November Book Club: ‘Transcendent Kingdom’ by Yaa Gyasi

This month’s pick for the Austin360 Book Club powered by TBF is Transcendent Kingdom by #1 New York Times bestselling author of Homegoing and 2020 Texas Book Festival author Yaa Gyasi.

Yaa Gyasi’s second novel is an emotionally searing, powerful, and intimate portrait of a Ghanian immigrant family living in Alabama who is ravaged by depression, addiction, and grief.

Gifty is a fifth-year candidate in neuroscience at Stanford School of Medicine studying reward-seeking behavior in mice and the neural circuits of depression and addiction. Her brother, Nana, was a gifted high school athlete who died of a heroin overdose after a knee injury left him hooked on OxyContin. Her suicidal mother is living in her bed. Gifty is determined to discover the scientific basis for the suffering she sees all around her.

But even as she turns to the hard sciences to unlock the mystery of her family’s loss, she finds herself hungering for her childhood faith and grappling with the evangelical church in which she was raised, whose promise of salvation remains as tantalizing as it is elusive. This exquisitely written follow-up to Gyasi’s phenomenal debut explores questions of faith, science, religion, and love.

We highly recommend ordering Transcendent Kingdom from our friends at BookPeople, and be sure to save the date for November 12 at 12:00 PM CST, when Yaa Gyasi will discuss Transcendent Kingdom!

Past 2020 book club picks:

October Book Club: ‘Dear Justyce’ by Nic Stone

This month’s pick for the Austin360 Book Club powered by TBF is Dear Justyce, the sequel to the #1 New York Times bestselling Dear Martin by TTBF keynote Nic Stone.

In this follow-up story, incarcerated teenager Quan writes letters to Justyce, the protagonist of Dear Martin, about his troubled childhood, a coerced confession, his experience with police, and more. This stunning novel, which can be read as a sequel or as a standalone novel, unflinchingly examines the American justice system’s discrimination against Black boys.

If you order Dear Justyce from BookPeople, signed, personalized books are available for anyone who orders before October 20! Signed books will be available for any additional orders while supplies last.

Save the dates for the Texas Teen Book Festival October 31 and November 1, when Nic Stone will discuss Dear Justyce!

Past 2020 book club picks:

 

Book Club Discussion: Q&A with ‘Mexican Gothic’ author Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Austin360 Book Club powered by Texas Book Festival thoroughly enjoyed reading Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia in August! This dark twist on the classic gothic novel is definitely a story you’ll want to read with the lights on. We were delighted to talk with the book’s author about the book! Want to discuss Mexican Gothic with us? Join the book club on Facebook!

What inspired you to write your own twist on a gothic novel? Why set it in 1950s Mexico?

Gothic literature does not include many people of color. When it does, they are an Other that is horrific or exotified. You see it in Dragonwyck, where there is a mixed-race woman whose main role is to appear to be shifty and potentially dangerous/mad. You see it also it with Dracula, who is technically European, but he’s Eastern European and at the point in time when Stoker is writing this is seen as an ‘inferior,’ dangerous sort of person and a racial Other. And you even see it in Jane Eyre, with the mad wife in the attic. The wife is technically white, but in the 19th century there is this fear of degraded whiteness. So the thought is that white people who are growing up in the Caribbean, who are being exposed to the influences of people of color, of the Other, are being diminished in some capacity. It’s a compromised whiteness.

So I wanted to place a Mexican heroine in the middle of a Gothic novel and not have her be a figure of exotic thrills or repulsion. She is not the dreaded Other and the European forces are not by default the superior, civilized element of the book.  

Parts of this book feel very Shirley Jackson-esque, the way High Place seems to be its own character. Were you inspired by any other “haunted houses” in horror stories, or maybe even real-life locations, when writing about High Place? 

I was inspired by a real town in Mexico called Real del Monte. It’s up high in the mountains, it tends to be chilly there and rainy during certain times of the year, and it was mined by the British in the 19th century. The English presence earned it the nickname of ‘Little Cornwall’ and it has a very distinctive English cemetery. When I visited that cemetery I thought it was like stepping into a vintage horror movie, with mist all around.

