be friends. A band's rock album; it's not great, but the album happened. A science fiction convention, bringing together misfits who take over a hotel for a weekend and live within the golden image of their obsession and their vision of alternative worlds, before returning home to their daily lives and jobs on Sunday.

The Occupy (Wall Street) movement is similar. However much some people might want to declare it a loser, it represented an awakening, in which semiautonomous "cells of one" made contact and imagined other possibilities. It happened. It's like Cicero says to Rose, when she is lamenting her failure to change the world: "You did OK, Rose. You existed awhile. It's in the record books."

In the Shepherd Express, this week's Book Preview was Patricia Skalka's Death Stalks Door County. Alas, the event was Thursday (yesterday), but it's still worth knowing about the book. David Luhrssen writes that Skulka "is a Chicago native who owns a cottage in Door County. As for the psychological territory, she creates a believable portrait of a reluctant detective, a sullen, troubled man who can’t seem to escape murder." And from Publishers Weekly: "Skalka matches the untamed nature of the peninsula to the roughness of its inhabitants rather than contrasting its natural beauty to human violence." On their review page, Luhrssen appreciates the telling details in The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War Over Europe, 1940-1945, from Richard Overy and notes that in The Essential Ellen Willis, the topics are now sometimes date, the writer was always sometimes wrong, but the writing remains consistently provocative.

Here are some interesting books on Kathleen Dunn's show this week on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Matt Grossman discusses Artists of the Possible: Governing Networks and American Policy Change Since 1945. This new book from  academic trade. Our wholesaler (where we get the books quickly) prices the book at net, so if you wanted it quickly, it would be above the suggested price. It's possible we'd be able to buy the book directly from Oxford and be able to sell it at the list price, but it would take longer. So if it's short discount, why is the publisher having the author do interviews?

This is a perfect example where the publisher (Oxford) could care less about bookstores carrying the book and expects the lion's share of sale to be through our online competitor or for course adoption. Here's the rub--rumor has it that our competitor is putting pressure on university presses too, not to increase the discount (as that would increase competition), but to increase the coop (kickback). It's not that we don't get coop too, but we don't get it from Oxford. The word is "monopsony", my friends. Read the interview here.

Jeffrey Arnett discusses the phenomenon of Boomerang Kids, based on a New York Times article. But Arnett is also the author of the new release, Getting to 30: A Parent's Guide to the 20-Something Years and 2013's When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up?: Loving and Understanding Your Emerging Adult . We actually talked to Workman in a very preliminary fashion about doing an event with the author on the subject (that would be something like 18 months ago), but I couldn't figure out how to find the audience. If you were a member of the organization that would have helped me promote this book, feel free to email me now and say "Next time, Daniel, next time."

Dr. Arnett reinforces the idea that while things are bad for college grads right now, they are even worse for kids who haven't attended college. And honestly, many times, a kid moving back after college isn't really the problem the article tried to indicate. Listen to the article here.

Noted intellectual conservative Yuval Levin discusses The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, a subject that Dunn can really sink her teeth into. from the publisher: "Levin masterfully shows how Burke's and Paine's differing views, a reforming conservatism and a restoring progressivism, continue to shape our current political discourse--on issues ranging from abortion to welfare, education, economics, and beyond." The book is published by Basic, one of the imprints of Perseus that is moving to Hachette. Long-time followers of publishing will note that Frank Pearl bought the Basic division from HarperCollins. Didn't you think it was odd that when they discussed Perseus's publishing successes, at least two (Gödel, Escher, Bach and Friday Night Lights), were not published by Perseus but were acquired when they bought other publishers (Basic for the former and Addison Wesley trade for the latter).

