Tag Archives: Texas

An Afternoon in My Town, or, Why We Don’t Suck

31st March 2014

Picture this: a verdant park full of sunshine and open spaces, tennis and basketball courts, a sprinkler pad, playground area. In this park, people are LARPing (Live Action Role Playing…I know, I didn’t know either) in full dress. Kids are learning to ride their bikes. A tot practices walking with a tiny walker. Across the park, a diverse group of kids roll down the hill while a young mother sunbathes and the father chases after their child. Puppies abound. Women in colorful saris walk after their rollerblading children. A sweet little girl no older than about two and a half runs with a kite string in her hand as her father looks on, tossing an errant frisbee back to a couple. A preteen walks the trail, writing in his notebook and singing to himself. In a far corner, a larger group takes a break from tossing a ball to eat barbecue while beneath a shady tree, a young couple kicks off their shoes and toasts with stemware, a fancy picnic, by my standards.

In Central Park, this would be nothing out of the ordinary. But where I live, in Beaumont, Texas – a place named among the nation’s worst for wellbeing by the Gallup Healthways Study – I have to pause and really appreciate the diversity and joy around me. Of course, out of the over 150,000 people in the area, just 674 were polled as to their well being. The study itself is based on rising obesity, environmental issues, and employment, but as is often the case, most journalistic outlets equate this with dissatisfaction and unhappiness, especially on the heels of another study last year that analyzed the tweets of those in this area.

Of course, I’m not one to look at my environment and toss aside the very real concerns mentioned in the first study, but these polls are opinion polls, and I’m not too inclined to put much stock into them until someone begins going door to door to weigh and measure citizens and study their mental health. Of course I wish my corner of Texas were more pedestrian/cyclist friendly. I wish for more life in my historic neighborhood. I wish there were less racism and more art. I sincerely wish our economy depended less on the refineries that surround us. But I also know there are good people here. People who look out for each other’s kids and play catch in the park with any child interested. Artistic people. Intelligent people. People who come together after natural disasters to lend helping hands. People taking chances to build the lives they want in the place they live now, not the place they plan to move down the road. People who recognize that to live in a great place, you must invest in that place. (Like The Giving Field or Boomtown Film & Music Festival or the ever-growing farmer’s market.) And I also recognize that there are places, popular, top-of-the-wellbeing-list places that have the same sorts of problems we do – and different ones altogether.

What I do know (and what I often have to remind myself as a self-proclaimed homebody) is that, just as in any place, the more you step out your front door and away from whatever is keeping you inside, the more your immediate environment expands, and while I won’t be LARPing any time soon, I will carry the memory of walking hand in hand with the man I love, laughing and talking and people watching in wonder for a long long time.

Where’s Alice Bliss?

26th October 2011

Alice Bliss. I first noticed this book on Pop Culture Nerd’s blog back in June. She gave it an amazing review, and as I trust her taste, I knew I would have to pick it up. Then the author contacted me about joining in her campaign Where’s Alice Bliss?, where different people read and review the book and release it into the wild through Book Crossing. If you haven’t checked the site out, it is so cool and a great way to track books after you’ve dropped them somewhere.

 

So, the book. 15-year-old Alice is a daddy’s girl. She and her mom don’t see eye to eye, but she and her father Matt have a really special relationship. They tend a garden together, and her dad just gets her. When her dad decides to enlist and is sent overseas, the whole family – Alice, her mom, and her sister Ellie- have to deal with the stress, the anger, the sadness, and the fear of having a loved one on active duty. Matt is the anchor of this family, and untethered, the three have to learn how to connect to one another in his absence.

What Laura Harrington does so so well is to write authentic characters. One of my biggest complaints with young adult books are unbelievable characters, but Harrington’s characters are spot on, and several have a chance to talk in their own chapters. Alice is conflicted and doesn’t want to show her emotions. I was very like that at her age (and to be honest, I still am), so I could understand her need to shut down and retreat to the spaces she and her father frequented such as the garden shed, sleeping in there when she feels furthest from him. Her little sister was funny and extremely intelligent. Mrs. Bliss is so perfectly human. She wants to be there for her girls, but after her husband goes MIA, she has no idea how to cope amid her conflicted feelings.

Lest you think this is simply a tearjerker, the book is actually quite funny. Alice and her relationship with Henry, her lifelong best friend, changes as each realizes he or she has feelings for the other. Also, Alice’s uncle is such a bright spot, and the scenes with him and Alice are fun and touching. It was really refreshing to see a novel about a real family – slightly dysfunctional but full of love and fun, even in the really bad times.

Read this: and be prepared to tear up and laugh out loud.

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As for the book drop, I waited and waited to release this book because I wanted it to be somewhere special, so when I headed to Austin for the Texas Book Festival, I grabbed it, knowing book lovers would appreciate a free book. My mom helped me prop the book just so on the head of this longhorn, and the next time we passed, the book was gone! I hope the recipient enjoys it as much as I did.


