Archives for category: Books

Here we are again at the end of December! I’ve been bookmarking 2014 best-of book lists for weeks now. I still love the sources that I mentioned last year, but you’ll also see some new ones amongst the links below.

NPR’s Book Concierge offers 250 titles that you can browse by genre. While great if you’re stumped for your next read, I find that number overwhelming. To make it bite size, I filter for the Staff Picks. That’s a nice list.

This year I loved Ron Charles’s piece “2014: A Good Year for Book Lovers” in the Washington Post. Instead of listing favorite titles (WP did that elsewhere), Charles gives a chronology of literary milestones for the year, from the award of the Newbery Medal to Kate DiCamillo on January 27 to Ursula LeGuin’s receipt of the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters on November 19 (not all of the news was about awards, though!).

I’ve also gathered lists from various genres this year. It seems some of the more controversial titles were nonfiction (Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, for example), but of course the most highly praised titles were fiction (although maybe it just seemed that way to me because I’m more plugged into the literary world). Titles I saw most often were The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (actually published in 2013), The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, and of course, Redeployment by Phil Klay. Various lists are linked below, in no particular order.

Christopher Atamian, in the Huffington Post. Six Books of the Year for 2014

Brad Stulberg, in the Huffington Post. The 10 Best Health Books in 2014

Leigh Buchanan, in Inc. 10 Books That Will Make You Smarter in 2015

Maria Popova, Brain Pickings. The Definitive Reading List of the 14 Best Books of 2014 Overall

Tracy Sherlock, in the Vancouver Sun. Ten Great Novels of 2014

The Editors, Atlantic Monthly. The Best Book I Read This Year

the New York Times. The 10 Best Books of 2014

the New York Times. 100 Notable Books of 2014

the Guardian. Writers Pick the Best Books of 2014: Part One

the Guardian. Writers Pick the Best Books of 2014: Part Two

the Telegraph. The 45 best young adult books of 2014

School Library Journal. Best Books 2014: Young Adult



Challenge yourself this spring! Friends of TED in Austin, TX offers a great class for those who enjoy reading classics. It’s led by an English professor of UT-Austin, and he often invites guest speakers (scholars, most!) to speak about a particular aspect of the book, its historical context, or its author. The literature is always wonderful and the discussion is lively. I learn something new every time.

This spring the class will cover several titles by George Eliot. If you’re in the Austin, TX area, read up and come on out!


A month ago I volunteered at the Texas Book Festival. As an author escort, I met several authors and listened to their talks. My favorite event was with Eimear McBride, author of the prize-winning novel A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, and Elizabeth McCracken, whose recent collection Thunderstruck & Other Stories is highly regarded.

I bought the last available copy of A Girl at the festival, but I haven’t had a chance to dig into it yet. I’m feeling a little intimidated by it because reviewers (all of whom seem to love the novel) mention Joycean influence (please let it not be as hard to read as Ulysses, which defeated me) and also compare the writing to Faulkner’s. I think it’s an easy comparison based on the fact that McBride employed a difficult stream-of-consciousness style. But more about that book once I’ve read it.

McBride had a hard time getting the book published. She tried for years before giving up. When it did happen, it was via a local bookseller who was starting his own press. He asked to read her manuscript after a casual conversation with McBride’s husband, who mentioned that his wife had a fantastic manuscript that no publisher was willing to take on. I was so impressed by her story and by the initiative of the bookseller that I began wondering about local indie publishers in general. So I researched and found several indie publishers in Austin that I didn’t know before.

A Strange Object caught my interest as they focus on “surprising, heartbreaking fiction.” Sounds promising. Their most recent title, Our Secret Life in the Movies, was released in October and has received rave reviews. I’m ordering it and can’t wait to read it.

Foxing Quarterly publishes a literary and arts journal that also seems worth checking out. I love that they include a variety of genres and modes of expression. Writers take note: they are accepting unsolicited manuscripts.

Timber Mouse Publishing focuses on spoken word poetry: “Our goal is to promote and give voice to the latest and finest artists of spoken word poetry by building a community to print books, cut records, promote . . . ” They help host and promote some great literary events around town. They also are accepting manuscripts.

Are there indie publishers in your town? Please share in the comments. I’d love to check out their offerings.



For those lucky people upgrading to iOS8, Apply is offering a Great Free Books promotion. I hear the offer is being extended in multiple countries and languages, although I haven’t independently confirmed that. Obviously, different titles will be offered in different places as copyright law allows. Here’s a link to the U.S. offer. (The link will open iTunes.) In other countries, you should be able to simply open iTunes, go to the Books menu, and find information there. Happy reading!

The National Book Foundation has announced the longlist for the nonfiction award. There are 10 nominees. The titles cover some heavy topics this year (war, the meaning of human existence, dementia, for example). But they sound interesting, and I’m sure to add a few of them to my “to read” list. You can read more here. Now that the nominees have been named, I’m sure we’ll see a flurry of interviews with them. I look forward to those!

I’ll a little behind with this, but the fiction longlist for the National Book Awards is available! I’m excited to see Emily St. John Mandel’s latest book listed. (Also, Emily St. John Mandel will be at the Texas Book Festival this October!)



The National Book Award Foundation announced their Fiction Longlist last night. It’s an exciting list! We were happy to see many staff favorites recognized.


Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken
We have signed First Editions Available!