The Wall Street Journal reviewed The Great Debate and wrote "It is clear, and not in the least surprising, that Mr. Levin's own sympathies lie firmly with Burke, but he is fair to Paine's side of the argument. He shows that the clash between the two reflects the tension in the very origins of the Republic, which was (mainly) founded by transplanted Britons bearing the constitutional and intellectual baggage of the mother country, convinced all the same, as Paine put it, that Americans had it in their 'power to begin the world all over again.'"For some reason, it's always tricky to figure out who wrote the reivew in that paper, at least online. In this case, it's credited to Mr. Simms.

Here are some of the interviews on Lake Effect.

--Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life
--Jaleigh Johnson, author of  The Mark of the Dragonfly.

--Kseniya Melnik, author of Snow in May. Just to mix things up, since leaving Magdan, Russia, the author has lived in Alaska, New York, and now, El Paso, Texas. Sometimes its just easier to write about someplace after you've left it, which is the upside of being married to the military.

--Barbara Manger, author of Riding through Grief.

--Sandy Brehl, author of Odin's Promise.

That's a lot of book info to digest. Hope you find something delicious.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

July Indie Next Picks, Featuring Erika Johansen, Steven Lloyd Jones, Rebecca Rotert, and Lisa Howorth.

I'm not sure what a difference a year makes, but 2014 has been a completely different story when it comes to Indie Next Picks and Boswell. Last year, it seemed that it was pretty common for three of the twenty titles featured in the monthly flier we got from the American Booksellers Association to be upcoming events. Once we got up to six! This year, we've been lucky to have one. It's a function of having different readers on staff, and more new booksellers that haven't yet gotten into the recommendation groove.

The books are chosen by booksellers, with the picks curated by the trade association, with the top title featured on the front of the flier and the top 20 described in a flier inside. There is also a selection of reprint titles included.  I only pay attention to this because one, I'm competitive, and two, I've used the flier as a marketing device for upcoming events. But there's been another obstacle in promoting upcoming events on fliers--a good percentage of the events that we have had have been so early in the flier's cycle that most people got the fliers after the events were over.

There are only two books featured on the July Indie Next list that we even got reads on, Queen of the Tearling and The String Diaries. This was a similar situation to June, where we had reads on The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair. That month had two author events featured, Joël Dicker and David Downing, but both they typified my 2014 dilemma--for the June Indie Next list, the featured authors had events on May 16 and June 3 respectively. Now in some ways, I'm happy about that, as I sometimes feel like books are featured too early. I must remind myself that I can't have it both ways!

So here's the #1 Pick: The Queen of the Tearling: A Novel, by Erika Johansen (Harper, 9780062290366, $26.99)
The Queen of the Tearling is a brilliant tale, brilliantly told. It has everything — magic, high adventure, mystery, and romance. Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, who was raised in exile, must reclaim her mother’s throne and learn to be a ruler despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles: the Red Queen, a powerful monarch in a neighboring kingdom; the Caden, a group of assassins tasked to destroy Kelsea; and her own Uncle Thomas, Regent of Tearling, who will do anything to stay in power. Kelsea must earn the trust and loyalty of her subjects and those who would protect her, and learn to use the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense power. This is the book everyone will be reading and recommending this summer!” —Jerry Brown, The Bookstore, Radcliff, KY

We have our own great recommendation of Queen of the Tearling, from Pam. "19-year old Kelsea, raised in isolation, is on her way back home to ascend her throne, trailed by many who wish her killed. Her only protection is the loyal Queen’s guard, headed by stoic Lazarus, as well as the Tearling Sapphire, a powerful, magical jewel. Kelsea was educated during her exile, but kept in the dark about the state of her kingdom and the devil’s bargain her ineffectual mother, the Queen, made with the neighboring Mortmesne. Upon her arrival, a rash decision brings down the wrath of the powerful Sorceress, the Red Queen of Mortmesne. Set in world with discordant elements of a medieval past and dystopian future, I really enjoyed this novel featuring a young but determined female character who doesn’t know whom she can trust. It is filled with political intrigue, magic, adventure, and a very useful map." --Pam Stilp

Similarly, we have recommendations on The String Diaries from Jason and Jen. Here's the official one being used on the Indie Next List. 

