Wednesday, May 20, 2020, Day 4066 - Chris on Reading Backwards
From Chris: As a reader, I am by no means a completist. I tend to jump from book to book and author to author without much thought about it beyond “what’s on top of the closest pile to this seat?” and “am I in the mood for a serious literary exploration of the contemporary milieu or for something with megasharks and meth gators in it?” I think a part of this is that even if I love a book, when I flip to the good old “also by” page in the front, the author’s list of other work starts to look, to me, an awful lot like a required reading assessment sheet. And if there is one thing I cannot do, it’s required reading.
But - but but but - every now and then, a book is so good that I have to spend more time with the author. It’s usually a writer’s voice, the kind that grabs me from the first page and weasels its way into my head until I can’t stop hearing it. Or it’s a writer with such an original perspective on the world that I can’t wait to have my mind re-blown. And then that Also By page starts looking a lot less like a chore and a lot more like something to celebrate. Yay, there’s more to read by this freakin’ genius!
First and most recently, the book that inspired this post - if you’ve followed the Boswellians blog, you know a couple weeks ago I interviewed Rufi Thorpe about her latest novel, The Knockout Queen. It’s my favorite book of the year, and her writing voice is so good - smart, funny, written with uncanny clarity - that I had to read more. And so I just finished her first novel, The Girls from Corona Del Mar. Amazing!
Then there's Last Night at the Lobster, an unforgettable singe-day-in-the-life-of-a-failing-chain-restaurant-manager novel that crams more life into just over 100 pages than a lot of books cram into three or four hundred pages. I had to read more. I haven’t read every book of his (yet!) but a couple particular favorites of the O’Nan canon (the O’Nanon) are The Night Country (sadly out of print) and Snow Angels, which of course was the novel-turned-film that catapulted O’Nan’s career.One more book I finished recently was so good I had to share it with my girlfriend, who red it all in a day on our couch intermittently shouting to me, “Mr. Lanksy has written quite a book!” Why was she shouting? I was sitting three feet away! That’s simply how good Sam Lanksy’s Broken People (out June 9) is - so good you have to shout. It’s rangy, searching, and razor-sharply self-critical autofiction about Sam, a broken young writer desperate to be healed via a weekend ayahuasca trip led by a bougie middle-aged white guy shaman. So good, in fact, that I immediately purchased a copy of Lanksy’s first book, a memoir called The Gilded Razor about Lanksy’s youth as an all-star student at an elite New York City prep school whose addiction to prescription pills spirals rapidly out of control.
Read more for Chri's post right here on the Boswelians blog!
Wednesday, May 13, 2020, Day 4059 - Jenny has Five Questions for Picture Book Author Pat Zietlow Miller
From Jenny: Today on the blog I’m chatting with New York Times bestselling author Pat Zietlow Miller about My Brother the Duck, her adorable new book about welcoming (or not) a sibling. Pat’s latest is perfect for kids ages 3-7 and guaranteed to cause smiles and laughter in grown up kids of all ages. Here at Boswell, we all have our favorite picture books, and we all know that outgrowing picture books would be like outgrowing birthday cake. It just doesn’t happen. Picture books help adults remember what it’s like to be a kid and help kids work through problems like not being particularly excited about a baby brother.
Jenny Chou: Welcome, Pat, and thanks for joining me on The Boswellians Blog! I always like to start by finding out more about the main character’s biggest problems. It doesn’t matter if you're writing picture books, middle grade, or literary fiction for adults. Every main character stumbles over some sort of obstacle on her way to the end of the book. Beyond having a brother who might be a duck (which might actually be kind of fun), what are Stella's challenges as she determines if she’s truly related to water fowl or not?
Pat Zietlow Miller: Like all good scientists, Stella is on a quest to discover the truth. She has information﹣ things she’s seen and heard. And, she understands the scientific process﹣form a hypothesis and test it. But, Stella is only a kid, with a kid’s limited view of the world and how it works. So there are clues she misses and information she misinterprets. And, those things get in her way as she does her research. But, she keeps working and trying and is so earnest. She wants to get it right, and that counts for a lot.
JC: What inspired you to tell a story about an inquisitive girl who loves science? If you could be a scientist, what kind would you be?
PZM: I’ve always been fascinated by how kids can hear adults joking and take them very seriously. When one of my daughters was little, she was at a summer art camp. The instructor told her: “If you keep asking questions, I’m going to have to charge you extra!” She came home very concerned that this was true. I had to reassure that the teacher was joking, and she could ask all the questions she wanted, and we wouldn’t be getting an extra bill. So, when Stella hears her dad joking that they must be expecting a baby duck, she takes his statement at face value. I thought it would be cool if she liked science and was smart enough to know that she should conduct research. Early on, I considered having Stella be a detective with a case to solve, but that seemed a little too close to Nate the Great. As for what kind of scientist I’d be if I could, I think I’d be a geologist. I enjoyed the one geology class I took in college, and I have a rock-loving daughter.
For more of Jenny's interview, including great picture book recommendations from Zietlow Miller, check out the full post on the Boswellians blog today!
Tuesday, May 12, 2020, Day 4058 - Laffin' With Madi - A Funny Books Blog Post
From Madi: Right now, everyone everywhere is facing a difficult time. Whether you are cooped up at home or still working, almost everything is unfamiliar and a bit frightening. Lately I have been getting a decent number of customers who ask for some escapism, whether that be through a fantasy series or a mystery to engross their attention, or just something funny and light. I usually spend my free time with horror or true crime, but right now even I need something uplifting. So, I decided to revisit some books that really made me laugh- not just a slight chuckle under my breath, but a hearty, out-loud laugh.
