Sunday, December 31, 2017

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending December 30, 2017 plus the Journal Sentinel TapBooks page

Here are Boswell's bestsellers for the week ending December 30, 2017.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
2. Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward
3. Devotions, by Mary Oliver
4. Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
5. Future Home of the Living God, by Louise Erdrich
6. Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
7. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, by Arundhati Roy (look for a big announcement)
8. Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan
9. Uncommon Type, by Tom Hanks
10. The Power, by Naomi Alderman

Our sales of A Gentleman in Moscow in December 2017 were triple that of December 2016. It's interesting to me that the #1 indie bestseller, Artemis, did not even make our top ten this week. Looking closely at the data, it looks like you would call this a runaway regional bestseller, with much stronger sales on the west coast. I wonder if this is a tech thing?

While we've sold a lot of copies of A Visit from the Goon Squad over the life of the book, it was interesting to not that the book was not a major bestseller for us in hardcover. Less than 4% of our sales were in hardcover. Compare that to Manhattan Beach, where we (and most other booksellers) have seen major success. My guess, however, is that five years out, we will not equal our hardcover sales with the paperback release, even if we do a book club push. I guess we can take that as a self-imposed dare and see what happens.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Janesville, by Amy Goldstein
2. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, by Dan Egan
3. Grant, by Ron Chernow
4. Leonardo Da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson
5. Milwaukee: City of Neighborhoods, by John Gurda
6. Going into Town, by Roz Chast
7. The Secret Lives of Color, by Kassia St Clair
8. We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
9. The Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein (appearing at major fundraiser his spring)
10. Vacationland, by John Hodgman

Our last-minute shipment of Janesville from the publisher (with us covering expedited shipping) paid off, with our additional order selling out by December 28. The paperback arrives on January 2. Similarly our creative scrounging of copies for The Death and Life of the Great Lakes really helped pop last-minute sales.

While Going into Town did not reach the sales levels with us of Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, we've had very strong numbers on this celebration of New York City, and it's interesting to note that both books made Jim Higgins's top ten for the year in the Journal Sentinel.

Paperback Fiction:
1. Bitters in the Honey, by Marjorie Robertson
2. Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
3. The Drifter, by Nick Petrie (trade and mass editions combined)
4. History of Wolves, by Emily Fridlund
5. The Sun and Her Flowers, by Rupi Kaur
6. The Anatomy of Dreams, by Chloe Benjamin (event for new book 1/18)
7. The Excellent Lombards, by Jane Hamilton (with Gregory Blake Smith on 2/8)
8. Cold Clay, by Juneau Black
9. Shady Hollow, by Juneau Black
10. Call Me by Your Name, by André Aciman (both covers, event 2/19)

Nice to see that folks are taking our advice to pick up Chloe Benjamin's first book, The Anatomy of Dreams, in anticipation of The Immortalists. The new novel lands January 9 and our event is January 18.

We've started stocking the Nick Petrie mass markets The Drifter and Burning Bright, to see if they help get new readers for the series.and between that and two covers for André Aciman's Call Me By Your Name and both Juneau Black titles selling, it's got us seeing double.

While we're following our general rule of stocking both the original and tie-in edition for the book, and we're using the tie-in cover to promote our event on Feb 19 (in conversation with Suzanne Jurva of Milwaukee Filmmaker Alliance), the original cover is selling better. Thank goodness the days of the tie-in jacket replacing the original cover are behind us. Manohla Dargis in The New York Times, on the film: "You don’t just watch Luca Guadagnino’s movies, you swoon into them."

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
2. Milwaukee Haiku, by Barbara Ali
3. The Magnificent Machines of Milwaukee, by Thomas H. Fehring
4. How to Fight, by Thich Nhat Hanh
5. The Undoing Project, by Michael Lewis
6. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, by Samantha Irby (event 5/10)
7. The Glass Universe, by Dava Sobel
8. The Future of New Writing, by John Freeman
9. The Lost City of the Monkey God, by Douglas Preston
10. Women and Power, by Mary Beard

Though we normally don't start promoting May events in the previous December, I brought in some of Samantha Irby's current book, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, and someone put the books on the event gondola and well, we sold them. Over the next few weeks, we get back some of the space that is dedicated to gift books for upcoming events. Irby comes to Boswell for the reissue of Meaty, her book of essays from Curbside Splendor.

I don't know what popped Lost City of the Monkey God, but we had our best week since release. Andrew Liptak writes in The Verge: "When Preston accompanied a team of archaeologists to explore the city on foot, they found an undisturbed set of ruins overrun by the forest, likely untouched since it was abandoned. The cities belonged to a previously unknown civilization, and the reasons for its collapse aren’t known, although Preston speculates that the apocalyptic pandemics could have played a role."

