Thursday, October 29, 2020

Juneau Black talk shade. Shady Hollow, that is.

Mirror Lake
is the third Shady Hollow mystery. We're thrilled at Boswell to be hosting an event with Juneau Black, also known as Sharon Nagle and Jocelyn Cole. For folks in Milwaukee, substitute Koehler for Cole. For folks in the romance world, substitute Elizabeth for Jocelyn. As folks in the know always say, whether you like spies, knights, or demon hunters, Elizabeth Cole will sweep you off your feet. Okay, I don't know who says that yet, but I'm trying to jump-start it. Here's more about Elizabeth Cole's other books.

I checked the Goodreads reviews on Mirror Lake and I particularly liked this one from Lynn Morrison, partly because I didn't know who she was. She writes: "This was my first cozy mystery where the main characters are animals rather than people. However, as a huge fan of paranormal cozies, I quickly settled in. Vera Vixen captured my heart and my mind. Super savvy, absolutely no nonsense, and firmly standing on her own two feet. And the mystery - the lack of a body was a very unusual premise. Every time I thought I had the mystery solved, the writer would introduce a new twist to keep me guessing. Highly recommend!"

Here's Jessica's review: "Mirror Lake is basically the book version of curling up with a mug of tea under a perfectly fuzzy blanket on a crisp fall day. Vera is clever and a joy to follow, and I loved the unique murder mystery story line and the creatures of Shady Hollow. I started with this, the third book in the series, but will definitely go back and read the first two." Not sure of Jessica's last name, but being what the series is, it could be Rabbit.

And it's unanimous - we're all in love with Vera Vixen.

I'm not going to lie - Mirror Lake is my second favorite novel of 2020 told from an animal's perspective, narrowly beat out by Perumal Murugan's The Story of a Goat.

Hammer and Birch is part of the Cole, Inc., but I started to think, if these books were published by a traditional publisher, who would that be? I've always thought it would fit in well with Kensington's publishing program. They are probably the foremost publisher of cozies. I used to see more from Avon and Berkley, but the decline of the mass market format has definitely hurt this genre. I know this is a leap, but one more not forget that Alexander McCall Smith's first three novels were first published by Edinburgh University Press and not Pantheon.

And finally, a last reminder, that both Juneau and Black will be in conversation with me tonight, October 29, 2020. Register here for this event, which is at 7 pm CDT. We also have signed copies, though I should note that only Black signed them, not Juneau.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Boswell Events - All about Jess Walter's THE COLD MILLIONS - on sale today, event tomorrow

I love novels where the city is a main character. For some reason, they really resonate with me long after other novels fade from consciousness. New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, even Chicago - those books are not hard to come up with because publishers are amenable to publishing them without worrying they are too regional. I'm more interested in the second tier - like Mark Weingardner's Crooked River Burning, which is a great Cleveland novel, and Lauren Belfer's City of Light, which puts the "flo" in Buffalo. Then we went on a crazy detour about Pittsburgh, partly because I've read a lot of good Pittsburgh novels, and partly because I work with one core Pittsburgher and another who spent formative years there. Madi opted for Zoje Stage's Baby Teeth, a recent horror entry set in Shadyside, while Chris went for The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which has the best literary passage about the best entrance to coming into a city - for those who don't know what that is, it's coming through the Fort Pitt tunnel and the almost magical unveiling of Pittsburgh.

But Spokane. My only exposure to Spokane has been through the work of Sherman Alexie. I've heard a lot about Auntie's Bookstore, Spokane's literary landmark. And I know The Crescent, the old department store that for many years was owned by the old Marshall Field and Company and had the exact same typeface. In the day, I dreamed of somehow going there so I could shop the store - my friend Bill even gave me a credit card application. I never got a shopping bag. The division was eventually folded into Frederick and Nelson, the Seattle division, and of course it's all long gone. But I still like walking city centers to see what was what - not just the department stores but the hotels and theaters and parks. Was there a trolley? Is it on a river? The key is to go to the main branch of the public library, head to the microfilm/microfiche/something else, and pull up old copies of the Spokesman-Review, or whatever it was called before it likely merged a few of the papers together.

But now I almost don't have to. Jess Walter has written The Cold Millions, a novel seeped in the fabric of Spokane. It's set in the early 1900s, filled with industrialists and mine owners and working poor and prostitutes and union organizers. At the heart of the book are two brothers who wind up working with the Wobblies - the IWW - a union that, unlike many at the time, hoped to benefit all workers, no matter their race or gender or whatever people use to build themselves up by putting other people down. The book is set during the Free Speech Demonstrations of 1909 - so timely. I actually read a great book about the IWW from Dean Strang, the Madison lawyer-author, Keep the Wretches in Order: America's Biggest Mass Trial, the Rise of the Justice Department, and the Fall of the IWW. It was really great to not enter the story blind, though Dean's book certainly isn't required reading to enjoy The Cold Millions.

