Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Greetings from Memphis - some Winter Institute highlights

Last week I went with my colleague Jason to the 13th Winter Institute conference, put together by the American Booksellers Association. It was the largest one yet, but that was partly because they increased capacity.  I heard at least one attendee worry that it was getting too large, but I felt that everything ran smoothly, and there was nothing that indicated there were this was too large a crowd for the organizers to handle.

This was actually my second time visiting Memphis, and last trip was book related as well. Back when I was at the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, I won a contest for putting together an Elvis Presley display at the stores (effectively bringing in a dump, or cardboard bin with books).  It was a strange time - we won enough contests of this sort that our owners had to come up with a policy as to what went to the individual bookseller and what funnelled back to the store itself (mostly cash). What I'm saying is, I was not the only trip winner and at least two of them were to Europe.

The trip featured a visit to Graceland, but 20 years on, I thought there were very few Elvis Presley references around town compared to my last time. We did have an Elvis impersonator at one of our cocktail parties, and I went to at least two restaurants that served dishes including peanut butter and banana. Did you know there was a new picture book edition of Presley's Love Me Tender that came out last fall, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin? There was!

Winter Institute features three full days of programming, and one additional day of supplemental pre-registration focused seminars, plus several tours. This year's featured Yoknapatawpha and Mississippi tours that each featured an iconic bookshop, Turnrow and Square Books respectively. A number of other folks detoured to Nashville for a tour of Ingram's warehouse. The rest of the days were a mix of keynote speakers, smaller breakout sessions, rep presentation luncheons, and publisher focus groups.

The keynotes were well received. Junot Diaz discussed his first picture book, Islandborn, with illustrations by Leo Espinosa, and chronicled his own journey to being a writer, discovering books as a Dominican kid in New York. Though he loved books as a child, he became disenchanted when he did not see kids like him in them. As my friend Johanna said to me afterwards, "It brought tears to my eyes." We have two big fans of the book (which comes out March 13) in Aaron and Jen, with Aaron calling this "a book full of beauty, empathy, and fun that will be in my personal collection!" Yes, you can preorder.

It was Daniel Pink's record-breaking third visit to Winter Institute, this time for When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, and I admit that my first instinct was to bring in someone new, especially because I read To Sell Is Human and my world was not rocked. Standards too high that every book should be life changing? OK, I'll calm down. But I have to admit, Pink did a great job and I heard Pink's premises slipping into conversational chatter. I will now avoid scheduling meetings in the afternoon and will do anything not to go before a judge just before lunch. Plus I might still read the book.

The pairing of Sarah Jessica Parker with The New York Times Book Review's Pamela Paul for an opening conversation was a change from past conferences, because the session is usually followed by a breakout, but in this case, there was not much to say (list the ways we love new imprints?), so the session focused on bookseller challenges, like increasing expenses and the continuing conversation about inclusiveness. Parker is the head of the new SJP Books imprint at Hogarth (which is itself part of Crown, which itself is part of Penguin Random House). She won't be line editing but she'll be working with acquisitions and bringing her very book-obsessed eye to projects. Her first title is A Place for Us, a first novel by Fatima Farheen Mirza, a multi-generational novel about an Muslim Indian family. Parker's gold standard is A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra's first novel, which continues to be among Hogarth's more notable titles on its backlist. What I think Parker did best is effectively convey to us that she is a serious reader who would love to have Reese Witherspoon-like impact and broaden the readership for books she loves.

There's a lot of author interaction, including two author receptions, one extravaganza featuring close to 100 writers, and another smaller buffet luncheon, that nonetheless had close to 30 stations. I think it was a great idea to move that second function from the end of the day to lunch. You see a lot of slippage on the third day (often us!) and I think it's better to lose them to a one-author keynote than a 30-author commitment. In addition, many booksellers attend publisher dinners that feature authors. I understand that not everyone gets to go to these and I'm grateful that I could be included, and hope I will do my part by discovering some great writers that we can get behind at Boswell.

I wound up reading two books featured at the show that I will hope to focus on later, perhaps in the blog. I went into the show very excited about My Ex-Life, the first Stephen McCauley novel in eight years, now at a new publisher, Flatiron, and a new editor, Amy Einhorn. I got to see McCauley at the reception and also at the hotel bar, where he was chatting with the great Aminatta Forna, whose new book is Happiness. Einhorn told me that she's hoping we won't have to wait eight years for the next Stephen McCauley novel. You can see that I already have a recommendation in place on our website. Yes, you can pre-order.

