Friday, October 31, 2014

The Rorthfuss Banner at UWM Union., Emily St. John Mandel isn't Dystopian Enough, Daniel Relives Gary Hart's Run for Presidency.

1. One reason I love working with the UWM Bookstore is that we get these amazing banners in the Union. Advance event sales for tonight's appearance by Patrick Rothfuss, celebrating the release of The Slow Regard of Silent Things, end at 2 pm CDT. Walk up sales will be available.

2. Very confused about the review of Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven in today's New York Times. As my friend Mike said, the review contradicts itself several times. Is the book hopeful or not? Should pandemic books be hard-hitting or not? It also felt a bit rushed, not that I don't rush through my own reviews, but one should note in my defense that I do other things for my job besides review a few books per week.

That makes two mixed-to-negative reviews from The NYT, which is only odd because I have decided (we're forced to do these things for newsletter deadlines) that Station Eleven is on the shortlist for my favorite work of fiction in 2014. Sadly I read more and more novels the second year for book club, which sort of don't qualify. I don't really understand the lateness of the review either, but I'm not going to complain about it, because it worked to the advantage of another book I liked this year, Joshua Ferris's To Rise Again a a Decent Hour.

3. You're probably wondering what I've been reading, and the sad truth is that I've finished almost nothing in the past two months. Of all things, the book that caught my attention is Matt Bai's All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid (Knopf), which came out at the end of September. As an On the Media junkie, I'm rather fascinated by the way media has changed over the years, and Bai, formerly a political correspondent for The New York Times who now is a columnist for Yahoo, not only discusses how the differences between old media (when a newspaper could determine if a story was important enough to cover) and new, but between old journalism and new.

That "week" was the exposure of Gary Hart's dalliance with Donna Rice, a one-time model and friend of Don Henley's who met Hart in Florida and was caught on a boat trip, and yes, the boat really was called Monkey Business. Before Hart, the private shenanigans of politicians stayed private, and only long after their deaths would the revelations come about the women in John F. Kennedy's life, for example. The trade-off for keeping those secrets was intimate access to politicians. The revelations in Gary Hart's life was a sea change in how these secrets were kept; it was partly a reaction to Watergate, partly the mantra of new journalism that the personal is the political, partly confluence of entertainment and politics predicted by Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death (which I also read, many, many years ago), and party the rise of technology, from video cameras to fax machines, that democratized the spreading of news. And you thought it all started with the internet!

After reading this work by Matt Bai (photo credit Robyn Twomey), I was reminded of Michael Hainey's After Visiting Friends, who also chronicled the changes in journalism, but more from the angle of the changing relationship between journalists and the law, rather than politics. The relationships morphed in similar ways. Journalists, by choosing to break this sort of confidence, gave up access. As Bai notes, while talking heads pontificate at length about the real candidates, they actually know less than they ever did previously, as the candidates themselves are surrounded by handlers. Bai experienced this firsthand, noting the difference between John McCain's two presidential runs. And of course politics is approached differently when you are a long shot vs. when you are front runner, which was the experience of Gary Hart as well.

The thing about these kind of political books is that you never really know if the book is a game changer or an overly long magazine article until many years later. Bai notes that Richard Ben Craemer's What it Takes, which serves as source material for All the Truth is Out, originally got mixed reviews but has been more appreciated by younger journalists. It strikes me that Bai's book, in the way it captures this changing zeitgeist, and with our realization that privacy is an increasingly rare and fragile concept, might also stand the test of time.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

We Mull Over Book Jacket Changes; Why We Like Some ("Bark") and are Disappointed by Others.

It started with Carly mentioning how much she likes the new Lorrie Moore paperback jacket for Bark. Thre are so few books that can play off of a pun, but leave it to Lorrie Moore to carry this through, even in jacket design. So this led me to ask around about other recent releases where the booksellers either found improvement or disappointment.

Here's a rec for Bark from Jannis: "A new collection of short stories by Lorrie Moore is always worth celebrating and her book Bark does not disappoint. Her humor is razor sharp, hilarious and spot on. In one of these eight stories, we are witness to a newly divorced man blundering his way through the dating world, while watching the bombing of Iraq on television. In the story 'Paper Losses,' a women tries desperately to hold on to her failing marriage by tagging along on an ill-fated trip with her husband and child. I've missed reading Lorrie Moore's stories and while the new volume may be slim, I am glad to have Moore back in my life."

