Monday, June 7, 2021

Boswell events for the week of June 7 - Sebastian Junger, Maggie Shipstead, Christopher Buehlman, Lyndsey Ellis, plus cosponsored events with Jo Ivester and Lady Anne Glenconner

There's a lot to talk about this week

Monday, June 7, 7 PM
Sebastian Junger, author of Freedom
In conversation with Sarah Chayes for a virtual event
$5 tickets here or upgrade to a book with ticket (cheaper than buying the book and ticket separately)

Publishers are loving multi-store sponsored events and we're experimenting with them. Sometimes they are run by the publisher, as was a recent event with Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, and others are run by us, like our Readings from Oconomowaukee and Ink/Well series. And sometimes they are run by other booksellers, such as tonight's Sebastian Junger event for Freedom. The lead bookseller on this one is Left Bank Books of St. Paul, with additional sponsors in Anderson's Bookshop of Naperville and Downer's Grove, and McLean and Eakin Booksellers of Petoskey.

From William Finnegan in The New York Times: "Junger takes us on long detours through history, anthropology, primatology, boxing, poker. It’s not easy to follow the thread, although the main theme from Tribe - extolling the superiority, both moral and psychological, of life in small nomadic groups (or small embattled platoons) over modernity under capitalism - appears repeatedly. The main thrust here, though, seems to be a ragged pursuit of the meaning of human freedom. The two topics overlap. 'For most of human history, freedom had to be at least suffered for, if not died for, and that raised its value to something almost sacred,' Junger writes. 'In modern democracies, however, an ethos of public sacrifice is rarely needed because freedom and survival are more or less guaranteed.'"

Martin Pengelly spoke to Junger about Freedom in The Guardian, noting that he survived a life-threatening anuerysm and a bout with COVID. On contemplating the book, he noted "You could read Freedom and sort of read in between the lines and see some commentary about some of the more amoral, disreputable politics going on in this country. And you’d be right. But I didn’t want to call it out by name, because then it immediately loses its value."Junger would also like everyone to drop what they are doing and read some Cormac McCarthy.

The jumping-off point for the story is a walk that Junger talk with two other Afghanistan War veterans. I was a little confused that so many reviewers understood more of the context of the journey than I did reading the book, so I was glad that one mentioned The Last Patrol, the HBO documentary, that covers the same territory (you can watch it if you have HBO Max), in much more detail.

Tuesday, June 8, 2 pm
Maggie Shipstead, author of Great Circle or buy from Books & Company
in conversation with Lisa Baudoin and me for a virtual event
Register for this event here

The June edition of our great Readings from Oconomowaukee series of virtual events presents an afternoon of conversation with Maggie Shipstead, author of Astonish Me and Seating Arrangements, winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for first fiction. Her latest novel is a dual narrative, featuring the pilot Marian Graves, framed by the story of actor Hadley Baxter, who is the star of a biopic of Graves's life. You'll notice our next few Oconomowaukee events are weekday afternoons. We're having some nice success in this slot and decided to try a few programs there even when the authors are not in Europe.

Shipstead's latest was named one of the great summer reads by several publications and the #1 Indie Next Pick for May. It will definitely take you away, from the wilds of Montana to lush Hawaii to urbane Seattle (it's actually a backwater in the 1920s!) to war-torn England and the frigid wilderness of the South Pole. Ron Charles called it his top summer book recommendation, a 'soaring' work of historical fiction. From The Washington Post: "So convincingly does Shipstead stitch her fictional heroine into the daring flight paths of early aviators that you'll be convinced that you remember the tragic day her plane disappeared. Great Circle is a relentlessly exciting story about a woman maneuvering her way between tradition and prejudice to get what she wants. It's also a culturally rich story that takes full advantage of its extended length to explore the changing landscape of the 20th century."

From Lynn Steger Strong in The New York Times: "At a moment when so many novels seem invested in subverting form, Great Circle follows in a long tradition of Big Sweeping Narratives. I hope we always have literature that forces us to reconsider what the form can hold, but also: One of the many things that novels can offer is an immersive sense of pleasure, a sense that something you’ve seen done before is being done so well that it feels newly and uniquely alive. Great Circle grasps for and ultimately reaches something extraordinary."

And Jackie Thomas-Kennedy, whose review in the Star-Tribune should tempt reluctant readers: "Shipstead's project is not to surprise readers with the consistent parallels between Hadley and Marian; rather, she acknowledges and explores these parallels. At times, plot conveniences appear to propel the story forward ... As the novel approaches its final pages, suspense increases - here is where one finds twists and surprises, unexpected connections - though the work's ultimate interest mirrors a quality shared by the Graves twins: a natural, boundless curiosity."

I could keep going! This is the kind of interview where spoilers are tempting, but since this event is for the hardcover and the book's only been out a month, we're going to keep away from them.

Tuesday, June 8, 7:30 pm
Cosponsorship - Jo Ivester, author of Once a Girl, Always a Boy: A Family Memoir of a Transgender Journey
A virtual event
Register for this event here

The Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center presents an author event with Jo Ivester, a part of their Tapestry Arts & Ideas series of events. In his mid-twenties, Jo’s son Jeremy began taking testosterone and had surgery to remove his breasts. From Kirkus: "It’s not a traumatic coming-out story: Jeremy’s family and co-workers were generally supportive. But there is quieter drama as they all navigate uncharted emotional territory, with Jo feeling unspoken anguish that Jeremy has decided to forgo marriage and children and young Jeremy enduring the aching loneliness that many gender-nonconforming kids feel."

Jo Ivester is author of the award-winning memoir The Outskirts of Hope, and has led numerous speaking engagements about racial relations. In the last few years, she has broadened her focus to raise awareness about the transgender community, and now serves on the board of Equality Texas, a non-profit LGBTQ rights organization.

Wednesday, June 9, 7 pm
Christopher Buehlman, author of The Blacktongue Thief
in conversation with Jason Kennedy for a virtual event
Register for this event here.

Join us for an evening with Christopher Buehlman, author of books such as Between Two Fires and The Lesser Dead. He’ll chat about his new fantasy novel set in a world of goblin wars, stag-sized battle ravens, and assassins who kill with deadly tattoos, which takes you on a dazzling fantasy adventure unlike any other. We love Buehlman for his collection of top-notch horror novels and for his days as an insult comic at Bristol Renaissance Faire when he visited Boswell on his breaks. But this book takes him to another level - as former Boswellian Ogi Ubiparivpovic says, "A cut above most other fantasy books, The Blacktongue Thief is a masterclass in world building, storytelling, and humor."

Jason's full recommendation: "Christopher Buehlman hasn’t just written a really good epic fantasy; he has taken the reader and dunked them into a world full of joy, wonder, heartbreak, foulness, horror, and hope. Once I started the book, I couldn’t put it down. The prose! And the dialogue was so perfect, I was laughing out loud from the snark that Kinch Na Shannack narrated his story with, and I was cringing from vicious, nasty goblin attacks or towering giants tossing trees. Kinch owes the Takers Guild for his education, and when they tell him to accompany a knight on her quest, he has no other option – he must go. Know that there is so much to this book; Buehlman will take you down crazy paths that will delight and fright, but I will not say any more about the surprises that are in the book. Go read it now!"

Nils Shukla talked to Buehlman in The Fantasy Hive, asking him about writing horror vs. fantasy: "Writing Horror is like writing form poetry in a way. Rather than rhyme and meter, you’re working with feelings of dread, shock and terror, and these have to be present with some regularity, in some rhythm, like the climbs and plunges of a roller coaster. Fantasy is much more like free verse – you can frighten if you want, but the reader isn’t expecting or demanding it. Certainly there are rhythms and structural requirements, but they’re not dependent on creating a specific visceral reaction like horror, or its cousin, comedy. All you have to accomplish in fantasy is the minor feat (sarcasm font) of telling a good story."

Thursday June 10, 7 pm
Lyndsey Ellis, author of Bone Broth
in Conversation with Dasha Kelly Hamilton for a virtual event
Register for this event here

I am always trying to read more independently published books, but when I came across Bone Brother, I was particularly excited, as the book's publisher is located in Wauwatosa. We'd hosted an anthology event with Hidden Timbers Press, so we're thrilled that this all came together, and we're working with Christi Craig on this title. Here's more from Jim Higgins in the Journal Sentinel about the book's journey.

Here's my staff rec: "Set in the aftermath of the Michael Brown protests in Ferguson, Bone Broth follows the lives of Justine, a newly widowed woman, who despite seeing an end to a marriage that was rather complicated (they lived apart), is still struggling with the next stage in her life. She has three kids who have distanced themselves in various ways and are struggling with their own losses. When her eldest daughter Raynah starts a social justice museum, she uncovers a secret about her mother that calls into question everything she’s believed about her family. Ellis has written an absorbing and nuanced family drama, packed with St. Louis details and unforgettable characters. Bone Broth highlights the burdens of racism over generations and the resulting trauma that can ensue, and how activism, while vital, can lead to burnout with its own lasting scars."

Lyndsey Ellis earned a BA in English from the University of Missouri-Columbia and an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Dasha Kelly Hamilton is a writer, performance artist, and creative change agent. She is the current Wisconsin Poet Laureate (More in the Journal Sentinel) and has helped start a Milwaukee Youth Poet Laureate Competition (also in the Journal Sentinel).

Earlier Lyndsey Ellis did an event at St Louis's Left Bank Books with fellow authors Vivian Gibson and Malaika Horne, which you can watch here.

Saturday, June 12, 12 pm
Cosponsorship – Lady Anne Glenconnor, author of Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown
in conversation with Hugo Vickers for a virtual event
Register for the event here

Who would have guessed that the explosion of virtual events would have allowed us to cosponsor an event with a book festival in Scotland? But that's the case when it's the Boswell Book Festival, dedicated to biographies and memoirs, normally held at the historic Dumfries House, but this year virtual. I already recorded a one-minute welcome, and got to show off our collection of books about James Boswell.

Scotland’s Boswell Book Festival presents a conversation featuring Lady Anne Glenconnor, a close member of the royal circle and lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret who will chat about her memoir, which offers unprecedented insights into the royal family that are witty, candid, and dramatic. At times heart-breaking, this is the personal story of a life in a golden cage for a woman with no inheritance. In conversation with broadcaster and biographer Hugo Vickers, author of books such as The Quest for Queen Mary and The Windsors I Knew. You know her from The Crown - now get the real story! How's that for a tag line?

Next week preview...
Monday, June 14, 7 pm
Nghi Vo, author of The Chosen and the Beautiful
in Conversation with Adrienne Celt for a Virtual Event
Register for this event here

Our fantasy summer continues with Milwaukee-based Vo, a Hugo Award finalist and author of the acclaimed novellas When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain and The Empress of Salt and Fortune. Her latest is a full-length novel that’s a reinvention of The Great Gatsby as a coming-of-age story full of magic, mystery, and glittering excess focused on a queer Vietnamese adoptee living in a world where important doors are closed to her. Cohosted by the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center. We'll also have a few words about summer reading from Milwaukee Public Library.
I'd feel left out if we weren't doing at least one Great Gatsby-themed event, the first major book to go into public domain in many, many years. From Jessica P Wick on the NPR website: "Nghi Vo's The Chosen and the Beautiful makes me long to reread F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Not because this telling is less luminous or powerful or propulsive, but because I don't want to leave it — or Jordan. If I reread Gatsby with Chosen in my thoughts, it feels like clever way to cheat the enemy and glory of a very good book - the ending. Like I'll get the story twice. This is a wholly enthralling vision of the American Dream as observed and experienced by one suspended in a liminal place — accepted, but not really a part of the whole; apart, but not quite separate."

Liz Ohanesian in the Los Angeles Daily News asks about Vo about writers who have been important to her work: "Her early influences include Neil Gaiman, British fantasy writer Angela Carter, The Talented Mr. Ripley author Patricia Highsmith, and the popular podcast series Welcome to Night Vale. More recently, she’s found inspiration in the work of Bryan Fuller, the television writer and producer behind series like Pushing Daisies and Hannibal.

More on the Boswell upcoming events page.

Photo credits
Sebastian Junger credit Peter Foley
Sarah Chayes credit Kaveh Sardari
Adrienne Celt credit Adrianne Mathiowetz
Dasha Kelly Hamilton credit VaNa Barki

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