Good old-fashioned science fiction–is that an oxymoron? Maybe, maybe not. SF is supposed to be as forward-thinking as possible, but it has a considerable past. It’s existed as a recognizable genre for almost one hundred years, since Hugo Gernsback popularized the term “scientifiction” to describe the contents of his magazine Amazing Stories, and its origins go back at least another century, through H.G. Wells and Jules Verne to Mary Shelley. More than a few literary historians claim that it goes all the way back to the clay tablets on which Gilgamesh was written, but you don’t have to agree with them to acknowledge that SF can qualify as old ...

[T]here are ... a number of authors who are galvanizing the traditional space epic. One of the best of these is Kim Stanley Robinson ... Newcomer Ann Leckie has a similar talent for full-bodied storytelling ... continued

In our monthly newsletter, “Counter Intelligence” is one of our consistently most popular features. That’s our clever way of saying “here are our staff picks.” Sometimes I struggle over what to endorse if I haven’t read anything I’m all that enthusiastic about, but this August I did not have that problem. I liked my picks so much I felt they deserved a longer endorsement.

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman and Circling the Sun by Paula McLain will appeal to the same audience. Both are set in exotic places and feature strong female protagonists, women who choose to live in defiance of their communities. Today independent women are the norm, but in historical fiction a woman who can run a business, stand up to parental figures, defy society’s expectations, and marry who she wants is a notable character. The heroines in these two novels both stand out in their surroundings. Hoffman and McLain crafted characters based on real women, and their stories are unconventional and larger than life. Rachel in The Marriage of Opposites and Beryl in Circling the Sun marry due to circumstances and the necessity of escaping their childhood homes, but those unions are not the end of the story. Their loveless marriages merely set the stage for all that follows ... continued

(Our store journal keeps you posted on books we're excited about, our literary musings, and other reading-related rambles. If you like, you can sign up to receive our posts by email.)

Recently, a customer called us with a request for reading recommendations. She and some friends were planning to visit the Balkans and wanted to know if we knew of any good books that might enhance their trip to Slovenia, Croatia, and points beyond. Did we ever. Books fictional and non-, both translations from the region and books written in English about it.

It seemed useful to share the email we sent to that customer with a wider audience, first because these are cool books you should know about, and second to remind you that we do this all the time. If you’re making travel plans and want us to help you get in the right mood for wherever you’re going, you have but to ask ... continued

Paul Shoemaker will be joining us at Island Books on Thursday, Sept 17th at 7pm. Paul is the Founding President of Social Venture Partners International—a global network of thousands of social innovators, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and business and community leaders that fund and support social change agents in nearly 40 cities and 8 countries. You can watch his TEDx talk here

Paul’s new book, Can't Not Do: The Compelling Social Drive That Changes Our World, hits our shelves this week. We’re excited about his upcoming visit and recently had the chance to ask him a few questions. Read on, and if you’re as intrigued as we are, come and meet him in the store next month.


Island Books: Your book description explains that “Can’t Not Do” is a catchphrase for the urge that captures the heart of effective social change agents—explaining, in their own words, their passion and drive: “I can’t not do this.” What motivated you to write Can’t Not Do?

Paul: There are two ways to answer this question. There was an immediacy, an emotional, micro reason which opens the book. I lost a very good friend, an SVP Partner, in a tragic plane crash on Aug 9, 2013. I was headed towards writing a book already but that was a jolt, for the worst possible reason, to motivate me to get going and share what’s in the book....continued 

I’ve been a Northwesterner for quite a while, more than half my life, but Jack Cady got here long before me. He was born in Ohio in 1932, served in the Coast Guard in Maine, conscientiously objected to the war in Korea, graduated from the University of Louisville in Kentucky, drove trucks and did other blue-collar jobs around the country, won awards for his short fiction, and eventually adopted Port Townsend as his home in the middle 1960s. He was for many years thereafter a highly respected writing instructor at the University of Washington and Pacific Lutheran University, and during this period was one of the most highly acclaimed writers in the region. When I mentioned his name the other day to a bookselling oldtimer at another shop, he immediately recalled the days when Cady was one of the very few Northwest writers under contract with one of the big New York publishing houses. A big deal, in other words ... continued

Readers of our blog have known the Bookstore Twins since they were born in September 2012. They’ve been coming to the store since they were less than one month old. With changes rumbling around what they consider “their playhouse,” they had a few things to say. 


Dear Island Books,

We’ve spent many hours ripping the children’s section to shreds, so sorry for the mess. The playhouse is the perfect place to hide when we don’t want to leave the store. Also, we didn’t mean to pee on the rug that one time. It just happened. Thanks for understanding.

The books you recommend, like Dear Mr. Blueberry and The Feelings Book, usually come home with us. Sometimes we rip and chew the pages, but we only do that to books we love.

It’s only been three years since we started coming to the store. Already we’ve made memories there. Story times (and frosted animal cookies!), helping Roger wrap presents behind the counter, Marni and Cindy chasing us when we slipped out the door, Lori and Kay’s knowing smiles when we tear things off the shelves, high-fiving James and laughing at his beard, and rushing into Nancy’s arms for a big hug. Island Books is as much a part of our routine as going to the park or the library. Sometimes we throw temper tantrums until Mommy takes us there....continued


Someone at a local organization for seniors recently asked us which books were currently popular with the silver-haired set, and we figured our answer was worth sharing with all of our followers.