Another author who I was excited to see at the show was Michael Zadoorian, and while I did not read his short story collection, am probably one of the rare attendees (but not the only attendee) who has read his previous novels, Second Hand, and The Leisure Seeker, now a film with Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland, and which is opening soon at either the Downer or Oriental Theatres, as the poster is now up. His new book, which I think is more like Second Hand, which itself was a Nick Hornbyesque novel about a guy who runs a thrift shop in Detroit, is called Beautiful Music, and it's a Detroit-centric novel about a kid growing up in the early 1970s, in the midst of both his city and family fracturing, kept going with his love of music, and yes, growing a bit. It's also out in May.

There were so many other great writers there, but one of my must-see writers was Tommy Orange, whose There There has a groundswell of buzz. The title refers to the old Gertrude Stein quote, and yes, it turns out to be a novel about Oakland. Orange is a very exciting writer, a rare Native American under 50 (and 40) getting a major launch (hope to see more) and we're particularly enthusiastic about the over-the-top Sherman Alexie endorsement. I think Knopf did a great job on this cover treatment - no beef intended to the other covers, but I do like a nice orange jacket (Little Bee) and based on what we see in the gift world, everyone loves feathers.

And finally, I met so many wonderful authors that went on my to-be-read piles, but I thought I'd give a shout out to Christine Mangan, whose first novel, Tangerine, comes out in late March. It's an upmarket psychological suspense novel, set in Tangiers (hence the title), about a woman who, just after arriving for her husband's job, runs into her old college roomate, who she hasn't seen since "the accident." And so, as Booklist writes in their starred review, "the dance begins." Not just the publisher, but most of the advance reviews are comparing the work to Patricia Highsmith. One reviewer references Michael Ondaatje. Joyce Carol Oates referenced Donna Tartt, and while I was worried because it was the second day in a row I saw a Donna Tartt reference, this was from JCO, so I guess it's ok the invoke DT.

Mangan was one of the featured authors at the HarperCollins dinner, which I RSVPd to a year in advance (long story). Most of these dinners rotate the authors through the courses. It sounds weird, but otherwise a bookseller will wind up speaking to very few people and if you don't hit it off with the folks to the left and right of you, you're sunk. I've been at many a dinner where everyone is engaged in intimate conversations and I'm staring at my fork. And sometimes you're just on the wrong side of the table. At least now I can pull out my phone. I enjoyed hearing how Mangan sold the book just as she had signed a contract to teach in Dubai for a year. If nothing else, it was definitely material for a future book.

I think I might have a little more to write about the conference and Memphis, but this post is long enough already.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Event alert: Colson Whitehead at UWM, plus Nick Petrie at Whitefish Bay Library, Rachel Ida Buff on the history of immigrant rights, Ron Larson on Civil War Wisconsin, and Virginia Eubanks at Central Library on digital justice

Here's your Boswell schedule for the week.

Tuesday, January 30, 6:30 pm, at Whitefish Bay Library, 5420 N Marlborough Dr, just south of Silver Spring Dr:
Nick Petrie, author of Light It Up

Author Nick Petrie returns to the library to celebrate the release of Light It Up, his 3rd book in the Peter Ash series.

In this action-packed thriller starring war veteran Peter Ash, a well-planned and flawlessly executed hijacking reveals the hidden dangers of Colorado’s mellowest business, but Ash may find there’s more to this crime than meets the eye.

Of the new book, Jim Higgins of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes: "Petrie is not a military veteran, but he does his homework. In his three published novels to date, he shows both the effect PTSD has on Ash and the Marine's effort to face his own woundedness. Light It Up extends a quality action series with plenty of room ahead both for new adventures and character development."

Registration not required for this event. Visit the library page here for more information.

Wednesday, January 31, 7 pm, at UWM Student Union, Wisconsin Room, 2200 E Kenwood Blvd:
A ticketed event with Colson Whitehead, author of The Underground Railroad

Boswell and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Student Union, present an evening with Colson Whitehead, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad.

Tickets to the general public are $19 and include admission to the event, all taxes and ticket fees, and a signed paperback edition of The Underground Railroad. Tickets are available at or you can order by phone at 800-838-3006. In addition, UWM students, faculty, and staff can also purchase tickets at the UWM Student Union Box Office at a special discounted price. Limit of two tickets per person.

In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, The Underground Railroad received the National Book Award for fiction, the Carnegie Medal for Excellence, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award. The book was an Oprah book club selection and a #1 New York Times bestseller.

About the Author: Colson Whitehead is also the author of The Noble Hustle, Zone One, Sag Harbor, The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, Apex Hides the Hurt, and The Colossus of New York. A recipient of the MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships, he lives in New York City.

