Maya Angelou’s passing last week felt like the end of an era. I vividly recall her appearance at Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993. She read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning,” which emphasized themes of responsibility and coming together despite our differences. Critics praised her performance but disliked the poem itself. Angelou was only the second poet (and first female and African American) to read an inaugural poem since Robert Frost recited “The Gift Outright” at President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration. It wasn’t necessary to like the “On the Pulse of Morning” to feel the impact of Maya Angelou. She was the perfect example of her own oft-repeated quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” All I remember of that poem was the sheer force of her presence.

Was there any significant part of African-American history in the last 80-some years that Maya Angelou didn’t touch on? There are some authors who are known for their works, but Angelou was known for her life and her very being. Her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, remains the biggest part of her legacy and a seminal piece of American literature....Read More

As I sit in the wood-paneled study atop my ivory tower, hemmed in on all sides by esoteric works of fiction, I begin to wonder how I came to this place. On one wall are slim volumes that refract and reflect each other like a Borgesian hall of mirrors, and on another are fat epics of Pynchonian complexity overstuffed with arcane and useless learning. In between are multi-authored novels in verse that make myth out of the Golden Age of Hollywood; plays that shift their characters achronologically through times past, present, and future; histories that masquerade as novels masquerading as histories; unfinished fragments by sickly Latin American geniuses; and futuristic stories told by narrators so unreliable that they call into question my existence as well as theirs.

Why must everything I read be so damn tricksy, and why am I not satisfied with simple tales straightforwardly told? After much self-examination I’ve come to realize that the foundation of the baroque structure that is my literary taste was laid quite early, and not by my own hands. The reader I am today is built entirely on two books given to me when I was barely out of the crib. It’s not my fault, in other words. I blame my parents....Read More

A recent article by Shane Parrish in The Week posed this intriguing argument: that serious readers should avoid bestselling books. The reason being that most bestsellers are forgotten in a few years, and offer minimal help educating us on long-term issues. They also encourage us to think like the masses, potentially smothering our creativity.

I have mixed feelings about his argument. On the one hand, I strongly believe that people should read for pleasure as much as for education. If reading is a chore, it can take on a negative association and feel like one more thing on our endless to-do lists. There’s a great deal of joy to be found in reading what others are reading. A good book can be the seed of meaningful conversation; the kind of conversation that builds relationships and brings people together. It can also help us understand multiple viewpoints and know each other in a way that just living daily life along side someone doesn’t always reveal....Read More

True crime is one of those genres that either repels or fascinates readers. I don’t seek these books out, but two that have stayed vividly in my mind for years are In Cold Blood (not because of the Philip Seymour Hoffman movie, although that was excellent) and Helter Skelter (the Manson murders). Those two are the gold standard of investigative nonfiction in that arena, and downright chilling.

This past week, news broke of a surprising and bizarre new true crime account. The book comes from HarperCollins, a respected but sometimes exploitative publisher that was originally supposed to publish O.J. Simpson’s offensive pseudo-confession, If I Did It. Although not quite at the same shock level as that monstrosity, HarperCollins brings us a puzzling premise that was successfully embargoed. No one knew this book was coming until it hit the shelves. In The Most Dangerous Animal of All by Gary L. Stewart, the author lays out twelve years of research that led him to the conclusion that his biological father was the infamous Zodiac killer.

The Zodiac killer was known for five murders in Northern California in the 1960s. He taunted police by sending coded messages to the local media. No one ever cracked the case, despite thousands of tips. The film Dirty Harry, starring Clint Eastwood, was loosely based on the case. In 2007, Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. starred in Zodiac, which chronicled the investigation. For more than 40 years the identity of the Zodiac killer has remained a mystery....Read More

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It was 1979, and I was visiting my parents and watching TV with my dad. A new made-for-TV movie, All Quiet on the Western Front, came on starring Richard Thomas, the man who had played John-Boy on The Waltons. Together we watched the film begin: first a shot of the cover of the book and then a hand opening the book and in beautiful script autographing the book: “Erich Maria Remarque.”

My dad gasped. “I’ve seen that! I’ve seen that man write that name in a book!”

“What are you talking about?”

