Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Hidden Wisconsin - a book round-up

Last week I spoke to Audrey Nowakowski on WUWM's Lake Effect for a summer book segment we could have called Hidden Wisconsin. The list consisted of books that I read and enjoyed this summer that had Wisconsin connections that weren’t quite clear from the publisher marketing. Some had no local content, but were written by Wisconsinites Larry Watson (Kenosha), Steven Wright (Madison), and Christina Schwarz (per the publisher, rural Wisconsin, but we narrowed it down to Delafield, Pewaukee, or Hartford, depending on whether you are talking about mailing address, voting location, or school district). We have signed copies of Larry Watson's The Lives of Edie Pritchard and signed bookplates for Bonnie. One day I'll drive to Madison and we'll have signed copies of The Coyotes of Carthage too, but for now, we just have a delightful book to sell you, sans sig.

Miles Harvey’s The King of Confidence is a narrative nonfiction book about the exploits of James Strang, who decided he was the second coming of Joseph Smith and started a religious colony, first in Burlington, Wisconsin and then on Beaver Island, which is officially in Michigan – Strang was actually elected to the Michigan legislature, but he likely stuffed the ballot box. Burlington is clearly in Wisconsin – it’s southwest of Milwaukee, on the way to Lake Geneva. I’m a big fan of this book and we’ll be talking on Thursday, July 30 (registration link here). Harvey has some great images for us to share at the Zoom event – I’ve only done this once before so have patience!

Kathleen Rooney’s Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey (also an event on August 18 – register here) has Wisconsin roots too. I don’t believe Cher Ami the pigeon ever set foot here, but Whittlesey was born in Florence, Wisconsin (coincidentally, also on the Michigan border, near Iron Mountain) and lived here until he was ten, when the family moved to Massachusetts. And I love to say that the headlines in Christina Clancy’s The Second Home screams Cape Cod (the house the three kids are fighting over), but the story is as much about Milwaukee (the house nobody wants, for the most part). Christi (yes, that’s her non-professional name) said it’s a love letter to the city, and I have to agree. We have signed copies of Clancy's novel. 

One author with more Milwaukee roots than you’d know at first glance is Mia Mercado. Weird but Normal is kind of book we’d normally do an event for, but it came onto my radar a bit late. Once I read it, I learned that Mercado grew up in Glendale and Grafton, and when I did more research, I learned that the third school of higher ed she attended (third time’s the charm) was UWM. It’s possible she’s even been in the bookstore, which I probably wouldn’t have thought if I only knew the Grafton angle. Her essays are sometimes silly, sometimes serious – think Samantha Irby (there’s a cover quote!), Jenny Lawson (discusses mental health and talks a lot about her husband), and Jen Lancaster (the audience was as interested in her husband Fletch as they were in our featured author, and I could see a similar reaction by fans to Riley after a few more books). Anyway, someone tell Mercado that if she hasn’t done a Milwaukee-area focused event, it’s not too late!

I don’t recall Brandon Taylor ever mentioning Madison in his first novel, Real Life, but I swear, you can close your eyes and walk the streets of that novel and not accidentally fall in Lake Monona. It’s the story of Wallace, a biology grad student who, having arrived from Alabama, is plunged into a white world without much support. Over the course of one weekend (there’s a lot of backstory, but it becomes clear that the timeline is quite compressed), Wallace starts an affair with a fellow male grad student (Closeted? Bisexual? Curious? We don’t know because we don’t see the story from his perspective), who, like so many other characters in the story, is bound to disappoint Wallace. Taylor must have passed through the creative writing program at Madison, based on the setting and with the thank you to Danielle Evans, who was at UW before moving to Johns Hopkins. But I also noticed he did his MFA at the Iowa Writers Workshop. Was he a Fellow? No, here's the list. A big shout out to Lucy Tan, Kate Wisel, and Stuart Nadler, who all did events at Boswell in connection with the Fellowship. Plus Rebecca Dunham, who now teaches at UWM.

Aha (later)! It says in The Guardian that Taylor dropped out of the Madison PhD program.

We just heard word that Real Life was longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize, along with two other favorites of mine, Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age and Anne Tyler’s Redhead by the Side of the Road, plus a lot of other books I haven’t discovered yet. I was chatting with a friend at Riverhead who said my pick (Taylor’s book was five months old at the time I highlighted it) was prescient, but I didn’t know why. Here’s the official announcement about the Booker Longlist

At first I thought it was because of Taylor’s mention in a profile of Edmund White in The New York Times. From Joshua Barone: “In that sense, A Boy’s Own Story has become more significant for its historical importance than its urgency. Brandon Taylor, the 31-year-old author of Real Life, remembered being a teenager searching for gay novels to read and repeatedly coming across it as an essential book. Today, though, White ‘isn’t a touchstone for people I consider my peers,’ Taylor said. That doesn’t mean he isn’t influential, though. ‘When you see a book about a queer Midwestern coming-of-age,’ Taylor added, “it’s hard not to see his hands all over that.”

I thought back to my reading tastes at the time, when I would look for books published by Dutton (the original publisher of A Boy’s Own Story – at the time not part of Penguin Random House) and St. Martin’s Press, who would often do paperbacks in their Stonewall Inn Editions, which according to the internet, is still the only imprint from a major publisher devoted to LGBTQ issues, though to be clear, it was really a G imprint. Along with A Boy’s Own Story, it seemed like everyone was reading Dancer from the Dance. I was also a fan of Robert Ferro (mentioned in the story) and The Family of Max Desir. But I read them like candy – Larry Duplechan’s Blackbird, Jaime Manrique’s Latin Moon in Manhattan, David Feinberg’s Eighty-Sixed, John Fox’s The Boys on the Rock. Both publishing programs died out because the sales just weren’t there. Even Alyson Books is gone.

When publishers did publish gay fiction, there was a tendency to de-queer the stories in the marketing, much like the way publishers de-Wisconsin their stories. See how the two strands of this blog come together? But it’s nice to see more books being published that don’t hide behind innuendo. We’re also seeing a lot more lesbian fiction and memoirs whereas we once had to rely on specialty publishers like Naiad. We’re seeing a lot more work from trans and gender nonconforming authors, and my guess is that more titles are in the pipeline.

I checked my bookshelf to see if I still had A Boy’s Own Story, and I did, a hardcover edition no less. And when I opened it up, it was signed and personalized. I thought maybe I went to a reading at A Different Light. It was not a first edition and it was discounted 10%, but with a hand-written sticker placed on the inner flap. What? No computer sticker! Oh yes, that was 1982. The memories are blurry, alas.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Miles and Myles and Kelli - Boswell events for the week of July 27 with Kelli Jo Ford, Myles Hopper, and Miles Harvey

Here's what's happening virtually with Boswell this week. 