The String Diaries: A Novel, by Stephen Lloyd Jones (Mulholland Books, 9780316254465, $26)
“Usually when we have the eerie feeling that something or someone dark and gruesome is following us, it’s just our vivid imaginations running amuck. But in The String Diaries it’s a very real monstrous being who is following Hannah and her family, and it’s been following them for nearly two hundred years as attested to in diaries passed to Hannah from her mother. The worst part is its ability to look like anyone — even someone Hannah loves. Prepare to grit your teeth and shudder. Yes, it’s that good!” —Linda Bond, Auntie’s Bookstore, Spokane, WA

I always listen to the recommendations of Arsen Kashkashian at Boulder Book Shop. His pick this month is  Last Night at the Blue Angel: A Novel, by Rebecca Rotert (William Morrow, 9780062315281, $25.99)
“The life of a sultry jazz singer in 1965 Chicago is beautifully evoked in this touching novel. Rotert alternates her narrative between Naomi, the singer, detailing how she got to Chicago in the 1950s, and the singer’s somewhat neglected 10-year-old daughter, Sophia. Sophia finds a paternal figure in Naomi’s most enduring suitor, the photographer Jim. Their makeshift family, along with a runaway nun, a transvestite, and a Polish émigré, try forge an existence while chasing stardom, but Naomi’s past keeps dragging them down. Rotert’s vivid descriptions of the tawdry jazz clubs and the deserted buildings that Jim photographs bring a sense of immediacy to this tale.” —Arsen Kashkashian, Boulder Book Store, Boulder, CO

And finally, one bookseller recommends the other in Cathy Langer's review of Lisa Howorth's Flying Shoes. If you think this is rigged, just think that book sections are filled with novelists reviewing other novelists, social scientists judging other social science works, and literary critics judging books of criticism, so why shouldn't booksellers review booksellers? The novel has been getting great reviews elsewhere too, and had this wonderful profile in The New York Times, where she talks about how the novel is inspired by true incidents in her family. It is also a lovely portrait of a bookseller, how she wound up moving to Oxford, meeting her husband, and starting Square Books, "an event often credited as the turning point in Oxford’s transition from backwater to literary hub."

Here's the Indie Next recommendation: Flying Shoes: A Novel, by Lisa Howorth (Bloomsbury, 9781620403013, $26)
“Howorth’s debut novel is a Southern feast for the mind. As the mystery of the brutal death of a nine-year-old boy unfolds, the reader meets unforgettable characters, most notably Mary Byrd Thornton, a feisty, flawed, and often foul-mouthed wife and mother and the stepsister of the murdered child, who very reluctantly revisits the event after 30 years. Flying Shoes artfully steers the reader through some of the idiosyncrasies of life in a Southern town and deals with social and racial issues with the honesty and humor that only an insider can offer.” —Cathy Langer, Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, CO

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Display Tour! Featuring the Downer Classic Bike Race, the Kandinsky Art Exhibit, The Eastside Milwaukee Garden Tour, Pride Month, an Upcoming Baseball Event with Dan Epstein, and Our Bookseller Support for Hachette Book Group.

I had someone who works with Google on virtual spaces ask me if I wanted to have the store mapped. I passed, but here's the next best thing.

1. We had a customer tell one of the Boswellians this week that she enjoyed how much we changed displays. This of course warmed my heart because we do put a lot of work into it, and I don't think we change them enough. My rule of thumb is to change, move, or update a display once a month, or more often if there is a timely issue. My dream is to change the front table every two weeks, rotating various displays through there, but it's rare that that happens. Right now we're promoting the Downer Classic bicycle race, so that will be there through this weekend.

The bike lights I bought in the spring turned out to be a hit. We are pretty much out. We still have the ooh-and-ahhed over bike bells. Oh, and don't forget about our event with Brian Benson, whose book Going Somewhere, chronicles his pedaled journey from Wisconsin to Oregon. He's appearing Thursday, July 24, 7 pm.

