Images of America

“Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunimagees together.
I’ve got some real estate here in my bag.”
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies
And walked off to look for America.

—“America” by Paul Simon

They don’t sell Mrs. Wagner’s Pies anymore, not that they ever did here out west, and romantic as it sounds, I don’t have the time to search for the heart of our great nation on foot. Fortunately for me and other sedentary types, there’s a perfect way to explore America’s big cities and back roads without ever leaving our easy chairs. Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series catalogs our country’s character as well as anything ever has; you can peruse these volumes and understand more about America than any vagabond or rail-rider learns in a lifetime, Whitman, Steinbeck, and Kerouac included.

State by state, county by county, town by town, and even hamlet by hamlet, they visually document history as it’s really lived. Monuments and major events get appropriate coverage, but it’s the details of everyday life that make each book so memorable. Did your grandfather hail from Beaufort, North Carolina (current pop. 4094)? There, in sharp black-and-white pictures, is the town he knew. Maybe your mom grew up in the fourth-largest county by acreage in the continental US, Elko County, Nevada. There before you are the settlers and the sagebrush. With more than 8500 volumes in the series, almost every square on the American cultural quilt is represented.

We in Washington will of course be most interested in our own part in history...Read More

Iain [M.] Banks, 1954-2013: An Appreciation

I am moved to put pen to paper to celebrate the peerless work and mourn the untimely death of my favorite author, Scottish novelist Iain Banks, who died on June 9th, two months after being diagnosed with cancer, and two weeks before the publication of what will now be his last novel, The Quarry.

In an ironic twist that Banks himself would and did appreciate, The Quarry concerns events surrounding a middle-aged man dying of cancer. Banks had almost completed the book when he himself was diagnosed, and one has to assume that some of his own experience will be reflected in the completed manuscript. That, and the events which now surround its publication lend a grim poignancy to The Quarry for those of us who loved Iain Banks’ work. In a recent interview his own reaction, typically, was more sardonic: “I’ve really got to stop doing my research too late. This is really such a bad idea.”

Banks was a prolific writer, publishing an average of a book every year since his first, The Wasp Factory, arrived bathed in controversy in 1984 (the Irish Times melodramatically declared it “a work of unparalleled depravity”). I discovered him early and the arrival of each new novel has become a highlight of every year for most of my adult life....Read More


By a calendrical coincidence, this year’s Father’s Day is an especially literary one. It falls on June 16th, which is celebrated annually, at least by English majors, as Bloomsday. That’s the day on which Leopold Bloom, the hero of James Joyce’s Ulysses, peregrinates around Dublin, and it’s the day on which Joyce’s ardent fans don period garb and recreate that journey by traipsing across the city in Bloom’s footsteps. On this side of the globe we just hoist a Guinness or two and affect an Irish accent for a few hours.

Ulysses has a lot to do with fatherhood, actually. Some representative quotes: 

  • A father, said Stephen, battling against hopelessness, is a necessary evil.
  • Paternity may be a legal fiction. Who is the father of any son that any son should love him or he any son?  
  • [A son’s] growth is his father’s decline, his youth his father’s envy, his friend his father’s enemy.

Sheesh. No wonder people drink on Bloomsday. Lighten up, Mr. Joyce....Read More

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Mercer Island is a community filled with pocket neighborhoods, and I’m fortunate to live in one. Tucked among a cloister of houses on the west side of the island, I’m surrounded by some extraordinary families who have made this place their home for nearly half a century. We moved here almost three years ago and were immediately taken by the fact that people who live here just don’t leave. Our 1937 house had only two owners before us, both who raised their families and stayed for forty years. We should be lucky enough to do the same.

