Gayle's August 2016 Letter

Dear Bookstore Friends,

Gayle ShanksAs I think about the markers that remind me another year has passed—birthdays, school starting, the first cool days of fall, the New Year's Day sale at the bookstore—one of the most defining is my annual summer stay at the beach in Carlsbad. Our beach vacation is a family reunion of sorts, with some of us related biologically and others by friendship. The crashing waves, morning walks along the shore scanning for dolphins, communal dinners, time with my sister Judy and brother-in-law Jamie, visits with friends, and beach time with my son, Michael, and his son, Hayden, are the pleasures of this blissful time.

In my mid-thirties when we started coming to this sleepy beach town, we had so many families with us that we all rented separate funky apartments, spending days at the beach feeding PB&J sandwiches to the kids, taking turns watching them on their boogie boards, and reading. Books, always books. And umbrellas and chairs and sunscreen. My skin has aged, my hair has grayed, and the multiple apartments have morphed into one condo that we share with Judy and Jamie but the other pieces are still in place—minus the need to count to make sure that none of the dozen children have been swept away by the undertow. That first plop down in the beach chair, the moments of silence between waves, the beach bag filled with fruit (and now more sophisticated sandwiches than PB&J), my sister meditating with her feet in the sand impervious to the incoming tide, the walks in the surf, the long hours reading, the amazing breads my brother-in-law bakes day after day, and the stack of books waiting their turn to be carried down the steps to the beach . . .

. . . Ahh . . .

It was a summer during which more than one of us read several of the books we brought along; they were so good that we insisted others read them, too. There were themes—empathy, the Holocaust, activism, politics, the media, and life in New York City. The books little Hayden read told of dogs, dragons, fairy tales, and Greek myths.

So here are our Beach Reads for summer 2016. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did.


Questions or comments? Email Gayle at

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Our 2016 Beach Reads


News of the WorldNews of the World by Paulette Jiles
Of all the books we all read on the beach this summer, this was our hands-down favorite. Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd, an army veteran, makes his living as a "reader" who for ten cents a head will entertain you by reading newspaper articles from all over the world. It's 1870 in Texas and Kidd is asked to return a ten-year-old, rescued from her Kiowa captors, to her last remaining relatives some four hundred miles to the west. The girl remembers nothing of her previous life, and has come to love her life as a Plains Indian. Their journey is harrowing, but along the way the girl finds a "grandpa," and the Captain recaptures his self worth and sense of family. More »

Girl From VeniceThe Girl From Venice by Martin Cruz Smith
One of the best mysteries I've read in years. Smith's work is usually brilliantly written, but often dark and brutal. This novel, set at the end of WWII in Venice, is not so dark, but funny and compelling at the same time. Mussolini, Hitler, their mistresses, and their gold are characters in the story, as is a lovely young Jew hiding from the Nazis, and a fisherman who not only teaches her about fishing but about life, discovering unknown parts of himself in the process. More »

ChristodoraChristodora by Tim Murphy
This was a start/stop book for me, but at some point along the way I couldn't put it down. AIDS activists in the '80s and '90s changed the course of this heinous virus—people finally stopped dying when the government started funding research. The Christodora was an apartment building in New York City where two artists lived. They adopted a child whose mother died of AIDS, but in spite of their best intentions to grow a happy family, it all fell apart. Complex characters, a look inside the early gay rights and women's movements, a chance to see New York City before it became totally gentrified, and a great story: Christodora has it all. More »

Textbook Amy Krouse RosenthalTextbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
I loved this book as I loved Rosenthal's last memoir, Encyclopedia of Me: My Life from A-Z. Both are quirky, with short entries rarely longer than a page, and this new book is interactive to boot. You can text Amy if something moves you, or you have a serendipitous experience, or you see a double rainbow. She's a performance artist who creates art "happenings" in open spaces, and in this lovely book she has created another one, just for us, to play with in these pages. More »

UnselfieUnselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Michele Borba
Borba argues that we can change our world, one child at a time, if we can teach them empathy and compassion and get them off of electronic devices. This is one of the best parenting books I've ever read. As I am once again helping to raise a school-age child, Borba reminded me how important teachers and parents and grandparents can be, and that teaching children to take care of others might be the best thing we can do for them. More »

ReputationsReputations by Juan Gabriel Vasquez
Political cartoons and caricatures in particular can change the target's life dramatically. They can also affect the course of an election, the fate of a corporation, or the passing of a law. But what are the constraints on an artist? Is he or she allowed to destroy someone's life in the process? And what if an artist with his pen and ink may have made a mistake? This novel examines these issues in an absorbing, brilliant way when a famous caricaturist at the apex of his career is suddenly confronted with the implications of his holier-than-thou attempts to get a corrupt government back on track. His world implodes, forcing him to re-examine it from the inside out. More »

The Heart ArousedThe Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America by David Whyte
I love David Whyte and his poetry, and especially the way he has shown corporate America that arts and creativity are integral to their well being. This is an old book, but I re-read it and was once again wowed. More »

