Draft No. 4 by John McPhee

John McPhee has been doing basically the same thing for over fifty years, and been doing it so well that there’s now a name for what he helped invent: creative non-fiction. More than simple reportage, his writing is always distinctive and artistic while remaining resolutely truthful. Critic Michael Dirda says of him, “Never as flashy as Hunter Thompson or Tom Wolfe … McPhee has always relied on prose that is fact-rich, leisurely, requiring a certain readerly patience with scientific and geographical description, and nearly always enthralling.” I might quibble with the use of the word nearly there, but otherwise spot on.

Any McPhee book deserves notice, but the one he’s produced at this late stage in his career is worthy of more than usual. In Draft No. 4, he brings his full arsenal of talents to bear on the subject of his own life and work—catnip for his fans. I count myself among them, and so does the writer Matthew Fleagle, a frequent guest at Message in a Bottle. It was inevitable that we’d have a long conversation about DN4 and want to share it with this audience. Thanks in advance for your certain readerly patience ... continued

Three Books To Pick Up This Month

September is the most anticipated month in publishing. The biggest authors and most buzzed-about titles often arrive with fall, and the plethora of reading can be overwhelming. 

If you need help narrowing down the newest releases, allow me to recommend one novel, one cookbook, and one memoir to grace your nightstand.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo: I eagerly swallowed this completely original debut novel in one gulp. Legendary New York Times book critic Michio Kakutani even chose to end her tenure with a glowing review of Stay With Me. Adebayo studied writing with both Margaret Atwood and fellow Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, but her narrative voice is thoroughly her own. 

A portrait of domestic life in Nigerian society, Stay With Me belongs to Yejide, who loves her husband Akin and despite pressure from family and society, cannot seem to conceive. The story opens with a second wife being brought into the family to produce an heir. Yejide will do anything to get pregnant, including climbing a mountain to nurse a goat (you’ll have to read the book to understand such craziness). Yejide’s self-worth, and her sanity, are nearly ripped apart over decades of heartache ... continued

September 2017 eNewsletter

"To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life."

—Somerset Maugham

To the parent of multiple children, the end of summer is always a mixed blessing. When school is out I'm happy for my kids to experience all the free time, but as we inch towards August, I find I'm more excited than they are for the return to school and structure.

Back to school at the store means offering shiny new notebooks, pencils, erasers, lunch boxes, and more to motivate kids to hit the books, as well as big fall releases from bestselling authors like What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton, A Column of Fire by Ken Follett, and Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (don't forget to pre-order your signed copy while they last!).

September is full of special events too. We'll welcome several remarkable authors including bestselling writer Joyce Maynard, host a poetry reading featuring some local all-stars, and present our annual Random House reading recommendation night with expert sales reps David Glenn and Katie Mehan. There's also a special event that's near and dear to my heart because of my own cultural heritage. Lithuanian photographer Jonas Kulikauskas, author of Yosemite People, will be at the store on Saturday, September 23rd. We'll display his black-and-white images of those who live and work at Yosemite throughout the afternoon. The photos move from the overwhelming majesty of nature to the intimate moments of human life and we're the only bookstore to host him.

Getting back into the fall swing of things means we're also busy brainstorming new ways to have fun in the store. One of them is starting our own "Mercer Island Reads" program, and we'd love your input. We see this as a way to deepen our engagement in literature through reading and discussion and bring us together as a community. Can you imagine if all of Islanders read the same book at the same time? We welcome your thoughts in person, by email, or through social media

Finally, we'd like to extends our deepest sympathies to the families and communities impacted by the devastating hurricane and floods in Texas and Louisiana, especially our fellow independent bookstores like Becker's BooksKaboom BooksBrazos BookstoreBlue Willow BookshopMurder by the BookRiver Oaks BookstoreThe Lift, and more. You're in our thoughts and hearts.

Warmly,

Laurie Raisys
Owner

... continued

The Violins of Saint-Jacques and Other Things We Can't Forget

One of my favorite reads this past summer was a fat historical family saga set on a lush Caribbean island. Sounds delicious, right? It was. I tore through it in  a single sitting and was completely transported by it. Only when I put it down did I realize it’s not fat at all—it got the job done in a mere 160 pages. Put me in mind of that delicate, multi-layered French dessert, the mille-feuille.

