Tuesday, September 30, 2008

exploits and adventures

I was so moved by my own words and by the fine position which I had taken up, that my voice broke, and I could hardly refrain from tears.

A more fitting introductory quote to this post could not be provided by any other than the legendary Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who happens to be the subject of the post. This excerpt is from "The Exploits and Adventures of Brigadier Gerard," my most recent literary obsession, as well as any other italicized passages herein.

We all know Doyle most famously for his tales of Sherlock Holmes - but it was for his other, lesser known stories, which he hoped to be remembered. Doyle was an adamant fan of writing historical fiction, a passion exacted through his stories of Brigadier Etienne Gerard and also with "The White Company" and "Sir Nigel" - related novels detailing the adventures of Sir Nigel Loring, commander of The White Company, a band of archers who fought during the Hundred Years' War. When I read "The White Company" a few years ago I became quickly enthralled by it's mastery and beauty in describing the chivalrous acts of the fictional band, and the book (firmly seated in my personal list of the top 5 best novels, ever) gladly introduced me to Doyle, who has since become one of my favorite authors. But enough about the Company, we are gathered here today to praise Etienne!

"Gerard," He [Napoleon] cried, "you are a marvel!" I did not wish to contradict him, and it brought a flush of joy upon my cheeks to know that he had done me justice at last.

This book (or rather two, originally published separately as "The Exploits..." and "The Adventures...") is certainly one of the greatest treasures the NYRB has seen fit to republish. There are 18 short stories in all that preserve Gerard's exploits, each one a satirical masterpiece commenting not only on the British view of the French at the time, but on the system of British attitudes (now seen through the eyes of a frenchman). It can certainly be praised along side such great satires as "Gulliver's Travels" and "Player Piano".

Gerard portrays himself as gallant hero, fierce fighter, amorous lover, brave commander and loyal servant of his hero and master, Napoleon Bonaparte - amazingly, each of these assertions are completely true. What makes Etienne a comic figure is his bearing and adamant (and repetitive) declaration of these traits.

As an officer, I have always been ready to sacrifice myself for my men, though the Emperor would not have thanked me for it, for he had many men, but only one - well, calvary leaders of the first class are rare.
He was nervous and ill at ease, but my bearing seemed to reassure him. It is good to be in contact with brave men.

Despite his faults, Gerard does show himself to be a first class swordsman and a man of great bravery in service of his Emperor - the combination of these conditions create a truly memorable and thoroughly enjoyable comic character. He is apparently a forerunner to the comic/adventurer figures we can see in entertainment today. "Exploits and Adventures" pulls you in and keeps you anchored until it has been fully consumed, Doyle's amazing ingenuity with the structure of the short story is rarely matched. He is a true master of adventure writing.

So, read it - I dare you not to fall in love.

Never have I had so delightful conversation. Most women make the mistake of talking rather too much about their own affairs, but this one listened to my tales just as you are listening now, ever asking for more and more and more.

Now if only someone would jump on the ball and see fit to make "The White Company" and "Sir Nigel" widely available once more, I could rest happy.

Monday, September 29, 2008

I'll see your bailout and raise you one dragon and a robot

by sarah marine

You know what makes more sense to me than "bailout"? Huh? Do ya?

Robots...and dragons. That's right. Here are a couple of children's books, out this fall, that will definitely make you the coolest auntie/uncle, ma/pa, friendo/super-friendo, republican/democrat/independent to ever lose/not lose money in the last fourteen days.

The Trouble With Dragons
by Deb Gliori

This cautionary tale of critters from all corners of our precious globe coming together in harmony to dispel the wasteful behavior of the careless dragons is an uplifting addition to the works of Deb Gliori. Brightly illustrated with thoughtfully detailed panoramas, The Trouble with Dragons helps to educate children on the importance of respecting our surroundings and teaching others-even stubborn dragons- the same.

The Robot and the Bluebird
by David Lucas

A gentle robot finds himself marooned in a trash heap after learning that his robot heart is broken beyond reparation. A little bluebird, however, flutters into the picture and the gentle robot offers the space where his heart used to be as a shelter for the bird against the cold winter outside. Together they then head south, where the journey and this wonderful tale will surely find its own place in your own clever heart.

