Monday, June 29, 2020

Around the World in Eight Cookbooks - Part 1


From Conrad: Cooking is an act of creation. All recipes are mere templates for endless exploration and expansion. You make the dishes your own. A good rule of thumb for making a dish you’ve never tried before is to find 2 or 3 versions of it, compare what’s the same and what’s different, and choose what looks good to make it your own. That said, the following is a list of eight dishes from eight cookbooks from eight cuisines. The dishes chosen are not necessarily representative, but are ones that I like and that, I feel, have made me a better cook. Some of these books are out of print, but any good equivalent cookbook would do.

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking​ by Marcella Hazan (this is in print and is considered a, well, classic) I love her. She’s prickly and opinionated and a stickler for authenticity, but she does unbend a little for less choosy people. She staunchly defends Italy’s place among the world’s great cuisines (as though that’s in doubt). And, mostly, I adore her because she got me to challenge myself to make something other than spaghetti. While tut-tutting that any true pesto is made with a mortar and pestle, she nonetheless gives us this:

Pesto by the Food Processor Method 

2 Cups tightly packed shredded fresh basil leaves ½ Cup extra virgin olive oil 2 Tbs. pine nuts 2 garlic cloves, minced Salt 3 Tbs. softened butter ½ Cup freshly grated parmesan-reggiano cheese 2 Tbs. freshly grated romano cheese

Briefly soak and wash basil leaves in cold water. Pat dry and gently shred them. Pack them into the bowl of a food processor with the olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and salt. Process until uniformly consistent. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the two cheeses by hand until fully incorporated. Mix in butter thoroughly.

Et voila! Pesto!! I ignore her directions and use more pine nuts, more garlic, I use whatever hard Italian cheese I have on hand (Parmesan, Romano, Pecorino, whatever), and more butter. I also don’t bother to move everything to a separate bowl and mix by hand. I just add the cheese and butter to the food processor and let it do the work. But I am a heathen.

Indian Cooking​ by Madhur Jaffrey (this particular book is out of print, but she has newer editions that are essentially the same, or even expanded on - try Madhur Jaffrey's Quick & Easy Indian Cooking or Madhur Jaffrey's Instantly Indian Cookbook). Jaffrey makes no bones about this being a version of Indian cooking utterly subverted to accommodate a Western kitchen. It’s the first cookbook she wrote, and is very much informed by her homesick desire to replicate her
mother’s cooking, after she moved to England to go to school. This dish is very simple, and has nothing to do with our usual perception of Indian cooking. It is not a curry, but it is so very flavorful and easy to prepare that you might find yourself using this recipe whenever you make green beans.

Gujerati-style Green Beans

1 lb. green beans, cut into 1-2 inch lengths 4 Tbs. vegetable oil 1 Tbs. whole dark brown mustard seeds ½-1 dried red chili pepper, crushed 1 Tsp. salt ½ Tsp. sugar Freshly ground black pepper

Blanch beans (boil in water for 3-4 minutes until just tender). Heat oil in a frying pan big enough to hold the whole finished dish. When hot, add mustard seeds. Fry until they start to pop. Add garlic and saute them both until garlic is fragrant and takes on color. Add chili pepper. Stir about a bit. Add beans, salt, and sugar. Saute for another 7-8 minutes or until all flavors have melded together. Add a few grinds of pepper and you’re done. Easy-peasy!!!

Tagine: Spicy Stews from Morocco​ by Ghillie Basan (I think this is in print. If not, she has another book that’s almost exactly the same - try Easy Tagine: Delicious Recipes for Moroccan One-Pot Cooking)

A tagine is an earthenware (usually) cooking vessel with a conical lid and a shallow bottom for simmering meat and/or vegetables in small amounts of liquid. If you don’t have one, any pot will do. It is eaten throughout North Africa, but regional variations can be quite different from one another. Tagines can be as varied as the individual cooks who make them.

Spicy Carrots and Chickpeas with Turmeric and Cilantro​ (I find it kind of weird that, in America at least, coriander leaves are almost always referred to as cilantro, which is the Spanish word for it).

3-4 Tbs. olive oil 1 onion, finely diced 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced 2 Tsps. ground turmeric 1-2 Tsps. ground cumin seeds 1 Tsp. cayenne pepper (less or more, depending on how hot you want to make this) ½ Tsp. ground black pepper 1 Tbs. dark honey 3-4 medium carrots, sliced diagonally  2-14 oz. cans of chickpeas, 1-2 Tbs. rose water 1 bunch of coriander leaves (sigh, cilantro), finely chopped 1 lemon sliced into wedges

Heat oil in the base of the tagine or, you know, whatever. Add onion and garlic, and saute until soft. Add spices, black pepper, honey, and carrots (in that order, letting each bit get mixed in before adding the next). Add enough water to cover the base of the tagine (or, you know....), cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until carrots are tender. Add chickpeas, more water (if needed), and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, rose water, and cilantro. Serve over couscous with lemon wedges.

