Friday, April 29, 2022

April 26 is my favorite release date of the year, part 3: Don Lee's The Partition

I read an old book by a author and the next thing I know it, their long-awaited next book is announced. There's a little magical thinking in that. It happens, but most of the time, it's the other way around. I read a new book by an author, like Jennifer Close, and that convinces me to go back and read one of their previous titles. 

That's what happened with Don Lee. I was suspecting that Lee's next book might not be at Norton, being that 2017's Lonesome Lies Before Us never went into paperback despite being proclaimed my #1 book of the year. Doesn't that count for something? I'm not kidding myself - it doesn't. Wrack and Ruin, my #1 book of 2008 (I don't even know why sometimes I name these titles and sometimes I don't) - is available in a print-on-demand paperback, but it's $23, and that's the case for Lee's first novel, Country of Origin, despite winning an Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Hey the Edgars were last night - thrilled to see that Naomi Hirahara won the Mary Higgins Clark Prize for Clark and Division. The best novel went to Five Decembers, by James Kestrel, whose name is a pseudonym for a writer whose work has been categorized both as horror and thriller. We categorize him as the latter, but I bet we'd get more staff reads if the publisher positioned him as the former. 

Yellow, his first collection of stories (and now celebrating its 20th anniversary in paperback), sells well enough to be a traditionally printed paperback, still priced at $13.95, so I'm suspecting it hasn't been reprinted lately. The Collective is still officially available at $15.95. You'd think a new collection of stories, then, would be just what the doctor ordered, and maybe it is, only the new physician is Dr. Akashic.

Of all these books I'm crazy about, Don Lee's latest, The Partition, got interest from my fellow booksellers at Boswell. Both Chris and Tim wound up reading an enjoying the collection. And of course that means I'm going to reprint both staff recs.

From Tim McCarthy: "I like honesty, direct but gracefully written, especially when characters can't help telling the truth and then wonder if they're wrong. Lee's collection of stories has exactly that. The main characters are Asian Americans of many ethnicities and experiences. They talk about their lives (and the nasty treatment they face routinely) with a confidence and wry humor that grabbed my attention. I wasn't in tune with the places and foods and some of the jargon, but it didn't matter. Lee made me believe in the people. I trusted him with the film director, college professor, chef, restaurant owners, TV news crew, and the man we meet during three stages of his life, from Tokyo teenager to B movie semi-star to later-life tea shop chain owner. Lee brings suspense and sudden, quirky surprises to their days and makes them true. I'm grateful for these flesh and blood nuances of living that lay stereotypes to waste. I enjoyed every minute!"

From Chris Lee: "Don Lee writes about Asian American experiences with such individuality, depth, and razor-sharply defined details as to dash away any notion of a monolithic 'they.' The Partition is a collection of longer stories in which characters have room to reflect and remember, room to breathe. Lee patiently plots out not just moments but entire lives, then brings them to a breaking point. It’s a difficult story structure to work with, and he does so with insight and grace, finding for each character the place where the momentum and weight of their personal history meets and presses against the weight of the world’s expectations. These are grown up, heavy duty, seriously satisfying short stories."

Of course I loved the book as well. Here's the Daniel Goldin rec: "In the shockingly never-released-in-paperback Lonesome Lies Before Us (yes, this is clearly a thing with me), Don Lee wrote the anti-ethnic ethnic novel, where only a plate of food might hint at a character’s brownness. So in an about face, The Partition’s stories are packed with hapa haoles, gen 1.5s, and lots of where-are-you-from inquisitions. I loved the story 'Late in the Day' in which a filmmaker’s labor of love (itself an anti-ethnic ethnic film) is called out for using a biracial actor and instead takes a mercenary job as director of a short vanity film, only to see it picked up by PBS. Another of my favorites is 'UFOs,' where a television reporter takes two lovers, a married White guy and an earnest Korean American doctor who can spot her plastic surgery. Just about every story turns messy, and why should it be otherwise? The way these stories span decades and the tone of melancholy punctuated with humor make The Partition’s stories almost Alice Munro-esque. A worthy bookend to Lee’s first collection, Yellow, and here’s hoping it will be seen as similarly groundbreaking."

A note here about books with pub dates instead of on-sale dates. The ABA E-commerce websites made a change that inventory doesn't appear as available until on-sale date, it treats publishers with pub dates the same, even though that inventory might be in your store weeks earlier. In this case, The Partition somehow has a pub date of May 10 even though our event with Don Lee is May 3 and I was told for months that the pub date was April 26. The books were available about 2 weeks before that, so why was the pub date pushed back? So yes, you can order the book and still read it before our virtual event with Liam Callanan. It's available. But that effectively kills my thesis - Don Lee is now not officially published on April 26!

So to get back to my initial thought, after finishing The Partition, it started bothering me that I still hadn't read Lee's first novel, Country of Origin. I actually owned a copy for years and eventually gave it away. So now I had to buy another copy and I'm glad I did. It tuned out that the new collection connects back to the first novel, with at least one character reminding me enough of Tom Hurley, one of the protagonists of Country, to wonder if they were, in Lee's mind, the same person renamed.

I also loved the way Don Lee's newest work spoke to other books I read. One of the stories is about a Korean family that owns a Chinese family in the Midwest. I kept thinking about Lan Samantha Chang's The Family Chao, and how in the event, Chang-rae Lee talked about the importance of Chinese restaurants to earlier generations of Korean-American immigrants. 

And then there's this review in Medium from Zachary Houle. It's over-the-top ecstatic, just as it should be, but I particularly loved this line: "I found it interesting that every single one of these stories, in some way, features food, which would make for an interesting comparison with another book being released on the same day that looks at family dynamics in the restaurant biz: Jennifer Close’s Marrying the Ketchups."

