I Am So Excited: Nancy Pearl Is Coming to Island Books

About a year ago and newly pregnant, I left my husband alone to put then-only-three kids to bed (thanks, Daniel) and drove to Seattle for an intimate dinner with debut author Alexandra Oliva. In order to promote The Last One, her new dystopian novel about a Survivor-like reality show gone wrong, Alexandra’s publisher invited a small number of local booksellers to come and meet her (thanks for including me, David Glenn). I had already read the book and knew Alexandra had just moved to the area, so I was looking forward to the introduction and getting out of the house for a dinner that was not mac and cheese or chicken nuggets.

As I looked at the Evite one last time to check the restaurant’s address, I noticed on the rsvp that Nancy Pearl was on the yes list. I had heard Nancy speak at a past Literary Lions gala and greatly admired her. What luck I’d get to meet her in person too.

Side note: in case you don’t know who Nancy Pearl is, she’s a nationally-celebrated librarian and lifelong reader. She regularly speaks about the value of reading at libraries and library conferences, and for literacy organizations and community groups. Nancy can be found on KUOW in Seattle, KWGS in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin Public Radio talking about books and reading. Her monthly television show, Book Lust with Nancy Pearl, on the Seattle Channel features interviews with authors, poets, and other literary figures. Among her many honors are the 2011 Librarian of the Year Award from Library Journal and the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award from the PNW Booksellers Association. Nancy is the creator of the internationally recognized program If All of Seattle Read the Same Book, and was the inspiration for the Archee McPhee “Librarian Action Figure.” If the library world has a rock star–Nancy Pearl is it ... continued

Sweet Ottolenghi Giveaway

It’s silly to pick one chef as the best representative of contemporary global cuisine, I admit. Nonetheless, I’m doing it: Yottam Ottolenghi. This Israeli-born Brit has spent the last fifteen years improving how we eat, first in his restaurants and then in a series of bestselling cookbooks. He’s taken traditional dishes from his Middle-Eastern youth and innovated them with Western techniques and Asian ingredients; he’s made healthy dining delicious by emphasizing vegetables in his recipes without neglecting meats; and for years he’s been my go-to guy during gift-giving season. ProTip: if you give someone his cookbooks as a present, they’ll be so grateful you’ll get at least one free meal out of it.

With all he’s done over the course of his career, it’s sometimes forgotten that Ottolenghi got his start as a pastry chef. Luckily, he’s reminding all of his fans of that fact with his brand-new book Sweet, a collection of over 100 recipes for baked goods, desserts, and confections. His signature blend of old and new, East and West is in full effect ...

As if this news weren’t good enough, we’re going to sweeten the deal. Thanks to the folks at Ten Speed Press, we have a set of Ottolenghi’s earlier books to give away. Anyone who buys Sweet between now and October 31st will be entered in a drawing for free copies of Jerusalem, Plenty More, and the original Ottolenghi cookbook ... continued

October 2017 eNewsletter

"In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn't read all the time–none. zero ... My children laugh at me. They think I'm a book with a couple of legs sticking out."

—Charles T. Munger

Fall is here and with that comes the annual Best of Western Washington extravaganza. We always appreciate your vote, and if you can take the time to click through we would be grateful for the support.

That plug aside, there are so many compelling, diverse, and notable books coming out this season. I have a stack next to my bed that I vow to finish by Halloween. I call it my October Challenge (see the picture). I thought I was all revved up to tackle the pile, but then the 1st arrived and with it came so much sad news.

One of my dear friends just lost her mother to a 16-year battle with breast cancer. I had never met this remarkable woman, but I knew how much she meant to my friend and how she cherished taking care of her. Their bond was like the kind you read about in novels. 

My friend shared her mom’s "Rules for Living" at her memorial service. They touched me and I haven’t stopped thinking about them, so much that it feels right to print them here:

1) Read: Books, newspapers, magazine articles, recipes, or blogposts. Just read.

2) Travel: As much as you can, whenever you can, save your pennies and travel. 

3) Love Your Family: Those near and far, they are the best friends you have in life.

4) Laugh: It makes almost everything better.

