My son was doing homework the other day and when I asked him what he was up to he said, “Writing definitions for science vocabulary. All the words have to do with electricity.” What a coincidence, I told him. “I’ve just been reading about the man who coined the word electricity. You should ask your teacher if he knows who that is.” I never did get a report on the result, probably because my son is smarter than I am and knows enough not to show up his teacher.

So what’s the name you’re supposed to retort with when a less-polite ten-year-old asks you the same question? You can find out in a highly interesting new book by Hugh Aldersey-Williams called In Search of Sir Thomas Browne. The title kind of gives the answer away, but the book contains innumerable other rewards that will not be fully disclosed without a complete read ... continued

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His fame and success came early and hard, and his fall from those heights was long and slow. He spent decades in apparent decline, struggling to create art according to his personal vision while becoming ever more of a parody of himself in the public eye. And yet we’re still talking about him. In a year that marks the 100th anniversary of his birth and the 30th anniversary of his death, Orson Welles remains as relevant as ever.

Orson Welles’s Last Movie: The Making of The Other Side of the Wind by Josh Karp

Starting in the mid-1970s and continuing until his death in 1985, Welles was cobbling together a script, a cast, a crew, and equipment for what he hoped would be a landmark film ...

Orson Welles: Power, Heart, and Soul by F.X. Feeney

Welles lived many lives in his 70 years on earth, and accomplished enough to fill dozens of biographies. Too many of them have focused on what he didn’t do, like shoot more money-making studio movies. Feeney’s isn’t one of those, fortunately. He covers Welles’s eccentric upbringing, one that featured multiple father figures but no mother, and surveys all the lesser-known aspects of his public career ...

Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News by A. Brad Schwartz

If he’d never gone to Hollywood at all, Welles would still be famous for his radio broadcast on October 30th, 1938, in which he led his Mercury Theater troupe in a version of the alien invasion from H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds. He updated the references, reset the action in New Jersey, and played it as a real-time experience that uncannily mimicked real-life reportage of actual disasters. A trusting national audience of tens of millions, already made nervous by the impending world war in Europe, was sent into panic, fleeing their homes, crashing their cars, and causing uncountable damage. Or did they? ... continued

When writing history, it’s important to get the facts right, but when writing historical fiction, it can be more interesting to get the facts–at least some of them–creatively wrong. If an author is too slavishly devoted to what really happened, he or she sometimes ends up with fiction that’s just an expression of nostalgia for an era that will never come again. Reading that sort of thing is a perfectly pleasurable bit of time-traveling indulgence, but the historical fiction I like best does something different. By bending the rules a little–or a lot–it tells the truth about a long-gone era and also comments on the present moment. It gives the reader the best of both worlds.

This seems to be exactly what Hermione Eyre is up to with her debut novel, Viper Wine, set in 17th-century England ...

Some books, on the other hand, play fast and loose with the facts just for fun. Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale is the first in a trilogy that starts with the supposition that the Roman Empire never fell ... continued

I’m happy to report that I’ve figured out how to make my twin toddlers do anything I want (most of the time). The million dollar secret, you ask? Promise to read them any book by Todd Parr. An almost daily conversation in my house lately sounds like this:

“Ready to get dressed? Brush your teeth? Let mommy comb your hair?”
“No. No. No.”
“Do you want to read The Family Book?”
“Yes! Yes! Yes!”
“Then first get dressed, brush your teeth, and comb your hair. Then we will read The Family Book.”
“Okay, Mommy!”

I kid you not. It’s that easy (most of the time).

I first discovered these books on that magic shelf back in our children’s section, right in that little alcove with the board books. There you will find a few racks of must-have children’s books, made with the least expensive materials possible. That’s right, you don’t have to buy the hardcover of The Story of Ferdinand orWe’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Chances are your little ones will rip the jacket and color on the pages anyway. Since we’re going through way too many books at a time in my house lately, I love finding the flimsy paperback versions of the books my kids absolutely must read....continued

(continued from Part I)

Miriam: Yes, I’m also interested in taking a look back at T. H. White’s other work, but I’m not so sure it’s The Goshawk (the book Helen Macdonald became fixated on) that intrigues me. I was surprised to learn that White was also the author of The Sword in the Stone, a book I enjoyed as a child. There’s a hawk in that story too, who teaches the boy the meaning of courage. I was curious how I’d view that story at this point in my life, especially after learning so much more about the author’s background.

We learn a great deal about White through H is for Hawk, and I could see Macdonald found him to be a troubling character ...

On a different note, what did you make of the scene when Macdonald meets Mabel for the first time? Her writing gives their first impression such a dramatic setup. The man who breeds the goshawks meets her with two birds, one intended for another falconer. But he accidentally takes out the other falconer’s hawk first, and that’s the one Macdonald feels is hers ... continued

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My blogging partner Miriam and I are both avid readers, but we don’t normally read the same things. The last time it happened was almost two years ago, in fact, and we had to arrange it on purpose. But this month pure coincidence led us to pick up the same book at the same time, H Is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald.

A lot of people are picking it up, actually–it’s been a bestseller for several weeks now. That’s a slight surprise, given that it’s not an action-packed thriller or torrid romance. Instead it’s a meditative memoir about a woman’s grief and how she tries to manage it by immersing herself in, of all things, the ancient practice of falconry. The book is so deeply felt and beautifully written, though, that its unusual subject matter becomes more familiar with every passing page.