I have been binge re-watching Bob’s Burgers. It is one of my favorite shows, and my go to for when I’m in a bad mood or feeling down. Luckily, the voice actor behind the titular lead has a hilarious book: Failure is an Option: An Attempted Memoir by Bob himself, H. Jon Benjamin. For another familiar voice, this one from the podcast Two Dope Queens, I recommend Phoebe Robinson’s You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain. I started reading this book one morning and finished it later that night. It. Is. That. Good!
One of my favorite books to come out this year is Cameron Esposito’s Save Yourself! I have long been a fan of Esposito’s stand up; she is always honest about her experiences and has been a voice for feminists and the LGBTQ+ community. The memoir only made me love her more. And now for something completely different. Being in the house with my husband has had me watching more Monty Python than ever in my life. He will randomly put on The Holy Grail or The Life of Brian and giggle himself silly. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy them too - but my husband has been a lifelong fan. That’s why I am including Eric Idle’s book, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. And I must include one of my favorite comic’s brand-new book: Mike Birbiglia’s The New One is the book adaption of his one man show by the same name. Read this snuggled up with your dog like I did, and you too will feel warm and fuzzy.
I hope at least one of these books brings some humor in this hard time. Even if it’s just a closed mouth, through-your-nose snort, it is still something to help lift your spirits. And then, if you’re still following my lead, you can snuggle up under the covers and continue your true crime documentary marathon.
Read further notes from Madi on each book right here on the Boswellians blog!
Monday, May 11, 2020, Day 4057 - Daniel Recap's the Past Week's Boswell Book Company Bestsellers
From Daniel: We continue to be fascinated at how certain adult fiction titles take off in a bigger way than normal while most other books where we'd typically sell some copies of get left behind. Media (social and otherwise) has a bigger impact and virtual browsing comes up short. Our first-week sales for All Adults Here are about half of life of the book for the hardcover sales of Emma Straub's last two novels, The Vacationers (which exploded in paperback for us) and Modern Lovers. From Barbara VanDenburgh at USA Today/Arizaona Republic: "All Adults Here tackles a laundry list of big-ticket items, any one of which could have commanded its own book: transgenderism, homosexuality, abortion, bullying, artificial insemination and extramarital affairs among them. Straub juggles the weighty topics with a feather-light touch, funny without being flip, with keen insights into how we evolve through every stage of life. From adolescent Cecilia to senior citizen Astrid, everyone is figuring out every day how to live."
And Big Summer already exceeded our hardcover sales of Jennifer Weiner's last, Mrs. Everything. From Angela Haupt in The Washington Post: "The novel, Weiner’s 14th, was originally set to publish on May 19, but when the coronavirus pandemic hit, Simon and Schuster bumped up the release by two weeks. The sooner readers had this dose of summer fun in their hands, the better - and it delivers. Weiner takes a breezy romp through online influencer culture, leveling an “I see you” gaze at the Instagram fake-it-till-you-make-it crowd. It’s deliciously fun: frothy entertainment with surprising depth."
Ah, events that might have been. We were literally talking to the publisher for two years to put together a program for Bill Buford when Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking was finally finished, but it eventually became clear that this wasn't going to happen. It's almost better that the event died in prep, as we're still cleaning our ticketing problems with Brown Paper Tickets with announced events. (Here's the latest on that from the Seattle Times, complete with Washington Attorney General complaints.) Meanwhile, here's Eleanor Beardsley on Buford's Dirt on NPR: "I've lived in Paris for 16 years and I've never read Buford. So I first feared Dirt might be yet another expat tale of moving to France en famille, with all its tedious clichés. I should have known better. Buford is a longtime fiction editor at The New Yorker magazine and author of Heat, a best-selling depiction of the city's restaurant scene. He is knowledgeable, quick and funny - and Dirt is a work of cultural, historical and gastronomical depth that reads like an action memoir."
Read Daniel's full notes on the bestselling books at the store right here on the Boswell and Books Blog!
Tuesday, May 5, 2020, Day 4051 - Tim Takes Flight - Backyard Beauty
From Tim: I sense that we're all working hard to keep our spirits up these days. As a teacher, I got a masters degree in environmental education from UW-Stevens Point and spent a lot of time working with kids as they developed a love of nature and an understanding of ecology. There's something about open land and wooded areas that calmed me, even while I was supervising a lot of very active children. Today I'm retired from teaching, but I still have have the joy of seeing and hearing birds with a wonderful four-year-old. And even if I'm only sitting and looking at the beautiful variety of Wisconsin birds pictured in these books, I feel a little better about the world. I wish everyone the best of health, and a bit of serenity every now and then.
Charles Hagner's new Field Guide to Birds of Wisconsin is simple, informative, and beautifully photographed. There are other great Wisconsin bird books, but the extraordinary photos, the clear organization by species, and the compact and durable design make this guide perfect for use in the field or in a living room. David Allen Sibley, of the world renowned Sibley Field Guides, has done a remarkable new book called What It's Like to be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing - What Birds Are Doing, and Why. A wealth of information on the physical makeup and behavior of a wide variety of birds is presented in a beautiful design. Each double page layout focuses on one species, often with a life-sized illustration, making it a visually exciting book for sharing between kids and adults. This is a book to savor in your lap as you take time to look out your window.
Taking Flight: A History of Birds and People in the Heart of America. This book captivated me! Edmonds is a wonderful writer and a member of the Wisconsin Historical Society staff. He's done his homework here. The book combines beautiful color illustrations (Audubon Prints, Edward Curtis photos, George Catlin paintings, historic maps, and much more) with exceptionally deep research. Birds of Wisconsin by Owen J. Gromme - Wisconsin's Owen Gromme has been called "the Dean of U.S. wildlife artists." His spectacular original oil paintings have often been displayed in Milwaukee.It's wonderful to look at, and perhaps an opportunity to learn more about a man who dedicated his life in many ways to nature.
