Monday, June 29, 2020

Event alerts - Katherine Addison with Jim Higgins on June 30 - Steven Wright with Chris Lee on July 1

Hey, welcome back to the Monday Boswell event blog! We've got two great events this week.

Tuesday, June 30, 7:00 pm - First up is Katherine Addison, the author of The Angel of the Crows. Addison is an acclaimed Wisconsin science fiction/fantasy writer that is a particular fan of Journal Sentinel Arts and Book Editor Jim Higgins. He'd already named Addison's latest one of his summer reading picks. So when we were offered the chance to host a virtual event (register here) with Addison, we knew exactly who should be the conversation partner.

This Madison-area writer has won praise under two names! To quote from her publisher, As Addison "her short fiction has been selected by The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and The Year’s Best Science Fiction. As Sarah Monette, she is the author of the Doctrine of Labyrinths series and the Locus Award-winning novel The Goblin Emperor; and co-author, with Elizabeth Bear, of the Iskryne series."

Addison’s latest, an alternate history fantasy novel that is a unique take on the Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson legend. Angels inhabit every public building of London, and vampires and werewolves walk the streets with human beings under a well-regulated truce. A fantastic utopia, except for a few things: Angels can Fall (capitalized on purpose), and that Fall is like a nuclear bomb in both the physical and metaphysical worlds. And human beings remain human, with all their kindness and greed and passions and murderous intent.

Kirkus says The Angel of the Crows is “a Sherlock Holmes-esque novel that truly breaks the mold… As Doyle and Crow explore London’s seedy occult underground, Addison doesn’t shy away from discussing the era’s racism… what really makes this title stand out among a sea of Sherlock Holmes stories is its straightforward criticism of gender roles and the gender binary itself.”

And Jim Higgins notes in his Journal Sentinel review: "Even more than Holmes and Watson, Crow and Doyle are outcasts, nearly friendless before their fateful introduction. Doyle has been harmed by great evil and wrestles with that constantly. The doctor hides two dangerous secrets. I'm not an obsessive reader of Holmes pastiches, but "The Angel of the Crows" goes as deep into the strengths, weaknesses and psychology of the Watson character as any I have read, making the veteran much more than a simple bulldog with a medical bag and a revolver."

This event is free and you can register on Zoom right here. Copies of The Angel of the Crows is discounted 20% off the list price at least through July 6.

Wednesday, July 1, 7:00 pm - Steven Wright, author of The Coyotes of Carthage. Originally scheduled as an in-store event, we've converted Wright's event to Zoom (register here), and while we're now two months out from pub date, our enthusiasm hasn't diminished. In fact, it's risen - Chris Lee, who is doing the conversation for this one, convinced me to read The Coyotes of Carthage and now I'm a big fan too.

Madison author Wright is Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, and he also teaches in the UW-Madison's creative writing program. But wait, he also worked in the Obama administration. And did I mention that he writes for The New York Review of Books? But there's more - Wright runs the Wisconsin Innocence Project. I'm guessing that he's taught a lot of lawyers in Milwaukee!

John Grisham has been one of the book's champions, calling Wright "a major new voice in the world of political thrillers." And the publisher has positioned the book as Grisham's The Firm meets The Sellout, the Booker-winning political satire from Paul Beatty. And it is much like The Sellout in that they are both great books, but I would argue that the tone on The Coyotes of Carthage is not quite so satirical. I really think of this book's tone as more of an espionage novel, contemporary political espionage.

Here's Chris Lee's take “To save his career as a political fixer, Dre has a quarter million in dark money to convince a small town in South Carolina to let a company dig for gold (yes, really), strip mining the local nature preserve and poisoning the water. It’s a grimly hilarious assessment of one microcosm of the American body politic; literary ironies abound. As Dre grapples with his past, tries to care for what’s left of his family, and maybe even makes a friend, the novel evolves into a bracing portrait of a man trying to untangle the political from the personal to see if he can save what scraps of decency he might have left.”

The reviews on this book are so great so I just have to include one more, from James Grady, author of Three Days of the Condor, in The Washington Post: "Andre is a strong but narratively flawed character, a 30-something black man deployed to a largely white county in the former Confederacy, a scrappy D.C. street kid who loves his moneyed, morally bankrupt lifestyle yet also cares deeply about his mother. He’s a felon who served time, got a college degree and then the “right” door opened. His backstory allows Wright to shed light on important non-electoral political and social issues, but those same forces undercut his protagonist’s believability. And while some secondary characters personify other human hopes and foibles, they often feel too forced, too cliched, too narrowly used. But when Andre’s on his fixer’s game, ah, the places Wright will take you in the politics that shape our lives, the backrooms, back alleys and bad dreams of our cash-hacked system, and he does so with a ticktock pace and knockout prose."

Join us for Steven Wright's event on July 1, 7 pm. Register here. Buy The Coyotes of Carthage here. It's discounted 20% at least through July 7.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending June 27, 2020

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending June 27, 2020

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars., by Joyce Carol Oates
2. Death in Her Hands, by Ottessa Moshfegh
3. The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett
4. Deacon King Kong, by James McBride
5. The Second Home, by Christi Clancy
6. Valentine, by Elizabeth Wetmore
7. Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid
8. A Burning, by Megha Majumdar
9. The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
10. The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

It was coming out in late April, then it was August, and then it was moved back to June - that's Ottessa Moshfegh's Death in Her Hands. Boswellian Chris Lee had his first #1 Indie Next pick for this book, where he wrote "Ponderous, violent, forgetful, and deft, Death in Her Hands is a genre-bender that teases you into asking - is this noir? Horror? A whacked out farce? Or a sly literary trick? I’ll tell you what it is - absolutely brilliant." And Kevin Power in The New Yorker called Death in Her Hands a "haunting meditation on the nature and meaning of art."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. The Room Where It Happened, by John Bolton
2. How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X Kendi
3. Me and White Supremacy, by Layla F Saad
4. Turning 50, by Tom Haudricourt
5. Five Days, by Wes Moore
6. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
7. The Power of Ritual, by Casper Ter Kuile
8. I'm Still Here, by Austin Channing Brown
9. Becoming, by Michelle Obama
10. The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson

Recently Penguin Random House held a editor reception for booksellers and One World's Chris Jackson talked about his excitement for Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City. Wes Moore, who wrote this book with Erica L Green, came to prominence with his memoir The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. In his latest, Moore looks at the events of 2015 in Baltimore and the protests following the death of Freddie Gray through the eyes of seven different people - the format compares to Sheri Fink's acclaimed Five Days at Memorial. Shelf Awareness called it "essential reading for anyone looking to understand the systemic racism being exposed in America's cities, and the change the country desperately needs."

