Monday, May 31, 2021

Events - Steven Rowley with Christina Clancy, Jordan Ellenberg with John Urschel, Elizabeth Hinton with Robin DG Kelly

Tuesday June 1, 7 pm
Steven Rowley, author of The Guncle
in conversation with Christina Clancy for a virtual event
Register for this event here.

Christina Clancy, the author of The Second Home and the forthcoming Shoulder Season,(preorder your signed copy - ask for personalization) and I were talking about books. She's such a good reader and such a good conversation partner that I suggested maybe she had someone she'd love to talk to. Especially for virtual events, we sometimes find the conversation partner first, and then ask them for suggestions. These are sometimes our best events!

Christi (I've known her for years - I think I can be informal here) has been recommending books to me for years. Last fall we hosted Kirkland Hamill's Filthy Beasts at here suggestion (read it and liked it) and recently she also suggested I read The Salt Fields, by Stacy D Flood (bought it, haven't read it yet). She immediately mentioned Steven Rowley, the author of Lily and the Octopus* (here's a story about the book's backstory when the film rights were sold - thanks, Hollywood Reporter) and The Editor, a novel that features no less than Jacqueline Le Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (I put in all her names just in case you thought I was talking about someone else), who was an editor at Doubleday (and with Martha Levin, shepherded the Naguhib Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy to American publication and convinced her neighbor Dorothy West to finish The Wedding, per Wikipedia.

After getting a printed out advance copy (sorry, still not able to get through the electronic advance copies that publishers, most notably PRH, prefer), I devoured it! Here's my rec, that also gives you an idea of what the book's about: "Patrick O’Hara, Golden Globe winner of the iconic television comedy The People Upstairs, has been holed up in Palm Springs after the cancellation of his show and the death of his partner. When his college buddy turned sister-in-law also dies, and his brother confronts his addictions by heading to rehab, Patrick agrees to take in his niblings Grant and Maisie for the summer. As Patrick’s disagreeable sister Clara notes, Patrick is no Rosalind Russell, but that doesn’t stop The Guncle from calling to mind Auntie Mame, notably when the ready-made family has a Christmas-in-July party. I’m well aware that quirky children are a shortcut to sympathy – ask any screenwriter – but Maisie and Grant (or Grantelope, nicknames don’t become Maisie) do a particularly good job of forcing Patrick to overcome his grief-fueled-malaise. And like Rowley’s novel, they are also charming and funny."

It's Bojack Horseman with humans and a happy ending. And a different kind of funny. Giddier. Gayer.

I even wound up reading Patrick Dennis's Auntie Mame, which was a huge bestseller and became a play, a film, a musical, and another film, but this one, based on the musical and starring Lucille Ball, is probably best not talked about. Dennis wrote a number of bestsellers, but blew through his money (he was married with children, but lived a gay life on the side) and ended his career working as a butler. 

I asked Christi if she had an interesting story about The Guncle and she did! Rowley's now husband Byron Lane is the author of a 2020 debut novel A Star Is Bored, a roman a clef about working for the late Carrie Fisher. In the acknowledgements, Lane proposed to Rowley. While they are already married, Rowley noted in The Guncle acknowledgments that he accepted, just in case you read both books and both sets of acknowledgements but didn't use social media or a key word search to find out how things went. How could these vows not have been in The New York Times?

I really like The Guncle cover, which was both illustrated and designed by Tal Goretsky (All the Light We Cannot See and so many others). It's a book that reflects on the outside the happiness you'll feel when you read the inside. I also pay special attention to books edited by Sally Kim. We have two more Sally Kim projects on the books this summer - forthcoming novels from Nickolas Butler and Meghan Abbott.

Wednesday, June 2, 7 pm
Jordan Ellenberg, author of Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else
in conversation with John Urschel for a virtual event
Register for this event here.

I went on and on about Shape last week, and we had a fabulous first week of sales. Here's the post. 

I don't think I referenced Parul Sehgal's wonderful review in The New York Times: "A moment of appreciation for the popular math writer who must operate with the same stealth, balletic improvisation and indomitable self-belief as someone trying to corner a particularly skittish and paranoid cat into the pet carrier. No sudden moves! Approach carefully; compliment liberally — precious reader, brilliant reader. Offer bribe and blandishment. Assure us it won’t hurt. Ellenberg, a professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is rather spectacular at this sort of thing."

From a Kate Tuttle profile in The Boston Globe wrote: "Some of those ideas seem simple but lead to vexing questions; one example in the book asks readers how many holes are in a straw. 'Part of the reason that question is hard to answer is that there’s not really a definition of what counts as a hole,' Ellenberg said. 'I think some people think mathematics is about knowing what the exact definition of everything is: what is a hole, what is a circle. No, in mathematics we choose our definitions.'"

More about John Urschel on this recent (December 2020, close enough) Penn Live/Patriot-News story about getting kids interested in math: "Urschel recently drew 700 participants worldwide for an event staged by the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) called Bending the Arc. Urschel is a member of the board of trustees at MoMath and serves as the organization’s ambassador by extolling the virtues of the subject to children of all backgrounds, particularly African-Americans."

We also have two upcoming cosponsored events. In the case of Elizabeth Hinton, the event is being run by Source Booksellers of Detroit. In the case of Sebastian Junger, the lead is Left Bank Books of St. Louis. Hinton is free, the Junger requires a $5 ticket or upgrade to a book. You don't have to buy $5 and a book - I've recently done a couple of refunds for folks who double ordered.

Thursday, June 3, 6 pm
Elizabeth Hinton, author of America on Fire: The Untold Story of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s
in conversation with Robin DG Kelly for a virtual event
Register for this event here.

Boswell cohosts an evening featuring Elizabeth Hinton, Associate Professor of History and African American Studies at Yale University and a Professor of Law at Yale Law School. She will discuss her new book with Robin DG Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination. Of Hinton's book, Kelley says, "If you want to understand the massive antiracist protests of 2020, put down the navel-gazing books about racial healing and read America on Fire."

This event is also cohosted by Anderson's Bookshop of Naperville and Downer's Grove, Left Bank Books of St Louis, and Moon Palace Books of Minneapolis.

Elizabeth Hinton is also author of From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime, co-winner of the Thomas J Wilson Memorial Prize and a New York Times notable book of the year. Robin DG Kelley is also the author of  Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression and Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. Kelley is the Gary B Nash Endowed Chair in US History at UCLA.

From Peniel E Joseph in The New York Times: "America on Fire is more than a brilliant guided tour through our nation’s morally ruinous past. It reveals the deep roots of the current movement to reject a system of law enforcement that defines as the problem the very people who continue to seek to liberate themselves from racial oppression. In undertaking this work, Hinton achieves something rare. She deploys scholarly erudition in the service of policy transformation, propelled by Black voices whose hitherto untold stories of protest add much-needed sustenance to America’s collective imagination."

And next Monday
Monday, June 7, 7 PM
Sebastian Junger, author of Freedom
in conversation with Sarah Chayes for a virtual event
$5 Tickets for this event here.

This event is cohosted by Left Bank Books of St Louis, Anderson's Bookshop of Naperville and Downer's Grove, and McLean & Eakin Booksellers of Petoskey.

For much of a year, acclaimed author Sebastian Junger and three friends - a conflict photographer and two Afghan War vets - walked the railroad lines of the East Coast. It was an experiment in personal autonomy, but also in interdependence. Dodging railroad cops, sleeping under bridges, cooking over fires, and drinking from creeks and rivers, the four men forged a unique reliance on one another.

From Seth Combs in the San Diego Union-Tribune: "While the book is, on its surface, an account of a nearly yearlong trek on foot across the northeastern United States, its essence is its exploration of humanity’s conceptualizations of independence, liberty and self-determination. Mixing history, memoir and philosophy, Junger actually never intended to write about the 400-mile trip at all. 'I was thinking to myself, how am I going to write a book about freedom without it being this unbearable philosophical tract,' says Junger, who spent nearly a year walking from Washington, D.C., to western Pennsylvania almost a decade ago. 'So inevitably I thought, What’s the freest I’ve ever been? Of course, it depends on how you define it, but by the definition I use in the book - that for miles we were the only people who knew where we were every night - that’s not a bad definition of freedom.'"

If you upgrade to a book, we suggest media mail for local shipments and priority for anything out of state.

Sebastian Junger is the author of Tribe, War, and The Perfect Storm, and co-director of the documentary Restrepo, which was nominated for an Academy Award. He is also the winner of a Peabody Award and the National Magazine Award for Reporting. Sarah Chayes is author of On Corruption in America: And What Is at Stake.

*Referencing Lily and the Octopus, it's Marley and Me crossed with The Art of Racing in the Rain - and an octopus.

More on the Boswell upcoming events page. Apologies - it's Memorial Day (Boswell open 10 to 5) and so we have nobody to proofread this. Apologies for the typos. 

Photo credits:
--Steven Rowley by Byron Lane
--Christina Clancy by James Bartelt
--Jordan Ellenberg by Mats Rudels
--Elizabeth Hinton by Emily Schiffer
--Sebastian Junger by Peter Foley

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Boswell bestsellers! Week ending May 29, 2021

Boswell Bestsellers! It's for the week ending May 29, 2021.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig
2. Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir
3. Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro
4. While Justice Sleeps, by Stacey Abrams
5. The Blacktongue Thief, by Christopher Buehlman (Register for June 9 event here)
6. At the End of the World, Turn Left, by Zhanna Slor
7. The Plot, by Jean Hanff Korelitz
8. The Invisible Life of Addie Larue, by VE Schwab
9. Send for Me, by Lauren Fox
10. The Four Winds, by Kristin Hannah

The Plot is Jean Hanff Korelitz's eighth novel, her first moving with Jamie Raab and Deb Futter to Celadon from Grand Central, and possibly its best recommendations, from Stephen King ("One of the best novels I've ever read about writers and writing") to Meghan Abbott ("Psychologically acute and breathtakingly suspenseful, you'll find yourself rushing towards a finale both astonishing and utterly earned." It's about a teacher/writer who appropriates a killer plotline from his now-dead student, and when someone starts sending threatening messages, attempts to expose the exposer. But I might have left out fifty or so twists.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Radical Awakening, by Shefali Tsabary
2. Shape, by Jordan Ellenberg (Register for June 2 event here)
3. Anthropocene Reviewed, by John Green
4. Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson
5. Finding the Mother Tree, by Suzanne Simard
6. Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner
7. The Secret to Superhuman Strength, by Alison Bechdel
8. The Bomber Mafia, by Malcolm Gladwell
9. Punch Me Up to the Gods, by Brian Broome
10. Empire of Pain, by Patrick Radden Keefe

It's the fourth week of sale for The Secret to Superhuman Strength and the second week in our top ten. Per Shelf Awareness, graphic memoirist "Alison Bechdel approaches the subject of exercise in The Secret to Superhuman Strength with the same insatiable curiosity, interdisciplinary rumination and candid humor as she did with the earlier subjects of her parents in Fun Home (editor's note: the subject of a Broad musical) and Are You My Mother?" There's also a promotional video here. I think it might be for the British edition!

Paperback Fiction:
1. Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu
2. Hamnet, by Maggie O'Farrell
3. The Kindred Spirits Supper Club, by Amy E Reichert
4. The People We Meet on Vacation, by Emily Henry
5. The Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri
6. One by One, by Ruth Ware
7. The Door Behind a Door, by Yelena Moskovich
8. The Glass Hotel, by Emily St John Mandel
9. The Children's Bible, by Lydia Millet
10. The House in the Cerulean Sea, by TJ Klune

Jenny and I hosted an event for Jamie Pacton in conversation with Elise Bryant and one book they both loved was the former #1 bestseller The People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry. Angela Haupt talks about enjoying the romance even though you know how it ends in The Washington Post: "People is an excellent reminder that a familiar trajectory doesn’t erase the fun of the journey. The novel — a follow-up to last year’s well-loved Beach Read - is absorbing and entertaining. Henry isn’t aiming for originality: This is an updated version of When Harry Met Sally, which all these years later still sets the standard for friends who become lovers. She freshens it up with her signature wit, epic near misses and steamy longing that threatens to seep through the page, fogging the reader’s glasses"

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Minor Feelings, by Cathy Park Hong
2. Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
3. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
4. Spirit Run, by Noe Alvarez
5. Birds of Wisconsin Field Guide, by Stan Tekiela
6. Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari
7. Best Lake Hikes Wisconsin, by Steve Johnson
8. People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn
9. The Birdman of Koshkong, by Martha Bergland
10. The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk

The author of Biking Wisconsin, Best Hikes Madison, Wisconsin, and Hiking Waterfalls in Minnesota (I guess Wisconsin doesn't have enough for a book, plus the author is a Minnesotan) has written Best Lake Hikes Wisconsin: A Guide to the State's Best Lake and River Hikes, a guide to either 56 (according to the table of contents) or almost 100 (guide to the copy) of the most scenic hikes in the state. I have done the Devil's Lake trail several times (both many years ago) - that's #50!

Books for Kids:
1. Black Enough, edited by Ibi Zoboi
2. American Betiya, by Anuradha D Rajurkar
3. Land of Permanent Goodbyes, by Atia Abawi
4. Peace Train, by Cat Stevens, with illustrations by Peter H Reynolds
5. Firekeeper's Daughter, by Angeline Boulley (Register for June 29 event here)
6. We Are Water Protectors, by Carole Lindstrom, with illustrations by Michael Coade
7. City Spies V1, by James Ponti
8. Pet, by Matthew Van Fleet
9. Shady Baby, by Gabrielle Union-Wade and Dwyane Wade Jr, illustrated by Tara Nicole Whitaker
10. The Ones We're Meant to Find, by Joan He

It's the 50th anniversary of Peace Train, the beloved song from Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam, and that means the lyrics have been turned into a picture book, illustrated by Peter H Reynolds. His statement to People Magazine: "I wrote these lyrics more than 50 years ago, and I know the words still boom as true and loud today as they did in the 1970s...It's incredible to see how Peter Reynolds has made the words jump into life in brilliant style for a new generation with his joysome illustrations." If you like these kinds of song adaptations, Akashic has a lot of them!

Jim Higgins offers a story on Lois Ehlert's life in the Journal Sentinel.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Memorial: Lois Ehlert and Eric Carle

How crazy is it that we are putting together memorial tables for not one but two literary lights of the children's world, Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert? Carle was the bigger name, so he seems to be getting more attention, but not in Milwaukee, where Lois Ehlert was one of the city's treasures, inscribed on the Wisconsin Writers Hall of Fame at the Milwaukee Public Library. From her studio in the Lower East Side, she would create those amazing collage illustrations that brought her books to life. 

When I was still working on the floor of the Iron Block location of the Schwartz Bookshops, my coworker Jean put together a lovely display of Growing Vegetable Soup in our kids section, which was this weird little space across from the Water Street desk. I can see it like I am still there, but since it was 1987, I have no photo. If  we made it now, there'd be 700 images on the internet. 

While I never hosted an event for Ehlert at Schwartz, being holed up in my supply closet buying mostly adult books for the stores, I know she did many events at Harry W. Schwartz, as well as at kid-centered and also much missed Book Bay, which was across the street on Downer Avenue and then in Whitefish Bay, in the space of the Book Nook when it moved to Shorewood as a Schwartz location. Bookstore musical chairs! I'm quite positive that Carle also visited Book Bay, and might have signed at one of the Schwartz stores too, maybe Brookfield, which also at one time had a separate kids store. I can ask Pat (the longtime proprietor) next time she's at the bookstore, and I'm sure she'll have a fabulous story about his visit. 

At Boswell, we hosted Ehlert several times, and my absolute favorite was for Rrralph, a picture book that was inspired by the old series of jokes about the dog that can talk. Hey Ralph, what's on that tree? "Bark, bark, bark!" Ehlert did the event with her brother - as kids, they loved this running gag. As always, there was no slide show because to Ehlert's eyes, the colors weren't quite right in the projection. And as always, Ehlert didn't sign board books, worried that young kids would put the books with ink on them in their mouths. 

Here's an interesting coincidence. Ehlert and Carle mostly wrote their own books, but each illustrated one or more books that they didn't write. And if you look at the most popular book that each illustrated but did not write, the author is the same person, Bill Martin, Jr. He wrote both Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? with Carle's artwork and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom with Ehlert's. 

Jim Higgins offered this obituary of Lois Ehlert in the Journal Sentinel.

We will miss you both. Thank you for all the wonderful books you created. 

Alas, the images I took of Lois talking about Rrralph were very dark, and to get them lighter, they wound up being more grainy. I am not a professional photographer!

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Book focus - Shape, by Jordan Ellenberg

There are three things to know about me when it comes to math:

1. I had promise when I was young, culminating with co-captaining our high school math team. We had team jackets made with money we raised selling bagels. Good boiled bagels. I was too embarrassed to wear mine much. We were the city champions for non-specialized schools, meaning excluding Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, et cetera. In retrospect, I realize that it might not have been on the up and up to have a teacher who helped make up the questions for the competitions.*

2. In college, I quickly realized two things. In most of my math classes, I would get lost halfway through most lectures. But the tests were always easier than the lectures. So in a turn of events, I majored in math anyway. I still feel sorry for the class where I was the teaching assistant, and it became clear some ways through that I was struggling with the subject as much as they were.

3. It was a struggle for me to figure out what to do with this degree, at the time considered less practical than being a history major. I tried to turn my knowledge of math (with an interest in consumer culture) into a career in market research, but I couldn't get an interview anywhere. So here I am - a bookseller with a shelf of math books.

Truth be told, I hardly read math books anymore. For some reason, publishers push a lot of fiction on us, but not too much serious nonfiction. Most of the books I read are advance copies, and there isn't the expectation that we booksellers will move the needle on the subject. I'd do better if I could read e-galleys, but I'm pretty addicted to physical books. If the industry follows the model of the current market leader, there are going to be less and less advance options for me, but I suppose by that point, I will be back to the point where nobody will care what I read.

When I think about it, one of the only math books of the last ten years that I not only finished but loved was How Not to Be Wrong, by Jordan Ellenberg. I loved the way Ellenberg integrated math into the real world, and I loved his voice too. It reminded me a lot of Freaknomoics, in the way he took an academic discipline and made it come alive. He didn't exactly turn the book into an industry the way the Steve's did, but I hear it did quite well.

In between teaching, proving theorems, and writing for various magazines (there's an article in The Atlantic out any second, maybe now), Jordan Ellenberg has written a second book, Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else. I'm not going to lie - I hoped I would have finished reading the book at this point, but I'm still on page 285. Why? The publisher graciously printed out a copy for me (so appreciated!), but there was a not-for-distribution notice in faint letters on every page. I appreciate their concern, and had it been a novel, I think I would have made it through, but Shape took a little more concentration from me, so I waited until we had our finished copies.

And oh goodness, was this worth the wait! Shape is the perfect title for this book, which shows that geometry is about more than proving whether two of the angles of an isosceles triangle are congruent. They are! Geometry is mapping and game theory and cryptography and artificial intelligence and predicting epidemics. Did I sometimes get a little lost reading the book? I did! But it's kind of like falling into a body of water with a life preserver - even if you're only an okay swimmer, you don't have to worry about drowning.

Once again, I should note how much I love Ellenberg's voice. He's such a good storyteller, and no lie, I have already laughed out loud many more times than I have in many a so-called comic novel. And when you run into one of your old friends, like the Fibonacci sequence, it's like attending a really good party, which maybe I will one day experience again.

Please don't worry if you get lost sometimes. Take my advice, you don't have to understand every detail to enjoy this book.  

One reason I'm thrilled I waited is because the finished book is just beautiful. The paper quality is top notch, smooth to the touch, not scratchy like the lower grade paper we get on most hardcover books. I'm not a fan of white jackets, but at least it's glossy so it won't get scuffed like the matte finishes. And the front panel has the author's initials, which is a rare thing nowadays. I looked at six other recent hardcovers I bought and the only other was Sanjena Sathian's Gold Diggers, so maybe that's a Penguin Press thing. I also loved the old-fashioned two-tone hardcover binding. It's rarer than you think - I found it on Commonwealth, Hamnet, Such a Fun Age (also has the initials!) No colored endpapers, but it's a trade off - I'm happy with what I got!

Last weekend I was able to drive to Madison and get Ellenberg to sign our stock. Real signature, not a bookplate, not a tip in! Order a signed Shape here. As a bonus, I also met up with Barrett Swanson, author of Lost in Summerland, and get him to sign books too. If you order either, ask for a signed copy in the order comments just so our bookseller double checks - there are probably some unsigned copies floating around. If you want a personalized copy of Shape, I'd direct you to Mystery to Me in Madison, which can handle those.

If you are reading this before June 2, we'll be hosting Professor Ellenberg in conversation with John Urschel, the former Baltimore Ravens player who has received a PhD in Mathematics from MIT and is now doing postdoctoral work at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. You can register here. If you're reading this later, we probably have a recording of the event here.

This event is cosponsored by the UWM Department of Mathematical Sciences.

*I'm pretty sure this story comes up every time I write about a math book. I'm your doddering uncle!

Monday, May 24, 2021

Events this week - Mary Alice Monroe, Brian Broome, Yelena Moskovich, Kate Zambreno, Jamie Pacton

Here's what's going with Boswell this week

Monday, May 24, 7 pm
Mary Alice Monroe, author of The Summer of Lost and Found
in conversation with Margy Stratton
Tickets for this event here.

The Lynden Sculpture Garden's Women's Speaker Series, sponsored by Milwaukee Reads and Boswell Book Company, welcome Mary Alice Monroe back to Milwaukee for a virtual, BYOS (bring-your-own-snacks) event for her latest novel. Tickets are $5 plus sales tax and ticket fee, or upgrade to admission-with-book for $28. $5 from each ticket will be donated to the Lynden Sculpture Garden. Mary Alice Monroe is the New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books and an active conservationist, and she's an inductee in the South Carolina Academy of Authors’ Hall of Fame.

This tender and compassionate novel follows the historic Rutledge family of Charleston, South Carolina as they face a summer of upheaval and change with perseverance, a spirit of unity, and a dose of humor, discovering unexpected joys and lessons that will endure long past the season. Monroe once again delves into the complexities of family relationships and brings her signature sensitive storytelling to this poignant and timely novel of love, courage, and resilience.

From Mary Alice Monroe in Parade Magazine, as part of their new collaboration with Friends and Fiction: "Throughout the past year, I began writing a novel about life in the time of coronavirus. I was interested in how the experience of the pandemic affected families and interpersonal relationships. Because it did - mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, friends, lovers. I paid attention to my life and the lives of my loved ones, recording what I observed as we marched through the months. I wrote this novel in real-time, and what a roller coaster it has been."

Tuesday, May 25, 7 pm
Brian Broome, author of Punch Me Up to the Gods
in Conversation with Chris Lee
Register for this event here

Boswell Book Company hosts an evening with award-winning poet and screenwriter Brian Broome for a conversation about his debut memoir, a poetic and raw coming-of-age memoir about Blackness, masculinity, and addiction. Brian Broome is a poet, screenwriter, and the K Leroy Irvis Fellow in the Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh. He has been a finalist in The Moth storytelling competition and won the grand prize in Carnegie Mellon University's Martin Luther King Writing Awards. He’ll chat with Chris Lee of Boswell Book Company.

Broome’s memoir chronicles his early years growing up in Ohio as a dark-skinned Black boy harboring crushes on other boys, his move to Pittsburgh as a young man, and his years of self-discovery, indiscriminate sex and escalating drug use. He recounts his experiences in all their cringe-worthy, hilarious, and heartbreaking glory to reveal a perpetual outsider awkwardly squirming to find his way in.

From Darnell L Moore in The New York Times: "Punch Me Up to the Gods is a coming-of-age story that explores Black manhood and queerness in the Rust Belt. The title of the book is a reference to the ways that Black boys are often socialized into rigid conceptions of manhood - sometimes by the use of violence. 'Any Black boy who did not signify how manly he was at all times deserved to be punched back up to God to be remade, reshaped,' Broome writes. With this book, Broome hopes to counter the force of that punch by exploring the beauty of queer Black manhood, while offering a new way to write about that beauty."

Wednesday, May 26, 2 pm
Yelena Moskovich, author of A Door Behind A Door 
and Kate Zambreno, author of Drifts
A Virtual Event
Register for this event here

Boswell presents a conversation between two authors – Yelena Moskovich, author of the novels Virtuoso and The Natashas, and Kate Zambreno, author of Heroines and Green Girl. Her latest book of criticism is To Write As If Already Dead.

In Yelena Moskovich's spellbinding new novel we meet Olga, who immigrates as part of the Soviet diaspora to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. From Publishers Weekly: “Moskovich mystifies with this vivid story of a pair of estranged siblings who immigrated to Milwaukee from the Soviet Union as children in 1991... The dynamic style and psychological depth make this an engaging mind bender."

And from Kate Zambreno, a haunting and compulsively readable portrait of creative obsession. At work on a novel that is overdue, spending long days walking neighborhood streets with her restless terrier, the narrator grows obsessed with the challenge of writing the present tense, of capturing time itself. She photographs her neighborhood, haunts bookstores and galleries, and records her thoughts in a notebook that soon subsumes her work on the novel. As winter closes in, a series of disturbances - the comings and goings of enigmatic figures, the burglary of her apartment - leaves her unsettled… until an intense and tender disruption changes everything.

Yelena Moskovich is a novelist, playwright, critic, and curator for the 2018 Los Angeles Queer Biennial. She has written for New Statesman and Paris Review and in French for Mixt(e) Magazine, and won the 2017 Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize. Kate Zambreno is author of several acclaimed books and her writing has appeared in The Paris Review, VQR, and elsewhere. She teaches in the writing programs at Columbia University and Sarah Lawrence College.

Thursday, May 27, 7 pm
Jamie Pacton, author of Lucky Girl
in conversation with Elise Bryant, author of Happily Ever Afters
Register for this event here

Boswell hosts Wisconsin YA author Jamie Pacton for a chat with Elise Bryant, author of Happily Ever Afters. Jamie Pacton previous novel is The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly. Pacton’s new novel is the story of a teen who wins the lottery and the suspicion and jealousy in her small town - a funny, poignant reflection on what money can and can’t fix. Perfect for Rainbow Rowell fans. Elise Bryant earned a BA in Africana studies from California State University, Long Beach, and her MA in special education from Loyola Marymount University.

58,642,129. That’s how many dollars seventeen-year-old Fortuna Jane Belleweather just won in the lotto jackpot. It’s also about how many reasons she has for not coming forward to claim her prize. Jane is still a minor, and if anyone discovers she bought the ticket underage, she’ll either have to forfeit the ticket or worse. She could let her hoarder mother cash it, but the last thing Jane’s mom needs is millions of dollars to buy more junk. Then there’s Jane’s best friend, aspiring journalist Brandon Kim, who declares on the news that he’s going to find the lucky winner. It’s one thing to keep her secret from the town. It’s another thing entirely to lie to her best friend. Especially when Jane’s ex-boyfriend, Holden, is suddenly back in her life and has big ideas about what he’d do with the prize money.

From Kimberly Giarratano in Book Page: "Jamie Pacton’s second novel, Lucky Girl, explores the myriad ways money can change people. When the winning ticket is announced, everyone ponders what they would do with such an enormous windfall, but few consider the risks associated with newfound wealth. Eventually Jane learns of the tragedies that often befall lottery winners, their lives so frequently torn apart - and in some cases ended - by the greed and envy of those around them, and this possible fate makes her decision even more complicated."

Next week preview:

Tuesday June 1, 7 pm
Steven Rowley, author of The Guncle
in Conversation with Christina Clancy for a Virtual Event
Register for this event here.
As our latest entry in the Christina Clancy presents reading series (only half joking), we have an evening with Steven Rowley, author of Lily and the Octopus and The Editor. The Guncle is a contemporary novel inspired by the classic novel (and film and musical and another film) Auntie Mame, in which Gay Uncle Patrick (that's GUP or Guncle) takes in his niece and nephew after the death of a close friend who is married to his brother, who desperately needs a stint in rehab. It's funny and thoughtful novel that is perfect for folks who like Elinor Lipman, Stephen McCauley, or Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney's Good Company. More later! 

Photo credits
Brian Broome by Andy Johnson
Kate Zambreno by Heather Smith
Elise Bryant by Rachal McCutchen
Steven Rowley by Byron Layne

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Boswell bestsellers, week ending May 22, 2021

Here are the Boswell bestsellers for the week ending May 22, 2021.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig
2. Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir
3. The Summer of Lost and Found, by Mary Alice Monroe (Tickets for May 24 event here)
4. The Hill We Climb, by Amanda Gorman
5. Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishigruo
6. The Paris Library, by Janet Skeslien Charles
7. While Justice Sleeps, by Stacey Abrams
8. China, by Edward Rutherfurd
9. The Great Circle, by Maggie Shipstead (Register for June 8 event here)
10. The Last Thing He Told Me, by Laura Dave

Unless you've been under a log, you probably know that Stacey Abrams, author of the #1 NYT bestseller While Justice Sleeps, is coming to the Riverside in September. It's not our event, but tickets available here. Rom Richard North Patterson in The New York Times: "It is therefore small surprise that explicitly partisan politics plays little role, and that Abrams stints on judicial ideology. Still, her enterprise impresses on several counts: that she is willing to risk the jaundiced eye of readers unsympathetic to her public career; that she has the stuff to assay fiction in a new and challenging genre; and that amid an exceedingly busy life she cares enough about the form to undertake the demanding business of turning an idea into a novel. So the only fair question is not what she might have written, but whether she succeeds on the terms she set herself."

Laura Dave also hit #1 with The Last Thing He Told Me after being named the current selection of the Reese Witherspoon Hello Sunshine book club*. From Seija Rankin in Entertainment Weekly: "Fans of Dave's work — she's known for bestsellers like Eight Hundred Grapes, a marriage tale told against the backdrop of Sonoma wine country, and Hello, Sunshine, which follows a culinary star's fall from grace — will recognize the addictive nature of her prose in Last Thing. But the propulsive plot feels as new as it does exciting. The origins date back to Dave's early-aughts obsession with the Enron scandal and, more specifically, her desire to answer the question: What happens when we trust the people in our lives despite all evidence to the contrary?"

*Coincidentally, Dave wrote a novel called Hello Sunshine.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Anthropocene Reviewed, by John Green
2. How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X Kendi
3. Reaganland, by Rick Perlstein
4. Frank Lloyd Wright's Forgotten House, by Nicholas D Hayes
5. Refugee, by Emmanuel Mboelela
6. Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner
7. Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson
8. Punch Me Up to the Gods, by Brian Broome (Register for May 25 event here)
9. The Bookseller of Florence, by Ross King
10. The Premonition, by Michael Lewis
11. The Bomber Mafia, by Malcolm Gladwell
12. Freedom, by Sebastian Junger (Tickets for June 7 event here)
13. The Secret to Superhuman Strength, by Alison Bechdel
14. Notes on Grief, by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie
15. Noise, by Daniel Kahneman

When it comes to John Green, it's often his fans who have to explain the details of The Anthropocene Reviewed, his newest release to me. "Every copy in the first printing is signed," one of our customers explained when I said I'd make sure she'd get one of our signed copies. From Adam Frank on the NPR website: "Now we live in the Great Acceleration, also known as the Anthropocene, where even the Earth gets updates to its apps. Change (like global warming and pandemics) is the hallmark of this new era. How to live in the midst its uncertainty without falling into despair is the open question. In his new book, The Anthropocene Reviewed, John Green uses humor, wisdom and a keen sense of connections to offer us something like an answer."

Paperback Fiction:
1. Nothing to Lose, by Kim Suhr
2. Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu
3. Hamnet, by Maggie O'Farrell
4. Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid
5. Squeeze Me, by Carl Hiaasen
6. The Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri
7. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, by Deepa Anappara
8. Leonard and Hungry Paul, by Rónán Hession
9. Sharks in the Time of Saviors, by Kawai Strong Washburn
10. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

This year's Edgar Award winner for best novel is Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara. Hannah Beckerman writes in The Guardian: "Anappara’s debut novel is part detective story, part coming-of-age tale, with a powerful undercurrent of social commentary. The basti where Jai lives is a place of oppressive streets and ramshackle houses: 'I look at our house with upside-down eyes and count five holes in our tin roof. There might be more but I can’t see them because the black smog outside has wiped the stars off the sky.' Anappara seduces us with tastes and smells, reminding us that even within this environment, where pollution weighs heavy in the air and scavenging from the local landfill is commonplace, there is still beauty and enjoyment in food: 'Ma gathers ginger and garlic slivers and throws them into the pan, followed by a pinch of turmeric and coriander and cumin powder.'"

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood, by Christopher Emdin
2. Thomas Merton: An Introduction to His Life, Teachings, and Practices, by Jon M Sweeney
3. New York Times Cooking No Recipe Recipes, by Sam Sifton
4. American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Wisconsin, by Charles Hagner
5. A Hidden History of Milwaukee, by Robert Tanzilo
6. Tasting Beer, by Randy Mosher
7. Ex-Girlfriend of My Ex-Girlfriend, by Maddy Court
8. Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
9. The Happiest Baby on the Block, by Harvey Karp
10. The Happiest Toddler on the Block, by Harvey Karp

We should have signed copies of Thomas Merton: An Introduction to His Life, Teaching, and Practices, by Jon M Sweeney and if we're out, we can get more. It's Sweeney's second entry in St Martin's Essentials series. This imprint was formed by Joel Fotinos in 2018 after he stepped down from TarcherPerigee. At the time, Sally Richardson noted in Publishers Weekly: "It goes beyond what most people think of as mind-body-spirit—it’s a lifestyle line, with books to help people live as fully as possible, mentally, spiritually, and physically." While we won't be hosting Sweeney for this book, we'll be doing something for his next, Feed the Wolf: Befriending Our Fears in the Way of Saint Francis, which comes out in September.

Books for Kids:
1. The One Thing You'd Save, by Linda Sue Park/Robert Sae Heng
2. The Playbook, by Kwame Alexander
3. Becoming Young Readers Edition, by Michelle Obama
4. Stamped, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi
5. Separate Is Never Equal, by Duncan Tonatiuh
6. A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park
7. Aru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi
8. The Museum of Everything, by Lynne Rae Perkins
9. A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park
10. Undocumented, by Duncan Tonatiuh

Out for the second week is Lynne Rae Perkins's The Museum of Everything, a picture book. From a starred Booklist: "Some pages are photographed 3-D models, producing the look of a dollhouse or bitmoji room; other spreads are painted more traditionally. The result is a marvel of creativity, engaging children in thinking about whether they would have a Museum of Small Things or a Museum of Hiding Places or perhaps museums of shadows or islands? Whatever causes you to pause, appreciate, contemplate, and enjoy - that's what belongs in your own Museum of Everything."

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins offers 40 books for summer reading! Hopiong we have a display up for this shortly.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Reading log: Miss Iceland, by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

Was it three years ago that Jason convinced me to read Hotel Silence, an Icelandic novel by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir? It was one of those books that gets passed from bookseller to bookseller. Then, despite little national attention, you turn around and you've sold 250 copies.* It's the story of a town devastated by war, a visitor devastated by life, how connections between the two can help create meaning and purpose. 

I learned that Ólafsdóttir's next book was coming out in 2020 and was suitably excited, well aware that is rare for lightning to strike twice for an author. Not that the book can't do well, but this idea of getting so many booksellers on board is a stretch - it's the five reads phenomenon. If we hit that plateau and the reads are good, there's a good chance we can make the book work if we focus on getting the word out.

But that doesn't mean the follow up will work as well. The book might not be as good, or it can be great but so different in style that it doesn't naturally connect to the same audience. I'm getting the vibe, for example, that folks who loved Leonard and Hungry Paul might not take to the next book, which is called Paneka. 

Or sometimes you just drop the book behind a bookcase for a year. I was cleaning my office/guest room/nonfiction library/to-be-read staging area for my sister Merrill's visit, and I spotted it - my copy of Miss Iceland that I bought last June. Like Hotel Silence, it has a pedigree - it won the Icelandic Booksellers Prize (I'm not really sure how many booksellers Iceland has - could there be a Milwaukee booksellers prize?) and the Prix Médicis étranger, an award that recognizes a foreign novel translated into French. Past winners have included Anil's Ghost, by Michael Ondaatje, The Mars Club, by Rachel Kushner, and Dave Eggers's What Is the What. The newest winner is Antonio Muñoz Molina's To Walk Alone in a Crowd, which comes out from FSG on July 13. The point is that this is a major prize. 

Where Hotel Silence is one of those books where time and place are not really referenced, Miss Iceland is very time and place-y: Iceland in the 1960s. Hekla is a young woman who leaves rural Dalit for the big city of Reykjavik after the death of her mother. She has two friends - Ísey, who struggles with her role as wife and mother, and Jón John, who hoped that the city would allow him to find a boyfriend and live a life as a costume designer, only to find that the best he can do is find work on fishing boats and find married men in the shadows. 

For Hekla, the struggle is not writing itself - stories and poetry and essays pour out of her. Getting published is the problem, particularly since the market for books in Icelandic is pretty small. She finds work as a server, but she must regularly fend off inappropriate comments and advances. One particularly determined gentleman wants to enter her in the Miss Iceland contest - hence the book's title. 

She finds company with a poet, but it turns out that leftist sympathies, mostly expressed in bars with his buddies, do not rule out misogyny. She writes in secret with Jón John while the poet complains that she doesn't cook for him. Will Hekla move past this? Will Jón John? Yes, but I'm not sure the resolution will bring either peace. It's not that kind of book.

Did you ever find that two books spoke to each other? As I was reading Miss Iceland, my brain kept coming back to Lily King's Writers and Lovers. Like Miss Iceland, it's the story of a woman in a particular time and place (Boston in the 1990s) struggling to become a writer. Both characters must work through grief from the loss of their mothers. Both must deal with toxic restaurant jobs, and confront unsupportive boyfriends. I really think a book club would love reading these two books together or in succession. 

So would I recommend Miss Iceland? Absolutely, particularly (and this is not as unusual as you would think) if you are planning a trip to Iceland. It's such a different story from Ólafsdóttir's last book, but shares its same dreamlike style, and it is once again deftly translated by Brian FitzGibbon. I'd also really love to get it into the hands of people who loved (and a lot of folks did) Writers and Lovers, to see if these readers felt the same cosmic connection. Will we sell 250 copies? Alas, no. I blame the bookcase. 

*the actual number is 248, but we've done pretty well with it as a second-hand copy so I'm not stretching the truth here. 

Monday, May 17, 2021

Events this week - Nicholas Hayes with Catherine Boldt, Linda Rui Feng with Ji Hao, Claudia Ross, and Daniel Goldin, Jerry Enzler with Douglas Brinkley, Barrett Swanson with Steven Wright

More information about this week's events. All events Central Time. All events virtual for now.

Monday, May 17, 7 pm
Nicholas D Hayes, author of Frank Lloyd Wright's Forgotten House: How an Omission Transformed the Architect's Legacy
in Conversation with Catherine Boldt
Register for the event here.
The Shorewood Public Library, Shorewood Historical Society, and Boswell present Nicholas D Hayes for a conversation about his latest book, which chronicles an oft-overlooked part of Lloyd Wright’s architectural legacy - his forays into affordable housing. In conversation with Frank Lloyd Wright scholar Catherine Boldt.  Hayes is also the author of Saving Sailing and is a columnist for Sailing Magazine. He leads innovation at a water technology company.

While the grandiosity of Fallingwater and elegance of Taliesin are recognized near universally, Frank Lloyd Wright’s work on his American System-Built Homes is less appreciated. The project fell apart following wartime shortages and disputes between the architect and his developer. While continuing to advocate for the design of affordable small homes, Wright never spoke publicly of ASBH. As a result, the heritage of many Wright-designed homes was forgotten, like the home in question in Shorewood, whose legacy was temporarily misplaced in the 1970s.

Bobby Tanzilo talked to Nicholas D Hayes in OnMilaukee: Tanzilo called Frank Lloyd Wright's Forgotten House "a book that is part history, part home restoration, part architecture, part memoir and a work much more monumental than its slim size might suggest. Such a readable, personal and deep-diving work about a local Wright house hasn’t been written in years, if ever."

Tuesday, May 18, 7 pm
Linda Rui Feng, author of Swimming Back to Trout River
In conversation with Ji Hao, Claudia Ross, and Daniel Goldin
Register for the event here

Linda Rui Feng, Professor of Chinese Cultural History at the University of Toronto, chats about her new book, a lyrical novel set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution. This is a novel that’s won over the critics (starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist) and booksellers alike. She'll talk to Ji Hao and Claudia Ross of the College of the Holy Cross Chinese Studies program, as well as Boswell bookseller Daniel Goldin.

How did this event come together? Why is Boswell working with Holy Cross professors? As you probably can guess, most of the folks in my family are voracious readers. Being that my sister Claudia is a Professor of Chinese Studies, we often share our thoughts about books written by Chinese and Chinese American writers, both fiction and nonfiction. After finishing and enjoying my copy of Swimming Back to Trout River, I sent to her, knowing that she would particularly enjoy the author's thoughts on Language and translation. And then I did a little more research and found out that my sister's colleague and friend Ji Hao had hosted Linda Rui Feng for a conference called "Love and Desire in Premodern China" at Holy Cross several years ago. And so the connections were already there.

1986 in a small Chinese village, ten-year-old Junie receives a letter from her parents who had left for America years ago: her father promises to return home and collect her by her twelfth birthday. But Junie’s growing determination to stay in the idyllic countryside with her beloved grandparents threatens to derail her family’s shared future. What Junie doesn’t know is that her parents, Momo and Cassia, are newly estranged from one another in their adopted country, each holding close private tragedies and histories from the tumultuous years of their youth during China’s Cultural Revolution. 

Wednesday, May 19, 7 pm
Jerry Enzler, author of Jim Bridger: Trailblazer of the American West
in conversation with Douglas Brinkley
Register for this event here

Boswell hosts an evening of conversation featuring Jerry Enzler, former Founding Director of the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, for his biography of the iconic frontiersman and mountain man of the American West, Jim Bridger. For this event, Enzler will be in conversation with historian Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History at Rice University, contributor to Vanity Fair, CNN's official historian and author of books such as American Moonshot and The Wilderness Warrior.

Even among iconic frontiersmen like John C Frémont, Kit Carson, and Jedediah Smith, Jim Bridger stands out. Straddling the fur trade era and the age of exploration, Bridger lived the life legends are made of. In a biography that finally gives this outsize character his due, Enzler taps newly discovered sources and takes this frontiersman’s full measure for the first time and tells a story that would do Jim Bridger proud.

Of the new book, Candy Moulton writes in Historynet: "Enzler lays out Bridger’s life chronologically and with the right amount of detail to take full measure of the legendary figure. This biography should be on the bookshelf of anyone interested in the fur trade and early era of overland travel."

Thursday, May 20, 7 pm
Barrett Swanson, author of Lost in Summerland: Essays
in Conversation with Steven Wright
Register for this event here

Madison-based (and former metro Milwaukeean) essayist Barrett Swanson chats about his debut book of reportage, in which he embarks on a personal quest across the United States to uncover what it means to be an American amid the swirl of our post-truth climate. Swanson's essays have appeared in Harper'sThe New Yorker, and the Paris Review, and he's been anthologized in two editions of Best American Travel Writing. He’ll chat with Steven Wright, author of the novel The Coyotes of Carthage. Cohosted by Friends of the Milwaukee Public Library.

Traversing the country, Swanson introduces us to a new reality. At a moment when grand unifying narratives have splintered into competing storylines, these critically acclaimed essays document the many routes by which people are struggling to find stability in the aftermath of our country’s political and economic collapse, sometimes at dire and disillusioning costs.

From Publishers Weekly: “Journalist Swanson investigates in his searching debut what he sees as America’s pervasive spiritual restlessness and alienation. In probing his central concern of how American communities cope with and find meaning in the wake of “national turmoil or geopolitical crisis,” Swanson mixes in personal stories about his own search for greater fulfillment."

And don't forget next week!
Mary Alice Monroe, author of The Summer of Lost and Found
in conversation with Margy Stratton
Monday, May 24, 7 pm
$5 tickets for the event here. Upgrade to ticket-with-book for $28 plus sales tax and ticket fee.

Friends and Fiction fans rejoice! The Lynden Sculpture Garden's Women's Speaker Series, sponsored by Milwaukee Reads and Boswell Book Company, welcome Mary Alice Monroe back to Milwaukee for a virtual, BYOS (bring-your-own-snacks) event for her latest novel, the latest in her New York Times bestselling Beach House series. $5 from each ticket is donated back to the Lynden Sculpture Garden.

This tender and compassionate novel follows the historic Rutledge family of Charleston, South Carolina as they face a summer of upheaval and change with perseverance, a spirit of unity, and a dose of humor, discovering unexpected joys and lessons that will endure long past the season. Monroe once again delves into the complexities of family relationships and brings her signature sensitive storytelling to this poignant and timely novel of love, courage, and resilience.

More on the Boswell upcoming event page.

photo credits
Linda Rui Feng, by Anastasia Brauer
Jerry Enzler, by Michael Morain
Mary Alice Monroe, by Mic Smith