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Gayle's June Letter

Gayle ShanksDear Bookstore Friends,

I'm writing to you this month from Flagstaff. We escaped the sweltering heat of the Valley and are spending a long weekend with our friends Stu and Nancy, who have a beautiful home in the woods north of town surrounded by tall pines, scrub oaks, and abundant wildlife. Coming back from a trip to town today we surprised two bucks, both with antlers so huge and heavy that I wondered aloud at how they can possibly hold their heads upright. "Very strong neck muscles," Nancy said. I guess so!

In Sunlight and ShadowI just came inside to write this letter after a delightful hour sitting on the deck listening to Stu practice his saxophone and reading Mark Helprin's forthcoming novel, In Sunlight and in Shadow (hardcover, $28), which won't be published until October 2. Helprin is a writer of magnificent prose who has taught me in the first 500 pages of this nearly 800-page book what it feels like to fight in a war (WWII), fall deeply and madly in love (because once you've experienced the horrors of war, the only hope for redemption is to love deeply and intensely), and what New York City was like in the '40s and '50s (rife with Mafia toughs collecting protection money, goods pouring in from overseas, and rampant antisemitism).

The All of ItNancy was just finishing The All of It (paperback, $12.99) by Jeannette Haien, in which a woman's startling confession to her priest presents him with a crisis of faith while hers remains intact, and the reader is left to decide what is sin and what is abiding love when faced with the facts of a lifetime. When she closed the book, the look on her face was reminiscent of what I remember feeling when I finished it myself: "How can anyone write the most perfect novel in just 145 pages?" Two great books—one you can read now, and one to look forward to in the fall.

I often think about how I got so hooked on reading, and recently forwarded an article about Louisa May Alcott to my four sisters, asking them if Little Women was as important to them in their early lives as it was to me. I remember reading it over and over again when I was eleven or twelve, eventually reading all the other books in the series too.

My sister Laurie responded, "I loved it, too, although I have to say that I date my joy of reading to the Little House on the Prairie books! I bought the entire set for my boys, who hated them. I'm happy to say that Kaulini [her granddaughter] loved them. Or at least she told me she did!"

Caps for SaleVicki, my sports-loving sister, wrote: "I didn't like to read as much as the rest of you did. I liked building forts with the neighborhood kids in the field behind our house. Maybe that's why I like reading John Grisham and Jo Nesbø, LOL. Brody [her 2-year-old grandson], on the other hand, after being read Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina (paperback, $6.99) was showing the docent at the Children's Museum yesterday how the monkeys shook their fingers and stamped their feet!"

It's a mystery how reading catches us and won't let go, how the sight of a favorite book cover or an author's name can send us to another time or place, into a dark rumination or an ecstatic reverie. In the days when I was a book trader at Changing Hands, it was a struggle to work efficiently because I kept coming across books I loved, opening them up to read sentences, paragraphs, names of the characters, and then talking to customers about them. Fortunately I still get to 'talk books,' not only with sisters and friends but with all of you when I see you in the store and you ask for something good to read. I'm so lucky to have this job—to read for a living as I mentioned in a recent interview I did for Atticus Press. My childhood habits have turned out to be of some worth after all. As long as publishers are still finding new authors, and writers are still writing good books, there will be a place in the community for indie booksellers.

DoJSpeaking of which, I hope the Department of Justice's ruling in Amazon's favor and against the so-called agency model will soon be reversed on appeal, and that books will retain their intrinsic value. Otherwise they'll continue being used as loss-leaders to lure consumers to websites in the hopes that they'll buy other things like TV sets and computers. The agency model evens the playing field for indies like Changing Hands Bookstore, and will help guarantee that there will be enough money to pay authors who write the books we love, and help ensure diversity in the marketplace.

It's going to be a long, hot summer, but books can carry us off to cooler climes, and remind us that life is good in spite of the heat. We hope you come in and visit us—the store is cool and we'd love to see you—and tell us what you're reading now, and what you loved as a child.


Questions or comments? Email Gayle at

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