For those of you who loved Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter's last novel, the emotional heft of that book is here too. It doesn't jump back and forth in time and is inspired by authors like John Dos Passos, per Maureen Corrigan, or Steinback, per Mark Athitakis. Corrigan, in her exuberant Wall Street Journal review, compared the book to classic Herman Wouk and Howard Fast, a page-turner with a point of view. She also mentions Doctorow a lot, but I have heard that Doctorow wasn't a fan of accurate detail in his books - he made a lot of stuff up - whereas it feels like Walter did some research. That said, he never lets the historical detail get in the way of the story.

Because it's hard to read The Wall Street Journal without a subscription, I've taken the opportunity to quote a little more. "In The Cold Millions, Mr. Walter takes the frustrations with participatory democracy and the dented dream of American social mobility expressed by the individual heroes of those earlier novels and renders them collective. The result is a strikingly earnest novel filled with a gusto that honors the beauty of believing in social change and simultaneously recognizes the cruel limits of the possible."

We hosted Jess Walter for the paperback of Beautiful Ruins and boy was it a great event. I remember my fellow bookseller Dave telling me how much I would enjoy it. I think he was buying for Next Chapter - we regularly would say, "this is a Daniel book" or "this is a Dave book," and boy was it fun when we got it right. He hit the nail on the head with this one. When this virtual event was announced, Dave, now a sales representative, wrote to me and let me know he'd be buying a ticket to our event, but could I at least remember that he hand-sold the book to me and thus, could I let him read my advance copy when I was done? I could, I did, and he's attending. Now why aren't you? 

Our free events are going great, with one problem. They are just not selling the books they did in the last spring. Some publishers are pushing for ticketed virtual events and we're on board with trying them. But how many should there be when anyone can attend any of them? And if you tape it, can someone see the conversation afterwards if they don't buy a ticket? How different is a virtual event from a media interview or a podcast? 

We're going to have a great conversation with the Great Karen Russell of Swamplandia!, Orange World, and the just-released-in-paper-covers-for-the-first-time Sleep Donation.  We're not planning to post our event on our virtual event archive page for a while, and we might not post it at all. 

The publisher, for their part, has to limit the programs to ticketed events because if the Boswell event is ticketed and others are free, why would most folks go to ours (except for you of course - you are the best!) ? And don't forget, we've got to sell books to make the whole thing work - that's sort of our business plan. We're offering a great price on our Jess Walter event ticket, which includes admission and a signed (tip-in) copy of The Cold Millions. You can send it out media mail for $4 more, or you can call for other faster options. I think the book is great, so it's made it much easier for me to sell this idea. Hope I've convinced you. If not, here are reviews from The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today (Steph Cha calls the book "tremendous"), and the Star Tribune. It's hard for me to know which sites will let you in and which will not. It might depend on how much you visit. 

The Eventbrite link for ticketing is Jess Walter's appearance is 7 pm CDT on Wednesday, October 28. That's 5 pm Pacific, 8 pm Easter, and Midnight if you're in London. We were 6 hours behind but they already ended their equivalent of daylight savings time.

By the way, The Crescent does have a role in The Cold Millions. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Boswell events this week, part one - Readings from Oconomowaukee, with Matt Haig, author of The Midnight Library

Monday, October 26, 3 pm CDT
Matt Haig, author of The Midnight Library
Readings from Oconomowaukee series
in conversation with Lisa Baudoin from Books and Company and me - register here.

One of the things about living in the COVID era is that we've had to be creative in our programming. It wasn't easy and it wasn't fast. We just stared at our event calendar falling apart in March and only tried doing a Zoom event in April. And despite that being fairly successful, I continued to cancel events in May and June and reschedule them, when we probably could have pivoted many, including a number of ticketed event - but that's another story.

We quickly realized that 99% of the events had to be conversations. We had one traditional talk and it was really boring. We had a recent event where the author didn't embrace the conversation format and instead read and talked for much longer than we suggested - it was all sort of canned. There was a conversation partner, but that part of the event was displaced. We sold zero copies of that author's book in that case.  

There are some stats that we've noticed. On average, 65% of the people who register for an event show up. In most cases, about 50% of the folks who do log in to our event are local, from Southeast Wisconsin. Yes, we do sometimes have folks that travel from Madison or Green Bay or Chicago (particularly the northern suburbs) for an in-person event, and on strange circumstances, fly in from a far-away city. But once they come to a physical event, they are actually more likely to buy the book. With virtual events, not so much. That 50% number can vary widely - it's more of a median than a mean.

We considered an in-person event's sell through acceptable if 35% of the folks bought a book, higher for launches, and that's why many of our in-person programs for higher profile authors are ticketed. That number is lower for virtual events. Book plates help, tip-ins help more, actual signed books are a beautiful thing. Alas, we do not have any more bookplates for Matt Haig's event.

