A Reader’s 2016 Diary

Back in January I wrote a blog post called On This Day, lamenting the fact that I couldn’t remember half the books I read in 2015. I made a public resolution to keep a spreadsheet throughout the year chronicling what I’d read. Apparently a published declaration of intentions worked for me, because here it is the end of December and I’m proud to say I kept that list throughout the year (a monthly reminder on my Google calendar helped).

Five years ago I wrote another post, Memories of Reading, and I suppose this time of year always brings me back to that train of thought. How does what we read when represent a particular time in our life? Looking back can be telling. And oh, 2016. Books provided a good deal of solace.

I kept the list to books I read with my full attention, from first to last page. Because my job requires a wide range of book knowledge, there are plenty of books I skim, speed read, or quit after 50 pages. I didn’t put those on the list. For this project I only included books I read like a layperson, for my own curiosity and pleasure and not out of obligation (although I included our Island Books Open Book Club titles, since I get to choose those anyway so it wasn’t just work driving me).  I’ve decided maintaining this reading list is as close to keeping a diary as I’m going to get at my age, and oddly, looking it over jogs more emotional memories of 2016 than what I was actually doing at the time. So what did I read? ... continued

Odd Couple Challenge Reading: Winter Solstice & Peace

To people who aren’t avid readers, my colleague Lori and I probably look a lot alike. We’re both equally likely to be found with a book in hand at any given time, that is. To people who pay attention to what we’re reading, though, we couldn’t be more different. I tease her by saying the worst literary crisis she’s willing to face is a dropped teacup, and she gets me back by asking which obscure historical tragedy in a minuscule country that no longer exists inspired the work of my latest favorite novelist with an unpronounceable name.

To test the true extent of our differences, we decided to make ourselves guinea pigs in a sophisticated, highly-controlled scientific experiment. To wit, we’d each choose a book we love and the other would read it. Her selection for me was Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher, the story of five lonely characters buffeted by life, all of whom wind up in an abandoned mansion in a coastal British village as the shortest day of the year approaches. Mine for her was Peace by Gene Wolfe, a novel narrated by a confused old man whose memories hint at far darker and stranger things than he’s willing to reveal.

To paraphrase the intro to an old TV show, can two dedicated readers share recommendations without driving each other crazy? ... continued

Our Most Popular Blog Posts of 2016

You can find our blog posts printed and peppered around the store throughout the year, but it’s rare we have a chance to look back at what we’ve produced. We know what books our customers like by the sales numbers and over-the-counter chatter, but our own original content is mostly published into a void. Aside from the occasional guest posts, James and I have been diligently writing at least one “Message in a Bottle” store journal entry every week for over 5 years. We are always grateful for your comments, email responses, and in-person feedback. It’s our way of reaching out even when you don’t make it in to the store in person. We want you to know we’re still thinking of you.

I spent some time this week looking over what we published in 2016. Our most useful metrics come from our Facebook response, so calculating in the number of likes, comments, and shares, I was able to put together a list of our top ten most popular posts. If you feel like strolling down memory lane with me, here they are ... continued

December 2016 eNewsletter

December is all about lists. Not just for presents, cards, parties, and food, but BOOKS. Our December newsletter is filled with Top Ten Book lists for adults and kids to help you with your holiday shopping. In the spirit of lists I decided to create one myself.

My Top 10 Moments at Island Books in 2016

  1.  Joel McHale entering the store with the MIHS Marching Band for his welcome home visit.
  2. Maria Semple's anticipated visit for Today Will Be Different.
  3. Hiding books around the Mercer Island community for people to find.
  4.  James' blog being mentioned in the New York Times Review Books online page.
  5. Wednesday morning Storybook Corners with Nancy Stewart and other local friends.
  6. The Mercer Island jute bags supporting the Bangladesh Project.
  7. Finally adding casters to the large bookshelves in the front of the store for maximum event space.
  8. Bringing in Crazy Aaron's Thinking Putty!
  9. My husband Victor creating our Cookbook Book Club.
  10. Seeing each of your faces in the store every day, week or month. It's always a treat!

Remember we are here to help you with all your shopping needs this holiday season. You can bring your list in, or send it via email info@mercerislandbooks.com or call us at (206) 232-6920. You can even fill out our old school gift/book registry, an actual box where you can keep a wish list so we can tell your friends and relatives what to give you when they come in. Also note, we will be open from 9am to 8pm the week of Christmas and open until 4pm on Christmas Eve. We will be closed on Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day.

Whatever brings you into the store this month, all your energy and questions bring a special joy to our store during the holidays. Thank you for shopping and being a part of our lives.

Happy holidays from all of us!


Laurie Raisys


Island Books Readers, Lend Me Your Ears

If, like so many of us, your commute takes up too much of the time you wish you could spend turning pages, fret no more. Island Books has your audiobook hookup. Thanks to our partners at Libro.fm, you can use our website to download your favorite titles and listen to them at home or on the go.

Whether you’re on iOS or Android, you can feed your audiobook habit and support your local independent bookstore at the same time. Just click the Libro.fm link on our home page (or do it right here) to set up the app and start listening ... continued

Pay It Forward

Thanksgiving should be a time of gratitude and coming together, and your friendly neighborhood Island Books staff is getting into the spirit. As we planned our pie recipes and anticipated one of our favorite holidays of the year, we felt moved to infuse some extra community love into the atmosphere. 