So what are Mercer Island seniors reading this summer? At the top of the list is A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. This novel centers on a curmudgeonly widower who is forced out of his emotional shell when a young family moves in next door to him, and it’s one of the most delightful, entertaining pieces of fiction to come down the pike in ages ... continued


A couple of years ago on a Sunday in August a young mom and her toddler came into the kids' section where Nancy and I were working. She looked vaguely familiar to us and we greeted her. It turned out that she had grown up on the island and had just moved back to the neighborhood; she was now introducing her own child to the playhouse. “You know, you can never close this store,” she said with warm sternness. “It has to be here forever.” Now, Nancy and I had heard this kind of talk before. We took it as love but not too seriously.

We had no intention of closing the store. We were in the second of the three best years of its over forty-year history. We were busy every day. I’d had over thirty stimulating years since I started as a gift wrapper, and the last fifteen years with Nancy working beside me in the shop were just plain fun. But the heartfelt words of that younger generation got us wondering what kind of plan we should make for the future.

Time on our lease was dwindling; we were getting grayer; our kids had left the nest. We could manage a few more years of traveling over hill and dale from Ballard, but not forever. So we began to ask two questions: What would it take to create new chapters for our story? And what kind of person should we find to help write those chapters? We spent a year talking to other bookstores and consultants. We realized, perhaps not surprisingly, Island Books was beloved common ground on a diverse island and that it would benefit from a local person who understood and loved its varied and unique character. We also knew that running a retail shop and a bookstore in particular would take someone with an adaptive, can-do spirit.

We set about creating a detailed description of how we operate, secured a longer lease, and got a great new neighbor in Homegrown. We were almost ready to solicit the community when … we got lucky. A familiar and well-liked customer sort of hinted one day about her dream of running a community-oriented business. We sort of hinted back. After a couple of months we were talking. Then we were planning. For the last three months, Laurie Raisys has been working in the store. On July 1, we officially passed the torch, and made her the fourth fortunate owner and steward of Island Books.
Laurie is a longtime Mercer Islander who ha​s the warmth, creativity, integrity, and confidence that the store needs to carry it far into the future. She also has our trust and affection. We have signed on to stay and will be working for her, just trading hats. She will wear the hat decorated with the joys, dreams, and challenges of ownership. Nancy and I will be in bookseller caps, trying to entertain the masses and do right by you. The staff is staying too. You can pester all of us: Cindy, Lori, Kay, Marni, James, Marilyn, Miriam, Laurie, Nancy, and me. It's musical chairs, not a curtain call or a revolution.
And so, members of our beloved community, old friends and new faces alike, let's celebrate the continuation of our shared legacy.
​We can't thank you enough for the years of goodwill and generosity. Looking forward to swapping more stories.
See you at the counter,

It’s finally here: Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. We’ve all been stewing over this book since last February, when I wrote the following:

"Scout, a city girl? It’s hard to imagine she’ll be anything close to the girl who struggled to understand the race and class divides and ensuing social injustice in her small hometown. This new grown up Scout will have seen it all after living in New York. Atticus will be a small town lawyer to her now, and she will view him in a much broader context than just the moral hero of her youth."

Little did I know what a “much broader context” meant when I wrote that. Spoilers ahead. The book was embargoed, which means that publishing insiders and booksellers did not receive the typical advance copies. None of us had the opportunity to digest GSAW before it appeared in final form. So it was a surprise to everyone when we cracked the first chapter and discovered that Atticus–yes, that Atticus who served as the moral centerpiece of To Kill a Mockingbird and inspired millions of readers–turned out to be a full-blown racist. Atticus is now an arthritic 72-year-old man who asks his 26-year-old daughter Scout (now using her more appropriately grown up given name, Jean Louise): “Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?”...continued


My husband and I agree about most things: family values, house decor, and life goals. But as we’ve begun raising a family, we’ve hit a sore spot (besides the name of our third child, on which he prevailed). Many of you might relate to this one. I’m talking about screen time. He’s for it. I’m not. We probably both lean towards the extreme, just as a reaction to the other parent’s conviction.

It took an old book to help us reach a happy medium. As I sat in the hospital awaiting the arrival of our daughter (before things became too painful), I repeated my tradition of reading an older book right before childbirth. This kid around, I chose About a Boy by Nick Hornby. It was one of those “I always meant to read this and never got around to it but it’s still sitting on the shelf” picks. Somehow I’d also managed to miss the movie version with Hugh Grant and Toni Collette. The story of a narcissistic bachelor who pursues single mothers offers all the fulfillment we’ve come to expect from Hornby (High Fidelity and A Long Way Down come particularly to mind). When WIll invents a fake 2-year-old son in order to join a single parents group, he finds himself uncomfortably entangled with a 12-year-old boy and thrust into a world of responsibilities and children he always intended to avoid. The child, Marcus, is as awkward and nerdy as Will is cool. Both serious and laugh-out-loud funny, this story of male emotional growth really touched me (and it wasn’t just all the hormones, I swear).....continued