Monday, March 29, 2021

Events this week - Martha S Jones in conversation with Joanne Wiliams, Erica Ruth Neubauer in conversation with Tim Hennessy, Margot Bloomstein in conversation with Ash Dzick

Here's what's going on at Boswell this week

Monday, March 29, 7 pm
Martha S Jones, author of Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All
In conversation with Joanne Williams for a virtual event

Boswell Book Company presents and evening with Martha S Jones, Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor and Professor of History of Johns Hopkins. Her new book Vanguard documents the epic history of African American women's pursuit of political power, and how it transformed America.  We're thrilled that for this event, Professor Jones will be in conversation with longtime television journalist Joanne Williams, producer of the forthcoming documentary, Kaukona & King: 50 Years Later.

From The New York Times, Jennifer Szalai writes: "Jones has written an elegant and expansive history of Black women who sought to build political power where they could... Jones is an assiduous scholar and an absorbing writer, turning to the archives to unearth the stories of Black women who worked alongside white suffragists only to be marginalized, in what often amounted to a 'dirty compromise with white supremacy.'"

In the standard story, the suffrage crusade began in Seneca Falls in 1848 and ended with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. But this overwhelmingly white women's movement did not win the vote for most black women. Jones offers a new history of African American women's political lives in America. She recounts how they defied both racism and sexism to fight for the ballot, and how they wielded political power to secure the equality and dignity of all persons. From the earliest days of the republic to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and beyond, Jones excavates the lives and work of black women - Maria Stewart, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Fannie Lou Hamer, and more - who were the vanguard of women's rights, calling on America to realize its best ideals.

Martha S Jones is also President of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, the oldest and largest association of women historians in the United States. She is author of Birthright Citizens and All Bound up Together and has written for The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and USA Today. Longtime television journalist Joanne Williams was a longtime Fox6 television journalist and most recently the host of Milwaukee PBS's Black Nouveau. More about Kaukauna & King: 50 Years Later here.

Tuesday, March 30, 7 pm
Erica Ruth Neubauer, author of Murder at Wedgefield Manor
in conversation with Tim Hennessy for a virtual Thrillwaukee event

Erica Ruth Neubauer is an eleven-year military veteran and has been a police officer, high school teacher, retail worker (like us!), mystery reviewer, and even a detective. But we're celebrating her work as a novelist and the recent nominations of Murder at the Mena House for Best First Novel for the Agathas (Malice Domestic) and the Leftys (Left Coast Crime) with a launch event for the release of the second novel in her series featuring the adventures of amateur detective Jane Wunderly. For this event, Neubauer will be in conversation with Tim Hennessy, mystery critic and editor of Milwaukee Noir.

England, 1926: Wedgefield Manor, deep in the tranquil Essex countryside, provides a welcome rest stop for Jane and her matchmaking Aunt Millie before their return to America. While Millie spends time with her long-lost daughter, Lillian, and their host, Lord Hughes, Jane fills the hours devouring mystery novels and taking flying lessons - much to Millie’s disapproval. But any danger in the air is eclipsed by tragedy on the ground when one of the estate’s mechanics, Air Force veteran Simon Marshall, is killed in a motorcar collision.

The sliced brake cables prove this was no accident, yet was the intended victim someone other than Simon? The house is full of suspects - visiting relations, secretive servants, strangers prowling the grounds at night - and also full of targets. The enigmatic Mr. Redvers, who helped Jane solve a murder in Egypt, arrives on the scene to once more offer his assistance. It seems that everyone at Wedgefield wants Jane to help protect the Hughes family. But while she searches for answers, is she overlooking a killer hiding in plain sight?

Ask for your signed copy. Personalizations also available.

Wednesday, March 31, 6 pm
Margot Bloomstein, author of Trustworthy: How the Smartest Brands Beat Cynicism and Bridge the Trust Gap
in conversation with Ash Dzick for a Virtual Event
Cohosted by Brew City UX
Register for this event here.

Margot Bloomstein is content strategist, author, and principal of Appropriate, Inc whose work has influenced a range of industries. She’ll chat about Trustworthy, which looks at the problem of how marketers need a strategy to earn trust, act with transparency, and help consumers and citizens make confident decisions without being undermined by cynicism. She'll be in conversation with Ash Dzick of Brew City UX, a group of professionals passionate about crafting meaningful user experiences and growing the vibrant Milwaukee UX (user experience design) community.

To regain the trust of consumers and citizens, marketers talk about empathy and authenticity. But how do you get beyond those buzzwords? In Trustworthy, Bloomstein examines what works among teams of all stripes and sizes, She casts a broad net to capture the experiences of copywriters, designers, creative directors, and CMOs - people who work to build trust through imagery, editorial style, storytelling, and retail design. She brings her trademark blend of insight and encouragement to guest lecture in business, design, and humanities programs, sparking students to embrace a more thoughtful vision of their role in the broader industry.

Design professionals are raving about Trustworthy. Khoi Vinh Senior, Direct of Design for Adobe, says "We live in a time where cynicism reigns. This book shines a light for those who want to build companies and brands that are honest, optimistic, enduring, and able to contribute real value to the world."

