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Summer reading: Gayle Shanks on Louisa May Alcott

June 12, 2010 | 10:36 am


As summer gets underway, we've created the L.A. Times list of 60 books for 92 days. All of these are new titles, being released for summer 2010, a plethora of great summer reads.

At Jacket Copy, we're asking bookish types about their favorite summer reads of the past. Gayle Shanks is a founder of Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix -- once 500 square feet, now more than 12,000 -- which has one of the largest book sections for children and teens in the state. Shanks, a past president of the National Booksellers' Assn. board, shares her fondest summer reading memories.

Jacket Copy: Do you remember reading any specific books during summer?

Gayle Shanks: The summer when I was 12, I fell in love with Louisa May Alcott and read all the books that she wrote for children. I started with "Little Women," went on to "Little Men" and then "Jo's Boys" and worked my way through the rest of her books. 

JC: What year was that?

GS: This was in 1963.

JC: Where were you?

GS: I lived in Phoenix, Arizona, and it is very hot here in the summer. I was either in a swimming pool or in my room reading.

JC: What about the books was significant to you then?

GS: I am the oldest of five girls, and I think that the sisters in "Little Women" were the ideal siblings to read and dream about. They were so kind and loving to each other; my sisters and I fought and tried to get away from each other. I loved Alcott's characters in all her books, but I especially identified with Jo, who aspired to being a writer and who was the rebellious one of the bunch. She was definitely a role model for me.

JC: Have you reread the books?

GS: I have been afraid to reread the books as an adult because I loved them so much and have not wanted that memory to change with my aging mind. I have seen the movie versions over the years, but they have never lived up to the images I have of those families and their adventures.

JC: Have you returned to the place you were that summer?

GS: I still live in Phoenix, actually Tempe, and it is still very hot in the summer, and I spend lots of hours reading. I'm currently reading "The Girl in Translation" by Jean Kwok and am excited about reading "The Imperfectionists" by Tom Rachman and an early review copy of Leslie Marmon Silko's new memoir, "The Turquoise Ledge" which will be published in October by Viking.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Gayle Shanks. Credit: Jeanne Smith

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