Texas Book Festival 2011

25th October 2011


Ahh. I am exhausted (thus no post yesterday), but this weekend was fantastic. I was in Austin for the Texas Book Festival. At lunch, I met up with Cassandra from Indie Reader Houston and JT of A Pretty Book, as well as my bff Sommer, and my mom, and I think we all ended up having a pretty great day.

I was able to attend 5 panels, which was really great, and this year, I felt much less guilty about leaving one early and ducking into another a bit late. The schedule is chock full of good stuff, so that’s expected. Here’s a rundown of the panels I sat in on:

Sarah Dessen and Libba Bray:

These two are mainly young adult authors. Sommer and my mom are big fans, so I followed them over. They were both funny, but there wasn’t anything that really pulled me in. The moderator let them do a lot of talking, so it was a bit of “rah rah, we love each other.” Since I wasn’t overly enthusiastic, JT and I ran over to another panel.

Chad Harbach, Justin Torres, and Amy Waldman:

These three debut authors have received a lot of critical acclaim, so this panel was devoted to this sort of phenomenon. There was nothing really all that interesting. I think all three are a bit shocked, so there was a lot of: “What do you think of all of this attention?” “Wow. It’s amazing.” Eh. I expected a bit more, but honestly, the panel is very much crafted by the moderator. If the moderator doesn’t introduce anything new, then there isn’t a lot of hope for something new.

Andy Borowitz:

 

Oh. My. Gosh. You guys are negligent. Why have you all not introduced me to The Borowitz Report before now? He talked about his new book, The 50 Funniest American Writers, a compilation that I can’t wait to get my hands on. Then when I got back to the hotel I laughed until I cried reading his Twitter feed.

However, my favorite panel of the day was the first one I went to with my mom. She and I also had great luck when we stumbled upon our favorite panel last year. It’s amazing the books and information you stumble upon at the festival:

Candice Millard:

 

President Garfield. Chester Arthur. These are names I vaguely knew but was never all that interested in…until Candice Millard showed me the error of my ways.

Her book Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President is one I cannot wait to crack open. I never had any idea what an impressive figure Garfield was, a poor young man who vaulted himself, through careful study, into the presidency of a university; a man not interested in the presidency but voted into office by Americans impressed with him; a man shot by a delusional supporter who went on to live in immense pain for three months.

Millard’s passion for her subject matter was incredibly persuasive and honestly reminded me of myself when I get on my obscure little tangents. She was an impressive speaker who obviously knew how to make history interesting.

I’ll leave you with the moment that brought tears to my eyes. President Garfield knew he was dying and requested to see the sea once more. A wealthy man offered up his New Jersey beachfront house, and train tracks were laid to its location. However, the train would not go up the final hill, and bystanders along the way lifted Garfield’s train car, carrying him all the way to the property. Amazing.

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The weekend was, as always, wonderful and bookish. This was my 3rd annual trip to the Book Festival, and I thank everyone involved who makes it such a fantastic event that supports libraries and literacy programs.

Plus I picked up some great posters from past festivals for my classroom for $5 a piece. Score!

Hope all those involved in the Readathon had a great time.


Get ready, y’all…it’s Texas Book Festival time!

28th September 2011

Ok, so maybe I’m just reinforcing the hick-ish view of Texans by this title post, but I am super excited about this year’s book festival. Texas Book Festival is an annual event in Austin, and this year it will be on October 22 and 23. Austin in the fall is fantastic, not too hot and not too cold. Plus, the line-up is, as always, spectacular. Some big names this year are Lev Grossman, Libba Bray, Tom Perrotta, Chuck Palahniuk, Ernest Cline, Marcia Clark, Sarah Dessen, and many others. My favorite part, though, is just being in an art-friendly town with other people who truly appreciate books.

Some of the personal highlights of past festivals including hearing Margaret Atwood speak in a fantastic old theater and listening to “Literature on the Lam,” a great panel with four new-to-me nonfiction authors talking about their books on John Wilkes Booth, James Earl Ray, Al Capone, and El Chapo. My mom and dad have come along the last two years, and it’s just really fun. The proceeds from the festival go to the event itself and to literacy and library projects across Texas.

Aside from the bookish environment, one of my favorite parts of last year’s festival was getting to meet other bloggers! It was the first time I met any book bloggers in real life. Amanda from The Zen Leaf organized the blogger meet up, but I don’t think she will be there this year. I wanted to see who might be interested in getting together and when. I will go up Friday afternoon, so I would be available for drinks Friday evening or possibly lunch on Saturday.

Check your schedule, and leave me a comment if you’re interested. And Feminist Texican and Indie Reader Houston… you better be there!

