Most of you who read this, perhaps in an eggnog-induced haze, will do so on December 26th. According to some calendars, this is St. Stephen’s Day, honoring the first Christian martyr, who was stoned to death in the year 36 of the Common Era. This would hardly be a cheery reason for holiday celebration, but the date is also associated with another saint of the tenth century, the patron of the Czech people, Svatý Václav. So popular was he that it sometimes seems as if half the men in Bohemia are called Václav, including the secular literary saint Václav Havel. This irreverent playwright, a dissident and political prisoner under the Soviet regime, rose to become the first president of a newly free and democratic nation, occupying the landmark castle that loomed large in Kafka’s imagination, the same one featured on the cover of Benjamin Black’s historical mystery Wolf on a String. But I see I have wandered from my path, which is dangerous at this time of year ... continued
This time of year is often a time to look back. We make best of the year lists, we reminisce and reflect over holiday cards, and we travel and celebrate and make memories. It’s the closing of a chapter.
But 2017 was a tough year in the world for global citizens and community members. Welcoming a new baby and watching my kids grow and change made this year particularly poignant. And to be honest, I’m ready to stop looking back and face forward toward next year. One thing I always anticipate is good reading, and so I like to keep tabs on the titles coming out in the new year. Instead of dwelling on the backwards-looking 2017 lists, I’m turning towards a list of fiction I can’t wait to read in 2018. Here are my top ten ... continued
When you hear the phrase “power trio,” you probably think of obscure hard rock bands from the 1980s. Or maybe that’s just me. Not to worry—no one’s going to make your ears bleed with any high-pitched screaming today. I’m simply appropriating the phrase to refer to a few of my favorite recent works of fiction. These titles didn’t quite make our collectively produced Island Books Best of the Year list, but if I were a solo artist, they probably would have. So while you’re considering our official Top Ten (which you absolutely should) don’t forget about these other great books waiting in the wings. And if you’re a holiday shopper whose budget allows for stocking stuffers rather than big-ticket items under the tree, you’ll be extra-appreciative that this 2017 power trio is available right now in paperback.
The first book on the set list is In the Distance by Hernan Diaz, a revisionist take on that hoariest of genres, the Western ...
The next number is Queen of Spades by Michael Shou-Yung Shum, a book that’s easy to enjoy but devilishly hard to describe ...
Our encore comes from Carmen Maria Machado via her debut story collection Her Body and Other Parties. The book earned her a spot on the National Book Award shortlist and also the honor of being the number one Indie Next pick for October, which is even higher praise in my mind ... continued
"The real purpose of books is to trap the mind into doing its own thinking."
"Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes / Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear / Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes / How do you measure, measure a year? "
As I drove up to Steven's Pass last month, I couldn't get the song "Seasons of Love" from Rent out of my head. Where has 2017 gone? I was making a list and checking it twice–my list of Top 10 favorite Island Books-related moments this year. Here they are:
10) Throwing an Independent Bookstore Day champion party
9) Reading Anthony Doerr’s Four Seasons in Rome and then being in Rome to finish the book
8) Parking a ridiculously big truck in front of the store to feature Finn Murphy, author of The Long Haul
7) Joining up with other local businesses for the Where’s Waldo competition
6) Hosting local legend Nancy Pearl to discuss her first novel, George and Lizzie
5) Paying it forward on our second annual Book Fairies mission around Mercer Island
4) Sponsoring the Mercer Island Farmer’s Market and guest performer Caspar Babypants
3) Welcoming author Taylor Jenkins Reid, author of one of my favorite novels of the year, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
2) Celebrating the anniversary of our 500th blog post!
1) Most of all, feeling the community support we received to win the Best of Western Washington award. I feel like a broken record but you know I’m so grateful!
There was so much to relish and appreciate in this last year. We’ve hosted some fabulous author events, weekly story times, open book and cookbook book clubs, and our quarterly local author festival. The store has been reworked and revitalized in small special ways and we’re so happy to see each of you come through the door as often or as little as you can. We welcomed a handful of brand new itty-bitty baby customers this year and we lost some dear ones as well. (Bruce, Saturday morning just isn’t the same without a hug and a kiss from you.) It truly has been a season of love.
May the new year bring you all peace, love, and lots of joy. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and may it be a Happy New Year in 2018.
Sunday, November 5th wasn’t marked as a holiday on any calendar, but it was nonetheless one of the most significant dates of the year. That was the day we all reset our clocks (or let our computers do it for us). We woke up to paler skies that morning and drove home from work in total darkness. Though we tried to pretend it wasn’t a big deal, our bodies told us otherwise.
It’s more than a little weird, really. No one remembers at this point why we decided to create Daylight Saving Time, the benefits it produces are a mixed bag at best, and the negative effects it has on productivity and safety are manifold. But bleary-eyed we carry on with it, year after year.