Despite no bookplates, The Midnight Library is selling well at Boswell; it helps that we sold a lot of copies of his last book, How to Stop Time. I was able to get an early hardcover to prepare for today's event (alas, no physical advance copies available), but I had a bit of dilemma when I finished it - it would help the event for me to pass my copy on to another bookseller before the event, but I felt I needed the book to prepare.

An existential crisis is at the heart of Matt Haig's The Midnight Library. Nora has lost her job, her boyfriend, her cat, and her friends. There is a notion that when making a choice, we are more likely to regret not doing something as opposed to doing something and failing. And Nora has a load of regrets. So in the process of overdosing, she winds up at the Midnight Library, where her childhood librarian curates the books that offer the alternatives to Nora's existence. You start reading the book and that life becomes yours. For example, what if she'd never left her brother's band?

I call these kinds of books Sliding Doors stories, named after the Gwyneth Paltrow 1998 movie. Stories about the multiverse are quite popular, no doubt helped along by quantum theory. I've read several myself - our buyer Jason tends to read as many as he can get his hands on. My introduction to the multiverse was through DC comics where they tried to justify the differences in the Golden Age and Silver Age heroes by saying they were on parallel Earths, and yes, if you vibrated quite right a certain sort of superhero could move from one to another for cross-over adventures, which led to several Crisis mini-series to fix continuity, which led to me being very confused. But like thinking above three dimensions*, I kind of have to go with it without fully understanding it.

The thing about Matt Haig's novels, particularly his more recent ones, is that I think there's a reader for these books who normally reads nonfiction of a certain human potential nature - they are fictional incarnations of his popular nonfiction book, Reasons to Stay Alive. So many of his books are about what makes a life worth living, from The Humans (his most in-demand paperback novel at Ingram), which is about an omniscient alien who takes the form of a mathematician to learn more about the race, to The Radleys, concerning a family of vampires, to How to Stop Time, about a secret society of people who live for a thousand years. And in a sense, Nora continues that storyline - she could hop into the lives of these different Noras indefinitely, living a life where she didn't give up competitive swimming, or the one where she was the Arctic scientist.

In another universe, COVID didn't happen, and it's likely that we wouldn't have been able to host Matt Haig. Lisa Baudoin and I put together a joint series at the Sharon Lynn Wilson Center for the Arts and someday, we hope to return to that program. But these Readings from Oconomowaukee series is different and more personal. Instead of big names interviewing the authors, we take that on. And if you think it's easy to have a three-way conversation without stepping on your partner's words, it's not! We practice. But we love it! And I think we might try to continue this series when in-person events resume, perhaps with two programs, one during the day at one store and the other in the evening at the other store, with us both in conversation at each.  

And we haven't even touched on Matt Haig's kids books! Or my desire to repackage Haig's adult backlist novels, something that in the day of ebooks and print-on-demand, rarely happens anymore.

You can still register for our Matt Haig conversation at 3 pm CDT here. And you can buy the book from Boswell here, and from Books and Company here
*I have a secret fondness for The Fifth Dimension.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Novellas, Instagram collections, MacArthur fellows, imaginary countries, stress relief, and more Boswell bestsellers for the week ending October 24, 2020

Here's what is selling at Boswell this week,

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Homeland Elegies, by Ayad Akhtar
2. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by VE Schwab
3. The Searcher, by Tana French
4. The Lost Shtetl, by Max Gross
5. The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett
6. Jack, by Marilynne Robinson
7. Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman
8. The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig (Register for October 26, 3 pm CDT event here)
9. The Silence, by Don DeLillo
10. A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik

The only newly released book that hits our top ten for hardcover fiction is The Silence, by Don DeLillo, which Chris wrote in his rec is "a piercing novella that asks: what will we grasp for when we lose that which anchors us to modernity?" Link to our sales page for it in full. Over at Book Marks, critics are mixed, with some raves and some pans. But the weirdest thing to me was on Tom Breihan's #1 blog on Stereogum where the comments section for John Parr's "Man in Motion" became a conversation about Don DeLillo sparked by a post about White Noise, which came out in 1985 and continues to be the only DeLillo book I ever finished. I should I note here that I read more pages in Underworld than there actually are in The Silence. But my thought was, was this an organic conversation or was that post placed there in conjunction with The Silence's release?

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey
2. Untamed, by Glennon Doyle
3. Thinking Inside the Box, by Adrienne Raphel (Register for November 10, 7 pm CDT event here)
4. I'm Still Here, by Austin Channing Brown (Register for November 17 book club event with ABHM here)
5. Accidentally Wes Anderson, by Wally Koval'
6. Home Style Cookery, by Matty Matheson
7. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
8. Trumpty Dumpty Wanted a Crown, by John Lithgow
9. Is This Anything?, by Jerry Seinfeld
10. Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson

The Instagram following for @accidentallywesanderson is 888,000, which definitely helped the first week sales for the book from Wally Koval. Accidentally Wes Anderson's comp is Cabin Porn, but I'm guessing we're going to beat our numbers. Louise Long talked to Koval in British Vogue. Among her questions: "Anderson himself says in the introduction to the book, 'I am still confused [about] what it means to be deliberately me.' Why did you land on the word “accidentally” for the name of the account?"

