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Ready, set, read: 7 Austin books to open as 2020 comes to a close
(Pexels)

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.


Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline ($28.99, 394 pages)

(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.

The Ancestry of Objects by Tatiana Ryckman ($15.95, 144 pages)

(Deep Vellum)

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.

A Bed for the King's Daughter by Shahla Ujayli, translated by Sawad Hussain ($16, 60 pages)

(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.

Rise of the Halfling King by David Bowles, illustrated by Charlene Bowles ($12.95, 64 pages)

(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.

Pandemia & Other Poems by Edward Vidaurre ($16, 88 pages)

(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.

The Nightgown & Other Poems by Taisia Kitaiskaia ($15.95, 75 pages)

(Deep Vellum)

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 by David Byrne and Maira Kalman ($24, 160 pages)

(Bloomsbury)

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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‘Like speed dating of cats’ at Purr-fecto Cat Lounge
Purr-fecto Cat Lounge

Lina Martinez with her newly adopted cat, Emmanuel, who she renamed Sullivan.

Timmy and Tommy are ready to play.

As the 2-month-old white-and-tabby brothers swat feather wands, chase toys and generally hold court inside Purr-fecto Cat Lounge, a half-dozen potential adoptive parents look on lovingly, trying to get their attention.

“This is kind of like the speed dating of cats,” said Lupita Foster, owner of Purr-fecto Cat Lounge. “I intentionally didn’t put in any tables. That’s why we call it a lounge instead of a cat café because we have these lounge areas where you can sit and relax and cuddle.”

Foster, who has owned a cleaning company, Enviromaids, for 18 years, was inspired to open Purr-fecto Cat Lounge after adopting her own cat, Romeo, from a local shelter.

“When you want to adopt a cat, you have to spend a lot of time with them to get their personality,” Foster said. “I wanted to do something to help the community and something that makes me feel good, that warms my heart. A business with a purpose. This was a perfect idea.”

Actually, a purr-fect idea.

Inspired in part by a cat lounge she visited in Los Angeles, Foster began laying the groundwork for the business in late 2021 and officially opened the doors of Purr-fecto Cat Lounge, located at 2300 S. Lamar Blvd., in July 2022. Since then, she’s worked with rescue organizations such as Fuzzy Texan Animal Rescue and Sunshine Fund Cat Rescue to facilitate nearly 100 cat adoptions.

At any given time, there are 10-15 cats living in the space, which features an ideal blend of calm, cool corners and adorably Instagrammable backdrops with phrases such as “I want to spend all my 9 lives with you.”

Lina Martinez, 32, learned about Purr-fecto Cat Lounge from a friend’s Instagram post and made an appointment to visit two days later.

“My first impression was, ‘AWW!’” Martinez said. “The kittens were to die for. I felt happy and at peace – just what I needed.”

Visitors to the cat lounge pay $15 for a 30-minute CATXperience session or $30 for a 70-minute session that is spent getting to know the personalities of each cat. Foster said the first thing she typically sees from visitors to the lounge is a smile.

“Everybody that enters the door is smiling,” she said. “And we’ve seen people who have cried because they can’t have kids and they decide to go and adopt a cat instead.”

Foster said she loves bringing in cats who might not have a chance to be adopted at traditional shelters. She told the story of one cat named Izzy, who was partially blind, who was adopted by a family that had a deaf cat at home.

“Izzy was not going to get adopted anywhere else, but she’s extremely beautiful,” she said. “If she was in a cage in a rescue and you tell people she’s blind, she was probably going to be overlooked. But visiting our space, she doesn’t seem like she’s blind. She knows her way around. She moves around perfectly.”

Although Martinez, who had been casually looking for a pet to adopt since moving to Austin nearly four years ago, was interested in a cat named Ruby that she had seen on Purr-fecto’s social media, at the lounge she instead found herself drawn to 5-month-old mixed breed Tuxedo cat.

“I thought he was a star,” she said. “He worked the room and introduced himself to everyone. When I laid down to pet Ruby, he ran from the other side of the room and cuddled with me. It was game over. He got me.”

And she, of course, got him, complete with a commemorative photo that read “My Furrever Family” the day she took him home. Although his original name was Emmanuel, she renamed him Sullivan after her favorite DJ.

“Purr-fecto is special because of the amount of effort and love they put into taking care of the cats,” Martinez said, “and finding them good homes and making possible adopters feel at home.”

Foster, who spent a recent Thursday hosting a group of teenagers in foster care at the lounge, several of whom expressed interest in working there, said the best part about her new endeavor is that her heart is always full.

“I just feel complete,” she said. “I always felt as an entrepreneur that I was missing something. I knew I accomplished a lot, but in my heart I was missing a little connection with the community. Now I’m creating connections between humans and pets and that’s amazing. I’m creating family bonds. It’s just about love, you know. And we need that.”

Austin's 7 Best Indian Restaurants

We all have those cravings for an amazing butter chicken or some authentic dosas with coconut chutney, but when I was thinking about where I wanted to go to satisfy my taste buds I realized that my list of great Indian food around Austin was surprisingly short. After doing some research and asking around, here is your list of the best Indian restaurants around town.

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