Also, to all the hearty housewarming party-goers, I salute you- had a blast.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

State by State comes to Wisconsin

State by State is a documentary of 19 out of 50 writers reading from their essays collected in the anthology of the same name. It was created via the unstoppable Powell's Books creative endeavor titled Out of the Book. The purpose of this project is to bring books, authors and short film together in new and exciting ways.

So, State by State: 50 writers, 50 states, 50 essays. Not to mention some fabulous tables - but that's just in the book. The documentary showcases authors Daphne Beal, Alison Bechdel, Will Blythe, Charles Bock, Anthony Bourdain, Susan Choi, Joshua Ferris, Dagoberto Gilb, Myla Goldberg, Paul Greenberg, John Hodgman, Heidi Julavits, Rick Moody, Susan Orlean, David Rakoff, Said Sayrafiezadeh, Ellery Washington, Matt Weiland, and Sean Wilsey. All these marvelous folks in one place - it's like 19 authors appearing in your store!

On October 2nd there will be a screening of the documentary, plus an appearance by co-editor Matt Weiland and two guest authors. Should be good stuff! The event begins at 6:30pm in order to precede the V.P. debates going on that same evening.

Check out the trailer, then come to the event! It will be more light-hearted and satisfying than any political seizures that might occur should you stay home to watch Palin & Biden battle it out. We guarantee it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Let's Get Critical! Critical! Together

Tom Frank, best known for What's the Matter with Kansas?, will be speaking at our shop on Monday the 29th. While it is a ticketed event - you buy a book from us, you and a guest get to sit down and listen to Frank and maybe as a question - the shop will also be open to the public, per usual, during the ticketed event. (We like to think that this "ticketing" might actually allow us to pay some employees and rent by bringing the community interesting and pertinent opportunities for discourse with nationally-known authors.)

I haven't read much Frank, but am familiar with the work's ideas. I have read Mike Davis' very excellent refutation of some of Frank's thesis from Kansas. In "What's the Matter with America?" (found in Haymarket's In Praise of Barbarians: Essays Against Empire), Davis smartly questions if the proletariat is voting against its own self-interest by voting for Bush in 2000 and 2004 by pointing out that many of their jobs, for instance, were exported as a result of NAFTA - which just happened to be a Clinton thing.

Unfortunately, this essay isn't available online. Another fine piece by Mike Davis is, though: "The Democrats After November", from the New Left Review. Read it. This essay appears directly after "What's the Matter with America?" in In Praise of Barbarians.

Some more Mike Davis love: a trailer for a documentary based on his book, Planet of Slums.

My raising of Mike Davis' excellent criticism isn't a specific knock on Frank. In fact, it's an attempt at fostering some (post-partisan?) critical thinking. There's a lot of "Rah-Rah" political rhetoric available, but pragmatism is worth more in my book. Davis, as a "socialist", offers a critical approach outside of the Red-Blue spectrum. It's easier for him, perhaps, to see the complicity of Corporatist policies, whether pushed by the GOP or the DLC.

That said, Frank's Wrecking Crew - the book he's touring - deals with a particular problem: that of crony capitalism (h/t Al Giordano, per usual). This is a very real issue, especially with the new implementation (admission?) of socialism for the rich through the public subsidizing of traders', managers' and investors' fleecing them out of their own money. I'm not sure if there's anything about telecom deregulation in the book.

So, c'mon over to the shop next Monday and ask Tom Frank what we can do to fix the problem of crony capitalism.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerl's new love letter to the DIY community has arrived at the Downer store. Having attended the first rep. night I was lucky enough to swipe this ahead of time. This book is invaluable in its very humble presentation of some of the hardest working crafters in the nation. Faythe is our own renaissance lady; co-owner of Paper Boat, organizer of the righteous Art vs. Craft and overall champion and supporter of all things indy creative. We are so lucky to have her. The book is in paperback and very affordable.

You can view the trailer for the documentary also entitled Handmade Nation, here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Two Short Novels

by sarah marine

I've revisited some of my older posts today and was taken aback by serious grammatical and typing errors. I just get so excited and ahead of myself and "publish post" just looks so nice, and many of you know how well I deal with what one would refer to as "red buttons".

