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

On Sunday, Sept 14 at 3pm, we’ll be hosting Jennifer Longo, local author of Six Feet Over It. We asked Jennifer some questions to prepare for her visit. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to get to know her!

—Miriam

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Island Books: Why did you decide to write a novel for teens? And more specifically, where did you come up with the idea to put your female protagonist in a graveyard?

Jennifer: That’s a really great question – I actually never decided to write a book for teens! I wrote this book as straight up literary fiction for adults, with the protagonist at thirteen years old. My agent thought aging her up and bit and pitching the book as YA would give it a better chance with editors. The only problem was, I hadn’t read any YA books since I was a young adult myself and was completely unfamiliar with the current trend. I’d read Judy Blume and Lois Lowery and Katherine Patterson, and that was about it. Thirty years ago. So my agent sent me a bunch of her client E Lockhart’s books, and pointed me toward other current YA authors to bone up on how these books worked. Revising the book to fit some of the conventions of the YA market was the hardest part of the whole process. I still don’t get it! But I hope I came close - readers and reviewers are responding about how it is different from most YA they read, so that tells most of the heart of the original story was retained. And young readers are loving the story, which tells me YA aren’t all necessarily totally plot motivated readers, they seem to love a good internal struggle, as long as it’s compelling. The idea to put the MC in a graveyard came from the main struggle I wanted to put her in, which is one abut learning to accept help and let herself mourn, and allowing death to have a place in her life without taking over – my own experiences growing up around the graveyard my family owned lent themselves perfectly to the story, and added some rich detail I’d been writing about for nearly thirty years already, so – done and done!...Read More

We’ve been quiet in August. Maybe you’ve forgotten about us. Traveling, swimming, and barbeques swallow the summer, and we know how it is, the great weather is a distraction. But now it’s Labor Day and time to get back down to business. There’s a new energy in the store as everyone heads back to school. We’re ready to embrace everything the fall has to offer.

First, there’s an author event coming up next Friday the 12th at 8pm that we expect will fill the store to capacity. We’ll be welcoming Daniel James Brown, author of The Boys in the Boat. For those who aren’t familiar with the book and its particular tie to Mercer Island, this is the improbable, intimate account of how nine working-class boys from the American West showed the world at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin what true grit really meant. With a team composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team was never expected to defeat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did, going on to shock the world by defeating the German team rowing for Adolf Hitler. The emotional heart of the tale lies with Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his shattered self-regard but also to find a real place for himself in the world. Last March, we were lucky enough to host Judy Wilman, daughter of Joe Rantz, for a lively discussion with several Mercer Island book clubs. Obviously this bestseller has great local appeal and has been one of our top sellers since it came out. Word has it that the Mercer Island Preschool Association is meeting up for drinks beforehand to discuss the book and then heading over to the event. Whether you’re a member of that group or just want to gather your friends, it’s a good opportunity to come together for a drink, some community history, and a great time....Read More

Sometimes I like to read fiction that features carefully created, fully rounded characters who respond convincingly to realistic situations. Sometimes I’m looking for plot-driven adventure set in exotic locales. Sometimes I want a historical setting that attends uncannily to detail and brings the past to vivid life. Sometimes I need a spectacular vision of the future that brings to mind possibilities I’ve never imagined before. Sometimes I just want to hear someone play with language and ideas in a way that makes beautiful music to my innner ear. And very rarely, I get all those things I want from a single author.

David Mitchell has made a career out of defying expectations and continually raising the literary bar, producing a series of novels that are nearly unmatched for their brilliance and complexity, yet are somehow accessible and thoroughly entertaining. He’s done all this while maintaining an engaging, humble public profile, as evidenced in this online interview.

On Tuesday, September 2nd, he’ll be releasing The Bone Clocks, which by all accounts is his best yet....Read More

No, this isn’t one of the display tables at Island Books, it’s one from an independent, approximately Island Books-sized shop in Perpignan, France. It’s mostly filled with work by French writers, but you’ll also see some pretty recognizable Anglophone authors there, including Hillary Clinton, represented by her memoir Le temps des décisions, and E.L. James, famed for her erotic romance Cinquante nuances plus sombre. Sharp-eyed readers will also notice a tall pile of copies of La vérité sur l’affaire Harry Quebert, a hit novel by Swiss author Joël Dicker that was a staff pick for Cindy earlier in the summer.

All paperbacks, you’ll note, but that doesn’t mean these are last year’s releases just making their way into a cheaper format. Hardcovers are rare in France, and pretty much all books sold here start out in paperback. This is a practice that harkens back to the long-gone days when readers had all their books bound in leather. You’d buy the stitched-together paper pages of a book, then take them to a binder to have an elegant set of covers attached. Not only was your book permanently protected, it looked like all the others on your shelves, as if your library consisted of a single giant encyclopedia set....Read More

Spread by contact with organs or body fluids, Ebola has a high fatality rate and there is no known cure. With over 900 reported deaths in the last few weeks, the threat is still far far away from our little bookstore on Mercer Island. Most of the deaths have been in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. And yet. Concern is rising.

Our morbid fascination with infectious disease is nothing new. Something about the silent uncontrollable spread and often dramatic symptoms commands our attention. If you find yourself drawn to the drama of the classic “human race obliterated by virus” narrative, skip the daily news and go for some of these full-fledged disaster stories. They’ll help you put things in perspective. Or scare you out of your mind.

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston: In a story that might hit way too close to home, here’s the one nonfiction book on my list. Obviously still as relevant today as when it was published in 1995, The Hot Zone follows the first emergence of the Ebola virus out of the African forest and into the suburbs of Washington D.C. Don’t panic when you read the in-depth description of viral evolution, symptoms, and means of transmission. You probably just have a little cold. Probably....Read More

(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.)

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