Friday, December 11, 2009

The Evolution of Feminism - A Mark Production

Last week we had the pleasure of welcoming one of the authors of the book Girldrive; Nona Willis Aronowitz. She and photographer Emma Bee Bernstein (who, sadly died recently) undertook a journey across America to connect with young women in all walks of life throughout the country to try to discover what, if anything, does ‘feminism’ mean to the women of generation Y. The answers were varied and illuminating, but there did seem to be a common thread that connected all these 20-something women, and that is a certain disconnect from what is generally regarded as the stereotypical image of a feminist; the man-hating/lesbian militant. An image distilled from the days of Gloria Steinem, ERA and the women’s liberation marches in the 1960s and ‘70s. These young women certainly experienced gender-based discrimination in their personal lives and they dealt with these issues as best they could. Yet, some of them seemed to have blinders on when it came to seeing the larger picture of the unique challenges that women face both here and around the world.

Along with Girldrive, there are some other important books that have been published recently that bring to the fore the important history of the women’s movement here in the US and the heartbreaking oppression that women face in many parts of the developing world. When Everything Changed: the Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins shows us our world as it was in the early 1960s when a women’s place was in the home, and she’d better have dinner ready when the man of the house got home from a tough day at the office (if you’ve ever watched the show ‘Mad Men’, you get the picture). That paradigm was about to change however, when a number of key women in what would come to be called the ‘second wave’ of feminism began to question and eventually begin to dismantle much of the time-honored patriarchal conventions of society. Obviously there have been many victories, but there are clearly more battles to be fought. The challenge appears to be that some folks are not aware that the war isn’t over yet.

Clearly feminism continues to evolve in terms of what it means to the modern woman and what it can achieve in the world today. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn focuses on the ways in which the female gender is under attack in many parts of the world, from sex trafficking in Cambodia, to honor killings in the middle east, to selective abortions based on gender in China, India and Indonesia. The hard facts and statistics presented in this book map out the gut wrenching degree of female suffering and death in many parts of the developing world, but the stories presented are ultimately about hard-won victories and hope. The common theme in these books is social justice, human rights and freedom. These books present women’s issues certainly, but at their core they are human issues.

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!

Friday, October 30, 2009

What's that in the sky? A bird? A plane? A Shooting Star!

The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars

By Christopher Cokinos

Why do we remain obsessed with falling stars? Historians, scientists and religious seekers have all wondered about them and fought over their meaning. In The Fallen Sky, author Christopher Cokinos indulges readers with a wild tale of science, history and human passion. He crisscrosses the planet, from the South Pole to Greenland, hitting every continent while meeting some characters so quirky they’d be laughed out of a novel. This gorgeous story is about the history of meteorites in the human imagination and an old-fashioned adventure tale.

In this broad examination of shooting stars, Cokinos addresses the spiritual beliefs of aboriginal tribes as well as the “entrepreneurial” spirit of the men who stole a fifteen ton (fifteen TON!) meteorite simply to possess it. Meteorites have been seen as portents of doom, used to predict the fall of kings and blamed for the extinction of the dinosaurs. But that doesn’t mean they are not sought after. Remember Excalibur? Cokinos traces myths across the world where a great hero’s sword is made from nothing less than a fallen star.

Even in the rational sphere of science, we find eccentric (or mad) folks convinced that meteorites hold the answers to their questions. Cokinos meets biologists, cosmologists, physicists, and adventurers as they chase down these priceless bits of stardust in remote corners of the earth. A naturalist at heart, Cokinos renders the grandeur of these places with an eye for detail that every reader will appreciate.

Well-researched and lovingly written, this book is a beautiful presentation of an offbeat topic. It was my favorite book of 2009, and I highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in either the science or the romance of shooting stars, people who love to read about the last wild places on earth, or those who just want a rousing adventure for a cold winter night.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

They’re Here! Zombies in Popular Fiction

If you’ve been to a book store lately (and shame on you if you haven’t) you have probably noticed that vampires are all the rage in popular fiction, including romance novels and books targeted at teens. Second to vampires are werewolves. A number of authors have featured creatures of the night as their protagonists (and antagonists) such as Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, and Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series to name a few.

These are not the only night stalkers that are featured heavily in current fiction. If you look carefully you will notice a growing variety of books featuring zombies. “Zombies?” you say? Yes, Zombies! The dead that cannot die, but rather roam the earth as decaying, shambling ghouls propelled by a relentless hunger for living human flesh!

Admittedly, the sensual, romantic vampires and the tortured souls that bay at the moon are the girls’ favorites. The zombies are for the boys, as evidenced by the popularity of Max Brook’s books, The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z. There has also been Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, in an attempt to get guys to read Jane Austen.

I can understand the popularity of vampires and werewolves. Vampires are cool and stylish; werewolves are wild, party animals. Zombies? What is so interesting about them? They’re crude, uncouth, messy, smelly, no sense of style. They roam around with their mouths open and their eyes rolled back in their heads, leaving a trail of fetid viscera wherever they go. Where’s the mystique? What’s the point of eating the flesh of the living? They can’t digest anything; their innards are putrefying by the hour.