Monday, July 27, 7:00 pm
Kelli Jo Ford, author of Crooked Hallelujah
in conversation with Boswell's Daniel Goldin for a virtual event.
Register on Zoom here.

Here's the story about how we wound up with an event for Kelli Jo Ford, citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and recipient of numerous awards and fellowships. It was last January and booksellers were meeting in Baltimore for Winter Institute. Did you ever go to a conference and run into a person you've never met before and then proceed to run into them 100 more times, and yet there are all these other folks you know from previous conferences that you see once if at all? Well, that was the case for Ford and me. First we sat together at a seminar where she told me about her book, then then a sales rep talked about it at the rep-around lunch, and then I got a copy signed by her at a reception. Every time we passed each other in the hall, we waved. How could I not read her debut novel?*

The best part was that the novel, Crooked Hallelujah, was as wonderful as the kismet-like way we were brought together, again and again. Here's my recommendation: "The complicated bonds of three generations of Cherokee women are explored in Ford’s striking debut, a chapter of which won the Paris Review’s Plimpton Prize. At the start, Justine is a teenager rebelling against Lula, her strict Holy Roller mom. A decade later, Justine is raising her own daughter, hoping that she can give Reney a better future. Both Justine and Reney struggle with abusive men as mom and daughter move away from their Oklahoma reservation and back again, toward dreams and away from reality. Eventually the elements rebel and the family must confront tornadoes, fires, and more. Crooked Hallelujah is not quite a novel and not quite not a novel as Ford plays with style, chronology, and perspective (a heads up to you plot obsessives). One particular piece follows a lesbian couple that moves to rural Texas and have a life-threatening test; it’s a great story but seemed ancillary to the rest of the plotline. But I actually enjoyed that chapter a lot, so I can see how the decision was made to include it – just too good to let go! Come to think of it, that’s my feeling about the whole book – I didn’t want it to end.

And I'm not the only fan. Ford won the Plimpton Prize, "an annual award of $10,000 given by The Paris Review to a previously unpublished or emerging author who has written a work of fiction that was recently published in its publication." Ford got great advance reviews on Booklist and Publishers Weekly, the latter of whom said, "Ford's storytelling is urgent, her characters achingly human and complex, and her language glittering and rugged. This is a stunner."

Here's the great review from Dwight Garner in The New York Times. Here's the very quotable write up from Julie Buntin in the San Francisco Chronicle. One Buntin pull-out: "The novel is told in cleverly connected stories that span time (from 1974 to the near future) and point of view - a prismatic lens that emphasizes the way each woman’s story depends on the women who came before her. Ford’s pages ache with tenderness and love and no small amount of frustration — her characters are all trapped in different ways, by crappy jobs with too-small paychecks, by men who fail to do right or stay, by the debt of love they owe their mothers, their daughters."

And yesterday Sarah McCammon spoke to Ford on Weekend Edition Sunday. Ford spoke about her inspiration: "The first inspiration, for me and what continues to be one of my strongest inspirations is that there were times in my life when I was a little girl that I - like Reney, the book's youngest protagonist, also lived in a household with four generations of Cherokee women. And so growing up with a strong woman, these strong personalities, these really close relationships in, you know, one household? That was just going to stick with me, I think. It was going to probably come out in some way if I was going to make art of any kind."

We're hoping to help set up another event with Ford and UWM Access, where she'll be joined by local Indigenous participants for a Circle of Women. I almost consider Monday's event a preview for that one.

Tuesday, July 28, 7:00 pm
Myles Hopper, author of My Father’s Shadow
in conversation with Kim Suhr for a virtual event
Register for this event on Zoom right here.

We’re pleased to host Shorewood author Hopper as he chats about his memoir with Red Oak Writing's Kim Suhr. This event is of course cosponsored by Red Oak Writing.  Looking for an online critique group for your work in progress? Red Oak is meeting on Zoom. Here's more information

Last week I visited Orange Hat Publishing in downtown Waukesha. I had a flashback to 30 years ago in the height of my department store obsession, when I got someone to drive me to Johnson Hill's, which I think also traded under the name McCoys. At that time, there was still a JC Penney and two variety stores, despite the presence of Brookfield Square, which had led to the closing of Sears. Shannon Ishizaki gave me a mini tour as I picked up signed copies of Myles Hopper's memoir. And yes, that means we have actual signed copies.

A little boy with hair the color red - his scarlet letter - and family secrets to be disclosed only decades later. A man late in life confronted with looming mortality. These are the bookends of My Father’s Shadow, a narrative nonfiction collection of timely stories with universal themes that are heartwarming, painful, distressing, humorous. This memoir examines how one person has managed to thrive in a world replete with wild imperfections and an eclectic array of people and relationships, some nurturing, others much less so. My Father’s Shadow delves deep into the pain and joy of life itself.

Myles Hopper is a cultural anthropologist and former faculty member at universities in Canada and the United States. His writing has appeared in the Jewish Literary Journal and Creative Wisconsin Anthology, and has been anthologized in Friends: Voices on the Gift of Companionship and Family Stories from the Attic. 

Are you a Kim Suhr fan? Don't forget she's also interviewing Randall Kenan, author of If I Had Two Wings, on August 12. Register here.

Thursday, July 30, 7:00 pm:
Miles Harvey, author of The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch
in conversation with Daniel Goldin for a virtual event
Register here for our Zoom conversation.

Boswell Book Company presents Miles Harvey, author of The Island of Lost Maps, who’ll chat about his latest, the story of the most infamous American con man you've never heard of: James Strang, the self-proclaimed divine king of earth, heaven, and an island in Lake Michigan. Purchase your copy of The King of Confidence from Boswell using the link above for 20% off the list price through at least August 6.

Here's yet another event we've been working on forever. The King of Confidence was originally coming out earlier, and I was trying to set up an event at the American Geographical Society map library at UWM. Reading The King of Confidence, I could actually visualize the maps of this story. And where is Beaver Island, the nexus of James Strang's kingdom? It's about 100 miles east of Washington Island. I think it's officially in Michigan waters, but there's no question that Strang's first stronghold was Burlington, which is definitely in Wisconsin.

Here's the official certified Daniel recommendation: "How many of you know the story of James J Strang, the man who claimed an angel came to him after the death of Joseph Smith and said he, and not Brigham Young, was the true heir to the LDS church? Establishing a base just outside of Burlington, Wisconsin, he and his followers went on to control Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. From there, his followers did a little piracy, some counterfeiting, and something called consecration, where you rob nonbelievers in the name of religion. Yes, it’s crazy. But what’s even more interesting of the story is how this now footnote to history captured the 19th century zeitgeist in so many ways, from religious revivals to astounding transformations to the rise of the confidence man, such that Strang’s story might have been one of the inspirations for Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man and an incident in Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad. Fascinating history with lots of great stories!" 