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Readers' Room, by Antoine Laurain
2. The Town Crazy, by Suzzy Roche
3. Wild Rose, by Louise Gluck
4. Disaster Tourist, by Yun Ko-Eun
5. The Overstory, by Richard Powers
6. Dune, by Frank Herbert
7. The World That We Knew, by Alice Hoffman
8. Circe, by Madeline Miller
9. Red at the Bone, by Jacqueline Woodson
10. The Red Notebook, by Antoine Laurain

Jacqueline Woodson, whose Red at the Bone hits our list in paperback this week, is one of three fiction writers to be 2020 MacArthur fellows. I assume several of the others have written fiction, but their descriptions did not indicate they are predeominantly fiction writers. NK Jemisin, who has made regular appearances on our bestseller lists, is another, and the third is Christina Rivera Garza, a writer who has won numerous prizes in Mexico, and teaches on both sides of the border, is the third. Her novels are pretty hard to get in English (the most recent is short discount and nonreturnable from our wholesaler - a shout out to bookstores not to stock it) but a nonfiction book, Grieving: Dispatches from a Wounded Country, is available from Feminist Press.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
2. They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei
3. Our Malady, by Timothy Snyder
4. The Second Mountain, by David Brooks
5. Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
6. Burnout, by Emily and Anna Nagoski
7. Welcome to the Unwelcome, by Pema Chodron
8. Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari
9. For the Love of Europe, by Rick Steves
10. People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn

We have a book club reading Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, but since the book is published in 2020, it's worthy of highlighting to me. Plus I would say current conditions are probably contributing to anxiety that probably exacerbates burnout, right? The Nagoski twins (yes, identical), one a sex educator (Come As You Are) and the other a music professor who together write about the importance of the stress cycle and how to complete it. Here's a video.

Books for Kids:
1. Screaming Hairy Armadillo and 76 Other Animals with Weird, Wild Names, by Matthew and Steve Murrie
2. The Night Before Christmas, by Jan Brett
3. The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg
4. Skunk and Badger, by Amy Timberlake/Jon Klassen
5. The Very Last Leaf, by Stef Wade/Jennifer Davidson
6. Mañanaland, by Pam Muñoz Ryan
7. A Place for Pluto, by Stef Wade/Melanie Demmer
8. Dear Martin, by Nic Stone
9. Dear Justyce, by Nic Stone
10. The Assignment, by Liza Wiemer

Pam Muñoz Ryan's Mañanaland is the latest from the Newbery Medalist (for Echo) and was part of a recent school purchase. For kids 8 and up, this novel may be set in the fictional country of Santa Maria, but as Publishers Weekly notes, the novel is "at its core, wrenchingly real." Booklist's starred review offers this praise: "This story, infused with magic, reminds children that humanity thrives when people embrace differences and construct bridges instead of borders. Another unforgettable work from a master storyteller."

Today's Journal Sentinel reviews are for Leave the World Behind, by Runaam Alam, and The Book of Two Ways, from Jodi Picoult.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Event update - Max Gross, Antoine Laurain, Suzzy Roche, Thomas Maltman and next week - Matt Haig and Jess Walter

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

Monday, October 19, 7 pm
Max Gross, author of The Lost Shtetl
in Conversation with Andrew Silow-Carroll for a Virtual Event

Join us for a virtual event with Max Gross, debut author of a remarkable novel, written with the fearless imagination of Michael Chabon and the piercing humor of Gary Shteyngart, about a small Jewish village in the Polish forest that is so secluded no one knows it exists - until now. Cohosted by The Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center and the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center. Hell chat with his former mentor Silow-Carroll, editor of The New York Jewish Week. Click right here to register for this Zoom event.

Gross, formerly at the Forward and now Editor of the Commercial Observer, has written a novel with starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus. Boswell Book Company’s Chris Lee says, “It’s a myth, it’s a fable, it’s something like a newly discovered religious text. In a world with a seemingly endless supply of novels about the ends-of-the-earth reaching consequences of WWII and the Holocaust, The Lost Shtetl is a wondrous left turn. Gross has written a clever, affecting parable of the ways history, sooner or later, reaches us all.”

For decades, the tiny Jewish shtetl of Kreskol existed in happy isolation, virtually untouched and unchanged. Spared by the Holocaust and the Cold War, its residents enjoyed remarkable peace. It missed out on cars, and electricity, and the internet, and indoor plumbing. But when a marriage dispute spins out of control, the whole town comes crashing into the twenty-first century. Divided between those embracing change and those clinging to its old world ways, the people of Kreskol will have to find a way to come together or risk their village disappearing for good.

