August 2020 eNewsletter

"When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about."

— Haruki Murakami

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
― Lao Tzu

“This is a new year. A new beginning. And things will change.”
― Taylor Swift

Given the world we live in today, it is hard not to think about the topic of change. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the recent transformations of daily life in our world. With the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis that has followed, all of us have experienced change in some way.

Like everyone else, our family has experienced change. Each member of my family has lost something they love and something of value in this crisis. At the same time, each person in my family has also gained something during this crisis. I think it’s important to focus on the opportunities that this change has created rather than wishing for things to go back to the way they were. For me personally, I’m thankful for the time I’ve been able to spend with all of my children as they’ve moved back home; the current crisis has given us the gift of family time - long family dinners with great food and conversation, family movie nights, family yard work parties and memories that I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.

At Island Books, we are also thinking about the changes in our world. Last month, we celebrated five years of ownership of Island Books. For those who are curious, I did my annual cartwheel down the aisle of the store; that tradition hasn’t changed (yet). When we bought Island Books five years ago, I don’t think we could have imagined the changes in our world today. However, if I take a step back, the last five months of crisis and even our five years of ownership (stewardship really) are a mere blip in the 46 year history of Island Books. If I think about the world that existed when Lola Deane founded the bookstore in 1974 (Watergate, end of the Vietnam War, inflation, no internet, no cell phones) and compare it to the world today, I realize how much the world that Island Books has existed in has changed in 46 years and how Island Books has had to transform with it. The current COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis, while disruptive and tragic, is one of the many crises that Island Books has faced throughout its history. So, like Lola Dean, Roger Page, and all of the previous owners of Island Books, we will do our best to adapt to the changes in our world in order to leave the legacy of Island Books for another generation of our community.

In the spirit of adapting to change, we have been working to adjust Island Books to the current COVID-19 pandemic. While many people may think of Island Books as being in the business of books, gifts, games and toys, we are actually in the business of community and experience. Cindy Corujo, our longest tenured bookseller did a fantastic job of summarizing and highlighting the secret sauce behind Island Books when she created our tagline – “Real Books, Real People, Real Community”. COVID-19 has obviously changed things. Our challenge is to bring our secret sauce (“Real Books, Real People, Real Community”) to a community that can’t always physically visit Island Books in the way that they used to. We still have real books (as well as cards, gifts, games and toys). However, we are working on finding online ways to highlight the “real people” of Island Books, our booksellers. Whether it’s the latest mystery recommendation from Cindy Corujo, the coolest sci-fi recommendation from Nancy Shawn, an undiscovered historical fiction recommendation from Lori Robinson, the most interesting literary fiction recommendation from Caitlin Baker, or the perfect kids and young adult recommendation from Lillian, we’ve been working to bring the expertise and curation of our booksellers to you online (as well as continuing to be available in our retail store). Because of their great insight, we have been posting video recommendations from our booksellers onto our social media.

We will also be working to continue to find ways to highlight “real community” in an online way. We realize that some of you are unable to come into the store and participate in our events because of the current pandemic. At the same time our community has also expanded beyond Mercer Island, Seattle and the Eastside to places like Anchorage, Alaska; Billings, Montana; Cleveland, Ohio; Gilbert, Arizona; Honolulu, Hawaii; Mill Valley, California; Torrance, California; and Vancouver, Washington. We’ll be working to bring our “real community” to wherever people are through our expanded online events. We’ve had a number of video events over the past month. We had a fantastic online event with Elise Hooper and Tracy Rees last week. You can watch it and other events on our YouTube channel. For those of you that missed our previous online events they can be found on Facebook, YouTube, and each of our events pages on our website.As always, we welcome your thoughts and suggestions as we transition Island Books to this new normal.

Speaking of change and resilience, since the theme of this month’s newsletter was change and resilience, we would be remiss if we didn’t include some book recommendations on the theme of change and resilience:
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak -- a young adult novel from the point of view of death during the Nazi occupation of this small town in Europe.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys -- a young adult novel about a Lithuanian family torn apart by the Soviets and forced into the USSR labor camps.
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas -- a young adult novel about a teen with dreams to become a rapper amidst the adversity of misogyny and racism that threatens to stop her.
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung -- a memoir from an adopted Korean woman's point of view about the circumstances of her adoption and the politics around finding belonging.
The Enlightenment of Bees by Rachel Linden -- a novel about a chef from Seattle who decides to take a humanitarian trip around the world and learns how her passion for food can create belonging and acceptance within herself.
Okay Fine Whatever by Courtenay Hameister -- a memoir from a woman with intense anxiety who learned how to slowly let go and embrace the ambivalent, abstract, and unexpected.
The Resisters by Gish Jen -- a novel about a not-so-distant future America where a family attempts to maintain and nurture their humanity in a world that threatens to leave them behind.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt -- a novel that follows a boy in New York whose life is forever changed by an accident at thirteen years old into adulthood and the consequences the accident has for him.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett -- a novel that follows twin sisters, one white passing and one distinctly not, on individual paths through adulthood and the weight each of them carry with their differentiated skin.
Be well, stay safe, and wash your hands,
Laurie Raisys

It's Hard to Say Goodbye...