2. The big news in Milwaukee is the Kandinsky exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum. We don't do displays to tie into every exhibit, but we could tell there was a lot of excitement there, and this one had the potential for more spin off sales. I didn't even try that hard; we just put up Barb Rosenstock and Mary GrandPre's The Noisy Paint Box, Mary Basson's Saving Kandinsky, and filled it out with some titles from Dover and Taschen (both nonreturnable publishers, but we were cautious) and the table seemed bare after two weeks. Fortunately at least the DaCapo Complete Writings on Art (which will likely soon become an imprint of Hachette) was at regular trade terms. The show next goes to Nashville in the fall.

3. Just about every bookstore has a display table up in support of Hachette Book Group, as they come under siege by Amazon. I actually had to wait until after last weekend, as the Father's Day and graduation tables weren't coming down until June 16th. The other big news that contributed to the display is that Boswell made it onto the Edan Lepucki California tour. This is the first novel that Stephen Colbert and Sherman Alexie were pitching on The Colbert Report. We'd love to get the book on The New York Times besteller list in spite of Amazon, so we're helping it along. Every so often we make an event book Boswell's Best (Burial Rites, Shotgun Lovesongs, and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry are the last three) and we're doing that with California too. We can take presales in person, by phone, email, or on our website and the price will be 20% off.

My friend H. told me that her parents ordered California through Powells. Why? Because Stephen Colbert told them to. Oh for that kind of pull!

4. Since we still have a baseball display up, it was easy to repurpose it to promote our upcoming event with Dan Epstein, author of Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of 76. The event will be a conversation between Dan and Mitch Teich of WUWM's Lake Effect. Don't worry, we still have Hank the dog hanging out on the table.

5. It's almost the end of June, and I realized we never featured our LGBT history table. Originally tied in to Pridefest, it was repurposed afterwards, as June is also LGBT Pride Month, which is why the festivals take place. Jen curated the table, which features recent releases like Rachel Hope Cleves' Charity and Sylvia and Francine Prose's Lovers at the Chameleon Club. It won't be out in time for the display, but a couple of booksellers are reading the advance copy of Sara Farizen's young adult novel, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, and are very enthusiastic.

Our display signs are simple and consistent. One typeface (Century, as it's free, which is sort of vital to a bookstore, and yet not the default), black border, and we try to make the sign either informative or funny, sometimes both. Back in the day when I managed the Mequon Schwartz store (close to 20 years ago, I should note), having signs was a real pain and we usually tried to let the display speak for itself. There really are some displays that do speak for themselves, but most are improved by a little communication. Just a note to Anne here--remember your calligraphy pen? Pre-computer, it was a vital part of any bookstore operation.

6. Another event going on is the East Side Garden Tour on Sunday, July 27, from 10 am to 4 pm.  25 private gardens are open to the public, with maps available at the North Point Lighthouse and Riverside Park Urban Ecology Center. We repurposed the spring display and added some gardening titles. In other years we've had a dedicated gardening display but the weather was so weird that I never figured out when to put it up. There is no charge for the Garden Tour, presented by the Eastside Milwaukee Community Council.  I guess you noticed I have gotten into creating a display photo with an insert of the sign enlarged, as I realized you couldn't read them on the posts. Not that they are still large enough to read, but it's definitely a bit better.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tuesday New Releases, More or Less--Sue Miller, Rosie Thomas, Jean Kwok, Celeste Ng, and James Patterson writing with David Ellis.

Our buyer Jason's biggest buy this week is for Sue Miller's The Arsonist (Knopf), which is set in a small New Hampshire town, where a woman who has lived many years in East Africa comes home to her aging parents. The problem is that somebody is burning down the town's summer homes. Booklist praises "her trademark elegant prose and masterful command of subtle psychological nuance" while Kirkus Reviews observes that "Miller's portrayal of early Alzheimer's and the toll it takes on a family is disturbingly accurate and avoids the sentimental uplift prevalent in issue-oriented fiction."

