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

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Book Club Combos

 

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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.)

Is Hillary Writing a New Memoir?

There aren’t many people that can write a new memoir every decade and say something fresh, but there is one who can: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. When she announced recently that she’s planning a new memoir, the publishing world went crazy with excitement. Editors started drooling over the very idea. It could be an epic bestseller in the making—but it will be crucial that the book covers the right stuff. If Clinton is willing to write the kind of memoir we want to read, there’s bound to be a huge bidding war between publishers. Along with the question of who will publish it comes speculation over the amount of her advance, which will likely be one of the highest sums ever paid for a book proposal....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: A Buyer's Market

Book two of Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time takes narrator Nicholas Jenkins to a series of parties. At a formal dance, he falls definitively out of love with Barbara Goring, who has also been the object of Widmerpool’s affections, at least until she humiliates him by dumping a container of sugar over his head. After that dance, Jenkins bumps into his former schoolmate Stringham and an old family friend, the painter Deacon. The group crashes a louche gathering hosted by Mrs. Andriadis at a house she is renting from the now-married Jean Templer, on whom Jenkins once had a crush....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.) 

I’d Like to Thank the Academy

We always come away from the Oscars resolving to see the movies we missed. What about the books that inspired those films? This year five of the nine best picture nominees were tied to books: Lincoln (based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals); Life of Pi (Yann Martel’s novel); The Silver Linings Playbook (based on Matthew Quick’s novel); Les Misérables (Victor Hugo’s epic); and the big winner, Argo (Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History by Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio)....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.) 

Old Wives’ Tales

The Aviator’s Wife came out in January and is the latest “wife” tale in my collection. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m automatically drawn to this genre of historical fiction. Authors who choose the mysterious wives of famous and controversial men as their subjects automatically have a good premise, so all they need to do is write the already-existent story well. When done right, these novels reveal women who demonstrate humility, sensitivity, emotional strength, ability to love, and empathy for those less fortunate. In other words, the qualities their husbands lack.

Before I read The Aviator’s Wife, all I knew about Charles Lindbergh was that he made the first solo flight across the Atlantic, he was anti-Semitic, and his first-born had been kidnapped and murdered. I knew nothing of his wife Anne. There are many fascinating anecdotes about Charles and his family, but this book is about Anne’s inner life more than anything else....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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