Sunday, November 27, 2016

The first week of the holiday season, as retold in the Boswell bestseller lists for week ending Nov 26, 2016

Here's what sold at Boswell this past week, including the two days of the holiday weekend, because for some reason, Sunday doesn't count.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
2. Swing Time, by Zadie Smith
3. A Lowcountry Christmas, by Mary Alice Monroe
4. Moonglow, by Michael Chabon
5. The Whistler, by John Grisham
6. Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett
7. The Mistletoe Murders, by P.D. James
8. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
9. The Excellent Lombards, by Jane Hamilton
10. Miss Jane, by Brad Watson

It feels rare for a literary novel to be released so late in November, but it doesn't seem to have hurt coverage of Moonglow, and perhaps it even helped, being after the election. Sam Sacks offered this praise in The Wall Street Journal: "Moonglow is not a memoir but a flamboyantly imaginative work of fiction dressed in the sheep’s clothing of autobiography. The year is 1989. Like Mr. Chabon, Mike is fresh off an acclaimed debut novel, and here he joins his memories of his grandfather’s last days with colorful retellings of the man’s stories."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Thank You for Being Late, by Thomas Friedman
2. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
3. Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance
4. Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen
5. My Own Words, by Ruth Bader Ginsburg
6. Women in Science, by Rachel Ignotofsky
7. Milwaukee: City of Neighborhoods, by John Gurda
8. Upstream, by Mary Oliver
9. Our Revolution, by Bernie Sanders
10. Speaking American, by Josh Katz

I've always said Milwaukee is a "soda" town surrounded by "pop" country and Josh Katz's linguistic maps prove it. Business Insider offers just a few of the many examples in this book about pronounciation changes, that are not always specifically north/south or east/west, in Speaking America: How Y'all, Youse, and You Guys Talk: A Visual Guide. But one thing that was odd was that "youse" wasn't on the "you guys" vs. "y'all" map.

Paperback Fiction:
1. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
2. The Sellout, by Paul Beatty
3. The Drifter, by Nick (formerly Nicholas) Petrie
4. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, by Fredrik Backman
5. The Vegetarian, by Han Kang
6. The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George
7. The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
8. The President's Hat, by Antoine Laurain
9. The Story of a New Name V2, by Elena Ferrante
10. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay V3, by Elena Ferrante

I continue to be impressed by how effective our awards case is and I commend Jason for updating it so regularly. The Korean writer Han Kang has been selling well for The Vegetarian, which was awarded the Man Booker International Prize. Horatia Harrod profiled the author and book in The Financial Times, and discusses the South Korean's efforts to have more of their work translated into English. Of the work, she writes: "It's the story of a young woman, Yeong-hye, who is plagued by violent, bloody dreams, and decides as a result to give up meat. As she retreats into silence, and eventually starvation, her husband, brother-in-law, and sister recount their horrified, uncomprehending, and occasionally savage responses to her act of radical abnegation."

 Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Milwaukee Frozen Custard, by Kathleen McCann and Robert Tanzilo
2. We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie
3. The Power of Kindness 10th Anniversary Edition, by Piero Ferrucci
4. WTF: What the French?, by Olivier Magny
5. Best American Infographics 2016, by Gareth Cook
6. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
7. Ocean of Insight, by Lyn Heather
8. Roughneck Grace, by Michael Perry
9. Cake Magic, by Caroline Wright
10. SPQR, by Mary Beard

A local connection probably helped pop Heather Lyn Mann's memoir about traveling the Atlantic in a small sloop, chronicled in Ocean of Insight: A Sailor's Voyage from Despair to Hope. She uses her voyage to ponder climate change,and comes at it from a Buddhist perspective. I wondered why the events were showing up in South Carolina, but figured out she decamped to Charleston. Sunflower Sangha called it " heart-pounding narrative and thoughtful inquiry of how to live in a suffering world."

Books for Kids:
1. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a screenplay by J.K. Rowling
2. March V3, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
3. I Dissent, by Debbie Levy, with illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley
4. A Is for Activist, by Innosanto Nagara
5. Gingerbread Christmas, by Jan Brett (event next Sunday, Dec 4, 10 am, at Centennial Hall)
6. Ada Twist, Scientist, by Andrea Beaty, with illustrations by David Roberts
7. Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White, by Melissa Sweet
8. Dog Man V1, by Dav Pilkey
9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone illustrated edtion, by J.K. Rowling with art from Jim Kay
10. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets illustrated edition, by J.K. Rowling with art from Jim Kay

It's not surprising to have 3 Harry Potter books in the top 10 with the screenplay at #1 and Cursed Child trailing at #11. He had a lot of folks trying to order the original Fantastic Beasts but it's currently not available. Since it was so small, it was a bit surprising to not find it included with the screenplay. Jason says there's a new edition, written by Newt Scamander himself, planned for next year. The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay is still selling best, but there's lot of other things out, including scrap books, art of the film giftbooks, and coloring books.

Over at the Journal Sentinel TapBooks page, it's time for 100 Books for Holiday Giving. Yes, there are 100 books altogether--here are the 10 editor's picks.
1. Albert Murray: Collected Essays & Memoirs, from Library of America
2. Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton
3. The Big Book of Science Fiction, Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
4. Death’s End, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
5. Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre, by Jeff Pearlman
6. Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing, by Jennifer Weiner
7. Octavia E. Butler, by Gerry Canavan
8. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
9. As Good As Gone, by Larry Watson

There are lots of other categories of highlighted titles - fine fiction, compelling nonfiction, mysteries and thrillers, Wisconsin connections, visually interesting, unconventional books, musical subjects, Beatles books, sports, pop culture, and children and teens.