Tuesday, October 20, 2 pm
Antoine Laurain, author of The Readers’ Room
in Conversation with Anne Leplae and Daniel Goldin for a Virtual Event

Boswell Book Company hosts the virtual return of our in-house favorite French author, Antoine Laurain, author of beloved novels like Vintage 1954 and The Red Notebook (and The Red Notebook and French Rhapsody and Smoking Kills and The Portrait). He’ll chat about his latest, in which a Parisian editor is drawn into a murder investigation when an unknown thriller author is shortlisted for a prize. Laurain will chat with Anne Leplae, the Executive Director of Alliance Française de Milwaukee, and Daniel Goldin. Click right here to register for this virtual Zoom event

Publishers Weekly notes of The Readers’ Room, “A profound love of books and authors underpins this sprightly mystery,” and the European Literature Network calls it “another winner for Laurain.” And from Daniel Goldin’s recommendation: “Each character is brought to life with the quirky details Laurain does so well, a few literary figures make an appearance, and the book offers up connections to Laurain’s past works, including French Rhapsody and The Red Notebook, which was recently on the Duchess of Cornwall’s quarantine reading list.

When the manuscript of a debut crime novel arrives at a Parisian publishing house, everyone in the readers' room is convinced it's something special. And the committee for France's highest literary honour, the Prix Goncourt, agrees. But when the shortlist is announced, there's a problem for editor Violaine Lepage: she has no idea of the author's identity. Intrigue and charm combine in this dazzling novel of mystery, love and the power of books.

Wednesday, October 21 7 pm Suzzy Roche, author of The Town Crazy 
in Conversation with Jane Hamilton for a Virtual Event

Suzzy Roche, a founding member of the band The Roches (and author of Wayward Sints), will be in conversation with Jane Hamilton for a virtual Ink/Well event sponsored by Ink Link Books and Boswell Book Company. Roche’s latest is a novel of passion, absurdity, innocence, and sorrow. Click here to register for this virtual event.  

The Town Crazy is set in the sleepy town of Hanzloo, Pennsylvania. In 1961, a single father moves into town with his young son, which arouses suspicion from the husbands and the interest of the wives, but at the same time, one of the wives seems to be losing her mind, and no one knows what to do. A contemporary, often humorous take on a bygone era, The Town Crazy also delves into the terror and cruelty of childhood, the dangerous loneliness of failing marriages, sexual repression and desire, and the intersection of art and religion, all culminating in a tragedy for which everyone in the town bears some responsibility. 

Meg Wolitzer, author of The Female Persuasion says, "The Town Crazy casts a strong spell, and I don't think I've shaken it off yet, nor do I want to. Suzzy Roche understands so much about other people’s lives; her fiction, just like her singing and songwriting, is thrilling, beautiful, and shattering. I will be thinking about this town, these people, this captivating novel, for a long time."

I made my own record chat between 1975 and 2002, meaning I would rate my favorite songs every week. For 23 of those years, I tabulated to 100. The Roches had numerous chartings, but alas, by the time Suzzy went solo, I had stopped. Their highest peak was #3 in 1992 for Troubled Love. How did I ever have so much time?

Thursday, October 22, 7 pm
Thomas Maltman, author of The Land
in Conversation with William Kent Krueger for a Virtual Event

Thrillwaukee heads northwest for an evening of criminal Minnesotan masterminds. Thomas Maltman chats about his follow up novel to his IndieNext pick Little Wolves, a story of violence set in the heart of a pastoral landscape, with William Kent Krueger, author of Ordinary Grace. Click here to register for this virtual event.

Recovering from a terrible auto accident just before the turn of the millennium, college dropout and hobbyist computer-game programmer Lucien Swenson becomes the caretaker of a house in northern Minnesota. Shortly after moving in, Lucien sets out to find a woman with whom he had an affair, who vanished along with money stolen from the bank where they had worked together. At once a mystery and spiritual noir, The Land explores the dark side of belief, entrenched white supremacy in the Heartland, the uniquely American obsession with end times, and the sacrifices we make for those we love. 

Leif Enger, author of Virgil Wander and Peace Like a River says, “Maltman’s The Land is a gift to readers longing for a tale of lost love, fringe prophets, souls in cold suspension, and ravens that darken the skies of a Northern winter. Set against a looming apocalypse and the clicking of a projector showing classic films, The Land is generous, intricate, and propulsive.”

Monday, October 26, 3 pm
Matt Haig, author of The Midnight Library
A Readings from Oconomowaukee Virtual Event
in Conversation with Daniel Goldin and Lisa Baudoin

Presenting the latest event in the Readings from Oconomowaukee series from Books and Company and Boswell Books. Matt Haig, author of the novel How to Stop Time and the memoir Reasons to Stay Alive, joins us all the way from Brighton, England for this special afternoon event to chat about his latest, which draws on quantum wave theory to tell the charming story of an English woman with situational depression. Click here to register for this Zoom virtual event.  