Books for Kids:
1. Dog Man and Cat Kid, by Dav Pilkey
2. Here We Are, by Oliver Jeffers
3. The Book of Dust, by Philip Pullman
4. Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green
5. Red and Lulu, by Matt Tavares
6. The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats
7. The Explorer, by Katherine Rundell
8. Pierre the Maze Detective: The Mystery of Empire Maze Towers, by Hiro Kamigaki
9. Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Septys
10. A Is for Activist, by Innosanto Nagara

Looking at the ABA indie bookstore bestseller lists, lots of books had a holiday theme, but most were classics, with How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Polar Express, Little Blue Truck's Christmas, and our perennial favorite The Snowy Day (which of course isn't holiday specific), sitting in the top ten. There are so many that come out each season, but it looks like Matt Tavares's Red and Lulu is the clear favorite. I asked Amie about this and she said that our other new seasonal title that had strong sales was A World of Cookies for Santa, by M.E. Furman, with illustrations by Susan Gal.

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins review Cold Clay, the second novel from Juneau Black, which as you know, is the writing team of former bookseller Jocelyn Koehler and current bookseller Sharon K. Nagel. He writes: "Like Shady Hollow, Cold Clay could be read by teens as well as adults. Even the squeamish can play: no gore, no violence and no sex, just a chaste (if rocky) romance. The ideal readers of Cold Clay will be people who read a lot; they'll enjoy the book's sly humor, allusions to other writers and winks at mystery conventions.

"Vera Vixen, the determined reporter heroine of the first novel, returns for more sleuthing here. While all reporters are foxes, she also happens to be one genetically. Her friend and sounding board is Lenore Lee, a raven who owns the Nevermore bookstore, apparently the tallest building in town. (Turn your mental Poe-detector on for her scenes.)"

Originally printed in the Chicago Tribune, Darcel Rockett profiles Henry Louis Gates, whose two literary projects this fall were The Annotated African American Folktales and 100 Amazing Facts about the Negro.

And Sean Keane reviews Canto Bight: Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, by Saladin Ahmed, Mira Grant, Rae Carson, and John Jason Miller. This review was first featured in the New York Daily News.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Event alert! Former bookseller Marjorie Robertson at Boswell on Friday at 2 with her novel "Bitters in the Honey," plus Journal Sentinel book picks from today and last Sunday

Just one event this week!

Friday, December 29, 2:00 pm, at Boswell:
Marjorie Robertson, author of Bitters in the Honey

Remember the days of the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops downtown? In the mid-eighties, there was a store in the Grand Avenue, and in 1985, the store on Fifth and Wisconsin moved to the Iron Block building at the corner of Water and Wisconsin. If that seems weird, there were also two Woolworths, two Limiteds, and two Radio Shacks.* This was the downtown when Marjorie Robertson worked at Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops over two runs, one at each location.

Robertson left Milwaukee to travel and travel she did, but now she's back to read from and discuss her new novel, Bitters in the Honey. The novel, a semifinalist in the 2014 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Writing Competition, is a multi-voice, coming-of-age story about loss, guilt, the beauty of nature, and the ambiguity of good and evil. It is set in the Midwest in the 1970s, and per the author, “It speaks to a different time in our region, a kind of hat tip and reminder of customs and lifestyle.”

For Lana Sutor, anchorless since the death of her father in Vietnam, her new life on her grandparents’ farm is idyllic. While her mother and grandmother strive to maintain a sense of normalcy, Lana and her brother and sister are left to make their own adventures as they cope with grief. It turns out her alcoholic grandfather is no replacement for her father, but a new farmhand, despite his unfamiliar face and ragged looks, might fill the bill. He earns the trust of Lana’s family, leading to a surprising turn of events.

Robertson grew up on Milwaukee's East Side, attending Hartford Elementary School and Riverside High School. She graduated from the University in Chicago, has an MA from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and an MFA in creative writing from George Mason University. She teaches at UC Irvine and is working on a novel based on her short story, “The Gleaners,” which was published by the Santa Fe Writers Project.

Catching up at the Journal Sentinel, I missed a local review from Jim Higgins on The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History. He writes: "As a historian, Bailey is determined to keep lifting that blanket of silence and uncover the humanity of people it obscures." If you're interested in Bailey's work, she'll be at a conference at Alverno College in March.

Also included is a gift book roundup by Christopher Borrelli. It originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune and was titled "17 books for the non-reader." So these books are not for you!

Today in the Journal Sentinel is a feature on the book Mexicans in Wisconsin. Bill Glauber writes: "The story (Sergio) González tells in his book Mexicans in Wisconsin, from Wisconsin Historical Society Press, is one of perseverance and struggle, family and faith, stretched across more than 130 years. In many ways, it's a history that is both personal and universal."

*Don't get me started. I started thinking about all the clothing stores that catered to business folk and detoured on a history of Brill Brothers. To think that they were big enough to have a separate warehouse in the Clarke Square neighborhood. And how were the Brills of Brill Brothers and Harleys related? I couldn't glean anything from the obituaries I found. Calling John Gurda!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Boswell bestsellers for week ending December 23, 2017: publisher and imprint winners, every-other-year picture book hits, regional roundup, Journal Sentinel book review.

