—written by TBF intern Emily Vernon
Place serves as a powerful connector in literature; whether it allows you to identify with the characters or teaches you about a new city or culture, it’s undeniable that setting contributes greatly to the reader’s experience. At the very least, it’s exciting to read about a place you’re familiar with, to intimately understand the setting and nuances in a unique way. At best, reading about their hometown can inspire children, telling them that the place they grew up is worthy of a spotlight, that great things do in fact come that little Texas town that’s never in the movies, and one day they too can do something amazing.
We have a pretty great literary tradition here in Texas; yes, New York has the publishers, California’s a setting hot-spot, and many writers have hailed from New England. But literature lacks boundaries. Texas is home to various publishing houses located throughout the state — Houston, Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio have multiple. Nationally renowned authors such as Rick Riordan, who wrote the Percy Jackson and The Olympians series, and Sandra Cisneros, who penned The House on Mango Street, grew up and currently live in Texas, and Cormac McCarthy’s classic No Country for Old Men is set on the Texas-Mexico border.
To celebrate the literature that our great state has inspired, we’re introducing a summer blog series that’s going to take you around Texas from the comfort of your couch. We’ll focus on a few key areas: Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, South Texas and West Texas. You’ll be able to tour the Lone Star State and all that makes it great without getting out in that suffocating heat that’s also characteristically ours.
This week the spotlight’s on Austin. Many writers call the capital city home, fostering a literary community unlike any other in the state. Home to numerous indie bookstores, publishing houses, and even the Texas Book Festival, Austin’s a necessary stop for any book-loving Texan.
Books About Austin
Who Killed These Girls?: In 1991, four girls were found brutally murdered in an Austin yogurt shop, marking the beginning of a mystery that shook the city and has yet to be solved. Beverly Lowry delves into this decades-long puzzle, chronicling the near-convictions and the subjectively questionable police work in a way that even the most ardent of fiction readers will enjoy. Lowry currently lives in Austin.
Queer Rock Love: Written by Dr. Paige Schilt, Queer Rock Love is a feminist memoir about raising a child in a queer, gender non-conforming family in the south. Unfolding the many layers of complexities and hypocrisies of life, the story is a heartfelt take on family, gender, and community, challenging accepted societal norms and a testament to the power of embracing life’s imperfect whims. Much of the memoir takes place in Austin, where Dr. Schilt and her wife currently live with their son.
Monday, Monday: Elizabeth Crook’s work of historical fiction follows the lives of three students who survived the harrowing 1966 UT Tower shooting. Although it’s a work of fiction, the novel provides a researched glimpse into America’s first mass shooting on a college campus. The characters are left to deal with the life-long repercussions of the tragic event and the following “what if’s?” that haunt survivors. A native of Houston, Crook now lives in Austin with her family.
Small Steps: Those who read Holes will recognize Armpit, who is back as the main character in Louis Sachar’s Small Steps. Armpit and his friends struggle with young adult life in Austin, trying to balance maturity and the consequential ups and downs of the awkward, almost-adult-yet-still-a-teenager phase. The socially aware young adult novel by Austin resident Sachar is a little over a decade old, but much of the commentary is still relevant today; shedding light on racism and the East-West divide of the capital city, the book is sure to resonate with local readers.
Next: Kevin’s bored with his life in Ann Arbor Michigan: his job is unfulfilling, his relationship is taking a turn, so he gets on a plan to Austin for a job interview and finds an interesting woman who has captivated his attention. The book chronicles Kevin’s eight hours in Austin and the life issues he’s presented with while there. Written by James Hynes, a local Austinite, the story presents a humorous take on a character going through a sort of mid-life crisis that many feel they know so well.
Alamo House: Sarah Bird, a graduate of UT, presents readers with a humorous take on college Greek life and the social norms surrounding it. The girls of the fictitious sorority Alamo House take on the neighboring obnoxious, sexist frat and foster an unbreakable bond like no other. Alamo House is set on the UT campus and encapsulates the daily life of a Longhorn in a way that’s sure to make graduates and students alike laugh at the realism. Bird currently lives in Austin, and her most recent book, Above the East China Sea, was the Seattle Times Best Book of the Year.
Books by Austin-Area Authors
Furiously Happy: In her finest and most treasured form, Jenny Lawson presents a humorous take on how she deals with her crippling mental illness. Furiously Happy, despite its occasional absurdism, has resonated with readers for its honesty and chronicling of the search for happiness in the face of unrelenting brain chemistry. Lawson runs a blog titled The Bloggess and lives in Austin.
The Association of Small Bombs: Michener Center graduate Karan Mahajan’s second book was a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award. The captivating story tells of the dimensionality of humanity by examining the effects of terrorism on those who share a community, and has garnered intense praise since its release. Mahajan currently lives in Austin and is working on his third novel.
Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super Soaking Stream of Inventions: Children’s book writer Chris Barton and illustrator Don Tate chronicle the life of Lonnie Johnson, engineer and creator of the ever-so-popular Super Soaker toy. The story provides kids with a glimpse into the intersection of pop culture, fun, and science. Tate’s forthcoming book, Strong As Sandow: How Eugene Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth is set to be released by Charlesbridge publishing in August. Both Barton and Tate live in Austin.
Welcome to Utopia: Nestled between the rolling Hill Country hills just west of Austin lies the tiny Texas town of Utopia. Karen Valby tells the story of the isolated town and how it continues in a modernized and changing world despite being so seemingly cut off from civilization. Valby currently lives in Austin.