Monday, February 27, 2017

Events blast off: Michael Newman on videogames, Kelly Jensen and Mikki Kendall offer advice to young feminists, Christina Baker Kline on "Christina's World" at the Lynden, Will Schwalbe's reading list, and Nickolas Butler multi-generational story set at Scout camp

Here's a preview of upcoming Boswell events:

Tuesday, February 28, 7:00 pm, at Boswell:
Michael Newman, author of Atari Age: The Emergence of Video Games in America.

From Michael Z. Newman, Associate Professor and Chair of UWM's Department of Journalism, Advertising, and Media Studies, comes a book about the emergence of video games in America, from ball-and-paddle games to hits like Space Invaders and Pac Man. Atari Age shows their relationship to other amusements and technologies, and how they came to be identified with middle class, youth, and masculinity.

From Atari Age: "Video games' identity was established within a cluster of contexts. The arcade and home of the 1970s and early '80s were distinct spaces, and in some ways opposites. In popular imagination, as we have seen, the arcade was a potentially threatening destination frequented especially by teenage boys. It was assocaiated with pinball, an amusement with a historically low cultural reputation associated with gamblers and crime, situated within a masculinized public sphere unless banned, as it was in many cities. The home, by contrast, was idealized as a sanctuary of safety and comfort for the family, a feminized public sphere....This masculine character of video games would always be in tension with the settings in which games were typically experienced."

From Al Alcorn, developer of Pong: "Atari Age examines the impact early video games had on culture and their effects both positive and negative on society. Michael Newman chronicles a history of early games and how their nature and focus created an acceptance of computer technology by society at large. The tension between the positive and negative aspects of the new medium are well illustrated by showing how arcades evolved from dark unsavory places to clean welcoming places that women might frequent. This is a fascinating and well-researched book that is sure to be important in the history of video games.”

Thursday, March 2, 7:00 pm at Boswell:
Kelly Jensen, editor of, and Mikki Kendall, contributor to Here We Are: 44 Voices Write, Draw, and Speak about Feminism for the Real World.

From Laurie Halse Anderson to Roxane Gay, Courtney Summers and more, 44 writers, dancers, actors, and artists, contribute essays, lists, poems, comics, conversations, and illustrations about everything from body positivity to romance to gender identity to intersectionality to the greatest girl friendships in fiction. Together, they share diverse perspectives on and insights into what feminism means and what it looks like.

From Mikki Kendall's "Facets of Feminism": "My feminism is rooted in the women who raised me and the celebrities and historical figures I looked up to as a kid. Strong women who, even if they never explicitly called themselves feminists, certainly worked toward racial and gender equality. Josephine Baker, Queen Latifah, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and so many other strong women influenced my approach to feminism. They taught me that working toward equality meant taking as many roads as were available, and foraging new ones whenever necessary."

Mikki Kendall is a writer, diversity consultant, and facilitates discussions on intersectionality, policing, gender, sexual assault, and other current events. Kelly Jensen is a former librarian-turned-editor for Book Riot and Stacked. She's the author of It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader.

Sunday, March 5, 2:00 pm reception 2:30 pm talk at Lynden Sculpture Garden, 2145 W Brown Deer Rd, produced by Milwaukee Reads:
A ticketed event with Christine Baker Kline, author of A Piece of the World

Bestselling author of Orphan Train, delivers a novel of friendship, passion, and art, inspired by Andrew Wyeth. A Piece of the World is the story of Christina Olson, the complex woman and real-life muse Andrew Wyeth portrayed in his 1948 masterpiece Christina’s World. The painting — which features a mysterious woman in a pink dress sitting in a field, gazing at a weathered house in the distance - is an iconic piece of American art and hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as part of their permanent collection.

From Christine Brunkhorst's review in the Star Tribune: "As Christina tells the story, as her young and old selves converge, there is a steady progression, a sort of painful trek along a dark and narrowing path. But when Wyeth appears — with his vivacious wife, Betsy, and his gift of observing the world — the landscape brightens, and there is light in Christina’s world...Like Wyeth’s paintings, this is a vivid novel about hardscrabble lives and prairie grit and the seemingly small but significant beauties found there."

Tickets for this event are $30 and $25 for members, and include a book, admission to the grounds, and light refreshments. For more details and purchasing information please visit the Lynden Sculpture Garden’s website or call 800-446-8794

Monday, March 6, 7:00 pm at Boswell:
Will Schwalbe, author of Books for Living.

From the author of the beloved best-selling The End of Your Life Book Club, an inspiring and magical exploration of the power of books to shape our lives in an era of constant connectivity. Why is it that we read? Is it to pass time? To learn something new? To escape from reality? For Will Schwalbe, reading is a way to entertain himself but also to make sense of the world, to become a better person, and to find the answers to the big and small questions about how to live his life.

From Tim O'Connell in the Florida Times Union: "Books for Living is such a personal book. In it, author Will Schwalbe tells us how certain books added to and changed his life. The authors of these books were his teachers, they offered solutions to his problems and he is forever the grateful student. He is the consummate bibliophile, one who has to have books to live. 'I believe that everything you need to know you can find in a book.' Throughout, Schwalbe focuses on the way certain books can help us honor those we’ve loved and lost and figure out how to live each day more fully. Rich with stories and recommendations, Books for Living is a treasure for everyone who loves books and loves to hear the answer to the question: 'What are you reading?'"

In addition to his books, Will Schwalbe has worked in publishing at William Morrow, Hyperion, and Flatiron, is the founder and CEO of, has worked as a journalist.

Schwalbe and I will be guests on The Kathleen Dunn Show on Monday, March 6, 2 pm, with host Kate Archer Kent.