Monday, May 4, 2020, Day 4050 - The Boswell Book Company Bestsellers
From Daniel: Here are this weeks bestselling titles. In general, it's another week dominated by hardcover fiction but the titles at the top of hardcover nonfiction and kids are making an impact too.
Our big debut was Chris's pick, The Knockout Queen, by Rufi Thorpe. Here's her talking about the character of Bunny in Chris's Boswellians interview: "Bunny is a fantasy. She is a form of wish fulfillment, because she has the physical power to enforce her will, and she also fails to be one of the empty doll women, but not because she is fat. Not being one of the doll women because you are fat is more complicated and the shame is still really confusing for me. That’s a whole other book, one I hope one day to write. But in this book, Bunny is kind of a violent repudiation of the empty doll women. They pop and hiss and deflate under the pressure of her."
A higher profile release is Lawrence Wright's The End of October, a pandemic thriller that was years in the making. From Douglas Preston in The New York Times Book Review: "I received the manuscript to review in early February, before the coronavirus triggered a world panic. I am writing this review in New York City in March, under a state of emergency, as the National Guard is cordoning off parts of New Rochelle, and the city’s streets and subways are emptying of people. God only knows where the world will be when this review is published later this spring. It has been a surreal experience reading a novel about a fictional pandemic in the midst of a real one."
A left-field entry onto our Hardcover Nonfiction list is Madame Clairevoyant's Guide to the Stars - up is down when an astrology book hits our bestseller list. I don't recall noting one in our 11 years in business, despite a lot of browsing interest in the section. Zan Romanoff profiled Claire Comstock-Gay's book in the Los Angeles Times, noting how astrology can reduce stress: "None of these books attempts to predict the future, nor do they offer the cheery, easily debunked assertions that horoscopes often make. Instead they mostly focus on astrology as a tool for self-reflection, which feels appropriate for a moment in which we’re all essentially trapped with ourselves. Who are we, and who do we want to be?"
See the full lists and much, much more right here, on the Boswell and Books blog!
Sunday, May 3, 2020, Day 4049 - Jenny Recaps Boswell's First Virtual School Visit from Gene Luen Yang
From Jenny: Here at Boswell we love bringing students and authors together for school visits. Authors talk about their journey to becoming a published writer, which usually started when they were kids. They mention what inspires them to write and the research they did on their book, and they tell students about hundreds of other interesting things ranging from Dakota Territory in the 1850s to rain forests to sled dog racing to how to craft a newspaper article. Since the cancellation of all our spring in-person events, we’ve been working with schools and publishers to make visits virtual.
Students at one local school had an opportunity to virtually meet award-winning, New York Times bestselling author and artist Gene Luen Yang over, and I got a chance to follow along. Here’s my take away from his presentation on Dragon Hoops, a graphic memoir about Yang's life, his family, and the high school where he taught for seventeen years.
Gene spoke to students about the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone and getting to know folks who on the surface you think are different than you. He learned that Lou loved books, and that he was so great at memorizing sports statistics that other kids used to call him “The Professor.” Turned out the basketball coach was a nerd, too - a nerdlete!
By following the team for one season, Gene found out how sports are a source of stories, and he discovered there are parallels between sports and the superhero comics he loved. Both are people in costumes doing superhuman feats. But the difference is that in comics, you know the outcome. Superman always wins. But even the best sports teams sometimes lose. Pretty big stakes for a young person. He was so impressed that the students on the basketball team were willing to step into uncertainty. Gene follows this theme of being brave enough to step into the unknown over and over in his book. Do the Dragons end up winning the California State Championships? As Gene said, “Read the book and find out!”
Thursday, April 30, 2020, Day 4044 - Daniel Goldin's on Celebrity Book Selector's Virtual Book Clubs
In the age of virtual everything, I'm not really sure whether our celebrity book club sales has popped at Boswell because other options have been closed off for purchase (online website delays, libraries closed for physical book borrowing) or because with so many folks staying at home, these book clubs offer something to do. In addition, several of our customers' book clubs went on hiatus until they worked out the kinks of converting to an online experience. But it appears their sales are rising with us.
Take Now Read This: The PBS/New York Times book club. While February's pick of American Prison (Shane Bauer) barely registered with us, March (Inheritance, by Dani Shapiro) and April (Disappearing Earth, by Julia Phillips) have both had sales pops, though I should note that April's is much closer to pub date and is also having a new-in-paper moment. Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine book club's April success has been staggering. I don't know if you can give the club complete responsibility for the success of Glennon Doyle's Untamed, especially considering that the February (The Scent Keeper, by Erica Bauermeister) and March (The Jetsetters, by Amanda Eyre Ward) had very minor sales for us. But then you get to January's Such a Fun Age from Kiley Reid, and you have what is likely one of our biggest bestsellers for 2020.
One of the great discoveries for me is that of all the celebrity book clubs, my taste meshes best with Jenna Bush Hager. I have read and enjoyed five of her last ten book club picks, and all but one had been contenders in my to-be-read pile. I also found the Good Housekeeping site listing the books that cleanest to navigate. Hager's last four books hit The New York Times bestseller list, with Valentine getting all the way to #2. Both Tim and I loved Valentine and we're still hoping to do a virtual event with Elizabeth Wetmore.
Our book sales spiked for Oprah Winfrey's (the grand dame of book club selectors in modern times) latest pick, Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, by Robert Kolker. While I wind up reading a number of these book club picks in advance-copy mindset, once they are picked, I tend to shy away; they don't need my help and rarely tour. But something about this book called to me, especially since I'd picked up and put down at least five other books after finishing the play, Kim's Convenience. No playing this down - I loved Hidden Valley Road!
Read Daniel's full blog post on the Boswell and Books blog for all of his many (there are a lot!) book and book club picks, including more on the book he fell in love with.