I'm not sure what makes about this thing called foreign rights. If HarperCollins is so excited about Rosie Thomas's The Illusionists in the UK, why didn't they publish it here? I guess their loss is Overlook's gain. The publisher calls this the follow-up to The Kashimir Shawl, but I misread that as sequel and the books themselves are not related. The new book is set in Victorian England and is about a theater troupe. There's a thriller element, a romance, and a lot of historical detail, and I saw Water for Elephants and The Night Circus's names dropped. Here's Rosie Thomas's blog, chronicling the process.

I can't describe Jean Kwok's Mambo in Chinatown (Riverhead) better than Library Journal who describes it as about "a 22-year-old Charlie Wong, a dishwasher who gets caught up in the world of professional ballroom dancing." She hoped to be a noodle maker, like her father, but the legacy of her dead mother, once a dancer for the Beijing Ballet, weighs on her. I think I went to see Kwok at Next Chapter  in Mequon for her previous novel, Girl in Translation. Kwok is interviewed by P.P. Wong in Banana Writers, where she discusses her inspiration: "I wanted to write about the Asians who don’t often appear in the media: namely, the low-achieving ones. There are so many people whom we pass every day yet don’t truly see, in restaurants, taxi cabs, dry cleaners. Although my own life is now quite different, my heart remains in Chinatown."

Interestingly enough, a Penguin Random House sister imprint also has a novel that touches on the Chinese American experience, Everything I Never Told You (Penguin Press), from Celeste Ng. It actually comes out on Thursday, as the Penguin division is still working on a soft/hard release schedule, but that's said to change in the next few months. I read and enjoyed this book, and offer my recommendation here.

"Once upon a time there was a Chinese man (James) who married a Caucasian woman (Marilyn) moved to a small Ohio college town to live happily ever after. The only problem is that their children are anything but, and now their middle child, Lydia, on whom both of them had pinned all their hopes and dreams, is dead, drowned in the nearby lake. Marilyn put all her hopes and dreams of Lydia having the medical career she herself gave up. James hoped that with her blue eyes, she’d be the popular kid he never was, a lone Asian in a sea of White people. Their son Nathan suspects that Jack, the neighbor kid who spent time alone with Lydia in his car, is somehow connected. The pieces of the puzzle might lie in another fateful time, when Marilyn disappeared for several months. This delicately written, character-driven story is an interesting portrait of the seventies, when Chinese folks were still uncommon in the heartland, and the racial, as well as gender, prejudices took a toll on their victims. Heartbreaking, yes, but also hopeful."(Daniel)

And finally, while I don't normally round up the James Patterson novels, I feel compelled to mention the release of Invisible (Little, Brown), his new collaboration with David Ellis, on several fronts. For one thing, he's published by the beleaguered Hachette Book Group, and has been one of the most outspoken of their authors. Amazon might have been playing with this title pre-publication, but right now, it's under their normal terms. We'll get it to you more expensively and slower, but on the other hand, we're not trying to destroy publishing as we know it. Also, Patterson has been giving out these amazing grants to independent bookstores and these recipient doors are doing some great things with the funds.

In the stand-alone thriller named Invisible, Emmy Dockery, an FBI researcher pushes herself to the edge, trying to find a link between between hundreds of unsolved cases, forcing her to take leave and remain completely ignored, until her ex-boyfriend "Books" Bookman accepts that a new piece of evidence is compelling enough to help find the connections. When I was younger, I used to be called "Books" by several neighborhood fellows, not because my last name was Bookman, but because they always saw me walking around and reading. So now I identify with Patterson and Ellis's latest on three levels.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Boswell's Event Blast: Ann Garvin Tonight, Susan Simensky Bietila on Tuesday, and a Preivew for Jonathan Lethem Next Monday.

