Fiction for (and Against) Dictators

imageAs the weather heats up with the onset of spring, so does the rhetoric from North Korea. The government in Pyongyang has announced the resumption of their nuclear weapons program, they’ve closed off an industrial complex jointly operated with South Korea, and they’ve unilaterally rescinded the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953. The US has responded with stern words of its own and an increase in its regional military presence. Most observers agree that this is mere saber-rattling on the part of the North Koreans, and that there’s no evidence to suggest that they have the military capacity (or the real inclination) to carry through their threats, but here’s the thing: no one knows for sure. The area north of the 38th parallel is probably the least-understood landscape on earth, remarkably so, given that it’s home to 25 million people and surrounded by modernized nations.

One indication of North Korea’s isolation (and absurdity) is that its leader, Kim Jong Un, recently spent some time wining and dining a prestigious foreign visitor—NBA rebounding legend and traveling human sideshow Dennis Rodman. The heavily-tattooed, attention-seeking ex-athlete is now the American who’s had by far the most contact with the highest echelon in Pyongyang. He’s not exactly the sharp-eyed diplomat you’d want on the scene to bring back useful intel, now is he?

Despite the odds, though, a few intrepid journalists and researchers have done the sometimes dangerous work of getting the real story out....Read More.

Can You Guess Which Author Endures?

I have a cousin who is hopelessly addicted to Tab (I know, I know, who drinks Tab these days? Well, she does). She drinks at least four cans a day. Once my dad and I gave her a taste test. We presented her with three glasses and asked her to identify which was Coke, Pepsi, and Tab. Unbeknownst to her, we presented two glasses of Coke and one of Pepsi. After insisting that glass two was the Tab, she was shocked to learn that her “Tab” was actually Coke. She’d been drinking Tab her whole life. How could this mistake be possible?

Have you ever been to a wine tasting and felt hopelessly unsure which bottle costs $10 and which costs $100? Don’t worry, it’s a rhetoric question so no need to embarrass yourself by answering. I won’t tell you my answer either. Sometimes excellence isn’t immediately obvious. When I surprisingly came across Tab in the grocery store recently (I know, I know, who still sells Tab these days?), I wondered if the taste test could be applied to literature....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.) 


A Dance to the Music of Time: The Acceptance World

Book three of the Dance takes place in the early 1930s, a few years after the events of the preceding novel. Narrator Nicholas Jenkins, while visiting his Uncle Giles, meets the dramatic Mrs. Erdleigh and has his fortune told, with a special emphasis on his so-far unfulfilling romantic life. Later, Jenkins attempts to solicit an introduction for a book through Quiggins, a collegiate acquaintance. At that appointment, Jenkins bumps into another old friend, Peter Templer, and meets Templer’s wife Mona for the first time.This leads to a reconnection with Templer’s sister Jean; the torch Jenkins has carried for her on and off since his teen years is rekindled and he embarks on a secretive relationship with her. Meanwhile, Mona leaves Templer, seduced by Quiggins’ literary prospects and exciting radical politics. Mrs. Erdleigh makes a surprising appearance on the arm of the obnoxious Jimmy Stripling, and Jean reveals an old affair with him to Jenkins. Pondering these various domestic complications, Jenkins attends a reunion dinner honoring his former headmaster Le Bas, along with Templer, the now-divorced Charles Stringham, and others. Widmerpool, once an object of scorn but fast becoming a force in business and politics, there launches into a tedious speech that concludes only when Le Bas collapses of a stroke....Read More

Short Story Contest Winners!

A couple of months ago, we announced our first-ever short story contest at Island Books, and then we sat back to watch the submissions roll in. The majority of them came in just before (or even on) the March 17th deadline—way to maximize your writing time, people. It was a treat to read all your entries, so our heartfelt thanks go out to all who participated. It’s time to declare the winning names, so without further ado….Read More

Family Matters: The Burgess Boys

Elizabeth Strout has a knack for creating unlikeable characters rich in emotional complexity. She pulled in many readers with her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Olive Kitteridge, and her latest, The Burgess Boys, again displays her lyrical prose and ability to capture the complexity of family relationships. And there’s just something about Maine. Stephen King always writes about it, and Strout’s writing is also deeply connected with the small town atmosphere. Her books always have a strong sense of place. There’s much to discuss about both Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys, and I suspect BB will make it on many book club lists.