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better? 

In Matt Haig’s enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place. 

So many people love Matt Haig's writing, but I can't think of a better quoter than Jameela Jamil, since this book would definitely be of interest to lovers of The Good Place. She wrote: "I can't describe how much his work means to me. So necessary...[Matt Haig is] the king of empathy."

Wednesday, October 28, 7 pm
A Ticketed Event with Jess Walter, author of The Cold Millions
in Conversation with Karen Russell for a Virtual Event

We are pleased to host a ticketed virtual with Jess Walter, the author of the beloved #1 bestseller Beautiful Ruins and Edar winner for Citizen Vince, for a conversation about his first new novel in eight years. Walter will chat with Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia and Sleep Donation, a haunting novella praised by Stephen King, now available in paperback. What a great pairing!

Tickets are available at for $23.19 (20% off the price of The Cold Millions), plus sales tax and ticket fee, and include "admission" on one device to the event. The first 60 folks to sign up will get a signed tip-in copy of The Cold Millions. Folks who sign up after that will either get tip-ins or a signed book with bookplate.

What better place to quote from for The Cold Millions event than the literary website The Millions? Matt Harvkey dives deep into Jess Walter's latest here. "...The Cold Millions has politics in its DNA. It raises questions about power’s corrupting influence, about the sides people take and fortify with rhetoric, and about brotherhood, both genetic and thematic. The book is intimate enough to tell a moving story about Rye and Gig, and expansive enough to tell other stories too - about labor, class, inequality, privilege, corruption, and migration. But above all, The Cold Millions is about Spokane." Read the rest!

A final note - all of Jess Walter's initial events are ticketed. If you're going to read the book anyway, why not buy it as part of the event and watch this great conversation? We've discounted the book so even with the ticket fee, it's under list price. We'll ship anywhere in the continental United States for $4. And don't forget about the signed bookplate. And can I just say, remember how much you loved Beautiful Ruins?

More on Boswell's upcoming events page. All start time are Central time (or Chicago time, if you'd prefer).

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Ready for the Boswell bestsellers for the week ending October 17, 2020? Of course you are.

Ready for the Boswell bestsellers for the week ending October 17, 2020? Of course you are.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. A Time for Mercy, by John Grisham (still have a few signed tip-in copies left)
2. The Searcher, by Tana French
3. Homeland Elegies, by Ayad Akhtar (signed tip ins available of this too)
4. The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig (register here for October 26 event here)
5. The Lost Shtetl, by Max Gross (register here for October 19 event here)
6. All the Devils Are Here, by Louise Penny
7. Leave the World Behind, by Rumaan Alam
8. Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman
9. The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett
10. The Once and Future Witches, by Alix E. Harrow

Jessica Wick reviewed The Once and Future Witches on the NPR blog. She writes: "If spells (witch-ways in the novel) are truly hidden in stories, then I know what spell is in The Once and Future Witches. It's the spell to claim a heart and dwell there, ever after. I unabashedly, unreservedly adore The Once and Future Witches. I adore it with the kind of passion that prickles at my eyes and wavers my voice. I adore it in a way that requires purchase of a giving copy, for friends in need."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Forward, by David Jeremiah
2. Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson
3. The Well-Plated Cookbook, by Erin Clarke (signed copies available)
4. How to Write One Song, by Jeff Tweedy
5. I'm Still Here, by Austin Channing Brown (register for November 17 event with America's Black Holocaust Museum here)
6. Modern Comfort Food, by Ina Garten
7. 99 Percent Invisible City, by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt
8. Solutions and Other Problems, by Allie Brosh
9. How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi
10. Be More RBG, by Marilyn Easton

One of the interesting things we pay attention to is how categories do at different times of the year. We see a big increase in cookbooks in the fourth quarter, but another gift category that works for us quite well are music bios and memoirs. Jeff Tweedy's How to Write One Song: Loving the Things We Create and How They Love Us Back had a very nice first week of sale, mostly due to their being signed tip-in copies. We're getting more - some signed and some not. If you're requesting a signed copy, please put that info in the comments section of your order. From Will Leitch in GQ: "Jeff Tweedy has long been prolific, but the Wilco frontman is currently on a monumental run of Making Sh*t. In the past five years, Tweedy has made two Wilco albums, gone on several world tours, released three solo albums, appeared in multiple movies and television series, and written two books. Fittingly, the announcement of his second book - How to Write One Song, a smart, funny, relentlessly practical guide to discovering the secret songwriter within—was accompanied by an actual surprise album too. That one’s called Love Is the King, and it was written, produced, and performed, all during quarantine, by Tweedy and his sons, Spencer and Sammy."