I generally omit the rose water (as I find it repulsive) and vary the amount of cayenne pepper to suit the tastes of whomever I’m sharing this with (like salt, it can always be added, but not taken away).

I use The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook​ by Gloria Bley Miller, but I’m almost certain this is out of print. My copy was given by my dad to my mom for her 45th birthday. It’s a beaten up old wreck, but I love it! Pretty much any generalized Chinese cookbook would do - try All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China or Chinese Takeout Cookbook: From Chop Suey to Sweet'n Sour, Over 70 Recipes to Recreate your Favorites.)

Stir-fry Asparagus with Sesame Seeds

1 bunch of asparagus, bottoms snapped off (as one does), sliced diagonally in 1 inch lengths 2-3 Tbs peanut oil (or any oil that takes to high heat without becoming some horrid burned thing) 2-3 scallions, sliced thinly into rounds 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced ⅓ cup tamari or soy sauce ½ Tsp. cornstarch 1-2 Tbs. oyster sauce ½ Tsp. sesame oil Salt 2-3 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds

In a small bowl, mix together the tamri, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and cornstarch. Heat oil in a wok (or a large frying pan) until very hot. Did I say very hot? I mean, VERY hot. Add scallions and garlic. Stir about, but don’t let the garlic burn as it will become super disgusting. Add asparagus. Stir-fry until it turns bright green and softens a bit. Add the tamari mixture and stir about until asparagus is uniformly coated. Taste a piece of asparagus to make sure they’re actually cooked through. Empty into a serving bowl and sprinkle toasted sesame seeds over it.

This is a pretty basic way to stir-fry almost anything. You can mix up what kind of sauce you use and end up with perfectly delightful variations for the rest of your life.

More cookbook adventures coming soon!

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The South!


From Chris: Jen asked us to curate a mini-collection of themed books for a new series on the Boswell Instagram (the Jenstagram) page. And so, I set out to do just that. Why the South? Well, because it's finally getting to the point of hot and humid here in Milwaukee that someone like me, who grew up a few degrees of latitude below the great lakes, thinks it's finally beginning to feel like summer. Yes, it generally takes until mid-June here before I think, "ah, time for boat drinks."

FLORIDA!
The Blurry Years, by Eleanor Kriseman - One of my absolute indie press favorites from the last few years. It's set in the outskirts of second-rate resort towns along the Florida coast, a place the book captures so well you might just catch a whiff of sunscreen-spilt-liquor-salt-air breeze when you open the pages. It's a coming-of-age story about a girl growing up and her difficult relationship with an alcoholic mother. Kriseman isn't afraid to write into the push-pull tension of loving the place you're from but at the same time learning you'd better leave before it breaks you. Two Dollar Radio is (quite rightfully) known for their recent run of fantastic #ownvoices books, but that should be no surprise - they've always been a leader in publishing authentic voices, and Kriseman's book fits into what I think they do best - present the lives of America's white trash working class without adornment or apology.

ALABAMA!
Boys of Alabama by Genevieve Hudson - Dark, humid, sweet, dirt, football, religion, death, sex, magic - all words that describe Alabama and this book. A sensitive teenager, Max, the child of German immigrants, joins the high school football team. In a story like a fable, Hudson makes the familiar of the deep American South foreign through eyes of a German family in order to question the place’s most deep-rooted beliefs. Especially captivating is Hudson's take on the wonder and fear of sexual discovery, which is explored in passages both metaphorical and real. If you like neat and tidy, this isn't the book for you - the ending packs an emotional wallop and lives are changed irrevocably, but the hows and whys aren't always told in straight lines, or even strung together at all. That said, this moody, atmospheric novel explores a cult-like enmeshing of high school, sports, religion, and strange rituals that exposes an American region still struggling to understand itself.

MISSISSIPPI!
The Last Taxi Driver by Lee Durkee - Well, if you’ve ever said to yourself, ‘Man, I sure wish Taxicab Confessions was set in Mississippi and the stories were told by a UFO chasing, Shakespeare worshipping Buddhist with anger issues,’ then boy oh boy do I have the book for you. This is one glorious, delirious cruise into the depths of the downtrodden folks of the South as told by your new favorite person, Lou, a cabbie trying desperately to be as compassionate as is reasonably possible and maybe even scrounge up a little truth, all while not getting himself killed by an idiot taking driver’s seat selfies.

LOUISIANA!
(Well, and many other places, to be honest)
The Lost Book of Adana Moreau by Michael Zapata - A once sentence description of this book is sort of possible, but will never do the story justice, as it swirls, expands, and fractures into so many different directions - suffice it so say, Zapata's written a love letter to storytelling, heritage, and theoretical physics. This one reels from the US occupation of Santa Domingo to prohibition-era New Orleans to the Russian Revolution’s aftermath from Petrograd to Belarus to Chicago, and later, from Tel Aviv back to Chicago, and to New Orleans again in the days after the storm - which are captured especially sensitively: the horror of the storm's aftermath, the fear of police gone rogue, the paths of boats in canals that were, days before, the city's streets, and the coming-together that saved many in the city.

