Advance Reader’s Copies spark joy for local book group: A shoutout to William Morrow, Jennifer Chiaverini &, most of all, Mildred Fish Harnack

In 1989, I kicked off the freelance writing career that ended up tanking my marriage and catapulting me out of the middle class. 

(Or, to put it another way, I traded in one set of problems for another set that I liked better.)

My book group. One of many joyful by-products of that trade-in.

In 1992, a phone call from UPS that a package addressed to the now-closed alternative weekly I’d been copy-editing came as a surprise. I was the only person they’d been able to track down. Would I accept it?

Sure I would. 

The box turned out to be from HarperCollins. It must have weighed 40 pounds. I hauled it up the stairs to the upper flat with the slanty floors as my daughters, then four and six, looked on. (Their nine-year-old sister was off with their dad.) I slit it open and pulled aside the single sheet of packing paper. 

The box was filled with every picture book the company was releasing that season. 

It was an endless parade of marvels. We sat, removing book after book from the box, leafing through the pages and sometimes reading an entire story aloud. 

Time stopped as a pile grew next to the box, which seemed to yield treasures as if would never stop. When it was finally empty, I stood up, looking at my daughters, sprawled on the floor turning pages and silently thanked HarperCollins and the universe for providing a gift I would never have been able to afford. 

Almost 30 years and a couple of careers later, I am reliving a version of that experience. 

I still do some freelance writing, but nowhere near as much as I once did. Mostly, when I write, I’m working on my book-like object and this blog as discipline for reminding myself that I am, in fact, a writer. 

But I’ve somehow remained on some mailing lists. I know this because every so often an unsolicited advance review copy or finished (but newly-published) book shows up in the mailbox. 

Generally, I check to see if it’s something we should have at the library and give the selector for that particular area a heads-up. Less generally, I will find an outlet and review it.

This past December, I opened a package from William Morrow. I turned the book – an advance reader’s copy of a book called “Resistance Women” – over to read the back cover. Then I let out a yelp that caused Sweetheart, from the next room over, to call over and ask if everything was okay.

The book is about Mildred Fish Harnack, a Milwaukee native who lived in my neighborhood and married Arvid Harnack, a German national, in 1926. The two became part of a resistance cell in Nazi Germany that was exposed. Both were executed. Mildred was the only American woman whose death was directly ordered by Hitler. 

The Mildred Fish Harnack Complex in Milwaukee, home of Project Stay, an alternative high school program.
The Mildred Fish Harnack Complex in Milwaukee is mere feet from the Central Library, where Mildred probably spent a lot of time as a child and teen.

I didn’t know about Mildred until I moved to Wisconsin, and even then had to work to find out about her. I was beyond excited to be holding Jennifer Chiaverini’s novel in my hands. 

The following morning, I sent this email to the publicist. 

Good morning: I received an ARC of “Resistance Women”last night and am already plotting and planning programming and other things around it.

In my work life, I am a librarian. Prior to that, I was a full-time reporter and editor, still do some freelance work and blog on my own time.

Additionally, on my own time, I have been part of a neighborhood book group that meets monthly and has for the past 35+ years. (I’m a relative newbie, having only joined 18 years ago.)

This is relevant to publicity for the book on a couple of levels.

I’d like to see if it were possible to receive enough ARCs that we could read the book and discuss it as a book group in advance of publication and programming here. (There are about 13 of us, but we’re good about sharing so wouldn’t need that many copies, and I already have one.)

Many of our (now adult) children attended Milwaukee High School of the Arts, which, back when it was West Division, is also Mildred’s alma mater.

Some of them – and some of us – also attended UW. (See above.)

There’s a Mildred Fish Harnack Scholarship awarded annually to a High School of the Arts graduate, and Art Heitzer, a local attorney who has presented the scholarship for several years, details Mildred’s life, achievements and the background of the scholarship.

I look forward to reading the book, and to being in touch with you both.

Happy December and whatever holidays (or just December) you observe.

PS When I went for a walk with one of my fellow book group members this morning, she  squealed with excitement when I told her what had shown up in the mail.

The next day, I received this: 

Hi Amy! We were hoping that there would be a regional response and hometown love for this book so I’m thrilled to hear from you.

To start, I’d be happy to send galleys for your entire book club to read. I can send enough for all 12 and/or it’s also available as an e-galley on Edelweiss if anyone prefers to read electronically.

Just let me know the appropriate address and I’ll have them sent out right away.

The following Sunday, at our December discussion (“Hallelujah Anyway” by Anne Lamott), I shared the news with my fellow book groupies.

I was scheduled to host in March. The book comes out in May.

I announced my choice, watching my confused friends take in the news that I’d chosen a book that wouldn’t be available. Then I delivered the punchline. Kathy got so excited she started fanning herself. 

At our January White Elephant Dinner gathering, I handed out the books. Tonight is book group. At my house. As soon as I post this, I’m going to bake a chocolate roll and clean the house. 

I thought the book was extremely well done. I’ve read plenty of WWII Holocaust-related stories, and appreciated that this one was centered around the lives and experiences of non-Jews who opposed the Reich and its policies.   

Next week, I’ll report on the group’s reaction and our discussion. 


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