Revolutionary Reading: Haitian History

Do you have reading fixations? Themes or topics that you return to over and over again? Maybe you can’t get enough of cozy mysteries set in snowy small towns, or perhaps you devour every presidential biography you can get your hands on. My own obsessions are legion. For example, I’m a sucker for anything, fictional or non-, that’s set in the dreamy, labyrinthine streets of a decaying imperial city. I also can’t help hate-reading every new anti-Stratfordian author with an ax to grind, the ones who claim that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays that bear his name.

Those are long-established fixations, and while it would be fascinating to know which books first triggered them, at this point I have no recollection whatsoever. This month, though, I may have caught myself at the beginning of another long reading road. Without intending to, I’ve found another topic that seems worthy of exploration for years to come.

My introduction to this potential new preoccupation came last month, when one of my staff picks was a novel, Dance on the Volcano by Marie Vieux-Chauvet ... continued

Miriam and Marni Text About The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

The challenge of finding a decent apartment in a good neighborhood at a reasonable price is enough to scare anyone, but that’s only the beginning of the premise of J.P. Delaney’s new much-hyped thriller, The Girl Before. Every year the publishing industry looks for “the next Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train,” and The Girl Before is the first book in 2017 that’s getting that hype. It’s already filling the prerequisites: “girl” in the title, optioned by Universal with Ron Howard on board to direct, and adoring blurbs from the biggest names in the thriller genre (Lee Child’s quote graces all the promotional material: “Dazzling, startling, and above all cunning–a pitch-perfect novel of psychological suspense.”)

The Girl Before jumps between two narrators: Jane, in the present, and Emma, the “girl before.” Both find the solution to their housing problem in the modern and minimalistic London house designed and built by famous architect Edward Monkford. The rent is affordable but there is a catch: the tenant must complete a rigorous questionnaire and agree to abide by strict rules of living, then receive the architect’s approval. The first line of Monkford’s questionnaire is: “Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.” ... continued

February 2017 eNewsletter

"The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you."
—W. Somerset Maugham

February has come quickly this year. Over the past weekend, James and I attended the 12th annual American Bookseller Association's Winter Institute in Minneapolis. From new booksellers to publishing veterans, the world of independent bookselling comes together every year for roundtables, advanced bookselling education, and a plethora of authors, networking, and special events. It was a rich, educational and moving experience, with inspiring speakers including Roxane Gay, Ann Patchett, Lesley Stahl, and Kim Scott Doles.

I was starstruck after waiting in line for 30 minutes to have Ann Patchett sign my book and congratulate me on buying an independent bookstore, then waltzed over to get my picture taken with Andrew McCarthy (think Pretty in Pink) whose new young adult novel, Just Fly Away, arrives in March, and delighted to bump into Joshilyn Jackson (The Opposite of Everyone) on my way out. It was exciting to hear about all the incredible books coming out this year and we will be sure to have them all on hand for you when they arrive.

The travel time allowed some rare time for reflection. I spent some time thinking about what we need more of, both inside of Island Books and beyond our doors. We have a board in the store where we post a question each month. “What is your favorite quote?” is up for February. Right now my favorite quote is “Kindness Matters!” I don’t know who said it first, but it's important now more than ever and that's what I've been thinking we all need a little more of lately.

It was this time last year when I read an article on gratitude that inspired me to cut out dozens of paper hearts and write special notes for everyone in my family. I left them on their doors every morning and planned to do it every day in February, but somehow my resolve petered out. This year I'm taking up the challenge again and have new notes ready to give it a go again this year. Raisys family, watch out.

In the spirit of community, gratitude, and kindness, we are proud to participate in the 6th annual Mercer Island Youth and Family Services Shop, Dine and Stay Local event. You can shop all day on Wednesday, February 8th and 20% of our profits will be donated to MIYFS. To celebrate we will offer drinks and treats for those shopping after 5pm. I hope you can join us.

Have a happy and love-filled Valentines Day!

Laurie Raisys

... continued

What to Read Now

At this time each year there’s always a great slate of books to talk about. For example, early January is when the list of PNBA Book Award winners is released. This year’s lineup is stellar, as always--[a] little something there for every reader, and any one of those books is worth a blog post all its own, I promise ...

This was also the week that the finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced. The consortium of professional reviewers gives prizes for the previous year’s best fiction, biography, autobiography, criticism, general non-fiction, and poetry, so there are 30 finalists in all ... You could work your way through every book on the NBCC list without finding a dud, and you’d probably finish right on time for next year’s announcement. If this were any other January, I’d be spending my time convincing you to do just that.

It’s not an ordinary January, though, and there are other books I feel pressed to share: continued

A Q&A With Will Schwalbe, Author of Books for Living

Anyone can recommend a book, but it’s rare that someone can fully articulate its lifelong impact. Will Schwalbe has the rarest of written voices–both intimate and universal–and with deep care and reflection he offers readers the most personal and heartfelt parts of himself in his latest, Books for Living. This memoir of sorts is not a list of Will’s favorite books, but instead an explanation of how certain books and authors taught him timeless lessons about our deepest longings. The night after I finished the chapter on Stuart Little and searching, I was so inspired I started reading it aloud to my children. Will’s voice leaps off the page and fills the room as only the most lively of conversations can. I can’t stop thinking about this book and wanting to read every title he mentions, if only to keep the conversation going with him.

You can come and meet Will in person at Island Books on Saturday, January 28th at 5pm. In anticipation of his appearance at the store, we’ve asked him some questions here. Click through to learn more about him.

But be warned: further interaction might send you home with more book recommendations than you can carry ... continued

Share Your Story: A Contest

More than one person approached us last week, wondering if it wasn’t time for us to sponsor a short story contest. Yes, we thought, that’s a thing we do. How long has it been? Six months? Eighteen months?

Come to find out, it’s been 48. We’re a mite overdue. So we hereby announce the opening of our Quadrennial Short Story Contest. What do you need to know to enter? Not much. Here’s the short version:

  • There are prizes!
  • The deadline is March 12, 2017.
  • Stories should be 1000 words or fewer.

Same basic deal as last time around. If you want to read the winning entries from that contest, you can hop over to the blog post that announced them. Well worth doing, we think. Oh, there is one new wrinkle: we have a celebrity judge! Mark Holtzen, author of the bestselling picture book A Ticket to the Pennant and the middle-grade novel The Pig War, will be sifting through the submissions and making the ultimate decision. So you can bribe us all you like, but the process will remain corruption-free.

If you want further details ... continued

January 2017 eNewsletter

"Bookstores always remind me that there are good things in this world."
—Vincent Van Gogh

In our business, the last few frenzied weeks of shopping in December are often what makes the rest of the year possible. With one bookseller on the bench with a broken foot, we were down but not out. (If you see Cindy, ask her what happened. She's been inventing creative stories).

This year seemed particularly hectic with the first night of Hanukkah falling on the same night as Christmas Eve. As the holidays closed in, we rushed joyously through the days, recommending and restocking, welcoming and wrapping. Our feet hurt but our hearts were full as we furiously rang up customers and crammed shoulder-to-shoulder at the wrapping table, cutting paper and knotting bows. We sold enough greeting cards so that every man, woman, and child on the island could have one. You should be warned that we sold over 6,000 candy items in 2016, and we're proud that most of them were made by our favorite local chocolatier, Ann Peterson and her team at Island Treats. We suspect reducing candy consumption might turn up on many a Mercer Islander's lists of New Year's resolutions. Or not. We've restocked, after all.

Besides the plethora of gifts, cards, and chocolate that flew out the door this holiday season, we kept a close eye on the books. We always use this time of year to take note of our annual bestselling titles. No one is more curious than we are about what our customers loved the most over the past year. Despite its October release, Maria Semple's hilarious new novel Today Will Be Different topped the list, and our hometown boy Joel McHale came in at #4 with Thanks for the Money. The real mover was The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis, which had only three or four weeks in release to make it all the way to #14.  And it should come as a surprise to no one that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was the top-selling title for children and teens.