SOUTH CAROLINA!
The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix - Oh, this one's just a blast. It's Hendrix's best since My Best Friend's Exorcism. A riff on the classic Dracula story, vampire fans will love it, but on top of that it's soaked in pop culture with a pinch of 90s nostalgia. In an interview (and I am paraphrasing a half-remembered interview from months ago, so please understand if I don't have this exactly) Hendrix said he wanted to write a book that captures the all-too-often overlooked strength of the women that many people, even in the "post-feminism" 90s, thought of as still "just a housewife." And boy, does he ever! If you like campy horror with a side of pecan pie, this is your book.

MISSOURI!
(Which, I know, floats between classifications as The South and The Midwest, but roll with me here, because...)
... The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel is set in (as the publisher copy says) "a small town with big secrets in the poorest part of the Missouri Ozarks" - and I think it's pretty fair to say that Engels captures a distinctly southern-feeling place in this thriller. There's murdered children, a meth-cooking, trailer-in-the-woods living mama, a strip-club owning, woman-beating ex-boyfriend, in a small Missouri town where the high water mark is a job at the car dealership. I admit, I first thought, oh no, not another dose of poverty porn, but boy, was I wrong. Engel digs into the tropes of the rural crime novel and uses them to tell a story that gets to the heart of what it means to be a woman in a world that only cares about what it can take from women. And something I especially appreciated about the book - you can write it off by calling it "just good old fashioned honest and plainspoken," but the book makes a point to confront class divisions head on in the voices of its characters who, admittedly, would probably not often refer to “the class divide,” though they’re acutely aware of it. It's a solid novel about a woman finding strength in a dark, tough, misunderstood place.

WEST VIRGINIA!
Snakehunter by Chuck Kinder - And okay, so my native West Virginia is another particularly tricky-to-classify place (and maybe a little scary, too, but you know what, maybe we kinda like it that way) because since its inception it's been considered at once the northernmost Southern state and the southernmost Northern state. Really, it's Appalachia, but you know what? I'm including this one anyway, just because I want to, and we mountain people do what we want. If you want a book that's full of the kind of magic that's conjured in a kitchen of elders telling stories while they string green beans, you'll never do better than Snakehunter. It's a coming-of-age story set in the southern hollers of coal country told by a young man who learned storytelling by hiding under the kitchen table and listening. Kinder captures things like the snake-handling church of Scrabble Creek, and hey, true story! The snake-handling congregation in this book is based on a church that was just up the hill from my father's high school, and he remembers Friday-night services that drew crowds that rivaled the school's football games. Ahead of its time when it was originally published in the 70s, now's your chance to catch up to the great Sasquatch of American Letters, the Captain himself, Chuck Kinder.

And, how about a sneak peak of a couple books of the South that are coming in the next two months? Yeah?! Okay!

FLORIDA (Again)
I love love love Florida Man, the latest from Tom Cooper, out on July 28th. Cooper's Florida is the south of the south; swampland and jungle, sandy sinkholes, and the always impending doom of the next big one making landfall. This is a little like Tom Robbins decided to take on the panhandle, a generational saga of a roadside attraction running, swamp tour giving loser who, come murderous hell or hurricane, is never leaving the beach. It’s a crime novel inasmuch as, yes, crimes occur, but that’s just because crimes petty and heinous are simply a part of the everyday milieu of your average Florida man. What is it really? Some sort of magic trick.

NORTH CAROLINA
I also can't wait to get Randall Kenan's new story collection, If I Had Two Wings, into peoples' hands when it arrives on August 4th. This book is something special. Kenan so well captures the atmosphere of Down East North Carolina that you’ll feel the thick inland air close on your skin as you read. Each story is a masterclass in subtle surprise, full of the gentlest delight and horror, and each life – those being lived and those long past being resurrected – is rendered so fully that once you close the pages you’ll feel you’ve also spent a lifetime in Tims Creek. You won’t want to leave.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Kay on the Fiction of Art and Artists

From Kay: A favorite sub-genre of mine is what I call ‘Art and Artist Fiction,’ and I’d like to share some of my favorite books. They range from historical fiction (most common) to comedy, mystery, and a (borderline) thriller. I’ve even snuck in one biography that has a very narrow focus. Subjects include individual artists, specific works of art, collaborations, art collectors/collections and gallery owners. While all the books are instructive in varying degrees, they are, most importantly, engaging, entertaining, and well-written. Listed in roughly chronological order, the first book takes place centuries ago.

As Above, So Below: A Novel of Peter Bruegel by Rudy Rucker is smashingly good historical fiction that immediately throws you into the sixteenth century. Born in the early 1500s, Bruegel lived largely in the Lowlands (Belgium, The Netherlands) during a time when inquisition-style Spaniards were largely in control. Influenced strongly by Hieronymus Bosch, Bruegel’s paintings depict the coarseness, crudeness, confusion, and cruelty of the times. Each chapter carries the title of one of Bruegel’s paintings, along with a black and white illustration of it, and the chapter is roughly themed accordingly. I guarantee you'll be thankful you live in the 21st century.

Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland. Vreeland richly describes the extraordinary circumstances under which Renoir painted one of his most famous paintings, Luncheon of the Boating Party. Renoir impulsively decides to complete, in a very narrow window of time, a huge painting on the terrace of a friend’s restaurant/hotel on the Seine, not far outside Paris. Renoir quickly purchases his canvas and paints, and rounds up fourteen models to sit for the painting over eight consecutive Sunday afternoons. Crazy? Yes! Does he succeed? Fabulously! The simple joy of a sunny Sunday afternoon spent with good friends, food, wine, and conversation brilliantly comes across in Renoir’s painting and in Vreeland’s luscious writing.

The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks Spent in Arles by Martin Gayford. This biography tells the tale of Gauguin and van Gogh’s brief time together in van Gogh’s tiny yellow house in Provence. Gauguin had reservations about the collaboration, and van Gogh was excited but also anxious, yet neither voiced their concerns. Onward! Gayford brings to life the little town and its inhabitants, the countryside, the artists’ daily activities, their conversations, and their many disagreements. The art produced and the methods used by both artists are also part of the story. If not for the volume and quality of paintings each artist completed during their tumultuous time together, one might wish they had acted on their reservations (pun intended) and cancelled the collaboration. Then again, van Gogh may have traveled the same disastrous road afterwards anyway.

The book above and the book below could hardly be more different.

Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d’Art by Christopher Moore. If you’ve read Christopher Moore, you already know you’ll be in for a fun romp. The story is filled with many of the famous artists of the Impressionist period, with whom Moore takes many, many liberties. The book contains handsome reproductions of famous works by the artists, some of which curiously don’t seem to contain any of the starring ultramarine pigment of the book’s title. Did I mention the setting is Paris? What’s not to love?

The Collector’s Apprentice by BA Shapiro. Dive into the rapidly evolving art world of the 1920s with Shapiro’s latest book that is part historical fiction, part pure fabrication. The Paris art scene is populated with the likes of Henri Matisse and Gertrude Stein. Complex ideas about influences and confluences within the remarkable Post-Impressionist art world are folded seamlessly into the dialogue. You’ll be swept into a quiet tale of intrigue starring a wealthy American amassing a huge collection of contemporary European art (based on the real collector Albert C Barnes), a young lady (probably loosely based on a Barnes employee) and a savvy con artist from America (pure fiction). The story will take you for a couple of unexpected spins before letting you go well satisfied.

Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland. Lisette is 100% Paris born and bred. With great reluctance, she accompanies her husband to Provence to care for his dying grandfather, Pascal. Pascal owns seven paintings by renowned Impressionist-era artists including Pissarro, Cezanne and Picasso. What Pascal really wants is to tell stories about how he met these artists, why they gave him paintings, and what he loves about each one. Lisette becomes an eager listener. WWII calls her husband away, and much to Lisette’s own surprise, she stays in Provence for quite some time after her husband dies in the war; she has important tasks to complete before she returns to Paris. To tell more is to give away too much, but I loved the characters, the setting, and the conversations about the art, the artists, and Pascal’s descriptions of Paris. By the way, this book is entirely fictional.

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose. This is a fictionalized account (approved by the artist) of Marina Abramovic's 2010 art performance at MOMA where she sat face-to-face, eye-to-eye, with museum visitors, one at a time, for 75 days. She sat unmoving, in the same pose every day, her expression unchanged except for occasional tears. The performance had surprisingly deep effects on both visitors who sat with her and visitors who simply observed the performance, some of whom returned day after day. The story focuses on several fictional characters' almost obsessive attraction to the performance and the effect it has on their lives. Not unlike the apparent enchantment of the performance, it was hard to tear my eyes from the pages of this book.

The Art Forger by BA Shapiro. Shapiro uses a real-life event to jump off into a wonderfully crafted, completely fictional tale set years later. The 1990 theft at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum remains the largest art heist in history. (Warning: my single visit to the museum occurred just weeks before the theft, so I'm certain my love of this book contains some bias.) The thirteen stolen pieces include works by Vermeer (1), Manet (1), Rembrandt (2) and Degas (5); none have been recovered. Shapiro’s story takes place about 12 years after the heist. Claire works as a freelance art reproductionist (she copies famous art works) in addition to painting her own work. A premier local gallery owner contacts her for a ‘secret’ job that he can’t tell her about until she agrees to do it. Let’s just say it involves the heist and a lot of money. The book describes painting techniques in some depth, which I found fascinating; I especially enjoyed learning about some of the bizarre techniques used by forgers. Add a couple of mercurial and self-absorbed characters plus several plot twists and turns, and voila: The Art Forger is a great example of light cultural entertainment!