Tuesday, March 7, 7:00 pm at Boswell:
Nickolas Butler, author of The Hearts of Men.

An epic novel of intertwining friendships and families set in the Northwoods of Wisconsin at a beloved Boy Scout summer camp from the bestselling author of Shotgun Lovesongs. Camp Chippewa, 1962. Nelson Doughty, age thirteen, social outcast and overachiever, is the Bugler, sounding the reveille proudly each morning. Yet this particular summer marks the beginning of an uncertain and tenuous friendship with a popular boy named Jonathan.

From Nick Butler's interview with Mike Harvkey in Publishers Weekly, when asked if The Hearts of Men is a lament: "Clearly we’re in danger of losing the natural world—and our connection to the natural world, which is maybe what’s hurrying its demise. Over the last five years I’ve been interested in Japanese poetry, and samurai and other warrior cultures, and thinking about what it means to have a code of conduct or morality. I wonder if in our own society having a code is even possible anymore. Or what people would think of you if you told them you had a code. It’s not that I’m dogmatic or politically conservative by any stretch, but I think it’s commendable for a person to have a vision for how they want to live their life."

This is such a great book and apparently, I am one of Butler's biggest fans, as I got the Indie Next quote for the second Butler novel in a row, this time for The Hearts of Men. Here's the list of Indie Next reviews for March, including mine, which we reprinted last Friday.

Now that the event is coming up, I have been thinking about camp and nature and all the creative things I could have done for this event. But we are serving s'mores, or a variation thereof, since I have no campfire at Boswell.

Oh, and if you didn't read it, here's my blog post about my two stints in the Boy Scouts.

And don't forget that we're selling books at Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's event at the Milwaukee Theater, also on Thursday, March 2, 7 pm, This event is sponsored by UWM's Muslim Student Assocation and Student Involvement. Tickets are $20 general admission at the door, with discounts for students and advance purchase. And yes, a signing will follow, but please note there are signing restrictions. Mr. Abdul-Jabbar will only sign hardcover editions of his books. Boswell will be providing three recent titles for sale.  More info here.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Annotated Boswell bestsellers for the week ending February 25, 2017

Here's what sold at Boswell last week.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. On Turpentine Lane, by Elinor Lipman (signed copies available)
2. Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
3. Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman (OK, this week it's in fiction)
4. Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee (2nd week in our top 10!)
5. News of the World, Paulette Jiles
6. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
7. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
8. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, by Kathleen Rooney
9. Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay
10. Autumn, by Ali Smith

Several of the authors on this week's list have come to Milwaukee for previous books. Roxane Gay came for both her novel, An Untamed State, and her first collection of essays, Bad Feminist. I'm pretty sure that George Saunders came to Schwartz for one of his story collections many years ago. I might spend a little time going through old newsletters to find the event. But it's Kathleen Rooney who we congratulate this week for her breakout novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. Rooney appeared with her childhood friend Julia Azari (whom you are probably regularly hearing as a political commentator) for her previous novel O Democracy! Here's Yvonne Zipp's review of the book, a fictionalized reimagination of a Macy's copywriter looking back on her life, in the Christian Science Monitor.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. The Education of Will, by Patricia B. McConnell
2. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond (on sale in paperback 2/28)
3. Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance
4. Milwaukee: City of Neighborhoods, by John Gurda
5. Books for Living, by Will Schwalbe (event 3/6, 7 pm)
6. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
7. Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari
8. The Blood of Emmett Till, by Timothy B. Tyson
9. The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben
10. The Little Book of Hygge, by Meik Wiking

Speaking of former guests, back when I was at Schwartz, we hosted Timothy B. Tyson for Blood Done Sign My Name, which I read at the time, and I seem to remember that one of my former bookselling colleagues had studied under him at UW. It's all a bit of a blur, but if so, it's a neat memory to transition into his new book, The Blood of Emmett Till, which Leonard Pitts Jr. described in the Miami Herald as "a work critical not just to our understanding of something that happened in America in 1955 but of what happens in America here and now."

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead (thank you Carl at UWM!)
2. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
3. Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur
4. The Waters of Eternal Youth V25, by Donna Leon
5. The Drifter, by Nick Petrie
6. 1984, by George Orwell
7. The Sellout, by Paul Beatty (In-store Lit Group, 3/6, 6 pm)
8. Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty
9. Journey to Munich V12, by Jacqueline Winspear
10. Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Arthur C Clarke Award winner)

Two of the most popular mystery writers at Boswell have paperback pops this week. From Donna Leon comes her 25th Guido Brunetti mystery, The Waters of Eternal Youth, of which, Sam Coale wrote in the Providence Journal: "The solution's a real surprise, but completely plausible and insidiously set up. Leon has done it again. And her Venice gleams and bristles with a new tale of lust, betrayal and revenge." And USA Today's Robert Bianco wrote up Jacqueline Winspear's Journey to Munich, noting "If you’ve ever read and loved a Maisie Dobbs mystery, and the two tend to go together, you should rush to buy Journey to Munich. And if you haven’t, well, this Journey, wonderful as it is, may not be the best place to start."

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. My Two Elaines, by Martin Schreiber
2. Daring Greatly, Brené Brown
3. For the Love of a Dog, by Patricia B. McConnell
4. The Other End of the Leash, by Patricia B. McConnell
5. Furiously Happy, by Jenny Lawson
6. Brick Through the Window, by Steven Nodine, Eric Beaumont, Clancy Carroll, and David Luhrrsen
7. In Other Words, by Jhumpa Lahiri
8. You Are a Badass, by Jen Sincero (ticketed event 4/25, 7 pm)
9. Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit
10. Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly

Patricia B. McConnell is responsible for four books on this week's bestseller lists, not just her three books but also Daring Greatly, the book she was recommending at her talk. It turns out that attendees didn't even wait for her to talk about the book, but bought it just by hearing that it was McConnell's pick. Her TED Talk on The Power of Vulnerability has had over 28 million hits in seven years.