One more quote for you from that Medium review: "I cannot be more effusive in my praise for The Partition: this is a special book that is pure magic on several levels." I should note that Houle and Medium list the pub date as April 26, not May 10. 

So you're thinking if I read all these books together - Marrying the Ketchups and Search and The Partition with greater meeting, and I assure you, I did not. And really, I had no reason to bring up Don Lee's connections to Laurie Colwin, as I did with Jennifer Close and Michelle Huneven. But come to think of it, there is a sort of self-reflection and character insight and humor that might be comporable. And a whole mess of passionate, but never quite right affairs. Hey, I might be able to make a case!

Register for our May 3 virtual event with Don Lee in conversation about The Partition with UWM Professor of English Liam Callanan, author of three novels, including Paris by the Book, and a collection of stories. His next novel is due in spring 2023!

Photo credit: Don Lee by Jane Delury

Thursday, April 28, 2022

April 26 is my favorite release date of the year, part two: SEARCH, by Michelle Huneven

April 26 is my favorite release date of the year, part two: SEARCH, by Michelle Huneven - not just a National Book Award finalist, but also a James Beard Award-winning writer.

Last year I got serious about adding older books into my reading list. I know there are folks out there who are rolling their eyes when they learn that by older, I mean three years or more. But you try working in a bookstore where you are committed to contemporary writers and you happen to host events and you'll quickly realize that new books quickly crowd out the older titles if you truly want to do a good job. I know this doesn't have to be this way, as I learned when I spoke to Jeff Deutsch, author of In Praise of Good Bookstores, but that's my modus operandi. You can watch our conversation here.

My goal is to read one book a month that has aged out of new release in hardcover and paperback. I used three years as a model because if I used two years, I'd be able to skirt by counting our In-Store Book Club selections. We're reading Raven Leilani's Luster next week - and that would count at two years, but not three. More about our upcoming Boswell-run book club selections here - we've got four!

One month last year I finally decided to read Michelle Huneven's first novel Round Rock. The book has been in my possession for about 15 years. It's now 25 years old. It was the first of what I guess was a two book deal with Knopf, and it was edited (per the acknowledgments) by Gary Fisketjon , who worked with writers such as Donna Tartt, Kent Haruf, Cormac McCarthy, Kent Haruf, and Boswell favorite Peter Geye.

Round Rock is about a a small California town where one of the patrons establishes what they call "a drunk farm." I don't think we call them that anymore. Addiction and recovery is a theme that recurs in Huneven's novels, probably coming to a fore in Huneven's most popular novel, Blame, which was shortlisted for the National Book Award. But to me, it's all about her second novel, Jamesland, one of my favorite books of all time - certainly my #1 book of 2003.

I still have my rec somewhere. Here it is - straight from 2003.

"What a fabulous book! Don’t be scared that Jamesland riffs on William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience. I haven’t read it yet either. The only thing you have to know is that each of Huneven’s wonderful characters is searching for God (or at least some meaning in life) in their own way, whether it is religion, mysticism, or psychiatry.  At the center is Alice Black, great-great granddaughter of James, a bartender, and lost in an affair with a married set designer.  He in turn is married to an Eastern-wisdom-seeking actress, a bit too old for the good parts, and ready to invest in Pete Ross’s newest restaurant.  Ross is a genius chef, but is depressed by his divorce, at being barred from seeing his child, and by living in the care of his mother, a nun.  He in turn is friends with Helen, a Unitarian minister doing battle with her congregation for being too churchy.  She gets in particularly hot water for mentioning Jesus Christ in a sermon.  

"Then of course there is Alice’s Aunt Kate, semi-senile, obsessed with writing a life of William James, which is actually coming to her in visions. The scenes are of boring domesticity, but Kate types them out, transposing the same dining room conversation numerous times until she gets it right.  Alice and her cohorts bounce off each other like protons, finding solace and even some answers in each other's friendship.  The story is very warm, and quite humorous, and has an intensely place-centered setting in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, abutting Griffith Park. 

"Like many of my very favorite books (City of Your Final Destination from last year comes to mind), Jamesland (I love the hardcover jacket so much, so I included that as well) is just too quiet to blow out.  So let me help you.  My friend John told me that Jamesland reminded him why he still reads contemporary fiction.  Another friend Mark, a sales rep extraordinaire (but not of Jamesland) told me he read this through the night and was mad at me for preventing him from doing anything else.  I know this book is not for everyone, but it might be for you.  And if it is, you are really missing something by not reading it!" I reread it about five years later and it completely held up.

And then 2022 came around and I found out Michelle Huneven's latest novel, her first since 2014's Off Course (no link for this one, alas), was scheduled to come out in April from Penguin Press. I couldn't believe it! I was giddy! But would I like it? The ARC arrived and I dug in. And I was not disappointed.

Time for my staff rec for Search: "Restaurant reviewer Dana Potowski is asked to be on the committee to pick the new minister for her Unitarian Universalist congregation and decides to write a memoir about the experience, but how is she going to do that when she’s agreed to confidentiality? The committee, a varied lot of big personalities, seems to be on the same page regarding generalities, but when it comes to the specifics, conflicts arise, factions take hold, and Dana’s not exactly the only committee member keeping a few secrets.  If you had asked me for a shortlist of compelling plots for a novel, I would not have come up with this one, but I would have been dead wrong, and not just because whenever I describe it to someone, I often get the response: I would read that! Search is a wonderful novel filled with vibrant characters, essential philosophical questions (most notably, what do we want from life?), and a cornucopia of foodie delights."

Huneven has been a long-time restaurant reviewer, and this, in a way, was the Huneven book that foodies were waiting for. Did I mention its got a great blurb from Ruth Reichl? She wrote, "I’ve loved every book Michelle Huneven has written and Search is the best - the most delectable - yet."