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending March 27, 2021

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending March 27, 2021

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Raft of Stars, by Andrew Graff (register for April 12 event here)
2. Brood, by Jackie Polzin
3. Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro
4. The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig
5. Leonard and Hungry Paul, by Rónán Hession
6. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, by Charlie Mackesy
7. Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman
8. Committed, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
9. The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett
10. The Invisible Life of Addie Larue, by VE Schwab

The only new entry this week is Raft of Stars, the Wisconsin-based novel by Andrew Graff that will be a conversation with J Ryan Stradal on April 12. My guess is that it was helped along, not just by our promotion, but by this great review in The New York Times Book Review from Sam Graham-Felsen SGF writes, "Andrew J. Graff’s engrossing, largehearted debut novel, Raft of Stars, is a book with a distinctly Rousseauian vibe. It is the story of what happens when two 10-year-old boys flee into the northern Wisconsin woods and how they, and their various adult pursuers, don’t merely survive, but shed their landlocked inhibitions and become better, bigger versions of themselves."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. The Code Breaker, by Walter Isaacson
2. Three Ordinary Girls, by Tim Brady
3. Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson
4. New York, New York, New York, by Thomas Dyja
5. Think Again, by Adam Grant
6. Dusk Night Dawn, by Anne Lamott
7. What It's Like to Be a Bird, by David Allen Sibley
8. Milwaukee Rock and Roll 1950-2000, by David Luhrssen, Phillip Naylor, Bruce Rogers
9. The Sum of Us, by Heather McGhee
10. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, by George Saunders

Thomas Dyja's New York, New York, New York: Four Decades of Success, Excess, and Transformation pops onto the list, helped by another New York Times review, this one from Kevin Baker: "New York x 3 begins on Feb. 14, 1978, designated 'I Love New York Day' for the ubiquitous jingle introduced that afternoon, part of a last-ditch publicity campaign to revive a city that even those who loved it feared was dying. But New York wasn’t dying, and why it wasn’t - the women and men, policies and plans, trends and revolutions in everything from music to technology to public spaces to private desires that transformed it - is Dyja’s story." It's interesting that this book comes out when there's some thought that New York might again be at a crossroads. I should also note that Dyja visited Boswell for his book on Chicago, The Third Coast, back in 2013.

Paperback Fiction:
1. Behind the Lens, by Jeannée Sacken
2. Later, by Stephen King
3. The House in the Cerulean Sea, by TJ Klune
4. The Odyessey, by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson
5. The Rose Code, by Kate Quinn
6. The Book of Longings, by Sue Monk Kidd
7. The Girl with the Louding Voice, by Abi Daré
8. The Good Earth, by Pearl S Buck
9. The Overstory, by Richard Powers
10. Catch 22, by Joseph Heller

Sue Monk Kidd's The Book of Longing came out in hardcover in May, during that time period where we were cancelling events and hadn't quite successfully pivoted to virtual. It's also one of our events where attendees were not able to get Brown Paper Tickets refunds. Now with a court ruling, we're hoping to start seeing the refunds come through - one of our customers just got their refund this week.

On The Book of Longings, from Jacquelyn Mitchard on Oprah Daily: "Kidd’s bold narrative revisionism allows her protagonist to be in every respect the equal of her husband while posing this question: How would Western culture be different if men and women had grown in appreciation of each other’s spirit? It’s not such a leap - the gospels portray Jesus gently championing women."

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Minor Feelings, by Cathy Park Hong
2. Know My Name, by Chanel Miller
3. In the Country We Love, by Diane Guerrero 
4. The Body Is Not an Apology, Sonya Renee Taylor
5. Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah
6. Hidden Valley Road, by Robert Kolker
7. First They Killed My Father, by Loung Ung
8. Nomadland, by Jessica Bruder
9. Hand to Mouth, by Linda Tirado
10. White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo

The National Book Critics Circle Awards have been announced and winner of the award for autobiography is Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, by Cathy Park Hong. From Jennifer Szalai's New York Times review: "The essays wander a variegated terrain of memoir, criticism and polemic, oscillating between smooth proclamations of certainty and twitches of self-doubt. The subject of the book is ostensibly racial identity, but Hong confesses to feeling unsure and unsettled about her authority to write it."

Books for Kids:
1. Get Up Stand Up, by Bob Marley/Cedella Marley, with illustrations by John Jay Cabuay
2. Every Little Thing, by Bob Marley/Cedella Marley, with illustrations by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
3. Max and the Midknights V1, by Lincoln Peirce
4. Battle of the Bodkins V2, by Lincoln Peirce
5. The One Thing You'd Save, by Linda Sue Park, with illustrations by Robert Sae-Heng
6. Bat and the Waiting Game V2, by Elana K Arnold
7. Bat and the End of Everything V3, by Elana K Arnold
8. A Thousand No's, by DJ Corchin, with illustrations by Dan Dougherty
9. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo
10. A Boy Called Bat V1, by Elana K Arnold

Lots of virtual school visits these past few weeks. This week's focus is The One Thing You'd Save, the new book from Linda Sue Park, who visited us in person last year before shutdown for Prairie Lotus. Her new book, illustrated by Robert Sae-Heng, imagines different answers to this question (to be clear, your family and pets are fine) in this series of linked poems. From Publisher's Weekly: "Readers may not realize that the volume is a collection of poems until they read Park's closing note, which explains her inspiration: traditional Korean sijo verse, which consists of three lines of 13 to 17 syllables and is sometimes broken into six shorter lines. This relatively flexible structure creates a rhythmic variety of declarations, reflections, interjections, and occasional dialogue employed throughout, complemented by Sae-Heng's gray-toned, sketchlike illustrations."