Wednesday, April 29, 2020, Day 4043 - Conrad's Quarantine Reading Synchronicities
From Conrad: We are living through difficult times. If climate change, school shootings, and the day-to-day barrage of horrifying news weren’t enough to reduce us all to quivering jellies of nervous exhaustion, along comes a global pandemic to seal the deal. Reading has always been a solace and means to gaining perspective, and this is true now more than ever.
I recently came down with a cold. Bad timing. Where once I would have shrugged it off as a minor inconvenience, this time I had no choice but to sequester myself. In my two weeks of confinement, I read a few books which, coupled with a few more I had also recently read, seemed to form a kind of pattern. While it is human nature to find structure in random chaos, I seemed to be able to link these books into a grander scheme.
Anyway! One of the more enjoyable things about being an avid reader is developing a stable of writers whose careers you follow closely and whose works you greedily devour as soon as they are out. Three of mine have new books this year: Arthur Phillips, with The King at the Edge of the World, Christopher Moore, with Shakespeare for Squirrels, and David Mitchell, with Utopia Avenue. Another perk is discovering new writers: some who are literally debuting, and others who have escaped notice until now: Steven Wright, with The Coyotes of Carthage (debut), Daniel Kehlmann, with Tyll (his sixth book), and Tom Cooper, with Florida Man (his second).
You'll want to check out Conrad's full post right here on the Boswellians blog and read his notes on each book and the ways they came together as he read them!
Sunday, April 26, 2020, Day 4040 - Author Interview - Jenny Chats with Joy McCullough
From Jenny: Today on the blog I’m thrilled to welcome Joy McCullough, author of the newly-released middle grade novel A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Joy’s luminous writing first caught my attention two years ago with the publication of her first book, a YA novel entitled Blood Water Paint. This enthralling novel tells the story of Renaissance artist Artemisia Gentileschi. At age seventeen, she was the apprentice to her father, a mediocre Italian painter, and she secretly filled his commissions. Written for teens who will feel empowered as they root for Artemisia, adult book clubs would enjoy a lively evening discussing her choices, too. Booklist called Blood Water Paint “captivating,” and it received a nomination for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. And made my list for Top Five Books of the Year - and I read a lot of books!
Jenny Chou: Welcome to the Boswellians Blog, Joy! Can you tell us about the challenges Sutton and Luis are facing in A Field Guide to Getting Lost? And what inspired you to tell their stories?
Joy McCullough: Thanks so much for having me! Sutton and Luis are two very different kids. Luis is imaginative and social, but he’s allergic to a ton of different things, and his very protective mom keeps him a bit isolated. Sutton’s mom, on the other hand, is all the way in Antarctica, and while she has a lot of other great adults around her, she’s really bummed Mom won’t be home for her tenth birthday. Their story first sparked for me when I was taking a walk with my visiting father who made a joke about being lost in the park. At first I thought it was a picture book, but it grew into middle grade!
Read the full interview right here on the Boswellians blog, in which Jenny and Joy talk penguins, publication paths, STEM, and more great books!
Thursday, April 23, 2020, Day 4037 - Author Interview - Chris Chats with Rufi Thorpe
From Chris: I'm lucky enough to get to interview the author of my tip top, #1, most favorite novel of the year - The Knockout Queen (on sale April 28 - preorder now). It's a frighteningly smart take on the classic 'unlikely friendship between teenage misfits' genre. I can't say enough good things about this book, but just know that if you only take one recommendation from me all year, if you only read one book all year, this is the one. Here are just a couple things we talked about during our interview:
Chris Lee: Three sentences into the book, I was in tears laughing so hard, and I spent the entire book alternately laughing, crying, and gasping along with your narrator Michael, who might be the drollest teenager of all time. He reads the world so clearly, and in some ways he's scarily self-assured, but at the same time, he's so full of hurt, so raw and tender and capable of being damaged. I can't think of another book in recent memory that's captured such a fully realized, so alive human being, so, I have to know - where did his voice come from?
Rufi Thorpe: Well, so I had been trying to write this book without him for about a year and it just wasn't working, and then I got the idea for him kind of in a flash and started writing a few sentences from his point of view and it was just an explosion, what had been plodding and difficult and dry was now blown sky high on a geyser of oil or something. It would be really fun to pretend that Michael was some ghost or astral entity communicating through me, but the fact that he kept bringing up aspects of my own biography that I was uncomfortable with leads me to other conclusions. Michael is kind of a hyper concentrated fun house version of me. Life has always struck me as so sad and so funny, and Michael is the same. He's my lil shadow self buddy.
CL: This isn't the first novel you've set in California, and you make North Shore this sort of combination place - it's suburban LA, it's a beach town that's outgrown itself, and it's even something of an 'Anytown, USA' all at once. What in particular do you like about writing about this place?
RT: When I first started thinking of myself as a regional writer, as a specifically Californian writer, it was a major artistic breakthrough because it narrowed the scope of my focus. The particular town of North Shore is fictional, but heavily modeled on El Segundo, which does have a really unusual small town feeling. And I LOVE small town gossip. I'm super interested in mid-size groups of humans. Like, Jane Smiley's Greenlanders is sweet ambrosia to me. Long standing grudges between neighbors? YES PLEASE.
Read the full review right here on the Boswellians blog, in which we talk about physically powerful women, questions of morality, how to be good (and bad!), and how Thorpe managed to cram more ideas and feelings into one more than most writers do in a career.