There were two recent pieces of news that inspired us. The first one is an older local story from the summer, about the Mercer Island Rocks movement. In case you missed it, the Ronald family began painting hundreds of rocks and hiding them around the island for others to find and pass on. “The idea is to spread little gems of happiness around the island — to create and share creations celebrating our wonderful community,” Rich Ronald wrote on the Mercer Island Rocks! Facebook page. “And maybe even get folks hunting for objects that don’t require an app to be seen (though we love Pokemon Go as much as the next family!).”

The other story was about the actress, U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador, and real-life Hermione Granger Emma Watson, who recently hid books by Maya Angelou around the London tube and the New York City subway. 

With those uplifting ideas in mind, we hand-picked some books we’ve personally enjoyed from around the store, wrapped them up with a personal note, and drove around the island to hide our own gems of happiness ... continued

Better Together: Everfair and King Leopold’s Ghost

An interior decorator can tell you which rug will go best with your new davenport, a sommelier can suggest a wine that will complement the flavors of your meal, and a shadchanit (not a yenta) may be able to find you a lifelong mate. Booksellers do something similar by recommending the right reads. Certain books might clash when read back-to-back, but a proper pairing … well, that’s two great tastes that taste great together. Today’s twosome is a perfect example, highlighting a novel that creatively reinvents the historical record and a contextualizing history that reads like fiction.

First up is Everfair by Nisi Shawl, one of the more refreshing SF works in recent memory. However much speculative fiction you’ve read, this is not likely a story you’ve heard before. It covers decades, continents, and oceans, but mainly focuses on the Victorian age and what used to be known as Darkest Africa ... [T]he next best pages to turn are those that make up King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild. His authoritative chronicle of colonial brutality is gripping, even necessary reading, particularly for those who want to know more about the history that Shawl is writing against in her fiction ... continued

November 2016 eNewsletter

"So often, a visit to a bookshop has cheered me and reminded me that there are good things in the world."
—Vincent Van Gogh

I'm taking a deep breath as November kicks into gear, because this month is going to be a busy one. ‘Tis the season of our annual book fairs. Parents and their kids arrive in droves to show their support, and we love the spirit in the air as everyone bustles around, greeting friends and classmates and finding gifts.

Raising four kids on the island myself, I know the importance of our local schools and have been a long-time shopper at these events.  The community comes together over such a great cause. There will be chatty lines at the front counter, tempting tables of food and drink, parents greeting other parents and exchanging anecdotes about their kids’ reading habits, and the kids themselves, playing in the playhouse and eagerly pulling books off the shelves. The best kind of bookstore scene. 

We recently hosted The Letter Farmer at Island Books. It was a fun day and inspired a few dozen people to sit down and write a letter to someone. Sending and receiving cards has always been very special to me and I penned a few that day as well. One of the themes was gratitude. As we head towards Thanksgiving, gratitude is a common topic of conversation.

Today as I sat on the floor in the middle of the store talking with my friend Abby about life, kids, and what lotion to buy for her friend, my heart was so happy and thankful. Being the owner of Island Books has brought me so much joy. Everyday I receive hugs from friends stopping in to shop, or a warm hello from regular customer, or a greeting from a first time visitor who can't believe what a wonderful place they've just stumbled upon. My husband might stop by to bring food or fix something in the store and my kids frequently pop their heads in. And hugs! I get so many hugs. This bookstore has given me so much to be thankful for. We are truly a community gathering place, brimming with gratitude.

And speaking of community, how about Joel McHale? The hometown kid comes back and treats the crowd to a show. It was one of the highlights of my time here in the store, and one more thing to be grateful for.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Island Books! 


Laurie Raisys

... continued

#TrumpBookReport and More Fun Ways to Waste Time on Twitter

In case you missed one of the funniest trends of the past week, you should be aware that during last Wednesday’s debate, St. Louis alderman and mayoral candidate Antonio French off-handedly tweeted the following:

And with that, the latest Twitter meme was born. Within a day the hashtag #TrumpBookReport appeared more than 250,000 times. Being the bookish person that I am and with all politics aside, I’ve been reading these with great amusement. Here are a few of my favorites ... continued

What About Bob?

2016 was already a pretty weird year, but last week a few people in Stockholm found a way to take it over the top. As you’ve probably heard by now, the Swedish Academy awarded Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize in Literature, citing him for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Most celebrated the selection (Rolling Stone’s reaction is a characteristic example) but a substantial minority of onlookers questioned it ... the choice didn’t sit right with me, either.

Let me stipulate up front that I’m not knocking Dylan as an artist. His output is vast and varied, and much of it is brilliant. His lyrics have influenced generations of songwriters and without doubt can be considered as poetry of a high order, as scholar Christopher Ricks does so well in his book Dylan’s Visions of Sin. To borrow from the witty John Hodgman, a veritable Algonquin Round Table unto himself, my “reaction was not ‘HOW DARE THEY!?’ It was more a confused, slightly skeptical ‘What? Really?’” It’s not that Dylan’s win was a mistake, more that it was beside the point. There are two main reasons I say this ... continued


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