Surprising Sequels

People often comment on how lucky those of us who work in bookstores must be, getting to read for our jobs. It’s true, we are lucky. Our shelves are full of books we can’t wait to read, and then can’t wait to talk about to everyone who walks through the Island Books door. But what do you do when you’ve raved about an initial book, of an author, of a series, finally get your hands on the second, and find yourself unable to feel like it lived up to the potential of the first? It’s heartbreaking. And makes you approach sequels with more and more apprehension.

Two sequels to books I’d loved came out this fall, and I was scared to read them. I kept looking at them on my shelf and picking up something else, because I didn’t want to be disappointed. Thankfully my need to find out what happens next eventually won out ... continued

Cookbook Book Club with Kate McDermott

Halloween is over, and chances are you’re already thinking ahead to Thanksgiving. STOP IT. Put your hands over your ears, shut your eyes, and banish all thoughts of guest lists, meal planning, and how-am-I-ever-going-to-get-it-all-done. We have something to offer first, and it’ll remind you what Thanksgiving is all about. Food, family, friends, and fun.

On Sunday, November 11th from 4-6pm, our Cookbook Book Club will gather for a festive potluck with special guest Kate McDermott. Based in Port Angeles, Washington, Kate is a pie legend (her bestselling Art of the Pie is an essential holiday tool). She’ll be with to us to celebrate the release of her second cookbook, Home Cooking with Kate McDermott and we can’t think of a better way to get Mercer Island ready for the holidays. This book goes beyond dessert to share Kate’s style of cooking at home, where she always keeps an extra place at the table for guests. There’s nothing fancy about her Kitchen Sink Nachos, Make-Ahead Layered Salad, Winter Vegetable Shepherd’s Pie, and Berry Good Coffee Cake. It’s all about comfort and ease. “If you are looking for quick, satisfying recipes, for mainly one-dish meals, to please even the pickiest of eaters, you have come to the right place,” she says.

Now, since we’re talking recipes, here are the step-by-step instructions for participating ... continued

November 2018 eNewsletter

"A book is a dream you hold in your hands."
—Neil Gaiman

Hi. Cindy here. I’ve been working at Island Books since 1994, for more than half of the store’s duration. I am the most senior member of the Island Books staff. I know where the bodies are buried (there are none). I am proud to be a small part of a wholly benevolent institution that has lasted this long. Who would have thought we could survive, profit, and flourish for 45 years? That feels like a success story to me.

You might wonder, is this an anniversary or a birthday? It is certainly an anniversary for the staff past and present--this bookstore our common bond.

For me it started with Roger Page, the owner at that time, who hired me in 1994 and entrusted me with a key to his beautiful store on my very first day. Nancy, his wife, came on board years later to curate our growing gift selection. Meb was the children’s book buyer back then, Terri, also in the kids' section, taught me the value of changing shoes over the course of the day. Lalo, who moderated our open book clubs for years, Wendy, who I can never say enough good things about, Poo Putsch who painted the playhouse and those fantastic signs that still hang back in the kids section, and Elinor MacDonald, who custom cut cardboard so the books wouldn’t have to sit on the rough cedar shelves. Fastidious Sally Kennedy, bookkeeper for many years and  Marilyn Brody (who freed us from the petty oppression  of counting the coins in the till at close). Mark K. and Lori Mitchell, my 18-years-sister-in-bookselling who ditched us for a library in Vermont. Garry Jarman a kind of brother and zen father figure to us all. The writers MJ Beaufrand for a while and Christine Widman for a bit and Tami Szerlip, who dressed our front window way back when, and Julie who moved to Boston at some point and Kay Wilson who was already packing reuseable canvas totes way before it became de rigueur du jour, now saving the world from her house on Lummi Island, and Nancy Shawn way back then and now (yay!) Nancy Shawn again, and Tonya for not long enough and Marni Gittinger, dog whisperer-in-residence who somehow always knew everything in the news, pop culture, and books, and James Crossley, a literary gentleman and Renaissance man who along with former ballerina and New York editor, Miriam, created our  website and a flurry of writing that every week makes us all look good, and of course Lillian, our Children’s Books buyer who knows a great story when she sees one and can tell a great story too. Lori, or LRob as we call her, who transformed from a mild-mannered South End Barista to a kickass North End Bookista. Recently we’ve welcomed to staff Kelleen, who is a total reading and proofreading machine, and Jinny's great part-time help. I don’t know if this is feeling celebratory or maudlin and long-winded, but thankers gotta thank, writers gotta write and readers ... can always stop reading.

One last thing. Throughout all of my time here, there was always, always, always, the Legend of Lola Deane. The mother of it all. She who instigated this operation in 1973 with a host of help and other owners who all predated me—Fam Bayliss, Marge Wilkins, Elinor MacDonald, Julia Olsen, Andrea Lorig, Lissa Wells. Forgive me if I missed a name somewhere along the way.

When Roger passed the torch to Laurie and Victor Raisys, he knew and we knew they would keep the flame alive and thriving. These past three years under their leadership, Island Books has continued in a long tradition of yearly donations to local schools, causes, and organizations, from Alzheimer's to NPR to Seattle Arts and Lectures. We've hosted more and more events with authors, speakers, storytellers, and musicians. And Island Books continues on in the same spirit.

