TBF Holiday Gift Guide

Looking for the perfect holiday gift for the readers in your life? Look no further than the 2021 Texas Book Festival Books Page! There is something for everyone, all available at independent bookseller BookPeople.

We at TBF  thought about our friends and family—adults and young readers—and which books would be perfect for them and why. Check out our personalized recommendations below for inspiration!

Gavin – Machete: Poems by Tomás Q. Morin

For the creatives in my life, I’m gifting Machete: Poems. I hope this collection does for them what it did for me: revitalizes their creative energy and inspires them to go create.

Gavin – The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

I’m excited to gift The Insomniacs to my teen sister, who will hopefully (finally) see me as cool after she reads this. But really, I think this is a great gift for any teen (or YA book lover!) in your life who is looking for a compelling slice-of-life story.

Michelle – Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

I’m excited to gift Harlem Shuffle to my best friend in Washington and myself (that’s allowed!). We love jumping on a call and discussing a book we both just read, and I know this will be a fun read that gives us lots to discuss.

Michelle – A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

A Wish in the Dark is a rich, engaging story filled with adventure. Already a beloved book in my home, I plan on gifting a copy to my niece. I think it will be a perfect match!

Claire – Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia

This is a devastatingly beautiful book, sweeping across five generations of mothers and daughters. For someone who loves Homegoing, Beloved, or Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriela Garcia’s insight in women’s fight to survive is tremendous.

Claire – Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask: Young Readers Edition by Anton Treuer

Kids and teenagers ask questions, sometimes they’re the right questions, and sometimes they’re the questions that make adults cringe. But how will they know if they don’t ask?! Anton Treurer has created a brilliant book that gets straight to the point, and explains Native stereotypes, culture, and harmful cultural practices (Halloween costumes…). While there is an adult edition, this version is great for the entire family.

Susannah – From Pig Skins to Paintbrushes by Don Tate

It turns out that you can be an athlete and an artist! The Ernie Barnes story reminds us that no matter how good you become at something, it’s never too late to be great at something else.

Susannah – Paris Without Her by Greg Curtis

Both a beautiful celebration of an authentic marriage and a travelogue of Paris with all of its possibilities, this is the perfect book for someone who has lost a cherished life partner and is contemplating the next chapter of their life.

Matt – Being Texan: Essays, Recipes, and Advice for the Lone Star Way of Life by the editors of Texas Monthly

The book title almost speaks for itself, and I can’t think of any Texas family members of mine who wouldn’t want a copy this holiday season.

Matt – Indelible Ann: The Larger-Than-Life Story of Governor Ann Richards by Meghan P. Browne

For Texas’s young readers, a perfect picture-book introduction to larger-than-life governor Ann Richards, whose famous quips—I’m delighted to have discovered—have found new, viral longevity on TikTok. I’ll be gifting this to my goddaughter, complete with a personalized handwritten note from author Megan P. Browne: “To Mila—the future governor of Texas.”

Ke’ara  – As the Wicked Watch by Tamron Hall

I’m excited to gift As the Wicked Watch to my sister, a true-crime and thriller connoisseur. She is indeed the Sherlock Holmes in the family, effortlessly able to jump into a new haunting tale and skillfully assemble the pieces within a mystery. This book is also a great conversation starter around the dinner table– if you can stomach the gruesome clues and sometimes unsettling correlations to our own criminal justice system.

Ke’ara – El’s Mirror by Bavu Blakes

I am gifting El’s Mirror to my younger brother this holiday season. He’s currently navigating junior high, a pivotal time in our lives when we begin to define who we are and who we want to be. There are so many labels placed on our young Black boys in this country and I want my brother to always be able to look in the mirror and claim his own identity and narrative. Happy holidays!

Lois – Grains for Every Season by Joshua McFadden

I had the honor of meeting Joshua McFadden at the Festival this year, as he was the chef-author celebrated at our annual Olamaie brunch. Joshua is on a mission to help people incorporate more whole grains into their meals. Do not fear that this means eating healthy but flavorless hippie mush. Joshua wants you to eat whole grains like he does because they are delicious. Grains for Every Season has dozens of modern recipes and easily checks all the boxes of recipes that are going to be in heavy rotation off my cookbook shelf: inspiring, practical (aka not that hard to make), and full of color and flavor. The cookbook itself is gorgeous, with a letterpress cover that makes it a perfect holiday gift for those loved ones you know who always want to start off the new year resolved to eat more mindfully.

Lois – May Your Life Be Deliciosa by Michael Genhart

A beautiful picture book about a family’s tradition of making tamales on Christmas Eve and the love and lessons within food traditions. It has the magic of a book a little one would want to read over and over–during the holidays and throughout the year.


