Dear Bookstore Friends,

Gayle Shanks It’s January. A new year, a new decade. It’s a time to look back and to look forward, and it’s a time for action. Many have traditionally come to see January as a new start in our lives, the marker for resolutions that will rid us of excess body fat, for example, or working too many hours, overusing alcohol or drugs, not vacationing enough, neglecting our planet. Or on the more positive “what-I-want-to-do-this year” side, perhaps we’ll add read a book a week, watch more documentaries, volunteer at a food bank, take my kids or grandkids to a play or the ballet, or even go to Changing Hands to see visiting authors more often.
I’ll start with the positive: I will eat less meat this year, spend more quality time with my grandchildren, turn my phone off an hour before I go to sleep, and not look at it for an hour after I wake up. Once a month I will contribute money or time to a good cause. I will read a book a week for all of 2020. I will look at the Changing Hands event calendar and other local arts-related calendars and attend more events to stretch my mind and to interact with more people. Couldn’t we all fill up this page with what we want to do? With what we believe we will do, what would help our souls, our families, our communities, our country, our world? 

These ideas inspire me to share something that can be done to counter the negative impact of so much bad news. We are bombarded by news of endless wars and global discord, a Republican Senate majority that refuses to act on many bills that would help the American people—or to condemn a president who epitomizes many of the worst traits of humanity—plus the daily dose of news about our planet’s accelerating climate crisis. Getting out of bed in the morning is getting harder and harder, it seems. What’s a woman to do?

My friend Nicholas Kristof writes for the New York Times—he’s never met me, I should add, but I read his email newsletter regularly, quote him often, take his advice on what charities to support, and believe he is one of the “good men” in the world. He wrote a column recently about families in middle America that brought into focus so much of what is not working in our country. It left me reeling but surprisingly hopeful. There are things that we can do to create positive change. They may be small and it will probably take time to see results, but if we wallow in despair and do nothing, we spiral into deeper and deeper darkness with no hope of light. Our system of education disparity needs to be changed—poor kids do not deserve bad schools with underpaid teachers or an endless string of unprepared substitutes. If we are going to have an educated workforce, we have to start with early childhood education, we have to make sure that kids going to school have food in their bellies so they can learn, that they are safe when they go home, that their parents have resources to turn to when jobs dry up, when food stamps are taken away by misguided lawmakers. Kristof raised other issues in the article: overuse of opioids, too many arrests and jail time for moms and dads whose children end up in foster care, increasing suicide and mortality rates in middle America. No end of problems, but again, tiny whiffs of solutions if we manage to focus and do something rather than despair.
NYT Article
Image credit: Lynsey Addario/Getty Images
For some more help figuring out what to do, Frances Moore Lappe, one of my gurus from the ‘70s on global food issues, is now writing and speaking about the need to change how we think about our democracy.
“We have to work on courage. This is the time to do what scares us. Rather than being individualistic, humans are actually so social that it’s hard to be different from the pack—even if the pack is heading over the falls. But fear doesn’t have to kill us. Fear can be exhilarating. Choose people in your life who are gutsier than you, more willing to take risks, and absorb that from them and be courageous yourself. That is what this moment calls for. We see how vulnerable we are to being told that the enemy is ‘them.’ We have that tendency, but we’re capable of overcoming it. If we understand that we’re vulnerable to it and work against it, that would make a huge difference. Because we’ve got to pull together. That’s what democracy is all about.”
So, my new year’s resolutions continue. I want to be more courageous and step to the edges of my comfort zones. I am going to take direction from yet another excellent article, one about climate change that starts with how to stop freaking out and how to seriously tackle global warming, starting with getting rid of my shame that I’m not doing enough personally and moving toward working with organizations that just might be able to make a huge positive impact. I’ve started a new workout routine to keep my body strong, I am determined to spend time with friends and family near and far who fill me up with love and hope, and I am going to read more books than I did last year, and watch less TV. When Paul Yoon, one of my favorite writers, comes to our Phoenix store on January 28th to read from his brilliant new novel, Run Me To Earth, I will be there. I’m going to work for peace and justice and spend more time outdoors because the natural world sustains me and reminds me of my connection to the earth.
Paul Yoon
May you all, too, find those things this year that fill you up, sustain you, bring you hope, connect you with loved ones and fill your mind with possibility. Books do this. Friends do this. Community involvement does this. Taking action for positive change does this. Take your pick, but please, pick. If you have a few minutes, watch the PBS special that features Changing Hands—a conversation I had with the wonderful poet, Alberto Rios, in our Phoenix store. Visit us and tell us what you’re doing, what you’re thinking about, what our bookstore can add to your life.

May 2020 be the year of moving toward solutions, removing fear and shame, and seeing our efforts rewarded in small and perhaps large moments of hope and possibility.


Questions or comments? Email Gayle at