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!

Bear with me patient readers. I begin with some personal history. My first professional job, as a freshly minted teacher straight out of college, was working in an experimental  laboratory preschool in the early 70s. We had a government grant to try to “mainstream” little kids with special challenges into a “normal” preschool classroom. I worked with a veteran teacher, and we had a class of 3-year-olds that came in a variety of shapes and styles including a boy who was blind, a girl with cerebral palsy, a child with severe autism, a child with Down syndrome and the “regular” kids. It was fun and really, really interesting work.

I remember very clearly one afternoon we met with a consulting psychiatrist who began a session with the statement, “We all have our challenges.” Over the course of that year, that truth became crystal clear. Some of the “normal” kids were fearful, antisocial, had learning difficulties, or problems at home. Some of the “special” kids were funny, insightful, gutsy, and lightning quick. It was a mixed bag. Everybody (teachers included) had their challenges. But the diversity of the group made it easier to see our common humanity and, in many ways, made it easier to help one another....continued

Oscar season is over, but the annual book awards are just heating up. Some of my favorites have just been or are about to be revealed. The 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award winners were announced on March 12th. For the full list, go here. There are two winners I especially loved. For fiction the prize went to Marilynne Robinson’s Lila. Her novel Gilead won the NBCC Award for fiction in 2005, and laid the groundwork for Lila’s win, the third book in the trilogy that started with Gilead. Again set in the fictional town in southern Iowa, a place that embodies the quintessential midwest during and after the Depression, in Lila the main character is a migrant drifter who grows up to become the young wife of a much older widower. She also becomes the mother of the protagonist in Gilead. As Lila rises from poverty and neglect into a loving relationship and healed psyche, Robinson elegantly explores theological and moral questions of the time without hypocrisy or pretentiousness....continued

(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.)

Most writers who develop a devoted readership over time do it with a series of books that offer comforting similarity. It’s easy for their fans to return again and again to the tried and true. It’s far more rare for someone to pull off the same trick by never repeating himself. You wouldn’t think that an author who achieved fame with his realistic portrait of a repressed butler in a grand manor house would then turn to Kafkaesque surreality in depicting the experiences of a musician in Central Europe. He certainly wouldn’t veer off into dystopic science fiction after that, leaving his followers utterly unable to imagine what he’d come up with next. Unless his name was Kazuo Ishiguro.

The anticipation is over. With his latest novel, Ishiguro again combines his insider’s knowledge with his outsider’s sensibility to write a book that no one else could. He’s reached all the way back to the origins of English literature for the particulars of his story, but the uneasy mood it creates is very much of the present day. The Buried Giant is about confused, desperate, and disconnected people who roam a fragmented country, but its characters (and its readers) still find a way to draw themselves together around a glimmering fire of hope. It’s a remarkable book that fulfills and confounds all readerly expectation at once.

But is it a great book? ... continued

Everyone’s talking about Harper Lee’s new novel, as I discussed in a recent post. As much as I like to vary my subject matter on this blog, the “things to look forward to” list keeps growing. I’m compelled to devote another column to some things you should know about, with the promise that after this, I’ll do my best to focus on the present.

If you like readings, don’t miss Booker winner Kazuo Ishiguro’s appearance at the Seattle Public Library, Monday March 30th from 7-8:30pm. His newest novel, The Buried Giant, is a departure from other beloved works like Never Let Me Go and Remains of the Day, but it’s a gem in its own right. Set in Arthurian England, The Buried Giant follows an elderly couple traveling village to village in the hope of reconnecting with their long-lost son. Ishiguro never writes the same book twice, but his precise language and philosophical conundrums always remain churning in readers’ minds long after they finish his work. It’ll be a treat to see the author himself and will enhance our already huge enjoyment of his work....continued

Everybody knows that Shakespeare sits at the pinnacle of the authorial pyramid, his work deservedly considered as the finest example of the wonders of the written word. Other writers have avid fans–Dickensians and Janeites, for example–but he’s the only one who inspires fervor that approaches worship. “Bardolatry,” in other words....

I’m not knocking the guy—if any literary figure is deserving of this level of adulation, it’s him. There are problems with building him so high a pedestal, though. For one, it encourages readers and playgoers to see him as superhuman, and to distrust his established biography. Hence the rising tide of anti-Stratfordian nonsense that culminated in 2012’s absurd cinematic flop Anonymous, which claimed not only that the Earl of Oxford was the actual author of Shakespeare’s works, but that he was both lover and son of Elizabeth I.

A more serious problem with obsessive bardolatry is that it leaves you nowhere to go. Since nothing else measures up, you might as well skip it all and stick with the creme de la creme. But even the most devoted fan will eventually tire of re-reading Troilus and Cressida. What do you do when you’ve had your fill of Shakespeare? What you should do is branch out by reading some of his contemporaries .... continued

To my great delight, last week I learned that my mother-in-law, her best friend, and I were all reading the same book at the same time. “I’m so into this thriller,” my MIL confessed, “that when someone on my flight said, ‘Hey Chuck!’ I looked up and said ‘Yes?’”

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins drove all of us to distraction. Rachel is a divorced woman who has developed a voyeuristic fascination with a “perfect” couple she sees regularly on her daily commute. As her train passes their courtyard each day, she develops her own fiction for their livesa life she wishes were her own. The fact that they live a few doors down from her own previous residence, now inhabited by her ex-husband, his current wife, and their new baby, is no coincidence.

Rachel’s fixation isn’t the story, except that she witnesses something about the couple one day that she shouldn’t have seen. Add in Rachel’s severe drinking problem, a night of poor decisions when she gets off at the “perfect” couple’s stop, and a blackout that leaves her with no memory of that night, and suddenly Rachel is a central figure in a woman’s disappearance....continued

Pages