A Walk with David Williams

In the midst of these exciting events another incident occurred which, while it lasted, held Carsten Niebuhr’s attention completely. On 6th June 1761, the planet Venus appeared in its orbit in front of the sun. In order to observe and measure this rare phenomenon, Niebuhr set up his astrolabe and telescope on deck while all the sailors were rushing round getting the ship ready for battle. Unfortunately he had to complain that, despite the calm weather, the shaking of the boat prevented him from taking his readings with the desired accuracy. Nevertheless, there is something very engaging in the picture of the earnest astronomer standing on the foredeck busy with his instruments while the sailors make ready for battle all around him and the English warships lie waiting a little way off on the shining sea. One of the reasons why the world has not yet gone under is perhaps that even at the most dramatic moments there is always someone who unconcernedly looks the other way. At circles in the sand. At a gable in Delft. So on the ship on which guns are being got ready for their murderous debate, a man is completely absorbed in observing the path of Venus.

—from Arabia Felix: The Danish Expedition of 1761-1767 by Thorkild Hansen

Carsten Niebuhr, hero for our time? I acknowledge it can be frustrating to deal with someone who’s continually distracted, but in the main I think this passage is describing a man with admirable qualities. The people who notice things that no one else does point us toward possibilities we haven’t imagined. Sometimes those previously unseen details lead to monumental discoveries and groundbreaking inventions, but even the smallest observations bring unexpected color and joy to our lives.

Which is why we’ve invited one of our favorite writers to lead us on a journey through our own backyard. David Williams is the author of one of our bestselling titles in any genre and one of those people with an admirably keen eye. We’ve interviewed him about the ways in which humans have transformed our local landscape, we’ve field-tested his road maps, and now we’re finally hosting him in person. Join us on Thursday, July 19th as he takes us on an exclusive tour of our Mercer Island environs! ... continued

July 2018 eNewsletter

"You see, bookshops are dreams built of wood and paper. They are time travel and escape and knowledge and power. They are, simply put, the best of places."
—Jen Campbell

July 1st marked my third year as the owner of Island Books. When my kids were little, age three was one of my favorite times. They had no filter and said the funniest things. They drew hilarious pictures at preschool and told me how beautiful I was, despite the lack of a shower, make up, or a good hair brushing. They made life brighter and more fun. I fully expect Island Books will be working the same magic on me as we pass by our third year together. But don't worry, I'll try to brush my hair this time around.

And what a third year it's been. We won KING5’s Best of Western Washington Bookstore, which couldn't have been a bigger surprise. There were all the memorable author events, including visits from Jonathan Evison, Joyce Maynard, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Nancy Pearl, and more. Our story times and book club thrived, as did the annual book fair extravaganza. We celebrated another exuberant Independent Bookstore day and bought some colorful chairs to sit in outside as the weather turned. 

Coming up this month, the Where's Waldo? scavenger hunt starts this Friday, July 6th, so stop in and pick up your passport to find Waldo at local business. You can also check out our summer sidewalk sale happening the same day. Voting for our bookmark contest continues until Saturday, July 7th at midnight, so get in your entries soon. Thursday the 26th is another busy day, with a poetry reading from the Crest Learning writing class led by Michael Harper followed by a throwback book club:  The Dead Zone by Stephen King. There are even rumblings in my own house that Victor might read and join. And, to top it all off I'm especially looking forward to July 29th, when we're throwing a cook out with the Seattle7WritersGarth Stein will be roasting hot dogs! 

On a more personal note, recently Victor and I were honored with the 2017 Mercer Island Citizens of the Year award. Thank you to the city council for this great compliment. Victor and I love it here, and we know that any honor we receive is given to our entire staff and community for making Island Books what it is. We are nothing without the support of this island, all of the loyal customers and friends, the new faces we meet along the way, and those that still call in to place orders from their favorite childhood bookstore.

In a year when we lost some irreplaceable friends in our bookstore family, it's comforting to know that all the good news and happy memories would have made them smile.

Happy 4th of July!

Laurie Raisys

.. continued

Past Perfect

[At] the start of The Discovery of Honey, a coming-of-age story by Canadian writer Terry Griggs that I encountered last year ... it was another case of love at first line and I knew in an instant I wouldn’t be putting the book down until I’d finished it. It was a good decision: the hours I spent in the company of Hero, Discovery’s precocious narrator, were a delight ...

I’m happy to report that Griggs is back with a book that’s even better. The Iconoclast’s Journal is ribald and rambunctious like its predecessor, carrying you away with words as only a real writer can, but the greater pleasure of it is where it travels. Whenever you think you know where the tale is heading it zigs once and zags twice, bringing you to places you never imagined going.

Set among the ramshackle boom-and-bust towns of the late nineteenth century, The Iconoclast’s Journal kicks off with a literal bolt of lightning ...