With baseball season beginning, it's time for Chris Foran's Journal Sentinel roundup. Included is Lawrence Baldessaro's biography of Tony Lazzeri. He'll be speaking to Tim Shieber of the National Baseball Hall of Fame on April 15 - register here.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Events this week - Jeannée Sacken, Tim Brady, Abi Daré and preview of next week's event with Martha S Jones

Boswell virtual events happening this week

Tuesday, March 23, 7 pm
Jeannée Sacken, author of Behind the Lens
in conversation with Rochelle Melander
cohosted by Shorewood Public Library
Register here for this free event

Join us for an evening with Shorewood writer, photojournalist, and President of the Friends of the Shoreowod Public Library Sacken as she chats about her suspenseful novel about a photographer who, after barely surviving a deadly brush with the Taliban, returns to Afghanistan to teach at a school for girls. Sacken will be in conversation with Rochelle Melander, Write Now! Writing Coach and author of Level Up. 

Since the Taliban ambush that left a young Afghan girl dying in her arms, Annie Hawkins Green has managed to suppress her memories of that brutal day - until she returns to Afghanistan to teach a photography. As the Taliban gain prominence in the once peaceful region, Annie's nightmares from her last time in-country come roaring back with a vengeance. But are they just dreams? The unshakeable feeling of a grim, watchful presence makes Annie think otherwise.

Kirkus calls Sacken’s novel “a gripping Afghan tale starring a strong hero wielding a camera.” And conversation partner Melander chimes in to say, “Not only does this story take readers on an adventure Behind the Lens and into Annie's life, it transports them to the heart of Afghanistan and into a battle for equality, freedom, and justice."

Wednesday, March 24, 7 pm
Tim Brady, author of Three Ordinary Girls: The Remarkable Story of Three Dutch Teenagers Who Became Spies, Saboteurs, Nazi Assassins - and WWII Heroes
cohosted by Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center
Register here for this free event

Award-winning historian and Iowa Writers Workshop alum Tim Brady discusses his latest book, which tells astonishing true story of three fearless female resisters during WWII whose youth and innocence belied their extraordinary daring in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands.

Recruited as teenagers, Hannie Schaft, and Dutch sisters Truus and Freddie Oversteegen fulfilled harrowing missions as spies, saboteurs, and Nazi assassins with remarkable courage. That included sheltering fleeing Jews, political dissidents, and Dutch resisters. They sabotaged bridges and railways, and donned disguises to lead children from probable internment in concentration camps to safehouses. They covertly transported weapons and set military facilities ablaze. And they carried out the assassinations of German soldiers and traitors, on public streets and in private traps, with the courage of veteran guerilla fighters and the cunning of seasoned spies.

Stephen Harding, author of The Last Battle, says, "Exhaustively researched and written with both authority and style, Tim Brady's Three Ordinary Girls is history that reads like a novel. A vivid and unforgettable portrait of three young women who put their lives on the line in a very personal fight against Naziism, this book is a page-turner and is highly recommended."

Thursday, March 25, 2 pm
Abi Daré, author of The Girl with the Louding Voice
part of the Readings from Oconomowaukee series
in conversation with Daniel Goldin and Lisa Baudoin
Register here for this event
You can also purchase Daré's book from Books & Company here.  

Lagos native Abi Daré studied law at University of Wolverhampton as well as an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London. The Girl with the Louding Voice won the Bath Novel Award for unpublished manuscripts in 2018 and was also selected as a finalist in the 2018 Literary Consultancy Pen Factor competition. 

Here’s Daniel on The Girl with the Louding Voice: “Adunni, living in rural Nigeria, has dreams of getting an education, but when her mother dies, her father sells her off as a third wife to get food. Her husband Morufu just wants to hedge his bets on getting new sons for his tax business. Later she’s placed as a maid to Big Madam and Big Daddy, a wealthy and abusive Lagos woman with a flourishing textile business and her lecherous husband. However dire things got in the story, Adunni’s spirit and determination kept me going. She truly is Sweetness, which is what her name means in Yoruba.”

Kiley Reid, author of Such a Fun Age and this year's featured speaker at the Friends of the Milwaukee Public Library Literary Lunch (tickets here) says, "“I’m a big fan of hyper-realistic dialogue and using the sounds of a world to shape the energy of a novel, and so I was immediately drawn to The Girl with the Louding Voice…. [Adunni] is a youthful, dynamic guide with serious bite and poetic language."  

And from Tsitsi Dangarembga in The New York Times Book Review: “Throughout her harrowing coming-of-age journey, told with verve and compassion, Adunni never loses the 'louding voice' that makes Daré’s story, and her protagonist, so unforgettable.”