One book whose cover treatment Carly found a bit disappointing was Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill. Here's her rec from the hardcover: "Offill portrays the nuanced realities of marriage and human relations in a series of vignettes, the majority told in the first-person voice of the unnamed female protagonist. Similar to Valeria Luiselli's Faces in the Crowd, the fragmented narration allows the reader to experience changes in the protagonist's psyche, changes in the relationship she has with her husband, and changes in perspective: the story flows between the woman's stream of consciousness and a more distanced, macro telling of events. Charged with bits of humor, dialogue, and emotional insight, Dept. of Speculation offers a beautifully written account of love on both its good and bad days."

Why didn't Carly like it? She thought it didn't capture the essence of the book as much. I suppose the faux die-cut circles are supposed to be windows into the book which represents the psyche. All Amie and I could think was that it could have been worse; the publisher might have used actual die-cuts, which of course drives most retailers crazy, especially on paperbacks.

Why paperbacks? Paperbacks warp, hardcovers do not. So that die-cut jacket is ready to catch on just about anything and tear. But honestly, the die-cut hardcovers can also be difficult. But in terms of design, my concern  was that the paperback jacket for Dept. of Speculation implied a speculative element, a bit Kevin Brockmeier-ish.

Mel had several suggestions for me. One was Matthew Guinn's The Resurrectionist. She thought that the cover treatment, from dark to light, worked well for the paperback. You'll see the trend here. We pay more attention to cover changes when we're invested in the book.

Here's her rec for The Resurrectionist: "The president of the newly founded Carolina College of Medicine and Physic buys a Senegalese slave and presses him into the service of the new university: he must procure and prepare cadavers from the slave graveyard in town for the medical students' anatomy classes. Despite this gruesome position, Nemo Johnston acquires a medical education, which includes the reading and writing of English and Latin, and enjoys many freedoms and a steady income as the College's man. A hundred years later, the College's dirty secret is unearthed and frustrated medical student Jacob is pressed by the Dean to produce an elaborate cover-up. This fine southern gothic novel is singular. With tones of The Fire in the Flint and The Marrow of Tradition, Guinn's debut takes on old-boy networks in the deep south, their roots deep and their reach threatening. This book is sure to be the first of many contemporary critiques of white supremacy as it stretches through time in the antebellum south to the tense modern moment."

In the case of The Rathbones, Mel still prefers the hardcover, but thinks that the paperback might be an easier sell.

Here's her rec: "Hold this book to your ear and hear the sea. In Janice Clark's The Rathbones, exquisite prose unfolds with the ebb and flow of the ocean. Each detail rendered therein is as delicate and precise as the thinnest line in a scrimshaw design. You discover the story of the Rathbone family as the youngest Rathbone child does: in fits and starts, in hearsay, in rumor, in gut instinct. Nothing is as it seems: this family has secrets deeper than the ocean. Clark has carved a sharp narrative, elevated with splendidly rendered nautical diction, and will spear you through the heart with it in one stroke. This is a book you'll pine for long after you've returned from its far shores, six-generations wiser, and completely in love with Mercy and the sea."

I don't know if I mentioned this but I was really disappointed with The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells paperback jacket. I know that the time travel element of the hardcover was played down for an image of 1940s Greta, but whatever they did to the book, I had trouble selling it, even with the rec card. I think there was a bit of a disconnect

Here's my very long rec. "Greta Wells is a woman living in the West Village in 1985. Her twin brother Felix has died of AIDS, and his lover Alan is also ill with the disease. Her long-term partner Nathan tried to be supportive through this long crisis, but wound up first taking another lover, and then leaving her. It’s gotten so her only companion left is her Aunt Ruth. She seeks various forms of counseling and medication, but nothing seems to work. Finally her doctor suggests electroconvulsive therapy. She agrees, but then next morning, she winds up as another Greta in 1918. After the next treatment, she becomes a Greta in 1941, all in the same Greenwich Village apartment. And no, there’s been no AIDS crisis and so she hasn’t lost her dear brother Felix, and she’s not only still with Nathan but married to him, but it turns out each other world has its own set of problems. With all the time shifting novels out there, you’d think I’d grow tired of the genre, but I actually get more excited with each variation, with this one more akin to 'Sliders' than anything else. And of course at its heart, the novel isn’t at all about hocus pocus—it’s about the chances we take, the things we take for granted, and the relationships at the heart of our lives, all wrapped up in a story that makes your head spin, not because of the plot, but for the emotion, beauty, and wisdom at the heart of the story."

