Book Picks From TBF Staff

Whether you are looking for a thrilling mystery, inspiring nonfiction, contemporary fiction, or satire, we have all the recommendations. Straight from our staff’s bookshelves, here are some of the books we can’t get enough of. 

Marketing & Communications Coordinator, Ke’ara Hunt, recommends Virtue by Hermione Hoby.

It was the weekend before Thanksgiving, the end of the nothing month of November, and I remember raininess, a vague and unremitting overlay of pathetic fallacy. The sky had a passive‑aggressive quality, bruised clouds withholding their light while telling you they were fine, not to worry about them, they knew you didn’t really care anyway. Ahead lay the grotesquerie of the reality star who’d soon be eating McDonald’s and watching TV in the White House. It was a bad joke in the worst taste. The incoming president was the executive producer of The America Show, barreling faster toward the series finale, and the ratings would be great.”- Hermione Hoby, Virtue.

Ke’ara’s Thoughts: “No spoiler alert here! This excerpt stands out because it builds up to a sense of dread that I actually felt around the same time in 2016. I can’t remember what the weather was like back in Houston during these moments, but I imagine that the clouds darkened and the sky somehow foreshadowed the next 4 years of doom, gloom, and utter terror. If we’re aligning this real life moment in history with a season of television, then this was the season where everyone tuned in but had to watch with their hands cuffed over their mouths. The live-Tweeting was also out of hand.”

Logistics & Volunteer Coordinator,  Nicole Wielga, recommends Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala. 

“Hey isn’t it weird that my ex is dead, your fiancée is in a coma, both of them were possibly involved in the drug trade, and now I’m being accused of murder, assault, and drug trafficking? Wild, right?”- Mia P. Manansala, Arsenic and Adobo.

Nicole’s Thoughts:“Super fun mystery that features Filipino food and culture. Has lots of twists and turns that keep you on the edge of your seat!”

Literary Director, Matt Patin, recommends The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris.

“You cannot run from it,” Ezra said. . . . “It is just how things advance. We age. And we must be honest in the face of this truth.“- Nathan Harris, The Sweetness of Water

Matt’s Thoughts: An incredibly moving, beautifully written debut novel from a graduate of Austin’s own Michener Center for Writers


Programs and Financial Coordinator, Gavin Quinn, recommends Real Life by Brandon Taylor

“This could be their life together, each moment, shared, passed back and forth between each other to alleviate the pressure, the awful pressure of having to hold time for oneself. This is perhaps why people get together in the first place. The sharing of time.”- Brandon Taylor, Real Life

Gavin’s Thoughts: “A compelling observation of campus culture and an elegant character study of self-preservation by way of isolation.”


School & Community Programs Coordinator, Lucy Vélez, recommends Becoming- Adapted for Young Readers by Michelle Obama.

“There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”- Michelle Obama, Becoming- Adapted for Young Readers

Lucy’s Thoughts: “It’s the message of agency and hope that all of our teens need right now.”

Development Associate, Susannah Auby, recommends My Year Abroad, by Chang Rae Lee.

“My best life. I was certain I was already living it, going around with him. And okay, the trouble might not have been mine, but it had risen right up to my eyes. Yet the way he spoke sounded so natural and sure, so tender and brotherly, and even as I figured it was some sort of con, I understood at last that it was a con I needed. Now and from the beginning. For maybe your favorite teacher or coach or best friend conned you too, into believing in a version of yourself you hadn’t yet imagined, a person many factors more capable, a person who might not otherwise have bloomed.”- Chang Rae Lee, My Year Abroad. 

Susannah’s Thoughts: “Like this quirky, shadowy figure Pong who turns the young narrator’s life upside down, Chang Rae Lee takes you to some dark places you never could have imagined. This is definitely not your year abroad, but it’s an unforgettable one all the same.”

Deputy Director, Claire Burrows, recommends Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner.

“The smell of vegetables fermenting in a fragrant bouquet of fish sauce, garlic, ginger, and gochugaru radiated through my small Greenpoint kitchen, and I would think of how my mother always used to tell me never to fall in love with someone who doesn’t like kimchi. They’ll always smell it on you, seeping through your pores. Her very own way of saying, “You are what you eat.” – Michelle Zauner, Crying in H Mart

Claire’s Thoughts: “Michelle Zauner’s book is so visceral, from the smell of garlic, the crack of lobster, and the deep tears of grief. Her honesty and storytelling is enveloping and moving.”

Executive Director, Lois Kim, recommends This is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan.