Thursday, February 1, 7:00 pm, at Boswell:
Rachel Ida Buff, author of Against the Deportation Terror: Organizing for Immigrant Rights in the Twentieth Century

Despite being characterized as a nation of immigrants, the United States has seen a long history of immigrant rights struggles. In her timely book Against the Deportation Terror, Rachel Ida Buff uncovers this multiracial history through the story of the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born (ACPFB). From its origins in the 1930s through repression during the early Cold War, to engagement with new Latinx and Caribbean immigrants in the 1970s and early 1980s, the ACPFB has responded to various, ongoing crises of what they called “the deportation terror.”

Advocates worked against repression, discrimination, detention, and expulsion in migrant communities across the nation at the same time as they supported reform of federal immigration policy. Prevailing in some cases and suffering defeats in others, the story of the ACPFB is characterized by persistence in multiracial organizing even during periods of protracted repression. By tracing the work of the ACPFB and its allies over half a century, Against the Deportation Terror provides important historical precedent for contemporary immigrant rights organizing.

About the Author: Rachel Ida Buff is Professor of History and Coordinator, Comparative Ethnic Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is the editor of Immigrant Rights in the Shadows of Citizenship and the author of Immigration and the Political Economy of Home: West Indian Brooklyn and American Indian Minneapolis, 1945-1992.

This event cosponsored by Voces de La Frontera and the UWM History Department.

Friday, February 2, 7:00 pm, at Boswell:
Ronald Paul Larson, author of Wisconsin and the Civil War

Wisconsin troops fought and died for the Union on Civil War battlefields across the continent, from Shiloh to Gettysburg. Wisconsin lumberjacks built a dam that saved a stranded Union fleet. The Second Wisconsin Infantry suffered the highest percentage of battle deaths in the Union army.

Back home, in a state largely populated by immigrants and recent transplants, the war effort forced Wisconsin's residents to forge a common identity for the first time. Drawing on unpublished letters and new research, Ron Larson tells Wisconsin's Civil War story, from the famous exploits of the Iron Brigade to the heretofore largely unknown contributions of the Badger State's women, African Americans and Native Americans.

About the Author: Kenosha-native Larson is a veteran of the U.S. Army with a masters in history from Cal State Fullerton. He has worked as an embedded reporter on a number of campaigns, interviewing and photographing both soldiers and civilians, and was the head text researcher for a six-part documentary on the Ace-Award-winning Revolutionary War for TLC.

Monday, February 5, 6:30 pm, at Milwaukee Public Library’s Richard E. and Lucile Krug Rare Books Room, 814 W Wisconsin Ave:
Virginia Eubanks, author of Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor

This event is cosponsored by Community Advocates Public Policy Institute, the Milwaukee Public Library, and Boswell Book Company. Registration is requested for this event at Please note that there is a chance this event may be moved to a larger venue.

Since the dawn of the digital age, decision-making in finance, employment, politics, health and human services has undergone revolutionary change. Today, automated systems control which neighborhoods get policed, which families attain resources, and who is investigated for fraud. While we all live under this new regime of data, the most invasive and punitive systems are aimed at the poor.

Virginia Eubanks systematically investigates the impacts of data mining, policy algorithms, and predictive risk models on poor and working-class people in America. Automating Inequality, in the tradition of The New Jim Crow and $2.00 a Day, is full of heart-wrenching and eye-opening stories. Publication of this book could not be timelier.

About the Author: Virginia Eubanks is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University at Albany, SUNY. She is the author of Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age and co-editor, with Alethia Jones, of Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Boswell bestsellers, week ending January 27, 2018--posthumous sales for Sue Grafton and Denis Johnson, the perfect timing for Daniel Pink, school visits with Benjamin Ludwig and Eliot Schrefer, and a Marquette talk from Clayborne Carson, plus Journal Sentinel's TapBooks reviews, including a rave for Dave Eggers

Here's what was selling at Boswell during the past week. Because I was at Winter Institute in Memphis, it all feels like a dream!

Please note that due to new Facebook protocol, many of you are going to likely stop seeing this blog show up in your feed. So if you really enjoy reading about our bestsellers every week, I highly recommend you sign up for our RSS feed. You can do so here!