Vanity Fair calls it “A rollicking story ripe for the Hollywood treatment.” And Jennifer Day, writing for the Chicago Tribune, says ”Harvey serves up what promises to be a page-turner about this bizarre moment in Michigan history where fair Beaver Island served as an epicenter of fraud, polygamy and piracy."  But wait, there's more - it's reviewed in today's New York Times Book Review by Chris Jennings: "Harvey’s wonderfully digressive narrative is interspersed with news clippings, playbills, land surveys and daguerreotypes, as if to periodically certify that all of this madness is really true. Strang himself, however, remains a cipher. Where did the calculation end and the delusion begin? Did he himself ever convert to his own gospel? In any case, the inner life of a prophet is less interesting than his or her effect on the world. Tinhorn revelators are seldom in short supply. Few of them secure private theocracies."

Miles Harvey is the author of the national and international bestseller The Island of Lost Maps and the recipient of a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship. His book Painter in a Savage Land was named a Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year. He teaches at DePaul University.  Is DePaul our favorite source for writerly events? Could be? We're hosting Harvey's colleague Kathleen Rooney for Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey on August 18. Yes, that's the author of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. Register here.

More events on our upcoming event page. How did I wind up scheduling myself doing two conversations on the same week? I should get a better manager.

*This reminds me of the late William "Holly" Whyte's theory of why cities are so productive. And it's also why we still would have conferences in person in a COVID-free world despite the ability to do everything online. 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending July 25, 2020

Boswell bestsellers, for the week ending July 25, 2020 

Hardcover fiction:
1. Lakewood, by Megan Giddings (look for an Access event soon)
2. The Boy, The Horse, the Fox, and the Mole, by Charlie Mackesy
3. The Lives of Edie Pritchett, by Larry Watson (Watch Watson's Boswell video here)
4. Hamnet, by Maggie O'Farrell
5. Axiom's End, by Lindsay Ellis
6. The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett
7. Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
8. The Second Home, by Christina Clancy
9. Utopia Avenue, by David Mitchell
10. The Pull of the Stars, by Emma Donoghue
11. The Only Good Indians, by Stephen Graham Jones
12. Crooked Hallelujah, by Kelli Jo Ford (Register for Ford's Boswell July 27 conversation here)

We had a very strong first week on Hamnet, the new novel by Maggie O'Farrell, which imagines the life of Shakespeare to Anne (or Agnes) Hathaway and the early death of one of his children. Geraldine Brooks reviews the story for The New York Times Book Review: "In Hamnet, Shakespeare’s marriage is complicated and troubled, yet brimming with love and passion. Hathaway is imagined as a free-spirited young woman, close to the natural world and uncannily intuitive. She attracts the ardor of a repressed, restless teenager still in search of his life’s purpose. In this telling, Will, with his disgraced father and uncertain prospects, is no catch; it is Agnes, given her degree of social and financial independence, who is seen as making the poorer match with this 'feckless, tradeless boy.'"

Hardcover nonfiction:
1. Too Much and Never Enough, by Mary Trump
2. The King of Confidence, by Miles Harvey (register for Harvey's July 30 conversation here)
3. The Answer Is, by Alex Trebek
4. The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson
5. Remain in Love, by Chris Frantz
6. How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X Kendi
7. Big Friendship, by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman
8. The Room Where It Happened, by John Bolton
9. Begin Again, by Eddie S Glaude
10. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Our 2nd week of sales for Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close, increased substantially over week one. Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman "make the bold and compelling argument that a close friendship is the most influential and important relationship a human life can contain-helping you improve as a person and in your relationships with others." They cohost the Call Your Girlfriend podcast. Sow tells Julie Beck in The Atlantic what a big friendship is: "I always make the distinction between someone who is my friend and someone who I am friendly with. I think those two things are very different. One of the reasons for writing Big Friendship was that a lack of vocabulary for what a friend is, or what a long-term, meaningful relationship with a friend is, was something that we had both struggled with. The key to figuring out what we meant to each other really lay in unlocking that vocabulary."

Paperback fiction:
1. Death Overdue, by David S Pederson
2. Normal People, by Sally Rooney
3. The Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler
4. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson
5. The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
6. Late Love, by Paula Goldman (Register for this September 10 event with Susan Firer here)
7. Time's Convert, by Deborah Harkness
8. The Relentless Moon V3, by Mary Robinette Kowal
9. American Spy, by Lauren Wilkinson
10. Miracle Creek, by Angie Kim

The Relentless Moon continues the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal, who received the Hugo, Locus, and Nebula Awards for best novel for the first book in the series, The Calculating Stars. Adrienne Martini reviewed the book for Locus, starting with a quibble: "While I heap praise upon those books, a small criticism I’ve had is that they sometimes feel performative, meaning that Kowal does a such a thoughtful job at building inclusive characters and illustrating power dynamics that it can feel rote. I applaud her commitment to inclusivity, mind, but moments felt less organic to the world and more rigidly rooted to an outline. That isn’t to insult outlines, but they aren’t a substitute for story. That response never once popped to mind in The Relentless Moon. Perhaps that is because the plot is more straightforward than the first two books. Rather than tracing Elma’s path through the politics of a NASA-like workplace, The Relentless Moon is a straight-up spy thriller. Nicole Wargin, one of the astronautettes in Elma’s cohort, takes center stage here as she works to untangle who is sabotaging the space program. The Relentless Moon shows what was happening on Earth and in its near orbit during the same time period as The Fated Sky, which we learned about from Elma’s perspective. Now we’re deep in the conflict."

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Make Me, by Eric Toshalis
2. The Color of Love, by Marra B Gad (Register for JCC July 28 virtual event - details below)
3. Emergent Strategy, by Adrienne Maree Brown
4. An Altar in the World, by Barbara Brown Taylor
5. My Father's Shadow, by Myles Hopper (Register for Hopper's July 28 event here)
6. The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, by Incite! Women of Color Against Violence
7. Four Arguments, by Don Miguel Ruiz
8. White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
9. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
10. Just Mercy, by Bryan Stephenson

The JCC Tapestry is hosting a Zoom program with Marra B Gad for The Color of Love on Tuesday, July 28 at 7:30 pm. Per the organizers: "The Color of Love is an unforgettable memoir about a mixed-race Jewish woman who, after fifteen years of estrangement from her racist great-aunt, helps bring her home when Alzheimer’s strikes. The Color of Love explores the idea of yerusha, which means 'inheritance' in Yiddish. At turns heart-wrenching and heartwarming, this is a story about what you inherit from your family—identity, disease, melanin, hate, and most powerful of all, love." You'll see when you buy the book (10% off through at least the August 3) that there's also a recommendation from me.