As I say to folks shopping in the store who comment on how busy we are in the week before Christmas, "If we're not busy now, we're in big trouble." We're open today until 5 pm, and closed on Christmas day.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Enchantress of Numbers, by Jennifer Chiaverini
2. Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward
3. Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
4. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
5. Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan
6. Devotions, by Mary Oliver
7. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
8. Origin, by Dan Brown
9. Hum If You Don't Know the Worlds, by Bianca Marais
10. Bluebird, Bluebird, by Attica Locke
11. The Power, by Naomi Laderman
12. Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman
13. Future Home of the Living God, by Louise Erdrich
14. Artemis, by Andy Weir
15. Uncommon Type, by Tom Hanks

It strikes me that, excluding our handselling, that certain publishers (and imprints at larger publishers) are having a particularly good year. One division that snagged two winners is Scribner, which is riding high with Sing, Unburied, Sing, and Manhattan Beach. The former needed to be so good that it would win awards and hit multiple best-of lists to really reach its potential (and it did) and the latter would have to hit ride some amazing reviews but overcome others that were mixed, and hold an author's audience when said author tries to mix it up with every novel. Congrats!

Another publishing division (imprint? whatever it is) that seems to be having a particularly strong holiday is Penguin Press, what with the runaway success of Grant (#1 on hardcover) and Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere (#18 for us but solidly in the top ten on the Times and likely #1 for many independents around the country). In addition, Mary Oliver continues to do very strongly in the indie market with Devotions. She's been in our top ten most weeks during the holiday season and this week is at #6.

On the more commercial side, you can see on The New York Times that Doubleday holds down #1 and 2 on the combined print and ebook list with Origin and John Grisham's The Rooster Bar (#17 for us). Combine that with holiday surge for Killers of the Flower Moon on the nonfiction list

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Grant, by Ron Chernow
2. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, by Dan Egan
3. Leonardo Da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson
4. The Capital Times, by John Nichols and Dave Zweifel
5. Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann
6. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil DeGrasse Tyson
7. We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
8. Obama, by Pete Souza (Hey, we lasted longer than some!)
9. The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben
10. Prairie Fires, by Caroline Fraser (We were finally in stock and now we're out again!)
11. Promise Me, Dad, by Joe Biden
12. The Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein
13. The Secret Lives of Color, by Kassia St. Clair
14. Border Country, by Martha Greene Phillips
15. Bobby Kennedy, by Chris Matthews
16. Going into Town, by Roz Chast
17. Everybody Lies, by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
18. Janesville, by Amy Goldstein
19. The Driftless Reader, by Curt Meine and Keeley Keefe
20. Devotion, by Patti Smith

Speaking of publishers having a good holiday, it strikes me that things are going particularly well for W.W. Norton. While we might call The Death and Life of the Great Lakes regional, the fact that the book was out of stock with both publisher and distributors indicates that the region is pretty large. Neil DeGrasse Tyson's Astrophysics for People in a Hurry has been a bestseller all year and sales increased substantially in December. Norse Mythology, Norton's first #1 bestseller on The New York Times, had a nice resurgence at the holidays, partly with the help of a bookseller's top five pick. And imprint Liveright has a hit of its own with Richard Rothstein's The Color of War. Rothstein will be back in the spring for a fundraiser for Community Advocates.

Paperback Fiction:
1. Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
2. History of Wolves, by Emily Fridlund
3. Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
4. Cold Clay, by Juneau Black
5. The Sun and Her Flowers, by Rupi Kaur
6. The Other Einstein, by Marie Benedict
7. Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay
8. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
9. The Hamilton Affair, by Elizabeth Cobbs
10. The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn
11. Autumn, by Ali Smith
12. The Mistletoe Murder, by P.D. James
13. Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly
14. The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katharine Arden
15. The Drifter, by Nick Petrie (and there's a mass market further down the list)

So to put this in perspective, Pachinko has our best week of sales for a paperback fiction title that was not connected to an event since at least 2009. I'm almost positive that in fact that it's since we were open, but we don't have data for weekly sales for December 2009 because I had a computer crash that was not backed up, and we replaced our inventory hard drive since then so while we have total numbers, I can't reconstruct weekly sales. But the only book that comes close is Téa Obrecht's The Tiger's Wife and if you look closely, The Tiger's Wife and Pachinko have something in common. Both had an early paperback release and were also named one of The New York Times best books of the year.

I do have the Harry W. Schwartz numbers for 2008 and the runaway bestseller was The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery. The two books selling below that, still in large numbers, were Sarah's Key (Tatiana DeRosnay) and The Shack (William P. Young).