Texas Book Festival – Part Dos

20th October 2010

Saturday night, I was exhausted. Like, too tired to read, and I’m never too tired to read. I guess dancing at The Broken Spoke until midnight Friday night and then traipsing across the capitol ALL day on Saturday was a bit much for this gal. I mapped out Sunday’s events, watched some HGTV in the hotel (I don’t have cable, so this was thrilling) and crashed. Sunday found me refreshed and excited to get to my two panels:

Literature on the Lam

Moderated by Skip Hollinsworth of Texas Monthly and filmed by BookTV, I was really excited about this panel. Criminals fascinate me, and I was practically fused to my seat I was so enthralled. Malcolm Beith, Jonathan Eig, Hampton Sides, and James Swanson were all panelists.

Each has a new book out dealing with infamous criminals. James Swanson, who wrote Manhunt about John Wilkes Booth, has a new book out called Blood Crimes, which is about Jefferson Davis. Patricia Cornwell deemed Manhunt to be one of the top two true crime novels along with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Hampton Sides writes about James Earl Ray in Hellhound. Jonathan Eig’s new book Get Capone posits new theories of the life Al Capone. Finally, Malcolm Beith wrote The Last Narco, a book about El Chapo, organized crime leader in Mexico.

The panel started on a light-hearted note as Hollinsworth asked Eig how he switched from writing about baseball players to Al Capone. Eig said he thought long and hard and asked himself: “Who else used baseball bats?” Eig’s sense of humor was welcome on the panel, and I’m curious how much humor comes across in his book. He says Capone was really “a product of Prohibition” who otherwise may have driven a truck or stocked store shelves. He had a chance to rake in money, though, and he took it. The odd thing about Capone, according to Eig, is how willingly he accepted the infamy. He asked “what kind of person welcomes that sort of attention” and ended by saying, “We’ve all got a little bit of larceny in us.”

Sides and Swanson were much more serious, tackling topics of national sensitivity. When asked how easily they could shake off the people of whom they wrote, all the authors said they could not. Sides and Swanson are left with questions as both John Wilkes Booth and James Earl Ray left many unanswered questions.

I particularly felt for Malcolm Beith, as he seemed genuinely disturbed by El Chapo. He answered he would never shake the man off because of the horror of his crimes, at one time killing 300 people in a vat of acid. El Chapo owns 23,000 square miles in Mexico and has enormous amounts of power. Beith, a former Mexican journalist, now resides in America and relates that at least 45 journalists in Mexico have died trying to bring to light the corruption.

Spanning cultural differences and huge time gaps, all the authors were interesting and obviously passionate about their books. I have added Manhunt, Hellhound, The Last Narco, and Get Capone to my reading list.

I can’t embed the video, but the link is here. It’s long-ish but worth the watch.

Swanson, Sides, Hollinsworth, Eig, and Beith at Literature on the Lam

Wickedly Funny Noir

This was a quirky bunch. Harry Hunsicker moderated a panel of authors including Lou Berney, Jonathan Woods, and Mark Haskell Smith. I haven’t read any of these authors, but the panel itself sounded interesting. Each was laidback and humorous and focused mainly on writing itself and not individual books. Hunsicker asked if there is any pressure to be funny, but each responded in the negative, Burney saying he writes characters “who aren’t funny but have a good sense of humor.”

How do you make sex funny? Woods, Berney, and Smith all agreed sex just is sort of funny. In fact, Berney doesn’t like writing sex scenes: “It embarrasses me; it embarrasses my Golden Retriever.” He relayed a couple of humorous scenes from his book. Smith said sex is just plain awkward, and he starts with that. He, though, apparently doesn’t shy away from these scenes, instead writing every gory detail. (My mom went to another panel the day before and said it was the closest thing to porn she’s ever heard. Apparently people with children there walked out as there was no warning and a children’s author was on the panel. Odd)

All agreed, as Burney said, “You have to learn to love killing things.” There is not a lot of humor in crime, but as Smith said, often the people with the best sense of humor are in law enforcement. The gist was, if we can’t laugh at something, we might as well “put a collective gun to our collective head,” Woods said

The audience here definitely felt more like a bunch of amateur writers. You know the type. They are really there for validation of their own work as opposed to really listening to what the authors have to say. Not all amateurs are like this, but many are. I did ask a question, though, to see if any of these guys knew any other funny noir other than Dashiell Hammett who wrote around the same time. They gave me some more current names, but that wasn’t really what I was looking for. It was a fun panel, though, and I will likely pick up Burney’s book Gutshot Straight. Mark Haskell Smith has written several books, Baked, Salty, Delicious, and Moist. Woods has a new collection of short stories Bad Juju and Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem.

Hunsicker, Berney, Woods, and Smith at Wickedly Funny Noir

 

The weekend was fabulous, and I can’t believe I have to wait another year to go back. I will definitely have to find some bookish events in the meantime. I hope you, dear reader, have something fun and bookish to look forward to – any great events happening near you?