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, by Hendrik Groen
2. Sounds Like Crazy, by Shana Mahaffey
3. I Was Told It Would Get Easier, by Abbi Waxman
4. Trust Exercise, by Susan Choi (In-Store Lit Group meeting July 6, 7 pm - register here)
5. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
6. Circe, by Madeline Miller
7. Americanah, by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie
8. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
9. Citizen, by Claudia Rankine
10. American Spy, by Lauren Wilkinson

The Women's Speaker series continues online virtually with Abby Waxman, author of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill and the just-released I Was Told It Would Get Easier. Waxman's latest is the story of a mother and daughter who sign up for a college tour. Yes, it seems like fantasy now, but the genre is contemporary romantic comedy. It also might be uplit, but I'm not really sure of that genre's qualifiers. What I know is that we had three great reads for this book, including one from me. I've now read all four of Waxman's novels. Register for the July 7 event here.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X Kendi
2. White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
3. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
4. The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson
5. So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
6. American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Wisconsin, by Charles Hagner
7. The Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein
8. The Fire Next Time, by James A Baldwin
9. The End of Policing, by Alex Vitale
10. Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson

Richard Rothstein's The Color of Law was the focus of two metro-wide book clubs several years ago and it's been one of the books whose sales have increased dramatically as people understand the country's history of racist policy. The book got as high as #3 on the June 21 New York Times bestseller list. Here's a link to the video Segregated by Design, which looks at the issues raised in the book, which was longlisted for the National Book Award and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in history.

Books for Kids:
1. Stamped, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi
2. Antiracist Baby board book, by Ibram X Kendi, with illustrations by Ashley Lukashevsky
3. You Matter, by Christian Robinson
4. Kamala and Maya's Big Idea, by Meena Harris, with illustration by Ana Rami Gonzalez
5. The One and Only Bob, by Katherine Applegate
6. Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Pe?a, with illustrations by Christian Robinson
7. Saturday, by Oge Mora
8. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
9. The Kinder Poison, by Natalie Mae
10. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erika L Sanchez

The publisher notes that Saturday is "warm and tender story by the Caldecott Honor-winning creator of Thank You, Omu! and features "a mother and daughter on an up-and-down journey that reminds them of what's best about Saturdays: precious time together." The book came out last October, but sales have picked up in the past two weeks. It was featured in the NYT Anti-Racist books for children with Matt de la Pe?a (also on this week's list) calling it "pure joy" and "a quiet and profound picture book."

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins looks at what books Wisconsin communities have picked for Big Reads.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Daniel on Larry Meiller Show - here's a list of books and links to purchase

Here are the books featured on Wisconsin Public Radio's Larry Meiller Show.

Larry just finished reading John Sandford's Masked Prey and John Grisham's Camino Winds. He also read Lucy Foley's The Hunting Party, who is not as well known as Grisham and Sandford.

I recommended The Coyotes of Carthage, a novel by Steven Wright.

And then The Beauty in Breaking, a memoir by Michele Harper

Susan recommends The Invsible Rainbow, by Arthur Firstenberg and Plague by Kent Heckenlively and Judy Mikovits. My suggestion was An Elegant Defense, by Matt Richtel.

Another recommendation - The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett

Barbie in Washburn recommends Mrs. Lincoln's Sisters, by Jennifer Chiaverini. Daniel gives a shout out to Chiaverini's Resistance Women, now in paperback.

More from Larry on Grisham - did he get the bookseller right in the Camino novels?

Summer reads - Elin Hilderbrand's 28 Summers, James Patterson's Summer House, and Jennifer Weiner's Big Summer. And of course Christi Clancy's The Second Home.

Lee in St. Charles, Minnesota recommends Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes.

Susan from Fort Atkinson suggest Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny, by WitoldSzablowski.

Daniel recommends The Story of a Goat, by Perumal Murugan. He also mentions One Part Woman.

Jerome called to recommend The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, by Edward E Baptist.

Daniel notes sales resurgence for Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns. Coming soon is her new book, Caste.

Cole suggests I Know This Much Is True, by Wally Lamb. In retrospect, the person who likes this should read Brit Bennett!

Daniel recommends How We Fight for Our Lives, by Saeed Jones. This is an Lambda winner, as was Patsy, by Nicole Dennis-Benn and Lot, by Bryan Washington.

And here's another - Everywhere You Don't Belong, by Gabriel Bump.

My short story pick is If I Had Two Wings, by Randall Kenan.

Here's one more - Crooked Hallelujah, by Kelli Jo Ford. And speaking of Oklahoma, I just read Boom Town, by Sam Anderson.

Another debut - Lakewood, by Megan Giddings.

And finally - We Ride Upon Sticks, by Quan Barry.

You can listen to the show here.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending June 20, 2020

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending June 20, 2020

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett
2. The Second Home, by Christina Clancy
3. A Burning, by Megha Majumdar
4. The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
5. Deacon King Kong, by James McBride
6. American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins
7. The Paris Hours, by Alex George
8. The Weary Blues, by Langston Hughes
9. Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars., by Joyce Carol Oates (register here for June 22, 7 pm event)
10. The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich

Oprah's Book Club selected Deacon King Kong as her 85th book club selection and the fifth since her new partnership with Apple. Per O: The Oprah Magazine, James McBride's latest is "set in a Brooklyn housing project in 1969 much like the one where the author grew up" and "features a cast of characters who struggle to keep their heads above water amid poverty, loss, racial tensions, and crime - yet they always have one another’s backs, and what could have turned tragic instead turns into a tale of resilience, hope, and humanity."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X Kendi
2. Me and White Supremacy, by Layla F Saad
3. Cookbook Politics, by Kennan Ferguson
4. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
5. I'm Still Here, by Austin Channing Brown
6. Milwaukee Brewers at 50, by Adam McCalvy
7. Falastin, by Sami Tamimi
8. The Hardest Job in the World, by John Dickerson
9. Turning 50, by Tom Haudricourt
10. Spirit Run, by Noe Alvarez

I don't think anybody expected that we'd be celebrating the Milwaukee Brewers 50th anniversary without a baseball season, but it hasn't started yet. Will it be shortened and regional? Concentrated in Southern California? I have no clue. That said, it's Father's Day and there are two commemorative titles in our top ten, Adam McCalvy's Milwaukee Brewers at 50 and Turning 50: The Brewers Celebrate a Half-Century in Milwaukee. Haudricourt's is signed, and I'm sure one day you'll be able to get McCalvy's signed as well. You can still order a sidewalk pickup copy between 11 and 5 pm today.

