Message in a Bottle Updates

One of the most-anticipated books of the year (by me at least) reached the shelves of Island Books a couple of weeks ago. We gave it a brief mention in our May newsletter, but it really deserves the full-length feature treatment. Not that it will quite get that here. Lost Empress by Sergio de la Pava is one of those novels that can’t be bound in a nutshell.

There are two main narrative threads that run in parallel, one following a brilliant, football-obsessed heiress and the other a brilliant, hyper-violent criminal, both of which involve hilariously grandiose schemes. She’s trying to turn the pathetic Paterson Pork from a shambling semipro team with no fans into a gridiron juggernaut that will bring the NFL to its knees, and he’s plotting a caper that will result in riches, revenge, and the toppling of the entire New York (In)Justice Department if it doesn’t kill him first. The supporting cast includes a lovelorn EMT, a crackpot theoretical physicist, a burgeoning Joni Mitchell fan, and the world’s greatest parking lot attendant. A single paragraph from me won’t be enough to tell you how all that holds together, but if you give Sergio de la Pava your trust and 627 pages to explain himself, I promise you’ll understand.

The appearance of Lost Empress reminded me that I wrote a preview-not-review six years ago for de la Pava’s first novel. Back then he was a self-published author with big ambitions and now he’s realizing those with a successful major-label debut in hardcover. He did all the work, but it makes me feel proud too, like I placed a bet that’s paid off big.

Trawling through our archive in search of that long-ago post got me wondering if there were other stories in there that might be worth revisiting ... continued

A Q&A With Local Kindergarten Teacher Marilyn O’Neill

The Mercer Island Reporter comes in my mailbox every Wednesday, and last week they featured a cover story near and dear to my heart. That story had a poignant moment at Island Books last week.

Families across the island sent their kindergarteners to Marilyn O’Neill’s class at West Mercer Elementary for 22 years (she taught at other schools on the island too for a total of 27 years). On May 5th, a group of seniors about to graduate from Mercer Island High School gathered at Island Books to honor Marilyn with a special gift: a re-enacted photograph of her final kindergarten class.

It’s moments like these that remind us of the deep and meaningful community history that winds its way through our doors. Marilyn and her students shared their memories and marveled at how quickly time passes, filling our store with friendship and love.

Marilyn is a kindergarten teacher who touched many lives on the island, but to me, she’s my friend and neighbor ... continued

Poll Position

We ran a poll from Saturday through Saturday last week to survey where our customers are coming from; thanks to everyone who answered. A lot of you wondered about the results, so here they are.

Spoiler Alert

My instinct tells me to keep it to myself, but I’m going to let you know up front what this is all about: spoilers. Lately everybody’s social media feeds have been filled with two kinds of comments, either “OMG, I just saw Infinity War—how soon can I talk about it?” or “I won’t be seeing Infinity War until this weekend—don’t spoil it for me!” We see these posts every time a movie with any kind of significant plot twist gets released, but they were rampant for this one. First, because this is a hugely popular franchise and second, because the revelations are many and major. I don’t follow the superhero genre very closely, but from the posters I gather that Hulk and Thor get married and become parents to a green-skinned girl and a smirking white dude played by Chris Pratt. Or something like that.

I’m really thinking of spoilers not because of the Avengers but because of a book that I recently read and loved by the Welsh writer Cynan Jones ... [W]hen I was offered a pre-publication peek at his latest novel, Cove, I snatched it immediately. The galley lacked cover art and jacket copy, so I plunged in cold. I was immediately transported onto the water, floating by the side of a lone kayaker enjoying a recreational day of fishing in the sun. Simple stuff, but as always with Jones, incredibly vivid and immersive. And then … something happened ... continued

May 2018 eNewsletter

"You may have tangible wealth untold; caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be—I had a mother who read to me." 
—Strickland Gillilan

Mother’s Day makes me mushy inside. I love picking out the cards, buying the gifts, and sending surprises to my mom and mom friends. It’s a special month.