Don't forget next Monday, March 29, 7 pm
Martha S Jones, author of Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All
cohosted by America's Black Holocaust Museum
Register here for this free event

Boswell Book Company presents and evening with Martha S Jones, author of a new book that documents the epic history of African American women's pursuit of political power, and how it transformed America. 

Martha S. Jones, Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University, profiles the many Black women who fought for women's suffrage. It's a fascinating survey that goes beyond the most prominent names like Sojourner Truth and Ida B Wells (though she gets a special shout out) to look at the lives of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Mary Ann Shadd, Mary Church Terrell, Nannie Helen Burroughs, and many more.

From Jennifer Szalai at The New York Times: "Jones is an assiduous scholar and an absorbing writer, turning to the archives to unearth the stories of Black women who worked alongside white suffragists only to be marginalized, in what often amounted to a 'dirty compromise with white supremacy.'" 

More upcoming Boswell events here.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Boswell bestsellers, for the week ending March 20, 2021

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending March 20, 2021

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro 
2. Leonard and Hungry Paul, by Rónán Hession
3. Send for Me, by Lauren Fox
4. Brood, by Jackie Polzin
5. The Committed, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
6. Hamnet, by Maggie O'Farrell 
7. The Four Winds, by Kristin Hannah
8. Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman
9. The Breaker, by Nick Petrie 
10. Win, by Harlan Cobin

Harlan Cobin is best known for his stand-alones, but Win is a spin on his Myron Bolitar series, which he actually started writing before his breakout. This book features Bolitar's sideick.

We should have Jane Hamilton's conversation with Jackie Polzin for Brood up soon. A bookplate may still be available, but based on our sales, we might already be out of them - definitely ask if you want on. Alas, we generally don't post videos of our ticketed events so Ishiguro won't live in our archive, but the conversation for Klara and the Sun was pretty great. I love the way he talks about making his books memorable after you read them.

Hardcover Nonfiction
1. The Sum of Us, by Heather McGhee
2. Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson
3. Three Ordinary Girls, by Tim Brady (Register for March 24 event)
4. Me and White Supremacy, by Layla F Saad
5. The Code Breaker, by Walter Isaacson
6. Chatter, by Ethan Kross
7. Set Boundaries, Find Peace, by Nedra Glover Tawwab
8. The Soul of a Woman, by Isabel Allende
9. What It's Like to Be a Bird, by David Allen Sibley
10. Breaking Hate, by Christian Picciolini

It's a nice first week for Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself, by therapist Nedra Glover Tawwab. I'm still trying to figure out why we had the interest, as nothing's coming up on the internet news feed. There is this nice piece in the UK Good Housekeeping from Megan Sutton, but it's hard for me to believe that this article would have much pull!

Paperback Fiction:
1. Lakewood, by Megan Giddings 
2. The Girl with the Louding Voice, by Abi Daré 
3. The Confessions of Frannie Langton, by Sara Collins
4. What the Chickadee Knows, by Margaret Noodin (more on Tim Boswellians blog)
5. The Overstory, by Richard Powers
6. Oona Out of Order, by Margarita Montimore
7. The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
8. The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller
9. The Glass Hotel, by Emily St John Mandel
10. Later, by Stephen King

So excited to see my book club paperback push for Lakewood having an effect. Love this LitHub piece about Giddings an the rise of Black horror fiction and love even more that Lakewood is a finalist for a Los Angeles Times book prize. Also would like to give a shout out to Peter Cameron, who is a finalist for What Happens at Night. 

Paperback Nonfiction
1. Bitcoin for Dummies, by Prypto
2. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
3. Women Don't Ask, by Linda Babcock
4. The New York Times Cooking No-Recipe Recipes, by Sam Sifton
5. When the White Pine Was King, by Jerry Apps
6. Pleasure Activism, by Adrienne Maree Brown
7. Clementine, by Sonia Purnell
8. Thinking Inside the Box, by Adrienne Raphel 
9. Wordslut, by Amanda Montell
10. Front Row at the Trump Show, by Jonathan Karl

Out this week is The New York Times Cooking No-Recipe Recipes from Sam Sifton, based on the website and mobile app feature. From the Publishers Weekly review: "The dishes are geared toward those with at least some familiarity with cooking (readers are told, for instance, to produce a pot of rice "as you always do" for a dried fruit and almond pilaf), and capable home cooks will appreciate how no-recipe recipes allow them to make flexible, tasty dishes without getting bogged down in details or overbearing instructions. Innovative, fun, and freeing, this outstanding offering will reenergize the creative spirits of novice and experienced home cooks alike."