Miriam and I agreed to have a little online chat about our reactions to H Is for Hawk, and we invite you not only to read it, but join in with your own comments...continued

I’m never in the store as much as I’d like, thanks to my 2 ½-year-old twins and another baby coming at the end of May. I know I’m fortunate that Roger and Nancy let me work remotely, so when I am there, I try to be on my best behavior. Thus you can imagine my chagrin recently when my daughter politely peed on the floor right in front of the cookbooks. It was an accident of course, and after only two weeks in undies I should have known better than to risk such a scene. But she was doing so well using the potty at home…

Garry and Cindy were behind the counter and most graciously reassured me I wouldn’t be fired. In fact, Garry volunteered that he’d seen far worse at another bookstore he worked at long ago. Let’s just say it involved a grown man demonstrating similar (but worse) toddler behavior. Oy vey.

In fear of termination, I decided the only real way to make it up to Roger and Nancy is through the rather obvious key to their hearts: with a hidden gem of a book, by a local author, no less...continued

As threatened promised, here’s the big reveal: the 2015 longlist for the Best Translated Book Award. According to the judges (this reporter among them), these are the finest works of fiction that were originally written in a language other than English and published in the US in 2014. The BTBA is unique among literary awards in that it honors both the authors and the translators who are jointly responsible for making these books accessible to Anglophone audiences. When this impressive list is ultimately whittled down to a single winning title on May 27th, both parties will share the acclaim and the $10000 prize that goes along with it.

The impressive nature of this list might best be demonstrated by mentioning some of the excellent work that didn’t make the cut. Novels by darlings of the international literary scene such as Javier Marías, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Jose Saramago, and Haruki Murakami (two of them!) all came out last year to much deserved attention and adulation. Any other year might have been theirs, but in 2014 the field was very deep. Over 500 books qualified for consideration, the most ever. That number still seems paltry by comparison with the tens of thousands of domestic works that get published every year, but dauntingly large when trying to evaluate them all, as we judges did. Having surveyed the entire landscape of current literature in translation, I’m confident that this selected group includes much of the very best of today’s writing in any category. For my money, this is the most interesting and highest quality award list a reader can find. Congratulations to each and every one of the authors and translators...continued

When you think of first books for children, the ones that will introduce them to a lifetime of turning pages, you probably think of things like The Little Red Hen, Guess How Much I Love You, or The Very Hungry Caterpillar. In addition to being classics, what these books have in common is that they’re set in a pastoral, agrarian world filled with plants and animals. This isn’t the world in which the vast majority of young readers exist, though. It seems only fair that they be exposed to stories that take place in urban environments more like the ones they encounter every day.

Now, I wouldn’t recommend going as far as the Oxford Junior Dictionary has and replacing nature words like “acorn” with technological terms like “broadband.” By all means, maintain a healthy dose of the outdoors in your bedtime reading program, but remember that books with contemporary settings can be just as comforting and entertaining as their more traditional counterparts ... continued

This will be awesome, probably the biggest event on our calendar this year.

Independent Bookstore Day 2015 is being celebrated all across the country, and Island Books is one of dozens of participating stores in the region. We're all taking part in the larger cause, but we're all celebrating it in our own way, too, because, you know ... we're independent.

This day-long festival includes a special loyalty card that will earn you a 25% discount on all purchases for an entire year if you get a full set of stamps at Seattle-area stores that day. All stores will also be featuring a number of signed books, prints, and other products from your favorite authors and illustrators. These will be available exclusively from indie shops and only on this day--first come, first served. In addition, we'll have a full slate of activities happening all day, including:

  • Pick up an IBD2015 passport and get it stamped. If you visit us and at least two other participating stores (all listed on the back) you’ll be entered into a drawing for great prizes, including gift certificates and signed books from the likes of Jo Nesbo, Sara Gruen, and Kazuo Ishiguro. If you visit all 17 stores in a one day, you’ll earn the title of Grand Champion, our eternal thanks, and a year-long 25% discount at all stores on all purchases.
  • An in-store scavenger hunt. After more than four decades in operation, Island Books is full of history that we want to share. Find a dozen select objects in the store, aided by our clues, and we’ll reward you with a fabulous prize–could be a discount card, your pick of Advance Reader Copies of forthcoming books, or something even better.
  • Spin the Wheel of Fun and Fortune. All purchases over $50 win you a spin of the big wheel. You might take home something small and wonderful, or you might just win a gift certificate worth even more than you paid.
  • Tell your story. Whether you met your future spouse in an indie bookstore or just discovered the perfect book at the perfect time, we want to know about it. Type up the tale on one of our vintage typewriters and help us write the collective epic of our island.

Other scheduled events:

  • 11am to noon: Beat the Boss gift-wrap challenge. Roger started out his bookselling career as a part-time holiday present prettifier, and he hasn’t looked back since. He has more than 30 years of experience with ribbons, but can you best him at his own game? Prizes for all participants, with an extra bonus for winners.
  • 2pm to 3pm: Mad Libs for young and old. From the start of the hour until quarter of the next, you can contribute a part of speech to our giant poster. Then comes the big comedic reveal.
  • 3pm to 4pm: Board Game Battle. Nancy is our game guru, and lately she’s been enamored of the fast-paced, head-to-head action of Fastrack. Take her on for fun and maybe profit. Yes, we mean prizes.
  • 5pm to 6pm: First Lines Quiz. Test your knowledge of famous books against the bearded professor. A new quiz every fifteen minutes; everyone who plays takes home something, but the biggest smarty-pants takes home more.
  • 6:30pm: PJ Story Time with Pat Peterson and Nancy Stewart. Music, tall tales, and treats.

Among the limited number of remarkably cool exclusive items:

  • Autographed prints from Captain Underpants creator Dav Pilkey
  • Special box sets of 4 of the greatest books about books
  • Signed chapbooks from novelist and feminist icon Roxane Gay
  • Dramatic wall art featuring Margaret Atwood’s legendary “A Word After A Word Is Power” quote
  • Tea towels for readers
  • Jokebooks of the best humor from beloved children’s writers

Don't miss out! Arrive early and stay all day!