I’m sitting at the front desk of the bookstore (at the corner computer where you can usually find me) and struggling to write. I have been putting off this particular task for about a week and haven’t found the motivation to put my feelings into words. I am leaving Island Books, and this will be my last journal.

Today is my final day at the bookstore, and I am trying to soak up every second of it. There is so much joy to be had during my closing shifts, sitting with the quiet and taking in the rustle of a patron flipping through pages and the geometrical pleasantness of so many colorful rectangular book covers. Something I have recognized lately is that I can’t smell the smell of the books anymore, and it’s not just because I am wearing a mask. The smell has settled in my brain, and I can’t differentiate it from the smell of general life... continued.

Summer Reading in YA

Readers, we’re well into the second half of July. The sun is finally shining. At Island Books we’re turning on the fans, stocking the fridge in the break room with La Croix, and turning off as many lights as we can get away with while still being able to read titles on book spines. We’re all, of course, wearing our masks.

Customers are in the mood for summer reads, so here are several titles from the Young Adult section of the store that I’m excited about!

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

This summer a highly anticipated title is the YA debut by the author of the adult title Mem. Morrow sets her story in a contemporary alternative world where portions of the population have various mythical abilities and identities. Inherent in these identities are built in assumptions and prejudices, the most heightened of which are towards “sirens”, always Black females. Tavia is a siren in hiding, trying to pretend she’s a normal teenager, terrified that anyone will discover her secret. Effie is her best friend and a “mermaid” at the annual Renaissance Faire, struggling to understand who and what she is. Morrow’s backdrop is Portland, and the unfolding events are eerily prescient of the current BLM protests and reactions in Portland and other cities. She paints a illuminating picture of the fear Black women live with every day and the bias they fight to overcome. I was captivated. I don’t know what to compare it to because I haven’t read anything like it before. The demand has been high for this book but we have finally gotten more copies!


Historical Fiction as a Mirror to the Present: Elise Hooper’s Fast Girls


You may have noticed that over the past year you have heard the name Elise Hooper on this blog or in the store. There’s a reason for that.

Elise Hooper is a writer living in West Seattle whose book The Other Alcott was championed by our booksellers. As we worked with Elise on events, we realized that we also wanted to champion her as a person. She is funny, kind, and always game to support and promote local bookstores. On a personal note, Elise was one of the first authors I interviewed over 2019 for her previous release Learning to See. Her kindness and openness allowed me to ask to edit part of her newest release Fast Girls for my editing certificate. She also has joined our knitting book club when she is able and has been a great friend of the store... continued.

July 2020 eNewsletter

"Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently."
— Maya Angelou

July is usually the month that we jump out of our winter hibernation and go into full summer mode. We prep for vacation reads and ramp up our in-store projects. From pulls to refreshing stock, July is

We start with the Women Writers Panel on the 16th, featuring Susan Rebecca White, Jasmine Guillory, Jennifer Longo, and Justina Chen. Elise Hooper will be moderating and participating as well. We are so excited to bring these fantastic collection of local and far flung authors to chat about women and Black Indigenous People Of Color (BIPOC) authors in the publishing industry. Register to virtually attend this event here. 
The following week we will be hosting a series with Women Business Writers. This virtual event on the 21st of June will feature Mikaela Kiner, Tiffany Dufu, and Rebekah Bastian, each inspiring entrepreneurs and authors in their own right. They will be chatting about how their businesses have been shifting due the pandemic and the need for women of all backgrounds to support and push each other now more than ever. Register to participate and attend this virtual event here.
You will see Elise Hooper again at a date TBD for an outdoor signing. Elise will be by the bookstore to sign books outside. Afterwards, she will join an online call with author Tracy Reeves of Amy Snow to talk about her new book Fast Girls and writing historical fiction. We are excited to host her for this masked and socially distanced event! You can register for the virtual part of this event here.
Last but not least, we will be hosting local author Karlos Dillard on the 28th for a talk on the first installment of his three-part memoir, Ward of the State. Karlos will be discussing his childhood in the foster care system, reflecting on writing the book, and address the Black Lives Matter movement in conjunction with his writing. You can register for his virtual event here.

We will also have our usual slew of book clubs: Open Book Club and Knitting Book Club. But we are also adding the All-Island Book Club on Race and Allyship to our repertoire as a series on July 20th and 27th at 6:00pm. We are reading So You Want to Talk About Race? by Ijeoma Oluo. Register to participate here. There are other organizations on the Island hosting this book club if our dates and times do not work for you.