The story is set in a Unitarian Universalist congregation and for sure, UU folk will particularly enjoy this book. One bookseller friend of mine, Anne, told me that the book had a special place in her heart, as she was actually on a search committee for a new UU minister. But pretty much anyone who's been on any leadership committee for a religious organization, a service organization, or in my experience, a prize committee for a book award, will connect with this story.

And now something that new readers may not know. A minor character in Search is actually one of the characters from Jamesland. So you can imagine that I screamed when I discovered this. 

Huneven has a lovely quote from that former Wisconsinite, long-time Southern Californian Mona Simpson - I'm pretty sure they are friends, that's the way blurbs often work - and yet what she has to say resonates with me: "With echoes of voices as disparate as those of Thomas McGuane and Barbara Pym, Huneven is an American original, attentive to the outscale beauties of the west and the fragility of its citizens and institutions." Another connection - I think Fisketjon edited both Simpson and McGuane at one point - just guessing! And I must always highlight a Barbara Pym shout out.

This is a particularly special event for us. I really expected to just do this program in our Readings from Oconomowaukee series, a virtual monthly program with Lisa Baudoin of Book & Company. And then the publicist said, after I had written my rec last October, that Huneven might come in person. What? This is impossible, I thought. And how do we duplicate this virtual series in person?

Here's how. Lisa and I will discuss the book at 2 pm on May 4 at Books & Company, and then drive Huneven back to Boswell to have another discussion at 6:30. That 6:30 discussion will be broadcast, so anyone can watch it. And yes, that means I have been the conversation partner three times in eight days, but sometimes, that's just the way things work out. I'm not complaining!

Scott Simon talked to Michelle Huneven on NPR's Weekend Edition: "There're recipes in the back. I, by the way, particularly want to try Dana's escarole salad with favas, mint and pecorino. Why are recipes in the book? It's a wonderful added value for novels. And I think novels might do a little better in today's market if they added recipes. But tell us what they're doing here."

Here is a promotional video that Lisa and I did with Sarah Bagby of Watermark Bookstore of Wichita, who is hosting a virtual event with Huneven in conversation with Leslie Jamison on May 12. It started when Sarah wrote to me and asked how we were trying to sell this book that we loved so much. I thought, why not tape the discussion? My apologies for a little volume issues on my part - when I get excited, I tend modulate wildly.

I should note we talk about a lot of books, and yes, the conversation returns to Laurie Colwin! When it comes to writing and food, there's something about her collection Home Cooking.

I'd be remiss if I didn't thank Huneven's editor for helping shape this book and championing it, being that I mentioned the author's previous editors. So thank you to Virginia Smith Younce for Search.

I'd love to close with a reprise, those very words I said about Jamesland: I know that Search is not for everyone, but it might be for you.  And if it is, you are really missing something by not reading it.

Register for our May 4, 6:30 pm Boswell event here - in person or broadcast! Photo credit: Michelle Huneven by Courtney Gregg

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

April 26 is my favorite release date so far this year, part one: Marrying the Ketchups

When I started in bookselling, a pub date was a vague concept, the expected time when books would be in most bookstores so that the publicity and review push could begin. Often you'd get the books a month before, and sometimes even February books would land before Christmas. I guess the idea was that if you have the books in the warehouse, you might as well try to sell them. The problem was that by the pub date came around, the books would feel stale. I'll bet some bookstores would inadvertently return them, being that they'd already been sitting there for 90 days. And then the day after you sent them back, there'd be some amazing review or interview that lit the phones up.

Phones, mind you. This is pre-internet.

Nowadays the major publishers have replaced pub dates with on-sale dates. And while some publishers are stricter than others about this, our books rarely come more than a week early. Logistics have really come a long way. And Penguin Random House, the biggest player, treats all new releases like laydowns, meaning it's not requested but required that you don't put the books out before that magic date. This allows our buyers Jason and Jen to really plan out how they are going to display each title whereas my planning was a bit more winging it.

And that's when I slowly realized that April 26 was going to be a magic laydown date for me. Jason said that May 3 is actually bigger, and I'm not saying I don't like anything coming out then.* But three of my favorite books of spring and perhaps all of 2022 were on the cart together, and we're doing programs with all of them; it's an embarrassment of riches!

I thought I'd write about them in the order of their programs, so I'm starting with Marrying the Ketchups, the fourth book from Jennifer Close. The other books I am excited about are return engagements from two of my favorite writers of all time, but Jennifer Close is new to me. I had not read her first four books - I hadn't even considered them seriously.  But our sales rep Jason, who knows my reading taste well, suggested the book to me, and I absolutely fell in love with it.

Once I started telling my friends about how much I liked Marrying the Ketchups, I found out that at least two of the readers who taste I trust, Nancy and Sharon (ex-bookselling colleagues) had both read and liked The Hopefuls. So that's on my list. And Jason (the rep, not the buyer) is talking up The Smart One(which is called Things We Need in some other market, according to Fantastic Fiction).

Marrying the Ketchups
centers on JP Sullivan's, an Oak Park (Chicago) institution, known for their fine burgers, but a little long in the tooth, as restaurants go. 

Time for my rec: "The Sullivans have run their family restaurant in Oak Park for three generations, but three unexpected occurrences send the family into disarray - the 2016 election, the Cubs World Series victory, and the sudden death of Bud, the family patriarch. Then there are the setbacks that should have been expected, given the ill-chosen life partners of the Sullivan third generation, Gretchen, Jane, and Teddy. The story is centered on them, two sisters and a cousin, with special appearances by Teddy’s younger half-sister Riley, as their lives spin out of control, sending them back to Sullivan’s. But family is not the best place to avoid drama. This first-rate fractured family free-for-all is Chicago-infused and food forward, from sandwich loafs to sliders. So glad I finally read a Jennifer Close novel - I can’t wait to read another!"