I admit this was a tough one to get right, and I always have to take into account that there are different kinds of retailers out there and sometimes you just have to catch the eye of a major retailer with the right jacket in order to get the big buy-in. I wonder if taking a play from that Jennifer Haigh novel, Mrs. Kimble  (follow the link for the image), would have been a good move. It's a look I haven't seen copied much, and boy did that book work in paperback, or so I remember.

Here's the reverse, where the hardcover ignored the unique nature of the book but the paperback celebrated it, and that is so much the better, according to our buyer Jason, a fan of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North. From Jason's rec card: "Harry relives his life over and over. There are others like him, scattered over time. There is one universal rule: do not change any major events or cause new ones. Harry gets a message from the future; time is ending early and humanity is being wiped out, because somebody has broken the rules." The cover indeed really captures the set-up.

Sometimes you know that there's no way a cover will make the transition and type covers written by women rarely make the grade. Sometimes when a cover is particularly distinctive , like Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, you'll see it kept, though we've noted before that Little, Brown will stick with a jacket for a paperback when a book is successful, whereas Knopf/Vintage will switch it up, even when the hardcover is a hit.

So I'm sure nobody would have ever dreamed that Instructions for a Heatwave, by Maggie O'Farrell would have stayed with an orange jacket with key icon. No way. Instead we have a dining table that implies domestic drama, right? This is a perfectly good paperback jacket, though I  think Jane could have handsold this with a black type on a white field, B.J. Novak style. She likes the book that much.

By the way, here's her rec: "What happens to one Irish family living in London during the oppressive 1976 summer heatwave when patriarch Richard Riordan mysteriously disappears when on a seemingly simple walk to buy the morning newspaper? As his three adult children return home to support their mother, Gretta, past resentments and longstanding secrets emerge in this insightful portrait of a family in crisis. I was immediately engaged with all of the characters, who are not only vulnerable, but also endearing. Subtle, graceful writing at its best!"

It's rare that you get the perfect hardcover and the perfect paperback, but I have to say, in the case of Lorrie Moore's Bark, I like them both and each seems appropriate for the format. If only they could all be like that.

On a final note, I'm hoping to build email distribution of this blog. If you know somebody who might enjoy our regular posts, why not suggest they subscribe?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Annotated Adult Staff Recs: Books We Love from Bayard Godsave, Margaret Atwood, Valerie Geary, and James Tadd Alcox, Plus a Link to Our Favorite Graphic Novels, Comics, and Nonfiction.

With the craziness of October, I sometimes fall behind in things like answering emails, but this October, a particularly crazy one, I also let go some of our staff rec reporting. We sort of pride ourselves on our recs, so this sort of seemed like an egregious error to me. Once it's down, however, the best you can do is catch up.

Good thing Mel has been documenting our staff recs on The Boswellians blog by category. On October 27, she offered a list of our favorite graphic novels and nonfiction, including Jules Feiffer's Kill My Mother,  Jeff Lemire's Trillium, and The Harlem Helfighters, from Max Brooks. You can read all our recommendations here.

Here are a few more tasty morsels, fictionally speaking.

Torture Tree, a novel by Bayard Godsave (Queen’s Ferry Press, $16.95)
"Our actions do have consequences, both intended and accidental, and regardless, we bear responsibility, if not legally, then morally and ethically. Do xenophobic racists, by their words or actions, deserve to be tortured to death? Do musicians, artists and writers, who shepherd messages of violence to the public, bear responsibility if those messages are translated into catastrophic action? Do the producers, dealers or editors, who bring them to a wider audience, share an equal guilt? These are the deep and troubling questions that Bayard Godsave dares to ask. He does not give us simple or obvious answers."
--Conrad Silverberg

Daniel's note: Mr. Godsave worked at Boswell for a time after our opening, after a number of years as a Harry W. Schwartz bookseller while he was at the creative writing program at UWM. Here's a little more about Torture Tree from the publisher: "In Bayard Godsave's pair of novellas, these fleeting instances perpetuate American ideology in far-flung places and distant points in time. For the inhabiting characters of 'Torture Tree' and 'White Man in Hammersmith' - the Revolutionary War soldier immortalized through his gruesome death; the earnest medical volunteer kidnapped in Iraq; and the unwitting expat-backer of a violent island coup-the political is personal. In this riveting follow-up to Lesser Apocalypses, bursts of violence seize onto and cleave their legacy into moments that might otherwise have been lost to a gloriously inconsequential past."

