Our BEST Year Yet

Wait, what? We WON?

The King 5/Evening Magazine’s “Best of Western Washington” is a time honored tradition around these parts.  It’s a chance for local businesses to be chosen as “the best” in their category by popular vote. Last Friday night, the rumors started flying. We hadn’t heard anything official, but there it was, this, online. You can only imagine the texts that started pinging around between us. 

Were we really just selected BEST Bookstore of 2017 by the voters of Western Washington?

Yes folks, we were ... continued

Work, Travel, and Inspiration

Do you travel for work? If so, is it a pleasure or a burden? Seems to me that most people who do it a lot find it a chore, but for those of us who do it rarely, it’s kind of a treat. That’s true for me, in any case. Independent booksellers usually stay hunkered down in our stores focusing, as we should, on local concerns, but once in while there’s a reason to look up at the horizon and light out in that direction.

Last month’s occasion for mixing business with pleasure was the annual Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Fall Trade Show in Portland. It’s a three-day event that includes educational panels where booksellers can discuss best practices, visits from publisher representatives talking about their upcoming holiday releases, and appearances by authors both famous and yet-unknown. The schedule is crammed with activity from breakfast until late in the evening, and I could probably write a year’s-worth of blog posts about all the interesting books I discover there, not to mention all the interesting people who produce them ...

What I was most inspired to tell you about, though, was a ... speech by a writer named Jane Kirkpatrick. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I wasn’t previously familiar with her work, given that she’s authored more than thirty books over the past three decades and is for many a fixture on the Northwest literary scene. Her chosen genre is not one I normally follow closely, but she was so impassioned and articulate about what she writes and why that I had to find out more ... continued

November 2017 eNewsletter

"There is no friend as loyal as a book." 
—Ernest Hemingway

Thanksgiving is my holiday. It’s always been my favorite; food, family, and of course a little football. Growing up, my dad and I would go for a run on Thanksgiving morning so we could enjoy more food without the guilt! We never thought about decorating for Christmas until Thanksgiving was good and over. So you can imagine how disconcerting it was two years ago when I bought Island Books and had to think about buying for Christmas and Hanukkah in June! Nowadays, I have to break my own rules and decorate the store for the holidays on November 1st. So I can't help but feel festive already.

Last year we started a fun project that I hope will become an annual Island Books Thanksgiving tradition. We hand-picked books we’ve personally enjoyed from around the store, wrapped them up with a personal note, and drove them around the island to hide our own gems of happiness. This year, we'll be posting clues on social media about where we're dropping presents, so stay tuned and see if you can find them. 

November brings some special events including visits from local author Steven Wells, members of the Crazy Horse family, and Nancy Pearl, who will be in conversation with Miriam and James (read our blog about Nancy's upcoming visit here). Everyone is welcome at these events, and even when we expect a big crowd we will host as many as possible. Expect our policy to be first come, first seated. 

Book fairs are another big highlight of this month. Last year we donated over $17,000 to Mercer Island schools and we cannot wait to host these community fundraisers again.

And of course there are so many books to celebrate this fall. Besides all the great fiction and nonfiction, there are cookbooks like Yotam Ottolenghi's Sweet, picture books like Kate Hoefler's Great Big Things, inspiration like Oprah’s The Wisdom of Sundays, and home design like Moorea Seal’s Make Yourself at Home to enjoy. There aren’t enough waking hours to get through them all!

As we enter the holiday season I am reminded of how thankful I am for this community and all you share with us. Thank you to my bookstore family, my four amazing kids, and my husband who puts up with me every day.

Gobble Gobble to you and yours!

Laurie Raisys


Kazuo Ishiguro, Nobel Prize Winner

A year ago, we stood around the front counter scratching our heads when Bob Dylan took home the Nobel Prize in Literature. As James so aptly put it: 

The biggest problem with the Nobel Prize in Literature (other than its shameful record of ignoring women and people of color) is that it annually insults many deserving writers by overlooking them.

I agreed with James’s sentiment and kept my expectations low this year. I decided I’d be content if the winner was primarily a writer of books, especially after Bob Dylan further irritated the purists by ignoring the announcement for two whole weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I love Dylan’s music, but by declining to attend the prize ceremony in December, privately accepting the award in March, and stalling until days before the 6-month deadline to give his mandatory lecture (which he had to deliver in order to receive the prize’s 8 million Swedish krona), he further alienated the skeptics. Not to mention the content of his Nobel Prize lecture pondered the very question of his legitimacy in the category and stated that his lyrics were meant to be sung, not read.

The award went to British author Kazuo Ishiguro this year, the author of The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go ... continued

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


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