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50 Years of Island Books: Elise Hooper

A native New Englander, Elise Hooper spent several years writing for television and online news outlets before getting a MA and teaching high-school literature and history. Her debut novel The Other Alcott was a nominee for the 2017 Washington Book Award. Three more novels—Learning to See, Fast Girls, and Angels of the Pacific—followed, all centered on the lives of extraordinary but overlooked historical women. Elise now lives in Seattle with her husband and two teenage daughters. You can read a great interview she did with Kelleen back in 2020 for the release of Fast Girls here.

Miriam: I loved The Other Alcott and Fast Girls. We're big fans and happy to have you on the blog. Let's start with your first visit to Island Books. Where were you in your career then, and what stood out about the store?

Elise: If I remember things correctly, I was on Mercer Island because my younger daughter had swim practice at the Mercerwood Shore Club. This must have been sometime in the winter of 2017 because it was already dark and rainy and my first book, The Other Alcott, had not yet been released. Usually when my daughter had these practices, I'd find a spot in the clubhouse and work on my second book, but I was feeling restless and had just heard about Island Books, so I decided to drop off the swim carpool kids and go on a little literary island adventure. Because, duh, why work when you can visit a bookstore? 

When I walked in the bookstore, I found the staff gathered around an opened bottle of champagne and they were celebrating, although I can't remember what the occasion was. The amazing part was that they poured me a glass and we started chatting. Instantly I felt at home. Books, bubbles, and smiling, welcoming faces on a dark and rainy night? Clearly the store was my kind of place. That evening marked the beginning of a great relationship.

Miriam: Seriously, why work when you can visit a bookstore? I love that you jumped right into our party. One of the reasons I enjoy your books so much is they bring often-overlooked stories of female perseverance into the spotlight. Do you have a theory as to why those stories resonated so much with our Island Books customers?

Elise: People always seem to enjoy stories about ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things. I think it's because we all hope we're capable of extraordinary things--and for the record, I firmly believe we are! We like to be inspired and what's more inspiring than a good underdog story? Let's face it, most of us, especially women, can relate to being underestimated. All my books are about women who are underestimated, but who then strike back to defeat the odds stacked against them, and sometimes we all need a nudge to remember that we too are capable of greatness. Does this mean we all need to run out and become Olympians, award-winning photographers, or survive a world war to be great? Nope, not at all. Each of us needs to figure out what greatness means for us. 

Miriam: That's insightful, and when I think about it, some of the bestselling titles over the years at Island Books have been underdog stories, like the The Boys in the Boat and The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo. The survival of an independent bookstore in the age of Amazon is also an underdog story, so it's no wonder we like to champion those books. Perhaps a 50th anniversary is the nudge we all need to remember that we, too, are capable of greatness.

To our Island Books customers, we're getting dangerously close to the big 5-0 anniversary, so it's almost time to wrap up this series. For my next-to-last installment, I dragged the Island Books staff into a conference room and played detective. If we went to work with them in the store for a month, what would we learn about bookstore life? What are their biggest challenges? If they had a million dollars to improve the book industry or promote literacy, how would they spend it? All this and more will be revealed next time we meet.