Tuesday, January 31, 2023

One mid-week event for a book about the Midwest: Jon K Lauck, at Boswell for The Good Country

Starting this week, our event blog posts have relocated to our Boswellians blog. Hello, Boswellians readers! 

Wednesday, February 1, 6:30 pm -
Jon K Lauck, author of The Good Country: A History of the American Midwest, 1800-1900
at Boswell, in conversation with Bill Glauber.
 Click here to register

Boswell hosts former Midwestern History Association president Jon K Lauck for an evening in which we’ll celebrate our region with his new book, The Good Country, a first-ever chronicle of the Midwest’s formative century which restores the American heartland to its central place in the nation’s history.

At the center of American history is a hole - a gap where some scholars’ indifference or disdain has too long stood in for the true story of the American Midwest. Lauck, the premier Midwest historian, puts Midwestern 'squares' center stage - an unorthodox approach that leads to surprising conclusions. The American Midwest, in Lauck’s cogent account, was the most democratically advanced place in the world during the nineteenth century, and The Good Country describes a rich civic culture that prized education, literature, libraries, and the arts, and generally put democratic ideals into practice to a greater extent than any nation to date.

In a trying time of contested politics and culture, Lauck locates a middle ground, fittingly, in the center of the country. The Washington Post calls the book "well-researched and provocative," and author Gregory L. Schneider says: "I know of no historian who has done such a superb job chronicling and framing the history of the American Midwest than Jon Lauck." AP News also published a review of the book, which you can read here. Apparently Lauck "developed the book out of his own search for a comprehensive history of the region to teach in his classes at the University of South Dakota. He discovered that while scholarship dedicated to the American South and West was flourishing, historical study of the Midwest had long been neglected." His hard work is our gain! 

From Bill Glauber's profile in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, when asked about Midwest stereotypes: "The stereotype that's most offensive is that nothing happens here so we can just ignore this region. The Midwest was the biggest region in the country at the end of the 1800s. It's where all the manufacturing took place. It's where we grew our food. And it helped shaped early America and helped win the Civil War. And these are things we forget and that we neglect and people on the coasts aren't going to look out for us, so we need to do it."

Jon K. Lauck has authored and edited several books, including The Lost Region: Toward a Revival of Midwestern HistoryFinding a New Midwestern History, and three volumes of The Plains Political Tradition. He teaches history and political science at the University of South Dakota and is Editor-in-Chief of Middle West Review.

Photo credit: Jon Lauck by Mike Barry

Staff Recommendations, Week of January 31, 2023

A light week to wrap up January.

Here's Kay's recommendation for Exiles, the latest mystery by Australia-based Jane Harper. Kay says: "Harper favors rural areas or small towns, but she likes to change up where in Australia her mysteries take place. Her books are very atmospheric, so I enjoy vicariously experiencing different Australian locales. Exiles is set in wine country, with hills, cliffs, forests, scrublands, lakes and rivers... all handy when it comes to missing people. Kim, a well-known woman, disappears in a crowded festival. None of the exit monitors see her leave. Her baby is found tucked in her buggy at the end of the evening. Where could Kim be? With fresh eyes, a first-time visitor proves to be useful. Jane Harper scores again!"

See ya next month, readers.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of January 24, 2023

We've a few new books to recommend to you this week. 

Let's begin with Kay, who has two recs for us this week. His first is The Red-Headed Pilgrim by Kevin Maloney. Tim says: "Kevin is a teen-turning-adult in the 90s, but his journey is classic 1960s/70s: a highly intelligent soul searches for truth and beauty with the aid of various drugs, a deep appreciation of nature and simplicity, openness to spontaneous travel, and strong avoidance of 9-5 jobs. Kevin carelessly becomes a father and husband, and parenthood skyrockets his tendency toward denial. Divorce eventually forces him back home to a 9-5 job. A raucous trip!"

Kay's second rec is for Critical Mass, the sequel to Daniel Suarez's Delta-v. Kay says: "Critical Mass is a worthy sequel to Delta-V. No spoilers; I’ll just say that, like the first book, this is packed with new leaps in technology, and you will be cheering on the central characters and their mission.

