Thursday, December 27, 2007

They Got Away? How Far Away?

by Jay Johnson

In pursuit of a post-holiday cure to blog-block*, why not talk about yet another list of books? After all, that's what lists are generally good for: arguing about inclusion, exclusion, and premise of organization.

As not to disappoint, on Xmas Eve, NPR kicked off "The Ones That Got Away" series of lists with books that didn't receive as much coverage as they deserved, according to the reviewers interviewed. Now, the intro to this made it sound far more interesting than this: the books on the stack that didn't get read, as opposed to the books on the stack that got read and, well, simply didn't get reviews written about them in major magazines or newspapers.

This makes sense, though, as it'd be challenging to actually discuss books that you didn't get around to reading, though they could have parlayed the book from reviewer to reviewer (ie Jane didn't read Savage Detectives, but John loved it and didn't read Out Stealing Horses, which Sally loved but didn't get to Ice, which Jane loved, etc ad infinitum). Regardless, this pointed out some that I hadn't heard about - and one that I might have to pick up rather soon.

I'll make way for the list now:

The Farther Shore, by Matthew Eck. Hardcover, 192 pages. List price: $22.

Autonauts of the Cosmoroute: A Timeless Voyage from Paris to Marseille, by Julio Cortazar and Carol Dunlop. Paperback, 354 pages. List price: $20.

I'm also looking forward to the New Directions release of Final Exam, amongst the remainder of their Spring 2008 catalogue.

Zeroville, by Steve Erickson. Paperback, 329 pages. List price: $14.95.

This one is on my stack at the moment, too. I've yet to get around to Steve Erickson, though I hear that this might be less of an interesting place to start.

The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved, by Judith Freeman. Hardcover, 368 pages. List price: $25.95.

The Winds of Marble Arch & Other Stories, by Connie Willis. Hardcover, 600 pages. List price: $40.

This one says slipstream/interstitial all over it. Though, cave generic terms, the reviews paint this more Susanna Clarke than Kelly Link

The Far Traveler, by Nancy Marie Brown. Hardcover, 320 pages. List price: $25.

The list is available here.

*I'm not sure if it's us/me getting acquainted with the more informal format of blogging or if its my personal preoccupation with writing something interesting or nothing at all, word economy, or simple lack of time, but I find some resistance in the casual chronicling of good bookseller conversations into blog posts. I'll work on that; you work on stopping into one of our shops and striking up a conversation or, if you're in Finland or Minneapolis, drop us a comment.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Do You See What I Hear?

Join us for a celebration of the punk photography of Pat Graham on Tuesday, December 18th, 7pm at Schwartz on Downer. Pat will talk about his 19 years of photographing shows and tours for bands like Fugazi, Modest Mouse, The Shins, Tortoise, Bikini Kill and many more.

Come out to support our local indie radio, WMSE 91.7, at your local indie bookseller!

Subscribe to The Inside Flap
to keep up-to-date on this event.

Click here to see the beautiful cover of Pat's new book, Silent Pictures.

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

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Le Next Big Thing--A Letter from Paris

by guest blogger Paul Schmidtberger

Paul Schmidtberger is a man of many talents, but perhaps his most notable accomplishment (for me) is his delightful novel, "Design Flaws of the Human Condition." It's the story of two New Yorkers whose paths cross in an anger management class, only to become friends, grow as people, and plot a little revenge. Mr. Schmidtberger, however, is now a Parisian, and after a short correspondence, he took my suggestion to find out exactly what Parisians were reading nowadays. --Daniel

Paris on a bright autumn afternoon. The goal? Find out which French writers were teetering on the verge of being discovered – and rightly so – by the American public. The plan? Canvas the city and talk to bookstore owners.

The wrench in the plan? A transit strike.

I have a will of steel, but I only have regulation-issue legs, so I gave up on the idea of criss-crossing the city; instead, I visited a few bookstores right around the Bastille.

I started with L’Arbre à Lettres on Rue du Faubourg St. Antoine. One should always keep delving deeper into this long, narrow store because all the way at the back, there’s a separate room of art books that looks out onto a bright, bamboo courtyard. The Arbre à Lettres is raving about Muriel Barbery’s second novel, “
L’Elégance du Hérisson” (The Elegance of the Hedgehog). This book is an honest-to-goodness phenomenon having sold some 600,000 copies, a figure that counts as staggering in France.

Next, I stopped into La Belle Lurette on Rue St. Antoine, a store that I’ve always loved for its high ceilings and beautiful bookcases. The Belle Lurette gang has gone batty for Gilles Leroy’s novel, “
Alabama Song.” It’s French, but it’s about Zelda Fitzgerald. Everyone here is calling it his big American novel. (Editor’s note: this book has since been awarded the Prix Goncourt, France’s biggest prize).

Rue St. Antoine changes into Rue de Rivoli, and I stopped into the
Librairie Charlemagne. A friend of mine used to live a few floors above this store in a sublet with a harem-theme décor – everything was made out of Moroccan throw pillows. We found the whole thing enchanting until the overhead light blew out and we realized that there was nothing in the apartment that we could stand on to change the bulb.

The Librarie Charlemagne is recommending Philippe Claudel’s novel “Le Rapport de Brodeck” (Brodeck’s Report). Set in the years just after World War II, the booksellers thought it’d be a natural fit for Americans who want to delve deeper into the shades-of-gray psychology of a post-war Europe trying to get back on its feet. Well thought out. Well written.

Three independent bookstores in three blocks. But there’s more. I walked down Rue St. Paul and stopped in at
the Red Wheelbarrow, one of Paris’s English language bookstores. They told me that they’re selling lots of Jean-Paul Dubois’ novel, “A French Life.”

So, that’s what’s in store from France. The strike is over, so we’re all back on the
trains and buses, staking out our claims to tiny, transitory bits of public transit space. All while losing ourselves in books (or, as in my case, glaring at people with headphones that leak noise). Stand clear of the closing doors!

Muriel Barbery L’Elégance du Hérisson
Gilles Leroy Alabama Song
Philippe Claudel Le Rapport de Brodeck
Jean-Paul Dubois A French Life

Paul Schmidtberger was born and raised in
Schooley's Mountain, New Jersey, and currently lives in Paris. He is a graduate of Yale College and Stanford Law School, and is a member of the California State Bar. This is his first novel.