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Immortalists, by Chloe Benjamin
2. Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward
3. Light It Up, by Nick Petrie (event 1/30, 6:30 pm, WFB Library)
4. The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, by Denis Johnson
5. Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan
6. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
7. The Maze at Windermere, by Gregory Blake Smith (event 2/8 7 pm at Boswell, more below in Journal Sentinel review)
8. The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn
9. Y Is for Yesterday, by Sue Grafton
10. Munich, by Robert Harris

Two authors have posthumous top ten placements this week on hardcover fiction. Sue Grafton's Y Is for Yesterday has picked up since she passed away in late December, while Denis Johnson's short story collection just released. He passed away in May. The Largesse of the Sea Maiden has still been the subject of a series of events around the country, with folks working with other writers who are Denis Johnson fans to read and discuss his work. From William Giraldi in The Washington Post: "All necessary writers have something ineffable animating their work, but I’m certain that that something results from the counter-reliance of subject and utterance. It is here that Johnson achieves his magisterial effects. His chief concern is the language of the sublime, the embrace of awe, how to transcend the quotidian crush of our lives. He will come to be lauded not only as the holy stylist he’s always been, but as a gnostic seer shaking between damnation and deliverance. He is gone now, but his breed of humane beauty dies hard."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Fire and Fury, by Michael Wolff
2. How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky
3. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, by Margareta Magnusson
4. The Square and the Tower, by Niall Ferguson
5. Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann
6. The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, by Nadine Burke Harris
7. Leonardo Da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson
8. Victoria and Albert, by Daisy Goodwin
9. When, by Daniel H. Pink
10. Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell, by David Yaffe

Our REDgen-cosponsored event with Nadine Burke Harris on Saturday, February 10, 3 pm for The Deepest Well at Marquette's Varsity Hall is completely full but there are tickets for overflow seating in Weasler Auditorium. Here is the ticket link. Though free, you will need to check in for this event.

Speaking of Winter Institute (and I was, at the beginning), one of the keynote speakers was Daniel Pink, whose new book is When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. It was the kind of talk where everyone was bringing it up in various situations. I am now going to avoid afternoon meetings and going before a judge right before lunch.

Paperback Fiction:
1. Ginny Moon, by Benjamin Ludwig
2. Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
3. Call Me by Your Name, by André Aciman (event 2/19, 7 pm, at Boswell)
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
6. The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn
7. Go Went Gone, by Jenny Erpenbeck
8. Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly
9. The Drifter, by Nick Petrie (reminder, event 1/30 at WFB, 6:30 pm)
10. The Enigma Variations, by André Aciman (see above!)

I'm told we had a nice day with Benjamin Ludwig, including what I'm also told is his first school visit for Ginny Moon, as well as an event at Boswell, which despite some snowfall, went on as planned. Here's Ludwig in The Irish Times with an essay about how adoption is learning to love a stranger.

Caroline may be gone (we hope to have her back as an author for her first work of fiction) but her rec lingers on. Go, Went, Gone hits our bestseller list. She begins: "As a retired classics professor, Richard is accustomed to order and routine. His days are cushioned by predictability, that is until one fateful day when he passes a group of hunger strikers in Berlin's Alexanderplatz. He learns that they are African refugees protesting under the slogan "We become visible," a demand that compels him to investigate further. The novel unfolds and the retired professor adapts to a new routine, one that includes regular German lessons at their makeshift housing facility, and sitting with the men to record their stories."

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Martin's Dream, by Clayborne Carson
2. No Applause, Just Throw Money, by S.D. Trav
3. Waking Up White, by Debby Irving
4. Spaces of Spaces and other Pieces, by Georges Perec
5. Janesville, by Amy Goldstein
6. Freedom Writers Diary, by Erin Gruwell
7. Wisconsin and the Civil War, by Ronald Paul Larson (event Fri 2/2, 7 pm at Boswell)
8. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
9. Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah
10. Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader, edited by Clayborne Carson

We sold books for Clayborne Carson at a special event at Marquette University honoring Martin Luther King Jr on Thursday. We would have helped promote it but by the time we were working with the coordinators, it was fully registered, something that often happens with the On the Issues events at Marquette Law School. Carson's bestselling book was Martin's Dream: My Journey and the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Here's a BBC interview with Carson from pub date. I can't play it because I'm hitting that familiar wall where I get a notice that I need to load Flash even though I have Flash. You know the message!

Books for Kids:
1. The Lost Rainforest: Mez's Magic, by Eliot Schrefer
2. Endangered, by Eliot Schrefer
3. The Journey, by Francesca Sanna
4. Partly Cloudy, by Gary Soto
5. Monster, by Walter Dean Myers
6. Red Pencil, by Andrea David Pinkney
7. Dog Man and Cat Kid, by Dav Pilkey
8. A Friend Is Someone who Likes You, by Joan Walsh Angland
9. Love, by Matt De La Peña, with illustrations by Loren Long
10. Melana's Jubilee, by Elliott Zegga, with illustrations by Aaron Boyd

Last week we also hosted school visits for National Book Award finalist Eliot Schrefer, whose new book is The Last Rainforest: Mez's Magic, a new middle grade animal fantasy series. Of the book, Kevin Delecki in Bookpage writes: "Filled with well-developed and extremely likable characters, Mez’s Magic is a fast-paced and broad-reaching first entry in a new series. Animal lovers and fans of adventure tales will get caught up in the tense and twisting action." We should still have some signed copies available.

