Browsing Like a 3-Year-Old

One of the best things about spending time with children is seeing the world through fresh eyes. I spend plenty of time at Island Books, but it’s usually filled with conversations with coworkers, friends, and customers, browsing through inventory, scrounging for advanced copies in the back room, or poring over metrics, future blog posts, and newsletters. Besides the occasional check to make sure they’re not destroying the place, my 3-year-old twins roam free. They’ve mostly learned how to behave in our regular haunt. Sometimes they even help carry out the recycling.

Most Wednesday mornings we come in for Storybook Corner. It’s the one time I sit on the floor so they can trade off in my lap. Last week, as I was enjoying Jenny’s gentle reading of a series of bear-themed books, my eyes wandered over to a nearby bottom shelf. 

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty! I had forgotten all about both title and author. What a great book. Even more so, Moriarty’s earlier novels The Center of Everything and The Rest of Her Life deserved a reread. How had I never looked at this shelf before?

As story time ended and the twins wandered off, I resolved to follow them and see the store at their eye level. What else had I been missing? I realized they must know Island Books as a completely different place than I do ... continued

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2016 PNBA Book Awards

It’s award season! They just handed out the Golden Globes (Ricky Gervais won for Best Performance as a Righteously Rude Host) and they’ll soon be distributing Oscars. More to the point, books are earning hardware, too.

This year’s Caldecott Medal for most distinguished picture book for children went to Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, illustrated by Sophie Blackall and written by Lindsay Mattick. The Newbery Award for outstanding contribution to children’s literature, which normally goes to a middle grade chapter book, this year went to Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, a wonderful but surprising choice that’s been written about on our blog before. This is only the second time a picture book has won the Newbery. The first such winner was a personal favorite from 1982, A Visit to William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Willard, which also nabbed a Caldecott Honor for its illustrators, Alice and Martin Provensen. Last Stop on Market Street did the same double dip this year, with Christian Robinson honored for his bold artwork.

The Caldecott and the Newbery are big deals on a national scale, but I have a special fondness for the more locally-oriented PNBA Book Awards. These are the annual prizes given out by an organization of my peers, the Pacific NW Booksellers Association, and they go to writers I think of as neighbors. These are books of the people, by the people, and for the people of this region. You people. My people.

What are these populist picks? ... 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.)

On This Day

Four years ago, James wrote a blog post resolving to chronicle every book he ever read in a classy pocket Moleskine notebook. Hey partner, how’s that project holding up? I made the same resolution that year and it’s not looking so good for me.  While our many years of posting here have chronicled some of our reading adventures, far more books never made an appearance. 

A few months before our resolution posts at the end of 2011, I wrote another piece on memories of reading. That was about a year before I became a mother and life changed forever. I suppose I was busy looking back before plunging ahead.

These old posts came to mind as the year ended and everyone’s memories started popping up in my news feed. Facebook has a feature called “On This Day,” and if you haven’t seen it, what it does is offer a way to look back at your posting history. By showing your photos or status updates from the same day one year ago, two years ago, and so on, the tool gives you the option to share your nostalgia with others. Goodreads has a more book-specific feature that offers an annual summary of your reading, presuming you’re committed enough to enter everything you read on their website ... continued

Passing the Inadvertent Faith in Humanity Test

The Christmas season is over, but we can’t let go of that cheery holiday feeling without telling one last story of peace on earth and good will toward humankind.

To set the scene properly, we have to look backward a fair bit, past Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and even Thanksgiving, almost all the way to last Halloween. In the early days of November, Cindy, our display maven, came up with a nifty way to highlight our 2016 calendars (still a few of those left for procrastinators, by the way). She strung a clothesline across the store and pinned a bunch of the prettiest ones to it. In the small spaces between the bigger items she hung some toys and other gifts, and in the last narrow spot she pinned a single dollar bill. Kind of a visual pun on “money laundering” for the keenly observant, she thought.

Almost immediately the cynics spoke up. “Why not hang a sign that says ‘Free Money’?” they said. “You’re practically inviting someone to steal it,” they told her. And so an office pool was born ... continued

The Rest of the Best

December always inspires best-of-the-year lists, and we’re willing participants. These compilations are a nice way to recommend holiday gifts and reflect back on the poignant pleasures of the year. We recently published our own 2015 favorites in fiction, nonfiction, children’s and teens, and gifts. But like any Miss America pageant, episode of The Bachelor, or Super Bowl, there are the runner-ups. While books don’t shed tears quite as dramatically as human contestants, we sometimes shed a few on their behalf, especially if their rejection from the big list was more political than critical (meaning, we can only have so many books-about-the-circus or debut-novels-no-one-has-heard-of on a list that’s supposed to appeal to the masses). So James has made it something of a tradition to follow up those lists with a December blog post devoted to the near-misses. This year, due to scheduling and general holiday madness, the task falls to me ... continued


Shades of Christmas

Over the past few years I’ve fallen into a bit of an unnatural role on the internet, that of holiday columnist. I say unnatural because I am by inclination someone who thrives on regularity and routine and does his best to follow Flaubert’s maxim: “Be settled in your life and ordinary as a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” (Far more successfully in the former case than in the latter, of course.) Left to my druthers, I’d let most special days slide by with a minimum of comment or commemoration, but Christmas is too big for even the likes of me to ignore. It’s not always an easy thing to embrace, though.