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Jessica Kim's Virtual Spring School Visit - A Recap


From Jenny: A blog post otherwise titled, "Jenny learns all about bees, jazz, stand up comedy, and Korean barbecue!"

Here at Boswell, we’ve been doing our best to inspire kids to read through our school author visits — virtually, of course. Over the past few weeks, three authors visited seven schools from St. Francis to Greenfield and Milwaukee to West Allis. Lynn Brunelle told students all about the superhero of pollination, the Mason Bee, who is featured in her fun project/book, Turn This Book Into A Beehive.

During her Welcome to Jazz school presentation, Carolyn Sloan introduced jazz to young children. Her lively picture book includes sound buttons to hear the instruments of jazz — the rhythm section with its banjo, drums, and tuba, and the leads, like the clarinet, trumpet, and trombone.

You would be amazed at how much time and effort authors put into making their presentations engaging, informative, and educational for students. Honestly, I am awed by the kindness and generosity of our visiting writers, and even as an adult, I always come away learning something new. (Yes, that was me giving my college-age daughter a mini-lecture on bees at the UW-Madison Arboretum last Saturday.)

Along with University School, Boswell also hosted debut novelist Jessica Kim, author of Stand Up, Yumi Chung! I watched Jessica’s presentation along with the students, and was she ever a hoot! She offered plenty of great writing advice along with a fun presentation about her new book, the perfect read for anyone whose parents sent them to summer test prep when they would’ve much rather gone to comedy camp. Stand Up, Yumi Chung! received three starred reviews, an amazing accomplishment for a first novel. “Kim has woven a pop song of immigrant struggle – authentic and hilarious,” said Kirkus Reviews, and School Library Connection wrote “Uplifting… a timeless and heartwarming tale of individuality and understanding. Readers today will relate to the ongoing battle between parents who want the best for their children and the children’s desire to forge a path of their own.”


Here are a few of my takeaways from Jessica Kim’s talk to USM students:

Jessica started by telling us all about her main character, eleven-year-old Yumi, who feels awkward and nervous about starting middle school. Her #shygirlproblems make finding friends at her fancy private school seem hopeless. Comedy is her passion, and she watches YouTube comedian Jasmine Jasper, who gives tutorials on how to become a standup comedian.


Yumi’s Korean immigrant parents don’t get it at all. Comedy? What a waste of time! Why can’t Yumi spend hours studying for a big test that could lead to a scholarship? Then she could stay at the fancy private school her parents can no longer afford because their Korean barbecue restaurant is having a hard time (despite her dad’s new karaoke machine). Studying in the library, now that would be a great use of summer vacation! So off Yumi goes to dreaded summer test prep. But right next to the library, someone has opened a new comedy club. Yumi peeks inside and hears the voice of none other than YouTube star Jasmine Jasper, and she’s teaching a comedy summer camp for kids! Jasmine mistakes Yumi for a missing camper, and Yumi accidentally on purpose joins the comedy summer camp. Pretty soon Yumi gets caught up in a web of lies with both her family and her new comedy camp friends. As this case of mistaken identity unravels, Yumi must decide to stand up and reveal the truth or risk losing her dreams and disappointing everyone she cares about.

Next Jessica told students more about herself. Her parents immigrated from South Korea in the late 1970s, and Jessica was born in California. In South Korea, her dad worked as a pharmacist, but his degree didn’t transfer over to America, so he opened a small produce shop called Farmer Boy. The shop sold fruit, vegetables, and Asian products that were hard to find in the community. Jessica and her two sisters grew up celebrating both American and Korean traditions. Most of the time, she felt like she had one foot in each world. A feeling of not quite belonging in either world became the topic she wanted to explore through her writing. In high school, Jessica wrote for the school newspaper and interned at the local newspaper. While studying at UC Berkeley, she worked at an after school program near the university. That’s when she realized she loved kids and decided to become a teacher.

After several years as a teacher in California, Jessica and her husband crossed the country to New York for his job. Wow, was life on the eighteenth floor of a high rise different from life in Los Angeles! The loneliness of living so far from home inspired Jessica to start a blog for her family and friends. She posted pictures and told stories about her day. Surprisingly, her readership grew to include people she’d never even met. “Why don’t you write a book, Jessica?” they commented. That idea became like a little seed planted in her brain, but it wasn’t until she moved back to California that she decided maybe she should write that book.

So the decision was made. Jessica would become a children’s book author. YAY! But how does a person who doesn’t even know any children’s book writers suddenly become one? Maybe Google knew. Jessica literally typed, “How do you become an author?” And Google answered, “Find a writing community.” So she found the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) right where she was living in San Diego. But it sounded so frightening! A bunch of writers sit around, and you read your work out loud to strangers, and then they spend the next half hour critiquing you and telling you what’s wrong with it! She was like this scared kitten

But she quickly learned that writers never get better unless they know what’s wrong with their writing. At her first SCBWI meeting, she took fifteen minutes to find the courage to get out of her car and walk into the building. Learning how to write, taking classes, joining a writing group, attending book events, and finally finishing her young adult project took a whole year and a half. Then finally it was time to email literary agents asking them to represent her work. And even after writing to fifty agents, no one wanted to publish her book. She was devastated. Writing a book had taken so long, and sending it out into the world took so much courage, only to have it rejected.

