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Gayle's November Letter

Gayle ShanksDear Bookstore Friends,

There's nothing like going to a memorial service for someone you graduated from high school with to make you grateful for being alive and in good health. To me it was a reminder that life is fragile and unpredictable, and of how important it is to be living the life I choose with consciousness, empathy, and appreciation for my world and the people dear to me. This is the month when Americans think about what they're thankful for as they plan for the holidays with friends and family. What better time not only to appreciate the bounty that appears on our Thanksgiving plates, but to remind ourselves that all in the world are not so lucky, and that perhaps working to ameliorate some of the ills facing those less fortunate is a worthwhile endeavor.

The End of Your Life BookclubI was very moved when I read in Will Schwalbe's book The End of Your Life Book Club that in spite of being in the last stages of her life, slowly dying from pancreatic cancer, his mother, Mary Anne, was more concerned with building a library in Afghanistan and the plight of refugees in war-torn countries than she was with the end of her own time on earth. Will and his mother decided to read the same books and talk about them while she underwent chemo treatments. Sloan-Kettering Memorial Hospital is a strange place to hold a bookgroup—but if it's only two people, and those two a mother and son coming to grips, through literature, with the sadness of illness, well, why not? I was reminded, as they shared books I've also read and loved, how important the ideas in novels can be, and what a transforming experience it is when you share your responses to those words with another person.

Changing Hands sketch
My BookstoreBookstores themselves often become that kind of space for sharing ideas and words, often between strangers, not blood relatives. And authors, in the new book My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop, have expressed gratitude toward those stores for the role they play in getting books into readers' hands. It's a paean to independent stores like Changing Hands, and we get to bask in their words about the impact we've had on their careers. We were asked by editor Ron Rice if we knew of an author who might like to write an essay about us, so we asked Ron Carlson, a longtime customer and friend, who enthusiastically agreed. His essay, along with those of 80 other authors, appear in the book. Included with every essay is a charming drawing (by Leif Parsons) of each storefront. We wish Ron could have visited us for the release of this book, but he is busy teaching in Irvine, California and couldn't get away. We miss him in our bookstore community and thank him for all the wonderful hours we've enjoyed reading his short stories and novels.

My Ideal BookshelfAnd since this letter seems to be all about books and being grateful, I want to tell you about one more book. When you walk into friends' houses and glance at their bookshelves, are you often surprised to see what they have there? Does it give you some sense of who they are and how they perceive the world? In My Ideal Bookshelf by Thessaly La Force and illustrated by Jane Mount, celebrities and authors were asked what books best 'represent' them and would be their favorite all-time picks to put on a single shelf. It's a diverse group of people—our own homegrown novelist Stephenie Meyer, journalist and social scientist Malcolm Gladwell, chef Thomas Keller (The French Laundry in northern California), and country music singer Rosanne Cash, among many others. It's a celebration of the books that have shaped their lives, which will remind you of books you've read and may want to visit again, along with others you might not have heard of but may soon place on your own "ideal bookshelf."

At Changing Hands we got so excited about this idea, and about Jane's colorful drawings, that we commissioned her to draw Changing Hands' ideal bookshelf comprised of each staff member's all-time favorite book. Picking that one book was like pulling teeth for all of us. One book? One favorite? One book that changed our lives? One book that, if we could, we'd put into every customer's hands and insist they read? One book we'd gladly pass out free on street corners on World Book Night? One book? Nearly impossible, but we did it, and as soon as Jane has had time to draw them, they will be revealed. We're hoping by Christmas, but whenever it comes we are going to be thrilled to share it with all of you.

As I was finishing this letter, I read in one of my favorite book newsletters, Shelf Awareness, a quote from a colleague in Boston. I thought it was an appropriate way to close. And since he mentions the efforts to bring about sales tax fairness through our legislatures, it's even more relevant to us here in Arizona. Many of you know that we have been fighting the good fight to force Amazon to collect sales taxes in Arizona, and we finally can say we won! As of February 2013, online sales of books and everything but digital products, which will be included in July 2013, will be taxed at checkout. A good thing for brick-and-mortar stores like ours; a good thing for schools and the arts and everything else that benefits from money in our state's coffers. So, here's Josh's quote:

"The biggest and most frustrating challenge with bookselling right now is that nearly everything that affects us is out of our control. There's nothing we can do about Amazon's business practices, or the Department of Justice's insane lawsuit, or the consolidation of the industry or the changes in reading technology. So we respond, adjust, adapt. We sell e-books, we carry more gift items because they have a better profit margin, we organize "buy local" campaigns in our communities and fight for sales tax fairness in our legislatures. We get on social media, we try different kinds of events, we create interesting displays, we sell the hell out of the books we love, but none of that reaches the boardrooms where the big decisions are made. If I could get one wish from the ghost of Sylvia Beach, it's that she, or someone who cares about the inherent value of books, gets a seat in those boardrooms to advocate for readers, not consumers, for books as a pillar of culture, not as a unit of sales, and for bookstores as community centers, not retail outlets and merchandise showrooms. And yes, I can totally see my house from the high horse I'm on right now."

—Josh Cook, Porter Square Books Cambridge, Mass., from the MobyLives "Talking shop with an indie bookseller" series
Small Business SaturdayHave a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family and friends. We are so grateful to have you in our community, where you support our store, our booksellers, and the authors and ideas that books hold between their covers. Come visit us this month and celebrate Small Business Saturday. Bring your children to play on our train table and show you their favorite book characters. And, of course, visit with our amazing booksellers who will ply you with their favorites—most definitely more than the one book they chose for our ideal bookshelf!


Questions or comments? Email Gayle at

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