Monday, June 23, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Ann Garvin, author of The Dog Year.

Matt Mueller writes about Ann Garvin's inspiration in

"'I remember years ago – probably the late '90s--I saw a woman try to shoplift a purse from TJ Maxx,' Garvin said. 'At the time of it, she looked like she knew she was obviously caught, and then she thought she was going to make a break for it but she didn't She gave up on that immediately. And it made me feel so sad for her. I just kept thinking, "My god, what's going through her mind? And now what?" I thought about it often over the years, and whenever I'd see a sign that said shoplifting steals from all of us or something, unfortunately for that woman, I'd think of her.'

"Years later, that memory gave Garvin the inspiration for her lead character in The Dog Year: Dr. Lucy Peterman, a well-respected surgeon who turns to stealing to stay level after an accident takes away her husband and unborn child. She soon resorts to swiping supplies from her own hospital, a decision that gets her caught and reluctantly dragged into a 12-step program for help."

The Dog Year deals with overcoming grief, which is something everyone has to go through. And while we don't all find our grief manifested in kleptomania (perhaps because more of us aren't caught? Theft prevention specialists periodically talk to booksellers about opportunity thieves, and there are more of them than you imagine), many of us have found an animal companion to help us make it through.

A quote inside a quote inside a quote goes double, single, double, right? And below is a video contemplating another potential market I should be chasing for Garvin's novel.

Tuesday, June 24, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Susan Simensky Bietila, contributor to World War 3 Illustrated: 1979-2014.

World War 3 Illustrated  is a collective-based operation that is now celebrating its 25th anniversary, who raised the money for their most recent project on Kickstarter. Recently a panel was put together at MoCCA Fest in New York, featuring various contributors, moderated by Publishers Weekly's graphica enthusiast, Calvin Reid, who described World War 3 Illustrated as "an open platform for protest." Hannah Means Shannon covers the program in this Bleeding Cool blog post.

Publishers Weekly (unsigned, but almost definitely Calvin Reid) writes: " Far ahead of its time, World War 3 paved the way for the more established forms of comics journalism now. Even when the passion on display here overcomes craft, this is an indispensable collection of groundbreaking comics."

While we were not able to get six contributors to volunteer to come to Milwaukee, the town is fortunate enough to have Susan Simensky Bietila in residence, a longtime part of the collective, who appeared at Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops for The Wobblies collection.

Bietilla's work includes drawing, printmaking, documentary and pictorialist photography, political comics, art criticism, and guerrilla theater. She's been a Milwaukeean since 1986.

Monday, June 30, 7 pm at Boswell:
Jonathan Lethem (photo credit John Lucas), author of Dissident Gardens.

From The American Reader's review by Hal Parker: "Jonathan Lethem never writes a single novel when he can write three novels rolled into one, and Dissident Gardens is no exception. It is a neighborhood novel: the author’s peripatetic imagination, which has wandered in previous works from Brooklyn’s Court Street (Motherless Brooklyn, 1999) and Boerum Hill (The Fortress of Solitude) to Manhattan’s Upper East Side (Chronic City, 2009), now re-crosses the East River to rest in Queens’ Sunnyside Gardens. It is a political novel, one whose plot is shaped by the vicissitudes of the Popular Front, the machinations and intrigue of American Communism, Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, the Nicaraguan Revolution, and even the crepuscular spasms of the Occupy Movement. Finally, it is a multi-generational family novel, in the style of Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks (1901), narrating the fates of three generations of American radicals along with a few of their relatives and associates. "

My recommendation: "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 super-smart, funny, heartfelt, intensely discussable and often cantankerous novel!"

Here's a map of the book that appeared in New York Magazine. It also notes that Rose Zimmer is inspired by Lethem's grandmother, Minna Frank.

