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Editor’s Note

In celebration of one of life’s perfect pairings — a beach and a book — PineStraw has produced its summer reading issue every August for over a decade. In that span our contributors have included Frances Mayes, Daniel Wallace, Etaf Rum, Ron Rash, Lee Smith, Clyde Edgerton, Bland Simpson, David Payne, Lee Zacharias, Celia Rivenbark, Michael Parker, Nan Graham, Terri Kirby Erickson, Shelby Stephenson, Fred Chappell, Anthony S. Abbott, Wiley Cash, Ruth Moose, Sam Barbee, Virginia Holman, and Jill McCorkle, to name a few. This year our page-turners are by Valerie Nieman, Brendan Slocumb and Stephen E. Smith and run the gamut from fantasy to thriller to memoir.

And every August we strive to find a cover that celebrates both reading and readers. This year we’re fortunate to be able to feature the work of California artist Michael Stilkey on our cover. The piece is one of Stilkey’s “book sculptures” entitled Self Portrait as Horse, Part Two. In a style reminiscent of German expressionism, Stilkey uses a mix of paint, lacquer, ink and pencil to capture his melancholic, whimsical characters painted on stacks of books, many of which are destined for the recycling bin. Stilkey told the L.A. Times, “Books are dying. There are so many that go to the garbage. It’s crazy. If I can paint on them, I’m giving them a second chance.” His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and around the world including the United Kingdom, Italy, Switzerland, Philippines, Hong Kong and Beijing, China. When the curator of the Rice University Gallery randomly saw his work in a Los Angeles gallery, she flew him to Houston where he created his first large book sculpture. It went viral. “Then I went on a world tour for the next, I don’t know, 15 years,” says Stilkey. “Right place, right idea, right timing. It all aligned.”

In 2018, Stilkey was invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland as a cultural leader where he created a book installation entitled Down to Earth consisting of nearly 8,000 books, standing 27 feet tall and 20 feet wide depicting people from diverse walks of life floating on the music of a pianist. In 2019 at the Starfield Library in South Korea he created his largest piece, a three-sided sculpture made of roughly 15,000 discarded books.

If you want to see more of Stilkey’s artwork, visit his website at In the meantime, stick your toes in the sand and enjoy another August reading issue of PineStraw.

— Jim Moriarty