5) Be Kind: You don't know everyone's full back story, and it never hurts to just be kind.

These aren’t new rules for any of us. We’ve known them our whole lives. My friend lost her mom and my heart hurts for her and her family. My heart also aches for all the losses each of us experience individually, and for the terrible losses that just took place in Las Vegas.

Life is short. A book can be long. Read (we have lots of options--new and old), Travel (books can take you there or advise you where to go), Love (oh, how many stories about that have been written!), Laugh (books can help you do that too), and Be Kind (you can find plenty of good examples on our shelves). 


Laurie Raisys

... continued

Two Great Books: A Blog Post in Search of a Theme

As regular readers know, I like to set a hook in these blog posts, to pretend I’m writing about important issues of the day when I’m really blathering about books I like. Today, though, no pretense—just blather and books. Good blather, hopefully, and a couple of great books.

The first is by Stephen Greenblatt ... In The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve [he has] produced another page-turner out of unlikely academic material ...

Greenblatt’s isn’t the only recent release that has me wanting to quote it at length. Solar Bones is a novel by Irish writer Mike McCormack that was longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize, but it first came to my attention a bit earlier when it won the Goldsmiths Prize, given each year “to celebrate the qualities of creative daring … and to reward fiction that breaks the mold or extends the possibilities of the novel form.” I read the UK edition months ago and have been itching ever since to be able to share it with American readers ... continued

Draft No. 4 by John McPhee

John McPhee has been doing basically the same thing for over fifty years, and been doing it so well that there’s now a name for what he helped invent: creative non-fiction. More than simple reportage, his writing is always distinctive and artistic while remaining resolutely truthful. Critic Michael Dirda says of him, “Never as flashy as Hunter Thompson or Tom Wolfe … McPhee has always relied on prose that is fact-rich, leisurely, requiring a certain readerly patience with scientific and geographical description, and nearly always enthralling.” I might quibble with the use of the word nearly there, but otherwise spot on.

Any McPhee book deserves notice, but the one he’s produced at this late stage in his career is worthy of more than usual. In Draft No. 4, he brings his full arsenal of talents to bear on the subject of his own life and work—catnip for his fans. I count myself among them, and so does the writer Matthew Fleagle, a frequent guest at Message in a Bottle. It was inevitable that we’d have a long conversation about DN4 and want to share it with this audience. Thanks in advance for your certain readerly patience ... continued

Three Books To Pick Up This Month

September is the most anticipated month in publishing. The biggest authors and most buzzed-about titles often arrive with fall, and the plethora of reading can be overwhelming. 

If you need help narrowing down the newest releases, allow me to recommend one novel, one cookbook, and one memoir to grace your nightstand.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo: I eagerly swallowed this completely original debut novel in one gulp. Legendary New York Times book critic Michio Kakutani even chose to end her tenure with a glowing review of Stay With Me. Adebayo studied writing with both Margaret Atwood and fellow Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, but her narrative voice is thoroughly her own. 

A portrait of domestic life in Nigerian society, Stay With Me belongs to Yejide, who loves her husband Akin and despite pressure from family and society, cannot seem to conceive. The story opens with a second wife being brought into the family to produce an heir. Yejide will do anything to get pregnant, including climbing a mountain to nurse a goat (you’ll have to read the book to understand such craziness). Yejide’s self-worth, and her sanity, are nearly ripped apart over decades of heartache ... continued

September 2017 eNewsletter

"To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life."

—Somerset Maugham

To the parent of multiple children, the end of summer is always a mixed blessing. When school is out I'm happy for my kids to experience all the free time, but as we inch towards August, I find I'm more excited than they are for the return to school and structure.

Back to school at the store means offering shiny new notebooks, pencils, erasers, lunch boxes, and more to motivate kids to hit the books, as well as big fall releases from bestselling authors like What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton, A Column of Fire by Ken Follett, and Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (don't forget to pre-order your signed copy while they last!).