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales, by Margaret Atwood (Nan A. Tales, 9/16/14, $25.95)
"A long overdue and highly anticipated collection of short stories, or 'tales,' in this case, by the brilliant champion of fiction that is Margaret Atwood! While most of the tales stand independently from others, several of them share a range of characters whose lives become intertwined over a long period of time, leading to great personality development and proof of the grandeur of Atwood's literary scope. In these stories you will find crafty revenge-seekers, amusingly bitter writers, a lusty ex-bride-to-be with a bizarre secret...all of them dealing with their not overly auspicious lives, settings, and relationships. Atwood rallies together quite the collection of characters and lifestyles, supporting them with witty dialogue, complexity of emotion, and her signature ode to impressive detail."
--Carly Lenz

Daniel's note: There was a time I read Margaret Atwood obsessively, one of those authors where I went back and read all the backlist I could find, but I got lost in her speculative work, which is a bit ironic, since The Handmaid's Tale was my introduction to reading her on publication. Prior to that, she was one of those writers I read when I was working at Warner, when we picked up the Popular Library backlist. I'm pretty sure that's how I got my hands on Surfacing and The Edible Woman. This led me to a detour of why CBS divested Popular Library, why it had a pine tree logo (the co-founder was Ned Pines) and how it was actually owned by a conglomerate who amassed and then sold Marvel Comics, The Saturday Evening Post, and Desilu Studios. The acquirer, Perfect Chemical,renamed it self Cadence Industries, and finally liquidated in 1986.

Crooked River, a novel by Valerie Geary (William Morrow, 10/14/14, $25.99)
"Every few years, some pompous windbag comes along and informs us that the novel is dead; that there are no new things to say and no new ways to say them. They fail to remember that novels are simply storytelling. They fail to remember that the true test of the novel's worth is not the originality of its form or the uniqueness of its expression, but the strength, beauty and compelling attraction of its tale. Crooked River delivers. Valerie Geary is the real deal." Conrad Silverberg

Daniel's note: A little more on plot and genre might be needed here, particularly as the cover is a bit misleading--it clearly isn't targeting Conrad! Kirkus one sentence description: "Two sisters growing up in rural Oregon find their world shaken when they stumble across a dead woman in the river that runs through their father's property." The publisher notes: "Told in Sam's and Ollie's vibrant voices, Crooked River is a family story, a coming-of-age story, a ghost story, and a psychological mystery as haunting as the best Southern gothic fiction that will touch your heart and grip you until the final page."

Does not Love, by James Tadd Alcox (Curbside Splendor, 10/14/14, $14.95)
"This novel explores how and why we name and treat conditions. When once someone was just brokenhearted, perhaps she now has relationship adverse trauma syndrome and could use a prescription to help her recover. Set in an Indianapolis similar to the Indianapolis you may know and love, the book follows Robert and Viola, husband and wife, through disappoints, diagnoses, and treatments on a polluted journey in search of the fulfillment promised by money, modern pharmaceuticals, and romance. Taunting FBI agents, underground drug safety trials, and odd ailments frequent the characters until they, at least for a moment, accept that what they have will never be what myths of marriage promise." --Todd Wellman

Daniel's note: James Tadd Alcox will be here this Saturday with Erika Wurth for our Curbside Splendor evening. Mel's reading the Wurth's novel, Crazy Horse's Girlfriend, right now, and is very hot on it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

New Releases from Fuminoi Nakamura, Michel Faber, Molly Gloss, David Nicholls, Chuck Palahniuk, and Johanna Skribsrud.

I'm always surprised when a hit novel jumps publishers for the next release. Was it an auction? An editor change? Loggerheads between author and publisher? Alas, when I hear a juicy story, it's not my place as a bookseller to reveal it, but I have to confess I know nothing about why David Nicholls is at a new publisher for Us, by David Nicholls (Harper) after his success stateside with One Day. Mark Lawson in the (UK) Guardian writes: "Although assumed to be a sentimental populist by those who have read about his success rather than reading his books, Nicholls is far more willing than the romcom film director Richard Curtis (to whom he's often compared) to challenge the genre's expectation of a happy ending. Us follows One Day, which was ultimately a sort of rom-trag, in admitting scenes and sentiments of unsettling bleakness."

