Books In Light of Today’s Tragedies

After a week like the last one, I struggle with what to write in this venue. It would be silly of us to overemphasize the importance of books in light of the recent events. I’ve turned away from the half-finished pile of titles on my nightstands and tables to watch the news incessantly, even during a road trip to southern California visiting old friends and family. As I introduce my infants for the first time to important people in my life, I can’t help but feel the shakiness of the world they’re entering and worry about how they will understand the tragedies of our nation.

Before bedtime we hold our babies in our laps and read them a story, just as generations before us all over the world have put their kids to sleep. These enduring books, like Goodnight Moon, Where the Wild Things Are, and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? are a comfort: stories that remain unchanged in a constantly changing world. I see the safety these stories provide and they reassure me that my kids will always have one place to go where they will feel safe.....Read More

Say, That Reminds Me

“Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves.”

—Umberto Eco, from The Name of the Rose

Books occasionally talk to blogs, too, and vice versa. And blogs about books talk to blogs about books, and so on. This was one of those weeks where almost everything I read reminded me of something else I’d read or written, to the point where I started thinking that no one, including me, had ever thought a thought that had never been thought before. Does that make sense? Probably not. I’ll try to untangle the ball of yarn for you with a few examples.

The first is a new novel by English writer Jane Gardam called Last Friends. It’s the concluding volume in a trilogy that I didn’t know was going to be one. At age 84 she’s still working at the top of her game, and has surprised her fans by adding more nuance and depth to the saga that she began in Old Filth and continued in The Man in the Wooden Hat. When an author works the same territory repeatedly, my interest often wanes with each new release, but in this case I think Gardam has enriched the ground on which her series stands....Read More

The Dinner: Something to Chew On

When someone tells me a book rattled them, I become curious. When my mother-in-law says it over a text as we play Words With Friends, I’m even more intrigued.
“It was awful,” she said.
“But could you put it down?” I asked.
“No. I couldn’t stop reading it.”
Alarm bells went off. I’m okay skipping out on a disturbing book, if it’s bad. But compelling and impossible to put down? I’m not going to miss out on that. And so I had to pick up The Dinner by Herman Koch and see what she was talking about.
The Dinner is structured like a meal, and the setting is a pretentious restaurant, but this isn’t really a book about a dinner. This is a story about the lengths people will go to protect their children and how parents influence their kids. That subject isn’t immediately evident in the first half of the book. I’m guilty of skipping over the server’s description of the appetizer, the uncorking of the wine, and trips to the restroom. It was only when I was ready to give up on the entire book that the story became interesting.....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.) 

Join the Club

The brave writers who entered our short story contest have given me courage to put pen to paper. You may know me as “the owner’s wife” or the one who buys all the non-book “stuff.” But I too am a bookseller like the rest and have the great pleasure of hosting the store’s regular book club.

Last Thursday evening at the store’s monthly meeting we again had a really good discussion, this time about the novel Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron. The wrenching truth about the ungodly days in the mid-nineties, when Rwandan Hutus turned on their Tutsi neighbors as the western world turned a blind eye, was more clear through the fictional tale than it ever could have been with the cold facts of history alone. Our conversation took us on tangents about the persuasive power of propaganda, the pitfalls of colonialism, and above all else, the power of fiction to draw one in emotionally....Read More

New from David Sedaris

When David Sedaris published his book of essays about anthropomorphized animals, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, in 2010, he made an appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. In addition to the amusing snail joke Sedaris shared at the end of this clip, he mentioned that he originally wanted to call the book “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls,” but his editor nixed the idea.

Well, looks like that title made it to print after all, and on April 23rd, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls hits shelves. While Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk had a fictional format and a dysfunctional and adult Aesop’s Fables quality to it, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls returns to the essay format where Sedaris flourishes. This collection is something of a traveler’s diary, covering a range of venues from North Carolina to England to Australia. No other writer can work in a colonoscopy, Costco, and a chintzy wedding gift quite the way Sedaris can....Read More

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


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