September is full of special events too. We'll welcome several remarkable authors including bestselling writer Joyce Maynard, host a poetry reading featuring some local all-stars, and present our annual Random House reading recommendation night with expert sales reps David Glenn and Katie Mehan. There's also a special event that's near and dear to my heart because of my own cultural heritage. Lithuanian photographer Jonas Kulikauskas, author of Yosemite People, will be at the store on Saturday, September 23rd. We'll display his black-and-white images of those who live and work at Yosemite throughout the afternoon. The photos move from the overwhelming majesty of nature to the intimate moments of human life and we're the only bookstore to host him.

Getting back into the fall swing of things means we're also busy brainstorming new ways to have fun in the store. One of them is starting our own "Mercer Island Reads" program, and we'd love your input. We see this as a way to deepen our engagement in literature through reading and discussion and bring us together as a community. Can you imagine if all of Islanders read the same book at the same time? We welcome your thoughts in person, by email, or through social media

Finally, we'd like to extends our deepest sympathies to the families and communities impacted by the devastating hurricane and floods in Texas and Louisiana, especially our fellow independent bookstores like Becker's BooksKaboom BooksBrazos BookstoreBlue Willow BookshopMurder by the BookRiver Oaks BookstoreThe Lift, and more. You're in our thoughts and hearts.


Laurie Raisys

... continued

The Violins of Saint-Jacques and Other Things We Can't Forget

One of my favorite reads this past summer was a fat historical family saga set on a lush Caribbean island. Sounds delicious, right? It was. I tore through it in  a single sitting and was completely transported by it. Only when I put it down did I realize it’s not fat at all—it got the job done in a mere 160 pages. Put me in mind of that delicate, multi-layered French dessert, the mille-feuille.

The French connection is particularly apt, since The Violins of Saint-Jacques takes place in what’s sometimes known as the DOM-TOM, the Départements d'outre-mer–Territoires d'outre-mer. These are the overseas regions administered by France, former colonies in the New World. More specifically, the setting is the fictitious island of Saint-Jacques in the earliest years of the 20th century, a place and time recalled by an old woman who is one of its last remaining expatriates.

Isolated in the Antilles, Saint-Jacques is a place that’s developed its own blended culture, partly ruled by Old World traditions of decorum that are occasionally flouted with an insouciant air. Political conflicts arise as the officious new governor butts heads with the established Creole families who actually run things, but the real intrigue is romantic and personal. Glances are exchanged, secret notes are passed, and everything culminates on the night of glorious masked ball that must be one of the greatest party scenes in literature.

What makes the novel such a pleasure is the way it builds its world ... continued

Pre-order Your Autographed Copy of John Green’s Latest

I have a habit of writing about John Green, so it’s no wonder that drafting this post gives me déjà vu. I wrote a similar piece five years ago, champing at the bit for the release of The Fault In Our StarsLater on I covered the controversial movie poster for TFIOS. I’ve discussed his road to Carnegie Hall. There’s always plenty to talk about when the name John Green comes up. Known for his nuanced and empathetic depictions of teenagers, Green has received many accolades, include the Printz Medal, a Printz Honor, and the Edgar Award. He has twice been a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize and was selected by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.

It’s been five long years since the publication of The Fault In Our Stars. On October 10th, the waiting will finally be over when Green’s new novel, Turtles All the Way Down, finally hits the shelves ... continued

Books As Bridges: Reading Cuba Now

As spring of 2017 turned into summer, our Destination of the Month series invited you to consider Cuba for your next vacation. The list of books we shared on our website included a unique collection of short stories, and the translator who assembled it found our page and wrote to say thanks. When I realized that he was the same person behind the North American release of a forthcoming novel I’d had my eye on, I responded. Back and forth the emails went, until I decided to lend him the Message in a Bottle forum so all of you could see why I was so interested.



Havana’s annual Book Fair, the week-long Feria Internacional del Libro, draws hundreds of thousands of people to the old Spanish colonial fortress called La Cabaña (built after the capture of the Cuban capital by the British in 1762 to make sure that no foreign power ever succeeded in such an assault again). The residents of Havana flock there each February for everything from lectures and roundtables to pizza, pencils, and pony rides, but most of all they come for books–Cuban books and foreign ones, mostly at subsidized prices, many available only at the Feria because they soon sell out. Nearly half a million books were sold at the most recent Fair ... continued


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