As I’ve grown to know and love our neighbors, the subject of Island Books comes up at almost every gathering (and not just because I work here). At book clubs, Christmas parties, Fourth of July fireworks, baby showers, and just a glass of wine for no reason on a sunny day, the stories come pouring out. I’ve heard about families who paddled over from Seattle on a canoe before the I-90 bridge existed, bonfires and tree-climbing, a cabin built during a summer of pot smoking, teenage boys spying on the pretty neighbor girl in the shower, territorial feuds, landslides, weddings on the lawn, dead bodies, and even naked dinner parties. And through all those threads: Island Books, Island Books, Island Books....Read More

(Our store journal keeps you posted on books we're excited about, our literary musings, and other reading-related rambles. Remember, you can sign up to receive our posts by email.) 


Recently some members of the industry press were abuzz and atwitter about the fact that Amazon asked some booksellers, including me, whether they could sell Kindles in independent bookstores. I guess this constitutes news, but it is no big deal to me. (We politely said no.) It does make me think about my mixed feelings about Amazon. Some people might be surprised to hear the adjective “mixed” being used. But I have a number of good things to say about the company.

The Good: They are building their headquarters right in the middle of Seattle. I think this is mostly a fantastic shot in the arm for the Seattle community and very exciting to watch. They employ and give a good wage to many families on Mercer Island, many of whom shop at our store. They are an impressively strategic company, forward thinking and creative. I have relatives who work there. I have two terrific employees that used to work for them. They are brilliant designers of customer-centric web services. You can find little tiny parts to things that break easily. And weird shoe sizes.

The Bad: It seems that they are unusually predatory and all about winning market share at any cost. They seem to be after everyone and everything. They seem relatively uninterested in supporting non-profits and the local community. They have made it very hard for small-town brick-and-mortar stores of all kinds. This does real damage to our way of life and the fabric of our communities....Read More

June 2013 eNewsletter

"Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you’d most like not to lose." —Neil Gaiman

Island Books

Most of you probably know that the books that wash up on the shores of our idyllic forested isle in June started their journey on an island of office towers in the far away land of New York. Like most islands, Manhattan suffers from a little inbreeding. The publishers there who are responsible for planning our spring tide apparently went out for a long Friday lunch and all came back singing that old Monty Python tune "Men, Men, Men...Men, Men, Men...." Right now our bookshelves and tables are groaning with the weight of all the Father's Day flotsam and jetsam that publishers could launch.

An entire years worth of manly books arrived in the last two weeks and there's way too much to absorb. It's hard to pick out the pearls amidst the crashing waves of Dan Brown's Inferno, Baldacci's The Hit, and LeCarre's A Delicate Truth. Wait there's more. James Patterson, Bill O'Reilly, Jeffrey Deaver, Tom Clancy, Ridley Pearson and even Jeffrey Archer are rolling in too.


There is a second set of perhaps more worthy works arriving simultaneously. Here are some highlights in history: Bunker Hill by the reliable Nathaniel Philbrick, Revolutionary Summer by Joseph Ellis, and what will be the best history book of the year, the finale of Rick Atkinson's on WWII trilogy, The Guns at Last Light. For historical fiction, turn to Paris by Edward Rutherford and Jeff Shaara's book on Vicksburg, A Chain of Thunder.


Sports: Eleven Rings by Phil Jackson (how cool is that!); Wherever I Wind Up, a great baseball memoir by knuckleballer R.A. Dickey; American Pastimes, the pure indulgence of Red Smith's sportswriting columns; and of all the Everest books, don't miss The West Ridge by Tom Hornbein.


Fiction: New ones like And the Mountains Echoed from Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner), TransAtlantic from Colum McCann (Let the Great World Spin), The Ocean at the End of the Lane from Neil Gaiman (!!!), and All That Is from James Salter (superb). Also check out the unheralded The Son, Truth in Advertising, and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena.


Assorted quirky, great stuff: Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris, Cooked by Michael Pollan, and The World's Strongest Librarian (better than it sounds). There's of course a group of Unbroken wannabes, but I only have room for one more book, which just might be The Book. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown is about the University of Washington rowing team's quest for gold in the 1936 Olympics. Great drama, history, and local color. That one just landed on June 4th.


Come! Summer is our season for browsing and beachcombing.


Roger Page
Owner and Bookseller


The Obvious Summer Reads

Here's what everyone and their mother will be reading this summer.




