Monday, July 3, 2017

Boswell Summer Reading on Lake Effect with Mitch Teich

Today was my day to talk about summer reading with Mitch Teich on WUWM's Lake Effect. Here's a link to our conversation. And now a little on how I chose the titles.

I decided that to qualify, the books had to be published between May 1 and August 1, and I had to have read them. Sometimes I do recommend books I haven't read, but I'm always clear about that, and indicate who on staff has read it or what customers are saying about it that makes me feel comfortable offering it as a suggestion.

Of course keeping a list to books I've read can sometimes be problematic. My reading is often event driven, but don't worry, a few books in that category qualified for the list. But because we don't do as many events over the summer, I have tended to read ahead to fall 2017 and even winter 2018. When it comes to books you like, the earlier the better. Did I mention its only 275 days until Liam Callanan's Paris by the Book comes out?

If there's a theme to this list, it's that even booksellers take recommendations. I wanted to have one great kids rec, so after listening to our HarperCollins rep Jenny Sheridan present Laurel Snyder's Orphan Island at a bookseller meeting and then again at our educator night, it moved to the top of my list. But it was hearing our kids buyer Amie talk about it on the last Boswell-featured Lake Effect book segment that convinced me to read it. So of course that means that we squandered a slot with a book we already mentioned. The truth is that I'll  probably bring it up again. It's about nine kids on an island. They don't know why they are there but they know how they got there - every year a boat brings a new arrival and per custom, the Elder (oldest kid) must get in the boat and sail off. The new elder, Jinny, is upset by losing her closest friend. She doesn't really want to have to teach then newbie the ropes and she doesn't really want to read. I call it Lost for kids. Despite all the questions, or maybe because of it, it's really quite satisfying.

One interesting twist of 2017 is that our trade buyer Jason was on the Indies Introduce nominating panel. I did this one season and discovered some great books, including Burial Rites, The Rosie Project, and The President's Hat. So while Jason always reads a lot, this season he read well outside his comfort zone and found a few surprised. One of his favorites was The Long Haul, by Finn Murphy, the memoir of a trucker who specializes in high-end moves. Such an interesting voices, that not only offers stories, but helpings of philosophy and sociological commentary. Long-haul movers are the low folks on the totem pole for truckers; Murphy rarely sat at the counter at a truck stop. They don't have a great rep with the general public either, but The Long Haul could change that.

Bookselling This Week featured an interview of Finn Murphy by Jason! Here Jason asks about any blunders that might have cut short Murphy's career: "An advantage of being a long-haul driver is that I work alone. I am what John McPhee called 'the admiral of my fleet of one.' That means most of my really heinous mistakes weren’t/aren’t observed by my superiors. I was summoned to the North American Van Lines mover school early on in order to improve my quality score. They called the class 'Cargo Handling,' and it was a week-long intensive taught by retired award-winning drivers. I wasn’t given the option to refuse. In a warehouse in Indiana, North American had a two-story frame house mockup set up with all sorts of furniture and stairways with twists and turns. We moved furniture all day under the steely eyed veterans and received correction on how not to ding walls or break things."

You already know that Lonesome Lies Before Us has been my top book for spring, though with a June 6 release date, some might say that it's actually a summer book, speaking meteorologically. What an amazing event we had with Don Lee and Will Johson and I'm only sad that I couldn't convince more people that this was going to be the special event that it was. One high school teacher told me it was one of the best conversations she'd heard about writing, music, and creativity. That was high praise because she goes to a lot of events. If you haven't read the post where I wax on about Lee, read it now.

Recently Lee was interviewed by Jeff Vasishta in Interview.  There are at least five passages I'd love to quote, but I'm particularly interested in how diverse writers can sometimes be boxed in by the burder of expecting to focus on their cultural identity: "Yes, the faces are becoming more diverse, but pretty slowly. Likewise, I think writers of color still get trapped in an ethnic literature box in terms of what's expected of them, i.e., always having to write about the immigrant experience or discrimination or the old country or whatnot. That's partly why in this novel, I did something quietly subversive: I have a bunch of Asian, Latino, and African Americans as characters, but I never identify anyone by race. Hopefully in another generation or two, things will change."

Have I mentioned that Allegra Goodman does the same thing in The Chalk Artist? After writing a lot about Jewish culture, the only indicator that anyone might possibly be Jewish is a mention that one of the characters is named Lazar.

Speaking of writers I love, Tom Perrotta's new novel, Mrs. Fletcher is his first from Scribner, after a run at St. Martin's. It's about a family coping with changes in the world of sexual politics, from the perspective of a divorced mom and her son. I would say this novel, coming August 1, is more of a back-to-school novel, as it's about both of them going to school and finding that life is very different. I've read every novel and story collection of Perrotta's (with the odd exception of The Leftovers), but only got to meet the author with this book, as he was the featured author at a dinner I went to at a bookseller conference. I contemplated bringing one of my old books to get signed, but I got cold feet. Plus my suitcase was pretty full.