Books for Kids:
1. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thoams
2. The Night Diary, by Veera Hiranandani
3. The Bat and the End of Everything V3, by Elana K Arnold
4. Starfish, by Lisa Fipps
5. The Bat and the Waiting Game V2, by Elana K Arnold
6. Max and the Midknights V1, by Lincoln Peirce
7. One Thing You'd Save, by Linda Sue Park
8. Battle of the Bodkins V2, by Lincoln Peirce
9. The Assignment, by Liza Wiemer
10. American Bettiya, by Anuradha J Rajurkar
11. The Firekeeper's Daughter, by Angeline Boulley
12. Amina's Song V2, by Hena Khan (Watch this event today, March 21, 3 pm CDT)

Our school event for Lisa Fipps and Starfish are just a taste of our April educator night, also featuring Joy McCullough, Tanya Guerrero, and Sarah Allen. Register here for this April 7 event. From the starred Booklist for Starfish: "Fipps hands her young narrator several difficult life lessons, including how to self-advocate, how not to internalization of the words of others, and what it means to defend yourself. Ellie's story will delight readers who long to see an impassioned young woman seize an unapologetic victory."

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Why Milwaukee? Bernice Rubens, Kazuo Ishiguro, and the meaning of a city

Recently we hosted Kazuo Ishiguro for his novel Klara and the Sun, along with Left Bank Books and Anderson’s Bookshops. The nice thing about these smaller multi-store events is we still get a chance to say hello to the audience and greet the author. Coming up we’re doing a larger multi-store where we just get a shout out and don’t say hello to anyone. Sigh.

Ishiguro, and since everyone else called him Ish, I will too, was in conversation with Ron Charles of The Washington Post and Totally Hip Book Review, who did a great job. Because it’s a ticketed event, alas, we don’t make the programs public, but take my word for it, and that of all the folks who attended who thanked us afterwards. Attendees got to ask questions, but with just an hour, there certainly wasn’t time for all of them. And because our friend from Left Bank was facilitating questions, there was one question that got asked by several of you that wasn’t addressed.

Why Milwaukee?

On page 190 of Klara, Chrissie, the mom, notes that her ex-husband has been replaced by automation and wonders if that bothers him. And when he says no, she asks about his friend in Milwaukee, the judge. Read into that. Judges are replaced with artificial intelligence. It could happen.

Pat spoke for all of us when she asked why Milwaukee was referenced. What did Milwaukee mean to Ish? I asked in the virtual green room. But alas, it didn’t mean anything at all – it just grounded the story in the United States. Ish had a Milwaukee memory, as he’d been here once many years ago, where he had a good pork chop. No, the best pork chop he ever had. And Pat wondered, Karl Ratzsch's? Apparently Milwaukee and that pork chop made it into an Ishiguro short story.

I know what Pat thought when she asked. So often in literature, Milwaukee has filled in for nowhere, filled with boring rubes, the place you want to escape. I recall just before moving to Milwaukee, seeing for the first time one of my favorite films, Parting Glances, which I guess is notably now for being the first appearance of Steve Buscemi*. Michael, who I considered the main character, was from Milwaukee, but he left for New York for the usual reasons, the relative innocent chasing the big city. And I asked the usual question, why Milwaukee?

It was only years later post internet that I learned that Michael was from Milwaukee because the actor Richard Ganoung was from Lake Geneva and then Madison, and had even worked with the Milwaukee Rep. That’s right, it was another pork chop.

So as I was trying to keep to my resolution to read one book a month that was more than two years old (very difficult for a bookseller), my eye turned toward Milwaukee, by Bernice Rubens. The book was never published in the United States, but came out from Little, Brown UK in 2001 and in paperback the following year. A customer was selling us second-hand books and included this, which they had bought second-hand for $6.50. The pencil mark was still on the endpaper. And I thought, how can I not read this? Someday?

While Bernice Rubens is not familiar to too many American readers, she won the Booker Prize for The Elected Member in 1970. I didn’t read that one, but I did read five of her other books in the 1980s – Madame Sousatzka (adapted into a Shirley MacLaine film), I Sent a Letter to My Love, Spring Sonata, Mr. Wakefield’s Crusade, and Our Father, which I still own - the Doubleday hardcover edition.**

I discovered Rubens through the late editor Patrick O’Connor, who came to Warner Books (where I worked) with the acquisition of Popular Library. He had a penchant for putting literary novels in mass market, which once was a thing. Through him, we published A Dance to the Music of Time in twelve volumes, which I still own but just barely, as they are disintegrating. Later on, someone else did the series in four trade paperbacks, which made more sense to me. And I’m pretty positive it was O’Connor who brought the Rubens books to Warner too. I have this memory of him talking about them.

I don’t know how I felt about the first three books I read of hers, but my note on Mr. Wakefield’s Crusade says, “Pym-ish plot loaded with Rubens’s grotesqueries.” As for Our Father, it was my #1 book of December 1987 (I rated them then). I wrote “Veronica Smiles, the explorer of deserts the way her mother climbed mountains and her grandmother delved (SIC) caves, meets God on her travels, and the Lord returns with her to England, quoting Biblical verse to fit the occasion.” I called her humor kinky.

But soon after that, the books stopped being published in the United States, or perhaps they weren’t targeting them to booksellers, and I missed the next 12 before she passed away in 2004. I’m only sad because I wound up liking Milwaukee a lot, though my guess is that trying to hand-sell Rubens might be as rewarding as banging my head against a wall. In the 1990s, I was a buyer and could only hand-sell in a wholesale fashion, meaning that I would convince a bookseller to read a book, and they would tell customers. It’s also a thing.