OK there are a few books, like All the Light We Cannot See, Pachinko, and to a lesser extent History of Wolves (which like, Pachinko, had an author visit drive sales), is dominated by books that did not have strong hardcover sales. Many of the books are either paperback originals or books that were sleepers in hardcover. I think this is partly because by Christmas, many of these books are old hat by the holidays, having gotten their paperback release last spring. In addition, I think many hardcover fiction books have sales patterns more similar to nonfiction, where we capture most of the available sale in hardcover, being the price points are closer than they used to be, and the traditional paperback price-oriented reader might divert to ebook or audio download.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
2. On Tyranny, by Timothy Snyder
3. Brick Through the Window, by Steven Nodine, Eric Beaumont, Clancy Carroll, and David Luhrssen
4. Lewd Looks, by Elena Gorfinkel
5. Women and Power, by Mary Beard
6. How to Fight, by Thich Nhat Hanh
7. Magnificent Machines of Milwaukee, by Thomas H. Fehring
8. The Undoing Project, by Michael Lewis
9. Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren
10. Life is a Joke, by Gordon and John Javna
11. Live and Let Live, by Evelyn M. Perry
12. Furiously Happy, by Jenny Lawson
13. Gunslinger, by Jeff Pearlman
14. Teeny Tiny Turntable, from Running Press
15. Cream City Chronicles, by John Gurda

I periodically say that paperback nonfiction is driven by regional titles and this season is no exception, and some might say that Eviction falls into this category, because I'm not sure how many other markets there are where Eviction is, week after week, their #1 bestseller. Add to that Brick Through the Window, Magnificent Machines of Milwaukee, Live and Let Live, Gunslinger (a Brett Favre bio), and Cream City Chronicles, and you've got a list that is 40% Wisconsiny, compared to 20% of the hardcover top 15, two Wisconsin writers in the paperback fiction list, and only one Wisconsin writer in the hardcover fiction.

Expect even more of these Tom-Paine-y-like books next year as we Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny takes the slot that Chimananda Ngozie-Adichi's We Should All Be Feminists held in 2016.

Books for Kids:
1. Here We Are, by Oliver Jeffers
2. Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green
3. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls V1, by Elena Favilli/Francesca Cavallo
4. The Explorer, by Katherine Rundell
5. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
6. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls V2, by Elena Favilli/Francesca Cavallo
7. The Snowy Day board book, by Ezra Jack Keats
8. The Book of Dust, by Philip Pullman
9. Wonder (both jackets), by R.J. Palacio
10. Pierre the Maze Detective: The Mystery of the Empire Maze Towers, by Hiro Kamigaki
11. The Wolf, The Duck, and the Mouse, by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Jon Klassen
12. Far From the Tree, by Robin Benway
13. After the Fall, by Dan Santat
14. 50 Cities of the USA, by Gabrielle Balkan with illustrations with Sol Linero
15. Undefeated, by Steve Sheinkin
16. The Vanderbeekers of 141st St, by Karina Yan Glaser
17. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Getaway, by Jeff Kinney
18. Strega Nona board book, by Tomie dePaola
19. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle
20. She Persisted, by Chelsea Clinton with illustrations by Alexandra Boiger

While the number of picture books on our bestseller list is a little thin (five of the top 20 would be included, and that's including two board books), our #1 book, Here We Are, by Oliver Jeffers, is outselling the equivalent books last year. This is a weird thing to notice, but that unlike our adult categories, we seem to have a runaway picture book hit every other year: 2011's Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, 2013's The Day the Crayons Quit, and 2015's The Day the Crayons Came Home outsold their competitors by a large margin, but in the even years, there were a whole bunch of picture books in the back. The exception was 2014's Before After, but that was different because we were driving the sales of that book, rather than riding a popular wave. And with that analysis, I think we can say that Oliver Jeffers is very popular at Boswell.

If you add the three formats up together, sales are up in 2017 for The Snowy Day at Boswell. Could it be the influence of the postage stamp?

Just one review in today's Journal Sentinel, for Neil Patrick Harris's The Magical Misfits. Nicole Brodeur. Big news! Neil cooked with Ina Garten. The book was inspired by Harris's (I like the s after the apostrophe for proper names) "lifelong love of magic, circuses, sideshows, and carnivals." Originally published in the Seattle Times.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Events this week: Jennifer Chiaverini at Lynden Sculpture Garden (almost sold out), Elena Gorfinkel on a lost chapter in indie cinema, John Nichols at MPL's East Branch on the Capital Times

Monday, December 18, 7:00 pm reception, 7:30 talk, at Lynden Sculpture Garden, 2145 W Brown Deer Rd in River Hills:
A ticketed evening with Jennifer Chiaverini, author of Enchantress of Numbers: A Novel of Ada Lovelace.

Tickets for this event, produced by Milwaukee Reads, are $30/$25 for members, and include admission to the sculpture garden, refreshments from MKE Localicious, and a copy of Enchantress of Numbers. Tickets are almost sold out for this event. Please call (414) 446-8794 for availability.

Read this interview with Nancy Gilson in the Columbus Dispatch. Here's an excerpt: "I love writing novels about women in history who have done extraordinary things, especially given that they had to battle against different expectations for women in the era they were born in. When I hear about intriguing women whose achievements haven’t been heralded or have been largely forgotten in our era, I really like to tell their stories — especially if they are as interesting and intriguing as Ada was."

Tuesday, December 19, 7:00 pm, at Boswell:
Elena Gorfinkel, author of Lewd Looks: American Sexploitation Cinema in the 1960s.