We are disappointed that we cannot hold our events in the store and physically bear witness to our community, but we encourage you to stay engaged virtually and to come in and browse if you can! We miss you all and hope you keep calling us, emailing us, and interacting with us on social media if you can't come in to say a masked hello!

Be well, stay safe, and wash your hands,
The Island Books Team

The Pandemic, Racial Justice Books, and Independent Bookstores

So our doors are open. We can better serve the public. You can buy what is on our shelves directly, instead of through Instagram or our website. That is fantastic! But, your books are still taking weeks if not months to get here. We aren’t able to give you the same two-day service as before. The insecurity of shipping during the pandemic, which is ongoing, remains. Here’s some insight into why books are still taking forever to get to you... continued.

Hooray for Summer Reading!

One of the many things that were hard while the doors at Island Books were closed to customers was missing the chance to chat about what I’ve been reading and loving lately. I did keep reading, often as an escape from everything else. But it saddened me to see piles of certain titles that I couldn’t put in the hands of customers personally. I’ve been collecting recommendations that I am VERY excited to tell all you readers about and I hope one of them is just what you’ve been looking for this summer.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

I didn’t realize I would be getting on a national bestseller train when I read this second novel from Brit Bennett, author of the well known debut, The Mothers. All I knew was that I couldn’t put it down. I loved the writing; I loved the complexity of the characters and the story. I loved how many ways Bennett found to talk about the hidden parts of each of her characters. This is the story of twin sisters from a town so small it isn’t on any map. Beginning in the 1950s, in the Jim Crow south, Desiree and Stella have just disappeared from their community. They run away to New Orleans to make a bigger life for themselves. When Stella discovers she can “pass” as white, she takes her chance, leaving her twin behind. Years later the narrative passes to their respective daughters, and the paths their lives take. I found it fascinating. This has already been a hit with our customers, and we are working on getting more copies in soon (maybe signed ones!) so it is well worth getting your name on the list for when more come in.


June 2020 eNewsletter

"For all those that have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question."

— N. K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season

This month marks two months closed to the public. We are so thankful for our community's support. In order to re-open our doors when it is safe, we need to continue to keep afloat and still need your support.

You can find more information on how you can support us throughout this newsletter. We want to take this space to acknowledge the kind and encouraging notes from our customers. WE APPRECIATE YOU!

"Thank you for your quick and pleasant staff who are ready to assist us customers when we call. Island Books is 'THE BEST'!"
Mercer Island, WA

"I placed an order with you after reading about your store on Slate. I just received my book yesterday and it was gift-wrapped, plus had a sew-on patch. It felt like a birthday present. Thank you for the personal touch." Naperville, IL

"I'm desperate to get back into reading and haven't been able to focus lately. I loved your blog post on the topic and recommendations, and I can't wait to come get even ONE book from you all IN PERSON!!!" Seattle, WA

"My household misses the hours spent in your cozy chairs! We so look forward when we can all get together again." Mercer Island, WA

"I'm sorry you had to close, these are difficult times. I hope we will all get out soon. I hope everyone and all your families are home safe. Thank you for continuing to provide storytime. My baby loves it." Mercer Island, WA

"I grew up on MI and spent an inordinate amount of time in your store as a child. Hoping this little bit helps, and am of course looking forward to reading some great titles!!" Seattle, WA

"I saw your 'Coronavirus Diaries' entry on Slate and wanted to help in a small way. I'm sure our local community (including my own small business) will be feeling the same effects shortly, but wanted to reach out while I can. All our best... hang in there! And keep pulling for one another." Glenview, IL

We want to extend our gratitude to everyone near and far for their support. It is not lost on us that we would not be here without each and every one of you. Your calls, emails, and continuous love of our bookstore is what keeps us going.

We also want to acknowledge the heartbreak we feel for black people around the country. It is difficult not to be able to hold our community close during this time, but we do not want to stay silent in the face of the injustices they have been fighting for centuries. We are a resource to help educate our community, and as such we will continue to lift up the voices of black people through their works.

On a personal note, my third child, Liuci, will graduate from Mercer Island High School next week. While it's not how any of us imagined she, or any of the graduating class of 2020, would celebrate ending their high school years, we are proud of her and know that she will go on to do amazing things in this world. (Go Cougs!)

Be well, stay safe, and wash your hands,
Laurie Raisys



mercer-island-books-independent-bookstore-seattle-staff-recommended-moment-of-tenderness-madeleine-lengleSomewhere in the middle of the doors closing at Island Books, the never ending stream of online and email orders and the trying to figure out exactly how we were going to keep getting books into the hands of our customers, Madeleine L’Engle’s posthumously released collection of short stories, The Moment of Tenderness came into the store. I saw it on the cart, its cover lovely and speckled with stars, and immediately purchased a copy for myself. My plan has been to read one story every day. I don’t have the best relationship with short stories... continued.


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