Monday, June 21, 2021

Events coming up - Judith Flanders presentation with Woman's Club, Larry Watson summer reading Lisa and Daniel, Ashley Weaver with Erica Ruth Neubauer

More Boswell programming this week -

Tuesday, June 22, 12:30 pm
Judith Flanders, author of A Place for Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order
A virtual presentation
Register for this event here

Judith Flanders is author of the bestselling The Invention of Murder, Inside the Victorian Home, and The Victorian City. She is senior research fellow at the University of Buckingham, as well as a frequent contributor to the Sunday Telegraph, The Guardian, and The Wall Street Journal. This Woman's Club of Wisconsin event is cosponsored by Boswell. 

This book had been on my radar, but it took participation in the program to get me to read it, and I'm so glad I did. Here's my rec: "I both love and hate the title of Judith Flanders's new social history. It’s catchy, and it speaks to me personally, but it’s also so limiting. What Flanders has done is write a history of data filing and retrieval, something that will appeal to any sort of librarian, database manager, or evenChristian theologian. One major shift that A Place for Everything chronicles is from pictograph writing to representational letters. Per the research, writing may have independently sprung up as many as a dozen times, but all signs point to only one discovery of the alphabet, in ancient Egypt. Every other known example was cribbed from some other civilization, and it took off because it was so much easier to learn, adapting quickly for trade. 

"I also am fascinated by how the rise in alphabetization replaced a more subjective classification that organized by status. And yet being first has its privileges – why else is grade A the best? So many fascinating factoids here! Flanders tries to clarify that just because alphabetization has come to dominate classification in the West, it’s not the only way, or even the best way. With the rise of computer databases, the alpha reign has lessened in importance. It still seems likely that kids will be singing their ABCs for some time to come."

Joe Moran writes in The Guardian that he was also taken by the unique creation of the alphabet: "Sharing no mother tongue and communicating in a creole of their many languages, they found it easier to memorise (British spelling!) 20 or 30 symbols and rearrange them into new words. The alphabet soon seemed as inevitable as that other human abstraction bequeathed to us by antiquity: money. Just as money was a stand-in for value, so the alphabet was a stand-in for meaning, separating words into letters for ease of reordering. This beautiful invention allows us to shape whole universes of meaning out of a small number of letters."

And that's just the alphabet. Alphabetical order is another beast entirely, and took several hundred more years to develop. Deirdre Mask in The New York Times notes the greater purpose of all this: "Ultimately, A Place for Everything rewards us with a fresh take on our quest to stockpile knowledge. It feels particularly relevant now that search engines are rendering old ways of organizing information obsolete. (How do today’s Rob Flemings organize their Spotify playlists?) That we have acquired so much knowledge is astounding; that we have devised ways to find what we need to know quickly is what merits this original and impressive book. 'We think,' Flanders writes, 'therefore we sort.'"

Wednesday, June 23, 2 pm
Summer Reading with Larry Watson, author of The Lives of Edie Pritchard
In conversation with Lisa Baudoin and Daniel Goldin for a virtual event
Register for this event here

Boswell and Books & Company are getting together virtually to host Wisconsin author Larry Watson for a special conversation about summer reading. They’ll chat about summer reading, including Watson's new-in-paperback The Lives of Edie Prichard. Larry Watson is the author of ten critically acclaimed books, including the bestselling Montana 1948. His essays and book reviews have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and other periodicals.

Instead of just repeating our hardcover events for The Lives of Edie Pritchard (which you can still watch here), we thought it would be fun to talk books with Larry, a summer reading edition of Readings from Oconomowaukee. We'll be talking about Montana books and triptychs and strong older women heroes. Here's a taste of our conversation. When we were discussing ideas, Watson wrote, "Thomas McGuane is probably my favorite contemporary Montana writer, and I really liked Cloudburst, his collected stories. I think he’s one of our finest short story writers. Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It is my favorite Montana novel, for its closing paragraphs if for nothing else." I should note that A River Runs Through It was a bookstore bestseller for years!

Here’s a little more about the book, a multigenerational story of the West told through the history of one woman trying to navigate life on her own terms. Edie always worked hard. She worked as a teller at a bank, she worked to save her first marriage, and later, she worked to raise her daughter even as her second marriage came apart. Really, Edie just wanted a good life, but everywhere she turned, her looks defined her. It’s been a lifetime of proving that she is allowed to exist in her own sphere. The Lives of Edie Pritchard tells the story of one woman just trying to be herself, even as multiple men attempt to categorize and own her.

From Christine Brunkhorst in the Star Tribune: “This is a fast and compelling read, sparse and dusty as the open plain. Watson’s journey is a sensory one, taking us down rippling highways and across weedy fields into basement rec rooms and out into shadowy sunsets. Though some scenes are gritty, the novel’s dialogue and imagery awaken our senses and prove once again that when depicting small-town life in the West, Larry Watson is crushing it.” 

Thursday, June 24, 7 pm
Ashley Weaver, author of A Peculiar Combination
in conversation with Erica Ruth Neubauer for a virtual event
Register for this event here

Ashley Weaver is author of the Amory Ames series, which includes novels such as A Deception at Thornecrest, A Most Novel Revenge, and A Dangerous Engagement. She works as the technical services coordinator at the Allen Parish Libraries in Oberlin, Louisiana. Milwaukee’s Erica Ruth Neubauer is author of Murder at Wedgefield Manor and Murder at the Mena House. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America

Erica Ruth Neubauer has been citing Ashley Weaver's Amory Ames series as one of her influences on her two mysteries. So I thought, wouldn't it be great to have an event with Neubauer talking to Weaver? Weaver's series has won great praise, and she's also got local ties - she used to be a librarian at the Greendale Public Library.

Her enthusiasm was contagious - I read this book on Neubauer's recommendation. And here's my recommendation to you for A Peculiar Combination: "For her latest mystery, Weaver pivots from aristocratic Amory Ames to working class London burglar Electra McDonnell. Captured during a routine break-in-attempt (perhaps a set up), Ellie and her Uncle Mick are recruited by the arrogant-but-dashing Major Ramsey to help foil a major transfer of secrets to the enemy. Things become a bit more complicated when Ellie is asked to pose as Ramsey’s date to a lecture, where several of possible traitors are expected to gather. This fast-paced outing has an array of suspects to please mystery fans and lots of period detail for historical fiction readers. And what reader wouldn’t enjoy Electra, a spunky heroine with a murky origin story that still needs to be explored?" (Daniel Goldin)

Publishers Weekly
gave A Peculiar Combination a starred review: "A thorny relationship between Ellie and Ramsey, a cast of colorful characters, a brisk pace, and an ironic message about the identity of true patriots enthrall. Readers will look forward to the next mission for the smart, feisty Ellie and her circle." The reviewer praised this as "a superb series launch."

More on the Boswell upcoming event page.

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