Formerly at UWM, Elena Gorfinkel is now a senior lecturer in Film Studies at King's College London. This event is cosponsored by the UWM Film Studies Program.

Gorfinkel's new book, Lewd Looks, recovers a lost chapter on in the history of independent cinema and American culture. Gorfinkel's work on 1960s sexploitation films will engross readers interested in media, sexuality, gender, and the 1960s. Gorfinkel investigates the films and their contexts with scholarly depth and vivid storytelling, producing a new account of the obscene image, screen sex, and adult film and media.

Wednesday, December 20, 6:00 pm, at East Branch, Milwaukee Public Library, 2320 N. Cramer St: John Nichols, author of The Capital Times: A Proudly Radical Newspaper’s Century-Long Fight for Justice and for Peace.

You know John Nichols as national affairs correspondent for The Nation magazine and is the author or coauthor of ten books. But in addition to his work on the national stage, both as editor and commentator, John Nichols has been associated with Madison's Capital Times for more than 20 years.

As Madison's Capital Times marks its 100th anniversary in 2017, John Nichols, along with editor Dave Zweifel, recall the remarkable history of a newspaper that served as the tribune of Robert M. La Follette and the progressive movement, earned the praise of Franklin Delano Roosevelt for its stalwart opposition to fascism, battled Joe McCarthy during the "Red Scare," championed civil rights, women's rights, and LGBTQ rights, opposed the Vietnam War and the invasion of Iraq, and stood with Russ Feingold when he cast the only US Senate vote against the Patriot Act.

Please note the early start time. Boswell will be at East selling copies of The Capital Times. See you at East Branch of Milwaukee Public Library.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Annotated Boswell bestsellers for the week ending December 16, 2017, plus the Journal Sentinel critics best books of 2017

Here comes the second most exciting weekly bestseller list of the year!

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward (Finally readers respond to these amazing reviews!)
2. Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
3. Devotions, by Mary Oliver
4. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
5. Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan
6. The Power, by Naomi Alderman (two top tens plus an award + Handmaid's Tale comparison)
7. Origin, by Dan Brown
8. Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee (yes, we're still selling hardcovers)
9. Uncommon Type, by Tom Hanks
10. Future Home of the Living God, by Louise Erdrich
11. The Rooster Bar, by John Grisham
12. Artemis, by Andy Weir
13. Hum If You Don't Know the Words, by Bianca Marais (only a few indies seem to understand the potential of this book, according to Treeline)
14. The House of Unexpected Sisters, by Alexander McCall Smith (post-event buzz. Sandy doesn't generally have this long tail of sales with us)
15. How to Find Love in a Bookshop, by Veronica Henry (always need a bookstore book)

On Wednesday, I spoke to Mitch Teich on Lake Effect and mentioned the two critical darlings. Our customers love critical praise (and so do we) and I was struggling to understand our good but not great sales. So it's nice to see that our customers are finally responding to the power of Sing, Unburied, Sing and made it our #1 hardcover fiction book for the week.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Obama, by Pete Souza (we're not out of books yet!)
2. Grant, by Ron Chernow
3. Leonardo Da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson
4. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, by Dan Egan (not out of this either! I guess a lot of places are)
5. Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann
6. Everybody Lies, by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
7. The Color of War, by Richard Rothstein (Milwaukee appearance next spring, not through spring)
8. Promise, Me Dad, by Joe Biden (Riverside appearance next spring, not through us)
9. The Secret Lives of Color, by Kassia St. Clair
10. Wait, What?, by James E. Ryan
11. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil DeGrasse Tyson
12. We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
13. Theft by Finding, by David Sedaris (we hid away some signed copies!)
14. The Driftless Reader, by Curt Meine and Keeley Keefe
15. The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben (2016 redux, though we were lagging other bookstores then)
16. Milwaukee City of Neighborhoods, by John Gurda
17. Endurance, by Scott Kelly
18. Priestdaddy, by Patricia Lockwood
19. Silence, by Erling Kagge
20. Sullivan Street Bakery Cookbook, by Jim Lahey

I think I knew pretty early that Grant and Leonardo Da Vinci would be two of our yearend bestsellers, but I have to say that I didn't expect a $50 photography book about Obama to take off. I didn't understand how Souza stood above other photographers (official + social media) and that many, many folks would like to have a very nice memento of Obama's legacy.

Paperback Fiction:
1. Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee (wow!)
2. Nobody's Fool, by Richard Russo (one customer's list)
3. History of Wolves, by Emily Fridlund
4. News of the World, by Paulette Jiles (I forget, this is its first Christmas!)
5. I Will Send Rain, by Rae Meadows
6. The Sun and Her Flowers, by Rupi Kaur
7. The Mistletoe Murder, by P.D. James
8. Al the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
9. The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn
10. The Other Einstein, by Marie Benedict
11. Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch
12. The Drifter, by Nick Petrie
13. The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro
14. The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro
15. Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

To delay or not to delay paperbacks. Pachinko is one example of a book that got rushed out in paperback for the holidays and it's clearly paid off (as I think they got some momentum help with the a new release). History of Wolves from Emily Fridlund had been scheduled for paperback release pre-Christmas for some time and it's similarly had a nice pop. The book was a Man Booker finalist but it's hardcover rebound sales as a result of the nom did not come close to this (and we had a display). And since our bestseller numbers in paperback have been pretty moribund, I have to say that maybe we could use a few more releases in the fourth quarter if you've got a book with buzz but not selling at bestseller levels in hardcover. But if everyone did this, the sales pops would be fewer and farther between. It's like the old coloring book dilemma--the craze was killed partly because it was a craze, but also by the a huge increase in supply (both in publications and outlets) which outstripped demand.