As a teenager I was never ashamed to kiss my mom or dad in public. We are fortunate to have children who still want to be around us (most of the time) and will kiss us in public, even if it is on the head.

My mom was there for me and my brothers growing up. She came to every single one of my swim meets from middle school through high school until I could drive myself. Mom taught me how to make peanut butter cookies, grits, sausage biscuits, and corn bread stuffing. She also helped me discover my love of books.

My mom was always working on three books at any given time. There was one in her purse, another next to her bed, and one in the living room. I could never figure out how she kept all the characters from each novel in line, but she did and could talk to anyone about each book at great length.

As I got older we would share books back and forth and when I bought the bookstore, she was thrilled. If Sue Swift lived on Mercer Island she would be a fixture in the store.

A few summers ago, I captured a picture of my kids on vacation all sitting and reading, with no cellphones to be seen and their eyes fixed on the books in their hands. My heart melted. We’d done something good.

As we come off the high of celebrating Independent Bookstore Day and all the hundreds of people that stopped in Island Books, I am grateful for many reasons. One of them is to be a mom who has kids that will consciously pick up a book and read, not because they have to, but because they want to.

I'm lucky to be the owner of a bookstore that has an incredible community who supports and loves us each and every day, not just on Indie Bookstore Day. While I don’t always carry a book in my purse, I have a stack next to my bed and on my desk. Like my mom, I always read three books at a time.

To all the moms who have carried books in their purses, read the bedtime stories over and over again, never said no when their kids asked for books, and stayed up until 2:00am because they had to read just one more chapter: you are my people. Like my mom, you taught a love of books that will hopefully carry on and on.

Happy Mothers Day. May you get the book you were hoping for this year.

Laurie Raisys

... continued

Jonathan Evison at Island Books

The Island Books team has a love affair with local authors. We champion them. We hand-sell them. We throw festivals for them (don’t miss our next one on Sunday, May 20th at 2pm). In short, we adore them. And boy do we have a special one coming our way.

Jonathan Evison, the author of soon-to-be classic Northwest novels such as The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving and West of Here, will be in-store on Thursday, May 3rd at 6:30pm. Evison has lived on Bainbridge Island since 1976 and is a married father of three. Anyone who was present when he came by four years ago knows it’s an event you don’t want to miss. Here’s how we chronicled that last memorable Evison appearance:

This was a Big Deal, and we were nervous beforehand. To prepare, we read Evison’s posted author bio and learned he liked beer. Really liked beer. But not IPAs. Cue the panic beer run ten minutes before signing. He was the first author we’ve had who pretty much went through a six-pack of Coronas while making his amazing talk. He was in no hurry and stayed late having long and generous conversations with the audience. There was great discussion of Dickens and Shakespeare, and a great love expressed for the small people of life, à la Steinbeck and Twain. 

Evison’s brand-new book is Lawn Boyaka “The Great American Landscaping Novel" ... continued 

Celebrating Shakespeare

Can you believe April 23rd is almost here? Is your ruff freshly starched? Have you picked up your slops and trews from the cleaners? Is your doublet properly slashed? Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about—you’ll want to be properly dressed for Shakespeare’s birthday! Or am I the only one who does that?

Just kidding. I won’t really be wearing Elizabethan garb on St. George’s Day, but I wouldn’t be a bookseller worth my salt if I didn’t acknowledge the occasion somehow. While a marathon session with the Compleat Works might be nice, this year I’ve found an easier method. I think you’ll enjoy it, too, even if you usually think the bard is boring. Read Fools and Mortals, the new novel by Bernard Cornwell ... continued

The Overstory by Richard Powers

I was a kid when I learned that the oldest living thing on earth was a bristlecone pine growing in the mountains of eastern California. A gnarled and stunted thing, it wasn’t as visually spectacular as its sister sequoias to the west, perhaps the largest living things on earth, but I was overwhelmed by its antiquity. This tree was more than a thousand times my age. It predated not only the United States but every country I’d ever heard of. It was older than the knights in old stories, older than the Roman Coliseum, older than the pyramids. Since I first read about that ancient pinus longaeva, nothing about it has changed. Except one thing: now it’s more like a hundred times my age. Weird, but that’s the math.