But most importantly, this is also our 45th anniversary with you--a uniquely supportive and always evolving community that keeps appreciating what we do. We hope you know how very incredibly much your ongoing support has drastically mattered to our duration these past 45 years. 

We hope you can come to our official celebration this Saturday, November 3rd at 4pm. We’ll be offering up drinks and delicious cake from our new neighbor Convivial Café. If you’re moved to bring a treat to share, that would be great, and please drop us an RSVP so we know how many revelers we must needs prepare for.

So here’s to us for keepin’ on, and here’s to you for keepin’ on too. It’s our 45th anniversary! Happy anniversary to us all. 

Cindy Corujo

... continued

Guest Blogger John Hamer on News of the World by Paulette Jiles

I’m excited to share this initial contribution as we start welcoming more guest bloggers on Message in a Bottle. John Hamer is a retired editorial writer and columnist for The Seattle Times who founded the Washington News Council. He is also a Mercer Island resident, Brian Doyle fan, and devoted Island Books customer. Respond to John and us via the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter. Welcome, John!


I always expect–and receive–excellent book recommendations at Island Books. I don’t expect the same at airport bookstores. But a recent experience proved me wrong.

My wife and I were at the San Antonio airport waiting for a flight back to Seattle. We decided to browse the small bookstore, even though we already had plenty of stuff to read on the plane.

In the regional section, I saw a book about the Texas Rangers. I recently reread Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, one of my all-time favorite novels. Someone told me that the two central characters, Gus McRae and Woodrow Call, were based on real-life Texas Rangers.

I asked the store’s proprietor – a man about my age, with a bald head and a white goatee – if that was true. He wasn’t sure, but said many Texas historical novels were indeed based on actual persons. He picked up a small paperback titled News of the World by Paulette Jiles. I’d never heard of it ... continued

Supreme Questions

All this recent political furor over the Kavanaugh appointment raises profoundly important questions. Who deserves to sit on the Supreme Court? What are the necessary qualifications? What disqualifies someone? Who should we believe and how much evidence is enough? How does a person muster the courage to speak truth to power? And why, why do these questions eat away at us?

Anita Hill’s and Clarence Thomas’s memoirs are obvious reads that come to mind this month, but there are two novels that repeatedly rose up from my often fuzzy memory. They just seemed strangely relevant. I tried (and usually failed) to pull my thoughts back from the current headlines. Instead I found myself thinking up books that reflected the news through a different lens ... continued

Lori Robinson Recommends…

Many of you have already grown to love the “other Laurie” –also affectionately known as “LRob”–in the 3+ years she’s been a bookseller at Island Books. She’s blogged for us before to discuss one of her favorite reads, Amy Snow by Tracy Rees, which went on to become one of our bestselling titles of 2017. If you bought a copy of Amy Snow from Island Books, chances are it was because of Lori’s passionate hand selling. 

Some of Lori’s favorite books include The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunned, Winter Solstice by Rosamund Pilcher, Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos, and pretty much anything by Elizabeth Goudge. You can browse more of her recommendations here.

We’re excited that Lori will become a monthly voice on the blog, and I’m sure you’ll grow to love hearing her written words here just as much as you enjoy talking books with her in the store.

Now, without further ado ... continued

October 2018 eNewsletter

"The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who'll get me a book I ain't read."
—Abraham Lincoln

Fall is here, and after spending this past weekend at the annual Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association conference in Tacoma, I can confirm there are an incredible number of amazing books coming out this month. It was fun to catch up with bookselling friends, publishers and authorsan event I look forward to every year. New books like Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami, The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis, The Witch Elm by Tana French, and Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver can keep you company as you curl up with a warm cup of fall coffee. 

If fall cooking is on your mind, Home Cooking with Kate McDermott comes out on October 16th. We're excited that Kate, a James Beard nominee also known as "the pie whisperer," will be visiting our store for Cookbook Book Club on Sunday, November 11th from 4-6pm. Get your copy early so you can perfect a few recipes before our potluck.

We're also looking forward to visits from Chaim Bezalel and Yonnah Ben Levy, authors of American Scrolls and Touching on Place on Sunday, October 14th at 3pm, as well as Elaine Weiss, author of The Woman's Hour, on Sunday, October 21st at 11:30am.

The Great American Read voting on KCTS will end on October 18th. We've been taking our own poll and the local front runners are The Help and To Kill a Mockingbird, followed by a six-way tie between Gone with the WindA Prayer for Owen Meany1984The Hunt for Red OctoberCharlotte's Web, and The Book Thief. Keep an eye out for our final results in a few weeks.

We're getting closer to our 45th anniversary. It's been heartwarming to have customers old and new come in the store with interest in what we're promoting as part of our #45Daysto45Years countdown. We love it when people share a favorite bookstore story or incident that happened when they were a kid growing up in this amazing community. Be sure to mark your calendar for November 1st, when we'll celebrate in a big way as Island Books enters middle age!