Some Not-So-Obvious Summer Reads

In addition to Roger's list above, here are some additional suggestions if you prefer to stray off the well-beaten summer reading path.






James's June Pick: City of Bohane

We read a lot, and despite ourselves, we're guilty of playing favorites.

For example, this month James is excited about City of Bohane by Kevin Berry, which just came out in paperback. Set in the future, this cool work of Irish literature illuminates the hidden workings of a city run by a gang leader. The godfather has much to contend with, including the reappearance of his old nemesis, some overly-ambitious henchmen, and a woman who wants him to give it all up. 

Here, our booksellers share their other June recommendations.

See More Staff Picks


For Graduates and Beyond

Graduation day is a major landmark for anyone, but it isn't the only time to celebrate accomplishments and think about the future. As the following books demonstrate, life's new chapters can begin at any age.




Reading-Related Rambles

Our blog approached from many angles this month, including admiration for the alchemy and skilled linguistics of writer Diego Marani, thoughts on current bestsellers And the Mountains Echoed and The Woman Upstairs, and an introduction to the other Fitzgerald: Penelope.

By the way, did you know you can get our Store Journal by email?



3014 78th Ave. SE

MI, WA 98040

(206) 232-6920

Store Hours

Mon-Wed: 9:30 - 7:00

Thurs: 9:30 - 8:00

Fri: 9:30 - 7:00

Sat: 9:30 - 6:00

Sun: 11:00 - 5:00


Island Books

Sat, June 22, 11:00am: Priscilla Padgett, author of Mercer Island (Images of America)
Tues, June 25, 7:00pm: Ed Harris, author of Fifty Shades of Schwarz
Thurs, June 27, 7:30pm: Open Book Club: Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Ticket to Read

Ticket to Read

From June 1st to Aug 31st, drop by our childrens' desk and pick up a "Ticket to Read." Each time you purchase a children's or teen title, we stamp your ticket, and when you've purchased 10 books you earn one free children's hardcover of your choice.


Dear Old Dad

Father's Day is Sunday, June 16th. Maybe yours is the rare dad who wants to read a massive modernist classic about the torments of fatherhood. Not likely, though. This is a day to celebrate fathers and give them something they really want.


Open Book Club

Island Books hosts an open book club that meets the last Thursday of each month at 7:30pm. All are welcome to attend, and if you purchase your book here in the store you'll always get a 10% discount.


20% Off Indie Bestsellers

20% Off

Catch up on the titles dominating the indie bestseller lists and save 20% when you order online.




Did you know you can download ebooks from our website and read them instantly? Or that we sell top-notch ereaders and tablets ourselves?

Read more about it. You'll be glad you did.


Island Books | 3014 78th Ave. SE | Mercer Island | WA | USA | 98040

Judy Blume Assured Us We Were Normal

Much of the discussion around Judy Blume books has to do with her controversial topics. Her frank discussion of sex in Forever…, masturbation in Deenie, and menstruation in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (to name a few) put many of her books on the banned lists. In another writer’s hands, these subjects could be crude and offensive, but it’s Blume’s purpose in using them that justifies her boldness. She just wanted kids to know these things were normal and okay. And thank goodness she saw the need for there to be books where sex doesn’t lead to teen pregnancy or an STD, masturbation doesn’t lead to blindness or depravity, and menstruation isn’t as scary as it sounds. How many of us let out a huge sigh of relief when we read her books?