Paperback Fiction:
1. American Spy, by Lauren Wilkinson
2. There There, by Tommy Orange
3. Hot Comb, by Ebony Flowers
4. Sing Unburied Sing, by Jesmyn Ward
5. Circe, by Madeline Miller
6. Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
7. A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry
8. The Overstory, by Richard Powers
9. Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
10. The Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler

While Hot Combs's Ebony Flowers now lives in Denver, she pursued her doctorate at UW-Madison. Of her 2019 work, Publisher Weekly writes: "Flowers's exploration of black women's relationships to their hair is rich with both sorrow and celebration as it champions black womanhood and family ties. In a series of comics vignettes, Flowers journeys through a first salon trip, a long-running case of trauma-generated trichotillomania (obsessive hair-pulling), and the collision of pain and piety that is a beloved matriarch's funeral." Note - the collection is a mix of stories and memoir so it could have also gone in nonfiction.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
2. Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X Kendi
3. So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
4. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle ALexander
5. The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin
6. Shameless, by Nadia Bolz Weber
7. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, by Beverly Daniel Tatum
8. Searching for Zion, by Emily Raboteau
9. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
10. The Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein

Originally published in 1997 and updated in 2017, Beverly Daniel Tatum's Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations about Race. As noted, "Tatum presents strong evidence that straight talk about our racial identities - whatever they may be - is essential if we are serious about facilitating communication across racial and ethnic divides." The author is President Emerita of Spelman College and in 2014 received the Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology, the highest honor presented by the American Psychological Association.

Books for Kids:
1. You Matter, by Christian Robinson
2. Stamped, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi
3. Antiracist Baby, by Ibram X Kendi
4. This Book Is Anti Racist, by Tiffany Jewell
5. All Are Welcome, by Alexandra Penfold, with illustrations by Suzanne Kaufman
6. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, by Suzanne Collins
7. The Day You Begin, by Jacqueline Woodson, with illustrations by Rafael Lopez
8. Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak
9. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
10. Just Mercy: Adapted for Young Adults, by Bryan Stephenson

The National Book Award-winner Ibram X Kendi's latest is Antiracist Baby a "new board book that empowers parents and children to uproot racism in our society and in ourselves." Demand is so strong for this title, and the message so transcends the board book genre, that Kokila is also producing the book as a picture book. This format should dramatically increase the places where this book is sold and get it to slightly older kids who have passed the board book years. Here's the link to the format for older readers - it is publishing on July 14.

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins reviews the latest from Katherine Addison. He notes: In The Angel of the Crows, Madison novelist Katherine Addison remixes the Baker Street duo (that's Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson) in an alternate - history fantasy with an even weirder London where supernatural entities jostle with hansom cab drivers and Lestrade. Addison has called it a 'kitchen sink' novel, and she has put nearly everything in here: angels, fallen angels, vampires, werewolves, hellhounds, human carrion eaters, witches, ghosts and airships." You can register here for our Zoom event on June 30 with Addison in conversation with Jim Higgins. The novel goes on sale June 23, this coming Tuesday.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Boswell bestsellers for the week ending June 13, 2020

Boswell bestsellers, week ending June 13, 2020

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Paris Hours, by Alex George
2. The Second Home, by Christina Clancy
3. The Vanishing Half, by Britt Bennett
4. All Adults Here, by Emma Straub
5. Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars., by Joyce Carol Oates (register here for June 22 virtual event)
6. Rodham, by Curtis Sittenfeld
7. Pizza Girl, by Jean Kyoung Frazier
8. American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins
9. A Burning, by Megha Majumdar
10. Fair Warning, by Michael Connelly

The #1 Indie Next Pick for June and already a New York Times bestseller is A Burning, by Megha Majumdar. From Susan Choi's review in The New York Times: "Though the city’s name never appears in the novel, A Burning is set in present-day Kolkata; the reader inclined to sleuth can deduce location from the presence of the Victoria Memorial, built of white marble, as well as an upscale neighborhood called Ballygunge, and time period not merely from the prominent role played by Facebook, but equally from the presence of the up-and-coming Jana Kalyan political party, a clear allusion to the Indian actor-politician Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party, founded in 2014. Backgrounding these particular time-space coordinates is all the tinderbox complexity of contemporary Indian life, from anti-Muslim violence to staggering income inequality, from the outsize power exercised by celebrities to the outsize tolls exacted on women simply on the grounds of their not being men."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X Kendi
2. I'm Still Here, by Austin Channing Brown
3. Me and White Supremacy, by Layla F Saad
4. The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson
5. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
6. Untamed, by Glennon Doyle
7. Milwaukee Brewers at 50, by Adam McCalvy
8. Countdown 1945, by Chris Wallace
9. Spirit Run, by Noe Alvarez
10. Know My Name, by Chanel Miller

While A Burning is a Today Show Read with Jenna book club pick, one of Reese Witherspoon's June-July picks (my guess is that they moved this announcement up) is I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. This 2018 book adds to the conversation by coming from a Christian perspective (Convergent is one of Penguin Random House's religious imprints) - it is a "look at how white, middle-class, Evangelicalism has participated in an era of rising racial hostility, inviting the reader to confront apathy, recognize God’s ongoing work in the world, and discover how blackness - if we let it–can save us all." Brown talked to Brené Brown on the popular Unlocking Us podcast.

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Overstory, by Richard Powers
2. City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert
3. Eleanor Oliphant Is completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman
4. The Inheritance Trilogy, by NK Jemisin
5. Memoirs of a Space Traveler, by Stanislaw Lem

Several elements have converged to decrease our numbers on paperback fiction bestsellers, including the lack of browsing (including new releases, book club table, and our staff rec shelves) with our store still doing orders and curbside pickup, the lack of newsworthiness among media, a current focus on nonfiction books about racial justice and related matters, and the move of book clubs, led by the high-profile ones, to choose hardcovers. Our buyer Jason even tried discounting select paperback fiction titles more aggressively. We're also automatically discounting our in-store book club selections 10%, like Memoirs of a Space Traveler, which the SciFi Book Club is reading. I think there's another reason too - for the last several years, publishers had been pushing out many fall hardcover bestsellers in paperback for April, May, and June for summer reading, but according to Jason, that trend had dissipated, even before COVID-19 led to many summer travel cancellations. So in a sense, this is the lost season - spring books arrived in January and February but most high-profile fall books will not come out until this fall or even later.

