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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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Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a record-setting second quarter during an earnings call broadcasted from the Giga Texas construction site in Southeast Travis County on Monday.
The electric carmaker reported more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and the production of more than 200,000 vehicles for the first time despite challenges such as a global semiconductor shortage.
"It … seems that public sentiment towards electric vehicles is at an inflection point, and at this point, I think, almost everyone agrees electric vehicles are the only way forward," Musk said.
Exterior shots taken just a while ago of Giga Texas (while @elonmusk is reportedly at the Gigafactory!) during today's earnings call!
Hope @peterdog15 got to catch the technoking in his video! #fastestinhistory #Tesla pic.twitter.com/WqeDlb5wU3
— Austin Tesla Club (@AustinTeslaClub) July 26, 2021
Despite rising consumer demand and adequate factory capacity, Tesla faces what Musk described as a "quite serious" global semiconductor shortage, which will determine the company's growth rate for the rest of the year.
With increased revenue and production, Tesla is investing in new factories, Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said. These include Giga Texas, the $1.1 billion manufacturing plant that broke ground last summer and is slated to open later this year.
The Giga Texas factory in Southeast Travis County has rapidly increased in size since ground broke last August. (Tesla)
Musk commended the construction team for "incredible progress," transforming what was basically a vacant site into "a mostly complete large factory a year later."
I was at Giga Texas yesterday. Team is making excellent progress. Building will be almost a mile long when complete.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 25, 2021
Giga Texas will produce the highly anticipated Cybertruck, along with other models, but Musk said scaling its production will be difficult, especially given the supply chain delays caused by the pandemic. "It's going to move as fast as the slowest of its up to 10,000 unique parts," he said.
In other news, Musk said Monday's earnings call would likely be his last regular appearance, only jumping on future quarterly calls when big announcements warrant it.
Tesla Solar recently made news when it announced plans to build the nation's most sustainable residential community in Southeast Austin earlier this month. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
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The city of Austin released a shortlist of seven candidates for the police chief position left vacant when Brian Manley retired in March.
City Manager Spencer Cronk hopes to announce an appointment by the end of August, which will require City Council approval.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 46 applicants, include:
- APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, who previously served as an assistant chief in the department for almost five years
- Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief in Oakland, California, who was fired last year after a federal monitor criticized her handling of a fatal 2018 police shooting of a homeless man
- Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery L. Moore, who is a 30-year veteran of the department
- Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy, who manages the department's community services division
- Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos, who previously served as division chief in the Miami-Dade Police Department
- Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay, who is a former president of the Minnesota Police Chief's Association as well as one of the first police chiefs of a major U.S. City to call George Floyd's death a murder, as reported by the Wichita Eagle
- Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada E. Tingirides, who is also commanding officer of the department's newly formed Community Safety Partnership Bureau, which serves L.A.'s underserved communities
City staff will interview the finalists in the coming weeks, with several community input opportunities to come, according to a Monday press release.
The city conducted a public survey in March and hosted community input meetings in April to learn more about what residents are looking for in their next police chief, which helped shape the selection criteria for the position.
"They want to see the Chief be reform-minded and transparent and have a track record of fostering community involvement and accountability," Cronk said in the release. "The candidates selected show these characteristics in various ways."
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Days after Austin began once again recommending masks in public spaces, Austin ISD announced Monday that kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will have virtual options this fall.
The district will discuss the move in a special board meeting Monday evening starting at 5 p.m., while full details will be released Friday.
Teachers will not have to fret about the new option—no educators will have to juggle both virtual and in-person learning. Instead, certain teachers will specialize in virtual education, according to a press release.
The news comes after a recent spike in COVID cases in Travis County and across the nation. Children typically suffer fewer symptoms of COVID when contracted, but they are now catching the virus more often than their older counterparts without a vaccine available to them and as the more contagious Delta variant is quickly being spread.
While local health officials are recommending everyone wear masks, public school districts are unable to mandate masks due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.
Parents have expressed concern about classrooms with masks unenforceable and children under the age of 12 ineligible for a vaccine. Some have even said they would look for alternative schooling if AISD did not offer a virtual option for students.
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