Books for Kids:
1. Two Friends, by Dean Robbins, with illustrations by Susan Qualls and Selina Alko
2. Miss Paul and the President, by Dean Robbins, with illustrations by Nancy Zhang
3. Can One Balloon Make an Elephant Fly, by Dan Richards, with illustrations by Jeff Newman
4. The Boys, written and illustrated by Jeff Newman
5. Dog Man Unleashed V2, by Dav Pilkey
6. Mighty Mighty Construction Site, by Sherri Duskey Rinker, with illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld
7. The Crayons Book of Colors, by Drew Daywalt, with illustrations by Oliver Jeffers
8. The Day the Crayons Came Home, by Drew Daywalt, with illustrations by Oliver Jeffers
9. That's Me Loving You, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, with illustrations by Teagan White
10. The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown

Wow are our kids bestsellers (that's books for kids, not belonging to kids, which is why I don't use the apostrophe) skewing young. Eight of our top 10 are picture books with one middle grade and one early chapter book rounding out the list. Just out is Mighty Mighty Construction Site, the follow up to Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site. This one has a focus on team building. Interestingly the original came out before The Day the Crayons Quit, which already has had a sequel out for a year. Next up in the picutre book sequel game is Dragons Love Tacos 2: The Sequel, which is out in May.

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Elfrieda Abbe reviews Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, Tokyo, Venice, and London, by Lauren Elkin. This is the story of one woman's own walks and a historical look at famous walking women. Abbe, who will be at Boswell on March 9 in conversation with Margaret George, notes that the book is "Richly layered with references to books, art and film, the writing meanders from place to place and time frame to time frame. But as an excursion of discovery, it’s an engaging, often surprising, read about women who knew the “liberating possibilities of a good walk.” Flâneuse comes out February 28.

Also at the Journal Sentinel, Erin Kogler reviews Otherwise Known as Possum, a novel for readers 8 and older, written by the late Maria D. Laso, who died of non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. It's the story of a young woman who, grieving for her mom and baby brother, has to go to school for the first time. Kogler's case: "Laso’s book, written in first person from Possum’s perspective during the 1930s, includes a lovely, well drawn cast of characters. Possum Porter is a spunky, intelligent, and thoughtful heroine. It’s difficult not to draw comparisons between Possum and Harper Lee’s Scout. Both are the reporters of their story, and both draw connections and make observations without fully understanding the weight of the circumstances."

And finally, there is Jim Higgins reviews the reissue of Golden Legacy: The Story of Golden Books, by Leonard S. Marcus. Hear from Higgins: "It's a fascinating American business story. Initially, many librarians and booksellers looked down their noses at Little Golden Books, which sold for a budget-priced 25 cents, so Western and its partners made strenuous efforts to get books into other outlets, such as department stores. Western came close to treating the books as commodities that filled slots rather than individual works of creativity. Yet this distinctly commercial enterprise produced many lasting gems."

Friday, February 24, 2017

I'm reading as fast as I can: Here are the March event books that I've read (so far)

Is it possible for a bookseller to read every event book in a calendar month when we have as many events as we do? Probably not, but I've made a valiant effort for March. Here is my take on the most recent works from seven authors who are appearing at (or cosponsored by) Boswell.

Up first, is Christina Baker Kline at the Lynden Sculpture Garden, produced by Milwaukee Reads. This ticketed event is on Sunday, March 5, 2 pm. The book: A Piece of the World. My take: "Following her breakout novel, Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline returns to Maine to tell the story behind one of our most iconic paintings, Christina’s World. Juxtaposing the story of how Andrew Wyeth came to paint Christina with Christina’s own life, Kline expertly imagines how an artist sees the interior life of a subject with enough historical detail about the Wyeths, Olsons, and Hathorns (yes, it’s a variation of Hawthorne, as in Nathaniel) to satisfy historical fiction fans. Caught between the elegant summer people and the proud but hardscrabble farm existence of her family, and struggling with life’s disappointments, is Christina cursed by the actions of her ancestor, an unrepentant judge of the Salem witch trials, or simply living out the results of her own decisions? Her interior resonates so brightly that I’m tempted to take out a set of oils and paint her myself." Other thoughts: I didn't even originally connect that we were hosting the event in an art space, but we are!

Will Schwalbe is coming for a free event at Boswell on Monday, March 6, 7 pm. Here's my review of Books for Living: "Following up The End of Your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe looks at other titles that have influenced his life, with each title connected to a different life lesson. Gift from the Sea is about recharging and The Odyssey is about embracing mediocrity. There’s no question that Schwalbe’s enthusiasm is contagious - as soon as I finished Books for Living, I was charged up to read one of his recommendations and finally plowed through Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca. I bet that’s not the last recommendation of Schwalbe’s that I follow either. I bet this guy would make a great bookseller." Other thoughts: Schwalbe and I will now be talking about books with Kate Archer Kent on Wisconsin Public Radio's Kathleen Dunn Show, Monday, March 6, 2 pm.

Nickolas Butler is at Boswell for his launch event on Tuesday, March 7, 7 pm. Here's what I have to say about The Hearts of Men. "If you read Shotgun Lovesongs, you know that two of Butler’s strengths are his ability to probe the depths of men’s friendships and his rich Wisconsin settings. His new novel, an epic about three generations at a Boy Scout Camp in the North Woods, takes it to the next level. It starts with the bullied Nelson, who finds purpose in the Scouts and winds up running the camp, and Jonathan, the older boy who becomes both his manipulator and protector. Their complicated friendship unfolds through Jonathan’s son Trevor and grandson Thomas, who both wind up spending summers at Chippewa, but what’s a Scout to do when the Scout Oath doesn’t always hold up in reality? Is there a place for honor when nobody wants to get a stamp collecting or radio merit badge? In Butler’s hands, the answers unfold, all in the context of a heck of a good story." Other thoughts: we're hoping to serve s'mores.