I should first note that since this review was written, I have read another - Girls in White Dresses, and I loved that too, though I should note that it is more a collection of connected stories, not quite a novel. But so great! I have this thing about authors channeling Laurie Colwin, and I get the feeling editor Jenny Jackson does too, as this is the second writer of hers I've read in two years where I saw the references. The first was Katherine Heiny, last year's discovery, whose Early Morning Riser (just out in paperback), led me to Standard Deviation, which was well, super Colwiny.

And I should note that Close thanks Heiny in the acknowledgements. She's apparently an early reader!

I love fractured family comedies. I love them! Some comparisons.

--The Most Fun We Ever Had, by Claire Lombardo is also a family comedy, and also is set in Chicago, but with a hardware store, not a restaurant. Hey, if you're waiting for Lombardo's next novel, it's not out yet so read this instead.

--For Boswell regulars and Canadians, probably only the two audiences for this book with decent penetration, let me give a shout out to We're All in This Together, by Amy Jones. It's a little more over-the-top (Mom tries to go over the falls by Thunder Bay in a barrel) but it's got humor, sibling conflict, a little pathos, and a good restaurant setting.

--Just out is Grant Ginder's Let's Not Do That Again, which I mention because it is also a family comedy, and also mixes the personal with the political. I think it's a little new for you to have read it, but maybe you read The People We Hate at the Wedding, which I think is being developed into a limited series. And hey, I noticed that Ginder recommended Marrying the Ketchups: "Jennifer Close at her best: a smart, funny, bighearted novel that proves the remarkable power of family (and French fries) to heal us during truly bewildering times."

--Speaking of Katherine Heiny, she also has something to say about Marrying the Ketchups: "Funny and melancholy and astoundingly smart all at the same time."

If you're wondering what the inspiration for the book is, Close got the idea for the book while waitressing at Hackneys. Unlike Sullivan's, Hackney's is still going strong after 80 years! I think I need to go there - though I should note it's in Glenview, not Oak Park. So to be clear, Sullivan's is not Hackney's - it's just where Close got the idea.

Just like Black's bookstore in Lauren Fox's first novel, Still Life with Husband, was not the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop in Shorewood. Just inspiration. Did I mention that Fox is another Jenny Jackson author? And did I mention that if you like Lauren Fox, you also should consider reading Jennifer Close's Marrying the Ketchups? And did I mention that Fox will be the conversation partner for Close on Friday? And if you are reading after Friday, do you want to watch that event right now? It might be available here.

That's a lot of things to forget to mention.

Marrying the Ketchups
called for a foodier event than what we wound up setting up and if we still weren't doing the COVID shuffle, maybe we would have had our event at a restaurant, or  brought in treats, or something. But we're definitely still at the stage where just having the event in person is a big deal. And while we're talking about it - masks required at this one. Thanks for understanding.

And don't forget, Jennifer Close is part of our 13th anniversary celebration, in conversation, as previously mentioned, with Lauren Fox (at right). We'd love for you to join us on Friday, April 29, 7 pm Central time. And if you can't attend, we're broadcasting it for you to watch at home. Register for either option at

*I don't think I am being targeted to read The Smart One, but then I saw the paperback cover for Mary Jane, another of my favorites, and thought maybe I'm supposed to pay attention to novels featuring sunbathing women.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending April 23, 2022

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending April 23, 2022

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St. John Mandel (tip-in signed copies available)
2. The Cartographers, by Peng Shepherd (a few title page signed copies still available)
3. The World of Pondside, by Mary Helen Stefaniak (title page signed copies will be available)
4. Fevered Star, by Rebecca Roanhorse
5. Time Is a Mother, by Ocean Vuong
6. Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus
7. The Sentence, by Louise Erdrich
8. The Candy House, by Jennifer Egan
9. The Christie Affair, by Nina De Gramont
10. Passerthrough, by Peter Rock

Rebecca Roanhorse's long-awaited sequel to the Black Sun, finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Lambda, and Locus awards, is Fevered Star  Kirkus writes: "Even a middle book from Roanhorse is still a book from Roanhorse, with all the excellent plot machinations and stellar prose that readers know to expect from her. She delves further into the political history of the Meridian and saves room for a few big twists to wind up the anticipation for Book 3. An excellent second installment that adds even more detail and intrigue."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Healing, by Theresa Brown (title-page signed copies available)
2. Bittersweet, by Susan Cain (tip-in signed copies available)
3. In Praise of Good Bookstores, by Jeff Deutch (Register for April 25 event here- in person and broadcast)
4. Still Just a Geek, by Wil Wheaton
5. Hello, Molly!, by Molly Shannon with Sean Wilsey
6. Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner
7. Welcome to the Universe in 3D, by Neil DeGase Tyson et al
8. Feel Good Smoothies, by Sandra Wu
9. Atlas of the Heart, by Brené Brown
10. I Dream of Dinner So You Don't Have To, by Ali Slagle

As I know I've mentioned before, I like a good celebrity memoir, but for most of the ones I start, I don't get past page 25. I like Molly Shannon's work, but it was her collaboration with Sean Wilsey (Oh the Glory of It All) that convinced me to give Hello, Molly! a try. And the reviews have been great. From Alexandra Jacobs in The New York Times: "Underneath any shenanigans in Hello Molly, there is bottomless pathos. As a small child Shannon had a 'very dirty' neck, because it was difficult for her father, with his leg braces, to get upstairs to give her a bath. She luxuriated in other children’s mothers shampooing her hair before a school show. (I love her bitter, unrealized vision for a sketch about 'Hot Cocoa Girls,' those more fortunate, self-coddling peers, who are 'always chilly' and wrap themselves in fuzzy blankets.) Now a mother herself, when other people complain about parenting, she thinks: 'There is nothing to be upset about. We’re alive!' There are few better mantras."

