The Cover Was Blue …

Whenever booksellers gather, they’ll eventually start asking each other one question: What’s the most vague and crazy way a customer has asked about a particular book? Scratch that–they won’t ask, they’ll just start telling their stories. They’re like poker players who can’t get over a bad beat, and they can instantly recall the nearly impassable hurdles they’ve had to overcome in trying to find the right read.

Even a front-counter novice knows the basic routine: “I don’t remember the title, but I think it had a blue cover. I heard about it on NPR, so you must know what it is.” You dig for as much more information as you can, and sometimes you get lucky. It’s a wartime romance and it’s fiction and it happens to be on this week’s bestseller list and voilà, there’s your sale. Most times there’s not any extra detail to uncover, the customer’s trick pitch is too much to handle, you swing and you miss, and there’s not much more to tell.

More interesting are the occasions when you find yourself handling a slippery Clupea harengus rubeus, known in less technical circles as a red herring ... continued

 

An Interview with Jim Lynch

On Thursday, May 26th at 7pm, acclaimed Northwest writer Jim Lynch, author of The Highest Tide, Border Songs, and Truth Like the Sun, returns to his Mercer Island roots. He’ll be at Island Books to discuss his new novel Before the Wind, a funny, big-hearted story about a grand and idiosyncratic family obsessed with sailing. It’s also about online dating and Albert Einstein. Set in Seattle, Victoria, and Olympia, much of the novel unfolds on the water in this two-decade odyssey of the Johannssen family.

Jim has visited us before and we’re delighted he has a new book to share. In preparation for the event, he was gracious enough to answer some of my questions. I hope his answers are as intriguing to you as they were to me and that’ll you’ll be motivated to join us and meet him in person. 

–Miriam
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Island Books: People have said Before the Wind is the book you were born to write. Did it turn out to be what you originally set out to create?

Jim Lynch: Given my upbringing, I’ve always known I’d eventually try to write something like Before the Wind. At least I’ve known since my late teens that I wanted to build a novel with sailing at its core and subsequently wanted to write a novel about a gifted and volatile family. My other novels were ideas that came to me. This one was in my bones all along ... continued

May 2016 eNewsletter

These past few months I’ve read two compelling novels about family: The Nest and Eligible. For years it was always my dream (that always ended up pushed aside) to write a novel. Crazy things always happened around me growing up, in my 20s and 30s and certainly in my married and family life. While those stories might not be dramatic enough as a work of nonfiction, I loved the idea of turning my life experience into a novel. Who doesn't? But for now, there aren't enough hours in the day, and there are plenty of family dramas on our shelves to pick up and satisfy my imagination. We all love to think about our families, and as we head towards Mother's Day that subject is at the forefront of my mind. 

I am the mother of four children. They range from 12 to almost 19 years old; still in the nest yet quickly leaving. I remember bringing the first one home. She was just shy of five pounds and two months ahead of her due date. Her diapers looked like those you put on a doll. She is now a freshman in college who stands six feet tall and is part of the UW Women’s crew team. It seems like only yesterday she had two little pigtails, a tricycle, and needed a nap. Everyone will tell you it goes by quickly and you never believe them, but it’s the truest thing I’ve ever heard.

This month, I want to thank the woman who raised me who I am lucky enough to call Mom. Thanks to my children for letting me be their mother on good days and bad, and also to all of the amazing women who are mothers and play a role in my life. You inspire me every day.

Warmly,
Laurie Raisys
Owner

...continued

Old MacDonald Had a Truck

If you’ve spent time around the preschool set, I’m sure you’ve mooed like a cow, clucked like a chicken, and neighed like a horse. There is something about a farm that holds a special allure, especially for children. The gentle animals all working hard to earn their keep and give back to the farm can represent an idealized society, one far simpler for children to understand than the complex world most of us live in today.

Last week I took the bookstore twins (now 3 ½) to Fox Hollow Farm. My heart was full as I watched them pet baby piglets, take their first pony ride, and frolic with cows. Could there be a more idyllic scene?

With farms and farm animals an ongoing topic in my house, it’s no wonder I’ve been taking a special notice of them in the books around me. The farm fantasy isn’t just for kids. If you’re tired of the fast pace that characterizes our world today, here are a few choice books to remind you of a simpler time and place filled with moos, clucks, and neighs ... continued

Back Comes the Writer, Chortling: An Interview with Brian Doyle

A few months ago a select group of attendees enjoyed one of the most enthralling author events Island Books has ever hosted. We had so much fun that I issued Brian Doyle a standing invitation to visit any time. It’s too soon to expect another in-person appearance, but luckily for all of us, he was able to pay a visit to our virtual space on the web, this here blog, to talk about his new novel. Chicago tells of a year in the life of one sports-obsessed young man living in a big city on the shores of a “vast and muscular lake.” It’s a story of first jobs, first girlfriends, and first encounters with “gangsters, gamblers, policemen, a brave and garrulous bus driver, a cricket player, a librettist, … a shy apartment manager, and many other riveting souls, not to mention a wise and personable dog of indeterminate breed.” Since it’s a Brian Doyle production, it’s funny, heartfelt, observant, and guaranteed to make you want to read as much of his writing as you can get your hands on. The man behind it was gracious enough to field of few of my questions about the book, his work, and life in general ... continued

Shakespeare in Seattle

When you stop to think, it’s odd to celebrate the day a person, however famous, shuffled off this mortal coil. Regardless, this April 23rd marks the 400th Deathiversary of one William Shakespeare, a writer of no little renown, and the whole world is throwing a party. There have been any number of commemorative activities underway in Seattle, including productions of his plays in bars and backyards, but the centerpiece of the festivities was at the Central Library, where a rare copy of the First Folio, the 1623 book that established the bard’s dramatic canon, was on on exhibit until April 17th.