One other note - hardcovers and paperbacks have been increasing in price for several years, moving in lockstep and keeping prices $9-$10 apart. The higher the price goes, the less discount off the hardcover price the paperback is. To give an example, if a hardcover is $25 and the paperback is $15, that's a 40% discount. But if the hardcover is $30 and the paperback is $20 (we're not quite there yet but we're coming close), that's only a 33% discount. Yes, I'm finally doing something with my math degree.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
2. The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin
3. So You Want to Talk About Race, by Oluo Ijeoma
4. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
5. The Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein
6. Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X Kendi
7. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
8. Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson
9. The End of Policing, by Alex Vitale
10. The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson

We had a request by a customer to feature some of the classics that are meaningful to the moment and while we've not yet put that list together (though the Zora Canon display we had up in January through March had many great entries), one book that would absolutely be top of list would be James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time, a nonfiction book of two essays, published in The New Yorker and The Progressive and then as a book by Dial Press in 1963. Steven W Thrasher noted in 2017 in The Guardian why the book "still lights the way towards equality." His essay was for a Taschen illustrated edition which is only circuitously available from us (and it's nonreturnable if you want it, which is not always the best way to buy an art/photography book but that is Taschen's terms.)

Books for Kids:
1. Kamala and Maya's Big Idea, by Meena Harris, with illustrations by Ana Ramirez González
2. You Matter, by Christian Robinson
3. Antiracist Baby, by Ibram X Kendi (book goes on sale June 16 - we had some prepayments that weren't coded as advance sales)
4. All Are Welcome, by Alexandra Penfold, with illustrations by Suzanne Kaufman
5. This Book Is Anti Racist, by Tiffany Jewell
6. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, by Suzanne Collins
7. The Land of Permanent Goodbyes, by Atia Abawi
8. Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Pe?a, with illustrations by Christian Robinson
9. A Is for Activist, by Innosanto Nagara
10. We're Different, We're the Same, by Sesame Street/Bobbi Kates

Meena Harris was originally scheduled to do an event at Boswell in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention for Kamala and Maya's Big Idea. Then we moved it to August. And with it being mostly virtual, we aren't planning to do in-store programming, alas. The picture book, which has won praise from Elizabeth Warren and Stacy Abrams, is "about two sisters who work with their community to effect change, inspired by a true story from the childhood of her aunt, US Senator Kamala Harris, and mother, lawyer, and policy expert Maya Harris. This picture book is an excellent choice to share during homeschooling, in particular for children ages 4 to 6. It’s a fun way to learn to read and as a supplement for activity books for children."

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Barbara VanDenburgh offers 10 books LGBTQ books for Pride month including Glennon Doyle's Untamed. Plus Rob Merrill from Associated Press reviews Eliot Ackerman's Red Dress in Black and White.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Why Jane and I Love Alex George's THE PARIS HOURS

With us not yet being open to browsing, hand-selling has taken on different forms. We can write up books in our newsletter, but we don't have the opportunity to one-by-one place books in people's hands. And this is particularly true when your partner in handselling in Jane Glaser. From Hannah Rothschild's The Improbability of Love to Angela Flournoy's The Turner House, we love taking titles that are a little under the radar and getting them in the hands of readers. And while I have learned to sell books that I haven't read simply because Jane liked them, it's more fun when we can like them together. Back when we used to do book talks together, there was one year when she talked up News of the World so many times at presentations that she convinced me to read Paulette Jiles's novel. She's good at this!

Jane's novel of the fall was not exactly a sleeper, but for her, The Dutch House hit new levels of wonderfulness and lots of folks concurred. I'm not privy to publisher numbers but it appeared to me that Ann Patchett's latest has had a much longer tale than her previous, Commonwealth, and with the paperback not coming until fall (Commonwealth's paperback release was about eight months after publication, something that publishers were experimenting with in the mid teens), it has even more chance to break hardcover records. One thing we're noticing is that our paperback fiction sales are really hurt by the lack of browsing - it makes me wonder whether this hardcover fiction heavy model for bestselling titles is Amazon's everyday reality.

Aside from Patchett's novel, Jane didn't find too much in 2020 that excited her, but she had two picks for 2021. One was Isabel Allende's The Long Petal to the Sea, which of course she convinced me to buy but I haven't read yet. Allende's latest was her first for Ballantine, after a couple of books at Atria, and definitely had a sales resurgence. For us, the Atria/Washington Square Press release The Japanese Lover in paperback was a perennial Boswell bestseller, as it never left the staff rec shelf of former bookseller Scott. Jane's second pick is Alex George's The Paris Hours. (Note that we have a virtual event with Alex George this evening. Sign up here.)

Here's Jane's recommendation of The Paris Hours.

"In Alex George's brilliantly conceived story, readers will be transported back to a single day walking the streets of 1927 Paris alongside four characters, each escaping the harsh reality of a past that continues to haunt their present. Armenian refugee Souren stitches his life together by creating puppets for his afternoon fairy tale theatrics in the city park, only to have the fiery genocidal horrors replay in his mind. Painter Guillaume sells his soul to an art dealer of questionable reputation in the effort to pay back a loan that otherwise threatens to destroy his life. Journalist Jean-Paul. mourning the loss of his wife killed and his daughter gone missing in a blazing church explosion, reports the stories of the war weary, yet cannot resolve his own story. Chamber maid to a deceased famous writer, Camille, when asked to burn the author's notebooks keeps one back and its mysterious disappearance, if discovered, will reveal between its pages a betrayal that will destroy all she holds dear.

"As their stories are told in alternating in short chapters, glimpses of the artistic greats of the 1920s Paris (Josephine Baker, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Marcel Proust and Maurice Ravel) are seamlessly interwoven against the backdrop of Sourne, Guillaume, Jean-Paul and Camille all "...running toward something." With the preciousness of every passing hour, the four stories artfully converge in a vividly drawn ending. Beautifully written from beginning to end, readers will so connect with the characters that they will not be ready to part with them. This is one of the best books I've read this year!"

Why has this book connected with us so completely? I have some thoughts.

1. Paris. We've long said that you can more than double sales by putting an Eiffel Tower on the cover of any book. In fact, we had a long-running joke that one of our bestselling titles our first year was the paperback of Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner. We're not judging the book on its merits here - it's just that nobody was hand-selling it. People just saw this book on our new paperback table and wanted to read it. We sold 125 copies. That seemed like a lot to us! And this was all going on as everyone was also reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which broke at Schwartz Bookshops in 2008 but exploded nationally later.