The Burgess Boys is the story of three siblings: Jim, the oldest, a married and successful lawyer in New York; Bob, divorced, the warmer and kinder of the brothers who lives near Jim and has a mediocre career in law; and Susan, Bob’s twin and a single mother raising her teenage son back in their working class hometown of Shirley Falls, Maine. Jim, Bob, and Susan’s father died in a bizarre accident when they were small children and the incident has haunted their entire lives. What really happened to their father and what they think happened may or may not be the same thing, and that back story frames the events in the book and informs their present relationships....Read more

All the World's a Stage, and Sometimes There's a Cheese Plate

Since our most recent recommendations for book club reads proved so popular, I thought I’d piggyback on the success of that post with some more advice. Which is: Liven up your next meeting by adding drama. I don’t mean that you should turn your book club into a hair-pulling episode of Real Housewives: 98040, obviously. I’m suggesting that you try reading something written for the theater.

There are plenty of plays out there that contain all the depth of a great novel, brimming over with plot and characterization. One of my favorites in this regard is Arcadia by Tom Stoppard....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.)

Book Club Combos



Once a month, Roger, James, and I get together to brainstorm what should go into the store’s monthly eNewsletter. Our banter at these meetings covers a wide range of topics, not limited to but including: books on our minds, our children’s antics, publishing industry gossip, store anecdotes, and our continued wonder over James’s tendency to polish off a large soda before breakfast.

Every so often after one of these pow-wows, I look over my notes and think, “We are good. We are really good.” Then we build the newsletter, off it goes, and some of our creative lists end up passed over in a pile of other emails. It happens.

So selfishly, today I’m revisiting one of my favorite lists from our March newsletter. We were discussing how often two books just naturally go together, and thus produced the following list of perfect pairs for book clubs....Read more

From Clay Tablets to Cell Phones

The chattering classes (a phrase coined by Auberon Waugh, son of novelist Evelyn Waugh) continue to debate the future of print. Literacy itself is on the upswing, as text messaging pushes aside voice mail and crawling chyrons take up increasing acreage on our TV screens, so pundits are less concerned than they once were about images replacing words completely. They’re still worked up about how those words will be delivered to us, though. Will everyone be reading eBooks or …. what to call them? Apparently we’ll soon need a retronym to clarify what we’re talking about, much as we now must specify “acoustic guitar” or “analog clock.” For now I’ll stick to calling them what they are, thanks—books.

The topic has been so much discussed that it’s grown more than a little tiresome. We at Island Books are happy to sell you a story in bits and bytes or on paper, as you prefer, and we try not make a big song and dance about it. More interesting, perhaps, is the question of how writers are creating their stories. That is, how does a tale turn from a mere fizzing in the mind into words that can be read?...Read more

Let Them Eat Cake Or A Kindred Spirit?

Here’s a question: can you judge a book by it’s cover? The answer is no, even if most people do it anyway. It can pay off to look beyond your first impression, especially when it comes to getting the most out of a book.

Case in point: Facebook COO and former Google VP Sheryl Sandberg gave a memorable TED talk in 2010, emphasizing the need for more women leaders and calling out the challenges women face in the workplace. That passionate speech became the basis for Sandberg’s new feminist manifesto hitting stores on March 12th, Lean In, a book I fear may fall short of its deserved audience because the subject matter could turn many people off before they make it to the content.

A combination of data, personal anecdotes, observations, and advice, Lean In’s overarching point is that many women have a tendency to “check out” in their careers years in advance of motherhood, anticipating the need to pull back eventually. While men tend to forge ahead, women hang back and accept lower salaries, smaller responsibilities, and fewer promotions to save their energy for domestic pursuits. In her book, Sandberg coaches women to “lean in” rather than pull back to achieve the success they deserve and create a richer and stronger workforce....Read more

International Menu

If you can read and understand this, you’re spoiled. Not because you get to enjoy the fabulous writing of Message in a Bottle—not just that, anyway—but because it means you know English. When you do, you can wander the world trusting that you’ll run into someone else who can speak your language sooner than not. It’s a great privilege to be monolingual and still be able to communicate with a wide swath of humanity, and we anglophones are a lucky, lucky lot....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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