Wednesday, April 22, 2020, Day 4038 - The Puzzling Allure of Puzzles
Something a little different today - a two-part post from two booksellers - first, our Puzzle Buyer Jen on what influences what she brings into the store: I’m not a puzzler, so when it comes to buying puzzles for the store, I rely on some of the booksellers. I’ve come to value Kay and Aaron’s input and advice when it comes to puzzles. I’ve learned to consider the quality of the pieces as well as the quality of the image. I think people are especially drawn to puzzles right now because puzzling can be enjoyed alone or with others. I’ve heard that puzzling is quite meditative, and finding solace with your loved ones during these times can perhaps be better enjoyed gathered around a puzzle.
And now from Kay, one of our expert puzzlers & puzzle recommenders: In addition to being a bookaholic, I'm also a long-time puzzleholic. I've found myself drawn to puzzles more than books over the past few weeks; I guess doing puzzles is a somewhat more peaceful activity right now. Here are some of the 1000 piece puzzles I love, roughly ordered from easiest to hardest (warning: I do like some crazy-hard puzzles, but none of these qualify for that label). Keep in mind that I don't look at the puzzle photo when I do puzzles - I don't go through them as quickly that way. Using the picture may make some easier than my ranking suggests (Sea Anemones for sure).
Click here to read the full post on the Boswellians blog and find out which puzzles Kay recommends from Jen's selections.
Monday, April 20, 2020, Day 4036 - Tim's Comfort Books
Tim again. My last entry was all about American history. I mentioned our history can be glorious and terrifying. We’re certainly living with scary twists of fate these days, so I think it’s a good time to remember that, along with taking care of our responsibilities, we stay healthier if we can laugh and have some fun. Let the kids be kids and the adults feel a little like kids, too. With that in mind, I have some book suggestions for children and adults that have made me laugh or just been comforting and warm. The characters still live with life’s serious issues, but an uplifting spirit prevails, along with some belly laughter that we can all use right about now.
My favorite recommendations for the youngest kids include things like the Elephant and Piggie books. For middle grade fun and suspense (up to age 12 or so), there’s nobody I turn to more than Carl Hiaasen. And for And don't ever forget about the book that just became a film, Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl - she is the definition of random acts of kindness! For letting grown ups feel like kids again, I once again turn to Carl Hiaasen, with novels like Sick Puppy, Skinny Dip - two unavailable titles, unfortunately, but next up on my to-read pile is the highly-recommended-to-me Razor Girl. There's Virgil Wander, my go-to feel-good recommendation. And for political chuckles, try Andrew Shaffer's Obama-Biden mysteries.
Read Tim's full post, with expanded book descriptions and recs, right here on the Boswellian's blog!
Wednesday, April 15, 2020, Day 4031 - Event Goes Interview - Chris Chats with Steven Wright
From Chris: Today was the day - our event with Madison's Steven Wright, author of The Coyotes of Carthage, was planned for this evening. Well, that's not happening, and more's the pity, as Wright's novel is one of my favorites of 2020 so far. It's dark political comedy, a grimly hilarious assessment of one microcosm of the American body politic. Dre, a political fixer desperate to save his career, has a quarter million in dark money to convince a small town in South Carolina to let a company strip mine the local nature preserve and poison the water.
Allow me to heap on the outsider praise, in case you don't want to take my word for it: Tod Goldberg, with a glowing review in Monday's USA Today, calls it "a crackerjack debut," and Wright's book earned a starred Library Journal Review. John Grisham, noted king of the legal thriller, even adds, "With this splendid debut, Steven Wright announces his arrival as a major new voice." I sat down with Steven (virtually) to ask him a few questions about his work, writing, and this fantastic book. So let's get to it.
Chris Lee: A lot of the laughs from the political operators in the book remind me of the kind of gallows humor you get from journalists when they’re chatting off the record. What is it about staring at the way things work that brings out such a dark sense of humor in people?
Steven Wright: I’m not the first guy to get a chuckle at local government. Now’s a good time for people to catch up on Parks and Recreation. But I think, sometimes, politics - and local politics in particular - attracts eccentrics. And some of those eccentrics are power hungry. And some of those power-hungry eccentrics are deeply incompetent. And that’s a comedic dream: an incompetent, power-hungry eccentric. You’d be surprised how often you find this personality type holding offices of municipal leadership. I concede that this personality is terrible for local government, but the personality really is great for stories.
For the full interview, including our discussion of the importance of local government, especially during times of crisis, the experiences that inspired Wright to write his novel, and pet pooches as first readers, click on this link right here to the Boswellians blog.
Sunday, April 12, 2020, Day 4028 - Daniel's Reading Log: The Watching that Inspires the Reading
From Daniel: For a change of pace, I'm going to obsess about a television show. I was in need of some comfort food, something that would be of excellent quality and yet still satisfy me in a primal way. I found myself rewatching some shows that hit that note - the popular Parks and Recreation and the completely undervalued Great News - but I hadn't really discovered something I loved on either Netflix or Hulu. And so I turned to one of my sources for discovery, my fellow bookseller Jen. She's led me to some of our favorite books, and like me, she also liked Great News (what are you waiting for? There are only two short seasons!), so when she said I should try Kim's Convenience, I listened. And I fell in love. It's the story of a Korean Canadian family who run Kim's in Toronto - Appa and Umma and their kids, Janet, a student, and Jung, who works at a car rental agency. And the best part of it is, Kim's Convenience is a book; the original play is available from House of Anansi Press. I just ordered it and if it's as good as the show, I'll let you know.
I was just watching this episode where Jung has revealed himself to not be, well, bookish. Bit player Terrence is sitting at his desk reading Eat Pray Love at Handy Car Rental. Terrence and his boss Shannon bond over the book and Elizabeth Gilbert's Ted Talk. Jung tries to act like he knows what they are talking about. It's hard to not believe that Jung really thinks the story is based on the life of Julia Roberts, who played Gilbert in the film. To me, it's a pivotal moment in the series - the first time Terrence has been anything but the butt of a joke, and the first time Jung has shown any flaw besides being a reformed bad boy who still sleeps around and can't get along with his dad. Those are kind of glamorous flaws. Not knowing who Elizabeth Gilbert is is not glamorous, or at least it isn't the way Simu Liu plays it.