Boswell launches Dan Egan on Friday, March 10, 7 pm, and then he'll be at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center on March 22. Here's the scoop on The Death and Life of the Great Lakes: "As someone who has lived my adult life on Lake Michigan, I’ve followed stories about invasive species, water levels, the watershed border, and endless sources of pollution. I’ve heard the pronouncements of 21st century wars being fought over water, and imagined how coastal cities would dream of draining the Lakes the way they did the Colorado River. But whether you know a lot or a little about The Great Lakes, Dan Egan’s new book is a must read because it brings the issues to life with his expert storytelling. The tragedy of invasive species is only exacerbated when you come to terms with just how little traffic passes through the St. Lawrence Seaway. And there’s no better warning to America’s future than the Aral Sea, the once fourth largest body of water that is now an arid desert. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes lays out our past and our future, showing how both failures (and alas, successes) can turn around with time, as well as how much politics goes into every decision. Who knew sports fishing had so much clout? A fascinating read about a subject of urgent importance!"

Patty Cottrell returns to her Milwaukee roots for her debut novel, reading at Boswell on Monday, March 20, 7 pm. My thoughts on the buzzed-about Sorry to Disrupt the Peace: "When Helen Moran hears that her brother has died at his own hand, she leaves her social services job in New York to come home to her family. But it’s not that easy. Helen hasn’t been home in close to five years and has a fractured relationship with her adoptive parents, and now she’s determined to figure out exactly why her brother (they are both Korean but not blood siblings) pulled the trigger. She may call herself Sister Reliable, but Helen is anything but, especially as a narrator. Hypersensitive to details, Helen is unable to connect the dots, and the continuous misses create a powerfully hypnotic narrative of estrangement."

Renée Rosen returns to Boswell on Tuesday, March 21, 1 pm, for an event sponsored by Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UWM. The Daniel dish on Windy City Blues: "What I love about historical novels is the way that they immerse you in another time and place. Renée Rosen’s work has focused on Chicago history, with previous novels capturing the Mob scene of the Roaring Twenties, the Chicago Tribune, and the legacy of Marshall Field and Company. Her new story focuses on the rise of Chicago blues and its lasting influence on music today. The city was home to a number of record labels, including Chess Records, run by two Polish Jewish immigrant brothers, who grew up in wériter, and Red Dupree, a blues guitarist who hones his craft on Maxwell Street, and catches Leaba’s eye. The story not only weaves in Chicago music history but the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in Chicago. I recommend as a compelling story with appealing characters and lots of historical detail."

Jami Attenberg will be in conversation with Wendy McClure for All Grown Up on Wedneesday, March 29, 7 pm, at Boswell: The scoop: "Andrea Bern is pretty successful. Having abandoned life as an artist, she’s got a job she can do in her sleep. Only problem? She’s bored. And she’s looking for options. But all the options seem pretty crappy, and I’m not just talking about drink, drugs, and casual sex. Her artist friend Matthew, her beautiful friend Indigo, her sexy neighbor Kevin, her coworker Nina, and her brother David all represent alternatives, only none of those alternatives are working out so well. Andrea’s story is a jagged linear narrative, told in fits and starts and doubling back, feeding us a little more info about that time she slept with her brother’s bandmate, or what were the circumstances of her father’s overdose, or how exactly Mom paid the rent. And the more the story unravels, in between my nervous laughter, I breathed a sigh of relief that Andrea survived at all, and hoped that maybe, just maybe, she might just grow up after all, whatever that means nowadays."

I think about different books in different ways and there probably isn't someone out there who should take every recommendation. In addition to whether I enjoy the reading experience, I'm always thinking about what the author set out to do and was she or he successful. There are so many scales to judge books--plot, character, language, theme, emotion, information. And of course I'm a bookseller, not a critic, so it's possible that were I editing the book, I might have suggested some sort of change, but I leave that critical reading to others. The truth is that when I find I have nothing good to say, I generally think it's better to stop reading. So next time I tell you I didn't read something, feel free to wonder if I actually didn't read it, or in fact started it and didn't like it. Now I'm playing mind games--I haven't read 99.99% of the books at Boswell.

And to the March books I didn't get around to, there's always next week!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Will Schwalbe follows up "The End of Your Life Book Club" with "Books for Living." More about the books and his appearance in Milwaukee on March 6, and don't forget to listen to Schwalbe and me on the Kathleen Dunn show that day.

A few words about Will Schwalbe. He's a guy that everyone in publishing seems to know and love--though I don't think we've ever met, we soon realized we had several good friends in common. I remembered him when he was at William Morrow and then at Hyperion. He started a cookbook website,, and now edits cookbooks for Flatiron. He'd also written a primer on email called Send that had gotten great reviews.

A few years ago, Will Schwalbe came out with The End of Your Life Book Club, a memoir about reading with his mom after she was diagnosed with cancer. The book took off, with many book clubs using the book not just as a monthly selection, but as source material. There are so many great recommendations in the book, and his mom, Mary Anne (or it turns out, "Ann") is such a dynamic presence on the page, that just about every book she talked up in the book went on my to-be-read list.

But the truth is that I didn't read The End of Your Life Book Club when it came out, though other Boswellians did. It was only when Schwalbe's follow up, Books for Living, was announced, that the book came back on my radar screen. We had early reads from both Jane and Sharon and I was intrigued with the premise--26 chapters that both recommended the book, inspire a life lesson, and offer a story about how Schwalbe came to read it.