The review went on to explain the shorthand of saying something was very "David Nicholls." Really, from one novel? Obviously it was more popular across the pond. Another author who is hoping to have his second stateside success, following The Crimson Petal and the White, is Michel Faber, whose newest is The Book of Strange New Things (Hogarth). Another press piece, another strange pronouncement--Faber has said he won't write another novel, as reported in The New York Times. Is he like Alice Munro or Philip Roth in the UK? The new book is about a Christian missionary sent to spread the gospel to another planet and is out of the box with a starred Kirkus and a number of very strong UK reviews so far.

Beautiful You, by Chuck Palahniuk (Doubleday) turns out not to be the third volume in the Madison Spencer trilogy (we all think she's eventually going to wreak havoc in heaven) but what the publisher calls "an apocalyptic novel about the marketing of female pleasure." One Penny Harrigan is wined and dined and brought to sexual bliss by a megabillionaire, only to find that she is a guinea pig for a line of sex toys which as so successful they could destroy the very fabric of civilization. He must be stopped, but wait, just another five minutes.

Last Winter We Parted, by Fuminori Nakamura (Soho) is the newest novel by the Japanese writer who won the Kenzaburō Ōe Prize in 2012 for The Thief. References call this a pseudonym but I usually reserve that for when the author's real identity isn't released. I think of this more as a "pen name", like Benjamin Black. The newest novel, translated by Allison Markin Powell, is a twisty tale about a man who burned two women alive so he could photograph their dying, and the writer who is assigned to cover the story. David L. Ulin in the Los Angeles Times, praises his newest novel as "dark and edgy, original and bold."I was trying to find something to recommend to Christopher Buhelman (The Lesser Dead) last night and this probably would have done the trick.

Molly Gloss, on the other hand, is pure Oregon, and her latest novel (she's probably best known for The Jump Off Creek, which won the Oregon Book Award), is Falling From Horses,(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Her newest follows Bud Frazer, a young ranch hand who wants to make it big in Hollywood as a stunt man, while his parents (first chronicled in The Hearts of Horses) make do at the ranch, a particular struggle when their other child, a daughter, goes missing. Emily Chenoweth reviews the book and profiles Gloss in The Oregonian while Kirkus proposes that "the acute sense of time and place, coupled with a cast of characters drawn with unsentimental but abiding affection, makes for a hypnotic read."

Since I've been thinking a lot about the Scotiabank Giller Prize, with us hosting not one but two of the finalists, Miriam Toews on November 11 and David Bezmozgis on November 17, I thought I'd mention that the second novel by Johanna Skribsrud, winner for The Sentimentalists, has just come out. The first thing to know about Quartet for the End of Time (Norton) is that its structured around a chamber piece by French composer Olivier Messiaen set in the years leading up to World War II. To understand the heart of the book, I first had to read up about the Bonus Army, the movement by World War I veterans to get cash payment on their bonus certificates that were not due to be paid out until 1945. So the book follows the two children of a rather stern judge, one of whom becomes an activist in the movement and the other becomes a journalist. Aparna Sanyal in The Toronto Globe and Mail wrote: "Quartet is a strange, deeply compassionate, and beautiful work. Skibsrud’s prose, full of parenthetical asides and subordinate clauses, suitably slows us into contemplation of an eternally recurring moment." The modernist style can be tough to pull of in a longer work, as Emily Donaldson notes in The Toronto Star.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Event post for Week of October 27--Christopher Buehlman, Craig K. Collins, Pete Fromm, Patrick Rothfuss, plus Curbside Splendor's Erika Wurth and James Tadd Alcox.

Monday, October 27, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Christopher Buehlman, author of The Lesser Dead, The Necromancer's House, and more.

For those of you who love American Horror Story, I think Christopher Buehlman might be the literary equivalent. He's the kind of fellow who doesn't write the same book twice, but plays with genre, subverts with wit, but keeps things so dark and gruesome that I'll say up front that I am too timid a reader to tackler his work. That said, our buyer Jason Kennedy says that he is one of the finest horror writers writing today and that his new book, The Lesser Dead, is at the same quality level as his previous work.

For those who don't know, it's a 1970s New York vampire novel, narrated by a 14-year-old (for the last half century) vampire named Joey Peacock. The family maid made him what he is today. So the problem is that a new breed of vampire, child vampires, is roaming the city and making things problematic for the existing blood eaters. And as always, Buelman's story involves some nifty bits of misdirection amidst the with and bloodiness.