The Heart ArousedThe Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
I have always wanted to read this book but it never seemed to reach the top of my pile. So this year I listened to it as I walked in the morning and learned much about competitive rowing and the dedication that athletes make to a sport, the energy and emotion that goes into a team that must be in total sync to win, and also about the 1936 Olympics and the horrible dictator who tried to make them a showcase for his Aryan "master race." Hah! It didn't work! More »

The Heart ArousedYounger Next Year: The Exercise Program: Use the Power of Exercise to Reverse Aging and Stay Strong, Fit, and Sexy by Chris Crowley
I felt like I needed a reboot on my exercise routine, and this was a good start; very functional exercises for strength and flexibility. More »

The Heart ArousedSpringtime: A Ghost Story by Michelle de Kretser
This reminded me of a Henry James story: a bit creepy but also tightly written and interesting, if a bit unnerving. Dogs, books, a manipulating stepchild, a mysterious woman standing resolutely in a field that only one person can see—what more could you ask for? More »



Here are my sister's favorites:

History of WolvesHistory of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Gayle read this before she came to the beach and suggested I might like it. She was right. It's an engaging, haunting novel written by a very young woman. I can't imagine how someone so young could understand all ages and genders and write about them with such elegance. More »

Black WidowThe Black Widow by Daniel Silva
Better than average Silva—somewhat irritating in his increasingly right-wing political bent but understandable in light of recent terror attacks in Europe and Israel. Some really exciting scenes. (I never feel like there are enough of them.) More »

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal Girl From Venice News of the World
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
I love her style, her sincerity, her clarity. I want her for my best friend! More »
The Girl From Venice by Martin Cruz Smith
Better than the Silva; very satisfying action sequences; terrific characters. Couldn't put
it down. More »
News of the World by Paulette Jiles
Best book this year. I want more!. More »


A Whole LifeA Whole Life by Joseph Seethaler
We all read this novel, excellently translated from the German. It's a short, brilliant look at a man's life—his less than happy childhood, his relationship to his work and to nature, his resilience and his humanity. It's about the moments that make up our lives, one at a time. More »

Before the FallBefore the Fall by Noah Hawley
Another group read this year. A plane crashes in the ocean; there are two survivors—one forty years old, one four. The forty-year-old swims with the child on his back and is haunted not only by his own survival but by the lies told about him by a fictitious right wing nightly news reporter. It is a page-turner and a fun read with a bonding between younger and older characters that bears some similarity to Paulette Jiles's News of the World. More »

What We BecomeWhat We Become by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Can a lifelong thief become a good, honest man? Can a cynical con artist, born into poverty and excluded from "the good life" be converted by love? Can such a man even fall in love, even with the perfect woman? Pérez-Reverte tackles all this and more in a novel that is every bit as moving and memorable as some of the great classics. More »

Here I AmHere I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
Foer's first novel in 11 years is a bit too long, but the writing is extraordinary and the theme of double implosions—one of family, one of the Middle East—is explored with honesty and the complicated emotions of personal versus political alliances. More »

Before the FallThe Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God by Etgar Keret
Keret is a master short story writer, and there are many gems in this collection.
More »

End of the Novel of LoveThe End of the Novel of Love by Vivian Gornick
I decided to read this collection of essays because I heard it referred to in a podcast I listened to. Gornick's brilliant and entertaining writing examines the connections between love and literature in the works of Willa Cather, Grace Paley, Jean Rhys, Raymond Carver, and other authors of note. More »

MischlingMischling by Affinity Kovar
I feel compelled to read one Holocaust novel a year, and this year it was this amazing novel which, in spite of the dire topic, rose to new heights in terms of the insights, the depth of the characters, and the intriguing plot told in the voice of a young survivor by a talented novelist. More »



My brother-in-law Jamie recommends:

What Comes Next and How to Like ItWhat Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas
Short, smart paragraphs make up this delightful book about a woman approaching her old age with wisdom gained from tragedy, loss, and unbreakable friendships. Told with humor and warmth through small but powerful insights into how lives are lived. More »

Doubter's AlmanacA Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin
I like Canin's short stories, and wasn't sure about a long novel, but this one was great. It's a complex portrait of a troubled math genius and the effect his gift has on those close to him. I highly recommend it. More »



Our grandson Hayden loved these books:

When the Sea Turned to SilverWhen the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin
My grandma read this to me, and I loved the story of two brave children who have to stand many trials to rescue their grandmother who is put in prison by a mean emperor. They go under the sea, ride on a dragon, and tell stories to stay alive. More »

RibsyRibsy by Beverly Cleary
The dog is crazy. He steals steaks off grills, gets into lots of trouble, likes to make new friends, and loves Henry. I read this all by myself and want to read more books by this author. More »

Lightning ThiefThe Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
We started reading this in California and haven't finished it yet, but I want to be like Percy Jackson and I like figuring out who the characters are that he fights. They all come from Greek myths, my grandma tells me. I know some of them already like the Minotaur and Poseidon, the god of the Sea. More »