Milwaukee is what I call an Evening deathbed novel, named after Susan Minot’s novel, where a character remembers their life while on drifting in and out of consciousness. Annie is at hospice with only weeks to live, estranged from her daughter Mary and her late husband Freddie. Her only visitor is her old friend Clemmie.

Like Our Father, this is the story of three generations of women. When Annie became pregnant as a teenager, her parents threw her out of the house, and she went to live with her aunt and uncle. Her father soon died (on the golf course) and her mother blamed her for the death. She raised her daughter Mary, telling her that her father was a soldier who died on the front. But when Mary is heading off to Oxford, Annie’s mother reveals that the dad is not really dead. The only clue beyond a hint of a name, is that he’s from Milwaukee. So Annie goes off to find him and comes back with Jimmy, only Annie can’t remember him because she’s blocked almost all details from her memory. A series of reversals and revenges ensue, remembered as Annie further deteriorates.

I love the way Rubens’s characters can’t help themselves avoid bad behavior. There isn't the craziness of Our Father, no God character, but there are a few bordering-on-crazy twists. Mostly there’s this truth about our human natures – even when we are trying to be good, we’re going to do some things that are not so good, and we’re going to regret them.

In this case, Milwaukee is not just a side note - it’s a major motif running through the book. Yet it’s fairly clear that for Rubens, it was just an idea. There’s not even a pork chop to ground it***. There’s really only one detail about the city in the whole novel, and I’m not giving anything away by quoting the final line: “Milwaukee. It’s in Wisconsin.” Indeed.

Addendum: I told Pat about reading Milwaukee and she quickly sent back a photo of the paperback, which is on her bookshelf, unread.

*And of Kathy Kinney, who played Mimi on the Drew Carey Show, a very different career arc, but one that made a lot of people happy.

**Tucked into the jacket was the New York Times obituary from 2004. Cutting out clips? That also used to be a thing.

***That's ground pork to you

Monday, March 15, 2021

This week - Kazuo Ishiguro conversation with Ron Charles, plus Jackie Polzin in conversation with Jane Hamilton - and we're cosponsoring Hena Khan for Amina's Song

Here's the Boswell virtual event roundup for the week of March 15, 2021.

Tuesday, March 16, 6 pm (note the time)
Kazuo Ishiguro, author of Klara and the Sun
In conversation with Ron Charles
$28 tickets for this event available here - includes the book - shipping is extra

I begin this last-minute promotion of Kazuo Ishiguro's Klara and the Sun by recalling my very memorable fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Rosenberg. My teacher had a running feud with administration, arguing that bird walks were an acceptable substitution for gym class. Every Friday afternoon was opera time, where we'd listen to a classic opera in full. And yes, we went to a rehearsal of Carmen by the Metropolitan Opera. And then there were the school plays. For the fall production, we did Iphigenia in Aulis, where I had the part of soldier #2. Apparently, because I did a good job, because in our spring production of RUR (Rossum's Universal Robots) by Karyl Capek, I got the coveted role of Alquist, the works chief. I can still recall Mrs. Rosenberg frustrated because I could not get the intonation right for my big line, "Go Adam! Go Eve!" It was supposed do be something like Eeeeeeeve with a bit of a quiver.

I mention this because Ron Charles noted that this play is said to be where the word robot was coined. And he mentioned that in the context of reviewing Klara and the Sun, a story about the products of a different robot factory, now called AFs or artificial friends. He writes, "Leave it to Kazuo Ishiguro to articulate our inchoate anxieties about the future we’re building. Klara and the Sun, his first novel since winning the Nobel Prize in 2017, is a delicate, haunting story, steeped in sorrow and hope. Readers still reeling from his 2005 novel Never Let Me Go will find here a gentler exploration of the price children pay for modern advancements. But if the weird complications of technology frame the plot, the real subject, as always in Ishiguro’s dusk-lit fiction, is the moral quandary of the human heart."

And while I'm at it, let me go full on DC and quote another capital-area critic, Maureen Corrigan, whose Fresh Air review is one continuous pull quote: "Without question, Klara certainly seems capable of loving. In the unbearable sections of this novel I referenced earlier, Josie grows weaker and Klara, who's herself solar-powered, beseeches the 'kindly' Sun for 'special nourishment' for Josie and, then, bravely sets out to make an offering to the Sun. Klara's misperception of the Sun as a caring deity calls to question our own limited human understanding of, well, everything. Like Klara, who sees the world through grids that sometimes go haywire, we humans only see through a glass, darkly."

Our event on March 16 is in partnership with Left Bank Books of St. Louis and Anderson's Bookshops of Naperville and Downer's Grove. Ron Charles and Kazuo Ishiguro will talk about, well, whatever they want, as our guidelines are pretty loose. But I'm guessing there will be a lot of talk about Klara and the Sun. Here's Ron Charles reviewing TC Boyle's Outside Looking In for Totally Hip Book Review.

By the way, I think Mrs. Rosenberg would have liked Klara and the Sun - a great book for storytime.

