Monday, December 10, 2007

I refuse to sing the jingle “A Great Place on a Great Lake” from 20 years ago, but I still kind of remember it.

Last week we were lucky enough to host Dan Kennedy, author of the upcoming rock-and-roll-corporate-style memoir Rock On, which is coming out in February. (Read more in a previous post). He came to meet booksellers and get his book on our radar. As a contributor to McSweeney’s, you would expect Kennedy would be a very funny guy. But aside from his sense of humor, the most interesting thing that happened in my day with Kennedy and his publishing associate Craig Popelars was listening to him talk about how much he liked Milwaukee.

What did we do? We had lunch at the Soup Brothers (we are soup crazed in Milwaukee—that is definitely worth a separate blog), bought beer-shaped salami at Usingers, had a coffee at the Alterra at the Lake (a converted pump house), visited our shops, and then had pizza and beer with booksellers at Pizza Shuttle. The evening ended with a snowball fight. I guess that makes it a good day, and there’s no time to gripe about how we have no rail, or the various social problems that are exacerbated by power grabs, infighting, and brain drain.

The truth is that I love Milwaukee, and have loved it since I moved here from Queens over twenty years ago. It has issues, but to me, it’s all about expectations—and Milwaukee is generally better than one expects it to be. Could it be better? Yes, it could, and would be, if so many people didn’t leave it for Seattle and New York and Atlanta and Phoenix. (What is with this fear of snow? Doesn’t everyone know that snow equals water equals water crisis averted?)

So since I’ve lived in Milwaukee I have worked for this Milwaukee-area independent. And I know blogs are not supposed to be sales tools, but honestly, how else are you going to know about these beautiful, wonderful books if I don’t tell you about them? So bear with me--here is the cream of the Cream City...

1. Milwaukee at Mid Century
When amateur photographer Lyle Oberwise passed away in 1993, only his closest friends knew that he had amassed a collection of 43,000 color slides. Collector John Angelos and his wife Marilyn Johnson bought the images in an estate sale and proceeded to give a series of slide shows, of which I attended several. His photographs were amazing—they are fifty years of detailed urban documentation, from historic buildings going up to others being torn down. There were parades and show windows and restaurants and beauty contests and jazz concerts and neon signs and trick-or-treaters. Oberwise had a natural eye for composition and a compulsion to collect data. The collection was sold to the Milwaukee County Historical Society in 2003, and this is the first published collection. It’s everything I hoped for—and most people I talk to agree. And the best part—this is just the tip of the iceberg!

2. The DVD of The Making of Milwaukee
For years we have been selling John Gurda’s book The Making of Milwaukee, an exhaustive and elegant history of our fair metropolis written by our premiere historian. The book was adapted into a multi-part series produced by and shown on our local PBS station—a lively Ken-Burns-style extravaganza that I have seen several times. It’s now available on DVD, and has, needless to say, been quite popular.

3. Alfred Lunt’s Cookbook
Lunt and Fontaine were perhaps the greatest stage duo ever. Broadway aficionados are still in awe of them but because they did not adapt well to film and chose to remain on stage, the general public is rather uneducated about their legacy. Not in Milwaukee. Lunt was a local boy who convinced Englishwoman Fontaine that the place to be in the office season was at Ten Chimneys, west of Milwaukee in Genesee Depot. Regular visitors included Noel Coward, Helen Hayes, Katharine Hepburn and Lawrence Olivier.

The Ten Chimneys Foundation has done amazing work restoring the home. I highly recommend the tour—I took my sister Merrill, who is quite knowledgeable about theater (sadly, she no longer teaches at the school I linked to), and we had a blast. You can’t tour the home in the winter, but there is this lovely cookbook/photo album, featuring Alfred’s recipes and fabulously posed (always posed) photographs of Lunt and Fontaine entertaining, relaxing, cooking and farming.

You can also buy the book with a special flip book and two tickets to Lunt and Fontaine's home. We call this package The Ten Chimneys Experience.

What else are we selling? Anything Packers of course, and being that this is their first good season in some time, at least one book about the Brewers, Where Have You Gone ’82 Brewers. (You can tell how much I enjoy sports—I will leave an in-depth discussion of these books to another poster). Another photo collection of Milwaukee called Historic Photos of Milwaukee has done well, and as well as the series staple, Milwaukee Then and Now. The beautiful Milwaukee Sketchbook is a collection of artistic renderings of the city by local art students. And our big local cookbook is still the Junior League of Milwaukee’s Occasion to Gather.

Now all we need is a book about old Milwaukee department stores. But I think they are waiting for me to write that one…

Meanwhile, here are some interesting Milwaukee blogs


StacieMichelle said...

The snowball fight at the end of the was priceless, but my favorite part of this whole post is that you linked to your sister's school.

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