Jane Austen 200

Launch the fireworks and strike up the band! We’re celebrating a bicentennial, not of a nation’s birth or a famous battle, but in honor of one of the English language’s greatest writers. It’s been 200 years since Jane Austen walked among us, and if you’re in her native Hampshire in England, you can take part in all manner of commemorations. On this side of the pond, probably the best tribute you can pay is to turn to a book by or about her.

I said “greatest” above, which is true, but I could also have said “most beloved.” There’s a particular charm to Austen’s work that defies the years and makes her work as fresh today as it was in her own age. Yes, we still read Shakespeare, Swift, and Sterne, but they require readers to prep their minds a bit before plunging in. You don’t have to suit up for a time travel trip before entering Austen’s world. Maybe that’s because she continues to be so widely imitated–her brand of witty romance has never gone out of style.

There’s a lot more to her than teacups and bonnets, though ... continued

May 2017 eNewsletter

"What's better than hanging out a bookstore and talking books with people who love books? "

—Lisa Jackson

What an amazing weekend! Big thanks to our local community and the more far-flung Independent Bookstore Day participants who raced through or wandered into our store this past Saturday, April 29th. We had a ton of fun at Island Books, and it was also a spectacular day at our fellow stores all around Puget Sound. Two of our booksellers and more than a few of our frequent customers completed the challenge of visiting 19 bookstores in a single day to become Indie Bookstore Champions. We'll be sharing some of their stories on our blog later in the month, but for now let's just say well done, all!

There's lots more fun coming up in May, starting with our Bookmark Design Contest. You can find a link to all the information about it below, but get cracking--the deadline for submissions is Friday, May 12th. I'm also excited about our author events this month with Curtis Manley, Laurie Frankel, and Ashley Ream. As always, you can click on our monthly calendar to find out everything that's going on, usually more than you'd expect. Like our regular book club meeting, which this month features Jim Lynch himself as a moderator for discussion about his wonderful novel Before the Wind.
As May begins we cannot forget Mother's Day, May 14th. Those who know me are are aware of my love for cards, funny note pads, and paper items. It's been so fun to pick out some really special Mother's day cards and gifts for you to share with the fantastic moms of Mercer Island. I picked out the cards I'm giving early--to my mom, my sisters-in-law, and to great friends. They are all phenomenal women and mothers who inspire me every day and deserve to be celebrated. Last but not least, Miriam, Island Books blogger and our book club host, is about to become a mom again for the fourth time! Motherhood is in the air . . .

Happy May to all,

Daughter, Sister, Wife, and Mother of four

Independent Bookstore Day Is This Saturday!

“Consumers control the marketplace by deciding where to spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read the book. This is how we change the world: we grab hold of it. We change ourselves.”

―Ann Patchett, bestselling author and co-owner of Parnassus Books

Independent Bookstore Day is a one-day national party that takes place at indie bookstores across the country on the last Saturday in April. Every store is unique and independent, and every party is different. In addition to authors, live music, food, scavenger hunts, kids events, contests, and other fun stuff, there are exclusive books and literary items that you can only get on that day. Not before. Not after. Not online. Check out our Facebook photo album featuring just a few of the remarkably cool items that will be available exclusively on Independent Bookstore Day.

Great, you say, a nationwide celebration any bookworm can get behind. But let’s get local. Why should you make the effort to come by Island Books this Saturday? ... continued

Men at Walk

Readers who remember my interview with natural history writer David B. Williams already know that he’s at the very top of the list when it comes to covering our region’s past. His study of the myriad modifications our ancestors have made to the local landscape, Too High and Too Steep, was one of our Top Ten Non-Fiction Favorites in 2015 (and is newly out in paperback–run, don’t walk to buy it). Turns out he’s no slouch at addressing the present, either. His latest book is Seattle Walks, a guide to the fairest city on Puget Sound and all the wonders it proffers to the attentive pedestrian. As soon as I heard about it I knew I’d have to road-test … er, sidewalk-test it for myself. I further knew that the smartest way to do it was to bring along someone way more knowledgeable than me about the intersection between the urban and natural environment, someone who’s done plenty of his own writing on the subject. So I invited my friend Matt Fleagle to join me. That was an easy decision, but I dithered a bit about which path we should take. When I bumped into someone carrying the book in hand while exploring my own neighborhood–my building happens to lie along one of the suggested routes–I was roused to immediate action. By which I mean I punted to Matt. He made the call, we went for a walk, and our conversation about it is ... continued

The Rules Do Not Apply–To Reading

Have you ever read a book and said to yourself, “This is a great book and I’m enjoying it, but why in the world am I reading this right now in my life?”

That’s what I was asking myself as I zipped through Ariel Levy’s new memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply. I read it all in a six-hour plane ride two weeks ago, sitting with my much-put-upon and hardworking husband, an almost-two-year-old who wouldn’t nap, and my 4-year-old twins–one whining and the other sporadically puking into a barf bag. The barf bag was a huge step up from puking all over herself–an event on nearly every flight since the twins’s birth. I considered the barf bag a win. Oh and did I mention I was also 28 weeks pregnant? So you know it was a page-turner if I managed to read the whole thing under those conditions. Even the utter chaos couldn’t keep me from turning the pages. I’m not sure how I did it, actually, but I was hooked ... continued

April 2017 eNewsletter

"Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life."
—Mark Twain

Okay friends, neighbors, and book lovers, it's April, and that means Independent Bookstore Day is back and better than ever. If you're new to this lollapalooza, the whole month of April culminates in one jam-packed day on Saturday, April 29th, filled with Nancy Stewart sing-a-longs, tasty refreshments, a kids coloring table, author visits, type-a-thons, all-day giveaways, and much, much more. We look forward to this day all year!

There's even more bookstore magic coming in April. It's National Poetry Month, and to celebrate we'll be hosting Peter Ludwin and Megan Snyder-Camp on Tuesday, April 18th. Both remarkable authors have embarked on a unique poetic exploration of the past, contemplating the effects Northwest history has on the region and the self. It should be a remarkable event that has the potential to spark a very interesting conversation about regional history, personal history, and poetics.

We will also welcome author Paula Becker on on Thursday April 20th to discuss her biography of one of our most endearing Northwest storytellers, Looking for Betty MacDonald. If you haven't read MacDonald's memoirs The Egg and IThe Plague and IAnybody Can Do Anything, and Onions in the Stew you're missing out, and who didn't love MacDonald's whimsical Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle as a child? The first ten people to place an order for Looking for Betty MacDonald through our website will get a 10% discount and an invitation to meet with the author over drinks and snacks before the event.

In addition to all the events happening around here, there's a fresh crop of appealing titles and gifts filling our shelves including new releases from Elizabeth StroutAnne LamottMary Gaitskill, and more. We're always happy to help you find the perfect read or gift for someone special, so come on by a see us in person!

Your devoted Island Books staff,

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

... continued

Share Your Story Contest Winners!

Back in the dead of winter, at the very beginning of 2017, we announced a short story contest open to all ages. Now, well after spring has sprung, we are delighted to announce the winners and share their stories with you. Without further ado, let’s turn the floor over to our esteemed judge, author Mark Holtzen.


Congratulations to those who entered the short story contest. Often the most unnerving part of writing is sharing your work with someone else.

I enjoyed reading all the entries. The process was a great reminder of how many perspectives exist in the world. We all chug along in our own lonely narratives and sometimes it takes a strong community center like Island Books to bring us together for a spell.

Thank you.

The winners are ... continued

Join Our Open Book Club in 2017

We like to discuss books with you over the counter, but what’s even better is when we can all get together to rehash a good title. In the spirit of enhancing a great read, we host an open book club that meets the last Thursday of each month at 7:30pm. Our staff facilitator (usually myself) chooses both fiction and nonfiction titles. Everyone is welcome to attend even if you haven’t read the book, and if you purchase your copy here you’ll always get a 10% discount.

At our recent store event with Will Schwalbe, author of our February book club title Books for Living, a customer confessed to me she was intimidated by our book club and worried the participants would be too intellectual. I begged her not to decide that before trying one out. We gather an eclectic mix of men and women every month, from retired school teachers to college students to stay-at-home moms to neighbors who raised their families together to doctors to small business owners. We begin by going around the circle, introducing ourselves, and saying in a sentence or two how we felt about the book. Then for those who haven’t read or finished, we spend some time summarizing the books (so no, you don’t have to have read the book to attend!). I introduce some discussion topics and we go from there. It’s always a casual and cozy evening and a time I look forward to each month.

How do we choose titles for our book club? ... continued

Not Your Fairy Godmother

The story Edmund Gordon tells in his superb new biography The Invention of Angela Carter isn’t the traditional once-upon-a-time kind, but it has a heroine as unforgettable as the ones in fairy tales.

Angela Carter was born on May 7th 1940 in Eastbourne, on the southern shore of England, the place to which her mother and older brother had been evacuated some months earlier. A few weeks later British forces were expelled from Dunkirk in France and retreated across the channel, making people realize that it had been a silly idea to flee the capital by moving closer to the front, and the family returned to London. Carter grew up there in relatively privileged circumstances, though she was oppressed by the generally stultifying atmosphere of post-war austerity and the smothering attentions of her overprotective mother. As she came of age, she developed a fierce independence; in the words of critic Joan Acocella, “she rebelled, went on a diet, and changed from a fat, obliging girl to a skinny, rude girl. She slouched around in short skirts and fishnet stockings, smoking and saying offensive things.”

For a young woman in those days the easiest escape was into marriage, and so at 20 she found an obliging partner who gave her little other than the last name under which she later made herself famous. It was during their troubled relationship that she started writing in earnest, but it was only when she abandoned him to travel to Japan that her artistic life really began. Drawing on English folklore, personal domestic experience, continental philosophy, a newly radical feminism, South American magical realism, and a touch of genius all her own, she produced a kind of fiction that no one had before ... continued

Serendipitous Discovery: Tracy Rees and Amy Snow

One of the great pleasures of wandering into a brick and mortar bookstore is leisurely browsing through the books on offer. Picking up something that catches your eye, reading the back or cover flap description, and deciding to take a chance on the unknown. You can guess that it might fit your interests, but you’re still tossing the dice. And every once in a while, one of your whim purchases turns out to be an entirely satisfying delight, the one you start telling all your friends about because it is just that good.

This is what happened to me last summer. A cover on the new paperback table caught my eye one evening, Amy Snow. I read the back copy. Historical fiction, England, orphans, and a mysterious trail of letters. Sold. I think I read it in two days, if that. And I was utterly charmed by the characters, the hints of Austen and Dickens, the good-heartedness of the story. It truly hit that sweet spot of being light, happy escape reading while still having lovely literary prose.

So I started talking about it, as did my co-workers. I don’t think there were many days through the fall and winter that that I didn’t mention Amy Snow to at least one browser, looking for a good new read. We ordered them in by the handful, and before I knew it, Amy Snow had become one of our top sellers of the year ... continued


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