If there are readers on your holiday shopping list — or you’re looking to add some titles to your own reading list — Boswell Book Company’s Daniel Goldin has suggestions for readers of all ages.
Here are some of Goldin's favorite books of 2019:
Milwaukee Noir, edited by Tim Hennessy
"Regional books are an important part of our mix, but we're not seeing too many breakouts this fall. There are two last minute arrivals, Climbing My Mountain by Sheldon Lubar and Milwaukee Rock and Roll, 1950-2000 from Dave Luhrssen, Bruce Cole, and Phil Naylor. Our biggest regional book this year was Milwaukee Noir, edited by Tim Hennessy. Noir is not just mystery, it's involves a grim take filled with cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity. Sometimes you have to take on justice yourself, which is why the stories contain a lot of revenge fantasy, often combined with a bit of social justice, which is part of Akashic’s brand. I love anthologies for discovering new authors and there is plenty of Milwaukee-based talent here."
Olive, Again, by Elizabeth Strout
"We think of sequels as being common in the commercial realm, and despite a few clunkers in 2019, they are still dominating the film space, for example. In the book world, they are common in the realms of genre — fantasy, mystery, and romance novels series baked into their DNA. But sequels in the world of literary fiction are much rarer, where despite the occasional John Updike Rabbit books, companion novels are about as close as you’ll get, works set in the same place with some overlapping characters but without clear plot continuity. That’s different in 2019, when three major sequels came out, all national bestsellers — Find Me, the follow-up to André Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name; The Testaments, the continuation of The Handmaid’s Tale; and Olive, Again, the further adventures of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteredge. I think that the move of literary fiction adaptation from stand-alone films to series is partly responsible. Tom Perrotta’s Mrs. Fletcher, like The Leftovers, is open-ended. Of the three, Strout’s Olive, Again is selling best for us in December. It’s the new Oprah Book Club pick, following The Water Dancer. Olive may be ten years older, but she’s just as formidable.”
"Sometimes a bookstore fills a niche by providing something you can’t get elsewhere. I think board books [do] so well because they provide a tactile quality for toddlers you don’t get online, and I also think a lot of parents don’t borrow board books from the library because there’s a lot of biting going on. They also tend to be relatively lower priced than the hardcover picture books that kids graduate to. Some board books are adapted from hardcover picture books but original concepts continue to be popular, and Peek-a-Who? and its sequel are unique in that they are triangular. Aside from that, they are somewhat standard lift-the-flap books that answer the age-old question, 'What does the cow say?' The illustrations are good. But it’s really the triangular shape that intrigues people."
Planetarium: Welcome to the Museum, curated by Chris Wormell and Raman Prinja
"Several years ago our kids buyer called attention to the oversized, nonfiction books that seemed to bridge picture books and works for older kids, bringing new life to any number of nonfiction fields. These books are large, filled with magical illustrations, and tend to have way more text than your average picture book. In fact, while the traditional picture book’s top age is getting younger and as such you’re generally seeing the category with a lower word count as kids graduate to early readers, these nonfiction books tend to be rated as for kids eight and up. That said, a younger kid can be drawn in by the artwork and age with the book. Planetarium is positioned as a museum in a book and that’s just what it is."
The Yellow House: A Memoir, by Sarah M. Broom
"One of the things we’ve noticed with the holiday season half over is that there hasn’t been a lot of cohesion behind book selections. Last year three of our top picks were Michelle Obama’s Becoming, Tara Westover’s Educated, and Delia Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing. This season all three are still in the top five bestsellers in their respective categories nationally. The best-of lists are just all over the place. In the nonfiction world, it seems as if The Yellow House could possibly continue to grow. I see it as an Educated meets Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, where author Sarah M. Broom [explores] the family history in an unappreciated part of New Orleans, focusing on the house she grew up in, eventually destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The writing style has been compared to Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle, but the structure is more collage than linear.”
Nothing to See Here, by Kevin Wilson
"It has been a tough year to break out fiction. Everyone’s worried about trends — the screen time, podcasts, and the lack of bandwidth to get the word out about great stories. NPR shows, which actually play a big role in getting the word out about fiction, are often pre-empted, and that opportunity is lost. Of course we’re reading as fast as we can too, but a recommendation from a Boswellian just doesn’t have the same impact as an interview with Scott Simon, much to our dismay. But one book that did break out is Kevin Wilson’s Nothing to See Here. He had great attention for his first novel, The Family Fang, but his second novel was quieter. His new book asks the question, 'How do you care for children who spontaneously combust when anxious?' But the story’s triumph is in the narrator Lillian, an ungrounded young woman working two jobs who is asked by an old classmate to help take care of her new stepchildren. It’s one of several nanny books that I’ve read this year, following the thriller Girl in the Rearview Mirror from Milwaukee’s Kelsey Rae Dimberg and the upcoming Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reed. These books are not The Nanny Diaries redux. They’re each different and all great.”
We’re All In This Together, by Amy Jones
“The book is a fractured family, laugh out loud, funny, Where’d You Go Bernadette kinda story. There’s so much heart in it too. It’s so sad. And as the story goes on the sisters have to find a way to come to terms with each other. But more than that, we are the reader are trying to figure out what’s in the mom’s past that she keeps running away from - barrell or otherwise."
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by Abbi Waxman
"I am always looking for a great romantic comedy to get behind. One book that several of us and many other booksellers love is The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by Abbi Waxman, which focuses on a young woman in a struggling Los Angeles bookstore who plays competitive trivia when she’s not hosting author events and organizing book clubs. She’s been raised by her mom who is now in Australia, but then she gets notice that her estranged father, whom she’s never met, has died and put her in his will, along with his multiple wives, children, and grandchildren. She went from no family to a lot of family in short order and she’s got to navigate some relatives that are thrilled to have her, and others who are not. The shining star is the voice, which has a Bridget Jones quality about it; Nina is hard not to love. Nina is positioned as romance-adjacent, but her publisher Berkley is really at the forefront of publishing the new romance, which is resurgent in bookstores — diverse, LGBT friendly, disability inclusive, and with protagonists with agency."