Back Comes the Writer, Chortling: An Interview with Brian Doyle

A few months ago a select group of attendees enjoyed one of the most enthralling author events Island Books has ever hosted. We had so much fun that I issued Brian Doyle a standing invitation to visit any time. It’s too soon to expect another in-person appearance, but luckily for all of us, he was able to pay a visit to our virtual space on the web, this here blog, to talk about his new novel. Chicago tells of a year in the life of one sports-obsessed young man living in a big city on the shores of a “vast and muscular lake.” It’s a story of first jobs, first girlfriends, and first encounters with “gangsters, gamblers, policemen, a brave and garrulous bus driver, a cricket player, a librettist, … a shy apartment manager, and many other riveting souls, not to mention a wise and personable dog of indeterminate breed.” Since it’s a Brian Doyle production, it’s funny, heartfelt, observant, and guaranteed to make you want to read as much of his writing as you can get your hands on. The man behind it was gracious enough to field of few of my questions about the book, his work, and life in general ... continued

Shakespeare in Seattle

When you stop to think, it’s odd to celebrate the day a person, however famous, shuffled off this mortal coil. Regardless, this April 23rd marks the 400th Deathiversary of one William Shakespeare, a writer of no little renown, and the whole world is throwing a party. There have been any number of commemorative activities underway in Seattle, including productions of his plays in bars and backyards, but the centerpiece of the festivities was at the Central Library, where a rare copy of the First Folio, the 1623 book that established the bard’s dramatic canon, was on on exhibit until April 17th.

As a current bookseller, former English major, and closet theater geek, I was triply obliged to make a pilgrimage to see this secular relic, so I headed downtown, free ticket in hand. I was neither wowed nor disappointed by the experience–I guess you’d say I was whelmed. In the end, the focus of all the excitement was simply a very old book in a glass box in a dimly-lit room on the eighth floor of an even bigger glass box.

Of course, it’s pretty cool to be able to say that I’ve been in the presence of an actual First Folio ... continued

A Pride and Prejudice for Today

How many times has Pride and Prejudice been used as the marketable tagline for everything from lewd romance novel to Darcy-as-a-rock-star to zombie apocalypse story? Not one-too-many times, as it turns out. 

Ponder the following excerpt and tell me, who is the author? Is the following from Pride and Prejudice?

She had planned to blithely leave Darcy behind, but it seemed now that matters between them were unresolved. What it was that needed to be settled, however–what she might convey to him–continued to elude her. Surely it was related to the indifference to his feelings, the defiance even, that she’d demonstrated during their final conversation. If on certain topics he’d shown insensitivity, she’d concluded that his misbehavior had been of a less egregious variety than her own.

Or, is this excerpt from Pride and Prejudice?

How differently did every thing now appear in which he was concerned! That proud and repulsive as were his manners, she had never, in the whole course of their acquaintance, an acquaintance which had latterly brought them much together, and given her a sort of intimacy with his ways, seen any thing that betrayed him to be unprincipled or unjust–any thing that spoke him of irreligious or immoral habits.  … She grew absolutely ashamed of herself.

... continued

First Pitch

I was helping move some shelves in the sports section not long ago when a little piece of history fluttered out from a crevice.

In case it’s not clear from the photo, that’s a 56-year-old box seat ticket that let some lucky fan watch the Portland Beavers play in what was then known as Multnomah Stadium. Now, Island Books is old, but it wasn’t around in 1960. I did some research and confirmed that the store wasn’t built on the ruins of a sports museum. Instead, the ticket turned up between the pages of a secondhand book a couple of decades ago and spent a few years tacked to the wall before disappearing again as mysteriously as it had arrived. My fellow shelf-shifter Cindy found a frame for it, so hopefully we can take better care of our rediscovery going forward.

This is the perfect time to put it back on display, since we’ve just celebrated the most important spring holiday of all: Opening Day, when the new major league season begins ...

We're also celebrating an impending visit from Mark Holtzen, author of A Ticket to the Pennant, who will be pulling up a stool and sitting down in our regular Storybook Corner on Wednesday, April 13th at 10:30am. I’m officially inviting you to bring the kids, bring the grandparents, and bring yourself–it’s my first pitch of the season ... continued

Cookbook Book Club

It’s that time of year when you can’t drive around the island without passing a cyclist. More often than not, they come in pairs or packs. Besides the fresh air and exercise, the appeal is in the companionship. We’re more likely to get out of our ruts and make the effort if there are others to motivate us.
 
With that spirit of team motivation in mind, we dreamed up a new event. Last week we held our first cookbook book club. If you want the perfect example of something we can do that an online retailer can’t, this is it. A festive potluck meal that urges you to go beyond just buying the cookbook. We’re here to nudge you into making the recipes.
 
Our featured cookbooks were the Short Stack Editions, a series of small-format cookbooks authored by America’s top culinary talents. Each edition is a collectible, single-subject booklet packed with recipes that offer ingenious new ways to cook our favorite ingredients. Every title is printed on high-quality art paper with hand-stitched binding, and each booklet is a true pleasure just to look at. But they’re also practical, covering ingredients that include eggs, honey, chocolate, fruits, vegetables, and more.
 
We kept our expectations low. After all, our regular monthly book club attracts about a dozen each month (come and join us, we’d love to up that number!). Maybe a few of our immediate friends and neighbors would turn up? ... continued (and read on for the recipe for Sticky Toffee Chicken Wings, pictured)

A Soldier in a Good War

“A book is a fragile creature, it suffers the wear of time, it fears rodents, the elements and clumsy hands … So the librarian protects the books not only against mankind but also against nature and devotes his life to this war with the forces of oblivion.”