As a current bookseller, former English major, and closet theater geek, I was triply obliged to make a pilgrimage to see this secular relic, so I headed downtown, free ticket in hand. I was neither wowed nor disappointed by the experience–I guess you’d say I was whelmed. In the end, the focus of all the excitement was simply a very old book in a glass box in a dimly-lit room on the eighth floor of an even bigger glass box.

Of course, it’s pretty cool to be able to say that I’ve been in the presence of an actual First Folio ... continued

A Pride and Prejudice for Today

How many times has Pride and Prejudice been used as the marketable tagline for everything from lewd romance novel to Darcy-as-a-rock-star to zombie apocalypse story? Not one-too-many times, as it turns out. 

Ponder the following excerpt and tell me, who is the author? Is the following from Pride and Prejudice?

She had planned to blithely leave Darcy behind, but it seemed now that matters between them were unresolved. What it was that needed to be settled, however–what she might convey to him–continued to elude her. Surely it was related to the indifference to his feelings, the defiance even, that she’d demonstrated during their final conversation. If on certain topics he’d shown insensitivity, she’d concluded that his misbehavior had been of a less egregious variety than her own.

Or, is this excerpt from Pride and Prejudice?

How differently did every thing now appear in which he was concerned! That proud and repulsive as were his manners, she had never, in the whole course of their acquaintance, an acquaintance which had latterly brought them much together, and given her a sort of intimacy with his ways, seen any thing that betrayed him to be unprincipled or unjust–any thing that spoke him of irreligious or immoral habits.  … She grew absolutely ashamed of herself.

... continued

First Pitch

I was helping move some shelves in the sports section not long ago when a little piece of history fluttered out from a crevice.

In case it’s not clear from the photo, that’s a 56-year-old box seat ticket that let some lucky fan watch the Portland Beavers play in what was then known as Multnomah Stadium. Now, Island Books is old, but it wasn’t around in 1960. I did some research and confirmed that the store wasn’t built on the ruins of a sports museum. Instead, the ticket turned up between the pages of a secondhand book a couple of decades ago and spent a few years tacked to the wall before disappearing again as mysteriously as it had arrived. My fellow shelf-shifter Cindy found a frame for it, so hopefully we can take better care of our rediscovery going forward.

This is the perfect time to put it back on display, since we’ve just celebrated the most important spring holiday of all: Opening Day, when the new major league season begins ...

We're also celebrating an impending visit from Mark Holtzen, author of A Ticket to the Pennant, who will be pulling up a stool and sitting down in our regular Storybook Corner on Wednesday, April 13th at 10:30am. I’m officially inviting you to bring the kids, bring the grandparents, and bring yourself–it’s my first pitch of the season ... continued

Cookbook Book Club

It’s that time of year when you can’t drive around the island without passing a cyclist. More often than not, they come in pairs or packs. Besides the fresh air and exercise, the appeal is in the companionship. We’re more likely to get out of our ruts and make the effort if there are others to motivate us.
 
With that spirit of team motivation in mind, we dreamed up a new event. Last week we held our first cookbook book club. If you want the perfect example of something we can do that an online retailer can’t, this is it. A festive potluck meal that urges you to go beyond just buying the cookbook. We’re here to nudge you into making the recipes.
 
Our featured cookbooks were the Short Stack Editions, a series of small-format cookbooks authored by America’s top culinary talents. Each edition is a collectible, single-subject booklet packed with recipes that offer ingenious new ways to cook our favorite ingredients. Every title is printed on high-quality art paper with hand-stitched binding, and each booklet is a true pleasure just to look at. But they’re also practical, covering ingredients that include eggs, honey, chocolate, fruits, vegetables, and more.
 
We kept our expectations low. After all, our regular monthly book club attracts about a dozen each month (come and join us, we’d love to up that number!). Maybe a few of our immediate friends and neighbors would turn up? ... continued (and read on for the recipe for Sticky Toffee Chicken Wings, pictured)

A Soldier in a Good War

“A book is a fragile creature, it suffers the wear of time, it fears rodents, the elements and clumsy hands … So the librarian protects the books not only against mankind but also against nature and devotes his life to this war with the forces of oblivion.”

–Umberto Eco (1932-2016)

Umberto Eco, who spent a long life warring with his pen against the forces of oblivion, died over a month ago, but I find myself still thinking about his loss. I hadn’t figured that would be the case, given that he had drifted to the back of my mind in recent years, but after he was gone I slowly realized how significant his writing had been to me and for how many years.

Like most people, I discovered Eco because of The Name of the Rose ... continued

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