Thursday, March 18, 7 pm
Jackie Polzin, author of Brood
in conversation with Jane Hamilton
Register for this event here

As can be the case for many of our Inklink events, Kayleen read Brood first. And then Jane Hamilton read it. And they got me to read it. And then we wrote our proposal for an Ink/Well event, the virtual collaboration between InkLink of East Troy and Boswell. It's a first-person introspective narrative about a woman who is struggling with loss and the anxiety which comes with change. And she tells her story through the raising of four chickens.

Elizabeth McCracken reviewed the book for The New York Times, noting that this was (or might be) her last book review: "Brood is the sort of book that is inevitably called quiet. For me the book feels accurate. There are anecdotes here that illustrate life but have no effect on events. We live in a golden age of accurate fiction. Not realism - this could happen - but accuracy - it probably did happen. I don’t mean to suggest anything at all about the author and the inspiration for the book, only that the focus on the quotidian feels exceptionally lifelike to me. I don’t dismiss accuracy in fiction. Many people love it."

Jennifer Reese in The Washington Post says "The narrator has abundant experience with dead animals by the end of this beguiling book. 'The more I care for them, the less I know,' she says of her beloved chickens. But she knows more than she might think she does, if not about chickens then about everything else. Her observation of the fragility and loveliness of daily life is so sharp and her commentary so droll, trenchant and precise that the modest world she describes becomes almost numinous."

Lynne Feeley in the Los Angeles Review of Books: "The novel is nearly silent about the narrator’s loss, perhaps because the narrator herself does not talk much about her loss or her grief. Rather, she conducts her grief through the care of her chickens. There are terms for this in psychoanalysis: displacement, when a person shifts feelings about one thing onto another, or cathexis, when a person attaches emotional significance to an object and becomes, in turn, deeply invested in it. But because the hen project seems just a couple of steps adjacent to the processes of pregnancy and motherhood (to the narrator, in any case), the connection between them is more specific, and more aching. The chickens are, it seems, a way for the narrator to try again at keeping a much-loved being alive, and to test out what it takes to do so."

And here's a recommendation from Boswellian Tim McCarthy: "Give it some time. That’s my advice about Brood. Let the book peck at you for a while and you’ll be rewarded. I didn’t know that I completely loved it until the last three pages. Then I suddenly knew. Completely. This book is all of life told in the story of four backyard chickens. Our narrator’s voice comes straight at us - a bit sassy, sly, mostly sure-minded - even as she maintains a subtle neighborhood diplomacy. The contrast is wonderful. Chickens help her tell us boldly about loss and the inescapable hardships of living, but she’s not bitter. She sees the beautiful workings of her simple birds, and of people: her chicken-hesitant friend Helen, her staunchly independent mother, her very reasonable husband Percy, the awkward neighbors, and how all of life creates dust. Mix in Minnesota’s climate extremes and a changing neighborhood. You’ll get a growing sense that you’re reading something very special, richly human. Let Brood peck at you. There’s nothing quite like it."

Sunday, March 21, 3 pm
Cosponsorship – Hena Khan, author of Amina’s Song
Click this link for this event

Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition presents a virtual event for Amina's Song with Hena Khan, which continues the story of Amina's Voice, which features a girl who uses her voice to bridge the places, people, and communities she loves across continents. Cosponsored by Boswell Book Company. The MMWC is dedicated to promoting an accurate understanding of Islam and Muslim women. This event will be broadcast via Facebook Live - click here to visit the MMWC Facebook page to view the event live.

It’s the last few days of vacation in Pakistan, and Amina has loved every minute of it. The food, the shops, the time she’s spent with her family, all of it holds a special place in Amina’s heart. But when she returns to Wisconsin and decides to do a presentation on Pakistani hero Malala Yousafzai, her classmates focus on the worst parts of the story. How can Amina share the beauty of Pakistan when no one wants to listen? School Library Journal proclaimed Amina's Song to be "a beautiful story for middle graders discovering who they are. A wonderful addition to all collections."

More on the Boswell upcoming event page.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

What's selling at Boswell for the week ending March 13, 2021

 Here's what's selling at Boswell for the week ending March 13, 2021. It's kind of a call-and-reply thing with a lot of clauses.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro (Tickets for March 16 event here)
2. Brood, by Jackie Polzin (Register for March 18 event here)
3. Transient Desires, by Donna Leon
4. Send for Me, by Lauren Fox
5. Hamnet, by Maggie O'Farrell
6. The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig
7. The Four Winds, by Kristin Hannah
8. Committed, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
9. Leonard and Hungry Paul, by Rónán Hession
10. The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett

I don't know if it's because of the 30th anniversary or because our very popular event last year with Donna Leon spurred folks to rediscover the series, but we had a very nice first week for Transient Desires. Mark Saunderson called the new book "an epic achievement in the London Times (registration required to see full review). We don't have an event with Leon this year, but there's a nice ticketed one with Cara Black (another of our favorite mystery writers!) on March 18 at what my calculations make to be 11 am Central time) on March 18. Tickets here.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Beloved Beasts, by Michelle Nijhuis
2. What It's Like to Be a Bird, by David Ellen Sibley (still have bookplates!)
3. The Code Breaker, by Walter Isaacson
4. Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson
5. Untamed, by Glennon Doyle
6. How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, by Bill Gates
7. Three Ordinary Girls, by Tim Brady (Register for March 24 event here)
8. My Inner Sky, by Mari Andrew
9. Four Hundred Souls, edited by Ibram X Kendi and Keisha N Blain
10. Think Again, by Adam Grant