–Umberto Eco (1932-2016)

Umberto Eco, who spent a long life warring with his pen against the forces of oblivion, died over a month ago, but I find myself still thinking about his loss. I hadn’t figured that would be the case, given that he had drifted to the back of my mind in recent years, but after he was gone I slowly realized how significant his writing had been to me and for how many years.

Like most people, I discovered Eco because of The Name of the Rose ... continued

We Love Libraries

We may make a living off of selling books, but we still love love love our local library. Anything that promotes literacy and the joy of reading is our cup of tea. 

When I was a kid, I always dropped by the library on my way home from the bus stop. There were many times I received a book as a gift and found myself hooked on a series. One or two Sweet Valley High or The Baby-sitters Club titles were the limit on what my parents would agree to buy, so the library was the only way I’d get to read the next dozen in the series. 

There are many reasons we buy books, but the motivation to visit the library is often more complex. Research is a big one (although the internet has changed that), but often it’s just the need for a safe quiet place to go to read or do homework without any expectation of spending money. For my kids, it’s about spreading a stack of the most random titles (and often out-of-print books that aren’t in the bookstore) all over the floor and flipping through the pictures. When that gets old, we can wander into Miss Linda’s story time, which gives me a break from reading to them ... continued

Forward March

It’s the end of the first week in March. The long slow midwinter sales slump that follows the busy business boon of Valentine’s Day is thick upon us. All we have to look forward to is Bewaring the Ides of March on the 15th (lest our friends betray us or worse) and St. Patrick’s day on the 17th, a minor retail holiday that occasions the wearing of the green, celebrates Irish culture, and commemorates the mass exodus of snakes from Ireland. It’s a great day for pubs and pints but not so great for retail sales in the book industry. Easter, of course, comes in April but barely registers on our sales-o-meter.

In fact, the next significant retail sales boost won’t be until Mother’s Day in May.

As booksellers we would like to think we’re above the crass commercialism of the year’s progression of holidays. We are not. As retailers we realize that we hobble through the year boosted by the sales crass commercialism creates. I present you with Exhibit Only: a photograph taken on February 27th, 2016. You may or may not recognize the scene of the crass crime-mercialism:

That would be us, here at Island Books, pushing Mother’s Day (May 8th) in February ... continued

Supreme Court Reading

When the top trending article on The New York Times homepage is “Senate Republicans Lose Their Minds on a Supreme Court Seat” and there’s still almost a year until a new president moves into the Oval office, it’s safe to assume the headlines are only going to get crazier as 2016 progresses. Short of a leading candidate or world leader passing away, it’s hard to imagine a death with more political impact than Justice Antonin Scalia’s. As if Donald Trump’s candidacy wasn’t polarizing enough, now the destiny of the highest court in the land is up in the air. Scalia’s death leaves us with a Supreme Court of eight justices, equally divided between liberals and conservatives. Which way will a new judge tip their rulings? As we sit and wait to see where all of this chaos is going, it seems like an appropriate time to learn more about the inner workings of the Supreme Court and the personalities that inform it.

The obvious choices to start with are the books pertaining to Scalia, if you’re curious about how his unyielding conservative voice impacted the nearly 30 years he sat on the bench. There are two biographies, the more comprehensive and biased American Original by Joan Biskupic (2009) which is based on personal interviews, and the recent and publicly researched Scalia by Bruce Allen Murphy (2014). Scalia was widely accepted as one of the most entertaining writers on the court, and to hear his wit and flair direct from the source try Scalia Dissents ... continued

March eNewsletter 2016

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is the perfect children's book for March. This time of year, we're all preparing to come out of our cocoons and spread our wings. My favorite page from Carle's classic is the one with the laundry list of food. Salami, an ice cream cone, a cupcake, a slice of swiss cheese ... I think we can all relate.

There are few things we love as much as we do books, but food is one of them. That's why we're excited to kickoff our first cookbook book club at 7pm Tuesday night, March 22nd. Each month we'll feature a different cookbook and then, near the end of the month, get together to taste the dishes we've made from it. A festive potluck meal, in other words, and we'll supply the drinks. This month we're featuring the Short Stack editions, a series of small-format cookbooks authored by America’s top culinary talents. Each edition is a collectible, single-subject booklet packed with recipes that offer ingenious new ways to cook our favorite ingredients. Every title is printed on high-quality art paper with hand-stitched binding, and every booklet is a true pleasure just to look at. But they're also practical, covering ingredients that include eggs, honey, chocolate, fruits, vegetables, and more. I'm particularly hoping someone will turn up with a dessert made from Susie Heller's 
Chocolate.

Beside the in-store food fest, our staff will be out around town this month. We're excited to be a book club sponsor at the Literary Lions Gala on March 5th. The gala supports the King County Library System by raising funds for learning programs and this year's honoree is foodie legend Ruth Reichl (more food appreciation for us!). We'll also be at Nancy Pearl's Women's Club luncheon on March 7th, selling her favorite 2015 book picks.

Back in the store, we'll have our usual weekly Storybook Corners, PJ Story Time, author events with Justine Chen, David B. Williams, and Alison Case, a jumpstart your job search evening, and our lively book club. There are new books coming from authors like Tracy ChevalierJacquelyn MitchardHarlan CobenJames Patterson, and more. We hope you'll find time to stop in for something.

So while that caterpillar is busy eating his way towards a stomachache, let's spend March devouring good books and delicious food together. Happy spring reading and eating!

Warmly,
Laurie Raisys
Owner

... see the full newsletter

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