Bregrets? I've Had a Few

It takes a lot to push American news off the front pages of our nation’s papers, but British voters found a way to do it on June 23rd. They took to the polls in droves and by a fairly narrow margin decided to–well, no one knows exactly what they decided. I mean, we know they voted to have their country leave the European Union, but no one knows exactly how that will happen or what the result will be when it does. If it does. The noisy second-guessing in the aftermath is making the pre-election hype sound like a whisper by comparison.

Turns out this is a much bigger deal than many voters, particularly Leave voters, expected. The short-term effect has been to drive the value of the pound to its lowest level in decades, and the market losses were sufficient to drop the UK’s economic ranking from 5th largest in the world to 6th. Since Scotland and Northern Ireland wish to remain part of the EU, in the longer term it seems likely that Brexit will lead to the dissolution of a political institution that’s lasted more than three hundred years, the United Kingdom itself. And beyond that? No one, neither Eurocrat nor isolationist, knows ... continued

Breaking the Glass Ceiling

The women’s movement is having a moment. Whether you like her or not, Hillary Clinton is going to be the first female presidential nominee of a major American political party. This latest leap in female accomplishment is probably the most powerful example we can give when we tell our daughters, “look what women can do.” My daughter knows nothing about Hillary except that she must like pink because she recently wore a pink suit, but now one thing she will grow up knowing is that a woman can lead a political party and quite possibly be the president of the United States.

Female leaders have been radically different; some peaceful, some controversial, some extraordinary, some incompetent. They have come in various religions and political leanings. Besides their gender, the only common denominator is their tenacity, a quiet characteristic that only reveals itself over a long time span and variety of challenges. If you can’t spend your days living next to that kind of role model, the best way to understand the importance of that trait is to read about it. Film and television come in at a distant third in the ability to explore a lifetime of accomplishment.

There are plenty of nonfiction works written by or about male leaders, but female heroics are far less commonly well-captured on the page. When I think about current titles that will inspire young women, there are two works of nonfiction that bring female grit powerfully into focus. With graduation upon us and many young women pondering their future, Gloria Steinem’s and Diana Nyad’s books are worth passing around ... continued

More of a Phenomenon

If you’re talented, hard-working, and lucky, you may achieve artistic success. A standing-room only concert, a bestselling novel, an award-winning script, that sort of thing. If you’re immensely talented, intensely motivated, and have the enormous good fortune to invoke a spirit so mysterious we call it by a German name, the zeitgeist, then you might create an artistic phenomenon. What does that mean? Your work has to earn all the usual commercial success and critical plaudits, of course, but it also has to transcend those. Imagine something that’s equally popular with serious silver-haired C-SPAN viewers and frivolous rainbow-haired theater kids. Picture an experience that can bridge the yawning gap between teenagers and their parents. Conceive if you can of the tiny patch of common ground on which both Dick Cheney and Barack Obama can comfortably stand.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is the phenomenon I’m talking about, as you’ve probably already guessed. A Broadway show about “America’s first bureaucrat,” a  stylistic grab-bag of hip-hop, history, and Sondheim? If it were a horse, no one would have bet on it to finish one race, let alone win the Triple Crown like Secretariat. If there’s any explanation for the universality of Hamilton’s appeal, it probably has something to do with Miranda’s gleeful embrace of … well, everything. His willingness to absorb any influence and reinvent it for his own purposes has taken a stage production and turned it into a multi-media sensation.

So how do book lovers far from the Great White Way access the Hamilton phenomenon? ... continued

Reading About Rape

The letter the Stanford rape victim read to her attacker ends with a quote from author Anne Lamott: “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” By choosing to remain anonymous, she transformed her individual experience into something universal and illuminated an issue often left in the dark. She has miraculously controlled the narrative. This woman is not fictional, but she might as well be. The more viral the story becomes, the more her lighthouse shines brighter than she could have possibly imagined.

I have walked exactly where that rape occurred on the Stanford campus. I’ve stood near the dumpster. I went to a few parties like the one where she met her attacker. My 20s seem like a long time ago, but when I read that letter it felt like yesterday. That same story could have happened to any of my friends or classmates. It could have happened to me.

Books can be like lighthouses. They don’t go running all over an island (Mercer Island?) looking for people to save, but they’re there, lighting up issues should anyone bother to look ... continued

The More the Merrier

When it’s as hot out as it’s been these past few days, my appetite for food plummets. I stay as far away from the stove as I can, trying to eat the simplest possible fare that requires the least preparation–less is more. With my reading, though, I’m the opposite. When the temperature rises, the more literary ingredients the better. Give me a meaty plot that’s sauced with complex intrigue, pages that positively overflow with incident. Maybe the heat makes my brain expand to leave room for extra helpings? Whatever the reason, it’s been an excellent month for big books and plenitudinous platefuls.

Foremost among my recent reads was the debut novel from Martin Seay, The Mirror Thief. It focuses on a place that’s many places all at once, Venice. In Renaissance Italy, the craftsmen of that city perfect a new technology, the glass mirror, and guard its secrets with deadly strength, which doesn’t prevent a brilliant thief from scheming to steal the arcane knowledge the whole world desires. Centuries later, in the shabby seaside community of Venice Beach, California, a Kerouackian drifter attempts to unlock the mystery of an ancient text–is it fiction or a coded instruction manual?–that relates the thief’s adventures. And in the glitzy, ersatz realm of present-day Las Vegas, gamblers, soldiers of fortune, and mystics gather at the Venetian resort for an explosive final confrontation ... continued

June 2016 eNewsletter

“Faith, Perseverance and Serendipity; life lessons to live by!" is one of my favorite quotes from Robbie Bach, author of Xbox Revisited. Robbie was the featured guest at one of our recent author events, where he shared his experience as the Chief Xbox Officer at Microsoft. There are some incredibly moving sections of his book which you don't typically expect from a business read, especially when he discussed defining moments from his high school years. A number of those anecdotes jumped out in light of graduation season. We’re entering that time of year again, a time of transitions and celebrations.

Last year as graduation approached, my life felt like the beginning of endings. We had a graduating high school senior. Many friends who had been through the experience repeatedly told us to "brace yourself," and so we did, but it was such a happy time. From Prom to Senior Skip Day, we lived through finals, her graduation party, and the baccalaureate service. Then, the day came and suddenly she was in that cap and gown and ready to walk across the stage.

This year our milestone is 8th grade graduation. When did the blonde girl in pigtails, pulling my hair for comfort, turn into the taller-than-me freshman in high school?

It's no wonder that the transition of graduation has inspired some incredible commencement addresses. This year brings several new titles inspired by those notable speeches, like Mary Karr's Now Go Out There: (And Get Curious) and Kurt Vonnegut's If This Isn't Nice What Is? These books make perfect graduation gifts.

In addition to the transitions and celebrations of graduations, June also means celebrating Father's Day. As the daughter of a minister, I remember sitting in church each Sunday and wondering if it was my turn to be mentioned in my dad's weekly sermon. It felt torturous at the time, but now it makes me smile. I love my dad and the lessons he taught me, but he isn't the only father I'll be celebrating. My husband inspires me every day by being the greatest father to our four children. How can I possibly thank him? Since many of you come in wondering the same thing, we can point you towards new books that make great Father’s Day gifts like The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee and Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick.

With all these gift-giving occasions approaching, remember we will gladly wrap gifts free of charge and offer free shipping for books. You can easily add in hand-picked cards, games, and other unique gifts for both dads and grads.

We hope you find all kinds of special ways to celebrate your loved ones this month. Happy Graduation and Happy Father's Day! 

Laurie Raisys

... continued 

Remembering Hiroshima

This past week, the Japanese people welcomed President Obama to Hiroshima. It’s hard to overstate the significance of his visit, and perhaps it is best described without words but through a handshake, as the 91-year-old survivor Sunao Tsuboi gripped Obama’s hand for an extended amount of time. No matter how many headlines we read or news clips we watch, we can’t possibly feel the survivors’ depth of emotion as they watched an American president lay a wreath at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.

Obama’s visit renewed interest in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, and as Japanese history is made again it makes sense to refresh our understanding of an event that changed the world over 70 years ago. Publishers continue to show an interest in stories about the bombing of Hiroshima, both for historical value and because the event is still a symbol of the danger nuclear weapons present today ... continued

WA State Poet Laureate Tod Marshall

Does it seem to you that Island Books holds a monopoly on cool local events? It’s starting to feel that way to us, because we have yet another special treat to share. On Thursday, June 2nd, a high-ranking literary celebrity will be paying a visit to our fair shores, someone so exalted that we’re co-sponsoring with the Mercer Island Arts Council to infuse the occasion with the proper sense of ceremony. OK, we’re hyperbolizing a little, but there aren’t too many official laureates out there and it’s not often that one comes to Mercer Island.

Tod Marshall was appointed to a two-year term as the fourth-ever Washington State Poet Laureate at the beginning of 2016, filling a role intended to build awareness and appreciation of poetry—including the state’s legacy of poetry—through public readings, workshops, lectures, and presentations in communities throughout the state, including ours. His June 2nd visit will include an early-afternoon workshop at the community center, an open conversation about poetry at Island Books at 4:00 p.m., and a reading and autograph session back at the community center in the evening. More details are available on our website ... continued

The Cover Was Blue …

Whenever booksellers gather, they’ll eventually start asking each other one question: What’s the most vague and crazy way a customer has asked about a particular book? Scratch that–they won’t ask, they’ll just start telling their stories. They’re like poker players who can’t get over a bad beat, and they can instantly recall the nearly impassable hurdles they’ve had to overcome in trying to find the right read.

Even a front-counter novice knows the basic routine: “I don’t remember the title, but I think it had a blue cover. I heard about it on NPR, so you must know what it is.” You dig for as much more information as you can, and sometimes you get lucky. It’s a wartime romance and it’s fiction and it happens to be on this week’s bestseller list and voilà, there’s your sale. Most times there’s not any extra detail to uncover, the customer’s trick pitch is too much to handle, you swing and you miss, and there’s not much more to tell.

More interesting are the occasions when you find yourself handling a slippery Clupea harengus rubeus, known in less technical circles as a red herring ... continued


An Interview with Jim Lynch

On Thursday, May 26th at 7pm, acclaimed Northwest writer Jim Lynch, author of The Highest Tide, Border Songs, and Truth Like the Sun, returns to his Mercer Island roots. He’ll be at Island Books to discuss his new novel Before the Wind, a funny, big-hearted story about a grand and idiosyncratic family obsessed with sailing. It’s also about online dating and Albert Einstein. Set in Seattle, Victoria, and Olympia, much of the novel unfolds on the water in this two-decade odyssey of the Johannssen family.

Jim has visited us before and we’re delighted he has a new book to share. In preparation for the event, he was gracious enough to answer some of my questions. I hope his answers are as intriguing to you as they were to me and that’ll you’ll be motivated to join us and meet him in person. 


Island Books: People have said Before the Wind is the book you were born to write. Did it turn out to be what you originally set out to create?

Jim Lynch: Given my upbringing, I’ve always known I’d eventually try to write something like Before the Wind. At least I’ve known since my late teens that I wanted to build a novel with sailing at its core and subsequently wanted to write a novel about a gifted and volatile family. My other novels were ideas that came to me. This one was in my bones all along ... continued


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