Books for Kids:
1. Stamped, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi
2. Antiracist Baby picture book, by Ibram X Kendi, with illustrations by Ashley Uananiau Lukashevsky
3. Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer, by Gillian Goerz
4. The Story of Civil Rights Hero John Lewis, by Kathleen Benson and Jim Haskins, illustrated by Aaron Boyd
5. You Matter, by Christian Robinson
6. Alfie, by Thyra Heder
7. Julian Is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love
8. Dry, by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman
9. Shadow and Bone V1, by Leigh Bardugo
10. The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander

Canadian cartoonist Gillian Goerz offers up Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer, a new graphic novel that's available in paperback and hardcover too. Kirkus Reviews notes: "When Jamila Waheed meets fellow 10-year-old Shirley Bones at a garage sale, she's hopeful she's made her first neighborhood friend. Shirley's mother is sending her to camp for the summer, against her will. When Jamila confesses that she's in the same situation, Shirley, who's a bit of an oddball, says that she'll convince her mother to convince Jamila's mother to let them skip camp and spend time together instead. Jamila is skeptical, but Shirley comes through, and before long, the two girls are spending their days together on the nearby basketball court. But instead of practicing, like Jamila, Shirley makes it her home base for doing detective work. When Jamila joins Shirley, the two begin to forge a true friendship - one that their latest case puts to the test."

Jim Higgins reviews Larry Watson's The Lives of Edie Pritchard in the Journal Sentinel: "Like Watson’s earlier novel Orchard, The Lives of Edie Pritchard is a story about a woman whom men try to possess, but rarely make an effort to understand or even listen to. More than once in this new novel, Edie feels exasperated by the rutting stags around her: 'They were fighting to impress her; she knows this. And she wasn’t impressed; she was disgusted. Yet that didn’t matter at all. She didn’t matter either, not really, not her disapproval or her anger. The fight was over her, yet they didn’t even need her there.'" If you missed our event with Watson, you can tune in to Books & Company's program on July 29 (register here) or watch ours on video.

Monday, July 20, 2020

This week at Boswell - Larry Watson, Gabriel Bump, and David S. Pederson, plus Kelli Jo Ford next Monday

Here's what's happening this week at Boswell

Tuesday, July 21, 7:00 pm
A virtual event with Larry Watson, author of The Lives of Edie Pritchard
in conversation with Mitch Teich

We’re excited to host a virtual event with Larry Watson, the acclaimed author of many critically acclaimed novels, most recently As Good As Gone, for a chat about his brand new novel, a multigenerational story of the West told through the history of one woman trying to navigate life on her own terms. Larry Watson is author of ten critically acclaimed books, and his fiction has received numerous prizes and awards. A film adaptation of Watson's novel Let Him Go is currently in production with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane and due to release in November 2020.

For this event, Watson will be in conversation with Mitch Teich, formerly Executive Producer of Lake Effect and now with North Country Public Radio. This event will be broadcast via Zoom. Registration is required – register right here via this link! Books are signed by Mr. Watson. Not bookplates, signed books!

Edie - smart, self‑assured, beautiful - always worked hard. She worked as a teller at a bank, she worked to save her first marriage, and she worked to raise her daughter even as her second marriage came apart. Edie just wanted a good life, but everywhere she turned, her looks defined her. Two brothers fought over her. Her second husband became unreasonably possessive and jealous. Her daughter resented her. And now, as a grandmother, Edie finds herself harassed by a younger man. It’s been a lifetime of proving that she is allowed to exist in her own sphere. The Lives of Edie Pritchard tells the story of one woman just trying to be herself, even as multiple men attempt to categorize and own her.

From the Jim Higgins review in the Journal Sentinel: "We see Edie at three junctures of her life: as a young Montana wife desired by her husband's fraternal twin circa 1967; as a remarried mother of a teenage daughter in a different small town in 1987; and as a twice-divorced grandmother of a troubled teen in 2007. Characters and memories from the first section thread through the later ones. Watson also slyly alludes to a dramatic event from his signature novel, Montana 1948), a book widely read by both book groups and schools."

Wednesday, July 22, 7:00 pm
A virtual event with Gabriel Bump, author of Everywhere You Don’t Belong
in conversation with Nasif Rogers and Shana Lucas

We’re pleased to host a virtual event with Bump, who’ll chat about his darkly funny, heartfelt debut novel with Milwaukee educators Nasif Rogers and Shana Lucas. Cosponsored by UWM ACCESS. Broadcast via Zoom, this event requires registration - click right here to register now! And purchase your copy of Everywhere You Don't Belong for 20% off the list price until July 29. Alas, no signed copies this time. Some day Mr. Bump will visit and you can bring your book to the event to be signed. He's already working on his next novel, The New Naturals.

We're thrilled to be working with UWM Access on this event. Conversation partners Shana Lucas and Nasif Rogers are educators, who are, like Bump himself, Chicago natives. Bump received his MFA in fiction from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and currently works as a teaching artist for Just Buffalo's Writing Center

Tommy Orange, author of There There, calls Bump’s novel “A comically dark coming-of-age story about growing up on the South Side of Chicago, but it’s also social commentary at its finest, woven seamlessly into the work . . . handled so beautifully that you don’t know he’s hypnotized you until he’s done.”

Thursday, July 23, 7:00 pm
A virtual event with David S Pederson, author of Death Overdue
in conversation with Alan Karbel

Boswell (virtually) welcomes Wisconsin author Pederson back to celebrate his fifth novel in the Heath Barrington mystery series, Death Overdue. Pederson will chat with Shorewood Public Schools Librarian Emeritus Alan Karbel.

This event will be broadcast via Zoom, and registration will be required. Click right here to register today! Purchase your copy of Death Overdue for a 10% through at least July 30. And yes, copies are signed by Mr. Pederson!

In Pederson’s latest installment, Heath’s life was now in jeopardy. He had no choice but to confront his blackmailer and find out what he has. But then, the decision’s made for him when the blackmailer turns up dead. Is Heath a murderer? Even he isn’t sure, thanks to several double martinis. Other suspects include a voluptuous neighbor, a smarmy grocer, a ruthless gangster, Heath’s cousin Liz, who was once married to the blackmailer, and Miss Caldwell, a wily librarian who has eyes for the blackmailer’s wife. Heath tries to read between the lines to solve the case of a death overdue before he’s arrested for the crime.

Wisconsin’s David S Pederson is author of five Heath Barrington novels, including Death Checks In, a 2019 Lambda Literary Award finalist. That's his second nomination, by the way.