We've hosted some of my favorite authors during Summerfest in year's past, including Sapphire and Andrew Sean Greer. I didn't really understand this Monday break day, but now I have figured out it was all so that we could sneak in Lethem. But being featured in the midst of Summerfest seems appropriate for Lethem, who is well versed in music criticism, having written essays on James Brown and Bob Dylan for Rolling Stone, a rock and roll novel (You Don't Know Me Yet) and one of the 33 1/3 series, for The Talking Heads: Fear of Music, which was, per the publishing copy, "tackling one of his great adolescent obsessions and illuminating the ways in which we fall in and out of love with works of art."

It was also the soundtrack to my sophomore year of college. And when I moved to Milwaukee, one of the things everyone would say was that Jerry Harrison lived in Shorewood. Was it really true? Probably, though I never met him. I do have proof in this 26 second club of the 2010 Shorewood High School All Star Band.

How's that for meandering off topic? Hope to see you at one of this week's events.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Boswell's Bestseller List for the Week Ending June 21, 2014, with Plenty of Asides and Annotations.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith
2. Written in my Own Heart's Blood, by Diana Gabaldon
3. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
4. Beowulf, translated by J.R.R. Tolkien
5. The One and Only, by Emily Giffin
6. Top Secret Twenty One, by Janet Evanovich
7. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
8. Midnight in Europe, by Alan Furst
9. The Serpent of Venice, by Christopher Moore
10. Shotgun Lovesongs, by Nickolas Butler

It will be interesting to see how Amazon's playing around with J.K. Rowling's The Silkworm plays out on the bestseller lists. Right now, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Target are all buying promotional ads, so Amazon effectively caved when the book came out. Here's Lily Rothman at Time magazine with her take on the subject. On the book itself, Entertainment Weekly's Thom Geier gives it a B+: "Despite the modern setting, references to texting, and frank depictions of sex and violence, both Strike books are stubbornly old-school in structure: In each, our hero assembles the suspects in one place for a Poirot-like speech of elementary deduction. Though the revelation of whodunit may be conventional, Rowling spins a compulsively entertaining yarn."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. The Future of the Mind, by Michio Kaku2. Hard Choices, by Hillary Rodham Clinton
3. Carsick, by John Waters
4. The Flavor Bible, by Karen Page
5. Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Piketty
6 .Milwaukee Then and Now, by Sandra Ackerman (event MPL 7/29, 6 pm)
7. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant, by Roz Chast (the reprint is in!)
8. How Not to be Wrong, by Jordan Ellenberg
9. Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons, by Sam Kean
10. The Novel, by Michael Schmidt

We've got a nice staff rec from Jen on Carsick, which has also hitched a ride on The New York Times bestseller list. Here's an interview with Waters by John McMurtrie in the San Francisco Chronicle. It's repurposed from an interview at area bookstore "Green Arcade." Don't you think they mean "Green Apple?" I do. On Waters and hitchhiking: "I'm hoping to bring it back because there is no such thing almost. I think it's a green idea. It is an adventuresome idea. And it is fun to do it, it is liberating to do it because you don't know what's going to happen."

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion
2. The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer
3. Saving Kandinsky, by Mary "Peetie" Basson
4. Americanah, by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie
5. Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent
6. A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki
7. The Dog Year, by Ann Garvin (event 6/23)
8. TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann
9. Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri
10. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

One thing I have noticed is the Madison seems to have a higher percentage of their local writers get picked up by national presses (and I'm not talking about AWP folks connected to UW's esteemed writing program) than do Milwaukeeans, despite being a smaller market. This came to mind as I read Susan Gloss (Vintage)interview Ann Garvin (The Dog Year) in blog, The Debutante Ball. The good part of that is that Madison's only a little more than an hour away. The bad thing is that the competitive side of me is jealous!

