Dear Bookstore Friends,

Gayle Shanks Wow! Did we ever luck out this month—real spring weather! And it’s not just a brief tease of cool mornings and temperate evenings, but nearly a whole month’s worth. The cool mornings beckon me outside to work in my yard, where most of my wildflowers are spent but where some sunflowers, hollyhocks, lupine, and Mexican hats are still in bloom. This year for the first time I had to hire a gardener to pull out the dead plants, as there were so many and my back just wasn’t up to the task. Growing older, I am starting to understand that what I could do last year might not be what I can do this year despite my best efforts. I just read Mary Pipher’s book Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents & Flourishing as We Age, in which she describes the processes of women aging, coming-to-grips, don’t-be-depressed-about-it, we-all-go-through-it, being-grateful, being-resilient, it’s-a-challenge . . . all that I am facing. It was extremely helpful at this time in my life.

From the cover of Women Rowing North

We are all learning to be more resilient when faced with the daily barrage of mostly negative news. Sometimes I skip the front page of the newspaper, sometimes the whole front section, as it can be difficult to cope with the pain of reading about what is happening to our climate, our Constitution, the way we treat immigrants fleeing from violence and oppression, the idiocy of leadership, and the aggression and war threats looming on the horizon. I periodically take news breaks and go on news fasts just to maintain sanity. We have a pact in our house: Ask first if you want to share bad news, and if the answer is no, keep it to yourself. It’s hard sometimes to adhere to this when someone dies, there is yet another atrocity, you hear about a bill that you’re following in the state legislature that just died in committee because the legislators felt it was too hot to handle or their egos were too big to accept defeat . . . and on and on we go on the Bad News MerryGoRound.

But sometimes I read about possible solutions to our problems, and I want to share those, too. Yet another Democrat enters the 2020 presidential race and has great ideas to share. I am reading about their platforms, their ideas, their hope for a different America, and I feel my spirits buoyed up. Or I hear a TED talk and am reminded that people all over the world are seeking solutions to so many problems and are rejoicing in the little steps that might be leading to hope and redemption for us all. Or I read an essay from a newsletter I get called Strong Towns on ways we might make our communities financially stronger, more humane, more inclusive, more diverse. It included quotes from beloved poet and aging agrarian hero Wendall Berry, and I’m off and running with new brain power and an intention to contact every member of the Tempe city council to get them thinking about building a better community. The Tempe election for mayor and city council is just ahead of us, and these issues are important ones for those running or voting to consider.
Then there are the books that brighten the picture and help move the fear and worry into manageable increments. Just before I took a trip to the central California coast with a wonderful group of women friends, I read Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane, and was so moved by it that I gave them all copies to read. It was filled with wisdom about plants, gardening, friendships, how to cultivate and tend them, and the importance of words and lifelong commitments. It harkened back to much of what Mary Pipher talked about in Women Rowing North. The Parisian by Isabella Hammad—one of the three debut authors visiting Changing Hands for our summer First Fiction tour on June 4—is a remarkable novel. Set in the early 1900s, it explores the origin of Mideast tensions, the desire of the young to get an education and to find love amidst the hardships imposed by class and racism. It’s a brilliant first novel, as are all the debut books we’ve chosen for the event. (BTW, I listened to the audiobook version using, the indie alternative to Audible, which is owned by the Amazon behemoth.)
As always, I am also reading advance copies of forthcoming books, and here are a few to watch for in the months ahead. Elizabeth Strout brings Olive Kitteridge back in her dotage in Olive, Again (October 15, 2019)—(Do you detect a theme in this letter?) Olive is old but not weak, and she finds a new love and reconnects with old students and friends—characters I often think about. She’s still feisty, cranky, and definitely a curmudgeon, but I was so grateful to find her back in my life again, like an old friend returned and embraced. On to a different but no less wonderful novel, Alice Hoffman’s latest, The World That We Knew (September 24, 2019), which I read in two days! Here’s a quote by none other than Elizabeth Strout that sums it up:
"Oh, what a book this is! Hoffman's exploration of the world of good and evil, and the constant contest between them is unflinching, and the humanity she brings to us—it is a glorious experience. The book builds and builds, as she weaves together, seamlessly, the stories of people in the most desperate of circumstances—and then it delivers with a tremendous punch. It opens up the world, the universe, in a way that is absolutely unique. By the end you may be weeping."

©Roger Naylor, azcentral
Good books, spring weather, visits and trips with friends, new ways to engage with our community, thinking about good alternatives to less than happy circumstances—all these keep us going and growing. Come visit us and tell us what you’ve done lately, how your gardens are growing, what you are doing to keep yourself healthy and happy, and what you’ve read that you’ve loved.

Happy Summer,

Questions or comments? Email Gayle at