So nice to see books like I Will Send Rain and The Alice Network showing strong sales. Hoping that after the holidays, one or two of these will break nationally. Hey, New York Times, it would help if you increased the trade paperback fiction list from 10 to 15.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
2. Beer Lovers Wisconsin, by Kathy Flanigan (out of stock many places!)
3. Lolas' House, by M. Evelina Galang
4. Women and Power, by Mary Beard
5. On Tyranny, by Timothy Snyder
6. Global Discontents, by Noam Chomsky
7. Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren
8. How to Fight, by Thich Nhat Hanh
9. World Almanac and Book of Facts 2018, edited by Sarah Janssen
10. Holidays on Ice, by David Sedaris
11. Cream City Chronicles, by John Gurda
12. Jane Austen Illustrated Quotations, edited by the Bodleian Library

Working with Boswell's Jane at the front desk yesterday, we each put a book at our register. I had my Lonesome Lies Before Us, while Jane's pick was the Jane Austen Illustrated Quotations, which made sense because it was Austen's 243rd birthday.

Books for Kids:
1. Here We Are, by Oliver Jeffers (our buyer Amie knew in seconds this would be a top seller for us)
2. Dream Big Dreams, by Pete Souza
3. Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green
4. The Explorer, by Katherine Rundell
5. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, by Elena Favilli and Francesa Cavallo
6. The Snowy Day board book, by Ezra Jack Keats
7. The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, by Karina Yan Glaser (another Amie pick)
8. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Getaway, by Jeff Kinney
9. Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls V2, by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
10. The Book of Dust, by Philip Pullman
11. The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse, by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
12. After the Fall, by Dan Santat
13. The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown
14. Wonder (both editions), by Peter Brown
15. Dog Man Unleashed, by Dav Pilkey
16. Pup and Bear, by Kate Banks and Naoko Stoop
17. Dog Man, by Dav Pilkey
18. Undefeated, by Steve Sheinkin
19. A World Full of Animal Stories, by Angela McAllister
20. Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg
21. Ship of the Dead, by Rick Riordan
22. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
23. Restart, by Gordon Korman
24. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azakaban illustrated, by J.K. Rowling and Jim Kay
25. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them illustrated, by J.K. Rowling and Olivia Lomenich Gill
26. Pierre the Maze Detective: The Mystery of the Empire Maze Tower, by Hiro Kamigaki
27. Red and Lulu, by Matt Tavares
28. Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid, by Colin Meloy, illustrated by Carson Ellis
29. A World of Cookies for Santa, by M.E. Furman with illustrations by Susan Gal
30. The Stars Beneath Our Feet, by David Barclay Moore

Over at the Journal Sentinel, critics Jim Higgins, Carole E. Barrowman, and Mike Fischer pick the best books of 2017.

Jim Higgins picks:
--All Grown Up, a novel, by Jami Attenberg
--The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story, by Edwidge Danticat
--Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York, by Roz Chast
--Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay
--Janesville: An American Story, by Amy Goldstein
--Lincoln in the Bardo, a novel, by George Saunders
--Make Trouble, by John Waters
--Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy, by Michael Perry
--300 Arguments, by Sarah Manguso
--An Uncommon Reader: A Life of Edward Garnett, Mentor and Editor of Literary Genius, by Helen Smith.

Carole Barrowman picks:
--Bluebird Bluebird, by Attica Locke
--The Marsh King’s Daughter, by Karen Dionne
--Lola, by Melissa Scrivner Love
--August Snow, by Stephen Mack Jones
--Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz
--Garden of Lamentations, by Deborah Crombie
--Burning Bright, by Nick Petrie
--Sulphur Springs, by William Kent Krueger
--Afterlife, by Marcus Sakey
--The Book of Dust, by Philip Pullman

Mike Fischer picks:
--Augustown, by Kei Miller
--Autumn, by Ali Smith
--The Collected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick, selected by Darryl Pinckney
--Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid
--Forest Dark, by Nicole Krauss
--Grant, by Ron Chernow
--The Idiot, by Elif Batuman
--Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward
--The Unwomanly Face of War, by Svetlana Alexievich
--We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

And so we go into the next week! I'm not linking this week (except to the newspaper) because, well, it's a lot of work! We'd love to hear from you. Call us at (414) 332-1181 or email us (for ordering info) at

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What did the book club think of Zadie Smith's "Swing Time"?