The subject of eugenics comes up a lot in the book. What made you want to address this topic?

I have a Master’s degree in Science and Technology Studies. My thesis revolved around eugenics and early 20th century literature, specifically Lovecraft’s work. Eugenics was a widespread ‘discipline.’ There were eugenics journals, it showed up in textbooks and it even inspired legislation. Eugenics often mixes with issues of race and Latin America becomes a contested space in eugenics thought because there is race mixing, which is seen as very dangerous by white eugenicists in places such as England. That is how you find people such as Ephraim Squier, an America archeologist, saying that “In Central and South American and Mexico we find people not only demoralized from unrestrained association of different races, but also the superior stocks becoming gradually absorbed in the lower.”

How did you get the idea to use the ouroboros as the Doyle family’s coat-of-arms?

I saw it in a tombstone. It was a symbol used by alchemists and by Gnostic sects. I also found references of it in books such as Mushrooms, Myth and Mithras: The Drug Cult that Civilized Europe.

Your publisher shared a Spotify playlist to go along with the book—were there any particular pieces of music that inspired you while writing this book?

No. I very much like “The Chromatics,” though.

It was recently announced that the book has been optioned for a Hulu series by Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos. What parts of the novel are you most excited about seeing brought to life?

I think the set design for the house, to be honest with you. And I’m just really curious to see how screenwriters adapt something from book form into a script.

 What are you reading right now?

I’m doing preliminary research for another book, so my reading list would look extremely bizarre. For my own pleasure I just bought “Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas” by Roberto Lovato and I have a review copy of “The Phlebotomist” by Chris Panatier.  

September Book Club: ‘The Only Good Indians’ by Stephen Graham Jones

We’re excited to share that 2020 Festival author Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians is our September pick for the Austin360 Book Club powered by Texas Book Festival!

This gripping new tale of horror, guilt, and revenge centers on four Native American friends haunted — quite literally — by a hunting trip gone wrong. Years after the incident, one of the men, Lewis, is suddenly forced to face his past before it gets to him first. With its expert blend of chilling imagery and social commentary, Jones’s novel tackles themes of tradition and cultural identity while keeping readers hooked.

Grab your copy of The Only Good Indians from our friends at BookPeople, and make sure to save the date for our annual BookPeople Day of Sales, which benefits the Texas Book Festival, on Thursday, September 10.

Jones is one of more than 125 authors coming to this year’s Virtual Texas Book Festival, which takes place online October 31 to November 15! In lieu of book club discussions in September, October, and November, we’ll be reading book club picks by Festival authors that we’re excited to hear from and see at this year’s Festival! Stay tuned for our full author lineup coming (extremely) soon!

Past 2020 book club picks:

August Book Club: ‘Mexican Gothic’ by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

For the August pick for the Austin360 Book Club powered by the Texas Book Festival, we’ll be reading Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, a New York Times-bestselling twist on classic gothic horror stories, set in 1950s Mexico.

Read the full description of the book:

“After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.”

Buy your copy of Mexican Gothic from BookPeople!

Stay tuned for book discussion updates coming later in August, and make sure to join the book club on Facebook here.

Past 2020 book club picks:

July Book Club: ‘The City We Became’ by N.K. Jemisin

For the July pick for the Austin360 Book Club powered by the Texas Book Festival, we’ll be reading The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin, a New York Times bestselling and three-time Hugo Award-winning author. This urban fantasy, the first in an intended series, asks: What if a city were a person? Or multiple people? What do those people look like—and what must they do to save New York City from sure destruction? It’s a fantasy novel that wraps in very real themes of race, oppression, xenophobia, and cultural conflict.

We’re planning to discuss the book in late July, so stay tuned for updates! Join the book club on Facebook here.

Past 2020 book club picks:

June Book Club: ‘How We Fight For Our Lives’ by Saeed Jones

We’ve chosen Saeed Jones’ memoir How We Fight For Our Lives as the June pick for the Austin360 Book Club powered by Texas Book Festival. 