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Glass Hotel, by Emily St. John Mandel
2. The Book of M, by Peng Shepherd
3. Almost Crimson, by Dasha Kelly Hamilton (currently out of print)
4. Shady Hollow, by Juneau Black (Register for May 6 in person event)
5. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
6. Ariadne, by Jennifer Saint
7. Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro
8. The House in the Cerulea Sea, by TJ Klune
9. The Great Circle, by Maggie Shipstead
10. Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Ownes

In its third week of paperback sale, Ariadne pops into our top ten. Billed as a great book for folks who liked Madeline Miller's Circe. Focusing on the titular Princess of Crete and her brother The Minotaur. From Kayla Provencher in Book Reporter: "Saint’s writing is so vivid that her descriptions make it hard to remember where you are. You could be on your couch, a beach or even a city bus and find yourself warmed by the heat of the sun on the island of Naxos or plunged into the inky quiet of the cosmos. She paints emotions so expertly that they may mix with the blood in your veins, inspiring ache and anger and coloring the world when you once again realize that there is a world outside of this book."

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Life In Short, by Dasha Kelly Hamilton
2. Call It Forth, by Dasha Kelly Hamilton
3. New York Times Cooking No-Recipe Recipes, by Sam Sifton
4. Giannis, by Mirin Fader
5. Entangled Life, by Merlin Sheldrake
6. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
7. The Bookseller of Florence, by Ross King
8. The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk
9. Forest Walking, by Peter Wohlleben
10. Dancing with the Octopus, by Debora Harding (Register for May 14 virtual event here - don't forget to use code  FD8EB6 at checkout.)

It's pub week for the paperback edition of Ross King's The Bookseller of Florence: The Story of the Manuscripts That Illuminated the Rennaissance. I looked up past sales for King and while we've put up tremendous numbers for King's paperbacks, The Bookseller of Florence is our bestselling hardcover for King, his first at Grove/Atlantic after a number of books at Walker/Bloomsbury. From Ernest Hilbert in The Wall Street Journal: "His latest work is a marvel of storytelling and a master class in the history of the book, explaining sometimes arcane bookmaking processes in clear and coherent language while lending an easy touch to otherwise confounding historical turmoil. The Bookseller of Florence is a dazzling, instructive and highly entertaining book, worthy of the great bookseller it celebrates."

Books for Kids:
1. Fierce, by Aly Raisman
2. Watercress, by Andrea Wang, illustrations by Jason Chin
3. The Edge of In Between, by Lorelei Savaryn
4. Cat Kid Comic Club On Purpose V3, by Dav Pilkey
5. The Ogress and the Orphans, by Kelly Barnhill
6. The Book of Questions, by Pablo Neruda, illustrations by Valdivia Paloma
7. The Circus of Stolen Dreams, by Lorelei Savaryn
8. Heartstopper V1, by Alice Oseman
9. Heartstopper V4, by Alice Oseman
10. Worm Weather, by Jean Taft

Lorelei Savaryn did some school visits for us this week. Her latest, The Edge of In Between, is, per the publisher, a spellbinding tale of magical realism and superb, twisty retelling of The Secret Garden, where twelve-year-old Lottie’s colorful world turns suddenly gray when an unexpected accident claims her parents, and she is uprooted from her home to live with an eccentric uncle she never knew she had - on the border that separates the living and the dead. From Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books: "Burnett fans will find familiarity and appeal here, but knowledge of the influencing novel is not necessary; magical realism buffs will be quickly drawn into this world where people can bounce back from sorrow and regain their supernatural gifts, as long as they have the right help."

Event blog tomorrow.

Also note that changes are coming to the Boswell blogs. The discontinuation of Feedburner's email feature means we need to look at a new subscription model and we might use this opportunity to make a few other changes. We'll keep you posted.

Monday, April 18, 2022

what a week! Peng Shepherd for The Cartographers (in person and broadcast), Susan Cain on Bittersweet (virtual), Theresa Brown for Healing (in person), Mary Helen Stefaniak of The World of Pondside (virtual) and Jeff Deutsch on bookstores next MOnday.

Lots of good stuff this week!

Hybrid - Monday, April 18, 6:30 pm Central
Peng Shepherd, author of The Cartographers
In conversation with Jim Higgins for A Hybrid Event at Boswell Book Company
Register for both in-person and virtual attendance for this event now at

The Cartographers is a highly imaginative thriller about a young woman who discovers that a strange map in her deceased father’s belongings holds an incredible, deadly secret, one that will lead her on an extraordinary adventure and to the truth about her family’s dark history. Shepard's writing combines atmospheric prose and solid plotting and should appeal to fans of Joe Hill, VE Schwab, and Justin Cronin. For this event, Shepherd will be in conversation with Jim Higgins of the Journal Sentinel. And as a special bonus, Marcy Bidney, curator of the UWM American Geographical Society Map Library, will bring the coveted map highlighted in the novel. To our knowledge, this edition isn't magical. 

We have had no less than five Boswellians read The Cartographers. I guess there just aren't enough speculative thrillers about mapmaking out there! Kay Wosewick noteed that "Sharp characters, eerie settings, and many twists add up to a very satisfying thriller." And our buyer Jason Kennedy called it "a fun and twisty read."

And while Vivian Shaw is not a Boswelllian, she might just become an honorary one after her review in The Washington Post: "One of the triumphs of The Cartographers is the exploration of what it means to make a map. Does the act of surveying, measuring, drafting and drawing the map affect the landscape it represents? Is it possible to map something without altering it in the process? How accurate can any map be, given that it only represents a snapshot of that landscape at one point in time, and to what extent does this matter? The Cartographers explores these questions with deep, vivid intensity; it will make you think twice about the power of paper maps, especially in a world where they’ve been supplanted by electronic devices."

Virtual - Wednesday, April 20, 9:30 am Central
Susan Cain, author of Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole
in Conversation with Sally Haldorson for a Virtual Event
Click here to register now for this virtual event. And be sure to order your copy of Bittersweet from Boswell or Porchlight.

Boswell Book Company and Porchlight Book Company present a morning event with Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, for a conversation about her new book, Bittersweet, which reveals the power of a bittersweet outlook on life and why we've been so blind to its value. In conversation with Sally Haldorson, Managing Director of Porchlight. We should note that Quiet has been on the NYT bestseller list for years and Cain's TED talk on the power of introverts has been viewed over 40 million times.

Early praise for Bittersweet includes this, from Drive and The Power of Regret author Daniel H Pink: "Bittersweet is astonishing - one of the most gracefully written, palpably human books I’ve read in years. Its powerful case will reshape how you think about yourself and those you love. Its sheer beauty will linger in your heart long after you turn the final page." And from Brené Brown: "Bittersweet grabs you by the heart and doesn’t let go. I’ve thought about the depth and beauty in Cain’s research and storytelling every day since I finished the book. I will always be grateful for how much Quiet and Bittersweet have helped me understand myself and how I engage with the world."

The virtual event series with Porchlight Books is a must-watch! Watch previous events with Katherine May and Lillian Faderman here, and you can register for the May 16 event with Chloe Cooper-Jones for Easy Beauty here.

In-Person - Wednesday, April 20, 6:30 pm
Theresa Brown, author of Healing: When a Nurse Becomes a Patient
In Conversation with Cheryl Bailey, In-Person at Boswell Book Company
Register for this in-person event here.

Boswell Book Company hosts an evening with Theresa Brown, the New York Times bestselling author of The Shift and Critical Care, for a conversation about her new book, in which the caregiver becomes the patient as she offers a poignant, powerful, and intensely personal account of her experience of breast cancer. Cosponsored by ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis. Cheryl Bailey is Dean of the School of Natural and Health Sciences at Mount Mary University, including the nursing program.

Bestselling author and oncology nurse Theresa Brown brings us along with her from the mammogram that would change her life through her diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. Despite her training and years of experience as an oncology and hospice nurse, she finds herself continually surprised by the lack of compassion in the medical maze - just as so many of us have. Where is the empathy from caregivers? Why is she so often left in the dark about procedures and treatments? At times she’s mad at herself for not speaking up and asking for what she needs but knows that being labeled a 'difficult' patient could mean she gets worse care. As she did in The Shift, Brown draws us into her work with the unforgettable details of her daily life - the needles, the chemo drugs, the rubber gloves, the frustrated patients - but from her new perch as a patient, she also takes a look back with rare candor at some of her own cases as a nurse and considers what she didn’t know then and what she could have done better. 

Virtual - Thursday, April 21, 7 pm
Mary Helen Stefaniak, author of The World of Pondside
in Conversation with Valerie Laken for a Virtual Event
Click here to register. Ask for your signed bookplate - or if you are patient, we can get you a signed personalized copy.

The award-winning author (and Milwaukee native!) of The Turk and My Mother, The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia, and Self Storage chats about her blissful, treacherous, and unforgettable new novel of nursing-home residents entering a virtual reality that leads to a real death: The World of Pondside. In conversation with UWM’s Valerie Laken. Stefaniak is Professor Emerita of Creative Writing at Creighton University and currently teaches for Pacific University's low residency MFA program, along with Laken.

With help from Pondside Manor's quirky, twentysomething ‘kitchen boy,’ wheelchair-bound resident Robert Kallman creates a video game that delights the rest home's residents by allowing them to virtually relive blissful moments from days long past-or even create new ones. Then chaos ensues when he's discovered dead, strapped in his wheelchair and drowned in the rest home's pond. It’s far from clear if this brilliant man's death was suicide or murder. The game goes dark, the players grow desperate. A raucous bunch of misfits suffering from various stages of dementia and other age-related afflictions work to get the game back online, and their pursuit has unintended consequences, uncovering a criminal conspiracy. From Pondside Manor, an astonishing journey is embarked upon, one blissful, treacherous, and unforgettable.

Willy Vlautin, author of The Night Always Comes, says: "There's so much I love about this novel. It manages that rare of feat of being many things at once: funny, endearing, heartbreaking, suspenseful, hopeful, and tragic. Welcome to the world of Pondside Manor nursing home. A real gem of a book that I couldn't put down." And Booklist noted: "Stefaniak infuses an often forbidding and depressing environment with joy and dignity in this Agatha Christie-esque cyber caper."

Hybrid - Monday, April 25, 6:30 pm
Jeff Deutsch, author of In Praise of Good Bookstores
In Conversation with Daniel Goldin and In-Person at Boswell Book Company
Click here to register for this event, in person or broadcast!

Boswell is pleased to host an evening featuring Jeff Deutsch, Director of Chicago’s Seminary Co-op Bookstore, for a celebration of his new book, In Praise of Good Bookstores, an eloquent and charming reflection on the singular importance of our business. In conversation with Boswell proprietor Daniel Goldin.

In the age of one-click shopping, this is no ordinary defense of bookstores, but rather an urgent account of why they are essential places of discovery, refuge, and fulfillment that enrich the communities that are lucky enough to have them. The question has been asked, though we have our own opinion: Do we need bookstores in the twenty-first century? If so, what makes a good one? Deutsch pays loving tribute to one of our most important and endangered civic institutions. He considers how qualities like space, time, abundance, and community find expression in a good bookstore. Along the way, he also predicts - perhaps audaciously - a future in which the bookstore not only endures, but realizes its highest aspirations.

