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Gayle's August Letter

Gayle ShanksDear Bookstore Friends,

Walking along the beach on our morning four-mile hike we are always looking for dolphins but rarely see them. This morning we saw dozens, swimming, jumping, feeding, leaping in the air and surrounding a paddle boarder, standing on her board balancing with her paddle. They looked like synchronized swimmers, human and animals slowly moving in and out, keeping time with the gentle waves. It was a lovely morning meditation for those of us watching from the shore.

These weeks away from the desert each summer give me pause and time for reflection. They are open-ended days—no agendas, no to-do lists, very little driving—just long hours that slowly fill with beach time, reading, cooking, walking, napping, tiny bits of email, visits with friends, nightly gin and tonics, interesting conversations, sunsets, and then sleep, often waking in the middle of the night to the sound of waves a block away from our vacation rental.

Before we left Tempe, we spent time with Sophie, a young woman from France, who is doing a month-long internship at Changing Hands and staying in our home. She is a fledgling graphic designer studying for her degree at a school in Paris, and is the daughter of our friend, Carolina. Last year we stayed in their living room for a week when we visited Paris—that's when we invited Sophie to do her required internship at our store. She accepted, arriving in early August, the beginning our 115+ degree days. Fortunately, she loves the heat and jumps up occasionally to go outside to let it settle on her skin—an antidote to the damp, cold weather she lives in most of the year.

We had a wonderful two weeks with Sophie just before leaving for the beach. It's interesting that when you have a visitor from out of town, you get to show them the sights that you often forget are all around. We introduced her to good Mexican food. We pointed out the mountains surrounding our Valley. We took her on a long weekend trip to Montezuma's Castle and Well, Walnut Canyon, Flagstaff, and the Grand Canyon, driving back through Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, and stopping at Sunset Point for a last glimpse of the setting sun. Sophie loved seeing the many parts of Arizona—the low desert with its saguaro changing to scrub oak and mesquite and eventually tall pine trees as we drove north. She had been to the Grand Canyon as a young child but her memories were dim and she saw it as an adult with her artist's eye—color, shapes, rock, clouds, light dimming and brightening. It was fun to see her delight, her scampering with camera in hand from vista point to vista point, her astute comments about the environment, life, the opportunities she sees open to her. We were so lucky to have her visit us and remind us that in spite of the heat our state is truly a magnificent place to live.

Beautiful RuinsSophie wanted to attend an event at the bookstore, and the night before we left for California we were there to hear Jess Walter read and talk about his book Beautiful Ruins, which I just finished on the beach yesterday. It is a beautiful book filled with flawed but fascinating Citizen Vincepeople enduring pains of writer's block, thwarted love and loneliness, and the joys of first love, rediscovered family, and the stories that bind them all together. My husband was reading another Jess Walter novel at the beach, Citizen Vince, often laughing out loud and when he finished it saying, "I know at least four people who would love this book." Can't wait to read it myself.

I will let you know in my September letter what books we finished and loved on this vacation, but if you need a 'fix' before you read that letter, here are a few lists of books for you to try. The Center for Fiction The Dog Starsand The American Booksellers Association have co-sponsored the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize this year, and there are seven novels on the short-list. I was on the panel to select the winners, and although none of the books I read made the list, the ones that did are all great books. I especially recommend Peter Heller's The Dog Stars, now in our store and one of the best novels I've read this year.

100 Best-Ever Teen NovelsAlso, NPR has put together a list of its 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels. From the NPR website:
It's almost a cliche at this point to say that teen fiction isn't just for teens anymore. Just last year, the Association of American Publishers ranked Children's/Young Adult books as the single fastest-growing publishing category. That's why we were only a little surprised to see the tremendous response that came in for this summer's Best-Ever Teen Fiction poll. A whopping 75,220 of you voted for your favorite young adult novels, blasting past the total for last year's science fiction and fantasy poll at, dare we say it, warp speed.
Happy reading. I send you greetings from my sister Judy, my brother-in-law Jamie, my husband Bobby, my friends Nancy and Mike who are staying down the coast in Solana Beach, my sales rep friend Beverly who lives in Oceanside, and all the dolphins frolicking in the sunshine. We all wish you were here reading and daydreaming on the beach with us.


Questions or comments? Email Gayle at

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