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins is stoked about the "riveting" new Dave Eggers, The Monk of Mokha, which is sort of a continuation of the series of books that began with What Is the What and continued with Zeitoun in 2009. It's the story of Yemeni immigrant Mokhtar Alkhanshali, and it goes well beyond Dave Eggers's normal audience, with Higgins keeping a checklist of potential lovers of this book: "People who love coffee, because the book is filled with fascinating details on the subject; people from Yemen; fans of Eggers' writing, of course; and in particular, anyone who has ever dreamed of starting a business, especially an international one." I don't normally say this when I read reviews, because I have a lot of books on my plate, but Jim, you sold me! I'm buying my copy as soon as it's on sale.

Originally from the Seattle Times and now available in the print edition comes a profile of Jesmyn Ward from Nicole Brodeur. The local connection is that before Ward's two novels and her Macarthur Genius Grant, she was an intern at Seattle's Pacific Northwest Ballet. Brodeur writes: "Ward is used to Mississippi everything, which is why her books - including her latest and third novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing - are steeped in the spirit, struggle and vernacular of the Black South. More composed than written, Ward's books are filled with characters that readers embrace for their humanity, flaws, and heart - and the promise that can be seen in the faces of children." You can see that the original article was tied to Ward visiting for a Seattle talk.

And finally, someone who is coming to Milwaukee! The print edition features a review from Zack Graham, which originally appeared in Newsday. His introduction: "When one thinks of Newport, R.I., what comes to mind? Lifestyles of the rich and famous. Heirs and heiresses and high society, private clubs and mansions and yachts. Few would say that Newport symbolizes America or American history. And yet The Maze at Windermere, Gregory Blake Smith's ambitious forth novel, examines race, class, gender, sexual identity, war, and love in America through the lens of Newport's history." Don't forget, Smith will be in conversation with novelist Jane Hamilton on Thursday, February 8, 7 pm, cosponsored by the Milwaukee Carleton Club.

Friday, January 26, 2018

How I wound up reading Gregory Blake Smith's "The Maze at Windermere" and how that led to two more booksellers reading it as well.

Pity the Daniel-targeted novel that came out on January 9. That was the day Chloe Benjamin's The Immortalists (signed copies available) was released and being that I had been thinking about that book since March 2017. But even though I read that book twice  So when my friend, the agent Barney Karpfinger, mentioned to me an upcoming novel that he was crazy about, The Maze at Windermere, I thought about it, put it on the pile, and realized it was a very large pile indeed. Mr. Karpfinger and I had been chatting a bit more of late, being that he represents Dan Egan, whose book The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, has been hugely popular in Milwaukee over the last year. We even helped locate a bookseller in another city for an offsite.

So I looked at the book and saw this enthusiastic recommendation from the novelist Jane Hamilton, and we've been in touch of late because firstly, we love selling her most recent novel, The Excellent Lombards, and secondly, Ms. Hamilton has helped a few writers over the years by being in conversation with them, most recently Sheryl Sandberg, when she was at the Riverside Theater for Option B. It turns out that every author is at their best when talking to Hamilton and I've kept my eye out for possibilities, being well aware that there are many reasons why one can strike out at this game, which is why we still haven't hosted an event with Tom Perrotta. Wouldn't Tom Perrotta and Jane Hamilton been amazing together in conversation? Maybe someday.

So here's the thing about The Maze at Windermere. It's quite a fascinating setup. The entire novel takes place in Newport, Rhode Island, but in five time periods, stretching from 2011 all the way back to 1692. I've read stories with two intertwined stories, and event three (Dan Chaon's Among the Missing comes to mind, as well as the memoir Falling Through the Earth, from Danielle Trussoni), but I don't think I have ever read a book with five interwoven subplots with five completely sets of characters at five time periods. Five perspectives, sure!

So it was a good thing that I started reading the book in the fall and put it down, after plans for the event were temporarily on hold. Because at that point, I was having a little trouble. The best thing to happen to me was to reread the first 50 pages. Much as rereading the first section of Orhan Pamuk's My Name Is Red was the jump start I needed, by the time I was at 84, I started understanding the cycle of stories (2011, 1896, 1863, 1778, 1692) and got used to the stylized language of the earlier narratives.

