Reading Our State: Houston

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This summer, we’re taking a literary tour of our great state of Texas! Our first installment surveyed several of the authors and books who call our Capital city home, and now our second installment is focused on our largest city: Houston.

―by intern Emily Vernon


Despite being one of the largest and most diverse cities in the country, Houston’s often dismissed as nothing more than oil, bayou, and the Texans. And while it’s admittedly quite different from the other top-five largest cities, it certainly has its notable charm: it’s quirky, it’s artsy, it has good food, stellar museums, fun parks, and expansive bookstores. And because it’s so sprawling and diverse, there’s truly something for everybody— book lovers especially.

Enjoy the feeling of a well-lit bookstore with a hand-picked collection of bestsellers and cutting-edge new novels? Brazos Bookstore’s the place for you. Like your books with a little (or a lot) of mystery? Walk across the street from Brazos Bookstore to Murder By the Book. Looking for rare or antique books? Check out Becker’s Books off of I-10. Like the idea of a filled-to-the-brim bookstore? Head over to Kaboom Books in the Heights for one of the largest collections of used books in the city (maybe even the state).  

The literature born and inspired by the city is no less manifold. So, in continuation of our literary tour of Texas, we’re stopping in the country’s fourth largest city with 10 titles, five of which are written by Houston authors and five of which take place in the bayou city.


Books by Houston Authors


Nothing Up My Sleeve Cover Image

Nothing up My Sleeve by Diana Lopez: Upon stumbling across a previously unknown magic shop, three sixth grade boys embark on a summer-long journey of perfecting their tricks and trades before the magic competition at the end of the summer. But unfortunately for them, it’s not entirely a walk 

in the park; the boys’ families can’t afford to send them to the show, and the magic shop owner’s daughter is the reigning champion— and she’s determined to keep it that way. With realistic, open dialogue that incorporates popular Spanish phrases, Lopez has crafted an inclusive adventure that’s packed with lessons for children ages 9-12 and speaks to the power of working towards a goal. Nothing Up My Sleeve is set in San Antonio, but Lopez currently lives a little outside of Houston in Victoria, Texas.


Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: A cross-continental coming of age novel, Oleander Girl follows a young, determined girl who is trying to navigate her family history, find love, and understand who exactly she is on a personal level and how that plays into her societal role in a post-9/11 world. Divakaruni currently teaches at the University of Houston.


The City of Mirrors Cover ImageThe Passage Trilogy by Justin Cronin: The Passage; The Twelve; and The City of Mirrors travel through a post-apocalyptic world and the remaining humans’ efforts to rebuild. But when culture and institution are destroyed, the future seems an like insurmountable problem rather than an exciting adventure. The ensuing fight for normalcy is marked by consternation and chaos, reminding readers of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Stephen King’s The Stand. Cronin currently lives in Houston.


Cat in the Stack Mysteries by Miranda James: The eight-book series written by a Houston Medical Center librarian under the pseudonym Miranda James appeals to cat lovers, literaries, and murder mystery-lovers alike. Following librarian Charlie Harris and his beloved Maine Coon cat Diesel, a gentle giant and super-sleuth, James chronicles crimes in the small southern town of Athena, Mississippi and the resulting efforts by Harris and Diesel to save the day.


In Sunlight, in a Beautiful Garden Cover ImageIn Sunlight, in a Beautiful Garden by Kathleen Cambor: A recount of the historical 1889 Johnstown flood, Cambor’s novel tackles the greed of Gilded Age moguls and the consequences of their indifference. Much of the book builds up to the flood, narrating the lives of young lovers, of parents who want the best for their children, of business owners — in short, of normal, relatable people. It’s a tragic tale of loss and a testament to the unfortunate truth that a few’s actions (or lack thereof) can severely impact a majority population. Cambor lives in Houston, and was the director of the University of Houston’s creative writing center from 1997-2000.


Books set in Houston


Houston, We Have a Problema by Gwendolyn Zepeda: Gwendolyn Zepeda crafted a novel that speaks to one of the greatest fears of young adults: Can I trust myself to make the right decisions? Jessica Luna is a 26 year old emerging from under her mother’s wing. She leans on a psychic who catalyzes the process, giving her advice on any and everything — especially boys. When her psychic can’t help her anymore, she’s left to decide if she’s dating for herself or her mother, further complicating an already difficult ascension into adulthood and independence. Speaking to the trials most of us faced in our own coming of age stories, Zepada’s 2009 novel tells of human flaws in a lighthearted manner that’s fun to read.


Pleasantville by Attica Locke: When a young girl who worked for a mayoral candidate’s campaign goes missing, environmental lawyer and single father Jay Porter halts his fight against oil companies and enters the realm of criminal defense. Set in the Houston neighborhood Pleasantville, Attica Locke’s novel weaves social issues and entertainment into a story about racial tension, government corruption, and the dark side of power. Locke grew up in Houston and her forthcoming novel, Bluebird, Bluebird will be released in September.


Terms of Endearment Cover Image

Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurty:  A story about a lively, widowed, River Oaks-dwelling mother and her pregnant, spunky daughter, Terms of Endearment is perhaps most notable for its honest portrayal of flawed yet lovable characters. After a life of numerous tribulations, the pair seeks to deal with tragedy and the resulting changes through the lense of humor, realism, and love. It’s a testament to the power of a mother-daughter relationship and finding the beauty in humanity, flaws and all.



Rats Saw God Cover Image

Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas: It’s his senior year of high school, and Steve is in danger of not graduating— a scenario that would’ve been unimaginable just two years ago. So in order to leave the high school halls behind, he’s forced to endure a journey of self reflection through penning a paper about his descent from high-achieving wonderboy to underwhelming stoner. A tale of growing awareness and heartbreak, Steve’s journey is an intensely relatable look at the side effects of maturity.


The Astrodome: Building an American Spectacle by James Gast: A book for the native Houstonians, history enthusiasts, and construction connoisseurs alike, The Astrodome: An American Spectacle details what’s perhaps the bayou city’s most beloved structure. Gast takes readers through the planning and construction process of what natives often refer to as the eighth wonder of the world. With the first use of artificial turf (“AstroTurf”), the first animated scoreboard, and one of the original domed stadiums, the structure transformed baseball and has subsequently served as a cultural identifier and source of pride for Houstonians.