Monday, July 27, 7:00 pm
A virtual event with Kelli Jo Ford, author of Crooked Hallelujah
in conversation with Boswell's Daniel Goldin

Plimpton Prize Winner Kelli Jo Ford, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, joins us for a chat about her first novel, a remarkable debut that follows four generations of Cherokee women across four decades. She'll be in conversation with Bowell Book Company's proprietor Daniel Goldin. This event will be broadcast via Zoom, and registration is required. Click right here to register today. Crooked Hallelujah is discounted 20% at least through August 3.

It's 1974 in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and fifteen-year-old Justine grows up in a family of tough, complicated, and loyal women presided over by her mother, Lula, and Granny. After Justine's father abandoned the family, Lula became a devout member of the Holiness Church - a community that Justine at times finds stifling and terrifying. But Justine does her best as a devoted daughter until an act of violence sends her on a different path forever. In lush and empathic prose, Kelli Jo Ford depicts what this family of proud, stubborn, Cherokee women sacrifices for those they love, amid larger forces of history, religion, class, and culture. This is a big-hearted and ambitious novel of the powerful bonds between mothers and daughters by an exquisite and rare new talent.

Ford's debut has earned starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly, which says "Ford's storytelling is urgent, her characters achingly human and complex, and her language glittering and rugged. This is a stunner." And don't forget about this great review in the San Francisco Chronicle from Julie Buntin: "Ford’s prose is so absorbing that you’re right there, helping Justine and Reney free a garbage bag full of goldfish or watching the sunset with them over Lake Tenkiller; their lives are difficult, yes, but full of joy, too. Now and then, Ford will turn up the volume in a sentence, sing a little. A list of gifts presented to Reney by her mother’s suitors includes a “bone-handled jackknife, a book of knots, the licks of a bobtailed dog” — the consonantal alliteration (those glorious k’s!), the living animal in the final clause, are a reminder that Ford’s writing is full of poetry. These stories stand up beautifully to rereading; they made me excited for what the writer will do next."

More on the Boswell upcoming events page. Credits are Gabriel Bump by Jeremy Handrup, Larry Watson by Susan Watson, and Kelli Jo Ford by Val Ford Hancock.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Boswell Bestsellers for the week ending July 18, 2020

Boswell Bestsellers for the week ending July 18, 2020

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Everywhere You Don't Belong, by Gabriel Bump (register for July 22 event here)
2. Utopia Avenue, by David Mitchell
3. The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett
4. The Color of Air, by Gail Tsukiyama
5. The Order, by Daniel Silva
6. The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
7. Peace Talks, by Jim Butcher
8. Bonnie, by Christina Schwarz
9. Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
10. The Second Home, by Christina Clancy
11. Crooked Hallelujah, by Kelli Jo Ford (register for July 27 event here)

For several weeks, we've had an unusual situation where paperback nonfiction was driving sales, mostly due to increased interest in antiracisim literature. But while that list is still very strong, hardcover fiction has had renewed life, due to an unusually vibrant July schedule, what with a number of titles being delayed from May and June.

Leading the pack is Utopia Avenue, the new novel from David Mitchell, which dominated the review scene this week and has a nice rec from Boswellian Conrad (which you can read when you click on the link to purchase the book). Ron Charles writes lovingly of the new novel in The Washington Post: " Set in London when “new labels are springing up like mushrooms,” “Utopia Avenue” is a story of creative synthesis, one of those astonishing moments when a few disparate individuals suddenly fall into harmony and change the sound of an era. Mitchell — cult writer, critical darling, popular novelist — knows much about the unpredictable currents of fame, and he brings that empathy and his own extraordinarily dynamic style to this tale of four musicians."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Too Much and Never Enough, by Mary Trump (a record-breaking week for this one, per Simon and Schuster)
2. How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi
3. Begin Again, by Eddie S. Glaude
4. Demagogue, by Larry Tye
5. Separated, by Jacob Soboroff
6. Untamed, by Glennon Doyle
7. The Room Where It Happened, by John Bolton
8. Countdown 1945, by Chris Wallace
9. A Very Stable Genius, by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig
10. Milwaukee Rock and Roll, by Bruce Cole, David Luhrssen, and Phil Naylor

From the William Morrow (itself a division of HarperCollins) imprint Custom House comes Separated: Inside an American Tragedy, from NBC News (and MSNBC) correspondent and winner of the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Broadcast Journalism. I haven't seen too many traditional press reviews on this one (aside from the trade news reviewers like Publishers Weekly and Booklist), as it seems this is mostly being driven by NBC news coverage. From Kirkus: "A book of justifiably righteous indignation at - and condemnation of - a monstrous program." I could be wrong, but usually a major review doesn't show up on page four of a web search.

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Thing Around Your Neck, by Chimamanda Nogozi Adichie
2. This Tender Land, by William Kent Krueger
3. Death Overdue, by David S. Pederson (register for the July 23 event here)
4. There There, by Tommy Orange
5. The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
6. Sula, by Toni Morrison
8. In the Shadow of Young Girls, by Marcel Proust
9. Becoming Mrs. Lewis, by Patti Callahan
10. Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini

While hosting with Lisa Baudoin the event for Christina Schwarz's Bonnie (signed bookplates with purchase), I noted that her novel captured life during the 1930s depression. Another book on our list that is set during this time period is William Kent Krueger's This Tender Land, his second stand-alone novel that has been a New York Times bestseller in hardcover and paperback. That sounds more common than it actually is - I think there is more turn on the hardcover list and it is actually easier to place there than in the trade paperback top 15. I also noticed that the publisher has been playing up the Parade Magazine comparison to Where the Crawdads Sing. Seems like a good idea to me.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
2. Pushout, by Monique W. Morris
3. American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Wisconsin, by Charles Hager (our copies are currently signed by the author)
4. Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X. Kendi
5. Articulate While Black, by Sami Alim
6. What Kindergarten Teachers Know, by Lisa Holewa
7. Trick Mirror, by Jia Tolentino
8. Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
9. Stomping the Blues, by Albert Murray
10. The Yellow House, by Sarah M. Broom

We have an educator book club reading several titles this summer, including Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, and it was toough to get copies of this so I'm guessing that educators around the country are doing the same. Michelle Alexander of The New Jim Crow called this book “A powerful indictment of the cultural beliefs, policies, and practices that criminalize and dehumanize Black girls in America, coupled with thoughtful analysis and critique of the justice work that must be done at the intersection of race and gender.” Morris is co-founder of the National Black Women's Justice Institute.

