Message in a Bottle
Let’s Talk Shop


On a recent trip to Bainbridge Island, my family wandered into Eagle Harbor Book Company on Winslow Way. If you haven’t been to that indie bookstore, I highly recommend a Sunday morning excursion. If you’re coming from Seattle you get the pleasure of a lovely ferry ride (particularly great in the summer), a stroll along the charming town of Winslow, perhaps brunch, and the experience of a homey, impeccable book buying experience.

I couldn’t help but notice the qualities Island Books shares with Eagle Harbor, like the welcoming staff counter, the children’s section tucked magically in the back, and the prominent display of shelf talkers highlighting the booksellers’ unique tastes. Whenever I visit another bookstore, I note the aspects I like and ponder how we could do better. I enjoyed the extensive staff pick shelf and vacation-like atmosphere.

The recent hubbub about Obama endorsing Amazon, Jeff Bezos purchasing The Washington Post, and William Lynch’s departure from Barnes & Noble has inspired renewed rumblings about the value of independent booksellers. I’ve read countless soapbox statements about the importance of indies and physical books and I’ve spouted my own self-righteous monologues about the subject on this very blog. I’ll try not to regurgitate anymore of what you’ve already heard, but more than the latest news, my experience shopping at Eagle Harbor Book Company brought the subject back to the forefront of my mind.


As I walked through the children’s section at Eagle Harbor Book Company that day, I carried my then-9-month-old son strapped to my chest. He’s a curious guy, always watching and reaching out for things that catch his interest. I’ve proudly noticed he gravitates towards books. As we browsed, he reached out and pulled Touch and Feel Farm from the shelf. It’s part of a DK series that features tactile pages, perfect for babies to touch and explore textures. I picked up his choice off the floor and went to put it back on the shelf, but he waved his arms out to the side and shouted “dadada” at an ear-piercing decibel. When I brought the book back to him he reached out to pet the soft yellow chick fur on the cover, his eyes filled with amazement.

"Wow, I guess he likes that book," commented a member of the staff, watching him and chuckling. She proceeded to bring over some other titles that offered the touch-and-feel experience. We laughed at him as he eagerly babbled and grabbed at different options.

Don’t let me mislead you into thinking Touch and Feel Farm is the ultimate in baby books, because a week later both my twins were squealing over a different title at the library. Rather than having an eager bookseller applauding their enthusiasm, we received a sharp shush. My kids don’t know the meaning of shush yet, so I had to leave when they didn’t quiet down.

I’m a big advocate of the library, but when it comes to finding new books for the babies, nothing beats an independent bookstore. The kids can’t pull a random title off the shelf at Amazon, and they aren’t old enough to follow library etiquette.


The Bookcase Is Altered

Want to see a picture of a Message in a Bottle author who has so many books on his mind he can’t decide what to write about?

Poor chap obviously needs a vacation, because he’s too wrapped up in his work. If only it had occurred to him to focus on what was right in front of him, the beauty of the actual book in his hand. Fortunately, many artists aren’t as oblivious as this guy, and they’re producing some amazing book-related work. 

Photographer Thomas Allen takes pulp paperbacks and turns them into dynamic three-dimensional action scenes like this one: 

Much of his work is collected in Uncovered, and even more self-referentially, many of his images have been repurposed as covers for other books, including fiction by James Ellroy and Jasper Fforde.

Another photographer, Abelardo Morell, also dwells on the physical nature of books in his pictures, but tends to emphasize their statelier qualities: 

His A Book of Books is stunningly beautiful and even moving, almost a meditation on time itself. The aging volumes he prefers to feature seem both permanent and ephemeral. 

Brian Dettmer is a sculptor who clearly has a great love for the medium of books, but he’s not afraid to open them up to see what makes them tick. His delicate but thorough excavations have been referred to as “book autopsies.”

There’s no compendium of his remarkable work, but some of it appears in Playing with Books: The Art of Upcycling, Deconstructing, and Reimagining the Book

Perhaps the most spectacular book-related art of recent years was created anonymously. Around a year ago, Scottish librarians at various institutions began to discover intricate gifts left hidden in the stacks. The first was this lovely “poetree.”

Eventually, ten pieces were uncovered, each unique and all in their own way a tribute to libraries and literacy. The full story, along with pictures of these treasures, is here. Some have claimed to know (or to be) the person behind the project, but the artist has not yet been publicly identified. So much better that way. 




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