Elizabeth McCracken is one of our own! An Austinite, she holds the James A. Michener Chair in Fiction at the University of Texas and the Associate Director for UT’s New Writers Project. We hosted a big ol’ event to help her launch Thunderstruck. This is the second time she’s been up for a National Book Award; her previous novel, The Giant’s House, was also a finalist for the award.

Julie thoroughly enjoyed this collection: “McCracken explores the unexpected avenues of loss in this absorbing new collection. What I love about McCracken is knowing that the characters I meet on her pages will never be typical. I come again and again to the little girl dressed as Patrick…

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“Read, read, read. Read everything.” –William Faulkner

Last summer I spent a lot of time reading. I read for many hours each week. I read Beloved (Morrison), August Light (Faulkner), Jane Eyre (Bronte), To the Lighthouse (Woolf), and a number of others. My favorite was The Ice Palace, a short novel by an author I’d never encountered before–the inimitable Tarjei Vesaas of Norway.

What prompted this literary journey, you ask? I discovered a course–a free course–on I thought, “That sounds interesting. I’ll give it a try.” The course was called The Fiction of Relationship. It was taught by Professor Arnold Weinstein of Brown University. And it was amazing. The professor is amazing. The content is wonderful. I credit this course with reawakening my love of reading, which in turn inspired me to start writing this blog.

I’m telling you about this because I just learned that Coursera is offering the class again! It’s happening right now. Officially, it began a week ago, but you may still be able to enroll at (And, no, no one asked me to promote this. I just think it’s a genuinely great class.)


This summer is my summer-of-trying-to-read-the-book-before-I-see-the-movie-based-on-the-book. The first book in that category (longest name of a category ever) was Gone Girl, which I read a few weeks ago while on vacation. That was perfect timing, really, because it’s a complete page turner and it was fine for me to keep reading till the wee morning hours. Seriously, I think I stayed up until 3 the first night.

The novel is a mystery-thriller, and I don’t often read mysteries or thrillers, but because this book was included in at least half a dozen summer reading lists back in May, I thought I’d give it a try. Also, the trailer didn’t hurt, seeing how the movie looks great. Also, Ben Affleck. But getting back to the book. There I was, a non-mystery reader, reading this mystery and gleefully–gleefully!–anticipating every little reveal in the plot. The pacing was so good and the plot so skillfully developed that I wished I could read the various drafts of the book that would show how it all took shape.

Gone Girl is about a wife who goes missing and how the public blames her husband. At least, that’s the top layer of the story. Really it’s the story of a marriage. By interspersing flashbacks with the novel’s current-day mystery, Flynn lets us get to know the characters and their story slowly, over time. The fact that I spent half of the book in denial (“No–he isn’t that stupid! He can’t be such a jerk! No way she’s smart enough to . . . “) is proof of the shifting tensions and the steady conflict in the novel. And the ending was a surprise (Me: What . . . ? No… What?). But no more about that; I must avoid spoilers.

I can’t say that I loved the characters. They were too imperfect for love, which is imperfect enough to be really interesting. And the novel didn’t have me contemplating heavy themes. (But there were heavy themes, believe me.) I was simply engrossed and entertained, which is, for me, more than good enough. I’ll be looking forward to seeing how Flynn adapted her novel for the screen.

Now that it’s June, I am catching up on some “Best of” reads from 2013 and 2012. I heard a lot about Seating Arrangements last year, and it popped up on more than a few “Best of” lists in December. I’ve been curious about the book–what could possibly deserve such praise?–but I also skeptical, having too often picked up a book because of stellar reviews only to find that it fell short of the hype. And, I admit, the beginning of this novel had me wondering if I wasn’t going to be disappointed.

And then I discovered that it’s clever. Very clever. And funny. Every character is a world. I finished the book a few days ago, and since then I have the delightful sense that I’ve just spent the weekend on the coast even though I’m stuck in central Texas, which is anything but refreshing at the moment. Although I’m grateful to never have been an attendee at a wedding of hilarity and tension such as the one in the novel, I couldn’t be more glad that it was the focus of my first fun read of the summer.

Rather than give you a synopsis, I’ll link to the first review that I heard of the novel, which was by Maureen Corrigan on NPR. The novel is extremely well written, light without being farcical, and worth every word.

First, a confession: for breakfast this morning, I had two cups of coffee and two oatmeal-raisin cookies. This was bad.

Second, another confession: sometimes when I say I’ve read a book, what I really mean is that I listened to an audiobook of the book.

Third, more about the second confession: I work at a desk for at least 7.5 hours each workday. After work, at least several times a week, I work out. This is not optional; if I skip it, my energy levels reset to zero and I feel miserable. After working out, I have to find food and eat it, and then there’s usually some household task that needs doing, like grocery shopping or washing dishes or doing laundry. On days when I don’t work out, I try to socialize, so I might go to a happy hour or something. It’s a rare day when I leave work and go home and have quiet time to sit and read. I know you all can relate.audiobook2

But I still want my stories! I want lots of them. So, I get some books in audio format, which I download to my phone. And I listen to these while cooking, doing dishes, sweeping, going for walks, etc. Between audiobooks, print books, ebooks, and the various storytelling podcasts that I follow (This American Life, Snap Judgment, The Moth, Radiolab), I am able to consume stories almost nonstop. This pleases me. (But it might not be good for my hearing.)

This weekend I finished the audiobook What I Was. Afterward, I thought about how taking in the story via audio instead of reading it subtly changes the experience. And I decided it would be good to identify the format when reviewing books. So I’ll start doing that.