Sometimes the right book is staring me in the face, waiting for the right moment. And that brings me back to Elizabeth Gilbert. I didn't read City of Girls in hardcover. Eat Pray Love was one of those phenomena that passed me by. It's not like I've never read Gilbert, but weirdly enough, my only experience was with her first novel Stern Men, which I read as an advance copy. Nobody knew who Elizabeth Gilbert was then, but it spoke to me - my family made lobster-themed pilgrimages to Maine for years.
Read Daniel's full blog right here on the Boswell and Books blog now!
Monday, April 6, 2020, Day 4022 - Kira's Adventures (On the Page)
From Kira: If you’re anything like me, you might be heartbroken that your local climbing gym is shut down for the foreseeable future. You’re probably even more heartbroken that just as winter is letting us out of its grip, all your trips planned to wild and wonderful places have come to a grinding halt. Theoretically, it might be easy to stay socially distant outdoors, but you don’t want to be the guy who unwittingly brings Covid-19 into small, rural communities, do you? Rather than risk the communities I’ve come to love (I’ve been craving a slice of Miguel’s Pizza for months now), now is the perfect time to catch up on some reading.
I’ve broken the list down into books I’ve read and loved, like Tommy Caldwell’s The Push, Daniel James Browns’s The Indifferent Stars Above, and Alex Honnold’s Alone on the Wall, books with a spot on my “read these next” shelf, like Colin O’Brady’s The Impossible First and Jedidah Jenkin’s To Shake the Sleeping Self, and a few classics (A Walk in the Woods, anyone?) that everyone should pick up, whether they’re adventurous types or not.
Check out Kira's full post, with more selections and her descriptions of each book here on the Boswellians blog.
Thursday, April 2, 2020, Day 4018 - Daniel’s Reading List: Quan Barry Casts a Spell
From Daniel: There are any number of books that come out each season that a Boswellian likes enough to write up and give a staff recommendation. It’s not unusual to get two. Three? Now that’s special. But when we get four or more recommendations on a book, my alarm bells start ringing. Now we’re in zone where if we promote the book right and keep our eye on the prize (that would be December), we can get the book into a lot of hands.
We Ride Upon Sticks, the second novel from Quan Barry, is one of those novels. It’s so different from She Weeps Each Time You’re Born, her first novel, sort of a Vietnamese magical realism story that definitely showed her background in poetry. Former Boswellian and still good friend of Boswell Todd was a big fan, and his enthusiasm got me to choose the book as a In-Store Lit Group selection for the paperback. If you contacted the store and said you really loved Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (editorial aside – the publisher just delayed the paperback on this one, so we won’t be reading it for In-Store Lit Group this summer), I’d put She Weeps Each Time You’re Born in your hands.
From my staff rec, a quick synopsis: It’s 1989 and the Danvers Lady Falcons field hockey team is having another crappy year. So what harm could it do to take a cue from the witches of the city’s past and inscribe their names in a demonic book, especially if it helps you start winning games? With each game getting its own chapter, and each chapter bringing another player and her journey to adulthood to life, Barry’s second novel captures the excitement of a pennant race with the power of a feminist comic novel, notably a comic-steeped-in-the-eighties one.
Read Daniel’s full blog post, including notes on Sticks’s magically god design and its shattering of “the green rule,’ right over here on the Boswell and Books blog.
Tuesday, March 31, 2020, Day 4016 - Daniel Interviews Milwaukee Author Erica Ruth Neubauer
From Daniel: We’ve been waiting for this moment for months, maybe years – the release of Erica Ruth Neubauer’s Murder at the Mena House. Boswell met Neubauer when we started selling books for Murder + Mayhem, the longtime Milwaukee mystery conference (currently on hiatus). Since then, she’s interviewed several authors for our Thrillwaukee series. We were celebrating the release of Mena with not one, not two, but three events. A launch at the store on Saturday, a multi-author lunch at the Woman’s Club the day before, and a joint event with Erica Ruth and two of her fellow mystery writers in June, while they did an old-fashioned bookstore road trip. That one might still be happening! Maybe.
Instead? A blog post. We had three great reads on Neubauer’s debut and two of us wrote up recommendations. From Chris Lee: "Here’s a mystery that’s a cut above the rest of its class, and with a first adventure this pitch-perfect, you’ll want to book passage ASAP to follow Jane Wunderly to the ends of the earth." And from my own recommendation: "A delightful new historical mystery series highlights a charming heroine, albeit one with secrets up her sleeve, which features colorful characters, a picturesque setting, sparkling wit, and a healthy dose of suspense." This book really is just what you need right now – a classic historical mystery with a delightful heroine. And you don’t have to worry about wanting more; the next two books in the series are already written. I sent a few questions to Neubauer, and she was gracious enough to write back. First up, I asked her about subgenre. It seems to me that publishers seem to prefer thrillers over mysteries. It feels like I’m inundated with advance reading copies of the former and it’s hard to find anything of the latter.
Erica Ruth Neubauer: “I was a reviewer for many years, so I did understand that the market heavily favors thrillers and even domestic suspense right now. But I kept reminding myself of the sage advice I had been given to write what I wanted to read. And this was what I wanted to read. And it's also how I wanted to spend a big chunk of time - living in Egypt with these characters, who I really like. If I had tried to write a thriller it wouldn't have worked, because it wouldn't have been authentic.”
DCG: And here’s the obvious follow-up – 1920s Egypt? How did you pick the time period?