So she quit and took up gardening and making afghans.

But then Jessica got some feedback that exited her. Instead of writing YA, had she thought of writing for middle grade kids? Jessica’s YA book was about a teenage girl who wants to go to culinary school instead of college, but that didn’t make sense for an eleven-year-old. But she still wanted to tell a story of being torn between two cultures with parents who totally didn’t get their daughter’s interests. Maybe she could make changes, but keep the heart of the story. Maybe stand up comedy might even be even better than her first idea. Excited with the new premise, Jessica rewrote her book in just six months. And when she sent it out, this time she got a yes, and that’s why it’s a book today!

Jessica’s Advice for Young Writers:

Read a lot - Find a book you love, and read it three times.

Get lost in the story and the adventure. Read as a reader.

Get out highlighter, highlight passages that made you feel something. Laugh, cry cringe. Analyze how the writer made you feel that way.

When you are writing your own scene, go back to the book and find where you saw a similar emotion, jealousy for example, and try to use some of the strategies that the author used in your own way with your own words.

And if it’s something you want to do, and something you want to get better at, don’t quit!

I’m so glad Jessica Kim joined us for a virtual school visit, and I hope she can visit Milwaukee in person for her next book. In the meantime, follow Jessica on Twitter at @jesskimwrites and Instagram at jesskimwrites.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Tim's Big Baseball Blog


Hi from Tim. In my life I've been baseball lucky. I was 10 years old in 1970, and the very first field manager of the Milwaukee Brewers moved in across the street and lived there during the three summers he managed the team. I played with Dave Bristol's sons and daughter at County Stadium, on the field, in the players' clubhouse and in the bullpen. They even let us shag batting practice in those days. Can you image kids today getting lumps on their heads from chasing major league line drives? That's me on a postcard during the Brewers first season, with "Brew-Bear" and Mr. Bristol's daughter "Sissy" (in full uniform). It's one of the reasons I'm a big fan of Bud Selig (see below for his book). He brought baseball back to Milwaukee after the Braves left town.

A few years later, my father's friend asked me to model sports gear for his employer, Medalist Industries. I was stunned when I ended up doing photos for their catalogs with Bart Starr and Cubs legend Ernie Banks. That's me, at 16 years old, with Mr. Banks as my hitting coach at County Stadium. He was a glorious man with a priceless smile who was fond of saying, "It's a beautiful day for a ball game. Let's play two." At the end of our photo shoot, he thanked me and he meant it. It was an act of humble gratitude that taught me more than words can express. So baseball is in my blood, and these recent books have given me the thrill I've needed in the game’s absence.

The Brewers' complete history is covered in a big, impressive (and heavy) book called The Milwaukee Brewers at 50: Celebrating a Half-Century of Brewers Baseball, by Adam McCalvy. They could have built Miller Park out of these books! The giant photos from every era are a fan's delight, and the first-hand stories from the biggest names in the organization have fresh insights that surprised me. With introductions by Bud Selig and Mark Attanasio, and a foreword by Robin Yount, this is a special collector's item.

Let's Play Two: The Legend of Mr. Cub, The Life of Ernie Banks, by Ron Rapoport is a biography of the greatest Cubs player ever, but it's ok Brewers fans. When I was a kid the Brewers were an American League team, with no Cubs rivalry at all. It was common for my friends to listen to both Brewers and Cubs games, and this book is about the man pictured with me above, a man anybody could love. He was more complicated than his public image, of course, but the book confirmed one important thing for me. Everyone in his life, from a high school football coach to a veteran major league umpire, said you could never get him to be negative or say a bad word about anyone. He never even argued with umps about pitches! So the way he treated me was true to him. Rapoport has also given us a highly detailed look at more than the man, a look at many aspects of Chicago and also at baseball during a time when black players were just getting into the majors. Hank Aaron plays a leading role, too!

Nobody is more qualified to tell us the story of the last 50 years of baseball than former Brewers owner Bud Selig, who went on to become commissioner of baseball. For the Good of the Game: The Inside Story of the Surprising and Dramatic Transformation of Major League Baseball is genuine and fast moving, and I was fascinated by it. Selig has seen it all. He's effusive in praising the people he loves, both inside and outside baseball, but he's also bold about his frustrations and the people who caused them. One example of this is Selig's expression of deep friendship with Henry Aaron and the irritation he felt with representing baseball as Commissioner while watching Aaron's home run record being broken by Barry Bonds, a man he obviously does not like. I've never really understood all the flack Selig has taken from some fans, because I believe he's done so much to make the game better.

Who Got Game? Baseball: Amazing but True Stories, by Derrick Barnes is a great book for kids who already love baseball and for those just getting started. Barnes, the award-winning author of the picture books Crown and The King of Kindergarten, has given them a reason to get excited during a time when the game is on hold. These stories are brief but dramatic, and clearly laid out for understanding. It makes this a nice book to share with early readers, and it will also interest kids up to 12 years old. Barnes has a storyteller's flair and energy, and he teaches some baseball basics along the way, making this a good starting place for new fans. These stories are often not about the usual big names but rather about the underdogs who succeeded, the great comebacks, the courage of people who were pushed aside but made it into baseball anyway, and of course the strange statistics that baseball lovers talk about endlessly. It's funny, and fascinating, and this baseball fan loved it at 60 years old. Barnes belts it out of the park!

Child of the Dream: a Memoir of 1963, by Sharon Robinson isn't a baseball book as such, but Sharon Robinson was at the heart of both the game and the Civil Rights movement. As she turned 13 in January of 1963, her father, baseball legend and lifelong activist Jackie Robinson, was deeply involved with raising money for the cause while working side by side with Dr. Martin Luther King. Sharon heard firsthand about the roller coaster ride of the movement. It's an enlightening story of the pivotal year in American history, but it's equally a tender story about the loving family of an American hero and the story of a girl just becoming a young woman. It's a gift to lovers of history and baseball, and a wonderful addition to coming of age stories for kids in their early teens.

There are more that I haven't read, too! A book of life stories and life lessons by Willie Mays called 24: Life Stories and Lessons from the Say Hey Kid looks cool! So does Lou Gehrig: The Lost Memoir. With luck, we'll be somehow seeing or hearing games soon. Until then, enjoy a baseball read!

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Jenny Chou has Five Questions for Jenny Elder Moke


From Jenny: I’m so happy to welcome YA author Jenny Elder Moke to the Boswellians Blog to talk about her new book, Hood, a reimagining of the legend of Robin Hood. This time readers get to experience Sherwood Forest and England under King John’s reign from the point of view of Robin Hood’s daughter, Isabelle. The result is a great adventure story filled with lots of witty dialogue, an endearing thief as a love interest, and a strong female main character with the archery skills of Katniss Everdeen. Jenny Elder Moke explores the themes of trust and betrayal when she gives Isabelle an impossible choice to make, one with deadly consequences for her small family. Between that and richly developed emotional ties connecting the central characters, I couldn’t turn the pages quickly enough.

JENNY CHOU: Hi Jenny! Thanks for chatting with me on the blog today. Sixteen-year-old Isabelle has grown up in a remote English convent under the care of her mother, the Prioress. Right from the first page readers know Isabelle’s quiet life is about to change dramatically. Her archery skills have landed her in serious trouble and on the run. What challenges is she up against as she leaves the convent behind?

JENNY ELDER MOKE: First of all: thank you for your kind words! Having readers discover and love my story has truly been the greatest joy of being a debut. As far as Isabelle is concerned, her whole existence is about to get turned upside down and inside out. Her biggest worries in the priory were avoiding the vicious Sister Catherine and her back-breaking chores, but when she *accidentally* shoots a king’s soldier and lands herself in prison, she learns that there are worse punishments than scrubbing the dormitory floors. Now she’s on the run facing a corrupt king, his lethal right-hand man, and a hidden world of outlaws deep in the greens of Sherwood Forest. Oh, and surprise! Her dad is Robin Hood, the infamous outlaw who’s been a constant thorn in the king’s side.

JC: What do you hope readers, and especially teens, take away from Hood?

JEM: More than anything, I want this book to be an adventure and an escape from reality. Which we could all use more than usual right now! But that’s what I loved most about books when I was a kid, their ability to transport me to fantastical worlds with exciting adventures I couldn’t have in my own life. They were an escape hatch, a lifeline, and I hope I can give kids that same secret door in the back of a cupboard.

JC: So much work goes into crafting a novel - from creating a setting so real that readers understand what it’s like to balance high above the ground on a rope bridge in Sherwood Forest to giving characters motivations and individual personalities. Do you start with an outline and character profiles or do plot, characters, and setting develop as you write the story?

JEM: Oh no, don’t get me started on craft hahaha. I could talk about it ALL day long. My process has evolved as my skills have evolved, to the point that I do a huge chunk of planning and processing up front before I start writing. I’ve done a lot of work on my own process, as well as studying other people’s processes (I highly recommend Story Genius by Lisa Cron for character development and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder for story structure). Now I take a more multi-pronged approach, knowing that all aspects of story influence each other. I usually start with a premise, the “what if…” and then figure out the theme, the story I’m trying to tell. From there I imagine what kind of character would be most interesting to follow through the story, and I chart out major plot points we’ll hit along the way (inciting incident, midpoint, climax, etc.). Then I’ll start filling in scenes in an outline-type format, making sure I identify external plot points and internal emotional points. And THEN after several weeks/months of this, I’ll actually start drafting.

JC: School Library Journal gave Hood a starred review (Congratulations!) and said, “The ending leaves readers wanting more, and there is room for a sequel.” By any chance is your next project a sequel, or is your writing taking you in a totally different direction? Tell us what’s next!

JEM:  I’ve had several people ask about a sequel, which is so flattering and exciting! I have definitely wondered what would happen to the kids now that the country is going to war. The door isn’t closed for me yet. But right now I'm excited to be working on a new series with Disney Books! The first book in the series, Curse of the Specter Queen, is about a book-loving codebreaker, her childhood crush, and her reckless best friend working together to stop an ancient Celtic curse that could destroy the world. It's like Indiana Jones meets National Treasure by way of the Mummy. It's just as adventurous, nail-biting, and bantery as Hood, and I can't wait for readers to discover it next year!

JC: Well now I can’t wait to find out about this exciting upcoming project. Let’s imagine you get to be an Indie bookseller for a day! Are there any new releases you’d suggest to YA readers?

JEM: Oh my gosh, that’s a dream! Although I don’t know how I’d get anything done if I’m always sneaking off to hide in the stacks and read haha. But there are a few fellow debuts who have incredible books coming out this year. If you like romance and breath-taking action, If You Only Knew by Prerna Pickett came out in February. If you’re like me and crave historical, The Silence of Bones by June Hur just recently released in April. And if you can stand the wait, A Golden Fury by Samantha Cohoe comes out in October this year. I loved this book so much I threatened to duel her at dawn for being so good at writing.

JC: YA writers dueling at dawn. I’d get up early for that, though of course it would only be pretend and we’d be in our pajamas, drinking coffee and munching on something yummy made of chocolate as we watched the sun rise. Thanks so much for chatting with me, Jenny! Follow her on Twitter @jennyelder and on Instagram @jennyeldermoke.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Socks? Socks!


And get a copy of
How to Wear Socks
from Boswell, too!
From Madi: Have you seen the sock posts on the Boswell Book Company Instagram? Those are my feet. The posts themselves were also my insistence. I was even recently described by a fellow Boswellian as “socks champion.” What is especially weird is that as soon as the weather warms, I usually wear slip on shoes, and cut out the socks all together, But that was before I moved to Wisconsin, and here my toes are always cold. So, I am very happy that Boswell has such a great collection of what I affectionately call foot cozies to keep my cold toes covered! Men’s, women’s, even some children’s and no-show options - we’ve got ‘em! Well, since I can’t stop talking about socks, I might as well write some recommendations to keep my fellow Milwaukeeans comfortable.

We have three main brands of socks here at Boswell. The first kind is called Socksmith - I think of these as the classy ones of the crew (sock pun!). They come in unisex or women's sizing, and their patterns tend to be a bit more general. One fancy yellow pair for women has badgers all over them, so you KNOW they sell well. I personally lose my mind any time a pair with a cow comes in. We even have a unisex option that is black and white cow print with pink at the toes. A lot of this brand has animal and floral motifs, but the unisex options have some funky green math socks for anyone missing their math classes, and a colorful puzzle piece sock to wear while you try to sort out the 1,000 jumble of puzzle pieces monopolizing your coffee table. Plenty of variety.

The second brand we have is Out of Print. They also make fun tote bags and zipper pouches that we carry at Boswell, but lately, we have expanded the sock variety of this brand. My favorite socks I have purchased from Boswell is a Fahrenheit 451 themed pair featured in a recent Instagram post; the abstract swirl of colors is perfectly fiery for this sci-fi classic. The Out of Print selection is the most literary-centric. The Harry Potter socks from like collection are quite popular, but I get a giggle out of the “Poe-lka Dots” pair - they have Edgar Allen Poe all over them. If that isn’t enough, we even have a matching tote! But if you still want a general yet bookish foot cozy, the Cats on Stacks pair or the “Banned Books” pair are super cute without the genre commitment. These socks are the perfect way to show the world how well read your ankles are.

The brand that offers the largest variety and tends toward the silly side has the best name: Sock It to Me! My favorite pair I own from this brand are sharks wearing 3-D glasses (I warned you they were silly). It seems that a lot of fellow book sellers also go a little crazy over this brand. Margaret bought the “Area 51” pair depicting a cow being abducted by a UFO. Rachel bought the “Head over Heel” pair that have different body parts on them. Even Kira fell in love with a pair depicting squirrels paddling a canoe. We carry a few no-show socks from this brand for those who want to be the only ones know what cool patterns are hidden under their shoes, or knee socks for those who can’t show the patterns off enough. We currently have a four pair series depicting four different trailblazing women scientists for all the STEM feminists (STEMinists!). But if you want to keep it fun and silly, we have dinosaurs, donuts, bigfoot on a bicycle, sparkles socks, space themed socks, and more!

There’s something for everybody’s toes at Boswell - browse our socks virtually right here on our website. Best of all, all the socks we carry are at least 55% cotton, so you can wear these socks without worrying about stinky feet - so people will SEE your cool socks first, not smell them. Never did I think I would be working at a bookstore and be so excited about the sock selection, but here we are. Just ask for Madi if you want to talk sock!