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50 Years of Island Books: James Crossley

James Crossley has been a bookseller for over 20 years. His longest bookstore tenure was at Island Books, where he wrote so prolifically for their blog that Mercer Island was in danger of capsizing under the weight of his words. He was forced to flee to the mainland, and is now the manager of Madison Books in Seattle, named in 2022 by Publisher's Weekly as one of the five best bookstores in America.

Miriam: First off, my friend, I want to ask you about a way I know you left your individual imprint on the store. That was through buying, a skill which I’m sure comes in very handy today at Madison Books. Can you tell me about your philosophy behind buying and curating what goes on the shelves? In what way did the customers inform the books you chose to order and put on our display shelves?

James: I don't know if I'd call it a philosophy, although it's certainly closer to that than it is to a hard science. The only training I had before doing it involved hanging around in bookstores, but I have done A LOT of that in my life. I guess I think of selecting titles to carry as an attempt to answer a series of questions. Is this book like the others on our shelves? Is it by an author who's already popular? Is it nothing like the books on our shelves in a way that will provide surprise and delight? Is it important? Is it fun and frivolous? Can I imagine the audience for this book? Will we want a huge stack to satisfy hordes of readers? Do we want a single copy to wait quietly in a corner until one person finds it and thinks it was put there just for them? Will someone behind the counter here, maybe me, enjoy it and be excited about selling it? Add up all the yeses and the order is ready to place. Miraculously, the budget always adds up as neatly, almost like I planned it that way.

Book Notes: Warrior Girl Unearthed

You know how it feels when you read a book that comes out of nowhere and you’re totally blown away? And then that author comes out with their second book and you both really, really want to read it and you’re also afraid it won’t live up to the experience of the first? That was me with Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley. I’d listened to Boulley’s first novel, Firekeeper’s Daughter, and I loved that it was so different from anything I’d read before. The audio book gave me an aural experience of the Anishinaabemowin language that I certainly wouldn’t have had just by reading the book. It was so many things at once — a crime novel, a bittersweet romance, a coming of age story of a young woman with a foot in two very different cultures, trying to reconcile what she can, let go of what she can’t. It was beautiful and heartbreaking and informative without being preachy. So when Warrior Girl Unearthed came out this month, I felt an internal hesitation before opening it up. One night I decided to just read a chapter or two, see what I thought. The next thing I knew I was half way through the book.

50 Years of Island Books: Roger Page (and a bit of Nancy), Part 2

In the previous installment of my interview with former Island Books owner Roger Page, we talked about how he came to own the store, and how Island Books navigated the arrival of online and big box retailers (hint: it was you who kept it going, the community and customers). In part 2, we dig into staff memories, and Roger's wife Nancy chimes in with what it was like having their kids participate in the store effort.

Miriam: Roger, can you talk about the team you had around you at Island Books during those years as an owner? What was the cast of characters like, and do you have any particular good team memories? I know I do.

Roger: It was always a good mix of booksellers...and I'm not sure how that came about. A lot of the credit should go to Lola Deane, with an assist by Phil Deane. Her vision from the beginning was for something more than a little community bookshop. She dreamed up a mid-sized, sophisticated, warm and welcoming bookstore that could serve much of the Eastside. She hired well-educated readers from amongst her friends and worked with the wider bookselling community to stay up to date with inventory and publishing trends. 


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