Publishers Weekly gave The Lesser Dead a starred review, praising Buehlman for his atempt to "reclaim the genre from angsty goths and return it to its fearsome and ferocious origins." And for those who haven't figured it out yet, Christopher Buehlman is known locally is Christophe the Insult Comic at the Bristol Renaissance Faire And for all the poets shopping the store who are wondering what their next move should be, I should also note that the author was the recipient of the 2007 Bridport Prize for poetry.

Wednesday, October 29, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Craig K. Collins, author of Thunder in the Mountains: A Portrait of American Gun Culture.

Collins chronicles how a small-town boy from small towns in the West that were seeped in gun culture turned against his past after a near-fatal accident. After a stint as a journalist and business executive, he now runs his Center for Gun Analytics.

Thunder in the Mountains is not a debate on gun ownership or violence; it's a very personal memoir about how Collins' life was shaped by gun violence, most notably a series of hunting accidents and one friend's father who committed suicide.

Booklist, the journal of the American Library Association, writes: "It's not really a book about the broader side of America's gun culture; it's a book about the way a man's life was shaped by that culture and how gun violence touched his life."

Thursday, October 30, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Pete Fromm, author of If Not for This.

It's hard to believe that Pete Fromm is from Shorewood, so completely has he immersed himself in Pacific Northwest culture. His newest is the story of Maddy and Dalt, a couple who meet in Wyoming and settle in Oregon, and Fromm himself is a long-time Montanan (and a former ranger). He's probably not lonely; a recent author who visited Boswell said there are more authors per capita in Montana than perhaps any other geographic area west of that small slice of Brooklyn along the G train.

In a way, If Not for This is about a couple's love, and it's also the story of illness, as Maddy is soon stricken with multiple sclerosis. As Publishers Weekly writes: "The descriptions of Maddy's illness the exhaustion, the fear, and the day-to-day work that a degenerative disease occasions are closely observed and heartbreakingly realistic. Maddy and Dalt's story feels true from the first page to the last."

Fromm is a core faculty member of the low-res writing program at Pacific University. You may also remember that a previous novel, As Cool as I Am, was released as a film last year, starring Claire Danes and James Marsden. How cool is that?

Friday, October 31, 7 pm, at Boswell:
A ticketed event with Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Slow Regard of Silent Things at the UWM Ballroom, 2300 E. Kenwood Blvd. (Note that buying the book is not the same as buying the ticket; see below for correct link)

1. Walk-up tickets are most likely available, but to secure your place, please visit Brown Paper Tickets now. Tickets are $22 and include a copy of The Slow Regard of Silent Things, plus all taxes and fees. We should note that this is very comparable with Mr. Rothfuss's other ticketed events.

2. This event is co-sponsored by the UWM Bookstore. It is through them that we are able to get this great venue. You can also by tickets at the bookstore, and if you are UWM student, faculty, or staff, you qualify for a discount. ID is required, only one discounted ticket per ID.

3. There is a parking garage underground and most street parking restrictions end at 7 pm, though that should allow you to park at most spots by 6 pm.

4. Mr. Rothfuss welcomes costumes. It's Halloween, after all.Visit Brown Paper Tickets for more info.

Saturday, November 1, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Erika Wurth, author of Crazy Horse's Girlfriend,  and James Tadd Alcox, author of Does Not Love.

One of the most dynamic newer small presses around is Curbside Splendor, based in and around the Chicago area (I'm still not sure if they have offices). We're happy to be continuing our Satuday night series - yes, this is the third one and that makes a series.

Tackling issues of poverty, alcoholism, and drug abuse, Erika T. Wurth’s poignant debut, Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend, features Margaritte, a sharp-tongued, drug-dealing, sixteen-year-old Native American floundering in a small Colorado town. Set in an archly comedic alternate reality version of Indianapolis completely overrun by Big Pharma, James Tadd Adcox’s debut novel, Does Not Love, chronicles Robert and Viola’s attempts to overcome loss through the miracles of modern pharmaceuticals.

Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend, by Erika T. Wurth (an Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee raised outside of Denver, who teaches at Western Illinois University) thoroughly shakes up cultural preconceptions of what it means to be Native American today. Margaritte hates the burnout, futureless kids surrounding her, and is determined to create a different future with her unreliable new boyfriend. Fighting against her surroundings, she dreams of moving far beyond the bright lights of Denver that float on the horizon before the daily suffocation of teen-pregnancy eats her alive.