Something great is happening in June for Blume fans: the first movie adaptation of one of her books will be hitting screens in select cities and on video on demand. How is it possible that it’s taken so long? Apparently Blume and Hollywood didn’t see eye-to-eye on how her books should be translated to film, and so it makes sense that her own son Lawrence ended up directing Tiger Eyes, the story of 16-year-old Davie Wexler who is trying to come to terms with her father’s murder. (Here’s a clip of Chelsea Clinton interviewing Blume, and watch the Tiger Eyes trailer here.)....Read More

A Dance to the Music of Time: Casanova's Chinese Restaurant

The early part of Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant fades back to the late 1920s, as narrator Nicholas Jenkins befriends composer Hugh Moreland. Over the next several years, the two men, members of the same quasi-Bohemian circle, converse at length about art, love, and life while they progress from pub to pub and from youth to (relative) maturity. The group includes the bilious music critic Maclintick and the artist Barnby, who demonstrates his knack for womanizing by picking up a waitress at the titular restaurant. Moreland marries actress Matilda Wilson at around the same time Jenkins marries the socially elevated Isobel Tolland. The narrative returns to the novel’s present in the middle ’30s as Jenkins lunches at the Tolland house with his wife’s large family, learning there of his brother-in-law Erridge’s plans to travel to Spain, then in the thick of civil war. Jenkins leaves to visit his wife in the hospital, where she’s recuperating from a miscarriage and the pregnant Matilda is also seeing her doctor. Widmerpool makes a typically unexpected appearance there as well, undergoing treatment for boils. Moreland and Jenkins later visit Maclintick at home and are exposed to to his argumentative wife and their corrosive marriage. Matilda loses her baby, and Moreland throws himself into his work. He completes and premieres his symphony while simultaneously becoming emotionally (and perhaps physically) entangled with Priscilla Tolland, Jenkins’ sister-in-law. Maclintick loses his job and is abandoned by his wife, thereafter gassing himself to death. Moreland breaks off his affair, and Priscilla almost immediately becomes engaged to another man.


These synopses are getting more and more difficult to write, as the further I read into the series, the more important each detail seems to become. Passing references have accumulated from volume to volume until there’s no such thing as a minor character any more....Read More

LOFB: The Best of Everything

James wrote an intriguing post last week about Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop, his pick for our Library of Forgotten Books. The Bookshop is about a widow who uses her small inheritance to open the only bookstore in a small seaside town.

I had to laugh, because my recommendation for the Library of Forgotten Books is Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything, a novel that focuses on the publishing industry and follows several young women struggling to make their careers in New York. Our recommendations say a lot about us, don’t you think?

First published in 1958, The Best of Everything had a youthful exuberance for Manhattan and the can-any-woman-have-it-all question that never fails to arouse interest. Click here to read a behind-the-scenes article from the New Yorker by the original editor. Although we might think we know this story from Sex in the City, keep in mind that The Best of Everything long pre-dates it and came out in the 50s, when women in the workplace faced a whole different level of sexism and loneliness. Some themes are timeless, and the cast of characters, including Caroline, the smart and ambitious aspiring editor; April, the naive small-town girl who relies on her sexuality; Gregg, the one who self-destructs over a doomed love affair; and Barbara, the single mother trying to support her family, all ring true for the time period. They look to each other for friendship, advice, and encouragement....Read More

Lingua Franca

I’m a strongly language-driven reader, so it was only a matter of time before I discovered the work of Diego Marani. There are undoubtedly others who write more prettily, sentence by sentence, but I’m not sure that there’s anyone else who carries language closer to the heart. In his fiction, it always assumes a central role, actually becoming character, story, and even setting. How does that alchemy work?

Well, Marani is an Italian native who lives and works in Brussels. His day job is at the European Union, dealing with issues of interpretation, so he’s a classic polyglot. In addition to Italian, he speaks French and English, translates from Finnish and Dutch, and is more than passingly acquainted with Slovenian and Spanish. While the fiction he writes in his own time isn’t overtly autobiographical, it’s clearly a transmutation of his own experiences with cultural dislocation and a sense of being adrift on a sea of half-familiar words.

New Finnish Grammar, Marani’s award-winning 2000 novel (trans. 2011 by Judith Landry), tells the story of a severely injured sailor found in Trieste in the middle of World War II. He has no memory of who he is or how he came to be there, and the only identifying information he bears is a tag on his clothing....Read More

(Our store journal keeps you posted on books we're excited about, our literary musings, and other reading-related rambles. Remember, you can sign up to receive our posts by email.) 


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