The Texas Book Festival didn’t end with the last author panel (seriously, the fest has programming throughout the year and gives out library grants, too). Now you get to start reading all the books and authors you discovered or got reacquainted with over two days of sessions and browsing. Here are some recommendations from team Austin360.
Saeed Jones: This was a big weekend for Jones, the poet and former Buzzfeed editor. He won the Kirkus Prize for nonfiction for his new memoir, "How We Fight for Our Lives," on Friday. Then at the fest, he appeared on two panels: one on writing about mothers and one celebrating the work of Toni Morrison. In both, he was an electric, witty presence who drew focus. A passage he read in the first panel from his memoir, about watching his mother dance to "grown folks' music" as a child, was hypnotic and proved "Lives" is indeed a must-read.
Karen Tongson and Andrea Lawlor: The authors' Saturday panel on queer identity and pop music was my favorite of the festival, and endlessly quotable. ("The dirty hotness of shame is not to be denied," Lawlor said.) If their books — "Why Karen Carpenter Matters" and "Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl," respectively — contain a fraction of their insights into the power of mixtapes, public libraries as portals to queerness and the joys of Christine and the Queens, they'll be essential reads.
Samantha Power: We must figure out how to engage with people with whom we disagree vehemently, she said at a Saturday conversation. The former ambassador to the United Nations read a passage from her new memoir, "The Education of an Idealist," that detailed her unusual relationship with her Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin. I'm curious to explore the optimistic point of view of a woman who's seen more than most ever will.
Kristen Arnett: The author of "Mostly Dead Things" spoke with dark humor about grief, loneliness and taxidermy. Everything in this world is taxidermy, it turns out.
Jennifer duBois and Mary Miller: The authors of "The Spectators" and "Biloxi," respectively, took festgoers into the world of their unlikeable characters, and I want more. ("Biloxi" was our June pick for the Statesman Selects series with BookPeople.)
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Chef Aarón Sánchez's "Where I Come From: Life Lessons From a Latino Chef" delves into the story behind one of the nation's most prominent Latino chefs. The co-star of Fox's "MasterChef" and "MasterChef Junior" opens up about everything from his struggles with depression to his rise to television personality stardom as one of the early Food Network stars. His candor and authentic voice make it easy for everyone to connect with his powerful story.
Topic No. 1 at the Texas Book Festival over the weekend was not the authors, books or events, but rather the cool, crisp weather, which urged a more festive than usual atmosphere. Probably related, festival regulars noticed an uptick in foot traffic and attendance at speeches, signings and demonstrations.
My deepest plunge into the official events was a panel on "Mr. Texas," J. Frank Dobie, that included Stephen Harrigan ("Big Wonderful Thing"), Sarah Bird ("Recent Studies Indicate") and Steven L. Davis ("J. Frank Dobie: A Liberated Mind" and, most recently, "The Essential J. Frank Dobie"). I moderated lightly.
Those three leading literary figures discussed the slow revival of interest in Dobie, who died in 1964, as a serious writer and thinker, the cyclical nature of the Texas myth, and works by other key Texas authors, especially the recently deceased Bill Wittliff ("Lonesome Dove" screenplay, "Devil’s Backbone"). Some of the discussed authors were in the room, including Elizabeth Crook ("The Which Way Tree"), Victor Emanuel ("One More Warbler"), Wes Ferguson ("The Blanco River") and Ed Crowell ("Barton Creek").
Still other Texas writers, such as Lee Walker ("Imagination House") were represented in person inside the exhibitor tents — crowded this year, especially on Saturday. At the Waterloo Press booth, I chatted with dozens of American-Statesman readers about volumes 1-3 of "Indelible Austin," collections of stories that first appeared here in print. Volume 3 debuted at the fest on Saturday.
"Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You": it took 30 years for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to write this book, she said at the fest. She said she had it in her head for a long time, and with a full-time job, she had to write this in her spare time. It encourages readers to ask questions and not be afraid to be different. Also by Sotomayor: "The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor" and "Turning Pages."
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I loved Kevin Robbins' talk on "The Last Stand of Payne Stewart: The Year Golf Changed Forever."
I'm not a golf guy, but Kevin's book is a fascinating look at an outsize personality who was just maturing as a person and an athlete when he died in the most haunting of ways.
Angie Cruz and Michele Filgate: These two authors were on the "Mothers" panel with Saeed Jones (I co-sign the Jones recommendation from my colleague Eric Webb). Both spoke with humor, compassion, honesty and ultimately affection about their sometimes complicated relationships with their mothers (whatever your maternal relationship, it’s complicated, it seems). I am looking forward to reading Filgate’s anthology of essays, "What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence," which was inspired by an essay of the same name that she wrote about abuse in her teens; and Cruz’s novel "Dominicana," which is fiction but heavily inspired by her mother’s life, including her immigration from the Dominican Republic to New York City in the 1960s.
Few things get me more excited about ideas than the Texas Book Festival, and two panels prompted two instant purchases.
I now absolutely have to read "God Land," Lyz Lenz's account of her upbringing as a conservative, home-schooled Christian and what happened when the 2016 election helped end her marriage and turn her world upside down. I have long enjoyed her journalism and her essays, but Lenz was a riveting speaker, and I can't wait to read her memoir.
I am similarly excited to pick up Alix Ohlin's "Dual Citizens." It is novel about two sisters and their relationship over time, but it also features a great deal of writing about film editing, a process with which I am endlessly fascinated. While I am deeply agnostic about fiction about pop music in general and rock music in particular, I am an all-day sucker for novels about films and filmmaking.
Also recommended: Members of our Austin360 Book Club (join us on Facebook) enjoyed appearances by these authors: John Grisham ("The Guardians"); Malcolm Gladwell ("Talking to Strangers"); Courtney Maum ("Costalegre")’; Thomas Mallon ("Landfall"); Aaron Franklin ("Franklin Steak"); Craig Johnson ("Longmire" series); and H.W. Brands ("Dreams of El Dorado: A History of the American West").