Like My Name Is Red, I needed a little jumpstart too. So I read the advance reviews to give me a bit of lifeline. There are times when you don't want to know spoilers, and there are times when you do. So by the time the structure of the narrative shifted again, speeding up a bit, I understood the tics of each section such that I had no trouble, and in fact couldn't put the book down for the last 100 pages. The speeding up of the interwoven narrative reminded me of David Payne's Back to Wando Passo. Why I need to mention this is beyond me, as how is this going to make somebody pick up the book, but you know but it was a literary deja vu moment for me, like when a particularly good rollercoaster sparks a memory about another rollercoaster. I don't go on rollercoasters anymore, but if someone told me a ride was like Kennywood's Thunderbolt in Pittsburgh, which begins with a drop and doesn't have a lift hill until the middle, I might do it.

Now that I've read the book, I've been selectively targeting other folks to read it. Certainly the Ron Charles review in The Washington Post has helped. And of course the Henry James angle intrigued Jane, and I'm glad to say that Sharon is reading it too. Smith does a masterful job of having the stories connect to each other in unusual ways. One person's home later shows up as the poor Irish neighborhood. Issues of race, class, and sexuality reverberate through the centuries. And of course the contemporary story features a character reading Daisy Miller, reflecting back to the mid-18th century story features Henry James meeting the woman who became his inspiration for Miller. I know you're always looking for a reason to read a classic, but you don't get around to it as much as you want. Maybe you should also be reading Daisy Miller?

And of course all the stories are tied together beyond place. Each time features a character (often several) negotiating the interactive nature of love and economics--the dance between the libido and the dollar.  And what The Maze at Windermere forces you to do is realize there's no other way to recommend the book than to say it as at once timely and timeless.


Jane Hamilton (who could make an accounting manual sound interesting, let alone a multi-layered novel like this) will be in conversation with Gregory Blake Smith about The Maze at Windermere, on Thursday, February 8, 7 pm. Jane Hamilton's most recent novel is The Excellent Lombards. Our event is cosponsored by the Carleton Milwaukee Club.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Celebrating the release of Sara Blaedel (or rather Blædel) series set in Racine with a salute to kringles, Lego, and Hamlet

Last fall at Heartland Fall Forum, I was part of a panel on coming displays, and what I spoke about was coming up with display ideas. This is the time of year when I need to be at my most creative, because a whole bunch of tables free up that are dedicated to gift books, seasonal titles, ornaments, boxed cards, and calendars.

Like most stores, I think about the calendar. We have a Valentine's Day display and an African American History month display (that itself transitioned from an MLK display). We keep our critic's picks up through the winter, as people still want to know what were the best books of 2017. We put together tables of award nominees as they come out, and get back to highlighting deceased author's with memorial tables. I was finally able to put together the long-imagined what-to-read-after-Handmaid's-Tale display. And I keep an eye on the event calendar, to see how we can highlight upcoming authors in nontraditional ways. So for example, Liam Callanan's already got a table highlighting Paris by the Book on our table featuring books about bookstores. As you can imagine, that one's always popular and the only problem is that the titles are overlapping a bit with the what-to-read-after-Ove table, which I'd take down, only it's still selling books.

So I looked at the schedule and remembered that I have periodically done a geographical focus table, most recently featuring books about Italy and Italian-American immigrants when we were hosting Adriana Trigiani last summer. So then I started thinking about Denmark, and realized that everything we needed for a display was already in the store.  To me that's the perfect display, where you pull books out of different sections and put them together in a different way. (At left is the smaller display with the original sign, before we enlarged both it and the sign.)

And because it's Winter Institute time,  I thought it would be fun to dissect this particular display. Here are the components.

a. Hygge. This hot lifestyle trend has been selling books at Boswell for the last year, with The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking making regular appearances on our bestseller lists. The secret to hygge is coziness, comfort, conviviality, and contentment. Sounds good, right? No wonder everybody is into it.

b. Lego. Two of my booksellers looked at my display and said, "Lego is Danish?" and looked it up. That's exactly the reaction I love in a display. Obviously they did not go to high school with Francine, who had a dream to work at Lego in Copenhagen someday. And by the way, she did it! Every bookstore has Lego books. I put Lego: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know on our checklist.

c. Hans Christian Andersen. Do people still watch the old Danny Kaye movie? If so, they would remember to sing "Wonderful Copenhagen" whenever Andersen's name came up, like I do, as I listened to the soundtrack LP (vinyl) a lot when I was young. I guess nowadays they are more likely to know who Andersen is from The Little Mermaid and Frozen, which is adapted from Andersen's "The Snow Queen." We put Best Fairy Tales on the checklist, with other titles filling in as necessary.