The study of biology has matured even more than I have in the intervening years, and scientists have discovered things more wonderful yet. We now know, for instance, that many of the life forms we once thought of as individual are in fact offshoots of the same underlying organism. There’s a stand of quaking aspens in Utah that covers more than a hundred acres; every trunk is a clone of its neighbor, all sprouting from one massive root system. When one trunk falls, a new shoot replaces it. When forest fires burn them all, the plant survives underground, patiently waiting to resurface and grow itself a new canopy of leaves. How many years has this particular plant been doing this? For at least 80,000, maybe a million. Those numbers are so vast I don’t really know what to do with them. Even more difficult to process is the news that this awesome organism, known as Pando (Latin for “I spread”), may be dying just as we begin to understand it.

Fortunately for me, National Book Award-winning novelist Richard Powers has turned his attention to the topic of trees in The Overstory  ... continued

April 2018 eNewsletter

"So often, a visit to a bookshop has cheered me, and reminded me that there are good things in the world."
—Vincent Van Gogh

We hope your red pen is handy, because you'll want to mark your calendar in big, bold letters. Independent Bookstore Day is back this month and better than ever! Join us on Saturday, April 28th for a daylong celebration of indie bookstores and the people who make them great--that includes you!

Our schedule is jam-packed: 

  • Free coffee and doughnuts from our 8:00 a.m. earlybird opening until whenever they last
  • Nancy Stewart Story Time for kids at 10:00 a.m. 
  • Ask the Authors: Jennifer Longo & Mark Holtzen dispense sage wisdom on all subjects from 11:30 a.m to 1:00 p.m. 
  • The famous Island Books typewriters will be out and in use for on-the-spot poetry and letter writing on Island Books stationery 
  • Take a selfie at our Instagram photo booth, pick up some new ink via temporary tattoos in the Tattly corner, or flex your creativity at our kid coloring/craft table 
  • Custom-made IBD2018 cookies in the afternoon 
  • Live music in the afternoon 
  • Happy hour beer & Centioli pizza

There will also be special offers running all day, this day only:

  • Win a Blind Date with a Book: purchases over $29.99 entitle you to a tantalizingly mysterious read
  • Free Island Books/IBD T-shirts: purchases over $99.99 earn you a runway position in the most exclusive fashion show in town 
  • $2 greeting card sale 
  • 20% discount on our stellar collection of books about . . . books
  • FREE audiobook downloads via our partners at You can set up an account in advance to get your books on the big day; click here to get started.

And of course, the now-legendary challenge continues. Pick up a passport at any participating bookstore you visit on April 28th and get it stamped. If you get stamps from all 19 Seattle-area stores before the end of the day, you qualify as an Indie Bookstore Champion and earn a 25% discount card good at any participating store for a full year. Don't feel bad if you can't make the full circuit--if you get your passport stamped by at least 3 stores, you can trade it in for a 30% off coupon good for a single purchase on a following visit to any participating store. Come spend some time with us and then head up the Eastside to see our friends at Brick & Mortar Books in Redmond and BookTree Kirkland. Or visit us and then zip across the bridge to Third Place Books Seward Park and the Fantagraphics bookstore in Georgetown. Or set your own itinerary!

Don't forget about the custom merchandise that will be available this day only. In addition to Island Books shirts (we will be giving away a few, as well as selling them), we'll have two special posters for sale: a literary map of the region and another featuring imaginative logos for all the awesome bookshops involved. There will be adorable onseies for our youngest fans, special chapbooks, and much, much more.