Maybe it’s a function of age, but I find the change more profoundly affecting each time it happens. It’s a deep disturbance to physical, intellectual, and emotional rhythms that I’m not normally aware of at all, and I don’t think enough attention is paid to it. By me at least. To rectify that, I turned in the direction I always do, toward the bookshelf, where I found The Last of the Light: About Twilight by Peter Davidson. It doesn’t directly address the time change issue, but it meditates at length on the meaning of darkness, light, and the ineffable slide from one to the other. In addition to being a tapestry of the deepest thoughts on the subject by artists, scientists, and philosophers from antiquity to the present, it’s a gorgeous visual record of the “cartography of dusk” mapped by those same great minds. Perusing it in the watery light of late afternoon (which now falls at 2:00 or 3:00 p.m.) I felt like a cloistered monk seeking inspiration in an illuminated manuscript created by a brilliant, vanished predecessor ... continued
I have something to tell you about the Island Books staff. We are just a tiny bit addicted to having fun and spreading good cheer. According to Moira McDonald’s recent article in The Seattle Times, there are book fairies at work in the Seattle area, but for the record, we were ahead of the game. Last year at Thanksgiving-time, we came up with a new way to feed our addiction. We had such a good time dropping books around the island that we decided to make it an annual tradition. This year we chose copies of The Wisdom of Sundays by Oprah Winfrey, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, Callings by Dave Isay, Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, and Becoming by Clint Gresham.
See if you can figure out where we went from the pictures and hunt them down ... continued
The King 5/Evening Magazine’s “Best of Western Washington” is a time honored tradition around these parts. It’s a chance for local businesses to be chosen as “the best” in their category by popular vote. Last Friday night, the rumors started flying. We hadn’t heard anything official, but there it was, this, online. You can only imagine the texts that started pinging around between us.
Were we really just selected BEST Bookstore of 2017 by the voters of Western Washington?
Yes folks, we were ... continued
Do you travel for work? If so, is it a pleasure or a burden? Seems to me that most people who do it a lot find it a chore, but for those of us who do it rarely, it’s kind of a treat. That’s true for me, in any case. Independent booksellers usually stay hunkered down in our stores focusing, as we should, on local concerns, but once in while there’s a reason to look up at the horizon and light out in that direction.
Last month’s occasion for mixing business with pleasure was the annual Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Fall Trade Show in Portland. It’s a three-day event that includes educational panels where booksellers can discuss best practices, visits from publisher representatives talking about their upcoming holiday releases, and appearances by authors both famous and yet-unknown. The schedule is crammed with activity from breakfast until late in the evening, and I could probably write a year’s-worth of blog posts about all the interesting books I discover there, not to mention all the interesting people who produce them ...
What I was most inspired to tell you about, though, was a ... speech by a writer named Jane Kirkpatrick. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I wasn’t previously familiar with her work, given that she’s authored more than thirty books over the past three decades and is for many a fixture on the Northwest literary scene. Her chosen genre is not one I normally follow closely, but she was so impassioned and articulate about what she writes and why that I had to find out more ... continued
"There is no friend as loyal as a book."
Thanksgiving is my holiday. It’s always been my favorite; food, family, and of course a little football. Growing up, my dad and I would go for a run on Thanksgiving morning so we could enjoy more food without the guilt! We never thought about decorating for Christmas until Thanksgiving was good and over. So you can imagine how disconcerting it was two years ago when I bought Island Books and had to think about buying for Christmas and Hanukkah in June! Nowadays, I have to break my own rules and decorate the store for the holidays on November 1st. So I can't help but feel festive already.
Last year we started a fun project that I hope will become an annual Island Books Thanksgiving tradition. We hand-picked books we’ve personally enjoyed from around the store, wrapped them up with a personal note, and drove them around the island to hide our own gems of happiness. This year, we'll be posting clues on social media about where we're dropping presents, so stay tuned and see if you can find them.
November brings some special events including visits from local author Steven Wells, members of the Crazy Horse family, and Nancy Pearl, who will be in conversation with Miriam and James (read our blog about Nancy's upcoming visit here). Everyone is welcome at these events, and even when we expect a big crowd we will host as many as possible. Expect our policy to be first come, first seated.
Book fairs are another big highlight of this month. Last year we donated over $17,000 to Mercer Island schools and we cannot wait to host these community fundraisers again.
And of course there are so many books to celebrate this fall. Besides all the great fiction and nonfiction, there are cookbooks like Yotam Ottolenghi's Sweet, picture books like Kate Hoefler's Great Big Things, inspiration like Oprah’s The Wisdom of Sundays, and home design like Moorea Seal’s Make Yourself at Home to enjoy. There aren’t enough waking hours to get through them all!
As we enter the holiday season I am reminded of how thankful I am for this community and all you share with us. Thank you to my bookstore family, my four amazing kids, and my husband who puts up with me every day.
Gobble Gobble to you and yours!
The biggest problem with the Nobel Prize in Literature (other than its shameful record of ignoring women and people of color) is that it annually insults many deserving writers by overlooking them.
I agreed with James’s sentiment and kept my expectations low this year. I decided I’d be content if the winner was primarily a writer of books, especially after Bob Dylan further irritated the purists by ignoring the announcement for two whole weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I love Dylan’s music, but by declining to attend the prize ceremony in December, privately accepting the award in March, and stalling until days before the 6-month deadline to give his mandatory lecture (which he had to deliver in order to receive the prize’s 8 million Swedish krona), he further alienated the skeptics. Not to mention the content of his Nobel Prize lecture pondered the very question of his legitimacy in the category and stated that his lyrics were meant to be sung, not read.