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.

From the Lit Director Desk: What I’m Reading

FullSizeRender (11)(Getting the hard work done.)


Greetings from the new year! I’ve been busy powering through my early 2017 reading list while I start to get things up and running for this year’s Festival. (This year’s Texas Book Festival takes place November 4-5 here in Austin.) Here’s a quick look at the books that have stuck to the top of my pile. They all come out in The Future, which isn’t always convenient for those of us who live in The Now, so I’ve also put together a quick list of books to look for this month, as well as new books that have recently hit shelves.


what it means

What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
(Riverhead, April 4)

Sharp and surprising, fantastic and dark, human and heartbreaking, this debut collection by Lesley Nneka Arimah is a must-add to your short fiction list this year. Arimah covers a lot of ground in these stories, digging into the tension of parent-child relationships (particularly mothers and daughters), the hollows of loss, and the small ways in which we move forward, sometimes with hope and sometimes not. Elements of magical realism drift through this collection, creating a world in which human babies begin as handmade bundles of found material and a dead mother steps out of a photograph and back into life. I was met with the unexpected, story after story, page after page. I loved every minute of reading this book.



Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2)

I’m about halfway through this absorbing story by Palestinian-American poet and debut novelist Hala Alyan. Opening with the wedding of Alia in 1967, the novel tells the story of a Palestinian family over the course of generations, beginning with the Six Day War, as they’re uprooted physically and emotionally by political violence. This is the book I’m itching to stop everything and read during those awful moments when I’m forced to do other things like go to work and talk to humans. Alyan’s well-drawn characters are a personal, poignant lens on the effects of the long conflict, presenting history in its human details; a New Year’s celebration underpinned by dread, marital spats grown out of the grief of unspoken tragedy, children born into a word changed in manners they don’t even know. Alyan’s attention to visual detail underscores the poignant emotional tension of the story, creating a world I can feel in all senses. Beautifully done. I can’t wait to finish this blog post and read more.


the rules do not apply

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
(Random House, March 2017)

I started reading this memoir with many plans on deck for that day; now, hours later, the dishes weren’t done, I was still in my pajamas, and I’d wholly consumed this story, cover to cover. Levy writes of being a woman in her late thirties who has proudly built an unconventional life as a globe-trotting journalist and wife, only to watch the elements of her security and success come apart in perfectly human ways she did not expect. The consequences of presumption underscore each chapter; the presumption that a marriage built on love will survive unscathed; the presumption that you can have everything you set out to want in life and not expect to want more; the presumption that a life carefully and joyfully planned will play out precisely according to script. When presumptions fail, then what? The writing is sharp and vibrant (Levy is a journalist) and swept me right along. This book is recommended for anyone staring at the rest of her life, whatever joys and tragedies may lay in her wake, and wondering, What could possibly come next?



Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
(Scribner, September 2017)

This novel absolutely blew me away. Jesmyn Ward is the author of the 2011 National Book Award-winning novel Salvage the Bones, the memoir The Men We Reaped, and is the editor of the 2016 essay collection, The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race. Sing, Unburied, Sing is her first novel since winning the National Book Award. It’s been at the top of my most-anticipated books of 2017. Ward is a phenomenal writer with a classic style. Each sentence in this novel feels forged from the blood and dirt of the human heart, visceral and precise, vital and inevitable. Chapters alternate perspective between Jojo, a boy coming of age on his grandparents’ farm in Mississippi, and his mother, Leonie, whose drug addiction pitches the family into a steady thrum of danger that ratchets up page by page. I loved this book, even during scenes when the tension was excruciating. I held my breath for Jojo, for his two year old sister, Kayla, for their grandfather, for Leonie. Ward weaves tremendous tenderness in with the tension, binding the family in deep love and haunting history. Supernatural elements sew their generations together, dissolving time and lighting up the long effects of racism, incarceration and grief. As soon as I finished reading it, I wanted to discuss Sing, Unburied, Sing with someone. An unforgettable story, told in unforgettable writing. I wish it was September so we could all get together and talk about this book together right now.


Books to look for in February

the refugees more-beautiful-beyonce abandon-me

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker
A Separation
 by Katie Kitamura
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li
Abandon Me by Melissa Febos
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
The Nearness of You by Amanda Eyre Ward


New Books Out Now To Keep On Your Radar

selection day lucky boy history-of-wolves

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Selection Day by Aravind Adiga
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Always Happy Hour by Mary Miller
Human Acts by Han Kang
My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King