Paperback Fiction:
1. Mirror Lake, by Juneau Black (register for October 29 event here)
2. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
3. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, by Olga Tokarczuk
4. Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion
5. Second Sleep, by Robert D. Harris
6. The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride
7. Where We Come From, by Oscar Cásares (register for December 8 author event here)
8. The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
9. Shady Hollow, by Juneau Black
10. The Overstory, by Richard Powers

I have to get used to the fact that our MTI code for movie-tie-in should now say STI, for streaming, which is more likely to be the case. No Jason, I don't want to change the code! But The Good Lord Bird is the latest streaming series to pop onto our bestseller list. This Showtime series features Ethan Hawke as John Brown and has Daveed Diggs recurring as Frederick Douglass. From Mike Hale's review in The New York Times: "The Good Lord Bird has not received what you could call kid-glove treatment from Showtime. It was announced for Feb. 16 but pulled, then rescheduled for Aug. 9 and pulled again. It will finally premiere, without much fanfare, this Sunday. It’s curious treatment for a prestige mini-series based on a National Book Award-winning novel that was spearheaded by and stars one of America’s most accomplished actors. And it’s a shame, because The Good Lord Bird - a seven-episode adaptation of James McBride’s 2013 novel - is fine entertainment, capturing some measure of McBride’s jaunty, irreverent humor and featuring an absorbing performance by Ethan Hawke, who created the series (with the writer Mark Richard) and plays the central role of the messianic abolitionist John Brown."

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Burnout, by Emily Nagosaki
2. Storied and Scandalous Wisconsin, by Anna Lardinois
3. My Grandmother's Hands, by Resmaa Menakem
4. The Library Book, by Susan Orlean
5. Furious Hours, by Casey Cep
6. Tough Love, by Susan Rice
7. Chaos, by Tom O'Neil
8. Save Me the Plums, by Ruth Reichl
9. My Own Words, by Ruth Bader Ginsburg
10. Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer

The numbers are still relatively small, but it's nice to see our long-delayed update to our book club checklist and brochure selling some books. One of my friends in publishing asked me what there was to talk about in Save Me the Plums. I told her that many book clubs just need books they are certain the members will finish. But then I thought back and thought about how I wound up talking about this book with several other readers. There's an Alice in Wonderland quality about the story, of an anonymous restaurant reviewer stepping into the world of food celebrity, only it's as if she has to go back to Kansas every night. I also really love book clubs where people share food from a book, and that reminded me of my sister's family's get-togethers where they cook food together virtually every Saturday. And then we could cry about the decline of magazines. I just received a copy of a magazine that I think is doing pretty well because online subscriptions have held up, and I think I saw only one ad outside of the back cover.

Books for Kids:
1. Stamped, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
2. The Rock and the River, by Kekla Magoon
3. Skunk and Badger, by Amy Timberlake, illustrations by Jon Klassen (we may have some signed bookplates left - just ask)
4. The Strange Birds of Flannery O'Connor, by Amy Alznauer
5. The Assignment, by Liza Wiemer (signed copies available)
6. The Time of Green Magic, by Hilary McKay
7. The Unadoptables, by Hana Tooke
8. Brave, by James Bird
9. The Girl and the Ghost, by Hanna Alkaf
10. Wink, by Rob Harrell

I am not usually driven to read kids books from The New York Times Book Review, but something about Hilary McKay's A Time of Green Magic spoke to me, especially because it also had a very nice quote from Katherine Rundell. From Sarah Harrison Smith's NYT review: "That moment propels an increasingly magical story, involving, like many of the best children’s books, a move to a more verdant abode, an absent mother and much-needed repair work - to a neglected house and an isolated young soul who lives to read. The Time of Green Magic is, in part, a book about loving books. McKay refers to Narnia and Hogwarts, and though she doesn’t mention Edwardian classics like Five Children and It or The Secret Garden, she nestles her story so snugly in the literary canon that you can imagine E. Nesbit and Frances Hodgson Burnett fluttering nearby like kindly, aging aunts." It reminded me a lot of Magic or Not from Edward Eager, whose work is indebted to E. Nesbit. Our buyer Amie is also a big fan.

Please check upcoming event page for event times. All are Central Time

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Shady Hollow is back! Juneau Black talks about Mirror Lake, the third book in the series.

Mirror Lake, the long-awaited third book in the Shady Hollow series is here! The follow-up to Cold Clay is another delightful cozy mystery that once again is set in a forest hamlet where enterprising animals have created a unique self-sufficient economy devoid of human interlopers.

As Juneau Black states: "It is pointless to question too deeply the mechanics of this town. If a moose pours a mug of coffee for a sparrow sitting a the cozy counter of the local diner, why not focus on the friendliness of this gesture, rather than the logistics of dish size and seat height?"

We'll be hosting Juneau Black in conversation on October 29, 7 pm. Register here. But I thought it would be a great idea to ask a few questions in advance to the folks behind JB, Sharon Nagel and Jocelyn Cole (Koehler). It's a teaser!

Daniel: This is your third book in the Shady Hollow series. What was your initial impetus for the story.