” . . . I really couldn’t understand the role of caffeine in my life–its invisible yet pervasive power–without getting off it and then, presumably, getting back on . . . The idea here is that you can’t possibly describe the vehicle you’re driving without first stopping, getting out, and taking a good look at the thing from the outside. This is probably the case with all psychoactive drugs but is especially true of caffeine since the particular quality of consciousness it sponsors in the regular user feels not so much altered or distorted as normal and transparent. Indeed, for most of us, to be caffeinated to one degree or another has simply become baseline human consciousness. Something like 90 percent of humans ingest caffeine regularly, making it the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world . . .”
Michael Pollan, This Is Your Mind On Plants.

Lois’ Thoughts: “I wanted to understand my addiction to caffeine better and Pollan provides it. I’m in good company, it turns out, and Pollan’s latest book explores the history, economics, and cultural impact of not only caffeine but also opium and mescaline, cleverly grouping legal and illegal natural substances to unearth the arbitrary and conflicted ways we treat the mind-altering plants that have attracted humans for centuries.”

Meet the Texas Book Festival Staff

We’re just under three months away from the 2021 Texas Book Festival! We are so excited to meet all of you at our hybrid events this October 23- 31. We all know it’s been a while, so let’s get reacquainted with each other. Our team is eagerly counting down the days until Fest, so we’ve been feeling nostalgic lately. Get to know our staff below as we recount our favorite Texas Book Festival memories!

Lois Kim, Executive Director

It was my first year at TBF and we had decided to give a pair of custom cowboy boots to the recipient of the Texas Writer Award. Rocketbuster boots in El Paso shipped them FedEx. They still hadn’t arrived by the end of the week and we were really worried we wouldn’t have “the award” to give Steven Weinberg, our recipient that year. On Saturday while the Festival was already in full gear, I got a text that they had arrived. Interns ran them over from the TBF office and I met them in a golf cart taxi at the south end of the Fest. We hightailed it to the Capitol with the boots still in the FedEx box and got them there in the nick of time for Marc Winkelman, TBF Board Chair at the time to present them to Weinberg ahead of their conversation. The episode was an early indication to me that this job would have many down-to-the-wire moments (something that has borne out to be very true). It is also poignant as we are all saddened by the recent passing of Steven Weinberg, a brilliant physicist and writer who contributed so much to science, the arts, and society.

Susannah Auby, Development Associate

The Texas Book Festival has been the highlight of my fall season since long before I joined the staff.  As soon as the schedule was posted, I would comb through it, “starring” my favorites on the website line-up and trying to figure out how I would see them all.  In 2018, my brood of tweens announced they would be joining me. Seasoned veterans of author visits, they showed up with backpacks filled with books for the TBF authors to sign and took to the streets of downtown Austin. That was their first true taste of freedom.

Claire Burrows, Deputy Director

It’s hard to choose just one memory from my seven Festivals at TBF. Highlights include seeing chef Edward Lee roll up to Olamaie’s on an electric scooter, sending my cousin to every 7-11 in downtown Austin to try and find ice the year-of-no-water, surprising cartoonist Chris Ware with a very awkward hug, getting nervously starstruck every time my path crosses with Colson Whitehead, riding my bike from the Authors’ Cocktail Party to every venue in Lit Crawl on East Cesar Chavez, working the Tom Hanks check-in with my sister, getting black-tie Gala ready with my best friend in a Four Seasons bathroom, basically getting every important person in my life to work the Festival Weekend, and many, many more. Moderating a session with Ethan Hawke wasn’t too shabby. Year after year, one of my favorite moments of the TBF weekend is early on Saturday morning around 7 a.m., walking up Congress as the sun is rising. All the crew and booksellers are finalizing the setup, and there’s an electric anticipation in the air and a relief that the months of preparation have led here.

Ke’ara Hunt, Communications and Marketing Coordinator

A fun TBF memory for me is definitely our first staff lunch earlier this year and the team trying to socialize while distancing in the courtyard. The wind was not kind to our plates and napkins, so we took turns dashing after cutlery mid-sentences. At the time, I was still the newest on staff, so it was a great in-person introduction.

Close-second: Meeting Bob and Janis Daemmrich for the first time for staff photos. Most of my shots are me stifling laughter. I didn’t realize that Bob and Janis were married before the shoot, but I soon caught on. They have such a sweet and humorous dynamic.

Matt Patin, Literary Director

In 2016, I snapped this photo of a double rainbow encircling the Capitol rotunda at the end of Sunday—a wonderful bookend to the Festival.