I read Books for Living and immediately thought, I want to hear this guy talk about books all day, or at least for a couple of hours, and we think you'll feel the same. We are excited that Mr. Schwalbe will be part of an upcoming appearance on the Kathleen Dunn Show. You can hear Will Schwalbe talk with Kate Archer Kent (filling in for Dunn) and me about books on Monday, March 6, 2 pm. Call, email, or post on Facebook with a book suggestion that influenced your life.

Books for Living is the kind of book that inspires you to read more, which as a bookseller, I cannot argue with. As soon as I was finished, I immediately started reading Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca, which was under the chapter "betraying." A lot of folks consider Rebecca the mother of contemporary psychological suspense, complete with the Gillian Flynn-like unreliable narrator. And to trace legacy back further, a lot of folks feel that Rebeca owes its debt to Jane Eyre, but what doesn't? It was a book I'd long wanted to read and Books for Living gave me just the jump-start I needed.

One book that stands out from the Books for Living recommendation list is Lin Yutang's The Importance of Living. The book and author have a very interesting history, and while there are several public domain editions available, there's also a nice trade edition from Quill. And so I had to ask Mr. Schwalbe, being that you worked at William Morrow, which at the time used Quill as it's trade paperback imprint, did you actually publish The Importance of Living those many years ago? And of course he had. He wasn't kidding that this book will stick with you for a long time.

Another book that stands out, being that Mr. Schwalbe has a background in cookbooks, is his cookbook choice for everyone to read is Edna Lewis's The Taste of Country Cooking. Coincidentally this book was also the subject of an episode on the Charleston edition of Top Chef, where we all learned more this very influential woman in American foodways.

But the other book that Books for Living jump-started for me was The End of Your Life Book Club. I needed to finally read Mary Ann and Will's story of how they read together. Schwalbe the elder was an amazing person, working in college admissions (for Radcliffe and Harvard) and then at several schools in New York. Her great love was working with refugees - what an inspiring person! And just like Will, she was one of those people who had connections everywhere. Stefanie, a great Friend of Boswell, told me that Mary Anne and her late mom, also a great reader, were good friends. Go figure.

So here's what you need to know.
1. Read The End of Your Life Book Club (if you haven't already)
2. Read Books for Living (likewise)
3. Consier having your book club read one of these titles.
4. Listen to Will Schwalbe and me on the Kathleen Dunn Show with Kate Archer Kent on Wisconsin Public Radio, Monday, March 6, 2 pm.
5. Come to our event at Boswell, also on March 6, at 7. It's free!

 Extra credit: read one of the books that Schwalbe recommended.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Event alert: Patricia McConnell sold out, Karen Branan on racial history, UWM's Michael Newman on Atari

The event with Patricia McConnell at the Radisson Milwaukee West is sold out for Monday, February 20. We hope to have signed copies of The Education of Will: A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog Monday available Tuesday.

If you weren't able to get tickets in time, you can still read Pat Dillon's interview with Patricia McConnell in Madison's Isthmus: "This story of mutual healing is timely and witty and brave. It will likely resonate with anyone who’s dealt with the painful fallout of abuse and touch the hearts of those who have loved troubled pets. And it offers surprising insights into human nature — often through the soul of a spirited canine."

And if you haven't heard the Patricia McConnell reunion show with Larry Meiller, her cohost on the longtime favorite Calling All Pets, they spoke about the new book on Wisconsin Public Radio on February 14.

Sunday, February 26, 3:00 pm, at Boswell:
Karen Branan, author of The Family Tree: A Lynching in Georgia, a Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth (now out in paperback)

Harris County, Georgia, 1912. A white man, the beloved nephew of the county sheriff, is shot dead on the porch of a black woman. Days later, the sheriff sanctions the lynching of a black woman and three black men, all of them innocent. For Karen Branan, the great-granddaughter of that sheriff, this isn’t just history—this is family history.

Branan spent nearly twenty years combing through diaries and letters, hunting for clues in libraries and archives throughout the United States and interviewing community elders to piece together the events and motives that led a group of people to murder four of their fellow citizens in such a brutal public display. Her research on The Family Tree revealed surprising new insights into the day-to-day reality of race relations in the Jim Crow–era South, but what she ultimately discovered was far more personal.

Karen Branan is in town for part of the America's Black Holocaust Museum Founders Day Celebration on Saturday, February 25. The day (tickets available here) features keynotes, a film preview, music, and a panel discussion, all on "The Gathering for Racial Repair and Reconciliation." Tickets are $14, $10 for students for the Saturday event. Please note that Branan's talk at Boswell on Sunday is free.

Looking ahead!
Tuesday, February 28, 7:00 pm, at Boswell:
Michael Newman, author of Atari Age: The Emergence of Video Games in America

Beginning with the release of the Magnavox Odyssey and Pong in 1972, video games, whether played in arcades and taverns or in family rec rooms, became part of popular culture, like television. In fact, video games were sometimes seen as an improvement on television because they spurred participation rather than passivity. These "space-age pinball machines" gave coin-operated games a high-tech and more respectable profile. In Atari Age, Michael Newman charts the emergence of video games in America from ball-and-paddle games to hits like Space Invaders and Pac-Man, describing their relationship to other amusements and technologies and showing how they came to be identified with the middle class, youth, and masculinity.

