Recommended Reading: Books That Amplify Our Voices

Pictured above: Austin authors Juli Berwald and ire’ne lara silva, with TBF Literary Director Julie Wernersbach, laugh along with a gathering of local readers and writers.

Last week, we kicked off our quarterly Book Tips and Sips series at Prohibition Creamery. I sat down with authors ire’ne lara silva and Juli Berwald to talk about books that inspire us, encourage us to amplify our voices, and motivate us to engage beyond the page with big ideas and action in our communities.

The conversation ranged across many topics and looked at books about the environment, women’s rights, grief, untold history, and more. We received some great recommendations from the audience, including What if It’s Us by Becky Albertelli and Adam Silvera (a story told in dual perspectives of two boys who meet in a post office and then try to find one another); What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami (a good look at how to think clean and clear when the mind is scattered); Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli (a look at immigration and the systems that handle undocumented children in America); and Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (“Dystopia always makes us want to be better!”)

Our featured writers gave us some terrific book recs, which you can peruse below. I scribbled notes as fast as I could, trying to catch all of the brilliant summaries and perspectives silva and Berwald had on these great reads. Enjoy!

Join us for the next installment of Book Tips and Sips at Prohibition Creamery on Tuesday, May 7 from 5:30 – 7:00pm when we talk summer reading picks with Austin writers Maya Perez and Amy Gentry. 


Recommended by Juli Berwald

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
Originally published in 1971, Boom recounts her family’s story of hiding Jews during World War II and their subsequent imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp. The author was the family’s only survivor. In addition to serving as a reminder of this period of history, it also holds up moments of the family’s glory in the midst of terrible situations.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Her voice, her story; we all know this book is incredible and has been in the hands of so many readers of all ages, despite censorship in school districts such as Katy, Texas. A well-written story about a difficult subject, this novel is an example of how fiction can speak to our current moment.

Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer
An engrossing book about what we can learn from moss. Seriously, this book is fascinating! It’s a close-up look at ecology, environmental health, and how the organisms that live in moss can be an indication of change. Our planet is rich with life! 

Archangel by Andrea Barrett
This book is a wonderful example of how the natural world is exalted in the hands of a skilled writer who reminds us how precious our planet is by demonstrating how beautiful it is, and how beautifully it can be written. 

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
The story of the author’s friendship with an unlikely companion, a snail who makes a home on her nightstand, demonstrating how much there is to learn by being quiet and attentive to our world. 

Life and Death in a Coral Sea by Jacques-Yves Cousteau
For all his faults, Cousteau pointed us towards the need to protect our oceans. In 1971, he was calling attention to dying coral reefs and was surprised by how much our oceans were at risk. This book serves as a good measure of what the status quo was then, so that we might evaluate our interpretations, responses, and actions now.

The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck
Sometimes, it’s fun to simply remember the sea. In this work by Steinbeck, you see history fleshed out it in the story and bodies, and think about how the story parallels now and how history has shaped the present.

The Dragon Behind the Glass by Emily Voigt
Voigt discovers the most expensive fish in the world and goes on a mission to find its remaining wild populations. The book talks about the importance of taxonomy, how things are related to one another, and demonstrates how Voigt’s understanding of our planet shifted.


Recommended by ire’ne lara silva

Shame the Stars Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Set in South Texas in 1915, this retelling of Romeo and Juliet illuminates a time in Texas history when the Mexican Revolution took hold of one side of the border while Texas Rangers confronted Tejanos on the other. 

Future Home of the Living God Louise Erdrich
A story of evolution gone wrong, written as a letter from a woman to her unborn child and touching on women’s rights. Reviewers missed the point of this novel when it was first published. This isn’t entertainment so much as a look at the apocalypse of the conquest, as if Walking Dead told a story of indigenous people. 

Citizens of the Mausoleum Rodney Gomez
Poems about grief that go beyond personal grief to look at our larger community and cultural losses. 

Invocation to Daughters Barbara Jane Reyes
Reyes is a Filipina writer who completely inhabits her rage and turns it into fuel, exploring the places women are permitted to inhabit. 

Light in the Dark/Luz En Lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality by Gloria Anzaldua
Full of epiphanies! Published thirteen years after the writer’s death, this work is about more than physical borders; she’s writing about liminal frontiers, places of conflict and intersection, looking at things holistically and how to describe life, creativity, spirituality while bringing all of your pieces to bear.