We Love Libraries

We may make a living off of selling books, but we still love love love our local library. Anything that promotes literacy and the joy of reading is our cup of tea. 

When I was a kid, I always dropped by the library on my way home from the bus stop. There were many times I received a book as a gift and found myself hooked on a series. One or two Sweet Valley High or The Baby-sitters Club titles were the limit on what my parents would agree to buy, so the library was the only way I’d get to read the next dozen in the series. 

There are many reasons we buy books, but the motivation to visit the library is often more complex. Research is a big one (although the internet has changed that), but often it’s just the need for a safe quiet place to go to read or do homework without any expectation of spending money. For my kids, it’s about spreading a stack of the most random titles (and often out-of-print books that aren’t in the bookstore) all over the floor and flipping through the pictures. When that gets old, we can wander into Miss Linda’s story time, which gives me a break from reading to them ... continued

Forward March

It’s the end of the first week in March. The long slow midwinter sales slump that follows the busy business boon of Valentine’s Day is thick upon us. All we have to look forward to is Bewaring the Ides of March on the 15th (lest our friends betray us or worse) and St. Patrick’s day on the 17th, a minor retail holiday that occasions the wearing of the green, celebrates Irish culture, and commemorates the mass exodus of snakes from Ireland. It’s a great day for pubs and pints but not so great for retail sales in the book industry. Easter, of course, comes in April but barely registers on our sales-o-meter.

In fact, the next significant retail sales boost won’t be until Mother’s Day in May.

As booksellers we would like to think we’re above the crass commercialism of the year’s progression of holidays. We are not. As retailers we realize that we hobble through the year boosted by the sales crass commercialism creates. I present you with Exhibit Only: a photograph taken on February 27th, 2016. You may or may not recognize the scene of the crass crime-mercialism:

That would be us, here at Island Books, pushing Mother’s Day (May 8th) in February ... continued

Supreme Court Reading

When the top trending article on The New York Times homepage is “Senate Republicans Lose Their Minds on a Supreme Court Seat” and there’s still almost a year until a new president moves into the Oval office, it’s safe to assume the headlines are only going to get crazier as 2016 progresses. Short of a leading candidate or world leader passing away, it’s hard to imagine a death with more political impact than Justice Antonin Scalia’s. As if Donald Trump’s candidacy wasn’t polarizing enough, now the destiny of the highest court in the land is up in the air. Scalia’s death leaves us with a Supreme Court of eight justices, equally divided between liberals and conservatives. Which way will a new judge tip their rulings? As we sit and wait to see where all of this chaos is going, it seems like an appropriate time to learn more about the inner workings of the Supreme Court and the personalities that inform it.

The obvious choices to start with are the books pertaining to Scalia, if you’re curious about how his unyielding conservative voice impacted the nearly 30 years he sat on the bench. There are two biographies, the more comprehensive and biased American Original by Joan Biskupic (2009) which is based on personal interviews, and the recent and publicly researched Scalia by Bruce Allen Murphy (2014). Scalia was widely accepted as one of the most entertaining writers on the court, and to hear his wit and flair direct from the source try Scalia Dissents ... continued

March eNewsletter 2016

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is the perfect children's book for March. This time of year, we're all preparing to come out of our cocoons and spread our wings. My favorite page from Carle's classic is the one with the laundry list of food. Salami, an ice cream cone, a cupcake, a slice of swiss cheese ... I think we can all relate.

There are few things we love as much as we do books, but food is one of them. That's why we're excited to kickoff our first cookbook book club at 7pm Tuesday night, March 22nd. Each month we'll feature a different cookbook and then, near the end of the month, get together to taste the dishes we've made from it. A festive potluck meal, in other words, and we'll supply the drinks. This month we're featuring 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 every 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. I'm particularly hoping someone will turn up with a dessert made from Susie Heller's 

Beside the in-store food fest, our staff will be out around town this month. We're excited to be a book club sponsor at the Literary Lions Gala on March 5th. The gala supports the King County Library System by raising funds for learning programs and this year's honoree is foodie legend Ruth Reichl (more food appreciation for us!). We'll also be at Nancy Pearl's Women's Club luncheon on March 7th, selling her favorite 2015 book picks.

Back in the store, we'll have our usual weekly Storybook Corners, PJ Story Time, author events with Justine Chen, David B. Williams, and Alison Case, a jumpstart your job search evening, and our lively book club. There are new books coming from authors like Tracy ChevalierJacquelyn MitchardHarlan CobenJames Patterson, and more. We hope you'll find time to stop in for something.

So while that caterpillar is busy eating his way towards a stomachache, let's spend March devouring good books and delicious food together. Happy spring reading and eating!

Laurie Raisys

... see the full newsletter

Brian Doyle and Bookstores

If you haven’t already heard that novelist, essayist, and all-around mensch Brian Doyle will be at Island Books this coming Saturday, February 27th at 7pm, we haven’t been doing our job properly. But it’s not too late for us to spread the news. We couldn’t be more excited to be hosting him and we urge everyone within earshot of this message to drop whatever plans you may have this weekend to take advantage of this hopefully-not-once-in-a-lifetime-but-who-knows-when-it-will-happen-again opportunity.

As an added incentive, we offer you this special post, an essay written by Brian Doyle on the occasion of winning a PNBA Book Award for his most recent collection, Children & Other Wild Animals. Filled with his characteristic humor and good sense, we hope it whets your appetite and encourages you to attend.