Laurie Raisys

... continued

Breaking the Rules

Since we bought the bookstore nearly three years ago, one of the rules that we have followed is that we do not publicly get involved in politics at a city, state, or national level.  We have always politely turned down requests for candidate and issue endorsements.  Why?  We believe it’s bad for business.  We are in the business of community.  We recognize and respect that there are a diverse set of viewpoints within that community and we don’t want to take sides in the community that we serve. Today, we’re briefly breaking that rule.  Why?  We believe it’s bad for business if we don’t.  We think that by not taking a position and speaking up, it affects the ability of Island Books to serve the community in the long run.

In late January, the Mercer Island City Council held its annual planning session.  As a part of that, the city council updated the Goals and Work Plan for 2018-2019 (draft found here: 2018-2019 Mercer Island City Council Goals and Work Plan).  We sincerely appreciate all of the hard work, dedication, and public service of our city council as well as the thought and effort that went into creating this document.  In February, the Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce expressed concern to the city council regarding the draft plan and the lack of a high level goal to improve the business environment on Mercer Island.  Since the issue was raised, the city council (represented by Benson Wong and Tom Acker) has been very responsive in listening to the feedback from the chamber members.  The outcome of these meetings has been a request by the MI Chamber of Commerce for an additional goal to be added to the 2018-2019 Goals and Work Plan document that reads “Create Policies that Support an Accessible and Healthy Business Ecosystem on Mercer Island." 

There is a City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 3rd at 7:00pm at Mercer Island City Hall, Council Chambers. The Goals and Work Plan adoption are on the agenda and we believe that the proposed change to the goals will also be discussed.  Island Books strongly supports the additional goal proposed by the Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce.  We urge you to express your support for the addition by contacting your elected city council representatives prior to the meeting this Tuesday (tomorrow) – details on how you can do so are below.

Prior to buying Island Books, we both worked for large organizations.  We know that within large organizations (and city governments are no exception) if something is not a top-level goal during these planning periods then it’s not prioritized and significant progress is not made toward it.  It’s been our experience that these top level goals are the way organizations prioritize, measure themselves, plan their activities, and hold themselves accountable.  While some may argue that the goal of a healthy business ecosystem really cuts across many of the existing goals and should be reflected in the action steps under the existing proposed goals, we would disagree and argue that experience has shown us that goals, priorities, and focus are lost that way.  

We strongly believe that a goal for developing an environment for a healthy, vibrant business ecosystem on Mercer Island should sit alongside the current proposed goals for mobility, quality of life, sustainability, arts and culture, infrastructure, emergency preparedness and city codes, policies and practices.  We believe that a goal for developing a healthy business ecosystem on Mercer Island not only benefits the business community but it also improves the quality of life for those of us living on Mercer Island and the surrounding areas.

We feel comfortable breaking our “no politics” rule and making an exception in this case for a number of reasons.  We think the issue is non-controversial.  The language that was communicated to the city council representatives (Benson Wong and Tom Acker) by the chamber is not prescriptive as to how to achieve the goal.  The goal doesn’t supersede the other goals of the city council.  The goal doesn’t advocate for a single specific issue.  It doesn’t advocate for only retail businesses.  It doesn’t advocate for only MI Town Center businesses.  It doesn’t advantage Island Books over other businesses on the island.  The goal simply asks the city council and the city government to include the prioritization of a healthy vibrant business ecosystem in its planning and work items.

The request is very straightforward.  We believe that the Mercer Island City Council needs to add a high level goal to its draft 2018-2019 Goals and Work Plan Document that reads "Create Policies that Support an Accessible and Healthy Business Ecosystem on Mercer Island.”  We hope you agree.  We ask you to urge your city council representatives to agree as well (and when you contact them, don’t forget to also thank them for their service to the community).  

Here’s the contact information for the Mercer Island City Council:

Now we’re going to get back to what we do best, selling books (and gifts and toys) and building community.  Island Books has been doing that for almost 45 years and we hope to be able to continue to do so for a long time to come.  

Thank you for your continued support.

Laurie and Victor Raisys


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