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Gayle's May Letter

Gayle ShanksDear Bookstore Friends,

I missed you all in April. Rarely does a month go by without my keyboard calling to me, but somehow the opportunity to say hello just quietly slipped by. I worked at the store, had meetings, dinners with friends, entertained guests from Boston and Wisconsin, went to movies, read six novels, wrote reviews, ordered books, saw a ballet, hosted our annual Passover seder, campaigned for my friend running for mayor of Tempe, and numerous other things that I have now forgotten. You must have those months, too—here and gone in the snap of your fingers.

Now we're well into May, the temperatures are climbing, and our doors and windows are staying closed as air conditioners start running day and night. The sunflowers are blooming and the lovebirds that fly around our neighborhood have returned to harvest the seeds. I thought they were parrots but a friend told me she saw the same birds in India and they are definitely love birds. That's nice. And, as long as I keep the feeder filled up, we have goldfinches too. The record is eight birds on the feeder at one time—intensely competitive little things, pushing one another out of the way trying to see who can get the most flax seed into their beaks. I love watching them outside my kitchen window.

TopiaSpeaking of beautiful things to watch and enjoy, if you haven't seen the ballet, Topia, at the Desert Botanical Garden, I hope you'll consider treating yourself to a magical evening. The back parking lot has been transformed with a stage, lights, and sound into an outdoor wonderland. The dancing doesn't start until the sun sets over the Papago Mountains. As the sky darkens, the dancers climb onto the enormous stage—I'm told it is the largest ballet stage ever built—and Beethoven's 6th "Pastoral" Symphony starts playing through a perfect sound system. The backdrop to the performance is the landscape: blooming saguaros, mesquites, ocotillos, and the mountains. Moths attracted by the lights flit above the stage, echoing the diaphanous costumes of the female dancers. The men, barely clothed, leap and bound across the expanse, causing the viewers to turn their heads from side to side trying to see everything at once. Soon, I realized that this was impossible, and found myself focusing on one dancer, one sequence, one part of a complicated, delicate balance of air, music, and movement that was ever-changing as the sky darkened. An hour later it was over, and I wanted it to start again.

A Land More Kind Than HomeBooks are often like that, too, when they are so good you just don't want them to end. And how you envy anyone who hasn't read the good ones yet because you'd love to re-experience being so connected to the characters, the place, the plot, the emotions. I felt like that recently when I finished a debut novel by Wiley Cash called A Land More Kind Than Home. It's a literary mystery involving a faith healing that goes terribly amiss. It's told in three voices: a young boy who sees more than he understands, the town sheriff who has suffered his own deep loss, and an aging matriarch who early in life understood what happens when religion excuses behavior and innocents are deprived of free will and hope. This was my top pick from five novels I read for a debut fiction award. It's available right now on our front table with my staff pick touting its virtues.

Ann Patchett was at the store the night I was at the ballet in the desert, but I heard from many of you that she was one of the best speakers we've ever brought to town—funny, insightful, friendly and, in addition to being one of our favorite authors, she now owns her own bookstore in Nashville, so she totally 'gets' indie bookstores. Thanks to all of you—almost 200 people attended the event—for supporting Ann, books, and your local indie. It always touches my heart to know how passionate our community is. It makes thinking about the investment and commitment to opening a second store in central Phoenix feel doable, exciting, and totally worthwhile. A sister store becomes more of a reality every day. There's no signed lease yet, but we're very happy about how the plan is progressing. Stay tuned. You'll be the first to hear the details as they unfold.

I hope you have plans to stay cool as the weather heats up, either on a 'staycation' at home or a trip someplace farther afield. Either way, be sure you have plenty of books to read! There's a new wall of staff favorites from which to choose, and we're always happy to help you find that next book that's so good, you won't want it to end.


Questions or comments? Email Gayle at

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