While the television went to commercials and then back to the movie, my dad shared with me his experience. It was as if he were remembering it for the first time in over forty years....Read More

—Judy Bordeaux is the author of the recently published The House on Sylvia Street: 30 years, 300 Medically Fragile Foster Children, and a Whole Lot of Sock Monkeys, a nonfiction book of humor and hard truths shadowing one year in the life of a career foster mom and the seven medically fragile foster children and young adults in her house. She will be reading from and signing copies of her memoir at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 22nd at Island Books.

The life of a bookseller is not typically glamorous, but a couple of months ago I got to attend what for me was the equivalent of a star-studded, blockbuster Hollywood premiere. It was an invitation-only preview for a forthcoming novel, attended by more than a dozen colleagues from all over Puget Sound, all gathered to meet the author and share a drink (or two or three) with him.... It was quite a night. The idea behind the whole thing, of course, was to get us booksellers excited about the new book so we'd share it with our customers when it came out, which is exactly what I'm doing. Don't tell the publishers, but they didn't need to wine and dine me to get me to do it. I loved the book anyway.

Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda is set in the 17th century in what is now Canada, and its plot is set in motion when Christophe, a French Jesuit missionary there, is captured by a Huron warrior named Bird. The priest is carried back to the Huron village along with a young Iroquois girl named Snow Falls, and each of the three takes it in turn to narrate the story from a very different point of view. Christophe is desperate to stay alive, but even more desperate to save savage souls; Bird wants to sustain and protect his people, whether by negotiation or by force; and Snow Falls must find a way to maintain her personal and cultural identity in an enemy land.

These characters bond and break and reconnect with each other in a series of shifting alliances driven by external events. There’s ongoing political machination by the French colonial government, drought that threatens food supplies, and inter-tribal hostility, but there’s also friendship, familial affection, and the shared pleasures of village life during an idyllic season. It’s a complete, thoroughly researched look at a fascinating time and place that’s just past the edge of familiarity....Read More

Joshua Ferris made a splash back in 2007 with Then We Came to the End, his wry-yet-profound satire on office life. Somehow he managed to put his finger on the one thing all workplaces have in commondistractions. The bagels, gossip, and desk chairs of his fictional advertising firm became universal symbols of how difficult it is to be in the present when you’re muddling through a workday.

In 2010 Ferris brought us The Unnamed, an overly self-conscious story about a man who literally could not stop walking. The Wall Street lawyer who suddenly finds himself walking out of meetings and away from his family is just the kind of man who longs to be in that office from Then We Came to the End. He wants distractions, but his body won’t let him have them. The walking disease ruins his life, and while the metaphors and meditations on modern life offer up plenty to think about, the protagonist never found a direction and neither does the reader. By veering off into too many subplots and existential tangents, Ferris lost us. The Unnamed was a textbook case of sophomore slump.

As a reader who had adamantly believed in Ferris’s talents after his debut, I was sorely disappointed by The Unnamed. Enough so that I almost didn’t pick up his next effort. But I did, and it’s with great pleasure that I assure you his new novel coming this month, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, returns to his first brilliantly funny, original, and complex chord and follows through on the promise of greatness we first saw in Then We Came to the End. Readers: I, for one, am so glad that Ferris is back....Read More

With our youngest, Lewis, leaving home in the fall to attend college in the Midwest, this Mother’s Day takes on a special meaning and gives me pause to reflect. The school-age years have been full, as I watched our children forge their own friendships and become the young adults that they are, but it was the early years when we hunkered down on the couch and read piles of books for hours at a time, completely absorbed in stories, that hold the fondest memories.

I liked to read aloud and my kids loved to listen—-a match made in heaven. In those early years of babies and preschoolers, the one constant I remember is reading books, stacks of picture books. I know there were swing sets and sandboxes, mud pie concoctions and villages made of refrigerator boxes. There were tears and tantrums and endless meals, but what I remember most of all are the books being read and the stories imagined. It may be how I kept my sanity, often thinking that I was actually able to sleep and read to them at the same time.

It all began with my desperation to get a two-week old Emma to sleep, if only for an hour. I grabbed the nearest thing at hand, a copy of Mad About Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, and began to read. “In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, there were twelve little girls in two straight lines…” and on it went, and as long as I read she lay quietly listening to the end of the complete collection. I had cast my first spell on this little child. The likes of Goodnight Gorilla with the many colored keys and Sandra Boynton’s Barnyard Dance took us through, until we had the endurance to tackle books with more text, like Babar or anything by Elsa Beskow or William Steig. Babar and the Old Lady who offered him her wallet to buy a suit and old Cornelius the quavering elephant have remained dear friends to us all.