In exploring why good bookstores matter, Deutsch draws on his lifelong experience as a bookseller, and also his upbringing as an Orthodox Jew. This spiritual and cultural heritage instilled in him a reverence for reading as an essential part of a meaningful life. Central among Deutsch’s arguments for the necessity of bookstores is the incalculable value of browsing - since, when we are deep in the act of looking at the shelves, we move through space as though we are inside the mind itself, immersed in self-reflection.

More on the Boswell upcoming events page.

Photo credits:
Susan Cain by Aaron Feder
Theresa Brown by Heather Kresge

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Boswell bestseller bloggareeno - week ending April 16, 2022

Boswell is open 10 am to 5 pm today. Here are this week's bestsellers.
Hardcover Fiction:
1. Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St John Mandel
2. The Cartographers, by Peng Shepherd (More on April 18 event here)
3. Time Is a Mother, by Ocean Vuong
4. Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus
5. Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir
6. The Runaway, by Nick Petrie
7. The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig
8. Danger on the Atlantic, by Erica Ruth Neubauer
9. Crossroads, by Jonathan Franzen
10. The Lincoln Highway, by Amor Towles (Tickets for May 20 event here)

In its second week of sale, Bonnie Garmus's Lessons in Chemistry jumps into our top 10. This Good Morning America book club selection has gotten mostly great reviews (with the notable exception of increasingly grumpy Publishers Weekly). Here's Karen Heller in The Washington Post: "Like Laura Ingalls Wilder and Judith Krantz, Bonnie Garmus is a latecomer to the literary scene. This week she publishes her first book - the sparkling novel Lessons in Chemistry - days shy of her 65th birthday. Hurray for this! If we’re going to continually fuss over newly minted MFA wunderkinds landing two-book deals, let us also raise a glass - or, better yet, Garmus’s book - in honor of this rarer breed of first-time novelists. With Lessons in Chemistry, Garmus, a venerable copywriter and creative director, delivers an assured voice, an indelible heroine and several love stories - that of a mother for her daughter, a woman for science, a dog for a child, and between a woman and man."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Atlas of the Heart, by Brené Brown
2. Still Just a Geek, by Wil Wheaton
3. Bittersweet, by Susan Cain (register for April 20 event here)
4. Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner
5. The 1619 Project, created by Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times
6. We Don't Know Ourselves, by Fintan O'Toole
7. Different, by Frans De Waal
8. How the Word Is Passed, by Clint Smith
9. Sicker in the Head, by Judd Apatow
10. Freezing Order, by Bill Browder

Frans De Waal's Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatoloist has been reviewed in The New York Times and elsewhere. From the starred Kirkus: "World-renowned primatologist de Waal draws on a long career of investigating chimpanzees and bonobos - both equally close to humans genetically - to argue with wit and clarity against assumptions about sex and gender that generate inequality. With anthropoid apes his main focus, the author also looks to many other species (mice, tortoises, marmosets, and whales, among them) for evidence in responding to salient questions: Does the behavior of men and women differ naturally, or is it culturally determined? ... Engaging, enlightening, and deeply informative."

Paperback Fiction:
1. Shady Hollow, by Juneau Black (Register for May 6 in-person and broadcast event here)
2. Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel
3. Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro
4. The House in the Cerulean Sea, by TJ Klune
5. The Glass Hotel, by Emily St John Mandel
6. Circe, by Madeline Miller
7. The Coyotes of Carthage, by Steven Wright (Register for April 27 in person event here)
8. Purple Hibiscus, by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie
9. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
10. To Marry and to Meddle, by Martha Waters

Last Year Rachel did a great conversation with Martha Waters, author of To Love and to Loathe (which you can watch here). To Marry and to Meddle, the next book in the series, came out on April 5 and with sales increasing in week two, it jumps into our top 10 for the first time. Library Journal notes: "Fans of Waters's Regency Vows series will be thrilled to see oh-so-proper Emily, the third member of a trio of friends, come into her own and attain her much deserved happily-ever-after in this latest installment." Continues Kirkus: "Waters' latest is awash with light, witty banter, unadulterated confessions of love, and plenty of steamy, corset-unraveling sex scenes. Emily's happy ending mercifully involves a lot less plotting than those of Waters' previous heroines, and all the feline hijinks brought about by Cecil Lucifer Beelzebub Turner-Belfry adds to the sweet, cozy feelings you can't help but revel in while reading this book. A charming London romp perfect for theater nerds, cat lovers, and hopeless romantics."

It should also be noted that the Vintage imprint has four of our top five titles on this list.  

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
2. The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk
3. The Reign of Wolf 21, by Rick McIntyre
4. Broken Horses, by Brandi Carlile
5. Giannis, by Mirin Fader
6. Forest Walking, by Peter Wohlleben
7. The Quaking of America, by Resmaa Menakem
8. Tokyo Vice, by Jake Adelstein
9. Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
10. We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimananda Nogozi Adichie

Resmaa Menakem follows up My Grandmother's Hands with The Quaking of America: An Embodied Guide to Navigating Our Nation's Upheaval and Racial Reckoning, which officially was published this week. This former Milwaukeean has gotten enthusiastic quotes from folks such as Michael Eric Dyson, who wrote, "Resmaa Menakem is one of our country's most gifted racial healers. His brilliant new book could not be more timely - a volume our country, our bodies, and our humanity desperately need. The Quaking of America offers wisdom and liberation, not only for Black, Brown, or Indigenous folk, but for all Americans."