Books for Kids:
1. Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson
2. Front Desk, by Kelly Yang
3. The London Eye Mystery, by Siobhan Dowd
4. A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park
5. Antiracist Baby picture book, by Ibram X. Kendi with illustrations by Ashley Lukashevsky
6. Stamped, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
7. Not Norman, by Kelly Bennett, with illustrations by Noah Z. Jones
8. Creekfinding, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, with illustrations by Claudia McGehee
9. You Should See Me in a Crown, by Leah Johnson
10. Perfect, by Cecelia Ahern

Many of these titles are school orders, but individual sales are driving You Should See Me in a Crown, a YA rom-com about a black queer teen who decides to run for prom queen. Cecily Lewis in School Library Journal wrote: " Johnson's pacing is perfect as the story unwinds at dizzying speed, while attacking some tropes and celebrating others. Occasionally, life has fairy-tale endings. Readers will fall in love with this refreshing book that celebrates the beauty of individuality"

The Journal Sentinel offers a profile of Colson Whitehead and a review of Ottessa Moshfegh's Death in Her Hands.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Three events this week - Gail Tsukiyama with Jane Hamilton on July 14, Christina Schwarz with Daniel Goldin and Lisa Baudoin on July 15, Charles Hagner on birding with Schlitz Audubon's Don Quintenz on July 16

This week at Boswell!

Tuesday, July 14, 7:00 pm:  Gail Tsukiyama, author of The Color of Air, in conversation with Jane Hamilton for a virtual event

When we heard that there was a new Gail Tsukiyama novel, we didn't know what to expect. The author left her longtime home at St. Martin's Press for  HarperVia, the new imprint under the auspices of Publisher Judith Curr, Executive Editor Juan Mila, and Associate Publisher Tara Parsons. Would they tour her or not? We stressed and stressed - until of course we realized we would definitely not get on the tour, because there wouldn't be a tour.

So we were thrilled (yes, a rollercoaster of emotions) when we were offered a virtual event with Tsukiyama, winner of  Academy of American Poets Award and the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award. And we knew exactly who we'd propose for a conversation partner - Tsukiyama's long-time friend Jane Hamilton (The Book of Ruth, The Excellent Lombards, and every wonderful novel in between), who brought Tsukiyama to Milwaukee for A Hundred Flowers, in conjunction with a residency at Ragdale. The Color of Air is the story of a Japanese-American family set against the backdrop of Hawaii's sugar plantations.

Long-time Boswellian Jane Glaser considers Tsukiyama's The Samurai's Garden to be one of her favorite contemporary novels of all time. She offers this praise for The Color of Air: "Bestselling author Gail Tsukiyama gifts readers with a beautifully rendered story set against the backdrop of 1935 Hawaii as the tremors of the Mauna Loa volcano threaten the community of Hilo, whose livelihood depends on fishing and the sugar cane plantations. Despite the anticipated danger, the people of Hilo are planning a celebration to welcome home a native son from Chicago, where he studied and became a doctor, a first for his family of Japanese descent. Daniel's return not only brings together a joyous gathering, but the reunion also sets off a chain of events where long-buried secrets and moral dilemmas emerge, endangering the relationships of a close-knit town during a time of impending natural disaster. Yet, under the pen of an extraordinary storyteller, Ms. Tsukiyama creates a remarkably soulful portrait of richly drawn characters who, in the face of uncertain times, shows the strength, wisdom, forgiveness, and enduring love that will embrace the heart of every reader. Destined to be one of my favorite books of 2020!"

This event will be broadcast via Zoom, and registration is required. Register today for tonight's event. And purchase your copy of The Color of Air from Boswell from now through at least July 21 for 20% off list price. After the event, we'll link to the recorded event here, as long as nothing goes awry!

Wednesday, July 15, 7:00 pm
Christina Schwarz, author of Bonnie
in conversation with Daniel Goldin and Lisa Baudoin for a virtual event

In the days of in-person events, two events in a market could make sense, even if they were targeted to the same general audience. But when Lisa and I were both offered an event with former Metro Milwaukeean Christina Schwarz (author of The Edge of the Earth and the #1 bestseller Drowning Ruth) for her fifth novel Bonnie, we decided to join forces and do the event together, sort of a virtual version of our events at the Sharon Lynn Wilson Center. You can buy the book at either Boswell or Books & Company. And yes, I want to call this program something like Readings from Oconomowaukee. Still working on that, but I really like the Oconomowaukee part.

We were told that Bonnie vividly evokes the perennially fascinating true crime love affair of Bonnie and Clyde and were promised a book that was a suspenseful, gorgeously detailed fictional portrait of Bonnie Parker, one of the world's most enigmatic woman. And having read the book, that's a fair assessment. One of the fun things about our dual conversation (this is the first time Lisa and I have done this) is that we got to have a book discussion beforehand, where we traded reflections about the novel.

Schwarz did a lot of research on Bonnie, visiting many of the towns portrayed in the book. She's created a Bonnie who is driven less by boredom (the raison d'etre of Arthur Penn's film version) than by thwarted ambition. Bonnie Parker's poetry is an important part of the story. One of the things I also noted about the story is how mothers and motherhood drives so much of the story - both Bonnie and Clyde are obsessed with their moms, and their crime sprees are often detoured by parental visits. For Lisa, the story's plot arc is almost completely driven by cars and guns. And you know where that got them. But we don't want to give everything away - we've got plenty more questions for Wednesday evening. Meanwhile, read Elizabeth Brundage's review in The New York Times.

This event will be broadcast via Zoom, and registration is required. Click this link to register right here today! And purchase your copy of Bonnie from Boswell for 20% off list price (or you can buy it at Books & Company here), at least through July 22. After the event, if all goes well, you should be able to watch the interview here.

Thursday, July 16, 7:00 pm
Charles Hagner, author of American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Wisconsin, in conversation with Don Quintenz for a virtual event. Cosponsored by Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.

A tremendous addition to our birding section was Charles Hagner's American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds in Wisconsin. It took us a while to schedule an event (we had two in the works before COVID-19) and even longer for us to convert to virtual, but we're thrilled to have a great virtual program planned with Schlitz Audubon Nature Center. Thanks to former bookseller turned Schlitz Audubon Marketing and Communications Director Nancy Quinn for having pivot patience!

For this event, State Director of Bird City Wisconsin and former Editor in Chief of BirdWatching magazine, Charles Hagner chats about the wonderful wildlife of Wisconsin’s skies depicted in his latest work with Don Quintenz, Senior Ecologist at Schlitz Audubon Nature Center. Filled with gorgeous color images, this new field guide (the format is Audubon-esque, with its flexi cover) is the perfect companion for anyone wanting to learn more about the natural history and diversity of the state's birds and when and where to see them. Hagner is also Board Chair of the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory. Alas, I don't think Field Guide to Bats of Wisconsin is in the works. Do imaginary books need to be italicized? Discuss.

With more than 15,000 interior lakes and bordering both Lake Superior to the north and Lake Michigan to the east, Wisconsin is famous as a place to observe waterbirds of all types. It also has expansive forested areas, plains, and farmlands providing ideal habitats for hummingbirds, raptors, warblers, sparrows and more. And with nine national wildlife refuges, two national parks, and more than three million acres of IBAs (Important Bird Areas), Wisconsin is truly a great state for birds and birders.

Broadcast via Zoom, registration is required. Click right here to register today! American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Wisconsin is on sale at Boswell for 10% off list price through at least July 23. And don't forget, if all goes well, we'll have a link to Hagner's talk right here afterwards. As for all the books, we have free sidewalk pickup (it's a shipping option on our website) or $4 media mail shipping in state, $6 nationally. We have signed bookplates for Tsukiyama and Schwarz.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending July 11, 2020

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending July 11, 2020

Hardcover Fiction:
1. A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor V2, by Hank Green
2. The Color of Air, by Gail Tsukiyama (Register for July 14 event here)
3. The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett
4. The Lives of Edie Pritchard, by Larry Watson (Register for July 21 event here)
5. Bonnie, by Christina Schwarz (Register for July 13 event here)
6. Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno Garcia
7. The Heir Affair V2, by Heather Cocks
8. The Second Home, by Christina Clancy (signed copies again available)
9. Antkind, by Charlie Kaufman
10. Death in Her Hands, by Ottessa Moshfegh

What a great time we had with Hank Green for An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. His new tour was virtual and fans responded well to the sequel's release. Here's Delfina V. Barbiero in USA Today: "Green is clearly inspired by Dungeons and Dragons and internet culture – inspirations he uses to build a world so vividly grounded in reality it’s sometimes hard to forget that Green wrote this before the pandemic and not during. While there are many parallels to our current climate, A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor is a hopeful read that provides a Black Mirror-like warning of new technology without the heavy feeling of dread."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi
2. Strengths Finder 2.0, by Tom Rath
3. Me and White Supremacy, by Layla F. Saad
4. Demagogue, by Larry Tye (Register for the Jewish Federation's August 12 event here - suggested donation $5)
5. The Room Where It Happened, by John Bolton
6. Begin Again, by Eddie S. Glaude
7. The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson
8. The Rules of Contagion, by Adam Kucharski
9. The Beauty in Breaking, by Michele Harper
10. I'm Still Here, by Austin Channing Brown

Another book that has taken off as the United States explores its racist past and present. Princeton University Professor and Chair of the African American Studies Department Eddie S. Glaube's June release, Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own has close to 10,000 copies on backorder at our wholesaler. Edwidge Danticat writes: "Begin Again is a magnificent book filled with the type of passion, lyricism, and fire that James Baldwin commands and deserves. Eddie Glaude Jr. takes us on a unique and illuminating journey through Baldwin's life and writings by both physically and philosophically following in his footsteps. In this phenomenal work, we are treated to a timeless and spellbinding conversation between two brilliant writers, thinkers, and active witnesses, addressing issues--past, present, and future--that are necessary, urgent, and vital for our survival."

Paperback Fiction:
1. Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
2. Miracle Creek, by Angie Kim (sign up for the August 3 In-Store Lit Group discussion here)
3. I Was Told It Would Get Easier, by Abbi Waxman (watch the Women's Speaker series event here)
4. The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
5. Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo
6. All the Right Mistakes, by Laura Jamison (Register for August 13 event here)
7. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by Abbi Waxman
8. Trust Exercise, by Susan Choi
9. The Plague, by Albert Camus
10. Bad Axe Country V1, by John Galligan (we are holding the August 24 event now virtual)

Miracle Creek, the courtroom thriller from Angie Kim, is the winner of the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. It is also probably one of the last books to be published by the FSG Sarah Crichton Books imprint, as Crichton has now moved to Editor in Chief at Holt under Amy Einhorn. I love that the book was a pick for both Good Morning America (recommended by Tea Obreht) and The Today Show (from Jennifer Weiner). And Erin Morgenstern wrote "I literally couldn't put it down. It's that wonderful, brilliant story of book that you want to shove at other people as soon as you've finished."

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
2. The Color of Love, by Marra B. Gad
3. Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X. Kendi
4. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, by Beverly Daniel Tatum
5. So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
6. Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow
7. American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Wisconsin, by Charles Hagner (Register for this July 16 event here)
8. Grant, by Ron Chernow
9. These Truths, by Jill Lepore
10. Wow, No Thank You, by Samantha Irby

Whereas event sales tended to be much more focused into the week of the event, they are more spread out now. For example, all three event books this coming week hit our bestseller list. The American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds has likely been helped by increased interest in birdwatching. Our friends at Downer Hardware just told us that they had an unprecedented run a bird seed this spring. As mentioned above, we're cosponsoring a Schlitz Audubon conversation with Charles Hagner and Don Quintenz on July 16.

Books for Kids:
1. Stamped, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
2. Goodnight Moon Board Book, by Margaret Wise Brown, with illustrations by Clement Hurd
3. The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo
4. Look Both Ways, by Jason Reynolds
5. Baby Monkey Private Eye, by Brian Selznick
6. Joey, by Jill Biden
7. Dude, by Aaron Reynolds
8. The Land of Permanent Goodbyes, by Atia Abawi
9. The One and Only Bob, by Katherine Applegate
10. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

It's an election year, and that seems to now mean picture books about the candidates. Published on June 30 was Joey: The Story of Joe Biden, by Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, with illustrations by Amy June Bates. I should note that Amy June Bates wrote and Kathleen Krull illustrated Hillary Rodham Clinton: Dreams Taking Flight.

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins writes about Demagogue, the new biography of Joe McCarthy. He notes: "Biographies of McCarthy have been written before, including Wisconsin historian Thomas Reeves’ The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy (1982). So what new element does Tye, a former Boston Globe reporter, bring to his? Tye had access to three previously unavailable stashes: boxes of personal documents, including diaries, school transcripts and love letters, in McCarthy’s private files in the Marquette University archives; transcripts of the many private hearings McCarthy conducted in the Senate; and his military records, including his military medical records."

From Margot Armbruster at the Journal Sentinel, a story about Milwaukeean Mark D. Bruce's new book, Jackie, a Boy, and a Dog: A Warm Cold War Story. The Jackie is Jackie Kennedy. From the piece: "Bruce is an ER physician, a medical ambassador to Belize and Canada, and a longtime Milwaukee Public Schools volunteer; he has little time for leisure writing. But he chose to share his story, one of many narratives he’s collected throughout an adventurous life, because he feels it offers important lessons about divine beneficence and hope in the hard times."