Sharon: Jocelyn and I worked together at Boswell way back in 2010. On one very slow night, we assembled some adorable finger puppets in the children’s department and gave them names and occupations. Then we started telling stories about them. We decided to write the first book during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which takes place every year in November. That story became Shady Hollow, the first book in the series.

Jocelyn: And fun fact, people can see one of the very first named characters, Howard Chitters, in an illustration by the wonderful Aaron Boyd that’s hanging up at Boswell (see below) 

Daniel: Who is your favorite new character in Mirror Lake?

Sharon: I am partial to Arabella Boatwright, the Mirror Lake librarian. It might have something to do with the fact that I recently graduated from Library School and am a librarian myself.

Jocelyn: For me, Bradley Marvel, the wolfish thriller author who’s in town for a book reading, was incredibly fun to write. He’s the worst kind of alpha male! (editor's note: I'm also a fan of Marvel, who is often distraught about the inability to find a good steak dinner in this godforsaken outpost of vegetarianism).

Daniel: What were some of your inspirations for the Shady Hollow series?

Sharon: Both Jocelyn and I enjoy reading mysteries. We get inspiration from reading the works of other authors that we admire. We also thought it was important to vary our crimes somewhat, so that Vera is not constantly tripping over dead bodies on the way to work in the morning.

Jocelyn: Yes, we much prefer our bodies to be discovered in odd places, sometimes years after the crime.

Mirror Lake is so much fun. The characters, whether rat or raven, are fully furred (or feathered) out, the story is compelling, and I really enjoyed many of the turns of phrase, such as when Vera the fox trotted over to her next clue. There was a lot of giggling. All three books are now available - Shady Hollow, Cold Clay, and Mirror Lake.

Event is Thursday, October 29, 7 pm CDT. Register here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The book club recommendation table is updated. It only took a year.

Well, I'm only a year late with my updated book club recommendation brochure. I had one due to come out in March, and I actually changed our website, but wound up never laying out or printing something, being that we didn't have anyone coming into the store, and hadn't had many book clubs asking for suggestions. And though I changed the website, I didn't update our inventory system, so the old books were still on display. Not that they weren't wonderful books, or anything.

Unlike all the big book clubs nowadays, we're still focusing on paperbacks, with at three paperback originals and the rest reprints. I've read all but two of the books - one is our December In-Store Lit Group selection that will be followed by an interview with the author the next day, while another is a Jane special. I'm hoping to one day read Becoming Mrs. Lewis because the book has been a pick of hers for several years - it was so successful that the paperback was delayed.

Speaking of delays, publishers are delaying paperbacks fairly aggressively, being that coronavirus has hurt bookstore browsing and paperbacks don't work as well in web orders. The trend mentioned above that almost all the high-profile book clubs pick hardcovers hasn't helped either. 

I tend to like picking books that have been vetted by the book club I run. I don't mind when a book is polarizing (Trust Exercise fit that bill) but I did leave out one recent selection where a lot of us seemed bored (title redacted). 

The recommendations (in alphabetical order)

Ask Again, Yes, by Mary Beth Keane
Becoming Mrs. Lewis, by Patti Callahan
Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey
, by Kathleen Rooney
An Elegant Defense, by Matt Richtel
Family Trust, by Kathy Wang
Furious Hours, by Casey Cep
Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo
Inheritance, by Dani Shapiro
The Lager Queen of Minnesota, by J. Ryan Stradal
The Library Book, by Susan Orlean
Miracle Creek, by Angie Kim 
The Need, by Helen Phillips
The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
The Overstory, by Richard Powers
Red at the Bone
, by Jacqueline Woodson
Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini
Save Me the Plums, by Ruth Reichl
Say Nothing, By Patrick Radden Keefe
The Story of a Goat, by Perumal Murugan
Trust Exercise, by Susan Choi
Virgil Wander, by Leif Enger
Where We Come From, by Oscar Cásares (event coming soon!)
The Yellow House, by Sarah M. Broom

Some nonfiction, some historical fiction, some challenging titles, and some where you just want the group to finish the book - I think we call that compelling. Here's a link to purchase the titles. I guess I'm hedging my bets - I only printed 10 copies. But I'm not just hoping to reprint - I'm also hoping to see better sales on these titles.

I guess my pick of all these is The Story of a Goat. It's sort of an offbeat story that is way more interesting than you expect. Even with it's recent longlist nod for the National Book Award Books in Translation longlist, I don't think it's found its potential. It might even make my best-of-the-year list. Yes, I know it released in December 2019, but in the old days, a December on-sale meant it was a January publication.

We're hosting Angie Kim for Miracle Creek this Friday, October 16, 2 pm. It's gonna have spoilers, but if you don't mind hearing a few, join us even if you haven't read it yet. Register here.

View the list with purchase links here. It also has our staff recommendations for each title. Now I just have to do some virtual talks about them.