Sandra Cisneros, author of the classic novel. The House on Mango Street, offers praise: “Erika T. Wurth writes about a young woman's longing with such heart and soul, it made me want to cry.”

James Tadd Adcox’s debut novel, Does Not Love, follows Robert and Viola’s marriage, which is crumbling after a series of miscarriages. Viola finds herself in an affair with the FBI agent who has recently appeared at her workplace, while her husband Robert becomes enmeshed in an elaborate conspiracy designed to look like a drug study. Adcox's work has appeared in TriQuarterly, the Literary Review, PANK, Barrel House, and Another Chicago.

From the rockin' Roxane Gay, a recommendation: “James Tadd Adcox is a curator of the curious and the intimate, the real and the surreal. More than anything, Adcox is a writer who knows how to make the reader believe the impossible, in his capable hands, is always possible, and the ordinary, in his elegant words, is truly extraordinary.”

In addition, I should note that Boswellian Todd Wellman has read and recommends both novels.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Boswell's Annotated Bestseller Lists for the Week Ending October 25, 2014, Plus Journal Sentinel Review Links

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Reunion, by Hannah Pittard
2. Gray Mountain, by John Grisham
3. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
4. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan
5. The Secret Place, by Tana French
6. Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult
7. In Liberty's Name, by Eva Rumpf
8. How to Build a Girl, by Caitlin Moran
9. The Betrayers, by David Bezmozgis (event 11/17 at Boswell)
10. Lila, by Marilynne Robinson

Those of you who haven't been paying attention to the John Grisham's legal thrillers might want to come back and take a second look at Gray Mountain. Patrick Anderson's review in The Washington Post says it best: "Grisham makes his characters all too real, but the heart of his story is his relentless case against Big Coal. We all know something about the plight of miners, but we are unlikely to have encountered the realities of their lives in the depth provided here. This is muckraking of a high order. If it’s possible for a major novelist to shame our increasingly shameless society, Gray Mountain might do it. This novel, following Sycamore Row, a searing look at racism in his native Mississippi, shows Grisham’s work — always superior entertainment — evolving into something more serious, more powerful, more worthy of his exceptional talent."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Your Hidden Riches, by Chris Attwood
2. The Cook's Illustrated Meat Book, by America's Test Kitchen
3. New Classic Interiors, by Alessandra Branca
4. Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book, by Diane Muldrow
5. Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande
6. Not That Kind of Girl, by Lena Dunham
7. Epilogue, by Will Boast
8. A Sense of Style, by Steven Pinker
9. The Meaning of Human Existence, by Edward O. Wilson
10. Plenty More, by Yotam Ottolenghi

The Meaning of Human Existence was recently shortlisted for the National Book Award. E.O. Wilson spoke to Robin Young at NPR's Here and Now. On our place in the universe, considering that Wilson thinks there are many alien species out there, he ponders that they'd be more interested in our arts than our sciences. Dwight Garner in The New York Times says that Wilson "out-Hitchens Hitchens" but does quibble that his writing does sometimes come off like a commencement speech of a lesser Bill Moyers special. Is that really an issue?

Paperback Fiction:
1. Let Him Go, by Larry Watson
2. The Museum of Extraordinary Things, by Alice Hoffman
3. Someone, by Alice McDermott
4. The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert
5. We are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler
6. Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes
7. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
8. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North
9. The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
10. This Dark Road to Mercy, by Wiley Cash

It's still sometimes tough for booksellers to get through the now-standard eight-month cycle that a novel now goes through from hardcover to paperback. Case in point is Alice Hoffman's The Museum of Extraordinary Things. There are lots of reasons for this change, including ebooks which compete more on price, and the theory that the quicker release keeps momentum going, though I posit that it's an attempt to have books earn out their advances more quickly, and there's something to be said for trying to take the time to reposition a book for greater sales, rather than have your paperback concept ready almost simultaneously with the hardcover.

Yes, our buyer Jason has actually found himself buying the hardcover and paperback for a novel at the same time. Can you imagine the rep pitch? "Well, as you know, our release for this book that you bought ten minutes ago didn't quite work the way we hoped, so for the paperback, we're really going to play off the thriller angle and play down the bad review quotes which we haven't even seen yet."