Gavin Quinn, Literary and Financial Coordinator

My favorite TBF memory comes from 2017, my first year as a Fest attendee, and making a mad dash once the “Why Poetry?” panel ended to “Travel and Flight: Three Poets in Motion” before the Capitol extension room filled to capacity. The rooms weren’t actually too far from each other, but for someone who very quickly gets turned around in the Capitol, the task was a formidable one. Now my Capitol Panel Scramble almost feels like an annual tradition.

Lucy Vélez, School and Community Programs Coordinator

My favorite festival memory comes from my MOM-2019-vault (of things I actually remember). We moved back to Austin in 2017 and quickly returned to our traditional ATX outings but this time with two young boys in tow. Fall events for us always include the Texas Book Festival and the ¡Viva la Vida! Parade, which often coincides on the same weekend. Attending both events with young kids wasn’t an easy trek, but by 2019, my boys had acclimated well to this ritual. Oh, and we had such a blast that year! Nicolás and Edgar experienced the full awesomeness of the festival including a few read-alouds at the Read Me A Story Tent, a Ready-Set-Draw session, enjoyed Amy’s ice cream, plus played hide and seek on the Texas Capitol lawn! We haven’t been able to do this family tradition since then, but every drive by the Capitol sparks a festival memory for them. It’s so fun to hear what they remember and I’ve used these memories to keep fueling their love of reading!

Nicole Wielga, Volunteer and Logistics Coordinator

The staff was looking for a former employee’s computer that was stashed away in one of my drawers. This drawer was my snack stash, and the computer was hidden under the snacks, but the rest of the staff just looked at the snacks and kept searching. When I told them they were under the snacks they first were like you have a really good snack stash and then said it was the perfect place to hide something as everyone overlooked that area because it just looked like a bunch of snacks. That is how the whole staff found out that I have a snack stash, which is both embarrassing and hilarious.

New Releases by AAPI Authors

Every year during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I try to target one AAPI book that I can sit down and read. While I work at the Texas Book Festival, I actually rarely have time to sit down and read and my usual go-to books are cookbooks and graphic novels. So May feels like a special month to me, where I can say I read this book and I feel more connected to my Asian culture. Last year my book of choice was Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Hong Park, which I would highly recommend. It takes quite a bit of research for me to pick a book for May, so I thought I would share my shortlist as well as the book that I eventually chose for this month’s required reading.

Land of Big Numbers: Stories by Te-Ping Chen

Land of Big Numbers: Stories by Te-Ping Chen

This is a collection of short stories about people in China that weave realism and magical realism and explores how people deal with the struggles of making a name for themselves and climbing the social ladder. The subjects of each story are unique and fascinating, from the differences of how twins choose different paths in life to a group of people who are awaiting official permission to leave a subway platform. The latter was the story that drew me in initially, as a big fan of Samuel Beckett, my senior project in college being a theatrical production of Endgame. Buy the book here.

Klara and the Sun

Klara and the Sun
by Kazuo Ishiguro

Written by Nobel Prize in Literature winner Kazuo Ishiguro, this book is a story of Klara, an artificial intelligence friend that is waiting for the day that someone chooses them from the store. Klara observes the world outside from inside the store and tries to explore the meaning of what is love. I was interested in this book because of the similarities to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Buy the book here.

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala

Lila has arrived home after a terrible breakup and she is tasked to help her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant. She has to deal with all of her aunties trying to set her up with new beaus and their criticism of her love life. When one particularly harsh restaurant critic, who is also her ex-boyfriend, drops dead after a moment of confrontation, her life turns from a story of romantic comedy tropes to a murder mystery. When the police are suspecting Lila as the murderer, she decides to start searching for answers on her own. I was drawn to this book for the murder mystery elements with some Asian flair, with Lila’s auntie network helping her figure out the case. It has serious Knives Out vibes that I love to see unfold. Buy the book.

Bestiary by K Ming Chang

Bestiary by K Ming Chang

When Mother tells Daughter about a tiger spirit that lives in a woman’s body, she shrugs it off as an old folk tale and goes to bed, only to find that she has grown a tiger tail overnight. This is the start of several events that are unusual and odd, like her aunt arrives with a snake in her belly and a hole in the backyard the spits up old letters from her grandmother. When Daughter meets Ben, a neighborhood girl with her own powers, they start to read the old letters to uncover why things are happening. This was a 2020 fall book that drew my attention because of how much I love Asian folklore and allegories. Buy the book.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

This book ended up being my pick because it felt like something I could relate to, which is crying in H Mart, a Korean supermarket (which has a store here in Austin). I cry in H Mart for different reasons than this author, but Michelle Zauner’s memoir really hits home with being an outsider in America and in her “mother” country of Korea. This memoir explores grief and coming into her own identity while trying to bridge two cultures, which resonated with me. I’ll be honest that Chapter 4 had me bawling my eyes out as I am still dealing with the grief of my father’s passing, but it is a worthwhile book that deserves its best-seller status. Buy the book.