And since then, we've had any number of Parisian successes, notably our love for Antoine Laurain who has visited from Paris twice and has had several huge successes at Boswell. Would you like to know his sales in order at Boswell? They go: 1) The President's Hat 2) The Red Notebook 3) French Rhapsody, 4) Vintage 1954 5) The Portrait 6) Smoking Kills. Please note that I think the older books have continued to sell as the new books have come out, giving them higher overall numbers. The last two were Laurain's early novels, that were released in the United States after the success of The Red Notebook, which I think was his bestselling novel stateside. So excited to announce that Laurain's next novel, The Readers' Room, will be out in English from Gallic Books on September 22.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention Paris by the Book, which combines our love of Paris and bookstores in one simple package. We're thrilled that the book was even more successful in paperback, hitting many regional bestseller lists. And it carries on the tradition of books like the runaway bestseller, Nina George's The Little Paris Bookshop, and other hits like A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé and The Little Bookshop on the Seine, by Rebecca Raisin. Alas, one of the publication casualties of COVID-19 was the publication of The Paris Library, by Janet Skeslian Charles, which is a historical novel inspired by the American Library in Paris during World War II. Publication is now February 2, 2021. Our former colleague turned Whitefish Bay Librarian Sharon is already a fan.

2. Novels set in one day. I sometimes forget this is a thing, but it's proven to be a very popular device for novels. From classics like Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway and James Joyce's Ulysses to contemporary Boswell favorites like Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (Kathleen Rooney) and Girl Woman Other (Bernardine Evaristo), the 24-hour novel is something that continues to capture the imagination of writers and readers. Here is a list from Electric Literature; you can easily do a search for others. Though I never read it, I was amused to discover that One Day, the popular novel turned movie by David Nicholls, is not set in one day but over twenty years on one particular day of the year. So that would start your checklist for "same time next year" books. Jim Higgins of the Journal Sentinel has a nonfiction pick for this list - One Day, by Gene Weingarten. While The Paris Hours has a lot of backstory packed into it, the main plotline of the story is chronologically compact. Jim's editor's choice for 2019 here includes One Day.

Another aside - the next novel from Kathleen Rooney is Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey and it goes on sale August 11.

3. Novels written by bookstore proprietors. You may be aware of higher profile bookseller-novelists like Ann Patchett and Emma Straub, but Alex George also has a bookstore, Skylark Bookshop in Columbia, Missouri. George, a native of the UK and longtime resident of Columbia, helped bring the Unbound Book Festival to life, and this festival, with the help of store manager Carrie Koepke, morphed into Skylark. Though I had read and enjoyed George’s first novel, A Good American, I actually got to know George more as a bookseller. Have you ever had that thing where you go to a conference and you meet someone and then for the rest of the conference you see them everywhere and yet there are all sort of other people you already know that you hardly see at all? Well that happened for me with Carrie one year at Winter Institute. That sort of connectivity really defines the show for me. Since then, Skylark has been on my list of must-see bookstores. Time to start planning (but perhaps not yet executing) my road trip.

4. The 1920s. Such an interesting time for arts and literature, as Bill Goldstein noted in The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, TS Eliot, DH Lawrence, EM Forster, and the Year That Changed Literature. He visited us for the hardcover, and yes, Jane and I were fans. Goldstein is currently writing a biography of the recently deceased Larry Kramer, as per the Associated Press. One of the wonderful things about George's book was the way he weaves historical figures into the story. I tend to love this sort of thing. Antoine Laurain does it a lot too.

5. Connectivity. I have found myself continually drawn to novels about the way disparate characters' lives are drawn together. Two of my favorite books to sell over the years have been Day for Night, by Frederick Reiken (When will he write another book?) and The Illusion of Separateness, by Simon Van Booy; I think someone who liked these books would like The Paris Hours. George's writing style reminds me a bit of Van Booy's. I like a book that ties together characters in unexpected ways and if it emphasizes shared humanity, so much the better.

I have no problem with coincidences, as long as its important to the story, and for some reason, my tolerance varies by genre. I just read The Vanishing Half, and the novel hinges on a plot point that seems highly unlikely. Argue all you want on the odds - without it, where's the novel? I'm firmly in coincidence camp. Are there places where I'm against it? Yes, when I read a thriller and I can describe a plot point where the protagonist conveniently finds a way out of their predicament, that can strike me as laziness on the part of the author. But while there are several coincidences in The Paris Hours, and some are nothing short of spectacular, they are not lazy coincidences.

6. Our original event was cosponsored by Alliance Fran?aise de Milwaukee, which promotes French language and culture here in Southeast Wisconsin, and was to be held at Lake Park Bistro. Plans change, but AF has a lively slate of French themed programming online, including all their classes. We're thrilled that our cosponsorship could continue despite COVID-19. The point being, any kind of program that allows us to cosponsor with Alliance Fran?aise de Milwaukee is a great program.

I'll have more to say about The Paris Hours, but I'll save it for tonight, when Jane and I will talk to George via Zoom. Hoping I can update this post with a link to the recording. Here's the Zoom registration link. Oh, and we have lovely signed bookplates for anyone who purchases The Paris Hours. 

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Boswell bestsellers, week ending June 6, 2020

Here are the Boswell Bestsellers for the week ending June 6, 2020. Please note that we're out of stock on a lot of the high-demand books about racial injustice. We're taking orders for when books are reprinted.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X Kendi
2. Me and White Supremacy, by Layla F Saad
3. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
4. I'm Still Here, by Austin Channing Brown
5. Untamed, by Glennon Doyle
6. The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson
7. Breath, by James Nestor
8. Milwaukee Brewers at 50, by Adam McCalvy
9. Dirt, by Bill Buford
10. Educated, by Tara Westover

We've mentioned How to Be an Antiracist in previous posts, but I don't think we've highlighted Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor, which came out in January. Per the publisher, the book, inspired by an Instagram challenge and first appearing as a workbook, "leads readers through a journey of understanding their white privilege and participation in white supremacy, so that they can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on black, indigenous and people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too."