In an attempt to learn more, I picked up a handy guide called The Zombie Handbook by Rob Sacchetto. This book will tell you all you need to know, along with illustrations so gruesome that it’s like homage to the EC Comics’ Vault of Horror.

As I perused this ghastly, nauseating tome, I came upon a section devoted to a special variety of zombie; namely, the ‘alien-possessed’. Now we’re talking! A human as host to an alien parasite, an alien-produced human replica, or even an artificial human. Certainly, a marauding, flesh-eating zombie is no trip to Disneyland (or maybe it is), but even more frightening is to be face to face with someone, something that you completely accept as a human being (and why would you think anything else?), but is really not human, or is no longer human. You would never know, or perhaps you have a sense or feeling that something is not quite right about the person in front of you, but you can’t quite put your finger on what is wrong with him or her. A rotting corpse meandering around is fairly easy to spot, but what if the ‘zombie’ appears to be just like everyone else?

Maybe you have just met someone, a new business acquaintance perhaps, and they seem normal enough, but suppose, just suppose that what they really are is a poor hapless drone that has been hijacked by a slug-like alien intelligence as in The Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein, or The Host by Stephanie Meyer? You and your new ‘friend’ sit down to enjoy a latte and some scones, and you begin to become aware that there is something odd about this person, perhaps this person is not really a person, but rather a facsimile produced by an extraterrestrial seed pod like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Jack Finney, or an alien that has the ability to completely absorb another life form and produce an exact duplicate like in Who Goes There by John W. Campbell Jr.?

What if this person smiling pleasantly at you is just a synthetic construct made to duplicate human expression, like the characters in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, or as in Solaris by Stanislaw Lem?

Of course this is all in fun, just fodder for popular pulp fiction. And yet, if we were being infiltrated by an alien life form such as suggested in these various works of fiction, how would we ever know, until it’s too late? Eventually we would be them. Look around you; perhaps you are the only one in the room that is still human. Maybe you should read the books that I mentioned. While you still have time.
Posted by Mark Paprocki

Monday, October 19, 2009

Look at the Birdie by Vonnegut is out Today!!

I remember the first book I read of Kurt Vonnegut, it was Sirens of Titan. I was 16 and mainly reading fantasy books at the time. Reading that book was the beginning of the end for me. I blew through most of Vonnegut's library of books in a summer.

I believe that was around the time when Bagombo Snuff Box came out, and a fellow bookseller at the time, John, bought the book on the same day I did. The next time I worked with him I was done with it, John was not. He was savoring the stories and the books, in fact he had not read the previous book at all. Now, years later, I understand exactly why he did what he did, though I still have not learned from it. Armageddon in Retrospect was fantastic, but I read that one too quickly. I should have savored them as well, but there is something in Vonnegut's style that propels the reader onward.

I have done it once again with Look at the Birdie, which is out today. Now, I am not one these blind fans that will tell you that every story in this book is a gem. No, most of them are not on the same level as the stories in Welcome to the Monkey House, but they are pure Vonnegut genius nonetheless. A lot of these stories were written a long time ago, almost all of them before he became the famous Kurt Vonnegut. They are marvelous in the way they hint at how Vonnegut's style was emerging to the stories of Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle. My favorite story, if such a thing were possible, would be Ed Luby's Key Clubs. Where a misunderstanding leads a couple, who are out for a romantic evening, on the run from the law. In Nice Little People, the main character gets advice from aliens to help him deal with his personal problems, and not for the better.

If you read and liked Armageddon in Retrospect, you will like Look at the Birdie. It is not the same type of short fiction, but it is all Vonnegut and it is simply fantastic. It is also full of Vonnegut's own drawings that litter the book and complement the stories. It is on Boswell's Best for the month at $20.80."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Logicomix: A (really) new way of looking at logic

Fred and Ginger, peanut butter and jelly...mathematics and graphic novels? Okay, so it doesn't sound like a natural pairing, but Logicomix, an illustrated guide to the life and work of Bertrand Russell by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou, works well. It is part biography and part philosophy road-trip. The authors take some extremely dense ideas and use the format of the graphic novel to present them in a way that grabs your attention without oversimplifying the topic. They use the character of the mathematician and logician Bertrand Russell as a frame for exploring the evolution of mathematical theory in the first half of the 20th century, a period when the philosopy of mathematics was undergoing some radical transformations. The complication of the growing power of Hitler's Reich adds yet another componant to the story, as our academic characters learn to confront the political reality of Europe as they work.