Michael Z. Newman, Associate Professor in the Department of Journalism, Advertising, and Media Studies at UWM, shows that the "new media" of video games were understood in varied, even contradictory ways. They were family fun (but mainly for boys), better than television (but possibly harmful), and educational (but a waste of computer time). Drawing on a range of sources, including the games and their packaging; coverage in the popular, trade, and fan press; social science research of the time; advertising and store catalogs; and representations in movies and television, Newman describes the series of cultural contradictions through which the identity of the emerging medium worked itself out.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

What's popping on the Boswell bestseller list for the week ending February 18? Hint: George Saunders.

Here's what sold at Boswell this past week.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
2. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
3. Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett
4. 4 3 2 1, by Paul Auster
5. Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
6. Everything You Want Me to Be, by Mindy Mejia
7. The Mothers, by Brit Bennett
8. Homesick for Another World, by Ottessa Moshfegh
9. Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay
10. The Refugees, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

If I didn't have a runaway bestseller to report on this week, I'd note that three titles in our top ten are short story collections. I've already noted here that 2017 seems like a better year for stories already than did 2016. But the big story is a short story writer's first novel in George Saunders and Lincoln in the Bardo. Nate Hopper reviews it in Time Magazine. And here's Colson Whitehead writing about the book in The New York Times Book Review: "It’s a very pleasing thing to watch a writer you have enjoyed for years reach an even higher level of achievement. To observe him or her consolidate strengths, share with us new reserves of talent and provide the inspiration that can only come from a true artist charting hidden creative territory. George Saunders pulled that trick off with Tenth of December, his 2013 book of short stories. How gratifying and unexpected that he has repeated the feat with Lincoln in the Bardo, his first novel and a luminous feat of generosity and humanism."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman
2. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
3. Little Book of Hygge, by Meik Wiking
4. The Daily Show: The Book, by Jon Stewart
5. Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah
6. Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance
7. The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben
8. Milwaukee: City of Neighborhoods, by John Gruda
9. American Ulysses, by Ronald C. White
10. My Own Words, by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

They aren't new, but for some reason, I get a kick of seeing Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah next to each other on our bestseller list. If the book is still on your wish list because your friends, didn't come through, here's what Jeff Wisser has to say about the as-told-to-Chris-Smith-by-Jon-Stewart's The Daily Show: The Book, in the Chicago Tribune: "Those seeking revelations of the vast left-wing conspiracy underlying and even driving the show will be disappointed — that book is not here, it doesn't exist and it likely never will. Instead, Smith gives readers sound bites from some smart, funny and self-aware people waxing rhapsodic about their 'let's put on a show' adventures and sometimes apoplectic about the circumstances that goaded and vexed them into undertaking them."

I'm a little confused by why they officially list Chris Smith first in writer credit, as many celebrity memoirs are "as told to" and the celebrity gets top credit, if not all the credit (with a low-key thank you to the ghost writer tucked inside the acknowledgements). I guess that this is otherwise is a credit (so to speak) to Jon Stewart.

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead
2. Luck, Love, and Lemon Pie, by Amy E. Reichert
3. Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur
4. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
5. All the Missing Girls, by Megan Miranda (at Boswell 4/19, 7 pm)
6. Britt Marie Was Here, by Fredrick Backman
7. The Drifter, by Nick Petrie
8. 1984, by George Orwell
9. The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
10. The Sellout, by Paul Beatty

Nice to see Megan Miranda's paperback selling in advance of our event with her for her new book, The Perfect Stranger. Our mystery book club will be talking about All the Missing Girls at their March 27 meeting. No need to register--our in-store book clubs are open to all. I recently wrote a blog post about how psychological suspense has taken over the mystery genre (and most other genres targeted to women to boot); here's a follow-up piece from Publishers Weekly from Rachel Deahl, which mentions a number of books including All the Missing Girls.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Brick Through the Window, by Steven Nodine, Eric Beaumont, Clancy Carroll, and David Luhrssen
2. Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser
3. ...fill in the beauty, by bela suresh roongta
4. We're in America Now, by Fred Amram
5. One Thing, by Gary Keller
6. The Road to Character, by David Brooks
7. Dark Money, by Jane Mayer
8. You Can't Touch My Hair, by Phoebe Robinson
9. Gumption, by Nick Offerman
10. Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly

Some nice events this week but nothing compares to the Nodine-Beaumont-Clancy-Luhrssen collaboration for Brick Through the Window on Friday. The gang reunites at Circle A bar in Riverwest on Saturday, March 4. We'll have more copies soon, or you can order books on their website. Here's Bobby Tanzilo in OnMilwaukee: "A quartet of folks with deep roots in the local rock and roll scene banded together to create, Brick Through The Window,, a self-published tome that is exhaustive and engaging as it traces the alternative rock scene in Milwaukee from its earliest gasps for air."

Books for Kids:
1. Where's Addie, by Donna Luber
2. A Is for Activist, by Innosanto Nagara
3. King's Cage, by Victgoria Aveyard
4. American Street, by Ibi Zoboi
5. Here We Are, edited by Kelly Jensen (event 3/2, 7 pm, at Boswell)
6. Very Hungry Caterpillar board book, by Eric Carle
7. Heart to Heart, by Lois Ehlert
8. Goodnight Moon board book, by Margaret Wise Brown, with illustrations by Clement Hurd
9. Egg, by Kevin Henkes
10. Factory Girl, by Josanne La Valley

Caitlin White rounds up the top 15 YA books of February on Bustle. Bestsellers King's Cage (the follow up to Red Queen) and Ibi Zoboi's American Street are both on her checklist. Of American Street, she writes: "American Street is beautifully necessary and so incredibly timely. Fabiola was born in the U.S., but she now lives in her mother's homeland of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The two plan to immigrate to the west side of Detroit together, but when her mother is detained by immigration, Fabiola has to go at it alone. She moves in with her loud American cousins while she tries to maintain some of her Haitian and Creole culture, navigate this completely new and different place, and still cope with all the ordinary things teenagers have to, like finding a new romance."

This week the Journal Sentinel's features the Paging Through Mysteries column features the best in new mysteries from Carole E. Barrowman.

On Stephen Mack Jones's August Snow: "The paradox in this title...says a lot about its main character. August Snow is a contradiction. Raised in a Detroit home where his Mexican mom’s favorite poets (Neruda, Ines de la Cruz and Paz) share shelves with his African-American dad’s “classic noir gumshoes” (Chandler, Fisher and Himes), ex-cop Snow is neither pure nor white. He calls himself “Blaxican,” and it was my pleasure to meet him in this cracking debut." We're hoping to host Mr. Jones later in the spring.

The latest from a former Boswell guest: "The title of Deborah Crombie’s Garden of Lamentations suggests sorrow, deep and debilitating, the kind of grief that chokes. It alludes to Gethsemane and all that garden implies – betrayal, sacrifice, forgiveness, love. Crombie weaves these themes beautifully into this enthralling mystery."

And here's what Barrowman says about Claire Mackintosh's I See You, due out on February 21: "The novel slides effortlessly from Zoe Walker’s obsessive first person narration to the more reasoned perspective of a police officer with her own obsessions. Zoe thinks she’s “going to be murdered.” She’s found her picture on an online dating website that’s a front for murderers and misogynists, but is Zoe paranoid or is someone really stalking her?"

Also from the Journal Sentinel TapBooks page offers a review of We'll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood's Most Beloved Movie, from Noah Isenberg. Chris Foran notes: "Junkies might not find a lot of new insights, but We'll Always Have Casablanca is a hugely readable and entertaining look at how "Casablanca" came to be, and how it came to be such an indelible part of American pop culture."

And finally, Laurie Hertzel of the Star Tribune reviews the National Book Critics Circle nominated biography from Michael Tisserand, who recently visited Boswell for Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White. She notes: Tisserand paints a fascinating picture of early 20th-century newspaper offices and the growing importance of cartoonists to cover the news and provied commentary. He also writes knowledgeably of race relations, including the seminal boxing match in which the black fighter Jack Johnson soundly defeated the white boxer Jim Jeffries, which sparked race riots across the country."

Thursday, February 16, 2017

What did the In-Store Lit Group think of Brit Bennett's "The Mothers"?

How many authors can say that the novel they started in high school not only was published by a major imprint but went on to be shortlisted for a major prize? But that's the story of Brit Bennett, the author of The Mothers. This first novel, a favorite of booksellers nationally (it was the #1 Indie Next Pick for October 2016), is about Nadia, a teenager who, in the wake of her mother's suicide, starts acting act. She has an affair with Luke, the son of the minister at a storefront church. When things go wrong, the church tries to fix the problem by giving Nadia a job at the church office where she befriends Aubrey, a more reverant young woman, who of course, winds up dating Luke.

It's a classic love triangle, which as Ms. Bennett notes, is far more interesting than a love rectangle.

It's always tough to write a post about a book like The Mothers, which we already wrote so much about, first when the book was released last fall, and then in the weeks leading up to our visit from Bennett, where we were trying to convince folks to attend. Bennett's event delivered everything we promised -- she did a great job connecting with two high school classes in the morning, spoke frankly to our In-store Lit Group and answered spoiler questions, and then went on to read and talk about The Mothers to a diverse group of attendees. To be fair, it was mostly women, but that sentence is true when it comes to age and ethnicity.

There are several hot-button issues that ground the novel -- race and abortion. But though Bennett has written eloquently about race in her essays, the novel is more nuanced. As Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote in The Guardian. "That abortion could negatively affect a woman's life in the long term is usually reserved for the most rabid of anti-choice activists. The contentious issue surrounds the novel, and it's a credit to Bennett that it's dealt with so carefully in her narrative. Nadia doesn't want to be pregnant, so she has an abortion, and gets on with her life. But she doesn't pretend it never happened. The Mothers isn't explicitly feminist, in the same way that it isn't explicityly a novel abou the black experience. It makes all the points it needs to without being obvious."

If you asked Bennett what the book was about, she would definitely say that gossip is one of the overall themes. It is part of the framing device that has the church women commenting in their generally judgmental voices about what's going on, and it explains the ending that not everyone loves, but I'm up for defending. And no, I'm not going to say what that ending is.

At the discussion, Suzanne noted what was very strong to me, that the mothers function like a Greek chorus, leading me to think of all the other Greek Chorus novels I've read. I have to think about that and come up with a list!

As readers know, I love a strong setting and I really enjoyed San Diego and the Oceanview neighborhood. It was a place that I don't think has been represented well in fiction, coastal, diverse, and with a strong military presence. There's a certain seediness in the story, and a bit of transience. I can see that bar/restaurant that plays a bit role in the story and I can tell you I'm not planning on ordering anything.

Our group had a discussion about whether the book could have been published as YA. There are all these unspoken rules about YA, but one way that I think the book succeeded in the genre, is that it really stayed close in the head of Nadia. The love triangle, the family stress, the issues, all of them were certainly hallmarks of the best YA fiction. But there are other parts of the novel that probably would have been stripped away by a YA editor. Could it have been acquired by a YA editor? Absolutely. But the end result would have likely been a very different book.

And finally, here's a fascinating detail that throws a little light on the whole book. The story was originally from Aubrey's perspective, and that makes sense, as Bennett's background is much closer to Aubrey's. Her father was a Deacon at their predominantly African American Protestant Church while her mother was an Observant Catholic, worshipping at church that was predominantly white. So if you question whether the details, you should know that Bennett lived them.

Nadia was in the background, a character with a secret. And it was only when one of Bennett's teachers questioned her dislike of the Nadia character that the metamorphosis started and The Mothers started turning into Nadia's story.

Want more? If you haven't read this profile of Bennett in The New York Times from Alexandra Alter, you should. And here's an interview with Graison Dangor at Studio 360.

Bennett was asked at her various events about books. Interestingly enough, we'd already discussed several of her favorites at the In-Store Lit Group, including Angela Flournoy's The Turner House and Tayari Jones's Silver Sparrow. I asked Bennett if she knew when Jones would have another novel coming, and Jones had recently posted that 2018 was the likely publication year. She also noted that she was influenced by James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain.

Toni Morrison is one of her literary idols and she felt the best book to start with is Song of Solomon. Another writer that came up several times was Dorothy Allison, referring both to Bastard Out of Carolina (which comes up periodically in other situations) and Cavedweller (which does not). I was pleased to note that I attended Allison's Cavedweller reading at a Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop and I can say she was one of the best readers I've ever come across.

Up next on Monday, March 6, another 6 pm discussion, this time for Paul Beatty's The Sellout. We're starting early because several of us want to attend the 7 pm talk with Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club and the just-released Books for Living.

On Monday, April 3, 7 pm, we'll be discussing the Milwaukee Big Read, Julia Avarez's In the Time of the Butterflies. We are just one of many book clubs who will be featuring this title. Our March discussion will have a representative from the Milwaukee Public Library discussing the program.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Announcing Jen Sincero's ticketed event at Bowell for "You Are a Badass at Making Money" and a little story about how our friends at Boulder Book Store helped make this book happen.

Part 1: The story behind the story

It was Book Expo 2014 and I had this idea. I was going to find the next sleeper bestseller. I always feel like I am not completely taking advantage of all the networking that we do, so I came in with a question to ask booksellers - what's a book you're selling a lot of that you think other stores could sell if they just paid attention to it? I thought about the 200+ copies we sold of The Power of Kindness after one of our sales reps offhandedly mentioned it as a good backlist book at a rep presentation. And I thought about the recommendations in the past that led to sales in the hundreds for books like The True Story of Hansel and Gretel and The Elegance of the Hedgehog, the latter of which went on to national bestsellerdom after a year of sleeper sales at indies.

In both cases, these were books that I could tell from Treeline (a shared bookseller inventory system) that while there were some stores selling these books, sales were not universally strong. I had my own recommendation in mind that I thought was below the radar--The President's Hat, by Antoine Laurain. If you live in the Milwaukee, you might think that Laurain's books are bestsellers at the level of The Little Paris Bookshop, but his sales really depend on a bookstore handsell. Gallic just doesn't have the reach of Penguin Random House (Nina George's parent company) to take something that's working and help it go national. We've sold over 700 copies of Laurain's books and we're looking forward to The Portrait, his first novel, finally translated for English speakers, coming out this summer (June 27, we can hold a copy for you). But that's not what this blog post is about.

So I'm chatting with a few booksellers and most people are coming up with a lot of regional titles, which may or may not travel--we're just going to have the edge on selling Nick Petrie's The Drifter, for example, or books that most indie booksellers are already doing well with. Right now the top 15, for example, is psychological thrillers, award winners, and well-known names, plus Fredrik Backman, but down below that, in the 16-30 range, might be books that we can mine for greater success.

And then I turned to my friend Arsen at Boulder Book Store, and he said that it was funny that I brought this up, because Boulder has a book that they sold over 1000 copies of in the last year*, and it seemed to be off the radar of most bookstores. And sure enough, we looked up the book on Treeline and nobody else was remotely close to Boulder's sales. Was she local? No. Had she done an enormous event there? No. It was just selling like crazy off their front new and noteworthy area. And pretty much for the rest of the show, it was all I could talk about.

That book was You Are a Badass. Upon returning back to Boswell, Jason ordered 15 copies for our impulse table. I'm not used to trends exploding quite so quickly, but two months later, it was on the national bestseller lists. We're not exactly sure what happened, but two of our friends at Perseus Distribution (Sincero's distributor, now a part of Ingram, though her original publisher Running Press is now a part of Hachette) said that that hearing about Boulder's success seemed to have created a sort of Jen Sincero bandwagon. You've read The Tipping Point, so you know how these things sometimes go.

In retrospect, this is clearly the perfect book to break out of Boulder. It's got that classic human potential message of something like The Four Agreements or The Power of Now with a kick-ass update that seems to gel with other breakout books like #Girlboss and Year of Yes.

Part 2: The nitty gritty

So now we're excited to announce a ticketed visit at Boswell for Jen Sincero, the bestselling author, success coach, and motivational speaker who has spent over a decade traveling the world helping people transform their lives and their bank accounts. Her new release is a sequel to You Are a Badass and it's called You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth.

Per the publisher, You Are a Badass at Making Money is a step-by-step guide to helping people overcome their blocks, push past their fears, and start making the kind of money they've never made before. Written in the same style as her bestselling book, You Are a Badass, her latest work combines entertaining essays with life-changing concepts. Jen boils all her wisdom down into manageable, bite-sized tips so her readers can put them into practice and get real results.

This event is cosponsored by WWBIC, the Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative Corporation. A percentage of ticket sales will be donated back to this organization which fosters entrepreneurial initiatives in our state.

Tickets are $27 and include admission to the event and a copy of You Are a Badass at Making Money. On the night of the event only, a $19 Boswell gift card is available in lieu of the book. Sincero will personalize your copy of You Are a Badass at Making Money, will sign books brought from home, and will pose for photos.

If you are not able to attend, a signed copy of You Are a Badass at Making Money will be held for you for up to six months.

*I think the actual number was closer to 1500, an astounding amount of books to be sold with no national momentum, local connections, or a large event.