Give A Book: Lit Community Picks for 2016

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You may or may not have noticed this, but the gift giving season is here. It’s the time of Secret Santa, White Elephant, and I’m-not-sure-if-our-relationship-warrants-a-gift-but-why-not shopping trips. If you’re ever in doubt of what to give someone, why not a book? It’s a foolproof gift for just about anyone but this guy:




We asked our friends in the local literary community to recommend some of their favorite books to give as gifts. Check them out, “accidentally” buy a few for yourself, and make sure to #shoplocal!


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Michael Noll
Program Director, Writers’ League of Texas

It was an election year (you may have noticed) and there were several books that seemed particularly relevant. Dan Oppenheimer’s Exit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American Century is the most readable political book I’ve encountered in years and grapples with the question, “Why do we believe what we believe?” Hasanthika Sirisena’s story collection, The Other One, is about people trying to find solid ground amid the violence of civil war and the American soil they flee to for safety. Katie Chase’s story collection Man and Wife explores worlds that exist somewhere between Margaret Atwood’s dystopias and the sliver of your weird neighbor’s yard that you spy through a crack in the fence.

For sheer fun, I’m not sure any books can beat Alexander Chee’s The Queen of the Night, with its secret passageways in French castles, and Daniel Jose Older’s Bone Street Rumba Series (Half-Resurrection Blues and Midnight Taxi Tango), which is like Ghostbusters if directed by Spike Lee, with a half-dead, sword-wielding Puerto Rican hero.


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Natalia Sylvester
Author of Chasing the Sun

I’m reading Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy & Theresa Howell, illustrated by Rafael López. Based on the true story of how community-based murals helped revitalize a San Diego neighborhood, it’s a children’s book that empowers kids (and adults!) of all ages to let out their inner artist and transform their surroundings. Don’t tell my nieces, but I plan on gifting it to them, along with a few blank canvases and some paint, so we can all create something beautiful together.

I also recently started reading Imaniman: Poets on the Anzaldúan Borderlands, edited by ire’ne lara silva and Dan Vera. Featuring the work of 54 poets who pay homage to Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera, the collection is a journey through the deeply complex terrain of the spiritual, social and geopolitical borderlands that Anzaldúa explored in her work. Reading their voices fills me with strength and inspiration.


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Maya Smart
Blogger, Book Enthusiast and TBF Board Member

The Firebrand and The First Lady by Patricia Bell-Scott is my favorite history book of 2016. It illuminates the unlikely friendship between radical civil and women’s rights activist Pauli Murray and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. It’s fascinating to observe their relationship evolve and how they swayed one another’s social justice aims and strategies in ways that changed our country for the better.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and How Not to Die by Michael Greger M.D. are the dynamic duo I recommend for folks interested in making better food choices in 2017. Greger’s relentless in his examination of the scientific literature on which foods prevent and reverse disease. Foer’s illuminating in his investigation of where our meat comes from and what the implications are for our health and the environment.


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Mandy Curtis
Writer and Editor, Blogger for Forever Young Adult

With my terrible (and I mean terrible) memory, it’s a rare novel that truly sticks with me. But I just can’t quitJeff Zentner’s The Serpent King, and I consistently tell everyone I know to read this book when they ask for recommendations—and sometimes even when they’re just asking me how I’ve been. A contemporary novel about a boy and his friends, The Serpent King is a gripping tale of what it’s like to be a teenager in rural Tennessee. The main characters are all seeking escape, but what constitutes escape for each of them couldn’t be more different. This book, my favorite of 2016, ran away with my heart, breaking it a little in the process, but I couldn’t be more grateful for the experience.

I can’t resist a good heist story, and when said heist story also involves broken bad boys with secret crushes, gunslingers who find themselves attracted to the complete wrong people, and sassy magically gifted individuals who fight for love even when it seems impossible, I’m a goner. Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom will make you a fan of Leigh Bardugo’s excellent writing, and her fantastic mix of serious plot and dry wit.

You might not think a historical fiction novel about Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen of England for all of nine days before being beheaded—through no fault of her own, mind you—wouldn’t be the most entertaining of reads. And you’d be right, if you were referring to a historically accurate story. Thankfully, My Lady Jane isn’t historically accurate. As is their prerogative as writers, Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows took it upon themselves to re-imagine Lady Grey’s story … and add characters who, thanks to shapeshifting “gifts,” spend much of their lives as horses. The book is a hilarious read that might have the side effect of making readers interested to learn more about England’s royal history.


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Meghan Goel
TTBF Programming Director & Children’s Book Buyer, BookPeople

The Princess and the Warrior  by Duncan Tonatiuh. This romantic Mexican legend, richly illustrated with Pre-Colombian inspired art, tells of a star-crossed princess and warrior transformed into volcanoes that still endure as testaments to their love. Tender and tragic, Tonatiuh’s gorgeous retelling will enchant young readers and book collectors alike. Ages 4+

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. Barnhill’s “enmagicked” story of witches and dragons, sorrow and starlight surges with the primordial poetry of life as castles rise and fall, as girls grow into grandmothers, as families are made and chosen, and true love becomes courage to save the world. Ages 9+

Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived & Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee. From a sheltered, privileged life into one of exile, famine, and loss, 10-year-old Sungju Lee’s existence suddenly transitions to one of extreme deprivation and danger in a harrowing true story of survival in North Korea. Ages 14+