Bertrand Russell, who wrote the Principia Mathematica and who influenced Wittgenstein's later work in the field, is a perfect character for readers to get introduced to the complexites of the ideas in the book. The authors (who are also characters in the book) start out simply enough -- they show us a young "Bertie" Russell, the orphaned boy. Ruled by a domineering grandmother who uses faith as a bludgeon to keep the boy in line, Russell spends much of his early life looking for some kind of certainty in his lonely life. The precision of mathematics and logic seem to provide this certainty, although Russell is soon plagued by gaps in what is known about the field. The reader follows the maturing Russell as he collaborates (and occasionally confronts) the best minds in Europe on issues like set theory, infinity, and the limits of logic. At the same time, we see parts of Russell's life, and watch as he slowly realizes that logic cannot solve his own problems or those of a world that is hurtling toward another war.

The story covers decades on Russell's life, and introduces a host of characters. This is where the graphic novel format really shines -- despite the density of the subject, the format of the book keeps you engaged (and the handy appendix in the back keeps you from forgetting who's who). This book is great for anyone who's interested in the history of math, the life of Russell, or who just wants something different. Logicomix is a nonfiction tale that is like nothing else out there.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fall Fiction for Kids

There is a barrage of new children's fiction this fall, but a few really stood out from the rest. Let's go from youngest to oldest, shall we?

Lois Lowry (who normally writes for older readers) has new picture book, Crow Call, which is quietly dazzling.

The watercolor art, by illustrator Bagram Ibatoulline, shows the soft autumn landscape of rural Pennsylvania and the small-town life of the 1940s. It is the perfect backround for a complex story of a young girl who must become reacquainted with her father, just returned from the war in Europe. Simple events -- a walk through the woods, eating cherry pie -- highlight the family's efforts to return to "normal" even after the difficulties of the past years. This is definitely a book to read together, because the themes and language will be challenging for young readers. But it is worth the effort!

If all that sounds too serious, go with Wag!, by Patrick McDonnell. You'll recognize the style from the creator of the comic strip MUTTS, with Mooch, Earl, and Jules making an appearance. They're all trying to figure out just what makes Earl's tail wag so much. The answer, it turns out, is simple -- LOVE. The fun illustrations and sweet antics of the dog and his friends make for a charming story.

For older readers, we have great new books just in time for Halloween. I loved The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children (Keith McGowan), a retelling of the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale. McGowan's update is both dark and unapologetically clever. Sol and Connie, children with less-than-parental parental figures, find themselves in danger of becoming the next meal of the neighborhood witch. Only their wits will save them! Intermediate readers will love the fast-paced, slightly scary plot.

Don't have time for a whole book? How about 30 seconds? Half-Minute Horrors, a collection of nearly one hundred supershort tales by well-known authors, will get even reluctant readers going. The contributors know their horror: Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, R.L. Stine, and Lemony Snicket are among the writers.

Vampires are taking over the teen section, but not all of them glitter. Catherine Jinks gives a fun twist on the teen vampire trope with The Reformed Vampire Support Group. Join Nina, reluctant vampire and eternal highschooler, as she tries to figure out who might be behind the mysterious "ashings" of her fellow reformed vampires. Witty dialogue, along with a decidedly unromantic view of vampirism, makes this a fun read for young adults who need a reprieve from certain other series full of moping, sighing vamps.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Of Darker Persuasions

Darker Persuasions: Of Dystopia, Vampires, Circus Freaks and Vigilantism

For someone who isn't a frantic reader of fiction, my current recommendations are not only all fiction, but fairly dark. Of course, I generally don't read much happy-go-lucky, feel-good fiction anyway so this is par for the course, but it struck me as I looked at my shelf that the current array is very dark and rather interesting. Let's have a look, shall we?

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (paperback, $14.95)

In the build-up to Atwood's next book, The Year of the Flood (9/22), I'm encouraging people to either read for the first time or re-read Oryx and Crake. It's a dystopian look at the future that eerily mirrors our present: Genetic splicing and god-like creature creation is used for everything from food to pets to organ donation for humans; where any awful tragedy can quickly be viewed on a computer via video-sharing sites; child pornography is rampant; and something apocalyptic has wiped out most of humanity. Told from the perspective of a survivor who may or may not have had a part of it all, bouncing back from post-disaster to pre-disaster, Atwood uses her trademark imagination of the worst society can do balanced alongside great humanity, compassion and even spirituality.

The Resurrectionist by Jack O'Connell
(paperback, $13.95)

A more than strange, bizarre story of a father's deep, abiding love for his son who has been in a coma for most of his life. Throw in a strange neurosurgeon with almost other-worldly experimental procedures, a comic book full of circus freaks that may be a reality in and of itself, a motorcycle gang, hallucinogens and very little daylight - and you have the perfect recipe for a novel that you can't put down, without necessarily realizing why! The dark imaginings of O'Connell's Limbo linger long after the story has come to it's riveting, perplexing conclusion.

Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (paperback, $15.95)

I don't care for vampires. I don't read about them. I don't watch movies about them. I don't 'do' horror. However, the "book club" I sporadically take part in chose this Swedish vampire novel as it's selection for June with the intention of watching the film version for "discussion." Something about the writing and the premise perked my interest and I thought I would give it a chance. So glad I did as it was, using the new, obnoxious non-word of choice for blurbs these days - "unputdownable". Our 12 yr old protagonist is more than a little preoccupied with a grisly murder that occurred in the forested park nearby as well as the appearance of a strange young girl who moved in next door - a new friend he only sees, seemingly, at night. A non-stop thrill ride that you do NOT want to read before bedtime!

Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy
(paperback, $14.00)

I love Cormac McCarthy. I love his nihilism and violence, his plain prose stories of humanity falling apart at it's gritty western seams. This, his second novel, is as brief and whirlwind a read as The Road. A woman gives birth to her brother's child and he takes to the woods to leave it for dead. Upon hearing that the child was alive, she flees in search of the babe. Her brother follows. Meanwhile there is a minsterial like figure with two partners traveling the countryside, also in search of something, or someone, exacting their quick and bloody revenge under cover of darkness wherever they go. An excerpt, if you will:

Pale lamplight falling down the door, the smiling face, black beard, the tautly drawn and dusty suit of black. Light went in a long bright wink upon the knifeblade as it sank with a faint breath of gas into his belly. He felt suddenly very cold. The dogs had gone and there was no sound in the night anywhere. Minister? he said. Minister? His assassin smiled upon him with bright teeth, the faces of the other two peering from either shoulder in consubstantial monstrosity, a grim triune that watched wordless, affable. He looked down at the man's fist cupped against his stomach. The fist rose in an eruption of severed viscera until the blade seized in the junction of his breastbone and he stood disemboweled. He reached to put one hand on the doorjamb. He took a step backwards as if to let them pass.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Holy New Releases Batman!

We Boswellians have been rather busy as of late, although it may not appear so if you stop by the store. There's a lot of crazy stuff going on behind the scenes. Namely, our beloved receiver Carl has been frantically unpacking boxes of big new releases. The new book on Ted Kennedy, True Compass, is a hefty one. We are concerned about Carl throwing out his back. (Just kidding. Mostly.)

What else is new? Lorrie Moore's not exactly new, but her latest book is. We have a small stack of signed A Gate At The Stairs remaining, but don't fret if you don't make it in to get one. She'll be visiting the Boswell Book Company on November 12th.

New stuff that I've read personally? Suzanne Collins's follow-up to The Hunger Games, Catching Fire. Christopher Ransom's The Birthing House. Catching Fire was more of the same, but fortunately, that's not necessarily a bad thing. The Birthing House was dark and creepy, and takes place in Wisconsin. Plenty of recognizable locations! While I liked both a fair amount, neither one will receive a prestigious spot on my much-coveted Staff Recommendations shelf. But I still recommend them, unofficially.

And then, of course, there's the new Dan Brown book. The Lost Symbol. It's selling quite well, and is 30% off for a week. And we have tons of them, come on in and pick one up. Tell me how it is, while you're at it, since I won't have time to read it for quite awhile. I'm pretty tied up in reading this.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Never before has child thievery been so enjoyable!

When I first signed on to Boswell Book Company, Jason handed me a sizable stack of advanced reader copy books and told me to tell him what I thought. The pile has grown larger and larger as the days have passed, to the point where a few have been dismissed before their stories actually got rolling. Don't get me wrong, I try not to judge too hastily! But if a book can't hook me in the first few pages, I am not inclined to continue reading it.

I had a feeling that The Child Thief by Brom was going to be one of those swiftly-dismissed titles. Everything about it screamed mediocre fantasy/sci-fi mass market. Nevertheless, I put aside my reservations and picked it up. I skeptically flipped through the first few illustrated pages, noting that while they would look great in a graphic novel (Brom was an illustrator, after all), they seemed out of place in a novel.

Fast forward a couple hours. I'm hooked. Brom enticed me with the first page, and I never looked back. Except a couple times, at the artwork. Normally I wouldn't suggest you judge a book by the cover, but the cover of The Child Thief is fairly fantastic. The entire thing reads like some sort of twisted concoction of Peter Pan spliced with Lord of the Flies, with a hint of some darker horror film content.

One of our new bookseller additions, Jocelyn (or as I like to call her, J-Dog), also enjoyed the book...

"I've always been a sucker for fairy tales, both the classics (like Grimm's) and the retellings like those in the "White as Snow, Red as Blood" series edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. So when I saw The Child Thief, an adaptation of Peter Pan, I was interested. Brom,* in his debut adult novel, exploits some of the darkness in J. M. Barrie's original classic to create a wholly new world. Familiar characters -- such as Captain Hook and Princess Tiger Lily -- appear in different, more nuanced guises. Peter himself is portrayed as a much more ambiguous figure than the cheerful boy-hero of the original. Forget everything you saw in the Disney movie; The Child Thief has torture, murder, betrayal, and psychological torment. And that's just the good guys!