d. Hamlet. Another exclamation when I was putting up the display: "That's right, Hamlet is set in Denmark."

e. Sara Blaedel is just one of the great crime writers coming out of Denmark. Other folks you can add to the list are Jussi Adler-Olsen, Lene Kaarberbøl, and Peter Høeg, who was popular before computers, so I never spelled his name with a slash when Smilla's Sense of Snow was a sensation. Adler-Olsen's most recent book in paperback is The Hanging Girl.

f. You won't believe the Dane-o-mania going on in publishing right now. In stock, we already had How to Be Danish, by Patrick Kingsley, The Danish Way of Parenting, by Jessica Joelle Alexander, and the kids book When Mischief Came to Town, by Katrina Nannestead, an Australian writer who nonetheless set this kids novel in Bornholm (which is where The Hanging Girl is set as well!). Add a few travel guides and it's a nice looking table.

Of course for us, the point of the table was to highlight The Undertaker's Daughter, by Sara Blaedel. I could have easily done a table of books set in funeral parlors, and that would include a favorite kids books, Jason Reynolds's The Boy in the Black Suit. If I included nonfiction, I'd have a nice list.

For those of you who want to celebrate Denmark with us, we have two upcoming events with Denmark's Blaedel. First she'll be at the Racine Public Library launch on Tuesday, February 6, 6:30 pm. Light refreshments will be served. And then she'll be at Boswell in conversation with Crimespree's Ruth Jordan on Wednesday, February 7, 7 pm, at Boswell. If I have time to leave the store, I will serve kringle, but I have to go to at least Ryan Rd because I prefer O&H over the other brands available in Milwaukee.

From Deadline, a plan to turn Sara Blaedel's Louise Rick novels into a TV series.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

How did we wind up hosting Sara Blaedel for her new series in Racine, as well as Milwaukee? And how could we not? A two-part post.

We were working on scheduling an event with Sara Blaedel, the Danish crime writer, author of The Undertaker's Daughter, and were having a little trouble making it work. Our initial date had a conflicting event, and while we could have placed the event outside the store, the market for the two events seemed close enough that they'd split the audience. So then it came up that the first day of sale was free and where else to launch the book but in Racine, the setting for the new novel. 

This is a very special book for Blaedel. After several titles in the Louise Rick series, she's started something new. The Rick series has been a huge hit in Denmark. Blaedel, which I think is officially Blædel, was named Denmark's favorite crime writer in four years, and she won the Golden Laurel, a prestigious Danish literary award. But in the United States, it's been a little trickier. The books have been published by Pegasus and Gallery. Several titles in the series have been renamed. And it turns out that the first book, Grønt Støv, has never been translated.

Now that last hurdle is not that unusual. The first Jo Nesbo, The Bat, came out long after later books in the series. Fantastic Fiction addresses the problem by not mentioning it, starting with #2. But I know mystery readers and that's a bit confusing. In addition, the second book is also not currently available as a new title in the U.S. It was called Blue Blood in the United Kingdom. It was called Call Me Princess in its first go-around in the United States. And rumor has it that it will be renamed The Silent Women when it is republished next fall. I'm not a fan of name changes, but I can see the issues with Call Me Princess, because it either sounds like a YA come-uppance story, an update on The Prince and the Pauper, or maybe a cat memoir (as told to).

As I like to say to crime writers (when they'll let me), if you can't unlock the rights to your first book in your current series, it's time to start a new series. I love the way Elmore Leonard's agent years ago came up with a consistent publishing program across multiple publishers, but short of that, it's likely the books will be a mix of mass market, trade paperback, very expensive print on demand, and unavailable. It's harder to get a reader interested.

So Blaedel made the decision to move the United States and go all in on an American series. And where did she set it? Why, Racine, Wisconsin, one of the largest communities in the United States with Danish descendents. In Blaedel's story, Ilka Nichols Jensen inherits a funeral home from her estranged father, who abandoned the family and left them mom with little more than debts. She takes a leave of absence from her exciting job as a school photographer and, but right away on arrival, things are strange. For one thing, she's immediately under pressure to sell to a local competitor, and for another, she's completely untrained but asked to take charge of an unidentified body, told that the funeral homes rotate through this unprofitable service.

At least for now, I'm thinking that the story is going to have what I like to call The Good Wife arc.  You have the relatively simple mystery of this body, which turns out to be connected to a murder of a girl from more than a decade earlier. And then you have this continuing arc, which will connect the story, which might be two books and might be more. What exactly was her father doing in this funeral home and why are not one, but two funeral homes so desperate to buy it out?