Madi Hill recommends Waco: David Koresh, the Branch Davidians, and A Legacy of Rage by Jeff Guin. Madi says: "Waco is recent enough history that many remember it, yet memory can be such a fickle thing. Luckily, Jeff Guinn has tackled the subject in his new book, simply titled Waco, that recounts the history of the Branch Davidians and the infamous Mount Carmel raid in Waco, Texas. For a topic so polarizing, Guinn manages to tell a narrative that does not imply personal bias, but provides as many facts as possible so the truest story can be told. His in-depth research uncovered information even true crime connoisseurs will be surprised to learn about the history of the Branch Davidians and David Koresh, including reflections on the long-lasting impact of the raid on Waco and its contribution to today's radicalization of right-wing groups. A true page turner, Waco is a fantastic read, dare I say likely to be the best book on Waco to be published in time for its 30th anniversary."

And then it's over to Tim for Stanley's Secret, a picture book by John Sullivan, illustrated by Zach Manbeck. Tim says: "Stanley was a quiet boy who spoke softly and kept to himself, all the while tapping his feet. His love for tap dance was known only by Squeaker and Nibbles, his pet mice, and perhaps the janitor he helped while dancing through empty rooms. When his principal caught him, she was shocked by his skill and insisted he sign up for the talent show. Can Stanley find the strength to reveal himself and prove Principal Reynolds right, that talent should be shared? I just love the storytelling and the vibrant pastel illustrations by Zach Manbeck, which seem at once relatively simple and so magically detailed. They have an irresistible energy. 'Shuffle. Heel. Flap. Stomp. Riff!'"

See you next week, readers. Read on.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of January 17, 2023

A light week of recommending, with just one new book for you to consider. Hopefully you've got a book or two from last week's big release day to tide you over and keep you reading along with this rec!

Daniel Goldin suggests you check out the first novel from Slate editor and podcaster (and former Milwaukee-area bookseller!) Dan Kois - Vintage Contemporaries. Daniel says: "After moving from Wisconsin to New York, Emily takes a job as an assistant in a literary agency and finds herself in two transformative friendships, with an older, overlooked writer (Lucy) and a hyper-charged wannabe theater director (also named Emily). The first thing local readers need to know is that this author and Slate editor was once a bookseller in Milwaukee - that semi-familiar minor character’s name is not an accident, and yes, at one point, lunch on a family trip back home is served at the legendary Coffee Trader. The other thing to keep in mind is that this book is packed with inside-publishing ephemera that shouldn’t irritate casual readers but make the story extra fun if you’ve been there, including homages to beloved authors (Lucy is a take on one of my favorite writers) and cover designers (an alternate universe take on the famed VC designer Lorraine Louie) and lots of only-in-New-York detail, like a deep dive into the Lower East Side squatter wars. But that’s still all icing - the cake is a moving story about friendship, purpose, and finding yourself."

We're hosting a virtual event featuring Kois this week, too! In partnership with Flyleaf Books of Chapel Hill, NC, we present Dan Kois in conversation with author Jami Attenberg on Thursday, 1/19, at 6 pm central. Click here for more info and to register to tune in.

We'll meet you back here next week with more books. Until then, read on.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of January 10, 2023

The second week of January brings with it a number of new releases the Boswellians have read, like, and hope you will also enjoy. Here are the recs!

We begin this blog with our first double rec of the year: The Deluge by Stephen Markley. 
Recommender #1 is Chris, who says: "This book is written like a (rising) ocean, wave after wave of moments and years and ideas crashing one after the other, relentlessly eroding the shores. An epic peopled with characters as real as any person you know, who’ll fill you up with hope and heartbreak. A feast of a book."

And from Kay: "Anyone interested in climate change fiction covering the near future (~now to 2040) won’t find a more informative, deep-dive novel than The Deluge. Thrilling, terrifying, maddening, and occasionally hopeful, you won’t be quite the same when you finish the book."

Next, here's Daniel with his recommendation of Sam by Allegra Goodman: "Even if you’ve read Allegra Goodman before, you’ve never read a novel like Sam. It’s told completely from her perspective, keeping just the amount of distance you might expect from an adolescent who values her privacy. With any number of childhood setbacks, Sam’s seminal years leave her insecure at best and entering adulthood with any number of missteps. It’s rock climbing that gives her a sense of purpose, and while it doesn’t take her where she wants to go, it does lead to unseen paths - she just needs to find the right footholds. Quiet but powerful."

Next it's Jason for Bad Cree by Jessica Johns: "In Bad Cree, horror and grief are bound together; the duality of meanings of seemingly benign objects can both frighten and soothe. Mackenzie has moved away from her family and all the loss she has endured, however her past won't leave her alone. Nightmares begin to impact her life, forcing her to return home for help. Other members of her family are experiencing the same hauntings that are getting more and more serious. This book will have you believing that sleep is overrated. A brilliant and scary debut!"

Tim recommends A Few Days Full of Trouble: Revelations on the Journey to Justice for My Cousin and Best Friend, Emmett Till by Reverend Wheeler Parker, Jr., with Christopher Benson: "This book is stunning, frightening, essential, and exceptionally well written. More than anything else, it has urgency. I felt a constant need to see what came next. Would there ever be some degree of justice for Emmett Till and his family? If so, what would justice look like almost seven decades after “Bobo” Till was brutally executed? The naive fourteen-year-old Chicago kid who didn't understand the Jim Crow American South had a cousin who saw it all begin. Reverend Parker was there that day in 1955 Mississippi, at the store where the young woman worked, the one whose lies caused Emmett’s death. Parker was also in the house, several nights later, where the killers came first to his bedroom before finding and taking Emmett at gunpoint. Parker thought he’d die that night, and he tells us about the lifelong survivor’s guilt. As they marched him to his death, wasn’t Bobo asking himself why his family couldn’t stop them? Wasn’t he pleading for help? Yes. He was. Can Parker ever forgive himself for getting away from Mississippi and going back home without Bobo? This is the story of the endless, twisted struggle to make some justice happen, long after the killers who got away with it have themselves died. And it tells so much more, about the nation, then and now. I feel like it’s my turn to preach, in honor of Reverend Parker. Black people know all about how the Emmett Tills of the world fall, and this country might be better if everybody understood his family’s story."

Now over to Jenny for a great YA rec of Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett: "The publisher’s marketing had me at ‘dark fae magic,’ but add in a bookish introvert researching fairies and her mysterious, insufferably charismatic colleague, and I knew I’d started a delightful, can’t-put-it-down novel. Emily Wilde’s life’s work is the compilation of an encyclopaedia with an entry on every species of fairy. In 1909, she sets out from Cambridge University where she taught to do field work on the never-seen fairies of a country much like Iceland. Professor Wendell Bambleby follows her, probably to take credit for her findings. He charms the grim assortment of locals, who Emily has already insulted, though she can’t figure out why or when. The longer Wendell stays, the deeper the mystery surrounding him and his link to the fae becomes. Emily is a clever heroine, kinder than she gives herself credit for, and I loved watching the connections she makes as the novel progresses, especially when it comes to the equally dashing and irritating Wendell. You’ll be glad you met these two as you think about them long after turning the last page! Luckily, this is the start of a series."

Speaking of books for kids, let's head back to Tim for a middle grade recommendation of What Happened to Rachel Riley? by Wisconsinite Claire Swinarski: "Through a series of emails, passed notes, posts, recordings, texts and traditional narrative, Swinarski tells the story of a new girl at East Middle School who’s trying to solve a mystery. Her teacher gave the class a semester-long un-essay project on any social issue of their choice. Forget recycling. Anna Hunt has a more important social question. How did a girl who was thoughtful enough to help a lost new kid on the first school day go from being super popular to being completely shut out? Nobody will talk about it, and people keep asking why Anna cares. After all, her questions are limiting any hope that she'll find new friends for herself. So, why care? Well, she just does. A nice person like Rachel Riley shouldn’t face dead silence when the principal reads her name on the day's list of Birthdays. I enjoyed this story very much. It has the feel of a good mystery, as Swinarski rolls out a compelling, nuanced plot. Best of all, the beautifully developed characters confront issues and have messages that matter to me. A lot! Oh, and the book is set in Madison. Swinarski is a lifelong Wisconsinite."

How about paperback releases, you ask? We've got a couple to suggest.

Chris and Tim recommend Don't Cry for Me by Daniel Black. Chris says: "Alone and dying, a father writes his life story in letters, trying to explain to his estranged son the harsh understanding of manhood he once thought necessary to survive as a Black man in America. Daniel Black welcomes you to rural Arkansas with a detailed portrait of country life and Black boyhood in the mid-20th century. Particularly well captured is the whiplash of how much time and change can pass in the span of just one life. Don’t Cry for Me immerses you in another time and place and lets you breathe, smell, taste, and feel another man’s life as he reckons with the good and bad that he’s done to the people he loves."

And from Tim: "Daniel Black tells the story of a father and his son. As the opening author's note explains, Daniel is the son, writing what he imagines his dying father might have said to explain himself in the aftermath of a troubled and broken family. As his father asks Death to allow him time, he writes to Daniel on days when he's not too sick: about being raised by a harsh grandfather who taught him that love was showing respect without emotion; about wanting to prepare Daniel for the cruel realities of being a Black man by making him tough; and about the fear and bitterness he felt over not getting the type of son he wanted and expected. I'll admit it. This book messed me up. I mean, really, how many times can a man can say, 'I almost... I wish I had... I should have... found a way to show my love and acceptance?' It's too damn personal, but I might just read it again. Because the writing is exquisite. The father's voice rings true and clear with a sincere emotion that he's never before expressed. And because it beautifully raises the question that matters to a damaged child: are there things a parent can do, or not do, which are unforgivable?"

Kay and Daniel recommend Small World by Jonathan Evison. From Kay: "Small World is a brilliant tale of 1850s Americans and their descendants in 2019. He follows two Irish twins orphaned on their journey across the Atlantic, an escaped slave, a ‘fresh off-the-boat’ Chinese man who’s landed in unfriendly San Francisco, and two wandering American Indians who joined forces on a whim. Descendants of all are on the same train heading north in Oregon during a snowstorm in 2019. As Evison shifts between characters in the 1850s and 2019, Small World reads like a seamless masterpiece."

From Daniel: "If you liked West of Here, Evison’s grand epic of Washington State from a decade ago, you’re likely to love Small World, which has a similar dual narrative, only on a more national scale. Four families' lives - Black, Irish, Chinese, and Indigenous - are tied together throughout the settlement of the West, by the building of the railroads in the past and one fateful journey of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight line in the present. Does fortune favor the bold, or is there way more randomness involved in the process, leaving (and I’m just preparing you here) not every soul with the happiest of endings? I really enjoyed the twists, and while coincidence abounds, I wouldn’t expect anything less from a novel on such a grand scale; it is a Small World after all."

Happy reading!

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of January 3, 2023

New Year, New Books, New Recommendations!

Happy new year, all. Here are a couple of recent books the Boswellians recommend you begin your year with.

First, Kay Wosewick for The Blackhouse, a novel by Carole Johnstone. Kay says: "Tightly bound Scottish island inhabitants are very unhappy when Maggie McKay returns. She arrived with her mother as a six-year-old decades earlier, convinced she was Andrew MacNeil (reincarnated), and someone named Robert had been murdered. Run off the island then, she's back to find the truth. Twists come as quickly and unexpectedly as the fierce storms that engulf the island."

Daniel recommends Ms. Demeanor, the new novel from beloved author Elinor Lipman, which technically came out last week, but since we didn't post a rec blog last week, let's celebrate it today. Daniel says: "When is a COVID novel not a COVID novel? When it’s about a lawyer under house arrest for having sex on a private rooftop, only to be spotted by a snoopy neighbor. Yes, it’s all the claustrophobia and sourdough starter with none of the public health panic - probably best for a romantic comedy. Fortunately, Jane Morgan finds something to keep her busy, or rather two things - a series of TikTok cooking segments featuring vintage-and-probably-left-that-way recipe demos that are both confessional and meant to subtly promote her sister’s dermatology practice. Oh, and as long as Jane’s making all this food, she might as well feed her neighbor, also under house arrest for his own private Teapot Dome scandal. Plus, there also might be a murder. I love that Lipman has taken the classic English drawing room novel and morphed it onto the modern Manhattanite. I laughed out loud while I was reading Ms. Demeanor and sighed when it was over."

Meet Lipman at Boswell! Elinor Lipman will be at Boswell in support of this book on Tuesday, January 17, 6:30 pm, in conversation with Daniel and former Schwatz bookseller (and current book enthusiast) Nancy Quinn. Click here to register and get more info.

Kay also has a paperback pick for us this week: The Boy With a Bird in His Chest by Emme Lund. Kay says: "Owen, the boy, and Gail, the bird in Owen's chest, are a remarkably lovable pair. At Owen's mother's behest, they endure isolation until they are fourteen, when all hell breaks loose. Their journey is fraught with more danger than delight, but eventually Owen and Gail find a place to call home. Lund has penned a stunning debut."

That's it! We'll see you next week with many more recommendations. Until then, enjoy kicking off this new year of reading, may all your book dreams come true, and read on.