Brom uses elements of urban fantasy, blended with British myth to create a gritty fairy tale for grown-ups. I finished my copy about two days after I started it -- call in sick and you may finish yours even faster.

*(Yes, he only has one name. I was suspicious too. But he's primarily an artist, so we'll let it go this time.)"

And yes, she did add the footnote.

If this wasn't enough to convince you, there's always the fact that it's on the Boswell's Best list for September, and is thus 20% off.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Mystery Vacation with Anne

I recently traveled to a small Canadian town for the weekend--thanks to Louise Penny's new book Brutal Telling, which is due out September 22nd. Since an actual vacation was not in the cards this year, it was a wonderful time away. Her books always tell a good story, the sense of place is strong, and the characters who recur from book to book are becoming friends.

If I want to visit Paris for awhile, the mysteries by Cara Black are the perfect way to do it. Each book is set in a different neighborhood of the city. The descriptions are so vivid you can feel the cobblestones beneath your feet! The most recent book is Murder in the Latin Quarter, and a new one is due out in March of 2010.

One of the more exciting developments in the mystery field over the past few years, is the number of authors from other countries whose works are becoming more available here. It's possible to travel around the world without leaving your favorite place to read. Settle back with any of these authors and enjoy a marvelous mini-vacation:

Matt Beynon Rees (Israel/Gaza)
Anne McMahon hosts a Mystery Book Club at Boswell Book Company every fourth Monday of the month.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Used Musings

When I worked at the Shorewood Harry W. Schwartz, we did not buy or sell used books, and as a result I was not familiar with the practice. After a couple months here at Boswell, I have become accustomed to the process somewhat. Although I haven't gotten to try purchasing used books myself yet, I have been able to enter them into the computer and I have watched quite a few get purchased. It's odd what gets picked up and what doesn't.

Awhile ago, a gentleman came in with a bag of "used" books - I use quotation marks because they had been read once and were in almost pristine condition. Not only that, but many of the books were very new. There was a beautiful hardcover copy of Between the Assassinations by Adiga that had only been released a week or so prior. With the discount we placed on it for being "used," I expected it to be gone within days. I was proven wrong rather quickly... truth be told, it is still lurking on the shelf.

On the opposite end of things, a woman came in another day with a few boxes of books. I recall entering them into the computer and not recognizing a single one. One was an old, dusty book about the history of Greece from a seemingly random year to a later seemingly random year. I wondered (sometimes aloud, depending on how obscure the titles were) who would ever come wandering in the store and buy such things. The ancient Greece book was gone by the end of the day.

Why do strange things like this happen? Along with Assassinations came in a beautiful hardcover The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which I correctly identified as being a quick sell. It wasn't placement, since the two titles were right next to each other. I don't know. Strange things happen, I suppose.

So what's on the used shelves now? A quick glance will reveal a lot of mass markets. Patterson, King, and Silva seem to be fairly common, as well as a single copy of Dan Brown's Angels & Demons, which for some reason has not been picked up either. There is also a ton of crazy things on the 99 cent markdown cart, which is often frequented by customers.

If you're interested in selling your used books, feel free to shoot us an email or give us a call. We buy for store credit, and would love to peruse whatever you have to offer.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Great Summer Staff Rec on The Magicians

The Magicians by Lev Grossman was released early this August due to some great reviews. In a month deluged in big name authors, from Pynchon, Conroy, and Russo, this was easily my favorite book coming out. Quite possibly for the year, though there is a new Vonnegut coming that I really, really like. I shamelessly pitched the book onto other employees looking for more readers, and I convinced two, Amie and Greg. Amie started reading the book, only to have it stolen by her daughter. I think this is proof that The Magicians has a good chance to sell well this year; while the book does have a darker edge to the story than Harry Potter and Twilight, it still has that cross over appeal to the teen market. If you have read either, I think this book might just be for you. This is what Greg Bruce had to say about it:

“I am reluctant to call The Magicians the "more adult version of Harry Potter," yet I do. This is because it is the closest parallel that can be drawn, despite the fact that Grossman's work is ahead of Rowling's by leaps and bounds. Nevertheless, fans of Rowling or C.S. Lewis will find themselves engrossed in The Magicians, staying awake until the wee hours of the morning just to discern the fates of the primary characters.

The Magicians is much like Harry Potter in the sense that the main character is a young man with remarkable magical abilities, but with a key difference. Harry Potter is the embodiment of absolute good - his morality never wavers and he always finds his way back to standing against Voldemort, the avatar of absolute evil. Quentin Coldwater, the main character of The Magicians, is different. He makes mistakes - real, human mistakes - and pays for them dearly. In this respect, The Magicians is grittier and more real than Harry Potter, and thus is set apart. In the real world, some mistakes aren't rectified, some problems aren't resolved, and death is absolute.”

There is also a great book review, one of many that had Penguin releasing the book before the actual on sale date, at the Washington Post. It is by Keith Donohue, the author of the The Stolen Child, another fantastic read.