Welcome New TBF Board Members

The Texas Book Festival is thrilled to welcome five new members to our Board of Directors. Join us in welcoming Dalton YoungAndrea ValdezAnna HargroveGrant Loveless, and Carlos Y. Benavides IV. Our Board of Directors play a crucial role in advancing the TBF’s strategic vision and mission, overseeing our financial resources, and ensuring the sustainability and vitality of our programs.

We are proud to have exceptionally hands-on board members. From lending a hand in our Reading Rock Stars classrooms to moderating sessions at the Festival to reviewing grant applications and much more, our Board is a big part of what makes the Texas Book Festival the successful, far-reaching organization that it is. These new members each bring an impressive array of talents and rich experience to our board, and we look forward to working with them in the coming years.

Children’s Reads for AAPI Heritage Month

Cover photo: Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, illustrated Dung Ho

Growing up in Singapore, I didn’t really have very many books where I saw someone like me. I never really felt like I was part of either my American side or my Singaporean side. It didn’t help that in 6th-grade science class that I was used as the example for gene differences and anomalies, like how my eyes were slanted, my hairline had a widow’s peak, how I had one hitchhiker’s thumb and one regular thumb, and how my second toe on my left leg is longer than my big toe and on the right leg it is not, etc. Quite literally I became the class “specimen” somehow, and I felt so uncomfortable with who I was after that. It felt like my body in some sense was as complex as my personal heritage and the question, “Where are you from?”.

I had no books that showed that I was normal, just different and that is okay. I think the only book that even came close was this book about Singaporean kids, but that book mostly just made me wear swimming goggles while chopping onions (according to that book, all Singaporean children did this). Here are a bunch of newly released kid’s books that celebrate being a proud child of Asian American heritage. I truly wish I had these growing up.

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho is about embracing your features as a part of how you are. When a girl notices that other girls have different eye shapes than hers, she finds beauty in her own eyes “that crinkle like crescent moons”.

Click here for more information about Joanna Ho

Click here to buy the book

Toasty by Sarah Hwang
Toasty by Sarah Hwang

This book is about how you don’t need to change to fulfill your dreams. Toasty is a piece of toast that has a pair of arms and legs and dreams of being a dog. While dogs sleep in a dog house, Toasty sleeps in a toaster. While trying to run with the dogs in a park, Toasty becomes in danger when the dogs try to eat him. But soon Toasty meets a little girl who has always wanted a dog but is allergic to dogs, so Toasty becomes the perfect pet for her!

Click here for more information about Sarah Hwang

Click here to buy the book

Amira's Picture Day by Reem Faruqi
Amira’s Picture Day by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Fahmida Azim

Ramadan has come to an end, and Amira can’t wait to stay home from school to celebrate Eid. There’s just one hiccup: it’s also school picture day. How will Amira figure out how to be at two places at once?

Click here for more information about Reem Faruqi

Click here to buy the book

Laxmi's Mooch
Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali

Laxmi has never really paid attention to the hair on her upper lip until some kids at recess start to bully her saying she looks like an animal. Laxmi starts to notice more body hair and starts to become anxious. When Laxmi’s parents start to teach her that body hair is normal and happens to everybody, regardless of age or gender, she starts to accept her body hair and gains self-esteem.

Click here for more information about Shelly Anand

Click here to buy the book

The Most Beautiful Thing
The Most Beautiful Thing by Kao Kalia Yang

Weaving the story of Kalia and her grandmother, spanning across time from Laos to immigrating to the USA. When Kalia decides that she wants braces to fix her smile, her grandmother, who only has 1 tooth, shows her that true beauty is found between people who love each other the most.

Click here for more information about Kao Kalia Yang

Click here to buy the book

Graphic Novel Reading for AAPI Heritage Month

This year for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I wanted to take the opportunity to suggest a few graphic novels created by Asian American cartoonists, authors, and illustrators. Last year, Nicole Wielga suggested some fantastic graphic novels written and/or illustrated by Asian American authors and artists, check it out!

This list is by no means exhaustive, and I haven’t included many genre or YA books, so please share your favorite comics or graphic novels penned by AAPI authors and artists on our Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. Without further ado, here are a few of my favorites to kick off the conversation…

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

A student recommended this book to me about 15 years ago, and it reintroduced me to the joy and power of storytelling in graphic novels. American Born Chinese challenges and satirizes Asian stereotypes, as three unique characters converge. Yang, a former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, also wrote Dragon Hoops, Boxers and Saints, and Animal Crackers, and many more! Check out Gene Luen Yang’s website.