Walter Isaccson's new book is The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race. Per Sam Kean in The Washington Post, "Isaacson’s motivation for writing the book was simple. 'There’s a joy that springs from fathoming how something works,' he says. Moreover, CRISPR is the most powerful DNA-editing tool humankind has ever possessed, and 'figuring out if and when to edit our genes,' he notes, 'will be one of the most consequential questions of the twenty-first century.'" Later: "Isaacson also argues that the pandemic will permanently remake science itself, 'reminding scientists of the nobility of their mission' and reversing long-standing trends toward commercialized research. Count me skeptical: I suspect that those trends, while on pause, will continue in the After."

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Confessions of Frannie Langton, by Sara Collins (more about Boswell book-club meetings)
2. Behind the Lens, by Jeanné Sacken (Register for March 23 event here)
3. The Rose Code, by Kate Quinn
4. Normal People, by Sally Rooney
5. Act Your Age, Eve Brown V3, by Talia Hibbert
6. The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
7. Deacon King Kong, by James McBride
8. The Girl with the Louding Voice (Register for March 25 event here)
9. Dune, by Frank Herbert
10. The House in the Cerulean Sea, by TJ Klune

Continuing the code breaker theme of hardcover nonfiction with The Rose Code, the new novel from Kate Quinn, still best known for The Alice Network. Here's Stephanie Dray (who herself has a Boswell virtual event on April 12 - ticket information available here) on The Rose Code: "Kate Quinn does it again! This rollicking tale of espionage and female solidarity is a tour de force that will make you laugh and cry at the same time. For the quirky, complicated and unforgettable women of Bletchley Park, beneath the lipstick and lace lurks a gritty life of danger and daring. From frantic efforts to decode Nazi messages to the consequences of treason and secret-keeping in the post-war jubilation, there's never a dull moment. The Rose Code is pure genius and Quinn's best... so far.” Denise Davidson profiles Quinn in The San Diego Union Tribune.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Memoir of the Sunday Brunch, by Julia Pandl
2. The Body is Not an Apology, by Sonya Renee Taylor
3. Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
4. The Adventurer's Son, by Roman Dial
5. How to Do Nothing, by Jenny Odell
6. The Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein
7. My Grandmother's Hands, by Resmaa Menakem
8. The Rise of Wolf 8, by Rick McIntyre
9. Hidden Valley Road, by Robert Kolker
10. We Do This 'Til We Free Us, by Mariame Kaba

For those waiting for another book by Jon Krakauer, you might want to check out The Adventurer's Son by Roman Dial while you're waiting. It's the story of Alaskan adventurer Roman Dial's search for his son, who went missing in Costa Rica. From Blair Braverman's New York Times review: "It’s at this point, roughly halfway through the book, that the narrative kicks into high gear; I read the rest in one sitting. Dial traveled to Costa Rica, searching for evidence of whether his son was dead or alive: a backpack left at a hostel, a rumored sighting of a young white man walking with the infamous drug dealer Pata Lora, a mysterious phone call claiming his son had been kidnapped by a criminal, a 'black snake.' With each clue, the mystery deepens. Did Roman get caught up in the drug trade, or change his identity and run away? Did he die in the jungle of a flash flood or dengue fever, a tree fall, an injury turned septic, dehydration? Was he murdered?"

Books for Kids:
1. American Betiya, by Anuradha Rajurkar
2. Amina's Song, by Hena Khan (Cosponsored event on March 21, watch here)
3. Escape Goat, by Ann Patchett/Robin Preiss Glasser
4. Elephant in the Room, by Holly Goldberg Sloan
5. Maze Me, by Naomi Shihab Nye
6. Everywhere Babies board book, by Susan Meyers
7. Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
8. Lambslide, by Ann Patchett/Robin Preiss Glasser
9. Breathless, by Jennifer Niven
10. Undefeated, by Kwame Alexander

The newest novel from Holly Goldberg Sloan (Counting by 7s, Appleblossom the Possum) is The Elephant in the Room. In this new middle grade novel, Sila misses her mom, who has gone back to Turkey to retrieve documents so that she can stay in the United States. Meanwhile, Sila and her father befriend a local man who has adopted an elephant from a disbanded circus, but the story is also about Sila's friendship with a classmate whom she is paired with and learns to overcome differences. From Kirkus: "Writing from multiple points of view, old and young, animal and human, Sloan captures the importance of compassion and bravery when facing life's challenges. While the shifts in perspective limit character development, themes of collectivity and community in the face of isolation and stigma are brought to the surface and themselves offer depth to this heartfelt and sincere story. Accessibly captures the human impact of harsh immigration laws and the power of connection." Two other reviewers liked it but found the ending to be almost unnaturally upbeat and tied together, but one of them noted that younger readers will probably appreciate this.