If you are in need for a fantasy fix, if the new Harry Potter movie left you remorseful that there is nothing new to be published, then The Magicians will be a perfect way to end the summer.

Right now, the The Magicians is 20% off in our Boswell’s Best for the month of August.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

New to Read Local--American Wildlife Art

Shortly after we first opened on April 3rd, a local author came in to ask if we would carry his book. We had been talking about it for sometime, however, I had been asking to carry it on consignment, since the publisher was small, and really only published his book. It is my standard form with all local authors coming into the shop. Once he showed me the book, American Wildlife Art by David J. Wagner, I was fascinated by it and decided to order it direct. He provided contact information and I was going to work on it. Fast forward to today, and we have just received the book in, it still looks gorgeous.

Why did it take so long to procure the book? Well, simply put, I am not the fastest with the e-mail. I let it pile up, and then I try to burn through it at a furious rate. Not a very good system. Anyway, I sent an e-mail, forgot that I sent it until a reply came back three weeks later, and then I replied again. During that time David Wagner came back in and asked about the progress. I had to sheepishly reply that I had only e-mailed to his publisher a couple of times but had yet to actually place an order. I placed the order about a month ago, and now this book is in our shops. It has been heralded as a both a beautiful and wonderful art book and as a great piece of art history. He has blended the two into a perfect symbiosis. There has always been a place in America where nature art has captured the minds of so many, and David Wagner takes us on a tour of the past four centuries of it. Come in and take a look at the book, it is in our Read Local section, I think you will agree that it is something special.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

"Y'know, they're making a movie out of that book..."

Hearing someone utter those fateful words can mean one of two things. Either excitement builds and you wait with anxious anticipation for the release date, upon which you flock to the theater at midnight with your friends and observe your favorite literary work played out on the silver screen… or you shudder at the thought and go about your business until release day, upon which you open up the paper and laugh uncontrollably at the negative reviews. But in the end, it is good publicity for the book regardless of whether or not the film bombs.

Take The Time Traveler’s Wife, for example. Since the opening of the store up until June, we sold ten copies of the book. Cue July, and the film previews start hitting the web and showing on television. Eleven copies in one month. We can't keep it on the shelves! However, whether or not the film does well remains to be seen. No Country for Old Men did incredibly well, both as a work of literature and at the box office, although admittedly I was not a fan of the film. Perhaps The Road’s film adaptation will win me over. If it ever comes out, that is – it’s already been pushed back by a year.

The Harry Potter film series has been immensely popular with a wide audience, performing remarkably well at the box office. While I would prefer to see less of the books trimmed for the theater, I must admit that the films are entertaining. One of these days, I'm going to find someone who hasn't seen the sixth film yet and go see it. I've heard good things.

Not all books translate well to film, though. Watchmen, although widely heralded as being a fantastic graphic novel, received mixed reviews as a film. The Spiderwick Chronicles was mediocre at best as a film, and Eragon wasn’t exactly a stellar success either. If you really want to travel back in time, try to recall the movie adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Congo. If you haven’t seen it, consider yourself lucky. If you have, you will recall that it was laughably bad.

So what am I excited about? The new Alice in Wonderland looks to be pretty good, as per the usual from Tim Burton. Where The Wild Things Are, one of my favorite stories as a kid, is also undergoing a film makeover. We’ll see how that goes. And then there’s Sherlock Holmes, a film adaptation that appears to be straying far from the original text, but entertaining enough for me not to mind. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a film version of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies – the potential of a Shaun of the Dead-esque Jane Austen bonanza is astronomical.

Monday, July 6, 2009

I like my literature with pictures.

Greetings and salutations, readers.

My name is Greg, and I'm the newest familiar face at the Boswell Book Company. I'm the one with the eclectic and arguably unenlightened staff rec shelf. I'd like to take some time to start off on the right foot and answer some potential questions shopgoers might have come up with when perusing the staff recommendations. Namely, why is my shelf full of graphic novels?

I think graphic novels sometimes get a bad rap. People see the artwork and immediately think of the Sunday funnies - Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, and the like. They think it's childish. I suppose I can understand this mentality. After all, Batman was marketed to kids. I grew up watching Batman and Robin (which I now find to be offensively campy) and laughing at Mr. Freeze's frosty blue teeth. My parents were bombarded with pleading requests for money that I would spend on action figures and cheap plastic Batman utility belts.

But Batman has been around for awhile. The first generation of kids who read Batman comics grew up, and some of them grew up to be writers and artists themselves. And they remember Batman for how he was in the beginning - frightening, ruthless, and violent. Graphic novels like Arkham Asylum, The Killing Joke, and The Joker are a testament to how the material has changed in accordance with the general audience. The kids have grown up, and so have the storylines. Pick up The Joker off my staff rec shelf and page through it. It's not childish stuff.

Recently, writers have been drifting across the borders of regular literature and graphic novels. Neil Gaiman, author of the Newberry-winning The Graveyard Book, accumulated a massive fan base for his ten-part comic epic The Sandman, which helped put Vertigo Comics on the map. Judy Picoult, author of a long list of books I haven't read but have been very popular nonetheless, has started writing the Wonder Woman comic series, the first volume of which we used to stock regularly. And the forthcoming Logicomix marks a zany new entry into the genre of graphic novels - I guess you could call it a nonfiction, philosophical biography? I don't know. It's good, whatever it is.

The point I'm trying to convey is this - graphic novels are a viable medium for telling a story. Take a look at Watchmen. I don't really need to defend it; a Google search will do the work for me. If the story is good enough, it shouldn't really matter how many pictures there are between the covers.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Getting Lit in Texahoma

The inaugural bookshopping experience in my future home state of Oklahoma was a very interesting one in which I interacted with two delightful bookshop kitties, drove long stretches of prairie dotted with oil pumps and cattle and although did not find the one John McPhee book I hoped to scoop up, zoomed away from OK with a handful of delightful titles.

The first thing we learned is that when a used bookstore has zero competition it is right easy for this bookstore to price their books to provoke gasps from those bookshoppers who have been spoiled by the likes of Renaissance and Downtown Books. The Used Bookstore in Lawton was one such place, a place where Miss Maple lazed around all over the toppled piled of magazines meowing for pets and the owner played Willie Nelson on the boombox behind the counter of the front room which itself emitted its own bookshopper tractor beam for all the regional titles ranging in topic from topography books to Dust Bowl narratives and Comanche literature & folklore. Although we didn't purchase anything there was a decision made to return to those stacks regularly upon our encampment on the banks of Medicine Creek.

Next we sought out this mysterious Hastings place that touted itself in the phonebook as an "entertainment" store. They are a chain retailer that sells books, music and DVDs. The selection was much less varied than Boswell and set up much like any other chain bookstore save that the books wrap around the center of the shop where the music and DVDs are. The kids bargain section was impressive and I picked up a copy of New Baby Train by Woody Guthrie(himself, a native Okie) and The Juniper Tree and Other Grimm Tales. Bayard got a used Delillo- yes, they also sold a small selection of used titles. The whole set-up was a bit odd but I suppose that without an indie nearby and if we are seriously jonesing for a title we may have to stop in from time to time.

The most notable outing was our hour-long drive into the northern wilds of Texas to Archer City and Larry McMurtry's Booked Up. What is Archer City like? Well, it's just like the small town of Thalia in McMurtry's Horseman, Pass By. Exactly like it, except in real life three of the four blocks that make up the main drag are occupied by the four buildings that house the endless used books under McMurtry's care. The other establishments include The Wildcat Cafe- which for what it lacked in decoration and smoke-free environs it made up for with the best cheeseburger Bayard had had in as long as he could remember; the guy behind the counter also asked, "Ya'll in town for the bookstore, are ya?".

He was awesome, along with the table of old-timers drinking coffee in the back whose conversation subsided when anyone entered the restaurant and picked up again once the entrant(s) sat down. I really wanted to get the 75 dollar signed copy of Richard Hugo's The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir but settled instead on a hardcover of Tim Winton's Minimum of Two. On a sidenote, on the drive between St. Louis and Tulsa, on the way down, we happened upon a PRI segment featuring Tim Winton. Lucky, huh? Again, the prices at Booked Up were not as low as I'm used to in used books but the selection was mind-boggling expansive and The Wildcat Cafe was a definite bonus. Our waiter also loudly clued us in on the make, model and color of Larry's car, in case we were looking for him and on the short, extremely hot, walk back to our vehicle, we did see this car and we did see the man in his black-rimmed glasses but refrained from saying anything, mostly because I'm afraid of famous people (esp. ones that have won the Pulitzer) and Bayard isn't very talkative by nature. However, in a perfect world, I would have commented on what a delight it was to be followed around the rare book room by his very chatty bookshop tomcat.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Few Books About Food

Michael Pollan changed the way I buy food, and has increased my need to read about food and the environment. And, summer is a good time to do this, considering all the great farmers markets and fresh, local food around. I am more aware of buying local (I joined a CSA for the 3rd year in a row) and the need to support local organizations that are rooted in my community. In his book, In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan has a great line that says: "If your parents or grandparents would not recognize what your eating as food, then don't eat it." That is a rough quote, not exactly verbatim. Pollan would like people to think about local, sustainable avenues for food consumption; and no, buying from the local gas station does not count. The quote hark ens back to a time when people had no choice but to buy and eat locally. Which leads right into a new book by Mark Kurlansky called The Food of a Younger Land.

Back in the 1930's the WPA sent out a group of writers, from Eudora Welty to Zora Neale Hurston, to chronicle what Americans ate. This was before chain restaurants and fast food joints took over the country, this was the land of the New York Automats and of the Mint Julep controversy. It was the New York Soda Fountain Slang guide for ordering your food that I found fascinating(for instance, Hug One was Orange Juice, and Blind 'em was two eggs fried on both sides). Kurlansky did a great job of putting together the files that the writers left behind, reading this book makes you hungry, very hungry. This book is a lot of fun, I felt myself wishing for these simplier times again with the good food (yes, I know the great depression was in full swing). And as for the section on Wisconsin, we can still order up the regions specialty in the Friday Fish Fry.

An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage delves into the deeper history behind food and civilizations. He starts off in the near east with barley, wheat, and sustainable agriculture and then, moves through history touching on the potato famine and the spice trade. He points out that the history of food intersects with that of the history of humanity and that they go hand-in-hand all throughout. He focuses on a few net causes in history and shows them repeating throughout (for instance, that food was used to pay taxes which then was used to pay government workers), maybe a few times too many, but this was a good, interesting read. He is the author of Salt and Cod, he always has something interesting to point out that others may have missed.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Food Inc Documentary is out, Read the book!!

I am really late in plugging this, but the Food Inc documentary is out! Though, it is not playing anywhere near Milwaukee, but opened in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Vegas. Hopefully, it will do well enough that it will become widespread throughout the country. From the few reviews I read, the movie is shocking and powerful in the way that Fast Food Nation made people recoil. But fear not, your local bookshop should have copies on hand, I know we do.

The momentum that authors like Michael Pollan, Bill McKibben, Eric Scholosser and Barbara Kingsolver seemed to have re-kicked off, seems to only be picking up. They started the conversation, the book & movie package should continue it. Questioning where our food comes from and what is our food made from are only the tip of the iceberg. I will write more on this in a later posting along with a handful of new books out but for now here is the trailer.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Ocean's Sweaty Face in your mailbox

I have to admit that I haven't bought a McSweeney's Quarterly in a very long time. I really loved Yannick Murphy's Here They Come, McSweeney's Book of Poets Picking Poets, The People of Paper and a few other things, but it got to the point where I couldn't justify buying an entire hardcover priced issue. Thankfully they've come up with a way to own all the clever design without shelling out a bunch of cash- GREETINGS FROM THE OCEAN'S SWEATY FACE: 100 MCSWEENEY'S POSTCARDS. The postcards feature artwork by Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, Marcel Dzama and David Byrne, among many others. The lucky among you will begin to receive them, postmarked from the frontier, around mid-August.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Journey to Salt Lake City and a Couple of New Books Out This Week

Back in January, when Daniel first announced that he was going to open a book shop at the Downer Ave location, we travelled to Salt Lake City to help prepare for the coming adventure. It was the host site of Winter Institute, an educational weekend, where booksellers talk to other booksellers, some publishers, and authors for upcoming books. I must say that Salt Lake City was nothing like what I thought it was going to be.

It has a couple of great independent book stores in The King's English Book Shop and Sam Weller's Zion Bookstore. Both shops are the complete opposite of the other. Sam Weller's is a huge three story bookshop that could swallow up our bookshop whole. It has their used books mixed in with their new books, which I thought was great, and they have a labriynth in the basement of really old books and magazines. The King's English is full of nooks and crannies and a great selection of titles. I loved the way they displayed and took their teen books out of the kids section. They are on a fantastic street full of restaurants and a few other retail shops. A great middle eastern restaurant that we ate at was Mazza, I highly recommend the falaful sandwich.

I was lucky enough to get invited to a dinner with Macmillan and their authors while I was out there. It was lucky, because I was excited to meet Mishna Wolff. Her new book, I'm Down, which came out last week, was hilarious. She grew up in a poor black neighborhood with her white father who thought he was black man. He walked the walk and talked to the talk, however Mishna never fit in. I liked the book mainly for her wild attempts to garner attention from her father, and quite possibly because of the crazy cover. She joins a basketball team that only has black girls on it. Her mother shows up into the picture, and moves her to a prep school, mostly all white. She still does not fit in, this time for the opposite reason. Her stunts at attempting to be accepted by either culture are funny and left me feeling awkward for her. Ultimately, she has to find her balance that makes her happy. I highly recommend this book.

However, after talking to Mishna Wolff about her experiences about writing the book and the food, Macmillan had the authors move to different tables. Shannon Hale sat down at our table. I knew who Shannon Hale was, but had never read her. I must say that she was highly entertaining and has us rolling in our seats. The main theme of her new adult novel, she writes mostly for young adult and has a new Bayern novel coming this fall (our children's booksellers knew who she was right away), centers around a wife meeting a celebrity that is on her top five list. Everybody knows the list, it contains celebrities that your significant other would run off with. My wife only has one that I know of: George Clooney. Never going to happen, so no worries. In The Actor and the Housewife, Becky meets her dream guy, and they hit it off. Not an affair so to speak, but they quickly become best friends. You can see where the monkey wrench gets thrown in. Anyway, Shannon Hale was a lot fun, and if you need a good beach read, I think this might be the one for you.

Both books are recent arrivals at our shop and our being featured in our Boswell's Best at 20% off this month.