‘Tis the season to be reading! The Texas Book Festival staff has recommended reads to add to your shopping lists this holiday season. The round-up includes books for everyone to cozy up and enjoy with your favorite warm beverage and festive treats. Check out the picks below.
The Miracle of Salt by Naomi Duguid
Recommended by Lois Kim, Executive Director
Remember that fairy tale where the king banishes his daughter when in response to being asked how much she loves him, she says as much as people like salt in their food. The king only comes to realize his mistake at a wedding banquet years later where the same princess serves unsalted food to the guests. Naomi Duguid’s The Miracle of Salt: Recipes and Techniques to Preserve, Ferment, and Transform Your Food takes her readers on a journey that details the importance of salt in our human story and the endless ingenuity with which people have preserved, pickled and seasoned with salt to make delicious and meaningful food. Ever since Duguid published Hot Sour Salty Sweet (with Jeffrey Alford) more than 20 years ago, I’ve admired her anthropological approach to writing about food and cooking. This is a great gift for the sophisticated cook in your life who loves to read about the history of food as much as they love to cook. Or who really wants to master a kickass kimchi or kraut.
Inciting Joy: Essays by Ross Gay
Recommended by Ke’ara Hunt, Communications & Marketing Coordinator
Though the holiday season is usually a time to be festive and surround yourself with those who love and support you, I cannot help but also get the holiday blues. Maybe it is a sort of grief that the year is ending and with it all of the highs and lows. It is safe to say that Inciting Joy: Essays by award-winning poet and author Ross Gay was a much-needed spark to help me remember what brings me the most joy in life, at any given time of the year. In the essay “(Dis)Alienation Machinery / (Losing Your Phone: The Seventh Incitement),” Gay writes about trying to find a sense of direction or feeling aimless when you have to rely on yourself to lead the way and get you to where you need to be. For some reason, I felt very emotional reading this even though it is not outwardly trying to incite sadness. What I took from it was that reliance on yourself can be tiring and overwhelming and you will eventually get lost. However, being constantly connected to something like your phone, with its preinstalled hivemind, will likely be even more of an obstacle. Disconnect and get on your way!
Civil Service by Claire Schwartz
Recommended by Dalia Azim, Deputy Director
It was a highlight of my 2022 Texas Book Festival to have a chance to moderate a conversation with Whiting Award winners Megha Majumdar and Claire Schwartz. Schwartz’s debut poetry collection is not only stunning and thought-provoking but also raises essential questions about the relationship between art and social change. This is a book that seduces you with its precise and beautiful language—every word feels essential and urgent—and once it has absorbed you in its pages, inspires you to look at our troubled world and think about how to change it.
Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father by Ada Calhoun
Recommended by Matthew Patin, Literary Director
Some of the memoirs that most attract me center on an author’s relationship, whether personal or intellectual/emotional/creative, with a literary figure or their works. Still others center on an author’s relationship with a parent. Festival 2022 alum Ada Calhoun’s Also a Poet—one of my favorite memoirs of 2022—centers both, and beautifully. A moving, rewarding read anytime, but perhaps especially so during an end-of-year season of reflection and family reunions.
The Family Izquierdo by Ruben Degollado
Recommended by Susannah Auby, Development Manager
Meet the Izquierdos and I promise you won’t forget them. Set in the Rio Grande Valley and spanning three generations, this book introduces you to characters one by one in a series of Interlocking chapters. Their lives are filled with misfortune but their perspectives are rich. I finished the book and immediately started re-reading it.
Kicks by Van G. Garrett
Recommended by Michelle Hernandez, School & Community Programs Coordinator
Though this book is the perfect gift for the sneakerhead in your life, it is also a fun and vibrant picture book that anyone can enjoy. Van G. Garrett’s lyrical style paired with Reggie Brown’s joyful illustrations beautifully capture the way that sporting a fresh new pair of kicks can make you feel like you can run a little faster, jump a little higher, and express yourself without saying a word.
Nubia: The Awakening by Omar Epps
Recommended by Ke’ara Hunt, Communications & Marketing Coordinator
BONUS ROUND: Though this novel is laced with fantasy, the topics of class, climate change, family, and culture allowed me to not only enjoy reading the more ‘epic adventure’ parts of the story but to also connect with the main characters: Zuberi, Uzochi, and Lencho. I love sharing these types of stories with my teen brother, who is coming into his own self, day by day. We have read and watched the Black Panther comics and films together and I specifically remember having a discussion about how painful it is to know that we are disconnected from our African heritage due to history. Of course, he was a bit too young to fully grasp what I meant, but he agreed that he would love to have lived in a place like Wakanda – full of community, pride, and overall joy.
This will be my gift to him this holiday season. I am sure that he will enjoy learning about the story of Nubia and how the characters fight to hold onto their identities and uplift one another despite oppression by those living ‘Up High’.
Side note: I’m a huge fan of Omar Epps’ film and television work, including House, M.D. It was wonderful to see him in person at the Texas Book Festival. He is inspiring the next generation of storytellers through yet another medium which is very cool!
The Tryout by Christina Soontornvat
Recommended by Olivia Hesse, Event Production & Logistics Coordinator
While I wasn’t able to attend the whole session at the Texas Book Festival this year, I did get to sit in on a few minutes of the Graphix Con panel to learn a bit more about graphic novels, and I made it my mission to read one from the festival before the end of the year. While I was initially unsure about The Tryout, I’m so glad it ended up in my hands.
I think everyone can agree that middle school is hard; you’re not an adult but you’re not a little kid anymore either, classes are increasing in difficulty, and you start to cultivate friends based around interests rather than convenience. You start developing who you are, and Christina Soontornvat captured this experience, and the growing pains that come along with it, perfectly.
She tells the story of her childhood as a nerdy Thai Texan girl desperate to make the Cheerleading team and fit in. Young Christina faces racism from classmates, changing friendships, changing interests, and identity struggles all within the colorful pages of this quick read, and I think it would be the perfect gift for any girl who has experienced, or is experiencing, the trials of 7th grade.
American Reboot by Will Hurd
Recommended by Anna Dolliver, Operations Coordinator
The holidays often bring large gatherings and family reunions, which can mean interacting with people whose views diverge from your own. While these conversations may feel tense at first, they can provide opportunities for deeper understanding and connection. In American Reboot, former US congressman Will Hurd reflects on the polarized state of American politics and proposes ways to address current problems our country faces. Salient threads in the book include Hurd’s endeavors to represent the diversity of Texan views while in Congress, his prioritization of personal ethics and integrity over partisan goals, and his collaboration with people across the aisle to work toward solutions.
I look forward to gifting this book to my father. Though our backgrounds and perspectives differ significantly, I find that our conversations help us grow and learn from each other. I anticipate that we’ll have contrasting approaches to solving the issues Hurd proposes, and I’m excited to see what insights emerge through our conversation. I recommend gifting American Reboot to someone with whom your views don’t quite align and using it as a springboard for those uncomfortable but rewarding discussions.