From pandemic-inspired poetry to a graphic novel based on a Mayan legend, this holiday season offers titles for every taste. Below is a list of books from local authors to add to your Black Friday shopping cart or wintertime to-read list.
(Penguin Random House)
When Austin writer Ernest Cline's Ready Player One emerged in 2011, its Willy Wonka-meets-Tron adventure story was an exhilarating apology for all things escapist.
Cline's sequel to his wildly popular novel (made into a similarly kitsch-crowded film by Steven Spielberg), can be seen as a kind corrective reset regarding the reality-bashing tendencies of gamers as well as the addictive dangers of hiding in a retro world.
Still sticky with '80s in-jokes and Easter eggs, Cline deftly manages to address the antisocial issues that are inherent in living a virtual life while playing up the viable kinks of a consumer-based total recall.
In The Ancestry of Objects, a suicidal young woman enters into some educational masochism by having an affair with a married man, and in doing so harnesses a world of almost Emersonian awareness of the bric-a-brac of her inherited surroundings.
Ryckman's arresting yet detached style recalls The Story of O by way of an IKEA catalogue.
The matter-of-fact investigation of purpose will remind some readers of Sartre's Nausea, while the spectral prose recalls Susan Sontag's Death Kit.
Ryckman is the editor of the Austin-based publisher Awst Press.
(University of Texas Press)
Shahla Ujayli's latest collection, A Bed For the King's Daughter, implodes the codes of fairy tales to crack into the underlying apartheid that motivates even the most innocent and innocuous treacle and manages to put Socrates in the same world with Cinderella and Honda Civics.
An unsettling (yet psyche-soothing) feat of fictive displacement, the twenty-two stories in this collection of instructive surrealism will delight while they indict.
The University of Texas Press published the book.
(Cinco Puntos Press)
Hatched from an egg, Sayam, the hero of David Bowles's latest graphic novel, is raised by a witch and possesses a humanitarian itch to help those in need. The boy who would be king marshals his magic to meet every test and even gets to best a netherworld serpent along the way.
David Bowles, an expert on Mesoamerican literature, has partnered with Charlene Bowles, a comics artist/illustrator, to offer middle school-aged readers an exciting and engaging take on some ancient Mayan lore that features the antics of a brave Elfin-boy, the schemes of a sneaky sorcerer and the loyalty of a spider monkey.
Both the author and illustrator are based in Texas, with David in South Texas and Charlene in Austin.
(Aztlan Libre Press)
Edward Vidaurre, a border poet currently living in McAllen, Texas, tackles grief and the cosmos with a kind of casual theological bravery, assessing that: "God is an open wound. A kung-fu movie and a celestial sicario."
The work in Pandemia & Other Poems moves from toilet tissue and water bill worries of sheltering-in-place to classroom epiphanies of the 1986 Challenger explosion.
Vidaurre's poignant asides on the juvenile joys of cloud-gazing take on an ominous caution in a book where John Coltrane and Covid-19 share a nervous juxtaposition.
The collection was published by Aztlan Libre Press, which is based in San Antonio.
Austin poet Taisia Kitaiskaia's Nightgown & Other Poems is a nightcap of dream-dowsing assurance, a chthonic tonic that stills the reader into contemplating the agendas of monks, the tenacity of Thumbelina and the dark comforts of an evil twin.
"Saints are those who do not live amongst the people," the poet notes with the authority of a Brothers Grimm-savvy Simone Weil.
Earthy yet ethereal, Kitaiskaia's art argues that "shame and rebellion are integral to the angels."
American Utopia, conceived as a standalone companion to David Byrne's 2019 Broadway show of the same name, is a kind of Goodnight Moon for adults who want to calmly put the social stress and political duress of 2020 to bed.
Slogans of acceptance and simple understanding such as "we're only tourists in this life" are warmly rendered by Maira Kalman's wry watercolor work.
The authentic inclusiveness of this picture book project is made obvious with its nods to places like Bullfrog, Utah; Goofy Ridge, Illinois; and Lubbock, Texas.
Byrne, who has often evoked both the principles and panache of a Dadaist, quotes Hugo Ball's assertion that Dada exists "to remind the world that there are people of independent minds — beyond war and nationalism — who live for different ideals."
American Utopia is the kind of poetic picture book of authentic optimism that we need today.
It is based on Byrne's stage show of the same name, which he performed in Austin in 2018.
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For years Austin has been one of the top 5 places to live in the U.S., according to an annual ranking from U.S. News and World Report. But this year, Austin dropped out of the top 10.
The publication ranked Austin at No. 13, down from No. 5 last year, No. 3 in 2020 and No. 1 in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Cities ranking in the top this year were No. 1 Huntsville, Alabama, No. 2 Colorado Springs and No. 3 Green Bay, Wisconsin.
So why did it rank lower this year?
The hot housing market is part of the reason. The report states "Austin offers a lower value than similarly sized metro areas when you compare housing costs to median household income."
Still, Austin was the highest-ranked Texas city on the list. Adding to its desirability are its live music capital roots and the growing tech scene. The next Texas area on the list was Dallas-Fort Worth coming in at No. 32.
U.S. News says it analyzed 150 metro areas in the U.S. to make the list based on the quality of life, the job market, the value of living there and people's desire to live there.
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Austin parents and grocery store shelves are feeling the effects of a nationwide baby formula shortage.
Caused mostly by a February recall due to contamination issues, followed by the Abbott Nutrition factory closure in Michigan, the shortage has left Austin shelves barren. However, earlier this week, U.S. officials announced a plan with the facility to restart production.
In the meantime, local parents in crisis have turned toward the Mother’s Milk Bank to keep their babies fed.
HEB on East 7th has been picked clean of formula and is limiting purchases. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
The milk bank—which takes donations from lactating mothers and dispenses milk to babies in the NICU—has been helping feed upwards of 30 families in need as the formula supply tightens.
According to the bank’s executive director Kim Updegrove, Mother’s Milk Bank has seen an uptick in calls from parents with healthy babies in need of help since the shortage began.
“We aren't used to hearing from families with healthy infants,” Updegrove said. “They're typically very upset, angry, frustrated, sobbing—it's scary to not be able to feed your infants. So in the past few weeks, those calls have been significantly increasing.”
Mothers are only able to donate if they are within a year postpartum, so Updegrove said they are constantly bringing on and retiring donors. While donors had been on a 30% decline leftover from 2021 when the shortage began, Updegrove said the shortage has led to mass community interest and more than 90 prospective donors in just the past few days.
“We and other milk banks are experiencing significant interest from the community—becoming milk donors and helping to turn around this crisis,” Updegrove said. “Every infant needs to be fed, every one of us can relate to that need, and we need to make sure as a community that it happens.”
Whole Foods downtown was also cleaned out of typical formula. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
While you may still be able to find formula at places like Whole Foods—which currently has goat milk, soy and plant-based formula in stock—Updegrove said it might not be what a baby needs.
Updegrove said it is best to buy types that say “infant formula,” as they are FDA approved and will provide the nutrients, vitamins and minerals a baby needs. Plant-based, homemade, non-cow's milk or diluting formula may not provide the same nutritional value.
As the community navigates the shortage, Updegrove said the most important way to help out is to not panic buy or stockpile.
“This is a crisis for families,” Updegrove said. “This is the time for the community to gather together and figure out what everyone can do to help families with young infants.”