It should be announced any second that I have the Indie Next Pick quote for Mrs. Fletcher, which you can read on our item page of our website. If you want to see Perrotta, he's coming fairly close, to Andersons in Naperville, on Monday, August 7. Alas, I'll be at Boswell leading our in-store lit group. We're doing a thriller for the summer, Noah Hawley's Before the Fall. Had we been hosting Mr. Perrotta on a nearby date, I would guess we would have been reading The Leftovers.

One author we are lucky enough to host is Adriana Trigiani, who is coming back to the Milwaukee area for  a ticketed event featuring Kiss Carlo, her brand-new New York Times bestselling novel. We just did a post on Trigiani's multiple visits to the area, due to her friendship with long-time bookseller Jane Glaser. Jane mentioned to me that not only did Picardy Shoe Parlor get mentioned in one of Trigiani's books, so did the Pabst Mansion. Kiss Carlo is a great summer read, a family saga, Shakespearean comedy, Italian American cultural story, and romance all rolled into one. And hey, the Fresno Bee lists it as one of its top five most requested titles.

This was my first Trigiani, and I can see how fans can get wrapped up in this world. But the truth is that part of the package is Trigiani herself, which is why I have to do another plug for our joint event with Books and Company at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts on Wednesday, July 12, 7 pm. Tickets are $32.00 and you get a copy of Kiss Carlo too. You can bring older books to get signed, and yes, Trigiani will do photos.

On a very different note, I decided that I was short of some timely nonfiction, so at the last minute, I picked up and read Roxane Gay's Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Life. I'd read both Bad Feminist and An Untamed State, but I was remiss on getting to her newest, despite at least one well-known author egging me on to get my hands on this "amazing achievement." And Gay delivers a stunner, considering that this book was very hard for her to write. It was actually scheduled for last summer.

Gay chronicles how her life was changed by a rape when she was 12. This led to a lifetime of eating and dieting.Gay's gotten praise for her telling it like it is about the way we treat fat people, but flack from some quarters about not being happy with her body the way it is. It can be hard to be honest, but that intimacy and honesty are one of the triumphs of Hunger.

And for those who hope for some of the fun side of Gay, it's there too, at least a bit. She loves her some Ina Garten!

Finally, I looked at my list and saw I was truant on having a mystery or thriller on the list. I just finished Attica Locke's Bluebird, Bluebird, but that doesn't come out until September. So once again, I turned to Jason for advice and he suggested The Readymade Thief, another book on the Indies Introduce list for me, and this one has already had multiple reads from Boswell booksellers, let alone booksellers around the country. Yes, Augustus Rose's novel is his first, but what attention it's getting.

It's about a teenage girl who, thanks to her propensity to shoplift, is pulled into a vast conspiracy involving the philosophy of none other than Marcel Duchamp (the "readymade" in the title refers to Duchamp's readymade artpieces. Like Adriana Trigiani's Kiss Carlo, the story's setting is very Philadelphia, which was interesting to me, because despite its size, Philadelphia is rarely the focus of fiction compared to New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, or even Detroit. And its art connections reminded me not just of another famous puzzler, The DaVinci Code, but also The Improbability of Love, which despite having more of a romance element, does for Watteau what The Readymade Thief does for Duchamp. It makes you want to know more!

The Readymade Thief to me has a different feel, more like those summer specualtive thrillers that seem to always become movie projects. I got the feeling, from who was reading it, that fans of Blake Crouch's Dark Matter, for example, would like this. And yes, Jason's quote is what they are using for Indies Introduce. Here it is.

“Lee is a 17-year-old girl who has gotten into a bit of trouble. Not that she is innocent, or completely guilty either. She runs with the wrong crowd, steals something that is not hers, and now she is on the run with nobody to turn to. Rose takes readers into the underbelly of Philadelphia, the sections that people have abandoned, to solve the mystery Lee has fallen into, which has to do with the famous artist Duchamp. Rose melds together information and story methods with amazing skill, drawing on secret societies, hacking, art theft, conspiracies, drugs, and so much more. This plot moves; it does not slow down until it reaches the conclusion, which will have you gasping for breath. Such a brilliant journey.” (Jason Kennedy on The Readymade Thief)

Like many thrillers, there are some dangling threads afterwards - what exactly is going to happen to all those zombie-like teens roaming the streets? But obviously someone who thinks about these things is maybe not in the right frame of mind; it would be like watching Wonder Woman for the continuity errors.

Want to hear more? Tune into Lake Effect.

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