While I do read a decent amount of mysteries, I'm not an expert, so I don't know how often the undertaker or funeral home director as hero comes up as a trope. I thought it was a fresh take, as these are folks constantly dealing with death. It also gives the marketing department the ability to compare it to Six Feet Under, yet another acclaimed television show I've never seen, so I have no idea if it's applicable. But I'm going to assume that it is!

Advance reviews are good. Library Journal said "A great start for mystery lovers looking to dip a toe into international intrigue" and Booklist wrote "This series debut has a lighter, cozier (read as "not too much blood") touch than the author's award-winning Louise Rick procedural series, set in Denmark; fortunately, Blaedel's astute storytelling also works outside the Nordic gloom." I think at least one other review felt that there's a lot of setup in this book - I also got the feeling that things are going to get gloomier as the conspiracy unravels. I found Ilsa an intriguingly reluctant heroine, and enjoyed the local touches. I'm hoping somebody eventually eats at Kewpee, which was my go-to for lunch when I would work at Schwartz Bookshop in Racine, which was open for several years in the aughts.

We're working on two events for Blaedel. First up is a launch at the Racine Public Library, 75 Seventh St, on Tuesday, February 6, 6:30 pm (note time). They will have refreshments and I hope some local  undertakers will be in attendance, as Blaedel did get some help from them on the story.

On Wednesday, February 7, 7 pm, Blaedel will be at Boswell in conversation with Ruth Jordan of Crimespree and Murder + Mayhem. Jordan's been championing Blaedel for a while, and between her and Jon (her husband and fellow winner of the Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America), they can tell you about all the undertaker heroes in series.

Up next, a Denmark display.

Monday, January 22, 2018

What's happening, Boswell edition: Benjamin Ludwig (in person) on Tuesday, Alex Prud'homme (by video) on Thursday

Here's what's happening at Boswell this week.

Tuesday, January 23, 7:00 pm, at Boswell:
Benjamin Ludwig, author of Ginny Moon

Meet Ginny Moon. She's mostly your average teenager: she plays flute in the school band, has weekly basketball practice and reads Robert Frost poems for English class. But Ginny is autistic. What's important to her might seem a bit…different: starting every day with exactly nine grapes for breakfast, singing along to Michael Jackson, taking care of her baby doll…and crafting a secret plan of escape.

Ginny has been in foster care for years and for the first time in her life she has found her forever home. After being traumatically taken from her abusive birth mother and moved around to different homes, she is finally in a place where she'll be safe and protected, with a family who will love and nurture her. This is exactly the kind of home that all foster kids are hoping for. But Ginny has other plans.

Read this HuffPost interview with Stephanie Vanderslice, where she talks to Ludwig about the origin of the book. The voice came first! Vanderslice also name checks Kaye Gibbons's Ellen Foster. How could I not have immediately compared the two books, especially when Jane told me to start thinking of the book as more of an adoption story than a special needs story. Yes, we've been discussing this at length at Boswell.

About the author: A former English teacher and new-teacher mentor, Benjamin Ludwig holds an MAT in English education and an MFA in creative writing. His novella, Sourdough, was the recipient of the 2013 Clay Reynolds Prize for the Novella. Ludwig’s inspiration for Ginny Moon came from his own daughter, and the stories of other parents whom Ludwig met while attending Special Olympics basketball games.

Thursday, January 25, 6:30 pm, at Boswell:
A book club discussion and video chat with Alex Prud’homme, author of The French Chef in America: Julia Child's Second Act

This book club is free and open to all and is sponsored by the Smith College Club of Milwaukee and Seven Sisters Together. There will be a discussion of The French Chef in America, and after attendees get a chance to weigh in, the group will be joined by the author, Alex Prud’homme, via Skype.

Here’s a little more about the book. Julia Child is synonymous with French cooking, but her legacy runs much deeper. Now, her great-nephew Alex Prud’homme, tells the story of the remarkable woman who found her true voice in middle age and profoundly shaped the way we eat today. The French Chef in America uncovers Julia Child beyond her French chef persona and reveals her second act to have been every bit as groundbreaking and adventurous as her first.

This is our first time doing a video chat at Boswell, thought we once partnered with the Milwaukee Public Library on a program with them. And then we once did a Philip Roth program. But I think I'm blocking out another event where we couldn't get the teleonference (it was in a world before Skype) to work, another case where I can think my brain for suppressing a bad memory.

About the author: Alex Prud’homme is Julia Child’s great-nephew and the coauthor of her autobiography, My Life in France, which was one of two books adapted to create the film Julie and Julia. He is also the author of France Is a Feast: The Photographic Journey of Paul and Julia Child. Prud’homme’s journalism has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair.