Sunday, January 30, 2022

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending January 29, 2022

The bestsellers from Boswell for the week ending January 29, 2022

Hardcover Fiction: 
1. Violeta, by Isabel Allende
2. The Runaway, by Nick Petrie
3. Devil House, by John Darnielle
4. The Lincoln Highway, by Amor Towles
5. The Maid, by Nita Prose
6. To Paradise, by Hanya Yanagihara
7. The Sentence, by Louise Erdrich
8. Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro
9. The Promise, by Damon Galgut
10. Call Us What We Carry, by Amanda Gorman

Our top new release this week is Violeta, the latest novel by Isabel Allende, inspired by her Mother. She spoke to Gisela Salomon for Associated Press: "The original idea for the book arose after the death of Allende’s mother. Knowing that the two had had a very close relationship and got to exchange thousands of daily letters, some of Allende’s friends suggested that she write a book about her mother’s life. The novelist was still too emotional to see her mother with the needed distance to write about her. Months passed and, when she felt stronger, she began Violeta inspired by her mother, but with a marked difference: The protagonist is a woman who supports herself and a good part of her family with her businesses."

Thank you to Books & Books for coordinating Saturday's ticketed event.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. How to Be Perfect, by Michael Schur
2. Atlas of the Heart, by Brené Brown
3. The 1619 Project, created by Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times
4. Home in the World, by Amartya Sen
5. You Don't Know Us Negroes and Other Essays, by Zora Neale Hurston
6. South to America, by Imani Perry
7. Stuff Every Tea Lover Should Know, by Candace Rardon
8. The Lyrics, by Paul McCartney
9. Milk Street Vegetables, by Christopher Kimball
10. The Baseball 100, by Joe Posnanski

Is it possible that there isn't another collection of Zora Neale Hurston's essays, articles, and criticism? According to the publisher, You Don't Know Us Negroes and Other Essays, edited by Genevieve West and Henry Louis Gates Jr, is it. From Trudier Harris in The New York Times: "In just over 400 pages of essays - some previously published, others appearing here for the first time - readers get to peruse Hurston’s evaluations of just about everything imaginable: jazz, vote peddling, religious conversion, romantic relationships, international travel, the slave trade, Black vernacular, fake leaders, HBCUs, visual art, noses, other authors like Fannie Hurst and Robert Tallant, folklore, hoodoo, and race relations in the South during and after Jim Crow."

Paperback Fiction:
1. Shady Hollow, by Juneau Black (watch the Boswell event here)
2. The Five Wounds, by Kirstin Valdez Quade
3. Do I Know You? by Sarah Strohmeyer
4. The Drifter, by Nick Petrie
5. How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig
6. Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
7. It Ends with Us, by Colleen Hoover
8. The Glass Hotel, by Emily St John Mandel (Info on April's MPL Literary Lunch here)
9. The People We Meet on Vacation, by Emily Henry
10. Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu

We had a nice first week of sales for the amazing debut novel from Kirstin Valdez Quade, The Five Wounds, due in part to one of the book clubs we work with picking it as a reading selection. I am ashamed of myself for not going back and reading her story collection, Night at the Fiesta. The book was also recently named a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway debut novel award, but the competition is fierce. The other nominees are Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi, Dear Miss Metropolitan, by Carolyn Ferrel, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, and Detransition, Baby, by Torrey Peters. More at Publishers Weekly.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Permission to Feel, by Marc Brackett
2. Seeing with the Eyes of Dhamma, by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
3. Maus I, by Art Spiegelman
4. Maus II, by Art Spiegelman
5. The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk
6. The Electricity of Every Living Thing, by Katherine May (Register for Feb 16 event here)
7. Tacky, by Rax King
8. Field Guide to Dumb Birds of the Whole Stupid World, by Matt Kracht
9. Making a Good Script Great, by Linda Seger
10. Selma of the North, by Patrick D Jones

You've seen the news that Maus (the link is to volume I, which you should read first) has been pulled from a Tennessee school district. I was involved for the purchases, so I'm not sure that this was directly connected to our book sales. But I want to contest the books being called graphic novels. Yes, Art Spiegelman drew the characters as mice and cats. But the text is a memoir, isn't it? That's why our copies are coded nonfiction - feel free to argue this! Joe Hernandez wrote more for the story on NPR.

Books for Kids:
1. Chez Bob, by Bob Shea
2. Just Help, by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrations by Angela Dominguez
3. Anatomy: A Love Story, by Dana Schwartz
4. Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, by Carole Boston Weatherford.
5. Turtle in a Tree, by Neesha Hudson
6. Cat Kid Comic Club V1, by Dav Pilkey
7. Woodland Dance, by Sandra Boynton
8. Brittanica First Big Book of Why, by Sally Symes
9. Tales of Fearless Girls, by Isabel Otter
10. Stacey's Extraordinary Words, by Stacey Abrams

New on the kids list is Just Help: How to Build a Better World, by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. From Nicole Acevedo at NBC News: "Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is honoring the memory of her mother Celina Báez, who died last year, with a new children's book focusing on teaching about civic participation in everyday life. Sotomayor's fourth children's book Just Help! features a young Sonia as her mother, or Mami, asks her, 'How will you help today?' on a daily basis."

Over at the Journal Sentinel, writer John Hildebrand reviews Though the Earth Gives Way by Journal Sentinel reporter Mark S Johnson: "I hope Though the Earth Gives Way will be read as a parable on the limits of good intentions. For all their talk and soul-searching, the pilgrims don’t have many ideas for the future. When the lone teenager at the retreat center, angry at the older generation for burning up his future, turns incendiary, you think: Why not?"

More from Madison Magazine about Though the Earth Gives Way - a Q&A with Maggie Ginsberg.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

What's selling at Boswell? Week ending January 22, 2022

Here's what's selling at Boswell this week:

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Runaway, by Nick Petrie (register for February 9 virtual MPL event here)
2. The Good Son, by Jacquelyn Mitchard
3. Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr
4. To Paradise, by Hanya Yanagihara
5. Call Us What We Carry, by Amanda Gorman
6. The Lincoln Highway, by Amor Towles
7. The Sentence, by Louise Erdrich
8. How High We Go in the Dark, by Sequoia Nagamatsu
9. Joan Is Okay, by Weike Wang
10. The Maid, by Nita Prose

Last week, I was speaking to an author who mentioned Kirkus's tradition of more negative reviews than the other advance trade notices (Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, and so forth). I think they've actually changed a lot, but every so often, their legacy resurfaces. For example, Sequoia Nagamatsu's new collection, How High We Go in the Dark, has gotten nothing but raves and positive reviews on Book Marks (and actually, it's almost all raves) except for that negative Kirkus. This collection, connected by the theme of how climate change unleashes an ancient virus when archeologists discover the an ancient frozen victim. From Lincoln Michel in The New York Times: "If you’re a short-story lover - as I am - you’ll be impressed with Nagamatsu’s meticulous craft. If you crave sustained character and plot arcs, well, you’ll have to settle for admiring the well-honed prose, poignant meditations and unique concepts. Hardly small pleasures."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. The 1619 Project, created by Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times
2. Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner
3. The Book of Hope, by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams
4. The Dawn of Everything, by David Graeber and David Wengrow
5. Giannis, by Mirin Fader
6. The Privatization of Everything, by Donald Cohen
7. Blood in the Garden, by Chris Herring
8. Finding the Mother Tree, by Suzanne Simard
9. Unthinkable, by Jamie Raskin
10. How Civil Wars Start, by Barbara F Walter

We first heard about Blood in the Garden: The Flagrant History of the 1990s New York Knicks  when Chris Herring mentioned his upcoming book as the interview conversation partner for Mirin Fader, the author of Giannis. January seemed so far away then, but now it's out, and I'm happy to see a top 10 sales pop, which isn't always easy for a sports book focused on a non-Milwaukee team. From Andrew R Graybill in The Wall Street Journal: "Readers need not love the Knicks - or even possess deep knowledge of professional basketball - to enjoy this book. It throbs with an insider’s perspective, giving the audience a courtside seat as the Knicks, deploying sharp elbows, stout picks and painful hip checks, took on all comers... Besides the vivid writing, what makes Blood in the Garden so successful is the depth of Mr. Herring’s research, which rests on extensive interviews with more than 200 individuals, ranging from players and coaches to front-office staff and fellow journalists, and even an 'unnamed Knicks dancer.'"

Paperback Fiction:
1. Daisy Jones and the Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
2. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
3. Hamnet, by Maggie O'Farrell
4. The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich
5. How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig
6. The Drifter (both editions), by Nick Petrie
7. The House in the Cerulean Sea, by TJ Klune
8. Dune, by Frank Herbert
9. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
10. Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Nothing new this week in the top 10. Taylor Jenkins Reid continues to BookTok her way to the top, with both #1 (Daisy Jones and the Six) and #2 (The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo) slots. And I also find it interesting that four other titles are previous books from current bestsellers. Our buyer Jason was noting that our new and notable paperback table has more notable titles and fewer new ones - and much of that is driven by social media.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Proof of Heaven, by Eben Alexander
2. Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
3. The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk
4. Field Guide to Dumb Birds of the Whole Stupid World, by Matt Kracht
5. New York Times Cooking No Recipe Recipes, by Sam Sifton
6. Short History of Canada, by Desmond Morton
7. History Lover's Guide to Milwaukee, by James Nelson
8. Milwaukee Bronzeville, by Paul Geenen
9. Civil Rights Activism in Milwaukee, by Paul Geenen
10. The Best of Me, by David Sedaris

James Nelson's A History Lover's Guide to Milwaukee has been a steady seller since it came out in October. Nelson visited Milwaukee for his Educating Milwaukee book several years ago. From Dave Luhrssen's recent write up in The Shepherd Express: "As an aside, he correctly points out that many of our 75 official neighborhoods (as proclaimed by the City of Milwaukee in 1995) are little recognized, even by their residents. Fernwood anyone?" Fernwood is actually a part of Bay View. But when I looked it up, I learned that it's south of Oklahoma, east of 794 - I thought it was both sides. Many people don't know that Boswell is in the Murray Hill sub-neighborhood of the East Side.

Books for Kids:
1. The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner
2. Big Shot V16, by Jeff Kinney
3. Anatomy: A Love Story, by Dana Schwartz
4. We Are Okay, by Nina Lacour
5. Chez Bob, by Bob Shea
6. Five Worlds V5: The Emerald Gate
7. Tales of Fearless Girls, by Isabel Otter
8. The Beatryce Prophecy, by Kate DiCamillo, illustrations by Sophie Blackall
9. Here's to Us, by Becky Albertalli
10. Ain't Burned All the Bright, by Jason Reynolds, illustrations by Jason Griffin

At the Nick Petrie event, I helped Friend-of-Boswell Raya find Anatomy: A Love Story, which is new (always nice this time of year) and selling in the YA section. If we're selling it and it's not local, it's sure to be NYT bestseller bound this week, especially because it's the Reese's YA Book Club selection. Anatomy: A Love Story is set in 19th century Scotland and is, per the publisher, about "a lady who wants to be a surgeon more than she wants to marry." From the starred Booklist: "Schwartz's magical novel is at once gripping and tender, and the intricate plot is engrossing as the reader tries to solve the mystery. She doesn't miss a beat in either the characterization or action, scattering clues with a delicate, precise hand. This is, in the end, the story of the anatomy of the human heart."

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins profiles Juneau Black, the writing team that is Sharon Nagel and Jocelyn Cole. I have a bit part*: "'As we were putting prices on these adorable little finger puppets, we gave all of these little animal characters names, and occupations, like you do,' Koehler said. With no one stopping them, the two women kept going, imagining the woodland village life of their critters. And then came murder."

Join us for a virtual launch on Tuesday, January 25, 7 pm. Register at

*I play the cruel boss.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Selections from the Book Club Table

The new Winter 2022 Indie Next for Reading Groups flier arrived this week. Like the Boswell selection list, the focus is on paperbacks. I enjoyed seeing their selections and had many titles to add to my to-be-read list. You can access it here or pick one up at Boswell. 

It's also time for us to update our Reading Group flier and table. One of the books on the Indie Next flier that we're also promoting is We Keep the Dead Close. We've done very well with the true crime/history hybrids in the past - notably Killers of the Flower Moon (David Grann) and Say Nothing (Patrick Radden Keefe) - that I thought we'd keep the trend going. We already convinced one of our larger groups to read We Keep the Dead Close, the story of an unsolved killing in the Harvard anthropology department.

Though we know that many book clubs now pick their selections in hardcover, especially if most of the members use ebooks, audio downloads, or the library, we try to focus on paperback titles. Several extra-long-in-hardcover book club favorites have imminent paperback releases. One of them is Tara Westover's Educated, and for that one, we're part of a multi-store launch event with Natalie Portman on February 8. Admission is the cost of the book ($20, including tax), media shipping or store pickup is available, and if you already have a copy and don't wish to give one away, you can donate yours to the National Council of Teachers of English. Ticket fee is extra. More here.

The other long-timer is Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half, one of our favorite books of 2020, and being it was ten-best on The New York Times, we can say that the editors of that publication share the sentiment. Bennett's second novel hits the sweet spot of critical acclaim, timely subject matter, and a plotline that won't let you put the book down. It's one of our new picks.

If your book club has already read The Vanishing Half, why don't you try Nancy Johnson's The Kindest Lie, a Boswell 2021 pick that was one of Jane's top three books of last year, and it might have been said to be her favorite. So many of you worked with Jane on book club selection that I still drop her name regularly when a book is one of her picks. It's also got recommendations from Christina Clancy and Jodi Picoult - we talked about the book at Picoult's event in Oconomowoc in December. I expect all of the book clubs that followed Jane's lead to pick The Kindest Lie in 2022!

Speaking of favorites, both Jen and I named The Five Wounds one of our top picks of 2021, and now that it's 2022 and the paperback is imminent, it's time to start talking it up to reading groups. This is another book that our large book club picked for discussion. It also was just named The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize winner. I'm not doing plots on this post - you can read more about each book by clicking the link to our order page, which has our staff recs.

I always like to note cover trends. The Five Wounds kept its distinctive jacket but changed out the orange of the hardcover for a teal background. I'm a big fan of this. The other book on this list that did something similar was We Ride Upon Sticks, which went from green to magenta. Lauren Fox's Send for Me did a cover change I haven't seen as much, but was quite effective - the image stayed the same, but the photograph went from an artsy black and white for the hardcover to a technicolor paperback.\

I should note that The Five Wounds and The Kindest Lie traded background covers, as The Kindest Lie, went from a teal/aqua to an orange background. It also has different, but not that different artwork. I would say the cover is more tweaked than overhauled. 

Quan Barry's third novel, When I'm Gone, Look for Me in the East, releases February 22. We're doing a virtual event with her that evening. Register here.

Send for Me unofficially went on our book club table in late fall - coded for the table but not yet in the flier. This is Fox's first historical and will definitely please fans in the genre - yet with its contemporary framing, it still has ties to Fox's other novels in tone. It's one of two books that was a Read with Jenna Today Show pick. The other is Writers and Lovers, by Lily King.

Two of our additions pretty much kept their hardcover treatments - The Cold Millions, which like Send for Me, got unofficially added to the table in late fall, and Raft of Stars, which just came out. I pride myself on reading every book on our book club table (there are occasional exceptions) so while up until now, I was using Tim's enthusiastic read to sell Andrew J Graff's debut, I now can speak about it with more authority - though I should note that before finishing it, we hosted or cosponsored three events with the author. It's been a huge success with our readers - the big non-Milwaukee-area Wisconsin novel of 2021.

One book that got a complete cover revamp from its hardcover jacket was The Pull of the Stars, by Emma Donoghue. I recently noted that the book was a resounding success with our In-Store Lit Group, so I thought I'd be remiss in not adding it to this checklist. The book had a great publicity bounce in hardcover, being that it was a Great Flu novel released only months after the rise of COVID. But the hype was real - great historical fiction that really plays off the themes that run through Donoghue's work.

Another major cover change from Hachette was for The King of Confidence, the rollicking slice of history from Miles Harvey, who did a great virtual event with us for the hardcover. In this case, I preferred the bright jacketing of the cloth edition. No reflection on the book though - fascinating history and so much to talk about. 

I don't know what it is about these muddy brown and gray covers, that to be popular paperback treatment pivots. I was not a fan of the paperback jacket of Everywhere You Don't Belong, by Gabriel Bump, and I thought it affected sales. It was also hard to make at the chain link fence on the jacket. Looking forward to novel #2!

We did add one paperback original to the list - Hervé Le Tellier's The Anomaly, which was a big success for us during the holidays, with Jason leading the charge. He got me to read it, and there's so much to talk about that I couldn't help but add it. We're hoping to work with Alliance Française to host a virtual event with the author. If you like a book that's packed with existential questions, you've got it right here. 

Some years it seems like half the books published in the first half of the prior year are January and February releases, but this year, the deluge is in April. I'm actually a little overwhelmed by how much is coming out, both in hardcover and for paperback release. I hope to have this list updated again in June. 

Here is my updated list of recommended reading group titles.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Boswell bestsellers, week ending January 15, 2022

Here's what's selling at Boswell for the week ending January 15, 2022.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Call Us What We Carry, by Amanda Gorman
2. To Paradise, by Hanya Yanagihara
3. The Lincoln Highway, by Amor Towles
4. Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro
5. Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr
6. Honor, by Thrity Umrigar
7. Crossroads, by Jonathan Franzen
8. Great Circle, by Maggie Shipstead
9. Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead
10. The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig

It should be noted that the high-profile release of Hanya Yanagihara's To Paradise has a mixed profile on Book Marks, but notably, that includes a lot of raves and a good amount of pans too. Chris was noting that the conversation continues on social media. Here's one of the raves, from Alex Clark in The Guardian: "Where the suffering and hopelessness of A Little Life created an overwhelming experience that left readers divided around the issue of how much they could take, this is a far subtler delineation of those who feel hamstrung, beleaguered, inadequate to the task ahead. In many ways – not least the questions of political and social responsibility it poses, especially in the face of global catastrophe – it is a darker work, and yet a more fruitfully puzzling, multifaceted one."

The new Hello Sunshine Book Club pick, Honor, by Thrity Umrigar, is also in our top 10 this week. Several Midwest bookstores are hosting an event with Umrigar speaking to Rebecca Makkai on Tuesday. More information on the Left Bank Books website.   

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Atlas of the Heart, by Brené Brown
2. The 1619 Project, created by Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times
3. Giannis, by Mirin Fader
4. Aftermath, by Harald Jähner
5. The Steal, by Mark Bowden and Matthew Teague
6. The Book of Hope, by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams
7. North American Maps for Curious Minds, by Matthew Buckla and Victor Cizek
8. Best in Travel 2022, from Lonely Planet
9. Righteous Troublemakers, by Al Sharpton
10. How Civil Wars Start, by Barbara F Walter

Our top new release in sales for this week in hardcover nonfiction is Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich, 1945-1955, by Harald Jahner, translated from the German by Shaun Whiteside. I know it can drive folks crazy to link to reviews that are for subscribers only, but here's hoping that this quote from Andrew Stuttaford's Wall Street Journal review is enticing on its own: "The national psyche is the principal protagonist in Harald Jähner’s subtle, perceptive and beautifully written Aftermath. Mr. Jähner, like Mr. Ullrich a German journalist and author, describes Germany’s first postwar decade, with more of an emphasis on its social and cultural landscape (particularly in its western segment) than the usual early Cold War tussles."

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
2. Raft of Stars, by Andrew J Graff
3. The Searcher, by Tana French
4. When We Cease to Understand the World, by Benjamin Labatut
5. Sanatorium, by Sarah Pearse
6. Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate
7. Conversations with Friends, by Sally Rooney
8. It Ends with Us, by Colleen Hoover
9. A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
10. Into the Drowning Deep, by Mira Grant

It may have been a Reese Witherspoon Hello Sunshine Book Club pick in hardcover, but I don't remember The Sanatorium, by Sarah Pearse hitting our top 10 on its initial run. Pause. I checked, and it did not - got into the teens. From the starred Booklist: "Le Sommet, the prestigious hotel fashioned from a former TB sanatorium, is more than just the setting for this atmospheric debut mystery: the building's history ultimately propels the plot." One concern - the book only has three reviews listed on Bookmarks - the pan from Kirkus is not present, even though Bookmarks is supposed to count Kirkus. Is somebody pulling bad reviews? Now that's a mystery!

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
2. A Short History of Canada, by Desmond Morton
3. The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk
4. The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion
5. All About Love, by bell hooks
6. Field Guide to Dumb Birds of the Whole Stupid World, by Matt Kracht
7. Baseball Road Trips, by Timothy Malcolm
8. Field Guide to Birds of Wisconsin, by ABA/Chuck Hagner
9. The Best of Me, by David Sedaris
10. Until We Reckon, by Danielle Sered

It's the second week in our top 10 for A Short History of Canada, which is being used for a program for Osher Lifelong Learning. I'm pretty sure that my friend John set up a short-lived Canadian section when he was working at Schwartz, but I can't remember whether it was at the Shorewood or Downer locations. Desmond Morton, per the publisher, is the former director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada in Montreal, Desmond Morton was appointed a professor of history at the University of Toronto in 1969 and became Principal of its Erindale campus. He is the author of 35 other books on Canada. The book comes from McClelland and Stewart, a storied Canadian publisher which is now an imprint of Penguin Random House. Another weird detail - both our #1 and #2 titles repeat from the week previous, each selling the exact same amount as they did for the last roundup.

Books for Kids:
1. Milo Imagines the World, by Matt de la Peña/Christian Robinson
2. Carmela Full of Wishes, by Matt de la Peña/Christian Robinson
3. Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña/Christian Robinson
4. Chez Bob, by Bob Shea (Register for January 20 virtual school visit, open to the public)
5. Love, by Matt de la Peña, illustrations by Loren Long
6. Ain't Buried All the Bright, by Jason Reynolds, illustrations by Jason Griffin
7. The Year We Learned to Fly, by Jacqueline Woodson
8. Superman: Dawnbreaker, by Matt de la Peña
9. The Gilded Ones, by Namina Forna
10. Cat Kid Comic V1: Perspectives, by Dav Pilkey

South Milwaukee is hosting an event with Matt de la Peña, but I should note that it was just moved to spring from winter. Not coming, but still brand new is the latest from Jason Reynolds, a collaboration with Jason Griffin called Ain't Burned All the Bright, which has a rec from Tim. Read it by clickingthe title, which will take you to our website. From Kirkus Reviews: "A profound visual testimony to how much changed while we all had to stay inside and how much - painfully, mournfully - stayed the same. Reynolds' poetry and Griffin's art perform a captivating dance on pages of mixed-media collage and emotive reflection on the pronounced threats facing a contemporary Black family." Now that's a rave.

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins gives a shout for the new Nick Petrie. In regards to The Runaway, Higgins notes "Everyone Ash encounters during this rural escapade is more resourceful and dangerous than they appear, including the pregnant Helene. 'There is no feeling in the world like somebody shooting at you,' Ash thinks. 'Not a good feeling, not exactly. But it sure made the world sparkle more brightly while it was happening.'"

Just a reminder that The Runaway also got the first New York Times write-up for the Peter Ash series. She wrote: "Petrie has a preternatural talent for ratcheting up suspense, even as he ensures readers continue to care not only about Ash, but about the people he’s trying to save as well as the ones he must defend against." The book is out on Tuesday - join us for the launch. The in-person component is sold out, but you can register for the virtual broadcast here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

A year in reading - the Boswell In-Store Lit Group

What did the book club think?

It’s been a while since I highlighted the books in our In-Store Lit Group, partly because of COVID (the in-store component of the name has not been appropriate for almost two years!) and partly because the days go so quickly that I never get around to writing it. January seemed like a good time to recap. Here are our 2021 selections and some thoughts on each. There wasn't a single book that I thought was a bad book club read - it's just that not every book is for every book club. Some folks want an intense discussion and others are just happy to have everyone show up and for most of the attendees to have read it.

January: Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stewart. I always prioritize the big prize winners in our selections, particularly if I haven’t read them, in my hopes that we are furthering the cultural conversation. Last year’s Man Booker Prize winner took off in a big way, and momentum was furthered by BookTok. Most folks liked the book. It was long, so not everyone finished. And it was sad. And some people just don’t like sad books. It’s been a huge success for indies in general. I should also note that addiction is a rich topic for writers and the alcoholic dependency of Shuggie’s mom is heartbreaking. Stewart’s next novel, Young Mungo, comes out in April 

February: Feast Your Eyes, by Myla Goldberg. Here’s a book that was shortlisted for the National Book Award, but at least for us, had been relatively quiet (which translates to under 5 copies). It was an event with the Jewish Community Center that turned me onto this book, which took the form of an art catalog for a New York street photographer. I hadn’t read something from Goldberg since The Bee Season, her debut. We tend to do well with novels about the art world. Conversation focused a lot on the alternate structure and the artist’s burden of juggling career and family (she’s a single mom) without support. It was also interesting to explore the women who shaped Goldberg’s fictional character. I wound up placing this on our book club table for a season, as there was a very enthusiastic reaction to this novel.

March: Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu. Another prizewinner, Yu’s novel received the National Book Award for Fiction. Based on his previous book, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, I thought this book would have a stronger speculative component than it does. I’d place it more in the realm of Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West – a speculative element to the premise, but a relatively realistic follow-through. It’s set in a complex where they are shooting a police procedural on the first floor (think Law and Order) while Asian actors live upstairs. Since reading this book, I’ve read several others that explored the prejudice that Asian actors have been faced with in the performing arts – interchangeable identities, forced accents, and the lack of rolls. For more about this, read Kal Penn’s You Can’t Be Serious or Don Lee’s upcoming collection, The Partition. Yu has written for Westworld – you can see that influence too.

April: The Confessions of Frannie Langton, by Sarah Collins. This book won the Costa Prize for Best First Novel, which is one of many prizes I pay attention to. It was also on the radar of now-retired colleague Jane, which I consider a book club plus. It’s a historical novel, set on a Jamaican plantation and then in London, about a woman who lives under a cruel master, and then, despite being anti-slavery laws in the books, is given to a London family. I should note that Collins mentioned that she was inspired by the story of Francis Barber, the servant of Samuel Johnson and an important source for James Boswell. We’d had some success doing spoiler virtual interviews in conjunction with our book discussions, but Collins was already hard at work on her next book, though I checked, and it’s not yet scheduled.

May: The Shadow King, by Maaza Mengiste. One thing I found interesting about my research is why some books take off and others don’t. Mengiste also had a major award nom, a finalist for the Booker Prize, but an Edelweiss check showed that her novel had much stronger sales at indies than the Collins book did. It was also a historical novel, set in Ethiopia during Mussolini’s invasion of the country during 1935. The result is an Afro-centric war epic, which also celebrates the achievements of women. Another nice thing about historical fiction is that one can also focus on the story’s true elements. Some book clubs chafe at books that are longer than 400 pages, but for every group who wants longer books, there’s another that wants to know when they can read another book like A Little Life, which is over 800 pages. The answer? Hanya Yanighara’s follow-up, To Paradise, released this week.

June: A Children’s Bible, by Lyida Millet. Millet’s novel was shortlisted for the National Book Award, and even more importantly for sales, was named one of The New York Times’s ten best books of 2020. We tend to have strong sales on these books, which are featured through the holidays. The only problem? Macmillan ran out of copies – they experimented with a print-on-demand hardcover that got mixed reviews. It’s about a group of children left alone by their drinking and carousing parents, who fall prey to just about every bad thing that can happen – definitely filed under apocalypse fiction. To me, there’s a style of writing that’s very popular with critics, with Millet alongside writers like Jenny Offill and Patricia Lockwood. For me, they make great book club picks because I feel the need to read them, but I probably need support from fellow readers to get through them. But they are not for every group - though I'm almost definitely going to include No One Is Talking About This on my In-Store Lit Group selections.

July: Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell. Sometimes it’s important to give the group a sure thing, especially when the regulars grumble. I also usually pick one book a year where I’ve already read it. And so I picked Hamnet, a novel akin to Geraldine Brooks, which focuses on Shakespeare’s family, and the notation of O'Farrell's that Shakespeare never wrote directly about the Plague, but named a play Hamlet several years after the death of his son (Hamnet). I also was reminded of Maureen Corrigan’s comment that her book club, on discussing the title, asked if they could just read Hamnet over and over. Apparently I like Corrgan’s picks – more than half of them have either been features on our book club table and/or the In-Store Lit Group. Still a huge seller for us!

August: Sharks in the Time of Saviors, by Kawaii Strong Washburn. Lots of great reviews for this one, which sold okay for us in hardcover (that translates to 5-10 copies). There was also a special Independent Bookstore Day edition that put it on my radar. Plus I got to chat with him for 30 seconds at the 2020 Winter Institute, something that I wasn’t able to do in 2021 and now 2022, both virtual. But it was my nephew Adam who convinced me to read it – I sent him a lot of books, and he gave me some feedback – it’s a story about Hawaii, when you’re not a tourist and the islands are not a paradise for you, just life. The eldest son in the family performs what is perceived as a series of miracles, leaving both him and his miracle-less siblings scrambling for meaning, not just in their youth, but in early adulthood.

September: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong. This is one of those books where I thought I would read it before publication (once again, I got to say hello to the author back at the 2019 Winter Institute), but after a certain point, I thought it would be perfect for book club. And what a pedigree - longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction, the Carnegie Medal in Fiction, the 2019 Aspen Words Literacy Prize, and the PEN/Hemingway Debut Novel Award, shortlisted for the 2019 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and winner of the 2019 New England Book Award for Fiction. It’s a poetic (the author’s prior work is poetry collections) memoir-like novel of a queer Vietnamese-American kid growing up in Hartford and the legacy of trauma in his family. This is one of those books that took an extra year for paperback, as hardcover sales were so good.

October: The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich. Apparently I lost interest for a few months in sleepers. This was one of our big books of 2020’s COVID spring, and that was before the Pulitzer Prize win, which exploded sales. We’d last read Erdrich’s The Round House, which was structured like a thriller, though with Erdrich’s trademark multi-voice structure. This one might be more classified as historical fiction with a contemporary frame, another popular bookstore genre, focusing on a historic attempt to decertify an indigenous tribe, which Erdrich’s own grandfather was active in fighting back. It also hinted at Erdrich’s sense of humor, which really comes to the fore in her latest novel, The Sentence. Like Hamnet, it’s been very, very popular with book clubs, and unlike with the sleeper novels, it’s hard to determine the effect we’ve had on sales.

November: The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America's Forgotten Capital of Vice, by David Hill. I was hoping to discover another Killers of the Flower Moon or Say Nothing, but in the end, it reminded me a little more of Rich Cohen’s Sweet and Low, a combination memoir/history that I think was my favorite of the Rich Cohen books back when I was reading one after the other. It’s about the rise at fall of Hot Springs, Arkansas, which at one time competed with Las Vegas, and before that, Havana, as the gambling capital of the United States, only with one caveat – the gambling there was never legal. His voice alternates between the kingmakers and a poor croupier, who turns out to be his grandmother. I also found it interesting as Kirk’s parents live just outside Hot Springs, so I have visited the village, which still has the legacy of the baths, but not really the casinos.

December: Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, by Deepa Anappara. Djinn Patrol is told through the eyes of a young boy in an Indian slum as children go missing and he and his friends try to solve the crime. It wound up being longlisted for the Women’s Prize (we’ve read a number of winners and shortlisted titles over the years) and winner of the Edgar Award for Best Novel. I’m not sure it would satisfy the tastes of traditional mystery readers, but I think it’s a good book club book, though we had a less-than-usual number of readers finish it. I think they got caught up in the Hindi words spread throughout. My advice is to not worry about them so much or let them slow you down – come back to them later. Being that the writer is a journalist, this story is inspired by a true incident in India.

January: The Pull of the Stars, by Emma Donoghue. I figured out a really strange stat – I have now read one novel of Donoghue’s every decade – Stir Fry in 2004, Life Mask in 2004, Room in 2011 (also for the book club), and now her latest. Donoghue, a relatively prolific writer, certainly for literary fiction, already has her next novel scheduled: Haven, for next August. The book had lots of press, published in the midst of COVID, but was a little quiet in paperback, at least for us. Hoping to help change that. This novel, the story of a nurse in a maternity ward in Dublin during the Great Flu of 1918, won almost universal praise from the 16 attendees, plus everybody finished it, a rare achievement. I don’t normally mention the naysayers, but I loved this comment by our one member who didn’t like it – she thought it read like a medical manual. Like Room, all the pivotal scenes take place in closed quarters, and like many of Donoghue’s books, there is an interest in exploring questions of motherhood. It will definitely move to our book club table.

More about the Boswell-run book clubs, what we’re reading next, and how to join. For now, they are still virtual. And yes, we have a new book club starting soon.

Monday, January 10, 2022

This week - Mark Bowden and Matthew Teague talk to Joy Powers of Lake Effect about The Steal

 Here's what's happening virtually with Boswell this week.

Thursday, January 13, 7 pm
Mark Bowden and Matthew Teague, authors of The Steal: The Attempt to Overturn the 2020 Election and the People Who Stopped It
in conversation with Joy Powers
Tickets for this virtual event here.

Journalists Mark Bowden (author of the classic of war reporting, Black Hawk Down) and Matthew Teague join us for a virtual conversation about their new book. In this new political title, Bowden and Teague offer a week-by-week, state-by-state chronicle of the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election and the stories of administrators across the country who stepped in to prevent it. They'll be in conversation with WUWM Lake Effect Host and Producer Joy Powers, and will discuss in particular the section of their book focused on what happened during the election in Wisconsin.

From Luke Broadwater in The New York Times: "As I was reading The Steal, I was reminded of the line in the HBO show Succession said by Logan Roy, the domineering patriarch of a conservative media empire, as he tries to corrupt an F.B.I. investigation: 'The law is people, and people is politics, and I can handle people.'"

From Jacob S Hacker in The Washington Post: "Regarding one big point, however, these accounts agree: 2020 was a lucky break. The guardrails held, but only barely. Without fundamental reforms, they may not hold longer. And the very forces that weakened those guardrails make repairing them extremely hard. Whether the outcome is civil war or - far more likely, in my view - a democracy that’s increasingly undemocratic, Jan. 6 may come to be seen as a critical test of foresight and fortitude that too many in power failed."

From Charles Kaiser in The Guardian: "That real insurrection is the subject of this timely and important volume. The authors have used a stethoscope to examine the minutia of the American election process. The result is a thrilling and suspenseful celebration of the survival of democracy."

From David Gura on NPR: "I went into it thinking that there would be stark differences between, you know, a red side and a blue side and one versus the other. And that really wasn't the case. Many of the heroes of the book, the people who stood up and said, no; we're going to tell the truth - were conservative people and even Trump supporters themselves. So it's clear that the line between truth and lie is something that runs through every human heart, that it's not just a matter of partisan politics. And that gives me hope for the country."  

Mark Bowden is the author of fifteen books, including Black Hawk Down. He reported at the Philadelphia Inquirer for twenty years and now writes for The Atlantic and other magazines. Matthew Teague is a contributor to National Geographic, The Atlantic, Esquire, and other magazines, and was Executive Producer of the feature film Our Friend. Wisconsinite Joy Powers was formerly Director and Producer of Afternoon Shift on WBEZ Chicago Public Radio and is now a host/producer for Lake Effect.

Boswell is offering The Steal at 20% off and is offering $5 media mail shipping within the continental United States. Want the book faster? In-store or sidewalk pickup, USPS priority mail, and UPS are also available.

photo credits
Mark Bowden by Pascal Perich
Matthew Teague by Akasha Rabut

Next week - two events! More on the upcoming events page.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Boswell bestsellers, week ending January 8, 2022

Here's what's selling at Boswell for the week ending January 8, 2022

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr
2. The Sentence, by Louise Erdrich
3. The Lincoln Highway, by Amor Towles
4. Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead
5. Bewilderment, by Richard Powers
6. The Last Thing He Told Me, by Laura Dave
7. The Maid, by Nita Prose
8. The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig
9. Call Us What We Carry, by Amanda Gorman
10. Crossroads, by Jonathan Franzen

It appears that January 4 was not a big release date for fiction. Oh for the days when Putnam packed their calendar with post-Christmas leads, albeit mostly of the variety that didn't always get traction at indies like Boswell. But we do have one buzzy new title - The Maid, by Nita Prose, which is the Good Morning America Book Club pick. From Bethanne Patrick on NPR's website: "Devotees of cozy mysteries, rejoice: Nita Prose's debut, The Maid, satisfies on every level - from place to plot to protagonist... Let the locked-room hijinks begin!"

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. The Good Life Method, by Meghan Sullivan and Paul Blaschko (watch event video here)
2. Giannis, by Mirin Fader
3. The 1619 Project, created by Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times
4. Atlas of the Heart, by Brené Brown
5. The Book of Hope, by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams
6. Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner
7. Finding the Mother Tree, by Suzanne Simard
8. The Dawn of Everything, by David Graeber and David Wengrow
9. Winter's Children, by Ryan Rodgers
10. Unthinkable, by Jamie Raskin

Here's a book that was completely off my radar for the holiday season - Winter's Children: A Celebration of Nordic Skiing, by Ryan Rodgers. I had no idea of the origin of cross-country skiing in America, despite my late father's love for the activity - Bear Mountain State Park was his favorite place to go, but if it was cold enough and the snow hit right, Bethpage State Park was a closer option. From the publisher: "In the winter of 1841, a Norwegian immigrant in Wisconsin strapped on a pair of wooden boards and set off across the snow to buy flour - leaving tracks that perplexed his neighbors and marked the arrival of Nordic skiing in America. To this day, the Midwest is the nation’s epicenter of cross-country skiing, sporting a history as replete with athleticism and competitive spirit as it is steeped in old-world lore and cold-world practicality. This history unfolds in full for the first time in Winter’s Children."

Paperback Fiction:
1. The House in the Cerulean Sea, by TJ Klune
2. Verity, by Colleen Hoover
3. The Overstory, by Richard Powers
4. Leave the World Behind, by Rumaan Alam (More about our Boswell-run book club picks here - we're reading this in March)
5. Circe, by Madeline Miller
6. Late in the Day, by Tessa Hadley (Register for Feb 10 virtual event here)
7. Dune, by Frank Herbert (two editions)
8. The Humans, by Matt Haig
9. Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman
10. How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig

This week Matt Haig has three titles in our top ten, what with continuing sales for The Midnight Library, strong sales for his last, How to Stop Time, and a nice repackaging of The Humans (which I'm guessing several bookstores pushed for). This is our buyer Jason's favorite of Haig's titles, and was the backlist book that best matched the esthetic of the new titles - it's about an immortal extra-terrestrial who takes the form of a professor of mathematics to learn more about the species. Note to indie bookstores: if you are selling The Midnight Library, you can sell this too.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
2. A Short History of Canada, by Desmond Morton
3. Voices of Milwaukee Bronzeville, by Sandra E Jones
4. Miseducation, by Katie Worth
5. The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion
6. The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk
7. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
8. Draw the Line, by The Draw the Line Artists
9. Killing Rage, by bell hooks
10. How to Change Your Mind, by Michael Pollan

While January usually brings us an author memorial table or two, this season has sort of overwhelmed us with sadness. Two authors pop up this week - Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking and bell hooks's Killing Rage: Ending Racism. How does one highlight these titles without taking on the ambience of a funeral parlor. We're still trying to work this out as beloved writers and authors with books pass away, everyone from Anne Rice to E.O. Wilson to Jonathan Spence to Archbishop Desmond Tutu to even Betty White - it looks like there were already some things planned for her 100th birthday.

Books for Kids:
1. Heartstopper V4, by Alice Osman
2. Survivor Tree, by Marcie Colleen, illustrations by Aaron Becker
3. The Unwanteds, by Lisa McMann
4. The Snowy Day board book, by Ezra Jack Keats
5. Aaron Slater, Illustrator, by Andrea Beaty, with illustrations by David Roberts
6. Norman Didn't Do It, by Ryan T Higgins
7. Frozen Mountain: Decide Your Destiny, by Emily Hawkins
8. Here's to Us, by Becky Albertalli
9. The 1619 Project: Born on the Water, by Nikole Hanna-Jones and Renée Watson, illustrations by Nikkolas Smith
10. Change Sings, by Amanda Gorman, illustrations by Loren Long

We've got a staff rec for the first three volumes of Heartstopper, a teen LGBTQ+ graphic series that chronicles the romance of Charlie and Nick, so I'm guessing there's one for #4 as well. Rainbow Rowell is also a fan: "Absolutely delightful. Sweet, romantic, kind. Beautifully paced. I loved this book."

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins reports on The Steal, the new book from Mark Bowden and Matthew Teague: "Wisconsin, one of the most divided states in a divided country, gets several close-ups in Mark Bowden and Matthew Teague's new book about persistent efforts to undo the presidential election that knocked Donald Trump out of office." Tickets for this event are $5, to match the other bookstore programs that are schedule. Ticket fee is included.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Meghan Sullivan and Paul Blascko talk to John Koethe about The Good Life Method - on sale today

Virtual events are back! We have one great one this week.

Wednesday, January 5, 7 pm
Meghan Sullivan and Paul Blaschko, authors of The Good Life Method : Reasoning Through the Big Questions of Happiness, Faith, and Meaning
in conversation with John Koethe
Register for this virtual event here.

Boswell is happy to host a virtual evening featuring Sullivan and Blaschko, two Notre Dame Professors of Philosophy who’ve joined forces in a new book to ask (and answer!) the big questions about the search for faith and happiness. In conversation with John Koethe, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at UWM. 

We're thrilled to be hosting this event - Paul may be an Assistant Teaching Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame now, but we'll always be proud to call him a former Boswellian, He was a bookselling colleague while obtaining a philosophy degree at UWM. 

Sullivan and Blaschko teach God and the Good Life, a course that is hugely popular both on campus and with alumni at Notre Dame, and Sullivan has received a Mellon Grant to develop this curriculum for institutions around the country. Now they invite us into the classroom in their book to work through issues like what justifies our beliefs, whether we should practice a religion and what sacrifices we should make for others - as well as to investigate what figures such as Aristotle, Plato, Marcus Aurelius, and WEB Du Bois have to say about how to live well.

From Publishers Weekly's starred review: "Philosophy can supply the methods” for living a good life, according to this wise and accessible guide. Notre Dame philosophy professors Sullivan (Time Biases) and Blaschko bring to the page their course on applying philosophy to one’s life plans, covering the works of such thinkers as Plato, Søren Kierkegaard, William James, and Elizabeth Anscombe to provide a philosophical foundation in virtue ethics."

From Kirkus, noting this book originated in a course: "Their aim, they write, was to help students to live more intentionally and to take agency and responsibility for their choices. Drawing on the content and pedagogy of that course, the authors offer a warm, empathetic guide for examining the quality and meaning of one’s own life."

From Mindy McGinnis's blog, McGinnis poses the questions. McGinnis appeared at Boswell for one of her YA novels.

Meghan Sullivan is the Wilsey Family College Chair in Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, director of the God and the Good Life Program, and director of the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study. Paul Blaschko is an Assistant Teaching Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame and heads up curriculum design and digital pedagogy for the God and the Good Life Program. Locally notably, Blaschko completed an MA in philosophy at the UWM. John Koethe is the author of books on Wittgenstein and philosophical scepticism, and eleven books of poetry, most recently Walking Backwards: Poems 1966 - 2016.

Copies of The Good Life Method are available for sale at 20% off through at least January 11. In-store pickup or shipping is available. We offer $5 media mail shipping within Wisconsin. Ask for your signed bookplate.

Meghan Sullivan and Paul Blaschko's photo credit is Barbara Johnston.