Anyhow, I read a book yesterday. It was a great book. I've been waiting for it to come in and finally, well, it did. Before getting to the meat of this 106-page monster, let me preface by attributing my 2008 obsession with very short novels to a subconscious longing to temper Godsave's own attraction to things like Omega Minor and 2666 and Celestial Harmonies and currently, The Recognitions. We need a balanced library, a harmonious middling of texts. So, there. I will now talk to you about two of the best short novels from my 2008 file.

Forrest Gander's 'As a Friend' begins with a birth. It's no brief foray and does not spare the reader much for details.
The daughter pushes, exhausted, her body like an animal on top of her, devouring her. Not coming, she begs. Not coming out! Can't breathe!
The mother in this scene, stands at the door, witnessing her obstinate teenage daughter ignoring the pleas of the midwife to breathe. The resentment here is of great scale and Gander communicates this and the eventual win of maternal instinct, through superbly succinct and effective storytelling. The second act of this novella tells of this child born, Les, in adulthood. The man is magnetic, an actor everyday, plucking at the obsessive, envious parts of people.
There is drama here, but the setting, the rural south is the dynamic cradle holding these relationships, dizzying things further. The surveyors, in the bush, the heat, the gnats- and Clay driven quietly to mimic, become Les. The third act chronicles Sarah, Les's mistress in the aftermath of tragedy. Gander, a poet first, finely channels the craft in this part.

As a day student at a boarding school, I had opportunity to exist in this unusual educational environment. It was quite peculiar, children being on their own, teachers burdened with the responsibility of parenting unruly teenagers, most of them brilliant but also homesick and proud. Now, I rarely pass up any fiction chronicling experiences at these types of institutions. Discovering Fleur Jaeggy this year has been a highlight of my literary wanderings.
At fourteen I was a boarder in a school in the Apenzell. This was the area where Robert Walser used to take his many walks when he was in the mental hospital in Herisau, not far from our college. He died in the snow. , begins the novel.
'Sweet Days of Discipline', mirrors 'As a Friend' in story, mostly for its satellite tellings of intense friendship and the insight into the obsessive, almost erotic feelings of one character toward the other. Eve, in this instance, possesses a natural independence. However, her interest in and attraction to the new girl, Frederique begins to rule her. At the greatest height of her anxiety over remaining in Frederique's sphere, she wonders what she might not obsess over. Jaeggy's prose is highly concentrated. There is nothing floral about it. The reader can feel the control of language and very deliberate construction of character.

Also remarkable is Jenny Erpenbeck's 'The Book of Words' which is written from the perspective of a young girl during an unnamed war in an unnamed Latin American country. It is outstanding...and also really difficult to handsell. Also very difficult to handsell- 'Inglorious'. My god, if I could just convince one person to read that book. Jeez.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Curl up in a Little Neurotic Election Coverage Ball with These Great Books!

by Sarah Marine and Joe Lisberg

On a rainy Friday night, a jump and a skip from the shores of the Great Lake Michigan, two frazzled booksellers made a decision.

As young Americans, healthily staying abreast of all things election-related, these two took back the former semblance of their universes and, once again, put books first. Henceforth, this list was compiled as an offering of suggested titles to quell anxiety, restlessness and exposure to dangerously high levels of election politics. Enjoy.

1. Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino
Get on up there guys. Leave it all behind, all those media blogs, news tickers and soundbites. It's so quiet up there...breezy and quiet. Ahhhh.

2. The poetry of Richard Brautigan
How peaceful it is to think of cybernetic forests where the beasts of the wood co-mingle so graciously with the whirring computers.

3. The Odyssey by Homer
A tale of old for media escapees of all ages.

4. Daredevil by Marvel Comics (Frank Miller, Ed Brubaker, etc.)
Abandon the glowing box and join the horned hero of Hell's Kitchen as he metes out a little street justice; clobberin' thugs and gangsters like only a blind super-hero lawyer can. Check it out, I dare ya.

5. Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz
Crooked streets, mysterious shops populated by chimerical relatives: a bright departure from your everyday shuffle from Politico to The Page and beyond. It's different. It's like being on just the right drugs. Don't do drugs.

6. Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender
Oh, my. This is the cure. Go on a bender. Don't go on a bender. Get bent. Wait. Oh, my.

7. Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke
Rilke tackles the issues head-on with this prolific volume- fig trees, nosing beasts, terrific angels, uncaring ponds. He's on top of it, guys...all for you.

8. Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt
What are you afraid of? Nuclear stockpiles? Dictators gone nuts with power? Partisan bullies? If so, Scaredy Squirrel will bring you back to what remains at the real core of terror- killer bees, green Martians, tarantulas, poison ivy, germs and toothy, hungry sharks.

9. Girl on the Fridge by Etgar Keret
I want to say something here about Keret being Israeli and how the news is always reporting on the conflicts there, you know, connect it in some way, but really I don't know how to be smart about it AND funny...like Keret.

10. Things I like About America by Poe Ballantine
The fact that Poe Ballantine is this middle-aged guy living in Nebraska just kills me. Furthermore, the thing about the things he likes about America is that they're really not things you attribute "like" to- they just are- they're meals and conversations and bus rides and paying rent...important things to think about besides projected electoral counts.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Angle on our Upcoming Event for In the Land of No Right Angles

We’re heading into prime author appearance season at Schwartz, and some may wonder how we figure out which event goes where. Sometimes we base the decision on how similar books have sold or the success of previous events. Other times it’s the luck of the schedule. When an author has local ties, we often ask him or her which location they think would work best.

Recently we were chatting with Daphne Beal, author of the marvelous new novel In the Land of No Right Angles. Beal, who has written for Vogue, McSweeneys, Open City and the London Review of Books, has local roots, and they positively glow in her Wisconsin entry of the upcoming anthology State by State.

The novel is in the finest “innocent abroad” style, a young woman in Nepal under the spell of a Western Buddhist teacher and a young local who is eager to escape the confines of her tribal village. You can read some of the wonderful reviews on Beal’s official site.

It turns out, some location requests are more eloquent than others. So why not share?

Down by the East Side

When asked where I wanted to read when I came to Milwaukee, I immediately responded Downer Ave. While I grew up in a more northerly suburb, the famously infamous River Hills, it was Downer Ave. where I first got a taste for adolescent freedom and rebellion, at least in a kind of G-rated way. When I started high school at University School, then a separate campus in Whitefish Bay, I made friends with juniors and seniors from the intriguing East Side, kids of artists and professors who were somehow different from the people I’d known mostly up until then.

Up until ninth grade, it had been a more bucolic life, riding bikes around the suburbs, going bowling at Brown Port Mall. With the exception of cultural or sports excursions downtown, Whitefish Bay was about as far south as my friends and I usually got.

But it was on Downer Ave. at the old Coffee Trader where as a high school freshman I had my first cappuccinos with my friend Sam(antha), where we talked for hours, feeling very cosmopolitan under the high ceiling fans. To my teenage eyes they were as romantic as the ones in "Casablanca." We were giddy with our newfound freedom; we could have been in Paris or Istanbul, we felt so sophisticated.

Sometimes Sam and I hung out with the older boys, occasionally pouring soap from the laundromat into the fountain in the sidewalk and watching the great drifts of suds tumble and blow. Our friend Schuyler whose mother was a ballet teacher drove an old white VW station wagon we called the milk truck, and our friend Mike, who once described himself as a “yellow-dog Democrat” drove a little red Ford Fiesta that we all thought would break down any minute, especially when the weather turned.

At fourteen, I felt like Downer Ave.—and its close cousin North Farwell—was the portal to the wide world beyond with its foreign food, books, magazines, and movies, and in a way it was. When Mike and Schuyler and our friend Alison all graduated and went East to school, it didn’t surprise Sam and me. Of course they were going further afield. I eventually followed.

It seemed only apt that for my first reading in Milwaukee, I would return to the threshold of the place that led me out.

--Daphne Beal

Daphne Beal will be reading at the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop on Downer Avenue (of course) on Thursday, September 18th. The event starts at 7 PM.

Matt Weiland, the co-editor of State by State will appear at the Downer Avenue Schwartz on Thursday, October 2nd at a special pre-debate time of 6:30 PM. The event will also include the Milwaukee premiere of the "Out of the Book" documentary for State by State, produced by Portland's Powell's Books.