This month the In-Store Lit Group discussed Zadie Smith's Swing Time. I've been eyeing the hardcover sitting on my shelf at home and it started entering the "use it or lose it" zone. I don't know why, but I have a track record of reading every other Zadie Smith novel (White Teeth and On Beauty but not The Autograph Man and NW).

Two girls grow up in the same neighborhood. Both are biracial. Both enroll in dance class. As the publisher says, one has talent, the other has ideas. Tracey focuses on her art, but Narrator (which is what I call the people in unnamed first-person novels) is driven to bigger things by her mom, who may be an immigrant from the Carribean, but has an intuitive idea about how to appear palatable to the upper classes, while at the same time shunning striving altogether.

But N (that's short for Narrator) doesn't follow the great path of a social justice warrior. She gets a job at YTV (substitute M) and then as one of four personal assistants for Aimee, a wunderkind entertainment phenomenon. She sings, she dances, she acts! She understands people. And boy, does she appropriate. 

So Aimee has this plan to open this school for girls in Africa (Gambia). But does that mean working with a government that isn't always top notch in human rights? And what does that do to the boys who are not given the chance? When I read fiction, I kind of like books that ask questions rather than answer them, and boy does Swing Time have that in spades (a phrase which, as you know, comes from Bridge, as spades are the highest suit). 

I've said in the past that every writer has a series of plotlines they have to check off. Have I written my affair book? My historical novel? And one novel that seems to be particularly important for women writers (less so men, but Shotgun Lovesongs comes to mind) is the friendship novel. I always think of Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye as the ultimate friendship novel, but I've read many others.

The question that G. asked in the group was, were these women even friends? Were they frenemies? Would they grow closer after the book ended or was that ending scene really the end. As one person in the group noted, the end of Swing Time might be the beginning of Swing Time.

L. liked the book and like many of us, was taken with a recurring theme in the stories we discuss, the passing of information, culture, and psychology from parent to child. The mother-daughter dynamic reminded her of another book we recently read, Nicole Dennis-Benn's Here Comes the Sun. Each mother was, in her own way, imposing expectations on their children.

Jamaica also connects the novels of Zadie Smith and Nicole Dennis-Benn. In fact, I was reading this book at the Walker's Point Anodyne and one of the baristas started talking to me about Swing Time and I wanted to tell him to read Here Comes the Sun but I got cold feet. But I might go back and suggest it. M. was reminded of another book about Africa, The Poisonwood Bible. Absolutely!

In the end, the group was split, like a beat up bell curve (with the higher peak among the likers). I think the biggest complaint was that it dragged a bit (a variation of it was too long). In this way, it reminded me of The Sympathizers in that the part that could possibly be excised (the filming of the Apocalypse Now equivalent movie) was so good that how could you leave it out?

In the same way, some of the best bits of Swing Time are the historical asides, when Narrator looks at old films, revisiting racism, blackface, and the super talented singers and dancers of color who are now forgotten. A number of us turned to the internet to view clips referenced in the book. How could you not want to know more about Jeni LeGon? Here she is for the number Swing Is Here to Stay (from the film Ali Baba Goes to Town) which is analyzed in the novel. 

Folks who love Smith's critical asides are in for a treat, by the way, because her new nonfiction collection, Feel Free release February 6, 2018.

As I've said before, much of my reading is contextual. The books I read influence the future books I read, at least until I forget about the prior books. So I was influenced, in the reading of Swing Time, by two previous novels I'd read, Nicole Krauss's Forest Dark and Andrew Sean Greer's Less.

All three books fall loosely into the category of autofiction. Krauss used a character named Nicole. Greer used a character name Arthur, and to me, that's close enough, being that so many customers call me David. And Smith, she used a nameless narrator. But there are clues. While Smith was not a dancer, she did sing. And the area she grew up matches. And I think the time periods match. As many authors say to us, we are all of our fictional creations and we are none of them.

But there's another clue that there's a component to this book that makes the character a Zadie Smith in another multiverse (thank goodness for comics, so there's a shorthand for this sort of thing). Remember when Narrator needs a place to stay in New York and winds up with Darryl and Richard, two writers "in their late fifties, a couple, one white and one black"?

Anyone who closely reads the acknowledgements (like I always, always do) can figure out these are a real couple who are Zadie Smith's friends. They are not historical people being used like Abe in Lincoln in the Bardo. That's a little Easter egg that Smith is playing with us. It's her and of course it's completely not her. 

If I had any caveat, really, it was while Smith could speak critically about dance, I don't think her writing quite captured the emotional experience of dancing. I love when books about art and music and theater do that. I'm not saying it's an easy thing - the closest it got I think was the last scene. But I'm just going to say that when I read Lonesome Lies Before Us, I was completely there with Yadin Park in his creative space.

We wound up having an excellent conversation about Swing Time.   And now what's up next for the In-Store Lit Group?