From that interview, Garvin on something surprising: "I love stories of survival. I love to wonder how I would do in a life or death situation. The plane crash, desert island, lost in a car in the snow, on a raft in the ocean. It’s a total fascination of mine, that battle with few resources and your wits. Let me be clear, I’m fascinated from afar, I like to wonder about it while drinking coffee in my robe. I’m not that person who puts myself in those positions but I do wonder, If I was on a raft in the ocean with only a chip clip and a tube of chap stick, could I survive."

I would argue that The Dog Year is a story about survival. Garvin appears Monday, June 23, 7 pm, at Boswell.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Knocking on Heaven's Door, by Katy Butler
2. The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
3. America's Corporal: James Tanner in War and Peace, by James Marten
4. Physics of the Future, by Michio Kaku
5. Shakespeare Saved my Life, by Laura Bates
6. Lawrence in Arabia, by Scott Anderson
7. Physics of the Impossible, by Michio Kaku
8. I Know why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
9. One Summer, by Bill Bryson
10. The Food Lovers' Guide to Wisconsin, by Martin Hintz

Jason mentioned to me something about Laura Bates' Shakespeare Saved my Life, and I wanted to reinforce that this Sourcebooks title has sold close to 100 copies at Boswell and every book club that reads it comes back to thank Anne for the recommendation. We are currently the #1 seller of the book since its release on Above the Treeline, and that's including other stores that hosted events with the author. Cool!

Books for Kids:
1. Ruin and Rising V3, by Leigh Bardugo
2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
3. Love Letters to the Dead, by Ava Dellaira
4. The Truth About Alice, by Jennifer Mathieu
5. The Fault in our Stars, by John Green
6. Copper Sun, by Sharon Draper
7. Siege and Storm V2, by Leigh Bardugo
8. Monument 14, by Emmy Laybourne
9. Shadow and Bone V1, by Leigh Bardugo
10. The Pilot and the Little Prince, by Peter Sís

We've had great sales on Peter Sís's newest, The Pilot and the Little Prince. Sís is a favorite of several booksellers here, and of customers too; it has not been unusual to see someone buying multiples. From the starred Booklist review: "Sís never misses an opportunity to hit readers with the power of pure image, as in a two-page spread of a plane flying over a geography of faces, sure to live on in many a child's imagination. Sis' masterful and moving sense of design never fails." And here's an interview with the author/illustrator from NPR.

It's Summerfest break week for the Journal Sentinel book section. We're taking our own Summerfest break, and only hosting two authors during the festival. On June 30 (which is actually Summerfest break day), we've got the legendary Jonathan Lethem for the paperback tour of Dissident Gardens, while on July 5, we're hosting once-localish David Kalis, author of Vodka Shot, Pickle Chaser: A True Story of Risk, Corruption, and Self-Discovery Amid the Collapse of the Soviet Union

That said, Higgins recommends three new kids' books:
--The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra, written and illustrated by Chris Raschka
--Chu's First Day of School, written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Adam Rex
--National Wildlife Federation's World of Birds: A Beginner's Guide, illustrated by Kim Kurki.

Now just about every time I mention part-time Wisconsinite Neil Gaiman, one of you asks me if he'll ever come to Milwaukee. Can I mention that his collaborator, Adam Rex came, and we had a very nice day of schools for Cold Cereal, which I read? I'll never think about Lucky Charms the same way again.

And one last thing--today's FRONT PAGE of The New York Times Book Review features Mitchell Jackson's essay on Song of the Shank, by Jeffery Renard Allen. Mr. Allen read at Boswell two weeks ago, and we told you this book was major. The book may be a paperback original, but the print quality of the first edition was hardcover worthy (not newsprint, in other words), and yes, we've got signed copies.

From Jackson: "Within the past year, stories about slavery have received grand critical praise...while both were ceebrated, they also engendered a fair amount of criticism, arguments that often amounted to myopic cynics questioning whether the culture needed another story about slaves. what McBride, McQueen, and now Allen remind us that the answer last year is the answer this year and will be the answer next year: yes."