Good Talk by Mira Jacob

I know that I’ve already recommended Good Talk, a funny, honest, and scathing graphic novel by Mira Jacob, but you cannot miss this. This book was inspired by conversations Jacob had with her son about racism, and delves into the art of the conversation that reveals so much about relationships, beliefs, and love. I also love her novel, The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing. More of Mira Jacob’s work and insight can be found on her website.

In recent days, Jacob has been drawing awareness to the healthcare and humanity crisis in India, and not only suggesting ways for us regular people to help but also holding accountable companies who have profited off Indian culture. Check out her Instagram for more information:

Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine

Adrian Tomine is amazingly prolific. You may have seen his New Yorker covers, Brooklyn Book Festival posters, Optic Nerve comics, and many books and collections. So if I just had to choose one, it was Shortcomings. It is funny, insightful, and quiet, and filled with the precise beautiful art that Tomine is known for. Check out Adrian Tomine’s website to look at the scope of his artwork.


This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

While this may technically be Young Adult, it is such an authentic story of adolescence, that is should strike notes of nostalgia for many readers. The coming-of-age story follows two friends as their annual summer vacation is a turning point in their lives, as they grapple with family, mental health, sexuality, and tragedy. This One Summer is illustrated by Jillian Tamaki and written by her cousin, Mariko Tamaki. More of Jillian Tamaki’s work can be found on and check out Mariko Tamaki’s Twitter to check out her latest work and collaborations:


Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale by Belle Yang

In this memoir, Belle Yang finds solace and healing through her father’s stories of old China. The same stories that she dismissed as a child now give her strength in the wake of an abusive relationship.

Yang also has several children’s books, filled with her beautiful art:

Roosevelt Weeks

Roosevelt Weeks is the Director of the Austin Public Library where he leads a dynamic team and library system. His responsibility includes 20 branch locations, the History Center and a Central Library, listed by Time Magazine as one of the World’s Greatest Places in 2018. Weeks joined the Austin Public Library team in 2017 and previously worked at the Houston Public Library, Pasadena Public Library, Accenture and Aetna.

Weeks is passionate about improving technology, literacy and education, both inside and outside of the library. He also works directly with community leaders to agree upon shared values, vision, and measures of success. This furthers the combined goal of ensuring a future workforce capable of the complex critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in an ever-changing competitive environment.

In addition, Weeks is a member and serves on several committees within the American Library Association (ALA), Public Library Association (PLA), Texas Library Association (TLA), Urban Library Council (ULC), National Forum for Black Public Administrators (NFBPA), University of Texas Libraries System, as well as currently serving on the Executive Boards for both TLA and ULC.  Weeks received his Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from Texas Southern University and his Master of Library Science degree from the University of North Texas. In his spare time, Weeks enjoys time with family, serving in his church and helping the community.

Teresa Oppedal

Teresa Oppedal enjoyed a twenty-year career as a law librarian and legal information services manager at Morrison & Foerster, a large international law firm in San Francisco. Since retiring and moving to Austin in 2000, she has volunteered for many local non-profits including serving as Board President of the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation, on the advisory board of the Austin Museum of Art, on the grants committee of the Austin Community Foundation’s Women’s Fund, and as Advisory Council Chair of Literacy First. Most recently she built a small business, having developed a bug bite deterring mesh jumpsuit. Her primary interests remain promoting literacy and the free dissemination of information to all.

Carlos Y. Benavides IV

Carlos Y. Benavides IV is a Texas attorney working in the city of Austin at Ikard Law PC, where he represents clients in matters related to fiduciary law. Carlos received a BA in English from Marymount University and a JD from St. Mary’s University School of Law. He began his legal career in Hidalgo County, Texas as a state prosecutor for the first Domestic Violence Specialty Court in South Texas to rehabilitate domestic violence offenders, reduce potential recidivism and improve upon victim safety. Carlos has served on the non-profit Texas Council on Family Violence’s Prosecutor Leadership Core and went on to help establish and serve as the first labor trafficking specialty state prosecutor in the State of Texas. In 2019, Texas Governor Greg Abbott appointed Carlos to serve a six-year term on the Specialty Courts Advisory Council as a gubernatorial appointee. As a member of the advisory council, Carlos evaluates applications from specialty courts across the state for grant funding from the Governor’s Office and makes recommendations to the office’s criminal justice division regarding best practices for these courts.