Seasons Past: Formative Titles from the TBF Staff

TBF Staff Photo 2023

Texas Book Festival is excited to share staff picks of books that were instrumental to our journeys as book lovers and inspired our love for reading. Check them out below!

Dalia Azim: Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye      

“The Bluest Eye was my point of entry into Morrison’s incredible body of work. Everything about her writing was a revelation to me: her brilliant prose and storytelling, the depth of her characters, and her fearless handling of difficult subjects. She was the first writer of color whose novels I studied, and as a reader (and writer) of color, I can attest that discovering her writing opened my eyes and changed my life.”


Jose Rodriguez: Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning

I discovered Snicket’s The Bad Beginning in elementary school. When children experience hardship, it can be difficult to find solace. For me, that safe space was the library. Not only was The Bad Beginning an introduction to how traditional literary conventions could be bent in children’s literature – but it also showed the possibility that young people could persevere when faced with adversity. The hard truth is that the holidays can feel lonely sometimes, but a good book offers great company if you find something that speaks to you.

Michelle Hernandez: Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake

The Namesake was released in between two pivotal milestones in my life, finishing grad school and moving to New York City. Newlyweds when we made the big move, my husband and I also found ourselves working opposite schedules in a place where we knew almost no one. He, a TV news producer working the overnight shift, and I, a first grade teacher who spent my days with the best kids in a 100-year-old building in the Bronx, suddenly had a lot of time to ourselves. I’m a total introvert and didn’t really mind it. It was during this time that I rediscovered my love of reading and Jhumpa Lahiri’s gorgeous debut novel was one I fell head over heels for.

Anna Dolliver: Erin Hunter, Into the Wild (Warriors: The Prophecies Begin #1)

“Any close friend of mine knows how significantly the Warriors series has influenced my life. Warriors shaped my love of sprawling narratives, stories with multiple perspectives, and speculative fiction through stories about a community of forest cats. Though I’ve loved reading and writing from a young age, Warriors helped me form my first friendships with fellow writers based on a shared love of storytelling, inspiring me to regularly write stories and create characters in its now-defunct online forums throughout late elementary and early secondary school. This series remains dear to my heart, filling me with comfort, nostalgia, and warmth every time I pick up one of my ‘silly cat books.'”

Susannah Auby: Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

“I read this book in the early morning of my adulthood when I was a college sophomore and seeing the world with wide eyes. This story of two orphaned sisters who are emotionally disconnected from their parents and yet living in a house that is brimming with physical memories of family members long gone. It gave me a whole new perspective on how one might choose a reclusive life and yet never really separate from the family of origin.”


Becky Gomez: Bell Hooks, All About Love

“After years of reading required technical writing during my undergrad years, this book came as a gift to my life and spirit during my junior year in college when it was gifted to me by my best friend. It so beautifully, and poetically laid out beliefs and ideas I previously only wondered alone about regarding my purpose and direction to which love was clearly the answer. This foundational text provided me with language that allowed me to further explore my worldview and values – reigniting my long-standing love for reading at a time when I felt like I had lost a lot of hope. A yearly re-reading of this amazing book is a must for me and charges me with comfort, hope, and love just as it did the first time I opened it years ago.”

Hannah Gabel: Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I first read The Alchemist in my mid-twenties when I was experiencing something of a quarter-life crisis (as one does) and struggling to determine my life path. While the book is a narrative work of fiction, it’s packed with inspiring quotes and wisdom. The story, which has been translated into over 80 languages, follows a young shepherd boy who embarks on a journey of self-discovery while in pursuit of a mysterious treasure. Along the way, the protagonist encounters an interesting cast of characters who help him to conquer his fears, follow his heart and realize his life’s unique purpose (or his “personal legend”). This book is one of my all-time favorites and I try to re-read it once a year.

Marianne DeLeón: Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

Over 20 years ago, I reconnected with my godparents after several years without communicating. Life happens, I was in college and starting my career. Thinking we had very little in common, I began to discuss books with my godfather, Jay, a dermatologist, and realized how deeply we actually were connected. I mentioned I was reading Julia Alvarez’s How the García Girls Lost their Accents. To which he asked a multitude of questions, probing me about why I was moved by the book. He then shared his thoughts on the evocative prose in the book he was reading: The English Patient. I later mailed Jay a copy of How the García Girls Lost their Accents. To which he replied with a letter and package that included The English Patient. It opened my eyes to a completely different, nonlinear and complex way of storytelling, building in almost decadent beauty and invoking such a strong emotional response in me. Incidentally it made me see Jay in a completely different way, as a friend and ally and someone I would look forward to seeing during the holiday season! It served as a solid reminder that books unite us.”

Olivia Hesse: Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

I fell in love with reading in 8th grade when I stumbled upon YA fiction. I flew through paranormal romances, dystopian revolutions, and coming of age stories across genres, but it wasn’t until high school when my English teacher suggested The Goldfinch for our book club that I fell in love with writing. It’s the first book that I can remember reading for the love of the words, and Tartt’s characters stayed floating around my mind years after I finished the book. I came to love the moments in stories where little is happening in the plot, but the world is being opened up for the reader. I’ve got a special place in my heart for all the YA books that brought me into the world of reading, but The Goldfinch taught me to love how a story is told.