We're looking forward to getting back into the groove this month with the return of our weekly Storybook Corners, PJ Story TimeOpen Book Club, Cookbook Book Club, and a special author event with Will Schwalbe you won't want to miss. 

We feel blessed to kick off another year of commerce and community. Thanks for making it possible.

Your Booksellers,

Laurie, Marni, Cindy, Marilyn, Lillian, James, Miriam, Lori, and Nancy

... continued

Goodbye to All That

2016 wasn’t quite two weeks old when I first heard that it was cursed. On top of the usual bad news (Sharaban tea shop, bombing) came the announcement of David Bowie’s death, and something about it, hard on the heels of his most acclaimed record in years, songs that were released on his birthday, seemed especially shocking and unjust. Public celebration of the music quickly turned into lamentation for the man, inverting Hamlet’s sardonic lines about how “the funeral bak’d meats / Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.”

Given Bowie’s lifelong example of ironic detachment, it felt right to make black jokes about a curse, but as the months went by more and more celebrities died (Alan Rickman, Umberto Eco, C. D. Wright, Harper Lee, Prince, W.P. Kinsella, Muhammad Ali, Pat Conroy, Jim Harrison, Katherine Dunn, Gloria Naylor, to name a few) and so did a crowd of dancers in an Orlando nightclub, and the talk of curses started sounding serious. It became a commonplace that 2016 was the Worst Year Ever.

Not being a superstitious sort, I chalked this up to normal variation. The year may have brewed up an atypical amount of trouble, but there were also some high spots. Scientists identified the gene responsible for ALS and the Cubs came from behind to break a century-long string of bad luck. Things could have been worse.

But then came a one-two punch–well, more like a chin tap and a train collision. Within a couple of days in early November, Daylight Saving Time came to and end and so did my faith in democracy ... continued

A Reader’s 2016 Diary

Back in January I wrote a blog post called On This Day, lamenting the fact that I couldn’t remember half the books I read in 2015. I made a public resolution to keep a spreadsheet throughout the year chronicling what I’d read. Apparently a published declaration of intentions worked for me, because here it is the end of December and I’m proud to say I kept that list throughout the year (a monthly reminder on my Google calendar helped).

Five years ago I wrote another post, Memories of Reading, and I suppose this time of year always brings me back to that train of thought. How does what we read when represent a particular time in our life? Looking back can be telling. And oh, 2016. Books provided a good deal of solace.

I kept the list to books I read with my full attention, from first to last page. Because my job requires a wide range of book knowledge, there are plenty of books I skim, speed read, or quit after 50 pages. I didn’t put those on the list. For this project I only included books I read like a layperson, for my own curiosity and pleasure and not out of obligation (although I included our Island Books Open Book Club titles, since I get to choose those anyway so it wasn’t just work driving me).  I’ve decided maintaining this reading list is as close to keeping a diary as I’m going to get at my age, and oddly, looking it over jogs more emotional memories of 2016 than what I was actually doing at the time. So what did I read? ... continued

Odd Couple Challenge Reading: Winter Solstice & Peace

To people who aren’t avid readers, my colleague Lori and I probably look a lot alike. We’re both equally likely to be found with a book in hand at any given time, that is. To people who pay attention to what we’re reading, though, we couldn’t be more different. I tease her by saying the worst literary crisis she’s willing to face is a dropped teacup, and she gets me back by asking which obscure historical tragedy in a minuscule country that no longer exists inspired the work of my latest favorite novelist with an unpronounceable name.

To test the true extent of our differences, we decided to make ourselves guinea pigs in a sophisticated, highly-controlled scientific experiment. To wit, we’d each choose a book we love and the other would read it. Her selection for me was Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher, the story of five lonely characters buffeted by life, all of whom wind up in an abandoned mansion in a coastal British village as the shortest day of the year approaches. Mine for her was Peace by Gene Wolfe, a novel narrated by a confused old man whose memories hint at far darker and stranger things than he’s willing to reveal.

To paraphrase the intro to an old TV show, can two dedicated readers share recommendations without driving each other crazy? ... continued


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