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Second Home, by Christina Clancy
2. The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett
3. Mrs Lincoln's Sisters, by Jennifer Chiaverini
4. The Paris Hours, by Alex George (register for June 9 Zoom event here)
5. Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid
6. Rodham, by Curtis Sittenfeld
7. The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett
8,. Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
9. The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
10. The End of October, by Lawrence Wright

We hosted several launches this week, for The Second Home and Mrs Lincoln's Sisters, and we still have signed copies of each. Not bookplates, not tip-ins, actual signed copies. Our big non-event first-week sale is for The Vanishing Half, the second novel from Brit Bennett, which I'm currently reading. We wound up having a great event for The Mothers when it came out. There have been many great reviews, including this rave from Maureen Corrigan at Fresh Air: "I liked her debut novel, The Mothers -- about the long consequences of an unplanned teenage pregnancy - but I'd also faulted it for being melodramatic. Now, I'm recognizing that's how Bennett rolls as a novelist: embracing melodrama as a beguiling way to delve into difficult topics. In The Vanishing Half, Bennett takes up a subject perfectly suited to her signature melodramatic style: I'm talking about 'racial passing,' which has inspired, mostly tragic novels like Nella Larsen's Passing, as well as Douglas Sirk's grand cinematic tear-jerker, Imitation of Life." She also spoke to Mary Louise Kelly on All Things Considered.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
2. So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
3. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
4. Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X Kendi
5. Emergent Strategy, by Adrienne Maree Brown
6. The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin
7. The Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein
8. The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz
9. The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson (preorder Caste here)
10. When the Words Suddenly Stopped, by Vivian L King

I can't do any better justice to So You Want to Talk About Race than the publisher did: "Widespread reporting on aspects of white supremacy--from police brutality to the mass incarceration of Black Americans--has put a media spotlight on racism in our society. Still, it is a difficult subject to talk about. How do you tell your roommate her jokes are racist? Why did your sister-in-law take umbrage when you asked to touch her hair--and how do you make it right? How do you explain white privilege'to your white, privileged friend?...Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to 'model minorities" in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism, and how they infect almost every aspect of American life."

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson
2. Tradition, by Jericho Brown
3. The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. This Tender Land, by William Kent Krueger
6. Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel
7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
8. There There, by Tommy Orange
9. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
10. Dear Evelyn, by Kathy Page

Usually summer has a nice surge in sales for paperback fiction, but without browsing and travelers, that's not the case. It is also the category that would least likely see sales increases for writers in conjunction with the continuing protests over racial injustice and police brutality, though I should note that two Toni Morrison titles (Beloved and The Bluest Eye) hit our top ten, plus Jericho Brown's The Tradition continues its bestselling run. Last week I didn't do a bestseller blog but we had a very strong first week for William Kent Krueger's This Tender Land and while sales were down the second week, it still made our top ten. The book also debuted on the top ten of The New York Times. Krueger is on virtual tour, notably at my sister's home-town shop, Annie's Book Stop of Worcester, which features "today's books at yesterday's prices."

Books for Kids:
1. You Matter, by Christian Robinson
2. Stamped, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi
3. Kamala and Maya's Big Idea, by Meena Harris, with illustrations by Ana Ramirez Gonzalez
4. All Are Welcome, by Alexandra Penfold, with illustrations by Suzanne Kaufman
5. This Book Is Antiracist, by Tiffany Jewell
6. Antiracist Baby, Ibram X Kendi
7. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, by Suzanne Collins
8. Oh the Places You'll Go, by Dr Seuss
9. Something Happened in Our Town, by Marianne Celano
10. We're Different, We're the Same, by Sesame Street

I didn't expect This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work to be published by Francis Lincoln, which I think is a British publisher now owned by the Quarto Group that is also behind the Little People, Big Dreams series. Tifany Jewell spoke to Vanessa Willoughby for School Library Journal: "Talking about race, racism, injustice, and oppression is uncomfortable for many adults. We have been trained to believe we don’t see race (we do), to not talk about it, to blindly believe racist stereotypes, and support racist policies. Talking about race with children requires us, the adults, to know who we are. We need to know how our identities are understood by others, how we have been influenced by the media and the institutions we were brought up in, and where our privilege and immunity exists."

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins reviews The Second Home: "It’s been a long time since I’ve read a new novel from a major publisher with so much specific detail about our fair city, with shout-outs to local joints including Shahrazad, the Urban Ecology Center and Boswell Books, and references to local history, including the cryptosporidium outbreak of 1993, which plays a role in the death of a character’s parent."

Barbara VanDenburgh of the Arizona Republic talks about Emma Straub's All Adults Here: "It’s a credit to Straub’s gifts of wit and observation that she’s made such a loving book so alive. Reading “All Adults Here,” you feel like maybe your life isn’t so small, that its minor joys and pitfalls are worthy of literature. If only Straub could be the one to document it." Here's the review. And here's an invite to the Changing Hands First Draft book club, which VanDenburgh moderates.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Anita Brookner Blog Post

It started with a work dare. Jen wrote to the Boswellians: "Is there an author that you've read practically everything by them? How many books in their collection of works have you read?" I could think of three writers where I’d read more than 20 of their books – Anne Tyler, Alice Hoffman, and Anita Brookner. Since I had already written posts about my love for Tyler and Hoffman recently, I focused on Brookner. Kira took the photo for Instagram.

Anita Brookner's final novel, Strangers, was published in 2009 and is the only novel of hers I hadn't yet read. The only Anne Tyler I haven't read is Noah's Compass, also from 2009. I wonder what was going on that year that threw off my reading? I thought that Brookner’s passing in 2016 would be the impetus for me to finish reading her ouvre, but no dice. Now she seems more timely than ever - I can’t think of an author who has written about isolation and disappointment in a more vibrant way. So Strangers I read.

My review: Paul Sturgis, in his seventies, is comfortably retired. He has a nice apartment in a prestigious London neighborhood, and enough money saved for occasional trips to France and Italy. But without siblings and never having married or had children, he is wistful for some sort of closer connection. Several times he notes how his work friends have drifted away. His only regular visits are to his cousin by marriage, and that experience is not particularly warm. Then two women enter his life – an old girlfriend Sarah, who once rejected him and now is a widow with unspecified illness, and Vicky, a younger woman who is a bit of a user. As in all of Brookner’s character-driven novels, the action is inside the brain, dissecting manner and motives, with a good amount of meditation on other subjects, notably the instability of aging and the unsatisfying nature of home. The ending, such as it is, would hardly be considered storybook, but is appropriate for Paul’s character, for whom any action is a triumph. Brookner’s novels are hardly for everybody, but for some, they are irresistible.

At the start of this challenge, I checked my library and confirmed I owned 23 of her 24 novels. There are a fair number of American hardcover editions, a couple of reading copies, one fancy, one in that traditional generic white with blue Random Houses all over it. I have several paperbacks, including three Vintage editions, and while none are in that distinct Vintage Contemporary style, a collection of “color-banded spines, dot matrix accents, often surreal artwork and equally cryptic colophon," per Talking Covers, I do have a Perennial Library reprint which attempted to ape the VC vibe with pastel covers.

