Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Last Rec Shelf

It is with sadness and a feeling of surreality that I type these words, having turned in my key to the front door of this lovely bookstore on Downer Avenue. A job with Harper Collins awaits, however, and it's one that allows me to keep doing what I love, but on a broader level. The bookselling community is near and dear to my heart and I'm looking forward to helping booksellers across the country read great books and then put those books into the hands of readers.

At the same time, it will be hard to leave the selling floor, after 8.5 years of guessing what that book it is that you heard on the radio, or recommending a new mystery series for your mom that isn't too gruesome, or introducing yet another guest author to audiences large and small. It's especially hard to leave all those customers whose names I know, whose smiles light up my workday, whose children I've watched grow up. And compared to some booksellers at Boswell, and at Schwartz, I've not been here that long. Passionate, well-read co-workers are a big part of what makes a bookseller good at what he or she does. I've had the pleasure of working with so many, and you all have the pleasure of having several of them, still. Plus, there is the wonderful Daniel Goldin, who is brilliant and wild and funny and has an enormous heart and has taught me so much. Milwaukee has a treasure with Boswell (just as it had with Harry W. Schwartz for 82 years), and I hope that everyone continues to see and nurture the readership and literary community that exists here.

Since I won't be able to accost you personally in the store as these titles come out, or have a shelf stocked with them at the front, I'm using the quasi-permanence of the internet as a way to tout some the books that are coming out soon which I would be foisting upon readers in the new year.

Recent discoveries in the science of dog behavior merge with practical training approaches in this simple, direct guide for owners and caretakers of all experience levels. A variety of experts explain and illustrate in easy-to-read chapters topics such as: why dominance-based techniques are dangerous and based on long dis-proven theories, the fact that dogs don't actually misbehave out of spite or revenge, how aggression often stems more from fear than anything else; as well as a host of basics like selection, socializing, housetraining, exercise, and more. Understanding why our canine companions do what they do allows us to create relationships with our pets that are more authentic, less problematic and which can, ultimately, save the lives of many dogs.(Jan)

Caleb Daniels was supposed to be on the helicopter that took the lives of sixteen men, including seven of his comrades and his best friend. When he returns home, however, the dead men follow him, just as they seem to follow so many men and women coming back from war. In the years that come after, Caleb seeks solace from this "Black Thing" that haunts him, the search eventually bringing him to Portal, Georgia, where deliverance from spiritual demons is a near-daily occurrence. Percy weaves together personal stories of other soldiers, psychological insight into the lasting effects of trauma, and even alludes to experiences of her own that do not take over the narrative but inform it, allowing the reader to understand why she was able to gain the trust of wary survivors and how her insights into such terrors can feel so crisp and true. This is an extraordinary, important book rendered with a deft, empathic cradling and told in the clear, haltingly spare voice that a story such as this requires. Hypnotic and devastating, it will haunt the reader for a long time to it should. (Jan. 7)

It's easy to think that the plot construct of a young boy trying to live a normal life while his recently deceased mother rests in her bed, is a gruesome storytelling experiment. Yet the experience of our intrepid young hero sadly mirrors that of many children whose parents, although not dead, might as well be. Luca represents a wide swath of kids who are virtually raising themselves. Just like those metaphorical siblings, he must go to school, look after the family pet, find his next meal, all while keeping the truth secret from neighbors, teachers, and even best friends. An intensely stark, yet moving tale that illuminates what it's like to have to become an adult, far sooner than nature intended. (Jan. 21)

Eight people disappear from a small town in Japan, a playing card found on the doorsteps of their homes, and a written confession is delivered to the local police station. The man who signed the confession is taken in for questioning, but he refuses to speak. Years later a journalist by the name of Jesse Ball goes to Japan to investigate. We are walked through the case by Ball through transcripts of interviews with those closest to the case, trial notes, unearthed documents, and personal commentary and analysis . The result is a riveting and heartbreaking morality play of unanswerable questions: Is there such a thing as truth? Can we ever recognize it? And, how do we live if the answer to both of these questions is "No."? (Jan. 28)

These spare, yet tightly focused stories are unsettling, in a subtle and necessary way, resulting in surprising visceral reactions. The humor drenching a terse story about a man who converts to Buddhism but doesn't quite understand why, soon converts to shock as it things take a darker turn. A rumination on the end of a relationship remains quietly sorrowful as it explores the mundane day-to-day experiences of a young divorcee. And, an unusually large tomato brings together three men in a moment of tenderness that softly clarifies what these stories are really about: whispy moments in time that carry the weighty ability to transform us in enormous, lasting ways. (Feb. 4)

Denfeld's debut novel (though not her debut book) proves that it's possible to create a mosaic of horror and wonder that fractures the light of our preconceived notions into tiny, bloody pieces. Set mostly on death row, moving outside the prison walls only to give more brushstrokes to the portraits of those living and working in that dank place, The Enchanted features characters both named and nameless who embody the worst and best mankind has to offer. A mute killer with books as his only connection to life outside his cell's shadows, observes (and imagines) the lives of those around him: an excommunicated priest whose past is murky, the female death penalty investigator assigned to a man approaching his final breath who doesn't want the appeal opportunity being offered, a young man freshly jailed who accidentally facilitates backroom dealings... How a novel can be this devastatingly sad and so damn beautiful, I simply cannot say. (Mar. 4)

What is empathy? How can we experience the world as it is seen and lived in by another, without bringing our own judgments into it? If science disproves the existence of a disease, but the raw scars on the skin of the person suffering prove it is real, who are we to believe?  In this collection of riveting essays by Graywolf Nonfiction Prizewinner Leslie Jamison, we are challenged to explore wide-ranging personal experiences in scrutinizing, yet intensely personal, ways. There are no answers given to readers on these pages, only emotional reminders that the only way we can begin to understand one another is to ask questions and when asked, give honest answers. A powerful, mind-opening work worth returning to again and again. (Apr. 10)

Thank you all--the spirits of Harry and David Schwartz, Team Awesome, Boswellians, sales reps, authors, customers--for being a huge part of the best years of my life. May our paths cross again and may the words, "You have to read this!", be always something that precedes wonder, laughter, knowledge, or even something that may save your life.




  1. Stacie - Best of luck! Those of us who write are excited to know you and your passion are going to continue to advocate for wonderful stories!