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


The Lost Painting of Betty Smith

To make a case for the tangible and ineffable value of art, I was going to bring up Gustav Klimt and his Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Painted in 1907, stolen by the Nazis in 1941, and eventually returned to the family of the original owners, it has a tantalizing provenance to match its glittering surface. It’s inspired novels (Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese), histories (The Lady in Gold by Anne-Marie O’Connor), and even children’s books (Adorable Adele by Peter Stephan Jungk). More tangibly, it set a record in 2006 when it sold at auction for an astonishing 135 million dollars (almost $47K/square inch). But then I remembered that another painting, da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, sold last year for 450 million dollars. So however valuable I was going to claim art is, triple it and round up.

The point is that if you’re writing a book and aiming to make it interesting, include a painting or two ... continued

Fall Book Preview 2018

It was a tough year for journalists with the rise of fake news, presidential name-calling, layoffs, and increasing threats worldwide. Authors, on the other hand, wrote from a safer position. They had the luxury of hiding longer in their offices. Writers and editors had a better chance of stepping back from the brutal news cycle and taking the longer view. 

That time to breathe was a good thing. The book publishing industry’s deeper immersion in its work will be on full display this fall, which promises to be a good one for book junkies. From political exposés to psychological suspense to locally-inspired cookbooks to iconic memoirs, I’m not exaggerating when I tell you our fall tables will be a reader’s feast. Here’s a small sliver of what’s coming, and a few special preorder perks you’ll want to know about ... continued

Washington State Book Awards

It’s always a pleasure to see the list of finalists for the annual Washington State Book Awards, not least because the judges are some of our favorite people, local booksellers and librarians. We especially wanted to take note of this slate of books, though, since so many of their authors have spent time at Island Books during the past year.

Laurie Frankel visited us to share This Is How it Always Is, a book we chose for our Best of the Year list and also added to our Open Book Club rotation ...

Another finalist in the fiction category is Elise Hooper, who spoke to the Mercer Island Woman’s Club Luncheon about her historical novel The Other Alcott ...

Legendary librarian and advocate for literacy Nancy Pearl was yet another island visitor. Long a favorite of ours for her astute book recommendations, this year she became a first-time novelist via George & Lizzie ...

The Washington Center for the Book didn’t forget about our favorite writers for children when the finalists were named. In the middle-grade category we find J. Anderson Coats and The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming ...

More local connections are made in Dori Jones Yang’s The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball, another historical tale based on truth ... continued


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