Books for Kids:
1. Cat Kid Comic Club On Purpose V3, by Dav Pilkey
2. The Ultimate Biography of Earth, by Nick Lund, illustrations by Jason Ford
3. The Overground Railroad, Young Adult Adaptation, by Candacy Taylor
4. The Ogress and the Orphans, by Kelly Barnhill
5. Hotel Magnifique, by Emily J Taylor
6. The Lost Dreamer, by Lizz Huerta
7. Lulu and Rocky in Milwaukee, by Barbara Joosse, illustrations by Renée Graef
8. Flames of Hope V15, by Tui T Sutherland
9. Starla Jean, Elana K Arnold
10. Starla Jean Takes the Cake, by Elana K Arnold

Hotel Magnifique is a new YA (recommended for 12 and up) that pops into our top 10 on its second week out. I don't see one yet, but it seems like the kind of book that Jenny might have a rec for. We also have a friend at Alliance Française who reads in the genre, so if she hasn't read it yet, I'd recommend it to her. From Kirkus: Taylor eloquently builds an immersive, believable world of magic, heavily influenced by French culture and brimming with interesting characters readers will grow to love and care about as they solve the mysteries of the hotel and free themselves from their gilded cage. The complex characters who evolve throughout the story are diverse in skin color, body type, sexual orientation, and financial means. Even those well read in the genre will enjoy some genuine surprises. A wondrous read for anyone searching for a bit of magic"

Monday, April 11, 2022

Spotlight on Emily St John Mandel and Peng Shepherd

Here's what's going on.

Thursday, April 14, 12 pm, at the Wisconsin Club
The Friends of the Milwaukee Public Library Literary Lunch
Emily St John Mandel, author of Sea of Tranquility
In conversation with Marcella Kearns of Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
Virtual tickets available here

Tickets for this in-person luncheon are sold out, but virtual broadcast tickets are still available on the Friends website. It will be a Zoom setup, and I should just note that Chris is doing the tech for this, though Mandel and Kearns will have lavalier microphones instead of the hand-held ones we use in the bookstore. Books are signed (tip-in) too.

Sea of Tranquility
is getting amazing reviews and rightfully so. It's a powerful reading experience. Kevin Canfield in the Star Tribune called it a "full-on mind-blower," continuing: "Inspired by real-world ills and eccentric philosophical theories, Mandel has crafted an enthralling narrative puzzle, plunging her relatable characters into a tale that spans five centuries." I should also note between the great reviews and word of mouth for The Glass Hotel, and the Station Eleven HBO Max series, her previous two novels are still selling great, such that I had to do an emergency reorder of those books over the weekend.

I should also note that this is at least the fourth in-person trip to the Milwaukee area (she also did Shorewood Reads and she might have done another regional "read" as well) plus we did our very first virtual author event with Mandel for The Glass Hotel. We had a lot of programs cancelled in March and April of 2020 - it was only in the third week that we figured out how to do these Zoom programs.

Here's Tim's rec. Jenny and I read it too, but mine is pretty short, as I was trying to hit the deadline for the Indie Next list: "I'm trying to understand why Mandel's writing casts a spell on me. I don’t have a complete answer, but I’ve decided on this: her style is steady and beautiful, she’s smart without sounding pretentious, and her characters feel true. There's a flesh and blood intimacy about them that makes me feel safe in their world, even as we’re brought to the edge of catastrophe. When tragedy comes, I want to face it with these fictional people. This novel builds on The Glass Hotel (which I loved!) and Station Eleven (which I now must read!). It brings the past and future together as if connections across time are waiting to be discovered. It throws our reality into doubt by questioning how we came to be, and it shows us that technology will never hide our humanity. I’ll forgo the summary and just say that Mandel has created a dazzling story with humble simplicity, then tied it tight with a perfect ending."

Monday, April 18, 6:30 pm, at Boswell
Peng Shepherd, author of The Cartographers
in Conversation with Jim Higgins of the Journal Sentinel
Register for this event here

Talk about a hot book. All our copies are on hold of this book, and that's after I placed a good-sized event order. We've had no less than five reads on this novel (including me - I finished The Cartographers over the weekend), a speculative mystery-thriller that has an element of romance and a lot of map lore. I don't know what sells the book the most, but Jason and I concur that a lot of our customers really love maps. In addition to a great conversation with Jim Higgins, Marcy Bidney of the UWM American Geographical Society Library will be attending with a few maps that readers are going to love!

Despite respectable but hardly blowout sales on The Book of M, not only are we selling The Cartographers in bestseller numbers, but we have a very strong registration too. We might even hit capacity, and that's with our new higher capacity (though admittedly, not quite the capacity that we had pre-COVID.) The book is reminding me a bit of City of Dark Magic, by Magnus Flyte (Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch), another book that blew out expectations that had a similar multi-genre appeal. It even has a hero with a similar skillset, though in this case she's cataloging music manuscripts instead of mapmaking. I contest that both jobs are librarian adjacent!

Here's what Kay had to say about The Cartographers: "The Cartographers is set alternately in New York Public Library's spectacular and slightly mysterious cartography room and in a rural New York home about 20 years ago where a tight knit group of PhD cartography students spent a summer working on what they were certain would be a mapping masterpiece. A fire and a death ended their project and scattered the students. Now, one of them - a cartographer at the NYPL - has died at work under suspicious circumstances, and his daughter is obsessed with learning why an old NY state road map was the only item in her father's special hiding place. As both stories move forward, old mysteries are revealed and new mysteries arise. Sharp characters, eerie settings, and many twists add up to a very satisfying thriller. "

Whatever you say about our two next event novels, they are both thrill rides of a sort. And the two events have something in common too - You've already lost your chance to see Emily St John Mandel in person; don't pass up Peng Shepherd.

More on the Boswell upcoming events page.

Photo credits
Emily St. John Mandel by Sarah Shatz