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Boswell Book's 2020 Summer Reading Guide Celebrates Wisconsin

Penguin Random House

Summertime looks and feels a bit different for many of us during this pandemic. There aren’t festivals, no big trips — but there is definitely time for reading.

As we all spend more time at home, having a good book to help pass the time can be a necessity. If you don’t know what to pick up next, Daniel Goldin of Boswell Book Company has plenty of recommendations that all have a Wisconsin connection.

"I like to support or own and I also think it’s fun to have the local connections. And you know, books are just a great way of vacationing without going away, and they’re also a natural social distancing mechanism," says Goldin.

The King Of Confidenceby Miles Harvey

"It is sort of a narrative non-fiction for people who love true crime ... and it's super local because it is about a gentleman named James Stang who decided that he was the second coming of Joseph Smith after his passing and set up his original headquarters in Burlington, Wis.," notes Goldin.

After leaving Wisconsin, he and his followers took over Beaver Island in Lake Michigan to "make a go of it" and set up their own government, which involved counterfeiting and consecration in the name of Mormonism.

"At the time it's the mid-19th century, so this book ties into so many of the trends going on then, and the religious revivalism which ties into the story was actually happening all across the country. I just thought it was great," says Goldin.

Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey by Kathleen Rooney

"It is based on a true story. Whittlesey was a commander in the Lost Battalion incident of World War I, but he actually grew up in Florence, Wis.," notes Goldin.

"The story is told alternatingly from the perspective of Whittlesey and his carrier pigeon Cher Ami. This is a pigeon that went from the Lost Battalion to the base after losing a leg and an eye. And that pigeon is actually in the Smithsonian Museum," he adds.

Cher Ami tells her own story, bringing to life what we ask of animals in the service of humans, as well as the sadly familiar notes on the toll of war. 

"It's a great World War I story and [Rooney] really brings both characters to life. It's actually a story a little bit about queerness because she posits that Whittlesey was probably a gay man, and weirdly enough Cher Ami was a female pigeon that was given a male name," notes Goldin.

Bonnie by Christina Schwarz

Wisconsin-native Christina Schwarz's fifth novel, Bonnie, is historical fiction based on the life of Bonnie Parker, best known for her robberies around the country with Clyde Barrow. 

"[Schwarz] really focuses in on [Bonnie's] poetry. This is not a bored housewife pictured in film. She is a woman of thwarted ambition who was successful in school basically until she was cut down by a teacher, but she continued to write poetry her whole life," says Goldin.

Bonnie also reveals the real nature of their work — not the glamorous bank hold-ups often depicted in pop culture. Goldin says the book also highlights the complicated relationship between Bonnie and Clyde.

"It's really from her perspective, Clyde is really more of an enigma. Lots of research, so great historical fiction," he notes.

The Second Home by Christina Clancy

"The book is a super Milwaukee book," says Goldin. The Second Home follows sisters Ann and Poppy and 

Credit St. Martin's Press
St. Martin's Press

their adopted brother Michael, who has disappeared from their lives, to pick up the pieces after their parents die in a car accident, according to Goldin. There are two houses the siblings must sort out — a family summer house in Cape Cod and the parent's home in Milwaukee.

"It's a fighting sibling story ... and Poppy's arc is to learn to love her home, which is she goes back to Milwaukee and falls in love with it again," notes Goldin. Christina Clancy also grew up in Whitefish Bay, was in the UW-Milwaukee creative writing program, teaches in Beloit, and always wanted to launch a book at Boswell, says Goldin. 

"Within the first hundred days she told me, 'I'm going to write a book and I'm going to launch it at Boswell.' And ... she actually did it! Except ... we did a virtual launch and one day we'll have her [in the store]," Goldin says.

The Coyotes of Carthage by Steven Wright 

While the story is not set in Wisconsin, author Steven Wright is a "full-time Wisconsinite," says Goldin. Wright teaches at the UW-Madison School of Law, its creative writing program, and also serves as the co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. 

The Coyotes of Carthage is a political thriller set in South Carolina that follows Toussaint Andre Ross, a Black political operative. He's sent to a conservative, mostly white town to get them to vote on an ordinance that would give up their local historic mountain for mining purposes.

"If you have good film history knowledge you might know that's sort of the plot of Local Hero back in the '80s, but unlike that one there's not a lot of heart and warmth," says Goldin. "It's dark and moody and ... almost more like a spy thriller ... the writing's so good."

The Lives of Edie Pritchardby Larry Watson  

Credit Workman Publishing
Workman Publishing
Framed in three-part of Edie Pritchard's life, "each [story] has that quiet suspense that [Larry] Watson is known for," says Daniel Goldin.

Larry Watson is a Wisconsin writer that has taught at UW-Stevens Point, Marquette University, and has retired in Waukesha. And, "like all of his books of late, [The Lives of Edie Pritchard] has a very powerful older hero, and the story is told in three moments of her life basically connected to her marital statuses," explains Goldin.

The first part focuses on young Edie who thought a rivalry was settled between brothers after she married one of them. Twenty years later, she leaves her controlling second husband with her daughter when she learns her first husband is dying. The last section takes place as Edie's own granddaughter stops by with her boyfriend and his dangerous brother. This time Edie must act to try and save her granddaughter from making the wrong choice. 

"Each [story] has that quiet suspense that Watson is known for ... and because it's a triptych it's got a different pacing from Watson's other novels, but think of it as reading three great novels," says Goldin.

Real Lifeby Brandon Taylor

"It's an academic novel about a Black grad student who comes to an unnamed college town ... and yet you know exactly where it is [in Madison]," says Goldin. 

Wallace, a Black, gay grad student comes to the unnamed college town to leave his abusive upbringing in Alabama behind him. During his studies, Wallace develops a relationship with a closeted grad student but also gets accused of sexism by another — which gets a lot of attention, unlike the racism that he continually faces.

"It's really a book for the moment, even though [Brandon Taylor] didn't know he was writing it for the moment, because he really looks at allyship and what a white person can do to support a Black person," says Goldin.

"It is definitely a coming of age story, a book about a gay person also in a straight world, beautifully written, and you can definitely tell [Taylor] went through the UW-Madison creative writing program," he adds.

Weird But Normal by Mia Mercado 

Whether Mia Mercado is writing about growing up (awkwardly), using dating apps (awkwardly) or getting

Credit Harper Collins Publishers
Harper Collins Publishers
Mia Mercado's essay collection touches upon racial identity, gender roles, beauty standards, and the contradictions of being a millennial woman.

married (same), her personality shines through in this collection of essays, says Goldin.

"Mia Mercado is a blogger who actually has amazing Milwaukee roots," he notes. Mercado grew up in Glendale and Grafton, and went to UW-Milwaukee. Her essays range from content about clothing, depression, to removing body hair.

"But also it's about being a biracial Asian woman in a white world ... She talks a lot about the things that people say that are inappropriate to her, often in a very funny way. I laughed out loud several times," says Goldin. 

If you're a fan of the writing of Samantha Irby, Jenny Lawson or Jen Lancaster, Goldin says you'll find Mercado "very enjoyable."

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.