Book Picks From TBF Interns

Meet the 2021 TBF Interns! Learn more about the newest additions to our team through the books on their desk. 

From Olivia Hesse, Event Production Intern: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

This was the first book I have read in years that made me cry, and not just a little either. A father and son walk through a post-apocalyptic world trying to survive hunger, cold, and the others that are left.

One of my favorite quotes from the book: “Then he just knelt in the ashes. He raised his face to the paling day. Are you there? he whispered. Will I see you at last? Have you a neck by which to throttle you? Have you a heart? Damn you eternally have you a soul? Oh God, he whispered, Oh God.”

From Leah Rosenberger, Texas Teen Book Festival Intern: Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino

While wandering from my usual cast of fiction reads — I am currently juggling The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, Dune by Frank Herbert, and High Fidelity by Nick Hornsby — I stumbled upon one of my favorite books of the year so far! This non-fiction gem is Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino, a collection of essays revolving around cultural touchstones, bitter realizations, and through it all, existence and the rhetoric of individuality in the post-Internet age. Houston-native Tolentino unfolds her experiences with femininity, religion, scams, literature, reality TV, and more into neat, journalistic sheets of omnipresent “Aha” moments. My favorite essay so far is titled “Always Be Optimizing,” a deep dive into the dysfunctional narrative of the ideal modern female worker and citizen, and how the fusing of the physical and moral value of a woman has been defined by this “punishingly natural” standard.

From Krysta Herrera, Literary Programming Intern: Circe by Madeline Miller

From the first sentence, Circe’s command of the narrative demanded my attention, and I felt as if I was listening to the wonders and woes of an old friend. Circe illustrates how myths are rooted in truth. The truth about ourselves, the truth about reality. And it is this very sentiment, these very human emotions that will resonate with audiences, and whose message will triumph.


From Roxanna Sanchez, School & Community Outreach Intern: Lily-Livered  by Wren Hanks

Wren Hanks presents a beautiful collection of poems about one’s relationship to their body, especially one that is viewed as “wrong” or “abnormal” by society’s standards. This chapbook is insightful, poignant, and a must-read!



From Ana Krueger, Marketing & Communications Intern: Confessions by Kanae Minato

Thrilling, jaw-dropping, and unlike anything I’ve read before. I read Confessions by Kanae Minato on a whim and within the first 10 pages had audibly gasped. Going into this novel prepared or not, you will be swept away in Minato’s meticulous, yet compelling storytelling. She weaves together revenge, mystery, and heartbreak beautifully in only 167 pages. The novel follows a middle school teacher grieving the tragic loss of her daughter. Before departing from her class, she confesses an act of revenge upon the two students who are believed to have murdered her daughter. She leaves and we read on.

From Justine Lockhart, Development Intern: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

I felt this book calling to me in a Half Price Books and it quickly became one of my favorites. The writing is beautiful, the story is captivating, and the characters feel very real.



From Erin O’Shea, Literary Programming Intern: We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson.

This book is one of the best reads ever, it quickly jumped to my top five favorite books of all time. The prose is incredibly well- written and the end of the world seems simultaneously terrifying and exciting–it really made me stop and think about my own view on how the world is right now. Shaun David Hutchinson captures joy and sorrow and all of the emotions in between.

Recommended Reads by Asian-American Authors

In any given year, I read a fair number of books by Asian-American authors. The breadth of books by emerging and established Asian-American authors is exciting and encouraging, and I’m frankly thrilled that there are more great books by AAPI authors than I can possibly get to tackling in my TBR pile. This was not always so, and I’m envious of kids today who can read Linda Sue Park, Minh Lê, Grace Lin, Arree Chung, and Gene Luen Yang (to name just a few) along with Beverly Cleary (RIP), Roald Dahl, Sydney Taylor, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and all the children’s authors I loved to read as a kid. I wonder what it would have done to and for my identity, my sense of worth and belonging, had those narratives been widely available and celebrated in my youth. That representation is one of the many reasons our Reading Rock Stars and Real Reads programs are so, so important. I’m definitely making up for lost time now with the rich variety in AAPI adult lit today, and I hope to see even more of it in the years ahead.