Friday, September 5, 2008

beautiful weather

Yesterday's Weather
by Anne Enright
Grove Press, $24
September 2008

To begin with, I can’t write about this incredible volume of stories without mentioning that I was unsure whether I could appreciate Anne Enright’s writing style upon my first reading of the Man Booker Prize winner, The Gathering. But I underestimated her understated, slippery prose. Upon the second reading, I realized that a full appreciation only awaits those who examine the sinuous sentences crafted and cleverly placed for the discerning reader to discover. The themes and ideas, expressed in silkily, playfully realistic phrasings, then fully come to light and dance across your consciousness.

In light of this, a reading of the Irish author’s new offering Yesterday’s Weather was approached with this knowledge in mind. To my delight, the stories produced the same pleasures of last year’s prize winner, only more so.

Most of the stories are twelve pages in length or less. Two excellent consequences result from this brevity. The highly imaginative tales, almost all of which have female narrators, have Ms. Enright’s characteristic style, but honed to perfection, in which not a word is wasted. Secondly, they have the classically longed-for “I want to know more” factor, which I associate with other noted (yes, Irish) modern short-story writers such as William Trevor and John McGahern. Comparison with Trevor also is relevant in the deeply humane delineation of life’s absurdities and with McGahern in the shedding of a highly realistic light on relationships, especially familial ones.

I have a few favorites, called favorites partly because they reminded me of things that I already knew, but had somewhat forgotten.

The first is “Honey”, about Catherine, a woman trying to psyche herself up to have sex with a known womanizer (not her husband) while coping with the death of her mother.
“Little Sister” is an elegiac told by a young woman whose sister, Serena, is leading their family through a harrowing, prolonged bout with anorexia.

The story “Yesterday’s Weather” is told, at turns, in melancholic and hilarious fashion by Hazel, relating the everyday painful realities of trying to manage an infant and a marriage while saddled with an often clueless husband.

As mentioned by the author in her introduction, the stories are presented in reverse chronological order, the earliest being published in 1989, and she likes the idea of seeing herself “getting younger… as the pages turn.” Ms. Enright wants to think of them as “a gift…presented not just to the reader, but also to the future – in my case, to an old woman called Anne Enright, who will read this too, with a bit of luck, and laugh.”

This great collection truly is a gift, and I plan on savoring it again in the very near future.

the established library or the summer I loved comic books

by sarah marine

"I'm a bookseller" transported here from Bookslut. enjoy.

My summer reading took a surprising turn when in the midst of classes, moving and nuptial things, I found that I am quite partial to Alpha Flight, Power Man, the Avengers and X-Men comic books. Bayard and I did much trolling in the comic section of Downtown Books, which is a trove of treasure, and suffice to say that my regular fiction reading took a backseat to Wolverine and co. I have also been obsessed with Battle Star Galactica-even to the extent of when my comics reading extended into the world of Chris Ware, I was of course examining some Rusty Brown plate with a handy magnifying thing and nearly screamed when I spotted a Battle Star Galactica poster on Rusty's bedroom wall. Also, Chalky is my favorite. Hey Jay! Put that Quimby the Mouse in IBID so I can devour it, thanks.

The comic explosion having settled a bit, and our library having been packed realtively early in anticipation of our long-time-coming move, I picked up the only book not in a box, Confederacy of Dunces, which Bayard got for his birthday, and 3/4 of the way through it, Rusty Brown and Ignatius C. Reilly- brothers from another mother??? Furthermore, Jones is my favorite fiction character read all year.

stay tuned for housewarming party news...until then, here are a couple low quality pictures of our beloved home library. It is named 'junebug vs. hurricane' and dedicated to Borges, a great lover of libraries. Its all quite formal, you see.

the fireplace works!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

On "Vacation" with Deb Olin Unferth and Eli Horowitz

I am pleased to invite you (pl) to a night of conversation with Deb Olin Unferth, author of


, and Eli Horowitz, Editor of McSweeney's Books.

7PM on Friday, September 26th
at Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop on Downer Avenue - RSVP (Facebook)

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Whatever I might type about Vacation would be infinitely less entertaining than the trailer,

which includes words of praise, like "crucial" and "cherished" and "profound" from writers like Aimee Bender and Christine Schutt. I can't compete with that.

For a little taste of Deb Olin Unferth's work, watch this animated story.

(Aren't stories fun with visuals and audio? Check out Born Magazine and Poems that Go for more fun.)

See you there. Check back in a few for some reviews of Vacation from us.