One last note on categorization. Adult vs. kids designations can sometimes be arbitrary, often due to which editor signed up a book and how the sales forces sell it in. This week I moved the March graphic novel from adult to kids only because it won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature and was sold into us not specifically as a kids book. But Women in Science, which is also classified as a kids book, but was published by a designation of Penguin Random House (Ten Speed) which is not part of the kids division, is still classified with our adult books. And by the way, so is March, so you might one day see it here as paperback nonfiction. Go figure!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Happy Small Business Saturday: Five beautful kids books, selected by Amie

The holiday season is upon us. We had a very Black Friday. It's my guess that the flow is not unusual for independent bookstores and perhaps indie retail in general. We're not busy in the morning, because of all the door buster style deals elsewhere and not that busy in the evening, because there's no sense of urgency and the store vibe is more of a Saturday than a Friday. We're busier on Friday because people come after work, but less people work on Saturday. Does that make sense? So if you're paying attention, the busiest hours are 1 to 5 pm.

The vibe is different today, perhaps because of Small Business Saturday and perhaps because while the sales continue from Friday (and often Thursday), there aren't as many "look at me" deals. And Sunday? A surprising number of sales are Friday-Saturday only, and the industry assumes there's mostly goodbyes and travel. 

We don't have extra sales on the weekend, but we do have more titles on sale this time of year. Jason and Amie close to double the amount of titles on Boswell's Best, our 20% off program. And of course for these titles, you are still allowed to use your $5 Boswell Benefits coupons. Here are a few of our kids buyer Amie's picks for the season.

First up is Atlas of Animal Adventures: A Collection of Nature's Most Unmissable Events, Epic Migrations and Extraordinary Behaviors ($30.00), written by Rachel Williams and Emily Hawkins, and illustrated by Lucy Letherland, the folks who did the popular Atlas of Adventures.. Emily Hawkins has written Oceanology and other titles in the Ology series.These Wide Eyed titles are very cool. Publishers Weekly writess: "The text, including small sidebars and caption-style statements, emphasizes scientific details and trivia for readers to file away ("The narwhal can dive almost 6,000 feet deep to feed on halibut"), but Letherland isn't afraid to have fun in her artwork, showing a puffin fishing with a rod and reel, an orangutan wielding a magnifying glass, and a bowerbird tidying up the forest floor with a rake."

One thing that's amusing is that while the book jacket itself was Americanized (behaviour became behaviour), the bibliographic and marketing copy was not, the difference being most noticeable on our website, and by the way, we don't write the annotations for the hundreds of thousands of books you can search for. It's always a little odd when an author writes to us and asks us to correct the bibliographic information. I usually tell them they can write to the 350 or so stores that use our system or have their publisher contact the supplier that is feeding us the information, but only one option is really going to fix the problem.

Up next is Jungle ($25.95), the new Photicular book created by Dan Kainen, with this volume written by Kathy Woolard. The publisher notes: "Using unique Photicular technology, Jungle parts the mysterious veil of this sun-dappled land and reveals—in fluid 3-D motion—the living exuberance within. Watch a tarantula scuttle across the forest floor. A dancing whipsnake flick its tongue. A Bengal tiger on the prowl, and a brilliant green and red macaw soar above the canopy."

Kathy Woolard writes the "How Come?" column for Newsday. I'm not sure who did the photography (Kainen I guess, though details might be on the copyright page) and I'm particularly amused by the marketing materials, which included photos from the book, but not Photicular photos. These are fun and the technology doesn't seem to get old (I still play with each one as it is published). We've had huge successes (and not so huge successes) with these in the past. You know what they say - kids like animals.

The Story Orchestra: Four Seasons in One Day ($22.99), is a project of Jessica Courtney-Tickle. Of the project, the publishers write: "Discover what it would be like to travel through the four seasons in one day, following a little girl called Isabelle and her dog, Pickle, as they take on the adventure of a lifetime. As a sign of the changing seasons, Isabelle carries a little apple tree with her, and we see it bud, blossom and lose its leaves. Each spread features a musical note to press and a 10 second sound clip from the original score of Vivaldi's Four Seasons."

There's a lot to like in the book, from the package to the illustrations (I could cards from this illustrator doing very well - that always seems to be my perspective nowadays) to the introduction to classical music. A friend in college had The Four Seasons in regular rotation in college. Apparently it is just the thing to listen to while reading The Lord of the Rings series over and over.

ThinkTouchLearn ABC ($24.99) is the title from this list featured in our handout gift guide. It's created by Xavier Deneux, a Paris-based designer who has created over 100 books. We have had huge success with French packages in the past, most notably Before After, which I had a fun time championing. Every designer eventually has to do an ABC book when they are designing for early childhood, right?

Here's the publisher's explanation: "Raised die-cut pieces nestled in mirroring indented cut-outs engage readers on both visual and tactile levels." You really have to see this to get it, much like the Photicular books. So the vines make the J in jungle, for example and they are indented. There's an indented E in the elephant. Kids this age like to do a lot of touching and indentations and raised images are just the thing for them.

From France, we go to Poland, where Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts grads Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinski have created Under Water, Under Earth ($35.00), from the creators of Maps. Hundreds of fascinating await! As School Library Journal writes: "labels, cross sections, cutaways, and sequenced processes." The title in Polish is "Pod ziemina, pod wodna," but no, we don't have the Polish edition.

Under Water, Under Earth is two books in one. The first is everything you wanted to know about the deep sea and when you flip it over, it's everything you wanted to know about below ground.

I love the Maps book, and was pleased to see that the Mizielisnskis were nominated for the BolognaRagazzi Award. But what is that? It's given out at the Bologna Children's Book Fair and the first thing I learned is that there is not space between Bologna and Ragazzi, contrary to the publisher's and wholesaler's copy. It "acknowledges and celebrates publishing excellence in terms of graphic layout, format innovation and general ability to capture a young reader's attention." Under Water, Under Earth was not a 2016 winner, but I assume the book won in a previous year and took some time to come Stateside.

So here's what you need to know. All five books are discounted on Boswell's Best through December 31. All five are discounted on our website, so you can actually order the titles for pickup in store or delivery and you will get the discount if you pay by credit card. We do have a delivery charge, but if you bought all five, you would go above our threshold for us paying the freight for you (what we call in the business "free freight" but don't forget, somebody's paying for it.)

Secondly, I have selected these titles because in each case, online descriptions  and images (like mine) do not do justice to the books. You have to come in and see them to really appreciate them.

But most of all, remember that all these books are probably printed overseas and may have limiited distribution, meaning we will surely run out of stock of at least one of them, if not all, before Christmas. So for books like this, don't wait till the lat minute. I warned you.

Enjoy Small Business Saturday and the rest of your holiday shopping.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Custard fans rejoice! "Milwauke Frozen Custard" is now available.

I moved to Milwaukee many years ago to be a bookseller, but before I came here for keeps, I visited for a week. It turns out that I knew several folks with connections here, and just about everyone had one piece of advice for me in common - I had to try some custard.

Now like many people who had not been to Milwaukee, I didn't exactly know what they were talking about. We had frozen custard stands in New York. There was Carvel of course, home of Fudgie the Whale and Cookie Puss. And there was the independent stand that my dad and I visited regularly, when he filled up for gas. The store was Frozen Cup and it was a fixture of Bellerose Queens for decades.

But there was something different about the custard here. It was thicker and it scooped like ice cream, instead of funneling right into the cone or cup like Mister Softee. I thought, this is a completely different thing. But after reading Milwaukee Frozen Custard, the delightful new book from Kathleen McCann and Robert (Bobby) Tanzilo, I now know it wasn't as different as I thought.

Most of the iconic stands in Milwaukee use the continuous flow method, where the custard goes into a bin and is scooped out. And yes, East Coast stands, including Kohr Brothers*, which invented custard, use soft serve. But Bartolotta's uses soft serve method their North Point and Osgood restaurants.

And that does not determine custard. It's apparently the higher butter fat content and even more importantly the egg yolk solids. The minimum 1.4% but most local custards are closer to 5%. And that's the thing that makes the custard taste different though some would insist that Wisconsin companies use a higher percentage of butter fat than those New York ones.

What I didn't know is that the Carvel of my childhood is not the Carvel of today. After Tom died, the company was sold and they no longer serve what legally qualifies as custard. The Frozen Cup was torn down to build a motel.**

Milwaukee Frozen Custard does a great job trying to delve into why Wisconsin adopted this East Coast product and never let go. Interestingly enough, it's much like the Supper Club phenomenon, another East Cost food fad that wound up camping out here on its way west, surviving here after it pretty much died out everywhere else. And you have to read about the mix and the machines - fascinating!

Milwaukee Frozen Custard profiles not just the big three, but every stand that in the metro area, and some as far as Madison, Sheboygan, and Kenosha, even many that no longer exist, like Lixx, the stand that was on Downer Avenue for many years.*** If McCann and Tanzilo could find information about a stand, they documented it. This book is definitely going to make you want to organize a custard crawl. Just writing this up inspired me to have a scoop of tiramisu at Kopps on Friday.

Yes, I'm a flavor person, and I like the doodads that get mixed in. Perhaps you are a vanilla purist, or perhaps you go for that seemingly most popular of secondary flavors, butter pecan. My father liked a good fruit flavor, and when they visited me, I'd keep an eye out for things like raspberry. I don't think there was a cherry vanilla in rotation (which is odd, considering Door County cherries and all that) because if there was, I think my parents would have moved here.

Or maybe they would have opened a Culver's franchise, which is spreading all over the country. My sister just got one near her home in Phoenix. I should note that Shake Shack, a similar popular concept, is more inspired by the Ted Drewes custard stands in St. Louis than the Wisconsin stands. I visited one of the Drewes stands and if my memory serves, they don't do a flavor of the day. How purist!

Tanzilo and McCann (pictured here with Karl Kopp at our recent event) will surely be doing a number of events in conjunction with the book and we'd be remiss if we didn't tell you about ours, on Tuesday, November 22, 7 pm, at Boswell. Will there be slides? Yes. Will there be custard? Alas, not at this one, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's served at others.

*Originating in Brooklyn, just like one of the authors.

**Another thing the area around the custard stand had in common with Milwaukee was that it was city on one side, suburb on the other. Unlike 27th Street (which is a Greenfield/Milwaukee border), the street had different names, but I learned they renamed Jamaica Avenue to Jericho Turnpike above 225th St. More on the Forgotten New York site. The things you learn while you are preparing for book events!

***It replaced a Baskin-Robbins, by the way.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Boswell's Annotated Bestseller Lists, for the week ending November 19, featuring the National Book Awards sales pop and more.

Here's what sold at Boswell last week.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. News of the World, by Paulette Jiles
2. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
3. Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson
4. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
5. Death in Cold Water V3, by Patricia Skalka
6. The Whistler, by John Grisham
7. Precious and Grace V17, by Alexander McCall Smith
8. No Man's Land V4, by David Baldacci
9. Chaos V24, by Patricia Cornwell
10. Night School V21, by Lee Child

Apparantly November brings out the series buyer at Boswell, with fully half the top ten fiction titles featuring a recurring protagonist. But at the top are four stand-alones, with the top three all being shortlisted for the National Book Award. In the end, The Underground Railroad took home the prize but his top ranking at Boswell was eclipsed by News of the World due to some hand-selling and a gift order from one of our regulars.

From The New York Times, Janet Maslin writes of Jiles's latest: "News of the World is a narrow but exquisite book about the joys of freedom (experienced even by a raging river threatening to overrun its banks); the discovery of unexpected, proprietary love between two people who have never experienced anything like it; pure adventure in the wilds of an untamed Texas; and the reconciling of vastly different cultures (as when Kidd has to explain to Johanna, who is all set to collect a white man’s scalp, that this 'is considered very impolite' and simply isn’t done). That’s a lot to pack into a short (213 pages), vigorous volume, but Ms. Jiles is capable of saying a lot in few words."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
2. Torn in Two, by Michael Schumacher
3. Much Ado, by Michael Lenehan (event 12/5, 7 pm, at Boswell)
4. My Own Words, by Ruth Bader Ginsburg
5. Hero of the Empire, by Candice Millard
6. Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance
7. Our Revolution, by Bernie Sanders
8. Lithium Jesus, by Charles Monroe-Kane
9. Appetites, by Anthonny Bourdain
10. In the Company of Women, by Grace Bonney

In the wake of the election, I suspect that sales for Bernie Sanders's Our Revolution are higher than had Hillary Clinton won the Electoral College, but I guess we'll see this coming week when the Bookscan and New York Times numbers come out. The Chicago Tribune covered a Sanders appearance at North Central College: "Sanders was ostensibly at North Central College to plug his new book, Our Revolution, but he gave a postelection version of his populist anti-Wall Street stump speech that the audience of liberal arts students and other fellow travelers seemed desperate to hear. Less boisterously received, however, were some of Sanders' comments about Donald Trump, who he said "did something the Democrats do not do often enough and that is speak about the pain and despair" felt by people "all over this country who are working two and three jobs. ... They are struggling and nobody is paying attention to them."

Paperback Fiction:
1. Days of Awe, by Lauren Fox
2. The Sellout, by Paul Beatty
3. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, by Fredrik Backman
4. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
5. The Drifter V1, by Nick Petrie
6. All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews
7. Death Stalks Door County V1, by Patricia Skalka
8. The Improbability of Love, by Hannah Rothschild
9. Selected Stories, by Anton Chekhov
10. Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff

Our book club night with Lauren Fox for Days of Awe edged out Paul Beatty's sales surge for The Sellout post Man Booker win. Does this definitively determine that the Man Booker has more domestic oomph than does the National Book Critic Circle Awards? It certainly has proven so in this case. And the book with the most oomph at our book club night? It was Miriam Toews's All My Puny Sorrows. And while we're doing just fine with the book, there's said to be a store out west that is on its way to selling 1000 copies of this book. Now that's passion.

Nonfiction Paperback:
1. Swimming Studies, by Leanne Shapton
2. We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie
3. The Clothing of Books, by Jhumpa Lahiri (originally a speech that Lahiri gave in Italy)
4. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
5. Magna Carta, by Dan Jones
6. Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit
7. November's Fury, by Michael Schumacher
8. Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson
9. You Are a Badass, by Jen Sincero
10. A Year of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes

If I had the energy, I'd figure out why it took four years to do a paperback on Swimming Studies, by Leanne Shapton. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography (see above) and got very nice reviews, like this from Dwight Garner in The New York Times. Was it selling too steadily in its hardcover edition? Was it not selling enough? Was it selling just enough to slowly sell down the hardcovers and the demand was mostly academic so price point didn't matter? Our sales are classroom purchases (yes, college students still very occasionally come into a trade bookstore to buy their textbook, if the indie-bookstore-fan instructor pushes students in that direction) so that might be the case. But I don't have the energy.

Books for Kids:
1. Sophie's Squash Go to School, by Pat Zietlow Miller, with illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf
2. Because of Thursday, by Patricia Polacco
3. Sharing the Bread, by Pat Zietlow Miller, with illustrations by Jill McElmurry
4. Sophies Squash, by Pat Zietlow Miller, with illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf
5. Double Down V11, by Jeff Kinney
6. Magic School Bus and the Climate Change, by Joanna Cole
7. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a screenplay by J.K. Rowling
8. Starry River of the Sky, by Grace Lin
9. Dog Man V1, by Dav Pilkey
10. Year of the Dog, by Grace Lin

We shorthand all the Harry Potter books with author J.K. Rowling so they will be placed together, but like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I thought that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them would have other writers. But no, I checked Ingram's database and Amazon's IMDb and both only list Rowling. I know with films there can be multiple writers that do not get writing credits, but for my purposes, it's Rowling all the way. Chris Nashawaty gave Beasts a B- in Entertainment Weekly: "The film, directed by seasoned Potter pro David Yates, unspools like a kiddie version of the X-Men flicks. The xenophobic Muggle population (or No-Majs, as they’re called Stateside) live in rabid suspicion of the hidden world of hocus-pocus. And like those films, its phantasmagorical special effects are easy on the eyes. So why does Fantastic Beasts feel so oddly lifeless? Why doesn’t it cast more of a spell? First, there are the performances, which aside from Redmayne’s are surprisingly flat. And second, the thinness of the source material gives the whole film a slightly padded feeling." Well, it is based on a textbook.

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Mike Fischer reviews They Can't Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America's Racial Justice Movement. He writes: "What makes They Can’t Kill Us All more than a ripped-from-the-headlines chronicle is Lowery’s combination of solid reporting, emotional commitment to his story as a black man and a reflective turn of mind."

For another take, here's Joy-Ann Reid in The New York Times: "Lowery is unflinchingly honest about the journalistic temptation to seek false balance. He describes grasping at a story of positive policing that turns out to be less than what it seemed. He questions the media’s tendency to put the dead on trial, noting that 'a journalist’s portrait of the deceased is often used by the casual reader to decide if the tragic outcome that befell him or her could have happened to us,' or if it was 'reserved for someone innately criminal who behaved in a way we never would.'”

Carole E. Barrowman has three recommendations in her "Paging Through Mysteries" column.

Of Phoef Sutton's Heart Attack and Vine, which features a Los Angeles bodyguard and bouncer, Barrowman writes: "In my world any novel that alludes to a Tom Waits song with its title gets a closer look. When that reference also characterizes the sly tone, the slick characters, and the twisty plot, then I’m singing, too...every chapter was steeped in snark, wit and movie references. There’s magic in this book."

A Timely recommendation follows. From Barrowman: "Stefanie Pintoff’s City on Edge takes the thriller motif of the ticking clock and inflates it with helium, setting the search for a kidnapped teenager against the time it takes for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade to march through the streets of New York." This New York writer has previously won an Edgar Award for her first novel, In the Shadows of Gotham.

And finally, Charles Finch has a new book in The Inheritance, set in 19th century London and featuring Charles Lenox, the Victorian-era gentleman sleuth who investigates the death of his old friend's mum. Barrowman writers: "Significantly more measured in its pacing than my first two recommendations, this novel is no less entertaining and evocative, a sense of time and place heightened by Finch’s elegant prose and characters this Dorothy Sayers fan adores."

And finally, from the man who knows a thing or two about chipped ham and sandwiches with french fries on them (and salads too, Pittsburgh is quite the city), Jim Higgins, Journal Sentinel Assistant Entertainment/Features Editor, reviews Chuck Noll: His Life's Work, from Michael MacCambridge. As Higgins notes: "Is any great National Football League coach so little discussed, outside of western Pennsylvania, as Chuck Noll? His Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowls in six seasons in the 1970s, a stretch of dominance surpassed only by the Green Bay Packers' run of championships in the 1960s. Perhaps Noll's luster has dimmed because he appeared to have the demeanor of Bob Newhart without the shtick: a low-key, almost stoic professional who saw himself as a teacher. His teams weren't gimmicky; in fact, Noll had to be prodded into using the shotgun formation. His teams just won, baby."

Now that he mentions it, What are Mike McCarthy's hobbies? And why don't I have a good hobby? Reading really makes you think.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

What did the In-store Lit Group think of Ottessa Moshfegh's "Eileen?"

Eileen Dunlop, a young Massachusetts woman has a job at a prison. Her mother is dead, her father is an alcoholic, her coworkers are awful, and don't forget, she works at a prison. She dreams of bigger things, like moving to New York, but it's hard to imagine she can ever accomplish them. And then a new counselor starts working at the prison, and her charisma ropes her into a twisty scheme.

In some ways, Eileen will remind readers of other books we've read this year. I'd call it a cross between Rebecca Scherm's Unbecoming and Helen Oyeyemi's Boy Snow Bird. Moshfegh has already won accolades for her short fiction, which I think you'd categorize as experimental, and wrapped around a psychological suspense plotline, the results were apparently a big win. Eileen was shortlist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Man Booker Prize, and received the PEN Hemingway Award, which is given to debut fiction. The judges were Joshua Ferris (who has appeared at Boswell twice*), Jay Parini (who appeared at Schwartz once. When I was in college, I used to pass his office periodically, but I never met him), and Alexandra Marshall (whose work includes 1981's Tender Offer and 1985's Brass Bed).

As a result of these accolades (or perhaps accompanying them), Eileen has been selling very well in the indie market. I looked at two books we were selling pretty well this fall, and while we were #1 for sales on Above the Treeline for one, we're not even in the top 20 for Eileen. It's possible that while I consider us to have at least a slice of the sophisticated and somewhat edgy reading population, we still might be hampered by being in the Midwest. Said a sales rep to me (not the one who sold us Eileen), it's the kind of book that's published by a large press yet somehow retained its indie credibility, and benefits from having it both ways.

So here's the thing. Of our 15 attendees, I would say only four of us liked Eileen, and I was one of likers. About half of the remaining attendees felt mixed about the story, but there was a great deal of animus from the other half. Like the time we read Liam Callanan's All Saints, I wondered how different this conversation would have gone had we been reading the book with folks in their twenties and thirties. Or even forties!

Eileen is a fascinating character study. I didn't expect this to be the kind of book I'd call compelling reading, but I wound up reading it with almost no breaks, and I generally like a good break. I'm not sure I thought that the suspense angle was developed that well, something that Lily King also ponders in her essay in The New York Times Book Review. I only mention that because Moshfegh said in an interview that she was trying to write a plot-driven suspense novel, but this seemed to be introduced relatively late in the game, and in the end, might not have been necessary for me. But it absolutely was necessary to have film rights optioned by Scott Rudin, with the producer hiring the screenwriter (Erin Cressida Wilson) from The Girl on the Train adaptation to adapt it. Read more in The Hollywood Reporter.

One thing that was interesting was that two of the four folks who did really like the book worked in the social services field, and they found Eileen's character true and compelling, whereas folks who were removed from that world didn't find it as believeable. We wound up having that classic conversation about unlikeable narrators, which I guess should now becalled the official The Woman Upstairs argument, named after Claire Messud's novel. I think this would be a great selection for social workers or other service professionals to read, unless they were the kind of book club who preferred a story that intersected less with their daily lives.

One point of discussion was the reliability of Eileen's narrative. What could we believe and what should we discount? We also pondered the fate of one character - was that person left dead or alive at the end of the story? And while we know Eileen's fate (three husbands!), as she's telling the story looking back, we wondered what happened to the rest of them.

Suzanne mentioned Heavenly Creatures, the Australian film that was about two girls who murder the mother of one of them, and one of the participants turned out to be Anne Perry, the mystery writer. Another attendee was reminded of the Coen Brothers work. And my thoughts about Unbecoming and Boy, Snow, Bird were valid, at least one level. All three writers were influneced by Hitchcock, with Scherm using To Catch a Thief as a jumping off point, Boy, Snow, Bird referencing Vertigo, and Moshfegh inspired by the Hitchcock film version of Rebecca, as opposed to the Daphne Du Maurier novel. Read more about this in Harper's Bazaar.

And if you're keeping track on one side or the other of the cultural appropriation debate, Moshfegh is Croatian and Iranian, but her heroine is Irish. (Addendum: no, I'm wrong! The name is Scottish. My apologies.) Still I wonder if that's part of the reason the novel got such a negative review in the Irish Times, from Eileen Battersby. She calls it "A poor man's American Psycho," but not only do I not see this, I can't figure out why you would reference a 30-year-old novel (except of course that the London stage adaptation probably revived consciousness, something that the failed American production did not do). Addendum: so my argument fell apart but it's still culturally related. Discuss!

Next up, the In-store Lit Group is reading The Improbability of Love, by Hannah Rothschild, on Monday, December 5, and then we're reading Elizabeth McKenzie's The Portable Veblen on Monday, January 2, both at 7 pm. McKenzie will be at Boswell on Monday, January 23. Regarding the Rothschild, we're probably going to have to talk about that book jacket!

*It's a big and rare thing to me when an author has three novels and I've read all of them, and I'm proud to say I can say that about Joshua Ferris.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

How did that display happen? Lauren Fox recommendations

Jane and I have been taking our show on the road this fall, most recently at the Lynden Sculpture Garden for book club night. Our featured speaker was Lauren Fox, whose Days of Awe has been part of our book club brochure for its paperback release. But Fox wore two hats, as not only did she read and discuss her new book, she also offered recommendations. Her picks were so successful that we decided to do a featured table of them.

a. Kindred, by Octavia Butler. Fox's friend Janis (a former bookseller) recommended this story of a woman who goes back and forth in time from the present to the antebellum South. She thought that the book probably had an influnce on Colson Whitehead's newest, The Underground Railroad. Polly Morris from the Lynden noted that they use Butler's short fiction in some of their development work.

b. The Vacationers, by Emma Straub. Fox's favorite of Straub's three novels is about a dysfunctional family in Majorca. You don't have to sell us - we even had a display featuring The Vacationers beach accoutrement set. Straub's mom has a lot of connections to the Milwaukee's North Shore. We had a great event with the Straub the younger for Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures. Daniel's match of sorts was Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies, another story about a very complicated marriage.

c. The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer. Fox noted this is the kind of epic novel, the story of two Hungarian brothers in World War II, that you can really lose yourself in. I hope a lot of folks who read All the Light You Cannot See read this amazing novel afterwards. I also used to sell it to folks who loved Cutting for Stone. And here's another fun but useless coincidence - Orringer was the special guest at one of our previous book club nights. And many of us (including our buyer, Jason, are anxiously awaiting a novel novel from this talented author).

d. All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews. This autobiographical novel of a struggling writer dealing with her sister's depression was probably the best received book of the night. It was my favorite book of 2014 and boy does it resonate with a lot of people. I should also note that this is the novel that more people come back to me and thank me for the recommendation afterwards. It's so powerful and shockingly funny too. Hey, I even hand-sold one to a famous author and got a nice note afterwards. I paired this with one of Jane's picks, Our Souls at Night, from Kent Haruf.

e. The Stolen Child, by Keith Donohue. Fox's husband is Irish and this story of a baby who is stolen by Changelings is inspired by the work of Yeats, the classic Irish poet. I guess all I'm saying here is that it has cultural relevance. it also has Milwaukee relevance too as I still think of The Stolen Child as the book that the old Brookfield Schwartz Bookshop couldn't stop selling. I paired this with Chigozie Obioma's The Fishermen, because I think that novel reads much like a folktale.

f. Falling to Earth, by Kate Southwood. This is a novel about Marah, Illinois, which stood in the path of one of the worst tornadoes in recent history, if by recent you include 1925. But this family story shows that the natural disaster is only the beginning of their troubles. Southwood was actually a former featured author for the Women's Speaker Series at the Lynden. I slotted this book after a war novel, Louis DeBerniere's The Dust That Falls to Dreams, because these books are both tragic and close in time in their settings. I am also reminded of that old novel about the Johnstown Flood, In Sunlight, In a Beautiful Garden, by Katherine Cambor. Hey, it's still available!

g. Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro.  Fox described this book as the story of three people living in a boarding school who find out they are clones whose organs are harvested for other people. It's also a complicated love triangle. It's Ishiguro's most popular novel after The Remains of the Day. We had an interesting discussion about whether you're supposed to know up front about their strange fate, or should you be surprised. In some ways, the setup reminds me of the new version of Westworld. By saying I paired the book with Jessica Chiarella's And Again gives away the twist, but reading just about any review will do the same. So if you want to read Never Let Me Go, put away your phone and dig in.

And of course we'd be remiss if we didn't recommend Days of Awe, a powerful and very funny story about friendship, family, and loss.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Events! Lauren Fox, Daniel, and Jane at Lynden Sculpture Garden Book Club Night, Michael Schumacher on a Great Lakes shipwreck, Kathleen Ernst and Patricia Skalka offer Wisconsin Whodunits, Wisconsin Public Radio's Charles Monroe-Kane, Mary J. Dowell on leadership and success, Mary Alice Monroe with Jim Kryns, and Kathleen McCann and Robert Tanzilo on custard.

Monday, November 14, 7 pm, at the Lynden Sculpture Garden, 2145 W Brown Deer Road
Book Club Night with Jane Glaser, Daniel Goldin, and special guest Lauren Fox, author of Days of Awe. (A note regarding correction--I was so sure I'd make a Lauren mistake that I did a proof, but it was on the other post. I had just decided to move some books from our Conrad event into the signed copy case and well, the brain had a misfire).

Our presentations of new books at venues around town have proven to be very popular. We've already done four presentations around town, but we understand that you can't do the same books every time. So unlike our Woman's Club presentation last week of gift books (inluding lots of things for kids), this is book club central.

And we've got a special guest too. After our spring book club night in Elm Grove with J. Ryan Stradal, we were talking to one of the attendees, the author Lauren Fox, about joining us for an evening in the fall. Like us, she's an avid reader who is passionate in her picks. I won't reveal them now, but everyone who attends will get a checklist. We'll have books for sale there too. Tickets are $22, $18 for Lynden members, and include a copy of Days of Awe or while available, one of Fox's backlist titles.

Lauren Fox has three novels in all - Still Life with Husband, Friends Like Us, and Days of Awe, now in paperback. Recalling Ron Charles's review from The Washington Post: "Lauren Fox’s new novel, Days of Awe, starts with a funeral, but it’s a lot more nimble than that procession to the grave would suggest. Fox is a master of emotional misdirection, and what she presents here tastes like carbonated grief, an elixir of sorrow gassed up with her nervous humor."

This event is produced by Milwaukee Reads and cosponsored by the Lynden Sculpture Garden.

Tuesday, November 15, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Michael Schumacher, author of Torn in Two: The Sinking of the Daniel J. Morrell and One Man’s Survival on the Open Sea

This is life-and-death drama on the inland sea as only Michael Schumacher can tell it. In Torn in Two the great Lakes historian recreates the circumstances surrounding the terrible storm of November 29, 1966, that broke the mighty freighter in half, sending 25 of the Morrell’s twenty-nine-man crew to their deaths and consigning the surviving four to the freezing raft where all but Hale would perish. At the heart of Torn in Two are the terrible hours spent by Hale on the life raft with his crewmen, clinging to life for thirty-eight hours in freezing temperatures and wearing only a peacoat, life jacket, and boxer shorts. Schumacher’s vivid narrative captures every harrowing detail and curious fact of the Morrell’s demise, finally doing justice to this epic shipwreck 50 years ago.

 From Kim Ode in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune: "Prompted by the 50th anniversary of the sinking this Nov. 29, the book may be best read on a tropical beach, where passages of death-dealing frigidity can counteract the sun’s rays. Schumacher, who has written about other storms, tells the story of Dennis Hale, the sole survivor of the wreck. Drama enough. But perhaps even more harrowing are the accounts of how ships are built, how they behave in waves and how questions had been raised as to safety."

Kenosha native, Michael Schumacher has published three previous books about the Great Lakes: Mighty Fitz, about the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald; The Wreck of the Carl D., about the loss of the Carl D. Bradley; and November’s Fury, an account of the Storm of 1913, the deadliest in Great Lakes history. Here's Schumacher talking about November's Fury on WUWM's Lake Effect.

Wednesday, November 16, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Patricia Skalka, author of Death in Cold Water, and Kathleen Ernst. author of A Memory of Muskets

We've hosted both Skalka and Ernst before, but not together. Being that they are two of the big Ws in Wisconsin Whodunits, we thought it would be great to host them together. This event is cosponsored by Crimespree Magazine.

 Death in Cold Water. On a bracing autumn day in Door County, a prominent philanthropist disappears. Is Gerald Sneider, known as Mr. Packer for his legendary support of Green Bay football, suffering from dementia, or just avoiding his greedy son? Is there a connection to threats against the National Football League? When human bones wash up on the Lake Michigan shore, the sheriff has more than a missing man to worry about, Cubiak must follow his instincts down a trail of half-remembered rumors and local history to discover the shocking truth.
Here's a little taste of

 And here is a quick peek at A Memory of Muskets. Curator Chloe Ellefson is happily planning Old World Wisconsin’s first Civil War reenactment, but her overbearing boss scorns her ideas and proposes staging a mock battle instead. And when a reenactor is found dead at one of the historic site’s German farms, Chloe’s boyfriend, cop Roelke McKenna, suspects murder. And yes, there is a little Germanfest action in the story.

Patricia Skalka is the author of Death Stalks Door County and Death at Gills Rock, the first two volumes in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery series. A former writer for Reader’s Digest, she presents writing workshops throughout the United States and divides her time between Chicago and Door County, Wisconsin.

Middleton-based Kathleen Ernst is an award-winning and bestselling author, educator, and social historian. She has published over thirty novels and two nonfiction books. Her books for young readers include the Caroline Abbott series for American Girl. Kathleen worked as an Interpreter and Curator of Interpretation and Collections at Old World Wisconsin, and her time at the historic site served as inspiration for the Chloe Ellefson mysteries.

Thursday, November 17, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Charles Monroe-Kane, author of Lithium Jesus: a Memoir

Charles Monroe-Kane is a natural raconteur, and boy, does he have stories to tell. Born into an eccentric Ohio clan of modern hunter-gatherers, he grew up hearing voices in his head. Over a dizzying two decades, he was many things: teenage faith healer, world traveler, smuggler, liberation theologian, ladder-maker, squatter, halibut hanger, grifter, environmental warrior, and circus manager, all the while wrestling with schizophrenia and self-medication.

From Bill Lueders in Isthmus: Raised in a nomadic family that prized eccentricity, Monroe-Kane plunged headlong into religion when he was a teenager. He traveled to far-away places in need of salvation, such as Haiti and the Philippines. Later, as a young adult, his wanderlust continued, and he spent several years in Prague. Often accompanying him on these journeys were the voices in his head - faint, fleeting, frightening. (Originally considered schizophrenic, Monroe-Kane was ultimately diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder.) His portrait of mental illness is alternately heartbreaking and exhilarating.

Charles Monroe-Kane has won a Peabody Award for his work as a senior producer and interviewer for the program To the Best of Our Knowledge, broadcast on 220 public radio stations. He has reported for National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

Friday, November 18, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Mary J. Dowell, author of Playing Through the Fence: Stories from 19 Women Who Challenged Stereotypes, Prejudice and Other Barriers to Achieve Career Success

Mary Dowell is the principal of MJDowell and Associates, a management-consulting group with emphasis in Human Resources, Coaching, Workshops, Philanthropy, and Public Speaking. A former executive at Johnson Controls and Master Lock Company, she been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Milwaukee Times Black Excellence Award and the Milwaukee Business Journal’s Women of Influence Award.

Her new book, Playing Through the Fence, is part memoir and part self-help, a manual emerging leaders or anyone seeking inspiration while facing obstacles on their career journey. Nineteen women, including the author, share powerful reflections of fortitude and accomplishments in their lives and careers, sometimes against what seemed like impossible odds, as they challenged barriers on their paths to success.

A metaphor for these barriers, The Fence represents the crossroads where struggle meets opportunity. The stories shared by these women are snapshots in time when they chose the path of opportunity. We are reminded that we are not alone, and that success, though sometimes appearing elusive, is always within reach.

Monday, November 21, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Mary Alice Monroe, author of A Lowcountry Christmas, with opening reader Jim Kryns, author of Marry Her Anyway.

As far as ten-year-old Miller McClellan is concerned, it’s the worst Christmas ever. His father’s shrimp boat is docked, his mother is working two jobs, and with finances strained, Miller is told they can’t afford the dog he desperately wants. “Your brother’s return from war is our family’s gift,” his parents tell him. But when Taylor returns with PTSD, family strains darken the holidays.

Then Taylor’s service dog arrives, a large black Labrador/Great Dane named Thor. When Miller goes out on Christmas Eve with his father’s axe, determined to get his family the tree they can't afford, he takes the dog for company, and accidentally winds up lost in the wild forest. The splintered family must come together to rediscover their strengths, family bond, and the true meaning of Christmas.

Mary Alice Monroe is the bestselling author of many novels, including The Summer Girls, The Summer Wind, and The Four Seasons. Her books have received numerous awards, including the 2008 South Carolina Center for the Book Award for Writing, the 2014 South Carolina Award for Literary Excellence, the 2015 SW Florida Author of Distinction Award, the RT Lifetime Achievement Award, and the International Book Award for Green Fiction.

This event is a family affair, with brother Jim Kryns opening for Monroe. And Monroe has local ties too - for a time, she lived in Wauwatosa.

Tuesday, November 22, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Kathleen McCann and Robert Tanzilo, authors of Milwuakee Frozen Custard

Frozen custard is more than a dessert in Milwaukee. It’s a culture, a lifestyle, and a passion. From the stand that inspired television’s Happy Days to the big three Gilles, Leon’s and Kopp’s, take a tour through the history of this guilty pleasure. Learn about its humble origins as an unexpected rival to ice cream and its phenomenal success as a concession at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933 that made the snack famous. Find the stories behind your favorite flavor at local festivals and homegrown neighborhood stands. Milwaukee authors and editors Kathleen McCann and Robert Tanzilo launch a celebration of custard lore, featuring a stand guide and much more. Dig into what makes Milwaukee the Frozen Custard Capital of the World.

Kathleen McCann is a Milwaukee-based writer and editor. She’s currently editor of a health care system magazine, and previously worked in media and public relations. Robert Tanzilo has written three books for The History Press – The Milwaukee Police Station Bomb of 1917, Historic Milwaukee Public Schoolhouses and Hidden History of Milwaukee. He is managing editor of OnMilwaukee, a daily online city magazine, where he writes about history, food, and architecture. While the authors once favored Dairy Queen and Carvel (look it up if you are not Fudgie the Whale proficient), they now prefer Wisconsin custard of course.