Laurie Raisys

... continued

Thoreau and the Neighborhood Bookstore: Interviewing Laura Dassow Walls

For many reasons, I’ve always considered Island Books to be a quintessentially Thoreauvian spot. In part it’s the old cedar shelves that make me think so and in part it’s because this is a place where you can use an adjective like Thoreauvian without getting funny looks. You can march through our doors to the beat of a different drummer and find something to read that will encourage you to live deliberately and front only the essential facts of life. You can enjoy hours of solitary contemplation here as Henry David Thoreau did in the woods, and you can also socialize as he did in his hometown:

Every day or two I strolled to the village to hear some of the gossip which is incessantly going on there, circulating either from mouth to mouth, or from newspaper to newspaper, and which, taken in homeopathic doses, was really as refreshing in its way as the rustle of leaves and the peeping of frogs.

Maybe that should be our new slogan—”Island Books: As Refreshing as the Rustle of Leaves and the Peeping of Frogs.” Or maybe not.

Updated catchphrase or no, when I saw last summer that a definitive new biography of Henry David Thoreau had been published by the University of Chicago Press, I knew we needed to stock it. After it arrived and I opened it up, I knew instantly I wanted to read it. “Everyone who comes to Thoreau has a story,” the preface begins. “Mine begins in a neighborhood bookstore where I pulled a book off the shelf simply because it was small and green …” The reviewers loved it, too. It was a New York Times Notable Book for 2017 and the Wall Street Journal named it one of the ten best books of the year.

Months later, we were visited by an Alaskan couple who’d made a special trip to Mercer Island during their annual vacation in the Seattle area. They asked if we had the book. Of course we did. They asked if we knew the book. Of course we did. They asked if we’d read the acknowledgments in the back. Of course we … say again? And there on the final pages we read about the “very long journey” that led Laura Dassow Walls to write her biography, one that began on the day she “walked into Island Books, on Mercer Island, Washington, and found Walden on its shelves.” It was a great honor to discover that our Thoreau connection is solid and we really can call ourselves Walden Pond West ... continued

James Crossley Expands His Horizons

The Island Books blog started back in the fall of 2011. James Crossley and I were the original contributors, and over the last 7 years we’ve written enough of these entries to fill a book. We’ve bounced ideas off each other, edited each others’ work, discussed countless books, competed over our reading lists, covered for each other during vacations (his) and pregnancies (mine–his kids are older so he has more fun), moderated author events (here we are hanging with Nancy Pearl), and drank a fair amount of coffee, soda, and liquor to keep this thing going. Along the way I’ve learned a good deal from James, including many ways to be a better writer and how the proper use of “good grief” in an email is enough to make me laugh loud enough to make the children come running. I’ve enjoyed reading and editing his work more than I can say. His First Line Friday columns, our conversations about the books we could actually manage to read simultaneously, like Chocolate for BreakfastH is for Hawk, or When Breath Becomes Airand yakking about our annual reading resolutions were some of my favorites.

But enough about me. As Laurie mentioned in the last newsletter, James will be leaving the Island Books team this month ... continued

September 2018 eNewsletter

"Sleep is good," he said. 'And books are better."
—George R.R. Martin

September came quickly this year. My house is practically empty with two kids gone and two trying to squeeze in every last bit of summer. As the days end, I still love sitting on the deck to read, trying to get my last moments in too.

At Island Books we try to keep it fun, even as fall sets in and life demands more serious endeavors. During September we are proud to be major sponsors of two local events. This Thursday we will be attending Novels and Notables at McCaw Hall, featuring Nancy Pearl, Tom Douglas, Angela Garbes and Dave Sims. On Friday the 9th, the annual Mercer Island Art Uncorked event will take place featuring fun, food, music art and wine.

September also means back to school. Victor and I have two of our kids back at college and both of our younger two are full-on high schoolers. Even Miriam's bookstore twins are going to kindergarten! Its been fun to watch our younger Island Books friends come in and share with us how excited they are to start school. We've been selling many August-to-August planners to keep kids and parents organized and a variety of journals, pencils, and pencil pouches for everyone else. 

Also on the agenda: Island Books will turn 45 this fall! In the spirit of keeping it fun, we have plans to celebrate in a big way. On September 17th, we'll begin our 45 Days Until 45 Years, which means every day for 45 days leading up to our birthday on November 1st we'll have a special deal or happening at Island Books. Look for details on our Facebook page, website, and in the store.

On both a sad (for us) and exciting front, James Crossley, one of our shared voices of the blog, bookseller extraordinaire, and lover of all books and people who enjoy them, will be leaving the Island Books team this month. He has an amazing opportunity too good to pass up as the general manager of the new Madison Park Books opening up this fall. While we are feeling sorry for ourselves, because let’s be honest we have taken our share of losses this year, we are thrilled for him and the community of Madison Park. James, we're wishing you the best and please know you'll be greatly missed. 

Is that a school bell I hear ringing in the distance? As it calls you towards responsibilities and busier schedules, remember we're always here to remind you: keep it fun.

Laurie Raisys



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