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

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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

July 2017 eNewsletter

When I think back to the cartwheel I did two years ago down the aisles of Island Books on the day I signed the papers to buy the store, I wish I had done a few more. The experience of owning Island Books has been so much more than I ever expected.

No two days are ever the same, and sometimes that's a really good thing.  I love getting to the store well before it opens so I can be in the space and walk around. There are mornings when someone will knock on the door and come in to chat, which I love, but mostly I enjoy the solitude of the store. I fell in love with Island Books not just because I love books but because there was something special about this place that always calmed me.  Whenever Victor and I talk with people about what we're doing now, especially those who ask, "Why did you buy a bookstore?" we talk about the Mercer Island community and something author Will Schwalbe spoke of at his event this past January, something Ray Oldenburg discusses in his book The Great Good Place. Your home is your first place, your workplace is your second, but then there is a spot in your neighborhood that is third--we work every day to make Island Books your Third Place. We love that you share with us the news of  your joys and sorrows; that you tell us your funny stories and laugh at ours; that we get to observe your lives progressing through engagements, pregnancies, childbirth, and graduations. We always want you to feel at home when you visit Island Books, even if you're just wandering around. Consider it your Third Place on the island.

 
Among the highlights of my past year behind the front counter are these:
  • Installing our best-seller walls
  • Homecoming visits from former islanders Jim Lynch and Joel McHale
  • Raising a glass with the staff at the conclusion of a bustling holiday season
  • Attending Winter Institute in Minneapolis with a thousand other booksellers
  • Seeing all the friendly faces, new and old, who visited us on the biggest Independent Bookstore Day yet
  • Hosting multiple local author festivals
  • Eating delicious communal meals at our regular Cookbook Book Club meetings
  • Being a Band Together sponsor
  • Meeting Taylor Jenkins Reid, author of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
  • Saying goodbye to beloved Northwest writer Brian Doyle with some of his most-devoted fans

I don't know what they are yet, but I know the next year will bring me many more highlights, and I look forward to every one.

Hoping as always to earn a bronze medal,
Laurie

Citizen of the English Language: An Interview with Bahiyyih Nakhjavani

Bahiyyih Nakhjavani is a teacher, a translator and also the author of three novels set in the 19th century. The first two of these share a fabulist, allegorical quality: The Saddlebag (2000) takes place along the pilgrimage road between Medina and Mecca in what is now Saudi Arabia, while Paper (2004) features a Persian scribe in search of the perfect writing surface. The Woman Who Read Too Much was published in 2015 and fictionalizes the revolutionary real-life figure of Táhirih, a Persian poet and scholar who rejected the veil and threatened society with her literacy.

Nakhjavani’s most recent novel is her first set in contemporary times, and was my introduction to her writing. Us&Them was published this spring by Stanford University Press (and as Eux&Nous by Actes Sud in France). At the book’s center is a trio of women, all displaced in one sense or another by Iran’s Islamic Revolution. Daughter Lili pursues an activist, academic life in Paris, while her sister Goli raises a family in “Tehrangeles,” California. Their mutual desire to extract their aging mother from her Iranian home conflicts with their equally fervent desire to keep her at a distance, leading to a kind of maternal time-sharing arrangement that has Bibijan shuttling back and forth across the Atlantic. This female triangle gets ample support, mockery, judgment, and gossip from the circle of fellow expats and immigrants that surrounds them, so Us&Them can cast its satirical gaze widely, on family relationships, modern Persian mores and manners, and the politics of international migration. Few novels are as adept as this one at balancing the issues of the day against the traditional pleasures of fiction.

Nakhjavani agreed to answer some questions from me about Us&Them. Once we began corresponding, though, the trail of crumbs I left her led her words down other paths ... continued

Read the World This Summer

Hey, kids and teens! What are you doing this summer? Keeping your reading eye sharp and roaming the globe, we hope. Our Read the World Summer Program can help with that. Just come into Island Books throughout the summer to buy books and we’ll reward you with a free bonus book in the fall.

Here’s how it works (it’s simpler than it sounds):

  • Pick up a Read the World passport at Island Books.
  • Once school gets out, come into the store to buy a book from our kids and teens section. Get your passport stamped when you do.
  • Read one book every week until school starts again. That’s ten books in total.
  • Spread your purchases out. We know you take vacations and stuff, but we miss you when you’re gone! Pay us at least five visits during different weeks of the summer for your purchases to qualify.
  • When your card is full, you get a free book! We’ll figure out the average price for everything you’ve bought and credit you that amount.

We have great recommendations for stories about places near and far, whatever your reading level ... continued

Detour Along the Way to Enlightenment

When you work in retail, it’s inevitable that strange things will happen from time to time. Bookstores are probably less susceptible to such encounters than most other kinds of shops, but I’ve seen my share of weirdness. Quite often when I worked at a different, hyper-urban spot, not so much in recent years. However friendly and suburban it is, though, even Mercer Island is subject to the occasional odd visitation.

A couple of months ago a guy came in asking about the Tao Te Ching, A text both religious and philosophical that dates back to the Chinese Zhuangzi period in the 4th century BCE, it’s not something I’ve ever read, but I know what it is and where we shelve it. I took him to the right section and pointed it out, whereupon he took issue with the version we had on offer. I could see his point ... continued

June 2017 eNewsletter

As I write this I'm filled with emotion ... in the coming week my second child will graduate from high school, leaving us with only two in the nest for now. Many of you know that I can be quite caustic (hopefully in a funny way) when I talk about my kids. But obviously I love them and the family my husband and I have built together over the last 20 years. The staff has grown quite familiar with each of the kids wandering in to say hello, help with some project or chore, and, almost always, ask for money or food. My son, the graduating senior, has stopped by almost every day over the course of the last semester. As I look ahead to August when he heads off to school, the caustic part of me that only half looks at him when he walks into Island Books will be sad that he's no longer a daily visitor. I think of all the books on the graduation table (Go Forth, How to Raise an Adult, etc.) and I get it, it's his time to move on to the next chapter of his life, but my heart wants the little boy who never wanted me to leave him at preschool to stay. It's a good thing you're reading this online instead of on paper, otherwise the tear stains would make the words all blurry.

Back to business: in addition to all the upcoming events you see on the right side of this page, we'll be scheduling many more this summer, involving movies, games, music, and more. Watch our Facebook page and web calendar for details.

The Mercer Island Farmers Market is in full swing, and we're proud to be a major sponsor of this awesome community program. We're open every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., so please stop by to show off your produce purchases. Our cooking section offers great advice on making those into delicious meals.

Stay tuned as the month turns over, too. July 1st marks two years for me as the owner  of Island Books, and we'll be celebrating the anniversary with all of you. Oh, and there's so much going on I almost forgot--on June 3rd, our sweet Miriam was blessed with a baby girl, Meredith Ann Landis. We are all thrilled for her and the addition to her beautiful family.

See you soon,
Laurie

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