I also have a Brookner paperback that was reprinted in 1985 by Dutton Obelisk, which was back when Dutton was more than just a corporate imprint. Those were the days when most publishers  bought paperback reprint rights from other publishers, even when they had their own hardcover program. And Brookner was always for sale – one got the feeling that aside from the prize-winning Hotel Du Lac, her sales were probably better in the hardcover edition.

Because most of my collection is hardcovers, I notice that one of the few things cover designers agreed on was that the most appropriate image was a portrait, especially after American rights moved from Pantheon to Random House. I bet you thought Ann Patchett invented using a painting as a jacket image, but more than half of Brookner’s output featured portraiture. The Dutch House would look right at home if someone decided to stage an exhibition of Brookner-esque cover imagery. Here's The Wall Street Journal article on The Dutch House book jacket.

Almost all the books did use a standard trim of 5.75 x 8.5 until the last few books, when Random House moved to the more standard 6.5 x 9.5. For several titles, the art director chose a color palette of black and gold, but that also fell out of favor. Coherent cover design is not that important in a bookstore or website for hardcovers, because multiple hardcovers by an author are not for sale at the same time. But when you take them home and put them in your library, that consistency can be appealing. One thing I should note here was that in the age of ebooks, it’s more common for hardcover fiction to not get a paperback reprint, but Brookner always did.

Being that I wrote up reviews for books I read from 1987 on (many mailed out to friends as the Booklist), I am able to reprint excerpts here. I often ranked the books within the month (until about 2002), but I should note that some months had themes and I kept the thematic books together. It’s not a science.

A Misalliance (1987): Excellent woman is left by her husband for a floozy. She befriends a different floozy with a child that doesn’t talk. Is this woman happy or not? Find out in the many interior monologues.

A Friend from England (1988): I left it off my reading list even though I read it. I’m glad to see absentmindedness is a long-standing trait for me. Similarly, I can’t find a review for Providence, but I have a copy of the paperback in my bookcase of already-read titles. It looks read, and I almost never borrow anything.

Latecomers (1989): Two friends, Harmann and Fibich, work together. While both are survivors of the Holocaust, Hartmann is able to block out his past and live a generally content life, while Fibich continues to obsess over it. Both marry odd women and father even odd children… As usual, Brookner’s ability to create images as richly detailed as a painting is admirable and no surprise, as she teaches art history. I enjoyed Latercomers more than her last few books.

Look at Me (1983, read in 1989): A couple of my friends are Anita Brookner fanatics, and while I read each one, I never know quite what their fascination is. Now I think I know. Look at Me concerns Frances Hinton, reference librarian. Her drab life is highlighted by visits to the bitter, retired Miss Marpeth. Then lively and spirited Alex and Nick come into her life. They invite her into a new world and even provide her with a suitable beau. Somehow, though, Frances loses favor with her newfound friends and must return to solitude. Sigh. (I think this resonated with me as I went through this several times in my 20s and 30s – the friend of the moment who was then hung up to dry.)

Lewis Percy (1990): Lonely Lewis Percy marries the equally lonely Tissy the librarian, only to find that her ties to Mum are too strong to break. One day he stays late at work and that is the beginning of the end. Before he knows it, she has moved back home… Each tiny incident is dissected to the smallest particle, which can be interesting or tedious, depending on your disposition. This is certainly no breakout book for Brookner (was there ever one?), but it’s up to standards.

Brief Lives (1991): From the memoirs of Fay Dodworth Langdon comes this tale of a woman whose early minor fame is subsumed by a disappointing marriage… Brookner’s brush is so bittersweet that even the protagonists’s great affair, the love of her life, can’t be called anything but melancholy. The scenes are vivid, the recollections fresh, and I’m ready for her next one. (Note the typeface on Brief Lives and A Closed Eye is similar, but not identical. There's just no interest in hardcover consistency.)

A Closed Eye (1992): Published simultaneously in Canada and shipped to Schwartz in error - of course I bought the Canadian edition. Harriet Lytton leads a sheltered life with her parents in a dress shop. Her only exposure to the wild world outside are evenings with her friends, particularly among them Tessa Dodd. While Harriet marries a well-off, passionless army chum of her father’s, Tessa opts for a passionate and painful marriage to a reporter. Their daughters are brought together when Harriet offers to sit for Tessa’s Lizzie, and their lives are further intertwined when Harriet develops a fixation on Tessa’s husband. (Despite a more dynamic plot than many of Brookner’s novels, I still ended my positive review with the catch phrase, “many are bored, few are chosen.”)

Fraud (1993): Anna Durant disappears, but this is hardly a mystery. Brookner teases with this genre opening and then discards it. Everyone who reads my booklists by now knows what Anita Bookner novels are like. A keenly observant but rather quiet person takes stock of her life situation due to the entry of some irritant (a suitor, a younger friend, a death), deals with it, and moves on… What I found fascinating in Fraud was the way Brookner followed several characters thoughts (instead of being limited to the protagonist.) A doctor’s appointment of luncheon would ensue, and each character would carry on an appropriate interior monologue…)

Dolly (1994): Brookner continues one recurring theme of a character reflecting on another’s life as a method for analyzing her own. Jane Manning’s quiet and serious life is prodded by the recurring appearance s of her unrefined, un-British, aunt-by-marriage Dolly… Dolly received a particularly excellent Jonathan Yardley review in The Washington Post, where he celebrated the newfound passion and potential in Brookner’s writing. (Note: this was my #1 book for the month, the first time this happened. The Eastern European (Jewish) character upsetting the English apple cart of decorum is a recurring trope in Brookner novels.)

A Private View (1995): One of the occasional Brookner novels with a male protagonist. George Bland has never married. He misses his close male work associate, who has recently died. He misses his long-term girlfriend, who eventually got fed up with Bland’s lack of interest in marriage and married another. Into his life comes a brash young American, a woman very interested in human potential, spiritual healing, and other things that an older British woman like Brookner would think sounded ridiculous. (To summarize, George muses internally but does nothing to affect the action. Many similar plotpoints to Strangers! This was also my #1 book for the month out of seven titles read. Competition included Abba Gold: The Complete Story, by John Tobler, which I believe would be quite popular with the current crop of Boswellians.)