Fortunately Alice Hoffman's newest novel got some of the best reviews of her career. Rebecca Abrams called The Museum of Extraordinary Things "entrancing" in the Financial Times. Her take: "Hoffman has amply succeeded in conjuring the teeming press of of life in early 20th-century New York, laying before us, in all its splendour (they are British) and horror, the museum of extraordinary things that is humanity itself."

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Thank You for Your Service, by David Finkel
2. The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
3. The Heart of Everything that Is, by Bob Drury
4. The Good Soldiers, by David Finkel
5. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett
6. Fresh Off the Boat, by Eddie Huang
7. How Can it Be Gluten Free?, by America's Test Kitchen
8. Milwaukee Rock and Roll, by Larry Widen
9. Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014, edited by Deborah Blum
10. Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook, by America's Test Kitchen

Bob Drury's The Heart of Everything that Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend continues to sell off of Conrad's staff rec shelf, a book that hopes to raise Red Cloud's profile to that of Crazy Horse of Sitting Bull. He proclaims: "Anyone with an interest in American Indians and the Old West needs to read this remarkable book." For another take, here's The Wall Street Journal review from Christopher Corbett.

Have I been mentioning the muddy sepia-toned book trend much? Have you caught that the last five titles pictured, after the two blue-hued covers at the top, are all brownish (with Watson being more gray I guess) and old fashioned looking. Is that what's being put out, or more importantly, is that what is selling for us?

Books for Kids:
1. Skippyjon Jones Snow What, by Judy Schachner
2. Skippyjon Jones 123, by Judy Schachner
3. Skippyjon Jones In the Doghouse (paperback), by Judy Schachner
4. Skippyjon Jones The Great Bean Caper, by Judy Schachner
5. The Blood of Olympus, by Rick Riordan
6. Skink: No Surrender, by Carl Hiaasen
7. Sophie's Squash, by Pat Zietlow Miller
8. Skippyjon Jones In Mummy Trouble (cloth), by Judy Schachner
9. Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
10. Big Rig, by Jamie A. Swenson, illustrated by Ned Young
11. Wonder, by R.J. Palacio
12. Skippyjon Jones Color Crazy, by Judy Schachner
13. Get Busy with Skippyjon Jones, by Judy Schachner
14. Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief, by Wendelin Van Draanen
15. Skippyjon Jones (paper), by Judy Schachner

Yes, I know there's a lot of Skippyjon Jones here, but there are a few titles mixed in that do not feature a Siamese cat who thinks he'a a chihuahua. For example, there is Carl Hiaasen's Skink: No Surrender, his first novel for teens - his previous novels for kids were targeted to the 8-12 crowd. For those who don't read Hiaasen loyally, Skink is the "wild, one-eyed ex-governor" who was first introduced in the novel 25 years ago, and it was his 14-year-old son who suggested he'd make a great lead character for a novel. This time, Skink attempts to track down a young girl who skips out on boarding school "with some guy she met online." Carl Hiaasen talks about the new book on NPR's Here and Now.

In the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins endorses the new memoir frmo Neil Patrick Harris, Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography, with packaging and yes, structure reminiscent of that old kids' series. I was a bit skeptical, but Higgins notes that at the center is "a sweet story  of a young boy who discovered magic and acting and pursued both,a nd the tale of a young man whose embrace off his gay identity took some time." Who knew he had a dust-up with Dustin Diamond?

Also exclusive to the Journal Sentinel is Chris Foran's take on William Gibson's The Peripheral, the story of a young woman who is testing an online game, witnesses a murder, and "decides maybe it's not a game after all," a hunch which proves to be correct. His assessment: "More than in any of his past novels, the future in The Peripheral is a moving target - and, as he makes a good case, regular people can move it to a better destination." Note that the book goes on sale on Tuesday--the final list price is $28.95.

From the Kansas City Star comes a review from Leanna Bales of Afar Nafisi's newest, The Republic of the Imagination: America in Three Books. This case for reading fiction in school, arguing against folks who say "reading fiction has become a luxury that we can no longer afford." Nafisi's books she uses to make her case are are Huckleberry Finn, Babbitt, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by the way.

And finally from earlier in the week, John Hildebrand is profiled for his new book, The Heart of Things: A Midwestern Almanac. On why he used that format: "I like almanacs because they’re concerned with practical matters — weather, animals, growing things — all of which are represented here. But the main reason for organizing the book around a calendar year is to free the reader from having to start at the beginning and go to the end. You can begin with the July chapter if you want to remember what summer feels like or jump ahead to a December snowfall."