Monday, July 6, 2020

Touring colleges with Abbi Waxman and her fourth novel - I WAS TOLD IT WOULD GET EASIER (virtual event on July 7, 2020)

Last year one of our surprise bestsellers was Abbi Waxman’s third novel, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. It’s not actually that much of surprise – as a bookstore, we tend to get excited about bookseller protogonists. Over the course of the book, Nina, who was raised by a single mom, finds out that she was in the will of her father, and turns out to have a much larger family than she could have imagined, with all the ups and downs that this would entail. At the same time, Knight’s Bookstore is having financial problems, while Nina juggles running book clubs, events, and a street festival. Outside of work, Nina’s into competitive trivia. This is a delightful romantic character with a Bridget Jones vibe. No wonder the book hit a nerve with our customers. You can read this 2016 article about Chevalier’s the actual bookstore in the Larchmont Village neighborhood Bookselling this Week, or to be precise, Bookselling 200 Weeks Ago.

I enjoyed the book so much that I read another of Waxman’s novels, The Garden of Small Beginnings, about a recently widowed mom who takes a gardening class. And then I read another, Other People’s Houses, about a woman who runs a one-person carpool service for the families on her block, and what happens when one of the neighbors is caught in an affair. I guess that's all of them, except for the 12 page book she wrote in fourth grade about a magic chicken's adventures.*

The stories are all set in the same Los Angeles neighborhood, Larchmont Village, and as I started reading the books, I noticed that major characters in one story would pop up in the other novels. I’m not generally a fan of sequels, but I love this sort of companion novel, which can be as serious as Marilynne Robinson’s cycle that includes Home and Gilead, Tana French’s thrillers, or the reappearance of characters in the beloved novels of Barbara Pym. I still remember gasping with delight when the heroes of A Glass of Blessings showed up as tourists in No Fond Return of Love.

So you can only imagine how excited I was to learn that Waxman’s next novel, I Was Told It Would Get Easier was scheduled for June of 2020. Like the folks on Good Reads always say, we were provided an advance copy of the book courtesy of Berkley Books. I think it’s time for my staff rec.

“Jessica, a forty-something lawyer, hires a service to take her and her daughter Nina on a college tour of top-rated east-coast schools. They are not doing this alone – along for the tour is a highly-motivated degree-less father and his son, an academic mom who has her son’s life scheduled in hour increments, and model-turned-film exec’s wife and her influencer daughter. Jessica’s dealing with some serious workplace sexism that is preventing her mentee from getting promoted, while Emily’s got her own problems with a cheating scandal at school. And why are they on a tour to schools like Princeton when Emily’s rocking B’s? By the end of the tour, let’s hope that mother and daughter see each other for who they truly are. If you loved The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, fear not – they may not be organizing author events and book clubs, but Emily’s got a lot in common with Nina. The interpersonal relationships are great and Waxman’s comic charms shine brightly. I give it an A!” (Daniel)

If you are quoting yourself in the context of a blog, do you need quotation marks? I really don’t know. And yes, I know that college tours are likely virtual now.

After reading these books, I started feeling the need to know more about Waxman. Sometimes this is not the greatest idea – my sister Merrill was just telling me that the worst thing that happened to her regarding a not-to-be-named author was reading an interview with her and finding she didn’t like her. But that’s not the case with Waxman. I learned from her website that she was born in England, which explains the cross-cultural characters. There are also a lot of single moms, but she’s happily married to her husband. And needless to say, mother-daughter relationships play a strong role in her books, and she has three kids. And yes, she lives in Los Angeles. But it’s hard to imagine she wouldn’t have lived in Los Angeles for at least a bit – there’s such a strong sense of place in the stories. I’ve read some really great books that captured a place without the author living there, but rarely do they return to that location in a subsequent book without some first-hand knowledge.

Once I finished I Was Told It Would Get Easier, I passed it on to two other Waxman fans - Jen, who originally convinced me to read Nina Hill, and Jenny, who could empathize with the plotline of a mother and daughter on a college tour, having two daughters in college herself. Unlike Jenny’s kids, my parents didn’t travel around with me to schools, but they paid for a school bus trip (sans parents) to several schools in New England. I also took the Jessica role in the story when I visited several Philadelphia-area schools with my niece Jocelyn. From these experiences, I did learn that you can make snap decisions about schools very easily, but on the other hand, you have to remember that they are not a complete picture.

Another reader whom I thought would enjoy the set-up of Waxman’s novel was Margy Stratton, producer of the Women’s Speaker Series, as she was in the process of shepherding her own daughters through the college process. I proposed to Berkley an event at the Lynden Sculpture Garden, and for a few weeks we were discussing a visit to their beautiful grounds on Brown Deer Rd. But alas, the decision to tour fell through. But but! - in the age of COVID, with us pivoting to virtual events, we were able to go back to the publicist and see if a Zoom event would work. And it did. And so we have one scheduled for Tuesday, July 7, 7 pm, a virtual Women’s Speaker series event, cosponsored by the Lynden Sculpture Garden, with Waxman in conversation with producer Margy Stratton.

More about I Was Told It Would Get Easier.

Publishers Weekly: “Waxman expertly navigates the fraught shoals of college admissions in this spot-on tale…. Waxman’s alternating first-person narration from Jessica and Emily rings true, while a memorable supporting cast…provide excellent support…This sweet treat doesn’t require a college-bound child to enjoy, though anyone who has helped their offspring weather the admissions process will definitely appreciate this sharp send-up.”

Jen Steele, Boswell bookseller: "Jessica Burnstein and her 16-year-old daughter Emily are off on a week-long college tour. While Jessica hopes for some mother-daughter bonding time, a crisis at work may end up interrupting her plans. For Emily, dealing with the pressure to go to college and get good grades is very stressful, and she's unsure how to tell her mom what she really thinks. Along the way they have fights, awkward encounters, unspoken truths, and an overzealous college tour guide to deal with. Funny, emotional and relatable, Abbi Waxman delivers another feel good novel!"

Library Journal: “This book’s strengths are the exploration of the mother-teen daughter dynamics and relationship and the author’s remarkable gift for realistic, witty dialog. Verdict: Recommended for fans of mother-daughter fiction with both lighthearted and serious moments.”

I should note a couple of things here. One: we also have cute Waxman book plates (above left) for folks who purchase I Was Told It Would Get Easier. Two: It is a very rare thing nowadays for me to go back and read backwards, not just one novel but two – that is saying something. Three: Register for the event with Abbi Waxman in conversation with Margy Stratton on July 7 here at 7 pm CDT. Four: Purchase the book here. Five: Donate to the Lynden Sculpture Garden here. Six: See you on Tuesday, July 7, or if the event already, happened, you can watch the event here.

*Not yet confirmed to be a real book.