Tuesday (note the day), January 2, 7 pm:
Kazuo Ishiguro, author of Never Let Me Go

Monday, February 5,  pm:
Chloe Benjamin, author of The Anatomy of Dreams
Benjamin's fabulous second novel, The Immortalists, releases January 9!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Events: M. Evelina Galang on Wednesday, Books and Brews at Cafe Hollander with kathy Flanigan and Jim Higgins on Thursday, Jennifer Chiaverini at the Lynden next Monday

Wednesday, December 13, 7 pm, at Boswell:
M. Evelina Galang, author of Lolas' House: Filipino Women Living with War, in conversation with WUWM's Bonnie North,

Boswell welcomes M. Evelina Galang, who directs the MFA creative writing program at University of Miami and is a core faculty and board member of Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (Vona). she is the author of several books and editor of Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images. This evening she will be talking about her book Lolas' House with Bonnie North, cohost of Lake Effect, aired on 89.7, WUWM.

Galang has been researching and documenting the lives of surviving Filipino comfort women since 1999. During World War II more than one thousand Filipinas were kidnapped by the Imperial Japanese Army. Lolas' House tells the stories of sixteen surviving Filipino "comfort women."

M. Evelina Galang enters into the lives of the women at a community center in metro Manila. She accompanies them to the sites of their abduction and protests with them at the gates of the Japanese embassy. Each woman gives her testimony, Lolas' House is also a book of witness, of survival, and of the female body. Intensely personal and globally political, it is the legacy of Lolas' House to the world. (Photo credit Jenny Abreu)

Our thanks to the Philippine Cultural and Civic Center for helping get the word out about this event. They have been serving the Filipino community in Southeast Wisconsin since 2000.

Thursday, December 14, 7 pm, at Café Hollander, 2608 N Downer Ave, second floor:
Holiday Books and Brews with Kathy Flanigan, author of Beer Lover’s Wisconsin: Best Breweries, Brewpubs, and Beer Barsand Jim Higgins, author of Wisconsin Literary Luminaries: From Laura Ingalls Wilder to Ayad Akhtar

Join us for a Holiday Celebration with books and brews. Wisconsin authors Kathy Flanigan and Jim Higgins will be joining us to dole out book recommendations and a great beer to pair with them. Don’t miss out on this exciting holiday extravaganza! Impress your friends and family with knowledge of Wisconsin authors and local craft beers.

Kathy Flanigan is a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and, for which she covers the region's craft-beer community. Jim Higgins is the arts and books editor for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where he has reported since 1983. Higgins is a two-time winner of the Sentinel staff-voted award for humor writing. In other words, should be a fun evening!

Beer Lover's Wisconsin features breweries, brewpubs, and beer bars statewide for those seeking the best beers the Badger State has to offer - from bitter, citrusy IPAs to rich, complex stouts. Written by a beer expert, the book covers the entire beer experience for the local enthusiast and the traveling author alike, including information on brewery and beer profiles with tasting notes, must-visit brewpubs and beer bars, top annual festivals and events, and city pub crawl itineraries with maps.

And in Wisconsin Literary Luminaries, Higgins explores how Aldo Leopold and Lorine Niedecker drew on their close observations of the natural world. Contrast the distinct novels that Jane Hamilton and Larry Watson set on Wisconsin apple orchards. Delve into Thornton Wilder's enduringly popular Our Town and the wild fiction of Ellen Raskin and Cordwainer Smith, who wrote like no one else. From the humble Ingalls family cabin in the woods to Ayad Akhtar's multicultural conflicts, the Badger State's stories and imagery have long inspired.

This event is free and we'll have some books for sale at the event. You'll only have to cross the street to shop more. The bar is open at Hollander, and if you want to eat, that's fine too. We'd love to do more of these events in a nearby bar setting, so if you like the idea, please come out and show your support.

Monday, December 18, 7 pm Reception, 7:30 start, at Lynden Sculpture Garden, 2145 W Brown Deer Rd in River Hills:
A ticketed evening with Jennifer Chiaverini, author of Enchantress of Numbers: A Novel of Ada Lovelace

The Women's Speaker Series at the Lynden Sculpture Garden presents Jennifer Chiaverini, author of Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, Fates and Traitors, and the beloved books in the Elm Creek Quilt Series. Her new novel, Enchantress of Numbers, delves into the world of Ada Lovlace, the mother of computing.

Tickets are $30/$25 for members and includes admission to the event,  an autographed copy of Enchantress of Numbers, and light refreshments from MKE Localicious . Please register online at: or call (414) 446-8794.

Patti Rhule reviewed Enchantress of Numbers in the Journal Sentinel, with the review originally appearing in USA Today. She wrote: "As with Chiaverini’s Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, Enchantress heralds a woman whose contributions are relatively overlooked in history. Ada Byron King was a pioneering mathematician whom some consider the first computer programmer. She overcame her unwanted celebrity as the daughter of English Romance poet Lord Byron — and the strictures on 19th century womanhood — to forge a career.

We've hosted Chiaverini for almost every book since Boswell has been open and she always pleases her audiences with fascinating insights into the characters historical context. What a great match for the Women's Speaker Series, produced by Milwaukee Reads! Just remember, this event is ticketed.