Austin Writers Sarah Bird and Natalia Sylvester Share Summer Reading Ideas

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Natalia Sylvester

Natalia Sylvester -- PhotoThe Rooms are FilledI’ve been told I like sad books, but I like to think of them as beautiful stories about the depths of the human spirit. The latest of this type of book that has me mesmerized is Jessica Null Vealitzek’s debut novel, The Rooms Are Filled. Set in the 80s, it’s the story of a nine-year-old boy who, after his father dies, moves from his Minnesota farmhouse to Chicago with his mom. As he struggles to let go of his old life and adapt to his new one, Michael forms a bond with his school teacher Julia, who is also in search of a new beginning after being shamed for being a lesbian in her previous community. Reading this coming-of-age story about two “outcasts” helping one another cope is a reminder of why sometimes we need quiet stories. Not all struggles are obvious shouts; the most heartbreaking (and often the ones we most relate to) are quiet undercurrents we try to keep to ourselves, until we see them mirrored in someone else and realize we are not alone.

Natalia Sylvester is the author of Chasing the Sun

Sarah Bird

[note from Steph: originally Sarah sent me the email below, asking me to pick one of the titles she mentioned and she’d write about it. I loved the email so much I got the OK from Sarah to publish as is.]


I’m planning to read Christina Henriquez’s novel Unknown Americans cuz I did a reading with her and Philly and liked her tremendously. But the truth? I took Watership Down with me to reread cuz I love that book. But that’s probably too old and ungroovy. Also relistened to The Color of Water since I love that memoir and it has an AMAZING narration by Andre Braugher and Lainie Kazan. I actually love it even more on audio. Also listened to Gail Caldwell’s new one. How she managed to make hip replacement riveting, (hah, sick unintended pun), is beyond me. Also rereading Their Eyes Were Watching God since my screenplay about a freed slave girl who disguised herself as a man and served two years in the Buffalo Soldiers (true story) is being developed now as a short TV series and I need to refresh myself on rural black dialect, sort of of that era. Of course, wow, that is amazing for so many reasons. 

I can’t wait to start Elizabeth Crook’s book MondayMonday.  I really enjoyed an early summer read The Obedient Assassin by John DavidsonI‘ve been splurge-reading since I’m sort of not researching anything right now. There are even others. Oh wait The Bees I am a freak for animal stories. Just started that and can’t put it down. Hey, you know what was interesting? The N+1 book MFA v. NYC. Such an eye-opener for someone like me who is so totally out of both worlds but esp MFA. Also liked Where’d You Go, Bernadette more than I thought I would. Plot was a bit tortured but worth the circumnavigation for Seattle snark and gorgeous Antarctica descriptions.

Sarah Bird is the author of Above the East China Sea

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