ERN: “My dad raised me on Masterpiece Mystery and Agatha Christie and old black and white movies - especially the detective ones. (Truly, that whole Edward Gorey opening to Masterpiece Mystery with the woman wailing on the tomb is very emblematic of my childhood.) Somewhere along the way I picked up very romantic ideas about Egypt, but especially the 1920s. I could just see a hotel with slow fans turning overhead and everyone elegantly dressed and sipping cocktails on the terrace, but someone winds up dead. I could still swear I've seen a movie set in Egypt like this, but I've yet to find the one that matches what I remember. So I wrote it instead.”
Head over to the Boswell and Books blog to read the full interview and find out more about Neubauer's dastardly inspirations! And get your copy of Murder at the Mena House at Boswell today - it's Boswell Best for at least the next two weeks.
Monday, March 30, 2020, Day 4015 - Daniel Joins The Herd
From Daniel: Networking. Remember when you could go to a mixer? Reading a thriller based on a coworking space almost seems nostalgic, right? That’s how I felt when I started The Herd, the entertaining second thriller from Andrea Bartz, after 2019’s The Lost Night, which is now out in paperback.
The story’s setting is making-it-in-New-York lavish, but the themes are classic psychological suspense in the vein of Lori Rader-Day and Mary Kubica. In addition to the secrets, it’s all about the relationships, and one thing I’ve noticed in this genre is the friendships between women are almost more important than the traditional romantic relationships. And one other thing that caught my attention – while the genre has a different veneer, at The Herd's heart is a feuding sisters story, as was the case for so many books I read in 2019. Not exactly feuding – more like seething, below the surface anger.
Here’s one last Easter Egg for Milwaukeeans. For Mocktail Mondays, The Herd brings in a hot bartender to make the drinks, and at one point in the story, the bar is The Elm Grove. Guess what Milwaukee suburb is home of the author’s mom? The Herd is currently on Boswell’s Best and will stay there through at least April 13. One day we’ll have a program with Bartz, either at Boswell or the Elm Grove Library. Buy your book now, read it in advance, and you won’t have to worry about any spoilers at the event. And read Daniel's full blog post about Bartz and The Herd right here on the Boswell and Books blog!
Thursday, March 26, 2020, Day 4011 - Rachel Vs Nonfiction
From Rachel: I confess, nonfiction and I aren't friends, or even really casual acquaintances. But if my super-useful liberal arts degree has taught me anything, it's to be open-minded to new ideas (or at least pretend), so here I am, trying my hardest to expand my knowledge base. Here are some nonfiction selections that are novelistic and worthy of consideration from my fellow fiction snobs.
When I started reading The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, Jason said "how 2003 of you!" But at this point, it's something of a classic, and I can see why. Currently, I'm in the middle of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (how extremely 2010 of me!). One of my best friends, a science teacher, (Hi Holden!) recommended this to me because, while it's about "arguably one of the most important medical discoveries of the 20th century," it's also a very human story about a marginalized woman and her family and how science as a field has a lot to answer for, ethically speaking.
My well-read colleagues have had suggestions for me as well, like Matt Richtel's An Elegant Defense, which Jenny convinced me to read, saying There is nothing more engaging than a nonfiction book about medicine that's written with the pace and tension of a thriller. And Madi gave me Black Death at the Golden Gate, by David K Randall, which Madi says, "gives insight to the spread of disease and how misinformation strengthens it." I can't think of a more relevant book to read right now.
Read Rachel's full post, complete with even more books of history for those not so historical readers, right here on the Boswellians blog.
Wednesday, March 25, 2020, Day 4010 - Kay Wosewick Lists Her Recent Favorites
FBoswellian Kay Wosewick reads a lot. Like, a lot a lot. So here's a a roundup of her favorite recently and semi-recently published books.
From Kay: Let me begin with Highfire, which is unlike any other book I've read. Author Eoin Colfer brings to life a character straight out of fantasy and flawlessly mixes him with good-hearted, hard-scrabble bayou folks and black-hearted, bad-ass government and criminal types. The result is a hilarious, hair-raising, maddening but ultimately joyful tale. This book will lift your spirits and revive any lost belief in the power of karma. And I promise you'll be totally won over by Vern, the last vodka-loving, Netflix-addicted dragon alive, living a pretty comfy life on the Louisiana coast.
If you are searching for a saga-sized escape, Greenwood by Michael Christie fits the bill. A first generation lumber baron in the early 1900s eventually gives rise to a fourth generation forest guide in one of the planet's last standing old-growth forests in 2034. Most members of this family lead edgy lives in varying degrees of pain-yet these characters dig hooks in you and press you to read onward. Unresolved relationships and personal journeys, within and across the generations, slowly achieve closure as the chapters shift almost seamlessly from 2034 to 1908 and back to 2034. The characters will stay with you long after you close the book.
Heading in a somewhat darker direction, just out in paperback is Dave Eggers' The Parade, a strange story (maybe a little Kafkaesque?) of two markedly different men assigned to quickly build a road in a recently war-torn country. Eggers' spare prose is so sharp, taut and vivid that I'm nearly certain it burned a long series of permanent afterimages in me. Check back in 10 years for proof. While I don't have a formal literary education to back up this pronouncement, I think this book is a masterpiece. I also recommend Dave Eggers' recent hardcover release, The Captain and the Glory, which smartly satirizes Trump's presidency. There are plenty of giggles and groans. And I love that Eggers lets NO ONE, including Trump foes, off the hook.
I'll close with a smart little book you can easily dip in and out of at your leisure. Awkword Moments, by Ross and Kathryn Petras, is subtitled "A Lively Guide to the 100 Terms Smart People Should Know." It just may shift you from using ubiquitous and quotidian words to using the mot juste J. Have fun and stay healthy. (And make sure to read Kay's complete post, with bonus book recommendations included, right here on the Boswellians blog.)
