It feels dismissive to lump multiple deaths together, but we only post so many times per month so here I go. I cannot let any more weeks go by without publicly crying virtual tears for the back-to-back losses of Philip Roth, Tom Wolfe, and Anthony Bourdain. These three didn’t need death to glorify their contributions, but the last month inevitably brings their work to the forefront of our minds. At least Roth and Wolfe were well into their 80s, but at 61, Bourdain went far too young. All so different and unique, yet similarly groundbreaking and provocative, the publishing landscape will never be the same without their ongoing contributions ... continued
Non-fiction for the cold, hard facts, fiction for flights of fancy. One grounds you while the other sets you spinning. Most of the time, maybe, but my experience this week perfectly inverts that paradigm.
I’ve been reading a brand-new book from Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris, who is best known as the filmmaker behind such projects as The Thin Blue Line (which exonerated an alleged cop-killer serving life in a Texas prison) and The Fog of War (an extended interview with former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, architect of the Vietnam War). He is also a lifelong student of philosophy; while in the graduate program at Princeton University, he studied under Thomas Kuhn, author of the legendary The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, a book opposed to the existence of a stable, consistent reality outside the human mind. Morris on the other hand is an inveterate believer in fundamental external verities, and in the early ‘70s a philosophical argument between the two men grew so heated that Kuhn flung a glass ashtray at his pupil’s head. The Ashtray is Morris’s long-simmering return of serve, a systematic takedown of Kuhnian relativism that also builds a case for what we might call truth, justice, and the American way ...
I['ve also just finished] Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli. It’s a sliver of a book comprising fewer than a hundred pages, but it contains an encyclopedia’s worth of ideas. The first couple of chapters lay out the simple elegance of Einstein’s theories and the more convoluted concepts behind quantum mechanics, doing so in ways that may be familiar to anyone who’s dabbled with these matters before. Things begin to get more interesting as Rovelli examines the ways in which these models contradict each other. Even as the image of the cosmos he’s drawing grows more clear, he reveals vast territories of unexplored ignorance—he and his cohorts are learning every day how much more they don’t know ... continued
"A house without books is like a room without windows."
June means the end of school and the start of summer. Our possibilities expand for cramming so much life into the longer days and nights. Where can I even start?
This past month I've read so many stories about sisters, like How to Walk Away by Katherine Center, The Husband Hour by Jamie Brenner, and in preparation for our author visit from Rachel Linden, I've just started Becoming the Talbot Sisters. I grew up with only brothers, but I'm raising three daughters and so I can make good use of the insight into all of these female relationships. The stack next to my bed gets higher and higher with each month, but there are so many compelling books coming out. Later sunsets mean later bedtimes and more time to read.
June also brings Father's Day, and I'll be celebrating Victor and all the other devoted dads I know, especially the ones who walk through our doors with their children, grandchildren, or grown kids and share the experience of books. Good dads enrich their children's lives in countless ways. We take pleasure in helping customers find the perfect present to show their fathers how much they're loved.
Everyone is celebrating grads this month too, and we are here to help keep them reading and learning (for pleasure now instead of homework!) over the summer. With that in mind, we'll be kicking off our kids summer reading program in June, so keep your eyes out for upcoming details via social media and in-store.
We also have the Seattle Arts & Lectures Book Bingo sheets in now, so come by and pick one up. If you keep track of your summer reads from now until September 4th by writing the title and author in the matching square, you can submit your board by mail, in person, or through social media for a chance to win awesome prizes.
In the next few weeks I'm going to spend some quality time field-tripping around the Northwest to visit other independent bookstores. I'm excited to chat with owners, booksellers, and friends and explore how other stores work and what makes them special.
Happy Father's Day to all the wonderful dads and congratulations to all the accomplished new graduates!
The American competitive spirit took a literary turn with the premiere of PBS’s The Great American Read on Tuesday, May 22nd. Aren’t we always hungering to know the best of the best?
In a time when the country is more divided than ever, PBS wants the public to join together as one and vote on their favorite book. The build-up is an eight-part television and online series designed to spark a national conversation about reading and the books that have left an indelible mark. You can learn how to vote via website or social media hashtag by heading to the PBS website, and find covers, descriptions, best quotes, author info, and more here.
Is it really possible to award one title the official America’s Favorite Book crown? An elite panel combined with preliminary polls narrowed it down to 100 books to choose from, and The Great American Read will spend the next few months compiling votes (scroll down or click through to see the full list). PBS will announce the winner in the fall when the series finale of The Great American Read airs October 23rd ... continued
One of the most-anticipated books of the year (by me at least) reached the shelves of Island Books a couple of weeks ago. We gave it a brief mention in our May newsletter, but it really deserves the full-length feature treatment. Not that it will quite get that here. Lost Empress by Sergio de la Pava is one of those novels that can’t be bound in a nutshell.
There are two main narrative threads that run in parallel, one following a brilliant, football-obsessed heiress and the other a brilliant, hyper-violent criminal, both of which involve hilariously grandiose schemes. She’s trying to turn the pathetic Paterson Pork from a shambling semipro team with no fans into a gridiron juggernaut that will bring the NFL to its knees, and he’s plotting a caper that will result in riches, revenge, and the toppling of the entire New York (In)Justice Department if it doesn’t kill him first. The supporting cast includes a lovelorn EMT, a crackpot theoretical physicist, a burgeoning Joni Mitchell fan, and the world’s greatest parking lot attendant. A single paragraph from me won’t be enough to tell you how all that holds together, but if you give Sergio de la Pava your trust and 627 pages to explain himself, I promise you’ll understand.