The French connection is particularly apt, since The Violins of Saint-Jacques takes place in what’s sometimes known as the DOM-TOM, the Départements d'outre-mer–Territoires d'outre-mer. These are the overseas regions administered by France, former colonies in the New World. More specifically, the setting is the fictitious island of Saint-Jacques in the earliest years of the 20th century, a place and time recalled by an old woman who is one of its last remaining expatriates.

Isolated in the Antilles, Saint-Jacques is a place that’s developed its own blended culture, partly ruled by Old World traditions of decorum that are occasionally flouted with an insouciant air. Political conflicts arise as the officious new governor butts heads with the established Creole families who actually run things, but the real intrigue is romantic and personal. Glances are exchanged, secret notes are passed, and everything culminates on the night of glorious masked ball that must be one of the greatest party scenes in literature.

What makes the novel such a pleasure is the way it builds its world ... continued

Pre-order Your Autographed Copy of John Green’s Latest

I have a habit of writing about John Green, so it’s no wonder that drafting this post gives me déjà vu. I wrote a similar piece five years ago, champing at the bit for the release of The Fault In Our StarsLater on I covered the controversial movie poster for TFIOS. I’ve discussed his road to Carnegie Hall. There’s always plenty to talk about when the name John Green comes up. Known for his nuanced and empathetic depictions of teenagers, Green has received many accolades, include the Printz Medal, a Printz Honor, and the Edgar Award. He has twice been a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize and was selected by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.

It’s been five long years since the publication of The Fault In Our Stars. On October 10th, the waiting will finally be over when Green’s new novel, Turtles All the Way Down, finally hits the shelves ... continued

Books As Bridges: Reading Cuba Now

As spring of 2017 turned into summer, our Destination of the Month series invited you to consider Cuba for your next vacation. The list of books we shared on our website included a unique collection of short stories, and the translator who assembled it found our page and wrote to say thanks. When I realized that he was the same person behind the North American release of a forthcoming novel I’d had my eye on, I responded. Back and forth the emails went, until I decided to lend him the Message in a Bottle forum so all of you could see why I was so interested.

–James

——————————-

Havana’s annual Book Fair, the week-long Feria Internacional del Libro, draws hundreds of thousands of people to the old Spanish colonial fortress called La Cabaña (built after the capture of the Cuban capital by the British in 1762 to make sure that no foreign power ever succeeded in such an assault again). The residents of Havana flock there each February for everything from lectures and roundtables to pizza, pencils, and pony rides, but most of all they come for books–Cuban books and foreign ones, mostly at subsidized prices, many available only at the Feria because they soon sell out. Nearly half a million books were sold at the most recent Fair ... continued

August 2017 eNewsletter

"Books … they’re kind of a compulsion for me. To find a great bookstore is a great thing. "
—Philip Seymour Hoffman

On Sundays I often walk to the bookstore with one of my daughters, but this past week I walked alone (with George Michael blasting in my earphones). As I walked past the Congregational Church their marquee read, “Share what lights you up." I sent a telepathic thank you to Reverend Roberta for the inspiration. 

The Mercer Island and Island Books community took my breath away this week. The outpouring of love, support, flowers, and food you shared with us after the armed robbery at the store has been overwhelming. To say thank you from all of us feels like a paltry repayment. Please know that you–the community that loves and supports our bookstore–light me up.

Speaking of community, in just a few weeks my son Erik moves on to a new community when he leaves for college at WSU. Watching another one fly the coop is always a bittersweet time, and in preparation we’ve shared The Naked Roommate by Harlan Cohen and others to help him begin this transition into adulthood. He has also been reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, the required read for incoming students. I will miss observing his reading pile, which is always a window into what someone we love has on their mind.

