Sunday, November 29, 2009

We Don't Let People Go Easily Into The Night

Our store lost a customer last weekend. I don't mean that we angered someone and they stormed off, vowing to tell all their friends not to shop here. No, we really lost a customer in the most final sense of the word.

Of course, I'm being coy. We didn't just lose a customer, we lost a good friend.

Dr. Sean P. Keane was a man of sublime intellect and unending curiosity about the world and its workings. He satisfied these interests with a cornucopia of books, nearly all of which came from Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, as well as our present incarnation as Boswell Book Company. He shopped at the store from back when it was in the Iron Block Building. He took his kids to the Coffee Trader while browsing the original Downer Avenue location, tucked away from the front of the street and down the block from where it ended. Sean had a storied history with Milwaukee's beloved indie bookstore.

Sure, we were his friendly, knowledgable booksellers helping him find a book that satisfied his current topic of interest, suggesting "American" books for his daughter in Ireland to check out (I felt like I even knew her!) and picking out gifts for the grandkids. But we also listened to his stories, witticisms, and politics. Those of us who had the pleasure of acquainting ourselves with him on his weekly visits to our store considered him a friend. He encouraged me to return to school, suggesting programs or educational institutions, gently harassing me each time we spoke about it. Fellow bookseller Carl Hoffman and Dr. Keane developed a special bond over a number of years regarding all things Irish: music, history, culture, and (of course) literature. Longtime manager and bookseller Doug James recalled Sean to be a "lovely man" and longtime bookseller Jay Johnson observed that "the community lost a good man." It wasn't only the longer term booksellers who were impacted by this fascinating man, even former bookseller Denise Dee remembered fondly how he brightened her days at the store with his "devilish jokes and gentle snoring" during her time on Downer Avenue. It's true-he would, on occasion, fall asleep in a comfortable chair and we never bothered to rouse him unless it was closing time.

While we will dearly miss Sean's presence at the store, there's a greater lesson here. It's that while you may love our customer service or that we found you that obscure book with the blue cover whose title you couldn't recall or recommended you your new favorite novel, we want you to know - to really, really comprehend - the impact that you, as a regular customer, have on us as well. In a local store of any sort, not just the bookstore, if the employees recognize your face or even know your name, it means you are just as important to us as we may be to you. We notice when you're absent, we miss you when you're gone and some of us may even attend your funeral if you pass from this life altogether.

And some of us will miss you greatly and remember you for the rest of our days.

As Michael Fleet, professor and longtime friend of Sean Keane's said: "We don't let people go easily into the night."

Friday, November 20, 2009

So you think you're a novelist?

For those of you who are unaware, November is National Novel Writing Month. Several hundred thousand insane people from all over the world take up the challenge of writing a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November. It is a frustrating, exhausting, task that is also exhilarating and fun. This is the third year that I have taken on this assignment, and I am happy to report that I am 30,000 words into a story whose worth is questionable. In 2007, I wrote a murder mystery featuring my ex-fiancé as the victim, and last year was a coming of age piece. This year, the jury is still out as to just what kind of a story I am writing. I may not know just what it is yet, but I am about two-thirds of the way to the finish line.

This past Sunday, the 15th, was the halfway point in the month, and we had a little support group gathering at Boswell Book Company for local Nano authors. Rochelle Melander, a writing coach who is partnering with us this year, was present to offer helpful tips for avoiding writers’ block. We were also fortunate enough to have a guest author from Chicago, Libby Fischer Hellmann. Ms. Hellmann writes crime fiction and her latest book, Doubleback, was chosen by the Great Lakes Bookseller Association as one of their Fall 2009 “Great Lakes, Great Reads!” She offered useful guidelines for structuring chapters and keeping readers enthralled. Many thanks to Rochelle and Libby for donating your time and expertise.


This blog posting was authored by Sharon, but technical difficulties prevented her posting of it. Pay no mind to my name below.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

In which Greg appears to be a mugger, cheers the youth of America, and reads some books.

First of all, a big thanks to anyone and everyone who came out for Barbara Ehrenreich! It was a great event. That being said, I have to remember to wear a Boswell Book Company shirt to these things. Daniel was clever enough to bring one along, a tactic I suspect I will imitate. Those who know me personally or have spoken with me in the store know that I'm fairly innocuous, but to see me approaching in a dark parking lot wearing a hoodie, with my hands stuffed in my pockets (it was cold, people) and no identification as a staff member... well, let's just say I had a few event-goers shy away from me. I suspect I looked like a mugger. Oh well, live and learn I suppose.

A few days ago, a teen girl came into the store and brought a copy of Wuthering Heights to the checkout counter. Wuthering Heights is my favorite book of all time - a fact most people wouldn't guess from my staff rec shelf. Upon commenting on how great of a book it is, she responded with: "Yeah, I kept hearing things about it, and wanted to check it out."

This is an offhand comment you expect to hear associated with Twilight or The Hunger Games or something more teen-friendly and popular. It was exceptionally refreshing to hear a younger individual express interest in classics. Don't fret if you enjoy Twilight, though. I won't hold it against you. And I rather enjoyed The Hunger Games myself.

It's been awhile, so here's the reading update. I've read a fair amount of books lately, although nothing that has floored me quite like The Magicians. I recently finished Genesis by Bernard Beckett, which is an interesting concoction of dystopian science fiction and philosophy. While it was well-written and engaging, I must admit I am not 100% sure I understood it fully. Someone else read it and explain it to me!

I also decided to read a throwback and picked up The Long Walk by Stephen King, written under his Richard Bachman pseudonym. While it may not be the most sophisticated thing I've ever read, it was quite good. It's what I like to call a cheeseburger read - you don't really need it, and it's not particularly good for you, but it's quite tasty.

I'm also about to tackle Danielewski's House of Leaves, as per recommendation from a friend of mine. I'm always intrigued when a writer does something different with form, and House of Leaves is a prime example. The text of the book changes position on the page depending on the events unfolding in the book - it's really quite remarkable to page through. Expect another blog post in the future about books with crazy form. I do love it so.

Much love and happy reading!