While we’re on the subject of the nineteenth century, I also want to mention Mad Boy by Nick Arvin. Its title is the moniker earned by its protagonist, a pre-teen named Henry Phipps whose whole world is the decrepit farmstead he shares with his depressive mother and his drunken, ne’er-do-well father. Left almost entirely to his own devices, he’s not exactly wise beyond his years but he’s certainly resourceful, getting himself in and out of all kinds of trouble. When dad gets thrown into debtor’s prison, mom gets flattened by a falling cow, and the War of 1812 breaks out, Henry’s picaresque adventure really gets underway ... continued

The Hits Just Keep On Coming

It feels dismissive to lump multiple deaths together, but we only post so many times per month so here I go. I cannot let any more weeks go by without publicly crying virtual tears for the back-to-back losses of Philip Roth, Tom Wolfe, and Anthony Bourdain. These three didn’t need death to glorify their contributions, but the last month inevitably brings their work to the forefront of our minds. At least Roth and Wolfe were well into their 80s, but at 61, Bourdain went far too young. All so different and unique, yet similarly groundbreaking and provocative, the publishing landscape will never be the same without their ongoing contributions ... continued

Books Gave Us Gravity: A Postcard from the Edge

Non-fiction for the cold, hard facts, fiction for flights of fancy. One grounds you while the other sets you spinning. Most of the time, maybe, but my experience this week perfectly inverts that paradigm.

I’ve been reading a brand-new book from Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris, who is best known as the filmmaker behind such projects as The Thin Blue Line (which exonerated an alleged cop-killer serving life in a Texas prison) and The Fog of War (an extended interview with former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, architect of the Vietnam War). He is also a lifelong student of philosophy; while in the graduate program at Princeton University, he studied under Thomas Kuhn, author of the legendary The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, a book opposed to the existence of a stable, consistent reality outside the human mind. Morris on the other hand is an inveterate believer in fundamental external verities, and in the early ‘70s a philosophical argument between the two men grew so heated that Kuhn flung a glass ashtray at his pupil’s head. The Ashtray is Morris’s long-simmering return of serve, a systematic takedown of Kuhnian relativism that also builds a case for what we might call truth, justice, and the American way ...

I['ve also just finished] Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli. It’s a sliver of a book comprising fewer than a hundred pages, but it contains an encyclopedia’s worth of ideas. The first couple of chapters lay out the simple elegance of Einstein’s theories and the more convoluted concepts behind quantum mechanics, doing so in ways that may be familiar to anyone who’s dabbled with these matters before. Things begin to get more interesting as Rovelli examines the ways in which these models contradict each other. Even as the image of the cosmos he’s drawing grows more clear, he reveals vast territories of unexplored ignorance—he and his cohorts are learning every day how much more they don’t know ... continued

June 2018 eNewsletter

"A house without books is like a room without windows."
—Heinrich Mann

June means the end of school and the start of summer. Our possibilities expand for cramming so much life into the longer days and nights. Where can I even start?

This past month I've read so many stories about sisters, like How to Walk Away by Katherine Center, The Husband Hour by Jamie Brenner, and in preparation for our author visit from Rachel Linden, I've just started Becoming the Talbot Sisters. I grew up with only brothers, but I'm raising three daughters and so I can make good use of the insight into all of these female relationships. The stack next to my bed gets higher and higher with each month, but there are so many compelling books coming out. Later sunsets mean later bedtimes and more time to read.

June also brings Father's Day, and I'll be celebrating Victor and all the other devoted dads I know, especially the ones who walk through our doors with their children, grandchildren, or grown kids and share the experience of books. Good dads enrich their children's lives in countless ways. We take pleasure in helping customers find the perfect present to show their fathers how much they're loved.  

Everyone is celebrating grads this month too, and we are here to help keep them reading and learning (for pleasure now instead of homework!) over the summer. With that in mind, we'll be kicking off our kids summer reading program in June, so keep your eyes out for upcoming details via social media and in-store.

We also have the Seattle Arts & Lectures Book Bingo sheets in now, so come by and pick one up. If you keep track of your summer reads from now until September 4th by writing the title and author in the matching square, you can submit your board by mail, in person, or through social media for a chance to win awesome prizes.

In the next few weeks I'm going to spend some quality time field-tripping around the Northwest to visit other independent bookstores. I'm excited to chat with owners, booksellers, and friends and explore how other stores work and what makes them special.

Happy Father's Day to all the wonderful dads and congratulations to all the accomplished new graduates!

Laurie Raisys

... continued

The Great American Read

The American competitive spirit took a literary turn with the premiere of PBS’s The Great American Read on Tuesday, May 22nd. Aren’t we always hungering to know the best of the best?

In a time when the country is more divided than ever, PBS wants the public to join together as one and vote on their favorite book. The build-up is an eight-part television and online series designed to spark a national conversation about reading and the books that have left an indelible mark. You can learn how to vote via website or social media hashtag by heading to the PBS website, and find covers, descriptions, best quotes, author info, and more here

Is it really possible to award one title the official America’s Favorite Book crown? An elite panel combined with preliminary polls narrowed it down to 100 books to choose from, and The Great American Read will spend the next few months compiling votes (scroll down or click through to see the full list). PBS will announce the winner in the fall when the series finale of The Great American Read airs October 23rd ... continued

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.


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