The sheer scale of fuss and bother can be hard to cope with, especially for those of us in retail ... continued

A Commonplace Blog

It was the fashion in days of yore to imagecarry on one’s person a small notebook, to be used for the purpose of jotting down the morally uplifting, usefully edifying, or simply beautiful phrases that one encountered in one’s reading. One always meant to continue this practice oneself in these our modern times, but pockets are smaller than they once were, and attention spans are shorter, and pens are never found where and when they are needed, and hey, that guy just cut me off and now I’ve spilled my coffee and what was I talking about again?

Oh yes, commonplace books. For that’s what those little notebooks were called. I am incapable of maintaining one in real life, but I can take advantage of this space to simulate the practice. What follows is a token effort to net a few of the best sentences that flow past in the river of my reading, a current that rushes past ever faster and seems to be forgotten ever more quickly as the years go by.

Rebecca Solnit’s essay collection The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness is full of choice lines ... continued

Happy Hanukkah

Mercer Island is a far cry from the place that I grew up celebrating Hanukkah. My dad was the only rabbi in three states, and I was the only kid in my class without a Christmas tree. The closest I came to celebrating Christmas was onstage at the Capitol Theatre, where every year I performed The Nutcracker with Ballet West. We decorated our house with blue tinsel stars and metallic Happy Hanukkah signs and I explained over and over to my Mormon friends that Hanukkah was not the “Jewish version of Christmas.” Salt Lake City was not an easy place to be a Jewish child, but as alienating as it was, I loved December, with its twinkling lights and holiday music and snow-covered rooftops.

Skip ahead twenty years and I’m a mom raising three little ones here on Mercer Island, surrounded by a strong Jewish community. We aren’t a religious family and consider ourselves cultural Jews at best, but we want our children to know and understand the traditions we grew up with. This will be the first year my three-year-old twins can understand something more about Hanukkah than “whee, candles!” So what have I been reading to them? ... 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.) 

A Puzzle and a Prize

I won a prize, and you can too! Sounds like the beginning of a spam email, but it’s true. If you bear with me while I explain how I got lucky, I’ll tell you about how you can do the same.

First, as usual, I have to tell you about a book [by Peter Turchi] ... A Muse and a Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery, and Magic. The subtitle alludes to the conceit that ... writing fiction is a form of play and illusion. One of the most wonderful things about Turchi’s book is how encompassing it is. All too often, analyses of writing are restrictive, ignoring or rejecting the genres that don’t fit their model, but Turchi, who is a novelist as well as a professor, is open to the entire range of fiction, from the most speculative and experimental to the most straightforward and plain. He’s not speaking to an academic audience, but to regular book lovers of all kinds. The other wonderful thing about it is its stunning beauty. Featuring dozens upon dozens of images ... it’s as much a work of art as it is anything else ...

[The publisher] sent me an autographed paperback of A Muse and a Maze, and since I already have a treasured copy of my own, I thought the best thing to do ... was give it away. So I’m testing you with a simple, classic logic puzzle. If you get the answer right, you could win ... continued

Island Books Named Quarterfinalist for Indie Award


Mercer Island, WA –The national small business movement, Independent We Stand, announced the quarterfinalists, including Island Books of Mercer Island, of the 2015 Independent We Stand Independent Small Business of the Year Award. This announcement precedes Small Business Saturday on Nov. 28, encouraging holiday shoppers to support these businesses over big boxes and national chains.

Island Books is the only independent bookstore proudly serving Mercer Island for over 40 years. Our store has a special atmosphere, where booksellers remember who you are and the kind of books you read. We may not be big, but everything inside is hand-selected with care, including cards, gifts, games, toys, locally-made chocolates and most importantly, the titles we personally know and love. We wrap your presents with a bow and ship them for free anywhere in the United States.

Mercer Island is a great place for families and children, and Island Books reflects that with its magical children's section and playhouse. We host weekly morning storybook corners and monthly PJ story times. Every year we host book fairs for all the local schools and donate 20% of the proceeds. Countless children have grown up in our aisles and now bring their grandchildren.

We pride ourselves on being a community gathering place. Beside story times, our schedule is filled with monthly book clubs, author events, sip and shop nights, and more. You'll find cozy chairs, old typewriters, bulletin boards, and good friends around every corner. If you can't visit in person, drop by our website. You can check out what we're reading and raving about, email us, sign up for our acclaimed blog and monthly eNewsletter, follow us on social media, and order books to be picked up at the store or mailed to your home.

“This year’s quarterfinalists represent a variety of independent businesses across the country, who are making an impact on their local economies,” said Bill Brunelle, co-founder of Independent We Stand. “This award is our way of recognizing their outstanding efforts in their respective communities.”

Voting is now underway at through Dec. 13. Voters may visit the website to cast one vote each day.


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