Incidents in the Rue Laugier (1996): Brookner’s protagonists often find themselves the uncomfortable outsider in life, either as the French person in the company of English as is Maud Gonier (for Brookner, a relatively young woman during the meat of this novel), or as a Jew (though generally unspoken) in others… As Maud is readied for the marriage market by her pushy mother, she meets a suitable if roguish Englishman named David Tyler… After a rather intense affair, she is cast off to one of his friend, the mild Edward Harrison. Disappointment ensues. Surely other Brookner heroines have had happier fates, and one thinks perhaps Maud would have been happier alone.

Hotel Du Lac (1985, re-read in 1996): Well here is my #1 book of the month by a longshot. I reread it to lead our (Mequon) in-store book group and what a fascinating conversation we had. Edith Hope is a writer of romance, who is holed up in a Swiss hotel, living out the infamy of a bad decision she made in London. What is that decision? (Hope observes the other occupants of the hotel and winds up finding herself in another romantic quandary. I called this novel, her fourth, one of the most accessible Brookners.)

Altered States (1997): Alan Sherwood is seduced by a temptress, Sarah Miller, but settles into marriage with her hanger-on, Angela Milson. Anyone who has read Incidents in the Rue Laugier will recognize this plot. Brookner has reversed the genders and changed the perspective from omniscient to first-person. Brookner has also replaced the resignation of Incident to anger here… Brookner captures the intensity of doomed longing as well as anyone, despite making Sarah almost humorously monstrous.

The Debut (published in 1981 as A Start in Life, read in 1997): Despite the unusual note of hope at the end of The Debut, Brookner’s novel has a rich maturity that stands up to her later works. Of course we cannot be certain that this is Brookner’s first novel at all, only her first published one. This is the one book not published in hardcover by Pantheon or Random House, but by shuttered imprint Linden Press, Simon's boutique imprint headed by Joni Evans, which is why since 2018 it a Simon and Schuster paperback. At right is a UK edition, far more livelier than any American jacket I've come across.

Visitors (1998): After two novels that swept through the years, dealing with wrong romantic choices of one’s youth, Brookner returns to the present and an elder heroine. Dorothea May, known variously as Thea and Mrs. May, is a childless woman of 70, married late and widowed early, who is convinced to take in guests for her husband’s cousin’s wedding… Her guest, Steve Best, both annoys and intrigues her, intruding on her lonely life, disrupting routing, and unnerving her reserve. This does not cause any change in Thea’s life, but is more of a springboard for contemplation.

Falling Slowly (1999): Miriam Sharpe is a translator in London, divorced, and living with her younger sister Beatrice, an accompanist. Fringe dwellers of a sophisticated set, they have forsaken love and marriage for semi-solitude… I recently saw Brookner’s novels referred to as anti-romances, and in Falling Slowly, Brookner conforms to that genre by tying up every loose end in the saddest possible way… (this dropped back to #3)

Undue Influence (2000): Some Brookner fans seem to have taken Undue Influence as one of the best, but I begged to differ. Claire Pitt, on her own after the death of her mother, is a clerk in a second-hand bookstore run by two elderly sisters. Widower Martin Gibson becomes a semi-regular customer, and Claire an he begin an affair. Despite his seeming weaknesses, she hopes to marry him. Needless to say, happiness isn’t exactly around the corner for Brookner heroines (#5 for the month)

The Bay of Angels (2001): Is life like a fairy tale? That’s what Zoe Cunningham believes, as she and her mother live quietly in Edith Grove. Then a happy ending does come into her life Simon is older, Jewish, and owns a house in France. Eventually that’s where Zoe's mother settles, but something still seems wrong... All Brookner novels are special. However, even I can understand how readers can get the one where the woman never recovered from the bad affair and died a spinster confused with the one where she married on the rebound and died after a lifeless marriage. (Back at #1 – Ah, a theme! The aftermath of love. In this book, I note that Brookner sees an alternative besides impossible happiness and a lifetime of despair).

As an aside, here’s a note from my bookseller-turned-librarian former colleague and now friend Sharon: “I was inspired by your Instagram post of all of the Anita Brookner novels that you have read. Several years ago, (more like 5 or 6) I bought a used copy of Bay of Angels in a bookstore in Chicago. I dug it out and started reading it this weekend. I'm about halfway through and am enjoying it.”

Making Things Better (2003): Anita Brookner has never been content to let a character grow old in peace.  No, her desire is to depict the last years when every regret, misstep, and unfulfilled desire can return to haunt her characters, in this case, Julius Herz, the proprietor of a music store in London. The clever ending that could be spotted about 100 pages away helped me decide that this is one of Brookner’s lesser novels. I should note that this was one of Brookner’s more lauded novels, having been long-listed for the Booker Prize. It’s also one of two novels renamed in the American publication (UK title is The Next Big Thing), despite the original British titles being perfectly good. Within a few years, the Random House would stop bothering to de-Britishize the spellings.

The Rules of Engagement (2004): This is the story of two childhood friends separated by circumstance whose lives re-intersect when their husbands die. This seems like more plot than a typical Brookner, but don’t be fooled. There is the usual amount of internal analysis, and like her more recent books, time is the fiercest enemy of all.  I liked this more than Making things Better, but to honestly say, as the Publishers Weekly reviewer did, that readership would increase with this title’s publication, is quite the stretch. 

Leaving Home (2006): I have noticed that Ms. Brookner enjoys leaving her characters anonymous upon introduction - is this perhaps a play for universality? It is not until page 36 that her latest heroine is graced with a name, Emma. Her father has died and her stern uncle expects her to be caretaker to her weak mother, but Emma has grander plans. Well, grand if you consider graduate studies in classical garden design. Soon Emma finds herself with three possible love interests. Eventually something has to give, and it does. Will Emma live happily ever after, or come to a tragic end?  Who do you think you’re reading here?  The answer, as always in a Brookner novel, is far more subtle and elegant than that, and yet somehow just as moving.

Here's a blog post called Anita Brookner reading month, which was July 2013. There are a bunch of these! The Paris Review, after Brookner's death, had an article from Emma Garman noting that the author was no latter-day Austen. But she did write one of the greatest opening lines of all time, one that my friend John can still quote on command. 

Here's a coda. I went through my collection and realized I only owned 23 of Brookner’s 24 novels. The missing book was Family and Friends that was actually the first book I read, in March of 1986, after getting a recommendation of her work from my new friend John Eklund at the Harry W Schwartz Bookshop on Water and Wisconsin. It was before I started writing reviews. I didn’t buy it, but instead had borrowed it from the North Hills Branch of the Queens (then Queensboro) Library. In 2019, John had pared down his collection and sold us his Anita Brookner duplicates. We had sold almost all of them – the only one left was the hardcover of Family and Friends. Reader, I bought it.