When they could listen to chapter books things got really exciting. These long, rich, layered stories were where the passion took purchase. The Wizard of Oz books captured their imaginations like nothing before. They would leap up and spend hours being the characters. At one point, two-year-old Lewis looked longingly at his sister dressed in a new silver lamé tin man costume (sewn in the wee hours by her mother) and exclaimed wistfully, “Now I can be Dorothy.” And he was, day after day for weeks, dressed in blue gingham and ruby slippers. I was compelled to tuck his dress up into his parka to save him or me the embarrassment of the preschool mothers at the grocery store. Then Pippi Longstocking and her faithful side kick Mr. Nilsson came into our lives. It was as close to a cult as I’ve ever seen around our house, complete with wires in Emma’s braids, striped tights on Lewis, and circus shows in the backyard.

Perhaps because we all enjoyed the big stories so much, neither of our kids felt compelled to learn to read independently at a very young age. Captain Underpants was the first book a six-year-old Emma read aloud by herself to her four-year-old brother, who was delighted. In fact, they reluctantly slogged through boring level readers, until I would tell them to forget about that and we would pile back on the couch with our favorite micro niche of cheerful fantasy. During those days, The Last of the Really Great Wangdoodles by Julie Andrews Edwards set us on the quest for anything as good. The Battle of Castle Cockatrice by Gerald Durrell (unfortunately out of print) was terrific with its parrot who annually aired all the words in the dictionary, and then anything by Eva Ibbotson, particularly The Secret of Platform 13.

It was on New Year's Eve of his third year when Lewis’s godfather told him that if he left his favorite books open on that night at midnight the characters would come to life. Being the fearful little guy that he was, Lewis came running down stairs well after his bedtime to slam Little House on the Prairie shut, realizing that the Indian who stealthily came into Ma’s kitchen demanding corn cakes was going to soon be coming out of that book and into his house.

Lewis in particular was hooked on audio books and the rest of us followed suit. We lived for Erickson’s Hank the Cow Dog stories with Hank the head of ranch security and his Texas drawl. We piled into the car to play My Only May Amelia as we drove through Astoria, Will Hobbs’s Ghost Canoe in Neah Bay, or the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder like On the Banks of Plum Creek, providing a soothing narration to long road trips. Even years later at 12 and 14, these kids of ours made a pact to finish all Harry Potter books by listening to the Jim Dale audio to assure that neither one got to the end first.

So maybe I could have done this mothering thing differently and my children would be practical scientists or mathematicians in the making, but instead they are exactly as they always have been and really in my opinion, should be, the sorts who love stories, bookseller’s children. I am forever grateful for those years spent reading to them. So if you are at home with little ones, I suggest you make time to read. Read a lot to them. Punctuate your days with books, piles of books on the couch. You will never regret it.

Happy Mother's Day,
Nancy Page
Owner and Bookseller

The Renton airport will be visited by a pair of senior citizens this weekend, both officially retired but still extremely active and looking sharp. Streamlined, too, if I may say. One is an original B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, and the other is a P-51 Mustang fighter. They’ve been brought into town by a private organization that maintains the planes and keeps them in service as flying museums. And as profit generators—you can sign up to take a flight in one or the other, but it’ll set you back at least $450. Not bad as once-in-a-lifetime experiences go, but there are cheaper ways to find out what it’s like to pilot one of these vintage military machines. I mean by reading about it, naturally....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.)

No, this is not a picture of Island Books (thank goodness). This, my friends, is what happens when you tackle some home reorganization. Far too many of your possessions get shoved into the home office.

Don’t be misled by the bookshelves. That’s only a fraction of the books in my house. The rest are in boxes or scattered randomly across the room. But my purpose today is not to complain about the mess that is my house, because eventually we’ll get it put back together again. Instead, I’m here to pose a question. How do you organize your bookshelves?

As I watched this mess pile up, I took note of where my books have been living. When we originally moved in in 2010, it made some sense. My husband’s books were mostly separated from mine. His were mostly medical journals, history, classics, narrative nonfiction, and science. Mine were mostly literary fiction, thrillers, more classics, ballet books, and some young adult. By keeping our books separate we had some categorical clarity....Read More