Thursday, March 12, 2015

On Finding Adult Books that Work in High Schools, Two Upcoming Paperback Author Sort-of Repeats, and Pondering Whether Target is Paying Attention to Our Event Programming--Nicklas Butler and Cristina Henríquez Back in Milwaukee for Their Paperbacks of "Shotgun Lovesongs" and "The Book of Unkown Americans", Respectively..

I'm not going to get on a high horse and tell you that 100% of my purchases are from local companies. The truth is that while we have moved a lot of our supply purchases over to Downer Hardware, and that by far the bulk of my grocery purchases come from Outpost, I do shop at Target on occasion. While they seem far from the East Side, there's one walking distance from my home in Bay View and another across the street from Pho Cali on 27th Street, where I buy a lot of V2 and V4 (two varieties of bun, or hot/cold Vietnamese noodle salad).  In addition to looking for limited editions of Method soap, I like to browse the book department and see what's going on.

What I've realized is that like Pennie at Costco, my taste overlaps a lot with whoever chooses the Target Book Club. For the second month in the row, their selection has been a book that we touted quite a bit in hardcover. It happened in February when I saw Shotgun Lovesongs on the front page of a Target circular. Wha? But this story, about four friends from high school who find themselves back at their hometown outside Eau Claire, is heartland friendly, wonderfully written, and still a good read.  As you know, Nickolas Butler is returning to Milwaukee in April for the Shorewood Reads program on April 16. In addition to his event at 6:30 pm at the Shorewood Public Library, he's appearing at Shorewood High School and well, I'm going to confess to Priscilla right here that I am not exactly sure of the rest of his schedule. What I do know is that he's doing a lot!

Yes, there was some disagreement about whether Shotgun Lovesongs was appropriate for high school readers, but I just want to note that the backstory of the characters takes place in high school. My best argument is seeing two teenagers reading the book for over an hour at Boswell (yes, these things happen). I asked them if they were in Shorewood High School and participating in the Shorewood Reads program. The answer was that one was; the other just liked the book!

As you may remember, we hosted Mr. Butler at Boswell on launch day and have the pickled eggs to prove it. I was convinced that if we'd had the event a few weeks later, we probably would have had a bigger turnout, though the twenty-something (that's number, not age range) crowd was nothing to sneeze at. We continued to sell the book through 2014 and had a great holiday pop in sales. And now of course we're recommending Shotgun Lovesongs in our book club brochure.

So I walk into Target (where I'm going to be up front and say that as a peanut gallery critic, they lost their way when they sold off the Marshall Field's/Dayton's/Hudson's stores, where their cousins in the department store land kept them appraised of upmarket design trends they could forward to the masses. Who says that activist investors know what they are talking about. They are really only concerned with short-term payouts. But I digress..) and see that Cristina Henríquez's The Book of Unknown Americans is their newest pick. We hosted Henríquez with Rebecca Makkai when their books were in hardcover, and had a wonderful event, where of course the best part was the two authors' interaction. I loved The Hundred Year House, and was thrilled that our sales substantially eclipsed Makkai's first novel at Boswell, but it was Henríquez where I saw unusually good paperback potential.

This was because at the center of the story were teenagers, and that means I could pitch the book to high schools in paperback. Now The Book of Unknown Americans is no YA (young adult novel); I have been told more than once that a novel does not fit in that genre if anything is from an adult perspective, and one of the main teens in the story doesn't tell her own story; as she's had a brain injury, the perspective is from her mother's. But the good news is that we have several high schools who like having the authors of "adult" novels come too and we quickly set up an event at Nicolet High School.

For our public event, Henriquez is the next event in the Women's Speaker Series at Lynden Sculpture Garden on Wednesday, April 8, put on by Margy Stratton's Milwaukee Reads and co-sponsored by our friends at Bronze Optical. Henriquez is so charming, and that event has a social (schmoozing) element to it, so charm is of the utmost.  I think the core attendees will really like the story, but Polly Morris at the Lynden is also outreaching to Latino groups, and we've got at least one Hispanic professionals' book club coming out for the event. Tickets are $22, or $18 if you're a member of the Lynden, and include a copy of the book, wine and refreshments, and since it's April, I can say that you also get admission to the grounds. Reserve your space now!

The Book of Unknown Americans takes place in Wilmington, Delaware, at one particular apartment building. Among the voices in the story are folks from Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Venezuela, and Paraguary, but at the center are two families, one from Panama, and the other from Mexico. The Toros escaped Panamanian politics some years ago, while the Riveras have just arrived, looking for a better school for their daughter Maribel. One of the things I love about the story is that Henríquez shows many different ways to be Latino, when the tendency is to lump very different people together, something that I guess befalls all kinds of ethnic and religious groups (and was a theme of Jason Reynolds' The Boy in the Black Suit too).

Henríquez writes with grace about all her characters, even finding a little understanding for the bully, Garrett, who drives some of the story. And if there's not much positive to be said about the company that owns the mushroom farm that Arturo Rivera works at, she also keeps the entity rather devoid of personalities. One figures that if she had written a boss into the story, she'd try to find some semblance of understanding and honor.

I do always say that it doesn't make sense to repeat an author in paperback at the store but I'm sure you can agree that these paperback events are suitably remixed and are likely to find much larger audience the second time around. How cool is that?

Hey, your April calendar is already filling up!
Wednesday, April 8, 7 pm, at the Lynden: Cristina Henríquez
Thursday, April 16, 7 pm: Nickolas more programming for the Shorewood Reads Shotgun Lovesongs here, including a Red Oak Writing Workshop and the Shotgun Lovesongs in concert at Three Lions Pub.

And if you're at a high school that would like to work with us on author visits, email Phoebe.

And if you're the Target Book Club selector, keep posted to this blog for more suggestions.

And if you're wondering whose got the photo credits, Nickolas Butler's is Olive Juice Studios, while Cristína Henriquez's is Michael Lionstar.

One additional thought: notice that Target doesn't seem to be obsessed as some retailers (Barnes and Noble comes to mind) concerning book jacket artwork. It's interesting to me (and one of my reps noticed this) that in both cases, the paperbacks kept their cloth cover treatments.

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