In this multiple award-winning memoir, Jones writes about growing up gay and black in the South. Vividly relating episodes from his youth and early manhood, Jones writes powerfully—with the kind of naked honesty that feels necessary—about his deep bond with his mother, the joy and pain in early sexual encounters, and all the ways his race, relationships, and queerness impact his experiences as he fights his way into finding himself. 

We’re thrilled to share that Saeed will be joining us for a free virtual book discussion on Thursday, June 25, at 7 p.m. Jennifer Wilks, Associate Professor of English & African and African Diaspora Studies at The University of Texas and TBF Board of Directors member, will moderate the discussion. We’re looking forward to discussing this important, beautiful book with you all.

Buy How We Fight For Our Lives from BookPeople here.

 

Register to attend the free virtual discussion

May book club pick: ‘The Glass Hotel’ by Emily St. John Mandel

Join the Austin360 Book Club powered by the Texas Book Festival this month in reading The Glass Hotel, the latest book by author Emily St. John Mandel.

The book, which you can purchase from our partners at BookPeople here, is a novel “set at the glittering intersection of two seemingly disparate events-a massive Ponzi scheme collapse and the mysterious disappearance of a woman from a ship at sea.”

Read the full description:

Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star lodging on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. On the night she meets Jonathan Alkaitis, a hooded figure scrawls a message on the lobby’s glass wall: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” High above Manhattan, a greater crime is committed: Alkaitis is running an international Ponzi scheme, moving imaginary sums of money through clients’ accounts. When the financial empire collapses, it obliterates countless fortunes and devastates lives. Vincent, who had been posing as Jonathan’s wife, walks away into the night. Years later, a victim of the fraud is hired to investigate a strange occurrence: a woman has seemingly vanished from the deck of a container ship between ports of call.

In this captivating story of crisis and survival, Emily St. John Mandel takes readers through often hidden landscapes: campgrounds for the near-homeless, underground electronica clubs, the business of international shipping, service in luxury hotels, and life in a federal prison. Rife with unexpected beauty, The Glass Hotel is a captivating portrait of greed and guilt, love and delusion, ghosts and unintended consequences, and the infinite ways we search for meaning in our lives.

Join the book club on Facebook to discuss the book and check out our past reads!

 

April book club: ‘Stories of Your Life and Others’ by Ted Chiang

During these weeks we’re all spending at home, many of us are pulling older books off our shelves, books that may have been gathering dust because we kept telling ourselves we’d get to it; sooner or later. If acclaimed sci-fi author Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others, which came out in 2002, is one of those books for you, then you’re in luck: It’s our April Austin360 Book Club pick, so go ahead and dust off your copy and get ready to read!

We wanted to choose a book that, in these chaotic times, may already be on your shelf, or it’s at least easy (and affordable) for you to snag a copy. That’s why we went with Stories of Your Life and Others instead of Chiang’s Exhalation, which came out last year.

The book is a collection of short stories, including the story that inspired the film Arrival. The book includes eight of Chiang’s first stories, including one story that had not been published separately.

You can snag your copy of Stories of Your Life and Others from Bookshop.org, and make sure to choose our friends at BookPeople as the beneficiary (if you click here and go to BookPeople’s Bookshop page, you can search for the book there)! You can also check out the ebook from the Austin Public Library (or your local library of choice).

If you’re not already a member, make sure to join the Austin360 Book Club powered by TBF on Facebook. We’ll be discussing Stories of Your Life and Others in the Facebook group on Friday, May 1!

Catch up on our previous reads:

March book club pick: ‘My Dark Vanessa’ by Kate Elizabeth Russell

This month, the Austin360 Book Club powered by Texas Book Festival will be reading My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, which came out March 10. Pick it up at BookPeople and check out the review of the book at Kirkus Reviews! We’ll be discussing the book in the book club Facebook group on Friday, April 6. Join the group here!

About the book:

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

Previous Austin360 Book Club picks: