If you venture a look at the cart around the front counter at Island Books, you might get a glimpse of this poster about “Your Rights as a Worker.” It’s about 25 years old. Was the minimum wage really $3.85 per hour back then? That won’t even buy a soda at the movies these days.

Roger showed me the poster with a chuckle the other day, after a recent article in The New York Times got us talking about the history of bookstore employment. The story was about a distressing dispute between a bookstore owner and his employees. My dad emailed the link with the question, “What would Roger say?”

Chris Doeblin owns both Book Culture bookstores, located near Columbia University in Manhattan. His employees recently pursued unionizing in order to gain more holiday pay, promotions, and health insurance. On the management side, the economic realities of independent bookselling necessitate cutting costs. Doeblin prioritizes maintaining his business above retaining his employees. The move to unionize resulted in Doeblin’s firing of several key staffers, and an uproar in the surrounding community....Read More

Mother-in-laws get a bad rap, but father-in-laws don’t get any attention at all, it seems to me. Having done what I can to rectify the former, it’s time to do something about the latter.

My father-in-law was born into a large Italian-American family in Brooklyn, New York. How large? Large enough that his accounts of family history quickly descend into confusion for the listener who has to keep track of all the members, a problem that’s compounded by the fact that they all shared the same handful of first names. They grew Tonys in bunches like grapes, it seems.

Brooklyn in those days was a fairly tough place, and kids didn’t venture outside their own neighborhoods very often. If your last name ended in a vowel and you had to go down the Irish block, you ran. The atmosphere of the time is still present in the fiction of Gilbert Sorrentino, especially his novel Steelwork, and also in Vincent Papaleo’s Italian Stories....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.)

Sad news, fellow book lovers. After three years and a tremendous effort by publishers, writers, booksellers, and more, World Book Night is suspending operations.

James wrote about his experience with World Book Night back in 2012. Looking back at his blog, you can already see the writing on the wall. His initial effort to hand out Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to his softball team sounded disappointing. James took home half the copies he tried to distribute. “Too busy,” was the response. When people are turning down a free bestseller because they never have time to read, that’s depressing. But it’s also reality.

The program failed due to lack of funding. World Book Night officials were unable to secure outside grants, and I can see why. How could they document the results? There’s no way to prove that giving away free books increased overall book sales or helped the book industry. We don’t know if it even increased reading, because chances are many of those free copies ended up on a dusty shelf or at a yard sale. Despite plenty of buzz on social media, what did the World Book Night actually accomplish?...Read More

imageIsland Books customers are some of the smartest and most intellectual people around. We read sweeping and complex works of fiction, hard-hitting political memoirs, and epic histories. For our children we buy books that model the kind of citizens we want them to be, from coming-of-age novels to the classics. We go to the symphony, the ballet, and the theater. Our families, our careers, and our leisure activities bubble up in banter with the staff, proving over and over that our store serves a special and highly educated community. 

And yet. Dig a little deeper, and you might find that the same customer who joyfully read Melville and Woolf in college and buys books like The Goldfinch and Hard Choices loves to read People magazine. Get to know that customer after a few more languid visits to the store, and they might even let it slip that they love to watch The Bachelor....Read More

World Cup fever has cooled a bit around here since the US team bowed out of the tournament, but the temperature is still high. How could it not be after this year’s display? It looks like the record for total goals scored will fall before all is said and done, and we’ve seen some spectacular play along the way. In particular, Germany’s shellacking of Brazil was a match that will be talked about for at least the next fifty years. The finals take place on Sunday at noon, and even if we can’t watch, you can bet we’ll be checking the score from behind the counter. Oh, the sacrifices we make for you, our beloved customers.

As we’ve mentioned before, though, the World Cup of Literature has been even more fun for us to follow, and that competition too is winding up. Thirty-two works of fiction from around the globe have been facing off against each other for weeks now, and a winner, the so-called best book in the world, will be announced on Monday....Read More

Most people who know me well would find it very funny that I’m writing about cookbooks today, given that almost all of my contact with food comes after it’s prepared and plated. I’m no good in the kitchen, so my usual contribution to dinner is saying, “Whatever you want to eat is fine with me.” I do appreciate fine culinary artistry, though, and I also appreciate the books that explain how to produce it.

