I took a trip toward the end of this past summer and forgot to bring my razor. I could have easily bought a replacement, but it hardly seemed worth doing at the time. Thus was my August Vacation Beard born. Hey, free souvenir, right?

I kept the beard when I got home without thinking about it very much. For me, inertia was justification enough, but other people seemed to need a reason for the change in my appearance. How could I go from shaving regularly to not shaving regularly? So I had to say something.

When September rolled around, I told people I was sporting a Playoff Rally Beard. It almost worked, too. The Mariners were in the race until the very last day of the season, which hasn’t happened for over a decade. That excuse kept me going for another thirty days, and then I coasted. October became Halloween Beard month. “I’m going to be a lumberjack,” I said. I put on a flannel shirt and jeans–done.

But then I hit a wall. After the trick-or-treating was over, would I have to break out the Barbasol? Casting about for a new rationale, I did what I always do when I’m looking for answers and turned to the bookshelf. Lo and behold, I found my cause. November’s is the Beard of Book Promotion, with three titles in particular to support....continued

Clothing is important enough for everyone (except for a handful of ecdysiasts) to wear every single day of their lives, but it’s not something that’s usually considered worth discussing. Sure, friends can chat about it while they shop, and maybe an author can dwell on the sumptuous costumes of her characters if she’s writing historical romance, but asking “What are you wearing?” is not a fit topic for “serious” conversation or “serious” writing.

That question that can sound altogether mundane or totally creepy, depending on the circumstances. (Not as creepy to my ears as the one that gets asked on red carpets,”Who are you wearing?” but still.) A subject that’s somehow too boring and too erotically fraught at the same time? How is that possible? Oh right, because sexism. Clothes are a woman thing, so even though they’re almost as ubiquitous as oxygen, they’re pushed to the periphery.

Not always, though. There are a couple of recent books that treat clothes with respect without forgetting to have fun while they do it....continued

It’s been raining constantly here; enough to put our power out for nearly two days. I crawled under the covers when the sun went down and used the early bedtime to point a flashlight at two meaty new novels. The darkness put me in the mood for something morally complex, and with both Ian McEwan’s and Sarah Waters’ new books, that’s exactly what I found. 

McEwan is a writer I particularly admire for the depths of his characters. His new book, The Children Act, is about a family court judge facing both a marital crisis and the toughest case of her career.

Jack, Fiona Maye’s husband of more than thirty years, has asked her permission to embark on an affair. She refuses and sends him packing, presumably into the arms of his lover. Turning her attention to her work, she takes on the case of Adam Henry, a 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness and leukemia patient whose family adamantly refuses to let him receive a blood transfusion that will save his life. She visits Adam in his hospital bed and discovers they have a strong connection. Despite his determination to die for his faith, she rules against the family and forces him to have the transfusion....Continued

I once dressed for a masquerade party as a character from Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Tyrone Slothrop is—well, I’m not sure if he’s the protagonist, a linchpin, a point of focus, or what. In any case, he’s an army lieutenant deployed in Europe during World War II, and at various points in the novel he tries to impress some girls with the world’s most garish shirt, plays the legendary 10th-century German swine-hero Plechazunga in a folk festival, and passes himself off as the comic book superhero Rocketman. These are among the less bizarre things that happen to him, but you have to start somewhere.

So there I was, in military fatigues and a Hawaiian shirt, wearing a cape bearing a large letter “R,” with a hornless Viking helmet on my head and a rubber pig nose strapped to my face ... 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.)

We hear endless conversations about books in our store, but there is one literary debate that can never rest. Even fifty years after its publication, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein still fires people up with passionate opinions. As evidence, I present to you this recent article that appeared in The New York Times. People are still hotly debating the meaning of the book. Is the tree selfless or self-sacrificing? And is the boy reasonable or selfish? Most importantly, what are my kids going to think of the tree and the boy?

The messages we take away from children’s books has been on my mind. Overnight, my twin babies have turned into walking talking two-year-olds bursting with personality. All of a sudden, they have opinions about what we are and are not going to read. They will throw a book across the room if I make a suggestion of something they find distasteful. For some reason, Goodnight Moon is a victim of constant rejection lately. Can anyone explain how that’s even possible? Are we reading it the wrong way?

Along with all these strong displays of preference comes a noticeable application in real life. Thanks to Leslie Patricelli’s Yummy Yucky, I now know exactly which foods on their dinner plate are acceptable and which they find revolting. Thanks to Alice Schertle’s Little Blue Truck, every time we see a blue truck on the road my son screams “Beep! Beep! Beep!” at the top of his lungs. And so on—the point being that they are taking away more than just “pat the bunny” from their reading material these days....Read More

This past summer I finally got around to reading Always Coming Home, Ursula K. Le Guin’s award-winning novel from the mid-’80s. It takes the form of an anthropological treatise on the civilization that will replace ours once we’ve finished screwing up the planet, and the book is pretty well unmatched in the way it fleshes out an entire culture—the society she depicts is as complete and convincing as any real one you could study in the here and now.

The Kesh people aren’t perfect, but Le Guin’s vision of them is certainly Utopian, and one of the most remarkable things about the book is how positive and productive their relationship is with the landscape in which they live. Despite the far-future setting, Always Coming Home is very much a novel of place, and it’s impossible to think of it without visualizing the valleys of northern California.

Thing is, I will always associate the book with the south of France....continue

Last Saturday night was our first fall PJ Story Time, and this year, the bookstore twins are finally old enough to get something out of it. Mercer Island’s beloved Nancy Stewart was our guest of honor, and as you can see from the video after the link, she had everyone laughing and moving the first time she strummed her guitar.

What began as Nancy’s pilot project in September 2012 has turned into an island phenomenon. She’s built a strong community of parents, grandparents, and children who all come together for her events and support her mission to promote early literacy and love of music. Did I mention she’s always full of surprises? Who knew Nancy was one of the voices singing nursery rhymes for that old Mattel See ‘n Say toy?

The turnout for the event was good and I hope it will continue to increase. Our children’s librarian Miss Linda offers wonderful daytime story times at the library, so the Saturday night bookstore event is a nice variation on that. Our story times feature a variety of guests, and the nice thing about the time is that working parents are usually free to come with their kids. My husband even had the great experience of chasing both twins around the story while I ran over to the QFC for frosted animal cookies. (It wouldn’t be a successful evening without those cookies as the grand finale.) He rarely gets to watch them at a story time event and it’s just too cute to miss. I also like that it’s right before bedtime, so my 2-year-olds were dead tired by the time we tucked them in....Read More

We spend most of our time here talking about how great Island Books is (and it is) but I thought it might be interesting for a change to talk about a couple of our (rare) failures, times when we couldn’t seem to find what a customer wanted....continued

One way you can tell how hard a writer is working is by how well you know their cast of of supporting characters. In Tana French’s fiction, we learn all the details: the manner in which a minor character cocks their head and exactly what they intend by the expression, what a detective resents most about their job, and why the friend of a murderer might feel compelled to spill their secrets. As good as French is at plotting a mystery, she’s even better at developing her characters. Nowhere is that more evident than in her latest novel, The Secret Place.

French’s books have a clever conceit. She takes a minor character from the preceding novel and makes them the new protagonist. We already know them through the eyes of others, now we have the chance to learn how they see the world. It’s part of the reason her development of the supporting cast is so important. Any one of her minor characters could end up at the center of a murder mystery the next go-around....Read More

I spent the other morning with my daughter at I-LABS, the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. She’d been tapped to be part of a study to see how typical preschoolers socialize and share, so I got to sit in an adjacent room watching on closed circuit TV while she and another little girl played games, pushed buttons, and divvied up little plastic bears under the guidance of a researcher. The other girl’s dad and I were equally tense about whether our kids would be generous with their bears (they were—whew) and equally fascinated by the mundane protocols of the experiment. Was it significant that the girls rode the swings in unison? Were the grad students aware that some four-year-olds will fork over an infinite number of blue bears but cling like misers to one precious purple bear? We didn’t understand everything that went on, but we were happy our girls could add to the sum of human knowledge in a small way. And they were happy that they got to keep their bears.

At home alone that afternoon, having dropped my daughter off at preschool, I subjected myself to a scientific experiment of my own. By reading a book, naturally. I didn’t have to be attached to an EEG machine or anything, I just sat in my usual chair and turned the pages as I usually do. There was a whole lot going on between my eyes and my brain, though, and I was aware of it all because of Peter Mendelsund’s What We See When We Read....continued

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