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50 Years of Island Books: Erica Bauermeister

Erica Bauermeister lives in Port Townsend, Washington, with her husband and 238 wild deer. She's the New York Times bestselling author of many books, including The Scent KeeperThe School of Essential Ingredients, House Lessons: Renovating a LifeLet’s Hear It for the Girls, and her latest, No Two Persons. We've taken great pleasure in watching our community gather to celebrate her books. Lori Robinson welcomed Erica to the blog last May to launch No Two Persons, and today I'm bringing her back to contribute to our walk down Island Books memory lane.

Miriam: It's so nice to have you back here, Erica. Tell me, what are you thinking about when you walk into a bookstore?

Erica: I read once that almost 2,000 new books are published each Tuesday.  It boggles the mind, and it is what I think of each time I walk in a bookstore. I look at the selection of the books, especially the Staff Recommendations.  Are the books just the ones that everybody is talking about? Or can I sense an insightful reader’s mind behind the choices? When I encounter the latter, I know that I will also find the gems, the books I will open and realize that I need in my life, when a minute before I hadn’t even known they existed.

It takes an extraordinary amount of work to create a bookstore that feels as if it was made just for you. This is the special magic of Island Books. The tables at Island Books tempt me to read memoir, history, non-fiction, beach reads and mysteries. I find books in categories I might not otherwise, because I am tempted by  the obvious care in the selections. And I am grateful for the dedicated people who put these books in my life. To have an independent bookstore that is 50 years old and operates at such a high standard is amazing.

Miriam: I feel the same way and will spend the rest of my life marveling at the collective energy of so many minds. I'm so glad you're one of those writers as well as readers! Now, you've done multiple events over the years with Island Books. We hosted you in 2011, 2020 on Zoom at the height of the pandemic, and only a few months ago in May 2023. Do you have any particular memories from those events that stand out in your mind?

Erica: I’ve enjoyed all my visits, but I think my favorite was the most recent. It was an absurdly hot day in May. I completely expected the event to be me and a single bookseller, just sitting there sweating together.  But the welcome was so enthusiastic, and the chairs were full and the air fans were going and you could feel the community in the room. These were booksellers who loved their jobs, and customers who loved books and their bookstore. Readers in the best sense of the word. And you know what struck me at the end? The sheer number of people who bought books and had them personalized to someone else—and the smiles on their faces as they said “it’s a gift."

Miriam: I love that! In your opinion, what separates Island Books from the big bookstores and popular websites?

Erica: I love the serendipity of finding books that I didn’t know existed but which feel as if they were written just for me. Exploring the Staff Recommendations is one way, but my favorite is what I call The Bookseller Game. Rather than thinking about books in genres—literary, mystery, women’s fiction, dystopian, etc—you consider the feel of the books you most like to read. Are they plot or character driven? Do you gravitate toward long and luxurious sentences or short declarative ones? Is setting important? Do you like the puzzle of multiple narrators or the immediacy of a single, first-person narrator? Do you need a burning question at the center (who did it? why did this family fall apart? will the couple fall in love?) or do you relish just living in a different world for a while? 

Then you bring your answers to an indie bookseller and see what they suggest.  For example, the first time I played, I said I was looking for a wicked-smart novel with beautifully written sentences and an unreliable narrator. The bookseller suggested Gone, Girl. I said I didn’t read thrillers (completely forgetting the point of the game). She said “oh, you will now.” She was right, and I read more widely now because of her.

I suppose it’s possible to play this game with an algorithm, but I find algorithms bland and predictable. They know only what you have read, not what you could. The surprises happen at the smaller stores where the booksellers know their inventory. And my favorite part is watching a bookseller's face light up and hearing their enthusiasm. At its core, reading is about human connection, and the booksellers at Island Books are really, really good at it.

Miriam: Thank you. We love the work we do. That look on anyone's face when they're excited about a book is my absolute favorite as well. Readers can never go wrong with Gone Girl. Erica, it's always great to connect with you and we're grateful for your support and love for Island Books over so many years. We love your work and sharing your books with customers.

To our Island Books community: In the next 50 Years of Island Books installment, I’ll be talking to author and store friend Kevin O’Brien. The author of 21 internationally-published thrillers, he won the Spotted Owl Award for Best Pacific Northwest Mystery and served on the board of Seattle 7 Writers. Kevin's latest nail-biter, The Enemy at Home, just hit shelves in August. Check it out in the meantime!