I’m of course distressed and alarmed by the rise in attacks against Asian-Americans this past year, and it’s been a struggle to make sense of that hate in the context of my work at TBF. A person who has the capacity to randomly and viciously attack another human on the street is, I would venture to guess, not reading literature. So what does the call to action to amplify AAPI voices mean when the aggressors, or those that sympathize with their racist sentiments, are not listening or interested in learning? Who are we talking to when we talk about amplifying AAPI voices if those who most need to hear that message are not going to receive it? It’s yet another reason why it’s so important for children to be exposed to the perspectives and experiences of others through literature so they don’t grow up unable to see the humanity in people who look different from them.  I’ve concluded that we—the readers and writers, the ones who care about and champion the inherent diversity within the human story—have the important job of even more loudly proclaiming our support for the AAPI community, for the Black community, for the Latinx community, and for all diverse communities—to show that there are more of us than there are of them.

So read more AAPI authors with me, with TBF, and share the books you like and love with those around you, and let’s show up those bullies.

Charles Yu’s National Book Award-winning Interior Chinatown is structured as a screenplay exploring and exposing stereotypes in American film and culture through the experiences of Willis Wu, an aspiring actor who is trapped in a hall of mirrors of clichéd roles where there is no place for Asian humanity in a binary world of black and white.
Twitter: @charles_yu

We loved hosting Kevin Kwan at the 2020 Texas Book Festival for his latest bestselling novel, Sex and Vanity, where he retells and reimagines E.M. Forster’s Room with a View through multi-racial and fabulously wealthy characters on Capri.
Instagram: @kevinkwanbooks
Twitter: @kevinkwanbooks

If you missed reading Ocean Vuong’s poetic and celebrated debut novel in 2019, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is most definitely worth picking up, with a narrative constructed a Vietnamese son’s letter to his illiterate mother.
Instagram: @ocean_vuong

I knew A.H. Kim in my childhood when our parents were part of a close immigrant community in Buffalo, New York, and am so proud that she’s published her first book, A Good Family, that’s a page-turner about family members behaving badly, with vivid details on the lives and flaws of the aspirational class.
Instagram: @ahkim.writer
Twitter: @AhkimAuthor

Susan Choi, another TBF alum who was at our 2019 Festival for her National Book Award-winning Trust Exercise, is a book I’m still thinking about, with its complex narrative structure, unreliable narrators, and layered treatment of adolescence, power, and abuse.
Instagram: @susanmchoi

Shirkers filmmaker Sandi Tan’s newly released Lurkers details the lives of three families who live on Santa Claus Lane in an LA suburb that feels very LA in the you-don’t-know-your-neighbors kind of way. Its dark humor and subject matter are not for the sentimental, but perfect for readers who will appreciate Tan’s cinematic style, unflinching portrayal of race, family dynamics, sexual predation, and alienation.
Instagram: @_sanditan_
Twitter: @sanditan

Don’t be intimidated by the page count in Chang-Rae Lee’s latest masterpiece, My Year Abroad. Just jump in and ride the waves of this wildly creative and crazy narrative. Lee’s latest is a departure from his more somber earlier work. Here, you meet and fall in love with Tiller, a somewhat lost college student looking for purpose and direction, and the mesmerizing Pong, a Chinese entrepreneur chasing fulfillment via material excess and chemistry-laden concoctions. Tiller is haunted by the past as he tries to find absolution in the present and his place in the disorienting landscape of American materialism, tribalism, complacency, dishonesty, and aspiration. Lee writes with such precision that you can’t help but experience the novel as both the very entertaining/disturbing story of Tiller’s experiences and the telescoping out to an ever-widening lens on the American condition of hope, longing, and dislocation. Lee’s writing is exuberant–sentences that hum and sing, chock-full of clever allusions and philosophy. It’s a surfeit but go ahead and feast along, just like his characters do.

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:

January Book Club: ‘Trust Exercise’ by Susan Choi

Is your New Year’s resolution to read more? Great news: The Texas Book Festival is proud to announce we’ve partnered with the Austin American-Statesman to help facilitate the Austin360 Book Club.

The book club was launched as a Facebook group in 2018 with the aim to encourage discussions around books, authors, and the people who love them. TBF is excited to curate the monthly book picks and lead discussions, as well as help curate the Little Free Library located near the bat viewing area at the Statesman, just off of the Ann & Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail around Lady Bird Lake. 

The January pick for the Austin360 Book Club is Trust Exercise by Susan Choi. Susan Choi was a 2019 Texas Book Festival author, and Trust Exercise won the 2019 National Book Award. The novel follows the story of teenagers who attend a 1980s performing arts high school and the pressures they face, both within the school and outside of it. 

Join the Austin360 Book Club powered by the Texas Book Festival on Facebook, where we’ll be hosting all our monthly book discussions and talking about all things literary. We’ll discuss Trust Exercise in the Facebook group on Thursday, January 30, but stay tuned for questions and thoughts about the book all month long!

Need a copy of the book? It’s available for purchase at BookPeople, or you can find it at the Austin Public Library.