For instance, I really like Keepers by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion. It contains well over a hundred recipes that take flavor, health, and practicality into equal account. Not dumbed-down, but still accessible for beginners, it’s exactly the sort of book a family chef will actually use again and again. Keepers follows in the footsteps of several other great books that prove you can work with real ingredients just about as conveniently and quickly as you can with the pre-packaged stuff that gets passed off as food—and get far better results, of course. I’m thinking of Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach, Fast Food My Way by Jacques Pepin, Homemade with Love by Jennifer Perillo, The Family Cooks by Laurie David, not to mention the various releases in the Everyday Food line from Martha Stewart and the Family Cookbooks from America’s Test Kitchen.

Excellent, sensible volumes all, and I benefit from them enormously on the rare occasions that I open one. But I’m helplessly drawn to another kind of cookbook entirely. My real fondness is for books that I’ll never smudge, spill upon, or even use at all, most likely. The latest example is The Bloomsbury Cookbook by Jans Ondaatje Rolls, which catalogs the life, art, and meals of Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, and the other geniuses of their circle....Read More

In one of the most well-read communities in the country, Seattle indie bookstores have a reputation to uphold. We live right next door to a bookselling internet giant that cannot be named, so there isn’t room for mucking around in the book business. It’s sink or swim.

There’s a mutual admiration society around here among the local bookstores that have endured. So when a new kid arrives in town, we cross our fingers and hope they can make our local bookselling community that much better.

Santoro’s was the neighborhood bookstore over in the Phinney Ridge/Greenwood area for 9 years. Owner Carol Santoro sold the store in early 2014 to Ballard resident/Jeopardy champion/former Amazon editor/author Tom Nissley. If his name rings a bell, it’s because he’s hand-sold books at our store and popped up on this blog before....Read More

There’s a rather hardboiled piece of fiction making the rounds again after forty years. Recently released in a new edition by Phaidon Press, it features a cold-hearted protagonist who’s more interested in smoking and brawling than in the love of a good woman. Did I mention that it’s a picture book for kids?

It’s called No Kiss for Mother and it’s by one of the titans of children’s literature, Tomi Ungerer, author of Crictor and dozens of other hardy perennials. Originally published in 1973, No Kiss for Mother stars Piper, the school-aged son in a somewhat dysfunctional family of cats. Dad is detached, mom is doting but ineffectual, and Piper himself is a real hooligan. Hating to get up in the morning, he demolishes his alarm clock. He puts spiders in his teacher’s purse and pours glue on the girls in his class, anything to get kicked out before it’s discovered that he hasn’t done his homework. Despite all this, his mother calls him “Honey Pie” and wants nothing more than to shower him with affection, which he rudely and repeatedly rejects....Read More

This might sound strange, but after finishing the just-released memoir My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff, I realized I’m guilty of incorrectly judging a book by its cover color. Although an advance copy had been sitting on my nightstand for quite some time now, I kept pushing it lower and lower in the pile for the simple reason that the predominantly brown cover didn’t appeal to me. I never even bothered to read the jacket copy, so I wasn’t even avoiding the premise or description. It was just that the cover made it seem like anforgive meoverly masculine book.

It’s not the first time I initially passed on a brown cover that held treasure between the pages. The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer was an almost completely brown cover, and oh did I resist reading that one, even though it was the talk of the publishing house I worked for at the time. It was Moehringer’s memoir of growing up fatherless in the local bar in Manhasset, New York. Instead of romanticizing a booze-filled past, this coming-of-age portrait has something for everyone, from father-son story to first love to adjusting to college to finding his way as a journalist. And all of it is recounted with the knack of someone who spent hours telling stories to a colorful cast of characters in a bar; the kind of person who could make you down his writing faster than a good drinker could chug a beer....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.)

Are you the type to fall in love at first sight? I’m not, but I do it sometimes anyway. Mostly with books. What makes it happen? Well, shapely plots and well-fleshed characters can draw me in slowly, but it’s playful, expressive language that forges an instant connection.

Like when I picked up a copy of Brian Doyle’s The Plover in the store the other day. I started leafing through it to see what it was about, read the first two paragraphs, and then stopped. Not to put it back, but to go find anything else I could that he had written. That brief exposure alone was enough to tell me that he and I were going to be spending an awful lot of time together. I brought home my pile of books, ran through the rest of The Plover, and kept going with the rest of his work. The spark we had most definitely turned into a flame....Read More

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