That Silvery-Lit Corner

What did I think of when I learned that my peculiar collection of essays had won a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award? I just imagined, for an instant, a corner of the store. You know the corner I mean. It’s clean and there are lots of absorbing unusual books there, from all sorts of writers, most of whom you never heard of. It’s the sort of corner by a window where you linger a little maybe because of the wet silver light, and a certain book reminds you of a book you loved as a kid, and you decide to get it for a gift, and then you notice a book you always meant to read but haven’t yet, and you stand there with the two books in your hand and think ... continued

The Latest On Our Shelves

We spent a great deal of time discussing Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air last week, but that’s not the only book worth browsing around for these days. On a more abbreviated note, here are a few titles gracing our shelves that might pique your interest.

Nancy Stewart unwittingly created a small phenomenon back in our children’s section recently, when she requested a title we didn’t have in stock called Polar Bear’s Underwear by Tupera Tupera. Lillian placed the order and when the book arrived she accidentally put it out on display. By the time Nancy came in to pick up Polar Bear’s Underwear, several copies had already sold! Fortunately there was still one left for Nancy, but it just goes to show that sometimes a good book can take off all on its own.

For young adult readers, there’s Ruth Sepetys’s new historical novel, Salt to the Sea. Sort of an All the Light We Cannot See for younger readers, this book covers another little-known World War II story about four teens on a German military ship ... continued

When Breath Becomes Air: A Conversation, Part II

(continued from part one)

James: That moment, when Kalanithi embraces the pain that life brings, absolutely gutted me. I can’t imagine–or couldn’t until he wrote this–how anyone could choose difficulty and trouble over ease and comfort in his darkest moments. Wanting to bring more love into your life knowing that you have that much more to lose? What an impressive choice to make, though hard on the ones left behind.

Also impressive is the way in which he dramatizes this situation. As always, I’m caught as much by an author’s ability to express a feeling as by the feeling itself. Potent as this life-and-death stuff is, WBBA wouldn’t touch me if it couldn’t find a way to make the words sing. Kalanithi provides the perfect metaphor for what I’m talking about when he shares an anecdote from his student years:

Lucy, whom I met in the first year of medical school (and who would later become my wife), understood the subtext of academics. Her capacity to love was barely finite, and a lesson to me. One night on the sofa in my apartment, while studying the reams of wavy lines that make up EKGs, she puzzled over, then correctly identified, a fatal arrhythmia. All at once, it dawned on her and she began to cry: wherever this “practice EKG” had come from, the patient had not survived. The squiggly lines on that page were more than just lines … they could bring you to tears.

Any book-lover knows the truth of this. When lines are strung together correctly they can bring tears and joy and nameless emotions that have never been felt before ... continued

When Breath Becomes Air: A Conversation

There’s a book out right now that has everyone talking on both sides of our counter. Customers can’t get enough of it, and most everyone on our staff has taken a copy home too. As always when this happens, we like to share some of the conversation we’re having in real life with our readers online, so we’re devoting this week’s blog post to When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.

This riveting memoir tells the story of a young man like many others, exceptional only for his intellect and talent. From the many doors open to him, he consistently chooses the ones that lead to the most challenging roads, stacking up accomplishment after accomplishment. He earns multiple degrees in both the sciences and the liberal arts from the most elite colleges in the world, ultimately becoming a top-flight neurosurgical resident. He meets and marries a fellow doctor, weighs job offers in teaching, research, and surgery, contemplates impending fatherhood … the world is his oyster. And then, just midway through his thirties, he’s stricken with the same diagnosis he’s delivered to so many patients: terminal cancer. Kalanithi faces his mortality with the same clear eyes and wide heart that brought him worldly success, and his book triumphantly demonstrates how much life can be packed into a sentence before it ends, as they all must, with a full stop.

We invite you to join the conversation about this remarkable book in whatever way you’d like–comment on our blog, email us your thoughts, or just chat us up in person in the store ... continued

February 2016 eNewsletter

The reward for making it through January is February. January is a long month, especially after a holiday retail season. The days are short but feel long. We make resolutions, lists of projects, books to read, and improvements to make. We look ahead to new books by Yann Martel, Joyce Maynard, and Diane Rehm, a compelling event with local author Brian Doyle, and more fun in the store as the days growing longer.

And then comes February. The month filled with the color red and love, flowers chocolate, glitter & cards, and did I mention chocolate?

When my dear friend Paula Hall lived on the Island she used to host the most lovely Valentines Day coffee. She would create this magical bakery world of pink and gold and red deliciousness in every room of her house. We would all stay as long as we could, not only to eat all the amazing treats but to soak in the smell and love that brought everyone there.

As the month of February begins, we hope you feel the love, eat the chocolate and smell the beauty.

Laurie Raisys

...see the full newsletter

Love the Art, Hate the Artist

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but can you judge it by its author? I mean, you can, obviously–America was still a free country last time I checked–but should you?

Dealing with this question isn’t something I do very often. For the most part I’m perfectly content not knowing much about the personal or even the public lives of the people who write the books I read. As long as the writing is good, I’m good. Now and again, though, I’ll hear some extracurricular information that gives me a moment’s pause. Like years ago when I found out that Mark Helprin, the novelist behind the sublime urban fantasia Winter’s Tale, had a sideline as a speechwriter for a presidential candidate I did not support. The knowledge didn’t put me off the book, which remains a great favorite. I mostly just wondered why someone so talented at creating imaginary worlds would get bogged down in petty, mundane politics at all.

There is at least one case I can remember in which I’ve consciously decided not to read something because of its author ... continued


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