The appearance of Lost Empress reminded me that I wrote a preview-not-review six years ago for de la Pava’s first novel. Back then he was a self-published author with big ambitions and now he’s realizing those with a successful major-label debut in hardcover. He did all the work, but it makes me feel proud too, like I placed a bet that’s paid off big.
Families across the island sent their kindergarteners to Marilyn O’Neill’s class at West Mercer Elementary for 22 years (she taught at other schools on the island too for a total of 27 years). On May 5th, a group of seniors about to graduate from Mercer Island High School gathered at Island Books to honor Marilyn with a special gift: a re-enacted photograph of her final kindergarten class.
It’s moments like these that remind us of the deep and meaningful community history that winds its way through our doors. Marilyn and her students shared their memories and marveled at how quickly time passes, filling our store with friendship and love.
Marilyn is a kindergarten teacher who touched many lives on the island, but to me, she’s my friend and neighbor ... continued
We ran a poll from Saturday through Saturday last week to survey where our customers are coming from; thanks to everyone who answered. A lot of you wondered about the results, so here they are.
My instinct tells me to keep it to myself, but I’m going to let you know up front what this is all about: spoilers. Lately everybody’s social media feeds have been filled with two kinds of comments, either “OMG, I just saw Infinity War—how soon can I talk about it?” or “I won’t be seeing Infinity War until this weekend—don’t spoil it for me!” We see these posts every time a movie with any kind of significant plot twist gets released, but they were rampant for this one. First, because this is a hugely popular franchise and second, because the revelations are many and major. I don’t follow the superhero genre very closely, but from the posters I gather that Hulk and Thor get married and become parents to a green-skinned girl and a smirking white dude played by Chris Pratt. Or something like that.
I’m really thinking of spoilers not because of the Avengers but because of a book that I recently read and loved by the Welsh writer Cynan Jones ... [W]hen I was offered a pre-publication peek at his latest novel, Cove, I snatched it immediately. The galley lacked cover art and jacket copy, so I plunged in cold. I was immediately transported onto the water, floating by the side of a lone kayaker enjoying a recreational day of fishing in the sun. Simple stuff, but as always with Jones, incredibly vivid and immersive. And then … something happened ... continued
"You may have tangible wealth untold; caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be—I had a mother who read to me."
Mother’s Day makes me mushy inside. I love picking out the cards, buying the gifts, and sending surprises to my mom and mom friends. It’s a special month.
As a teenager I was never ashamed to kiss my mom or dad in public. We are fortunate to have children who still want to be around us (most of the time) and will kiss us in public, even if it is on the head.
My mom was there for me and my brothers growing up. She came to every single one of my swim meets from middle school through high school until I could drive myself. Mom taught me how to make peanut butter cookies, grits, sausage biscuits, and corn bread stuffing. She also helped me discover my love of books.
My mom was always working on three books at any given time. There was one in her purse, another next to her bed, and one in the living room. I could never figure out how she kept all the characters from each novel in line, but she did and could talk to anyone about each book at great length.
As I got older we would share books back and forth and when I bought the bookstore, she was thrilled. If Sue Swift lived on Mercer Island she would be a fixture in the store.
A few summers ago, I captured a picture of my kids on vacation all sitting and reading, with no cellphones to be seen and their eyes fixed on the books in their hands. My heart melted. We’d done something good.
As we come off the high of celebrating Independent Bookstore Day and all the hundreds of people that stopped in Island Books, I am grateful for many reasons. One of them is to be a mom who has kids that will consciously pick up a book and read, not because they have to, but because they want to.
I'm lucky to be the owner of a bookstore that has an incredible community who supports and loves us each and every day, not just on Indie Bookstore Day. While I don’t always carry a book in my purse, I have a stack next to my bed and on my desk. Like my mom, I always read three books at a time.
To all the moms who have carried books in their purses, read the bedtime stories over and over again, never said no when their kids asked for books, and stayed up until 2:00am because they had to read just one more chapter: you are my people. Like my mom, you taught a love of books that will hopefully carry on and on.
Happy Mothers Day. May you get the book you were hoping for this year.
The Island Books team has a love affair with local authors. We champion them. We hand-sell them. We throw festivals for them (don’t miss our next one on Sunday, May 20th at 2pm). In short, we adore them. And boy do we have a special one coming our way.
Jonathan Evison, the author of soon-to-be classic Northwest novels such as The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving and West of Here, will be in-store on Thursday, May 3rd at 6:30pm. Evison has lived on Bainbridge Island since 1976 and is a married father of three. Anyone who was present when he came by four years ago knows it’s an event you don’t want to miss. Here’s how we chronicled that last memorable Evison appearance:
This was a Big Deal, and we were nervous beforehand. To prepare, we read Evison’s posted author bio and learned he liked beer. Really liked beer. But not IPAs. Cue the panic beer run ten minutes before signing. He was the first author we’ve had who pretty much went through a six-pack of Coronas while making his amazing talk. He was in no hurry and stayed late having long and generous conversations with the audience. There was great discussion of Dickens and Shakespeare, and a great love expressed for the small people of life, à la Steinbeck and Twain.