I may not have as close a look into Erik's reading mind soon, but at the store we've spent the summer opening that window into the minds of our beloved booksellers. Each has taken a turn filling two display shelves with their favorite summer reads from all corners of the store, including everything from books they read in high school or as recently as last week. Cindy, James, Lori and Lillian have all had their time owning the shelf and Marni, Miriam, Nancy and I will take our turns soon. Check it out next time you’re in the store. You might be surprised by some oldies but goodies.

We also want to congratulate our Pacific Northwest writers grab-bag winner, Dori Jones Yang, for mentioning her favorite blog post (Pay It Forward) on social media in response to last week's missive. Dori, come on in and pick up your prize.

Thanks for continuing to walk in the door every day and make us your community bookstore, your third place, somewhere we know your name. Our hope is that Island Books “lights you up."

Onward to August,

Laurie Raisys
Owner

... continued

Stronger Than Ever

Last Friday evening, July 21st, there was an armed robbery at Island Books. First and foremost, we want to reassure you that no one was physically harmed. Our staff is like family to us and we value their safety and well-being over any material things that may have been taken. We’re working with the MIPD and appreciate their responsiveness, and couldn’t be more grateful for all of your messages of concern and support.

Our hope is to let this be what it is: an isolated incident that will only bring our community closer together. Island Books is a gathering place and second home to so many and we will continue to be that place. Our best response to this incident is to keep doing exactly what we’ve been doing for 44 years–serving our community.

Fortunately, this week we have a nice reminder of how Island Books marches on. This is our 500th blog post since our staff started this forum in 2011. Thanks to all the contributors and readers who have continued our ongoing online discussion.

In honor of the milestone, we counted down our 10 most popular posts of all time (measured by page visits). Join us on a walk down memory lane ... continued

Taylor Jenkins Reid at Island Books

July is heating up, but we’re not talking about the thermometer. We’re talking about our calendar of events, which just grew brighter and more star-studded. On Wednesday, July 26th, we’re welcoming Taylor Jenkins Reid to Mercer Island, and you’re going to want to be there.

Taylor is the author of several acclaimed novels, but right now we’re most excited about her newest one, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. It tells of an aging movie star and the young journalist who’s set to write the definitive story of her life, and the Indie Next review couldn’t be more enthusiastic:

“Steeped in the glory of Hollywood when marriages were made for reasons other than love and could be slipped on and off like a fine dinner jacket, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo reveals the behind-the-scenes stories of lives full of hunger, self-pity, jealousy, and rage, as well as lost love. This is a story that could have been pulled from the pages of fan magazines of the ‘50s. It’s so entertainingly real that you will be wondering why you can’t remember the great star Evelyn Hugo and the movies she made famous. Read for pure pleasure, and you’ll be tempted to play the game of, 'Who is this about, really?’ What fun!”

We’re equally smitten with the book–it’s Laurie’s favorite fiction of the summer and she’s been hand-selling it like crazy to customers and staff alike. Knowing that we’re going to be paid a visit by the author has brought a palpable giddiness to the store that will keep building until it peaks on July 26th. Join us then for mingling, reading, drinks, food and fun! And don’t forget to ask Taylor about how Jennifer Aniston made her a writer.

She Persisted

I’ve missed you, Island Books customers and staff. After eight weeks on bedrest and the arrival of my fourth child, I’m finally getting back to work. Having four kids all under the age of five is empowering and exhausting. If my husband and I can survive the child witching hour leading up to bedtime, we consider the day a success. 

Over the past few months, often the only way to calm the bigger kids down was to let them watch a video on the phone. Screen time always makes me feel like a failure, but survival is what it often comes down to and there have been many nights when watching an episode of the National Geographic Making Stuff series was the only way everyone would agree to brush their teeth. 

Now that we’re settling into a new normal, we are letting go of videos and getting back into the groove of a longer story time before lights out. One of the titles I recently brought home from the store was She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton. A year ago I wrote about Clinton’s last book for kids, It’s Your World, and She Persisted is a logical next step. Inspiring and motivating kids is a driving force in her work. Obviously the new title is a reference to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s recent explosive comment about Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, as she was reading a letter from Coretta Scott King about Jeff Sessions’ unflattering civil rights record. Who better to write this kind of book than Chelsea Clinton? She has the perfect author platform ... continued

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