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.”