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!

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