Tuesday, March 24, 2020, Day 4009 - Tim McCarthy on History, both Personal and Literary
From Tim: I've been a Boswell bookseller for four years, but my personal history includes more than 30 years of loving Schwartz Bookshops and Boswell. I'm clearly an autographed book hound, dating all the way back to my first Schwartz author event with Mickey Mantle at the store on Water Street and Wisconsin Avenue. The waiting line wrapped around an entire city block, and gentleman Mickey stayed to sign every last person's copy of his memoir All My Octobers!
My previous life included 30 years of teaching in Waukesha public elementary schools, with more than 20 years of teaching 5th graders American history. I've always been fascinated by our past and have always said that history, despite what we sometimes hear from kids and adults, is never boring if we're learning true stories about incredible, complicated people. My students seemed to agree. We were committed to studying American cultures from a variety of perspectives, at a level appropriate for ten-year-old kids. We learned together about the First Nations on this continent, and about the growing acceptance at Monticello that the man who wrote the assertion "all men are created equal" had children with Sally Hemings, a woman he owned.
Today, the books being published about our nation's history, both fiction and nonfiction, are incredibly powerful. We've never had greater access to the truth, being written by very smart people with a commitment to sharing it in all its glory and sometimes terrifying reality. With that spirit in mind, here are just a few of the books that have recently broadened my understanding of us.
A former teacher, I can't help but love great histories written for young readers. One of my recent favorites include Child of the Dream: A Memoir of 1963, Newbery Medal winner Linda Sue Park's gem of American historical fiction called Prairie Lotus, and Jacqueline Woodson's Harbor Me. And a few of my recent books of history and historical fiction for adults are Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America, by Candacy Taylor, the first novel by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Water Dancer, which should immediately add "great American novelist" to his resume, and This Tender Land, by William Kent Krueger. Check out the full blog post and more about these books here on the Boswellians blog.
Monday, March 23, 2020, Day 4008 - Daniel Goldin on Lists
From Daniel: For the past 34 years, I have been reporting bestsellers to the publishing community, first at Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops and then at Boswell. By the time I was a buyer in 1987, I started compiling category lists that I would fax (that's right) to our sales reps. My obsession to this was longstanding - since the age of 13, I obsessively followed Billboard and soon after started keeping a list of my weekly favorites. I started with 20, soon expanded to 40. When I started working at my college radio station and my access to music increased dramatically, the list expanded to 100. I continued this for 25 years. I really like lists!
Back when I worked in publishing, we did our own reporting, letting organizations know about our new releases. Being that I liked this sort of stuff, one of my contacts would call me almost weekly. "Who published this," she would ask. And for some reason, I would often know. I also really like trivia, and I would file this with the kind of non-essential information about books that appealed to me. There was a time when you could name an ISBN prefix and I would know the publisher. Yes, in the time before computers, we had to remember things. And if a publisher didn't supply her with information, it was hard to figure out exactly what book people were reporting.
Last week was the first week in eleven years when I didn't post our bestsellers, but don't you worry, I still reported them. They might show up on our blog one day when I have nothing better to do. And of course we might got to the point where we can't report enough (or any sales) to do a bestseller list. Hoping that won't come. But for now, I hope you find it interesting to see what we're selling, and we'll continue to supply that information on the Boswell and Books blog.
Wednesday, March 18, 2020, Day 4003 - Chris Previews the Horror Section
From Chris: While of course we're bummed that Danielle Trussoni, author of The Ancestor and horror columnist for The New York Times will no longer be inaugurating our newest section, it doesn't mean we wouldn't be horrified not to tell you about it. What, you might ask (okay, so you probably have a pretty good guess by now), is this section? By popular demand of the reading public and Boswellians alike, we're introducing our brand new Horror section.
We'll feature new and new-ish horror we love, from authors like horror world's super buzzy Paul Tremblay, author of The Cabin at the End of the World - Chris calls it Sophie's Choice meets The Strangers. Mark your calendar for his new novel, Survivor Song, a tale of super-rabies survival comes out July 7th. There's Bunny, the horror-larious novel by Mona Awad that Rachel says is "full of frat boys who are so cute and so headless." And there's a lot more.
You'll get the classic monster mash - Dracula, Frankenstein, and say hello, Cthulhu. Plus, Stephen King, the most-adapted-to-film author alive, and all his pals. His family, too - hi, Joe Hill. How about taking a stab (get it?!) at a cult-y writer like Thomas Ligiotti or Stephen Graham Jones? Or, if you prefer your screams of terror blended with chuckles, there are books like My Best Friend's Exorcism and Meddling Kids.
Tuesday, March 17, 2020, Day 4002 - Jason on Speculative Escapism
From Jason: Okay, so it was just St. Patrick's Day, and perhaps the most unusual one in our lifetimes (hopefully). With the shop closed to browsing, I would still like to share some of the great books I've read. My first pile of books are ones that I would use to escape our reality, and these all have speculative elements, whether one is about historical revision, time travel, or virtual online personas. And there's one outright science fiction title, but it's so good I had to include it.
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal has been one of my major book-loves of this year. Yes, it came out in 2018, but I just made our local sci-fi book club read it because it was cleaning up all the awards this year. There is so much to talk about in this book! There's racism, sexism, panic, anxiety, mourning and resiliency. Elma York is such a powerful main character, whip smart and strong. The amazing way the world rebounds by building up the space program together is quite astonishing. So much more than just sci-fi, I would love everyone to read this book!
I hope you'll keep an eye out for Providence by Max Barry, which publishes on 3/31/2020. It's an intense look at first contact that does not go right, in fact, it goes violently wrong from the first second. Now humanity is in open warfare with an alien race we can't even understand, but we do know how to adapt and kill.
Jason has many more recommendations for Speculative Escape - Read the full post here.