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Arts & Culture

Book Public Gift Guide: Find the perfect present for literature lovers this year

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TPR's Book Public host, Yvette Benavides, highlights her favorite books and authors who have been featured on the podcast this year.

Short story collections

"The Souvenir Museum" by Elizabeth McCracken

Families play a big part in Elizabeth McCracken’s latest story collection, The Souvenir Museum.

Mothers pine for lost children and try to recover broken bonds in unlikely but unforgettable ways. Sons and daughters negotiate ways to endure the families they are born or brought into.

In every single one of these twelve stories, everyone experiences some kind of loss as they journey closer to enduring love.

"Today a Woman Went Mad at the Supermarket" by Hilma Wolitzer

Hilma Woltizer has been a beloved writer of stories and novels for decades. After she lost her husband to COVID-19 in 2020, she didn’t think she would write again. But then the words and a new story about a long-married couple who fall ill to COVID-19 came quickly. The new story closes her latest collection, Today A Woman Went Mad In The Supermarket.

"You Made Me Love You" by John Edgar Wideman

John Edgar Wideman was only the second African American person to win a Rhodes Scholarship. He since been the recipient of a number of prestigious awards and his prolific writing life has not waned at all.

On the contrary, he’s published some 20 books, including his latest, You Made Me Love You, a collection of 57 stories selected from previously published collections. The book celebrates Wideman’s significant contributions to literature, especially the short story form.

"Land of Big Numbers" by Te-Ping Chen

Te-Ping Chen is a journalist with the Wall Street Journal. She discusses her debut short story collection, Land of Big Numbers. Writing fiction allowed her to tell even more true stories about the Chinese, in stories set both in China and in the United States.

"The Penguin Book of the Modern American Story" edited by John Freeman

When John Freeman edited the Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story, he cast a wonderfully wide net to cull this collection.

This anthology offers works by writers of color, new voices, forms, and styles. Favorite authors of classic works are included with perhaps stories not usually anthologized. This collection also boasts works of science fiction, horror and fantasy. Lovers of short fiction anthologies will enjoy this wide-ranging collection and its diverse offerings.


Novels

"Black Buck" by Mateo Askaripour

In Mateo Askaripour’s debut novel, Black Buck, protagonist Darren Vendor lives with his mother in New York City, is the manager at a Starbuck’s and spends time with a girlfriend he adores. He’d been the valedictorian of a prestigious high school but never made any other goals for his life because he’s content with his life.

A chance encounter with the CEO of a tech startup turns Mateo’s world upside down — but not in a good way. Mateo is the only person of color in the whole company and endures microaggressions — and worse — in this cult-like workplace.

"The Mysteries" by Marisa Silver

Two little girls in 1973 St. Louis are at the heart of Marisa Silver’s latest novel, The Mysteries. Miggy is an unfiltered, imaginative kid who can’t be reigned in.

Ellen is polite and cautious. She is also loyal to Miggy and her boisterousness. The parents of these girls are living in an unstable and tense time. There is a recession and Watergate simmers on newspaper front pages and televisions. These events add to festering, quiet tensions from these already complicated relationships.

"Unsettled Ground" by Claire Fuller

Claire Fuller is back with a new novel. This time, in Unsettled Ground, she brings us a darkly poignant tale about 51-year-old twins who still live at home with their mother and whose lives are devastated by her untimely death — and the secrets she left behind.

"Embassy Wife" by Katie Crouch

Katie Crouch’s new novel is set in Namibia where two central characters, American women, are “embassy wives” who have transplanted their lives to follow their husbands to their diplomatic roles.

The women strike up fraught friendships of convenience — but they’re also forged on something more to do with their complicated relationships with their husbands and children and with their understanding that diplomacy is never a free and easy negotiation.

"Martita I Remember You/Martita Te Recuerdo" by Sandra Cisneros

In Sandra Cisneros’ latest book, Corina is living her life in Chicago when she finds a letter she’d long forgotten. This and other ephemera of bygone days when she was young, single and following her dreams to become a writer in Paris lead Corina to respond to her friend Martita through this epistolary work.


Nonfiction

"A Most Remarkable Creature" by Jonathan Meiburg

You can trace the origins of the fascination with the caracara — a smart, sociable bird of prey — to 1833 when Charles Darwin met an unusual animal in the Falkland Islands.

In their inquisitiveness and intelligence, he saw a larger story and wondered why they were confined to the remote islands at the tip of South America. What was the fuller story of this curious bird?

Fast forward about 200 years and Jonathan Meiburg has picked up those and other clues of this mystery. His book A Most Remarkable Creature is part science writing, part travelogue, part history, part biography and offers a comprehensive story of the caracara. Along the way we meet other avian creatures and human ones, who, like Meiburg, champion these improbably remarkable birds.

"Squirrel Hill" by Mark Oppenheimer

The deadliest antisemitic attack in American history is documented in Mark Oppenheimer’s latest book, Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood.

The story of the community’s grief in the ensuing years is a complicated thing. But author Mark Oppenheimer focuses, too, on their ongoing processes toward healing. The transactions are messy and tense, complicated and troubling. But they are also imbued with the loving kindness given over to all touched by the events of that fall morning.

"What is a Dog?" by Chloe Shaw

In her debut memoir, Chloe Shaw guides us on an emotional journey that anyone who has ever loved and lost a dog will appreciate.

"The Kissing Bug" by Daisy Hernández

Daisy Hernández grew up knowing her Tía Dora was always thin and sickly. She never quite knew what was wrong, but the issues defined Dora’s life. As an adult, Hernández gives a name to the problem: Chagas.

As a journalist, she embarks on a journey that takes her all over the country to interview patients, epidemiologists, and even veterinarians with the Department of Defense. The journey has been long and arduous. It’s also been revealing about the ways in which racial politics and for-profit healthcare have contributed to the problem of Chagas, the kissing bug disease that ravages the human body and destroys families.

"Walking with Ghosts" by Gabriel Byrne

Gabriel Byrne is a Hollywood leading man that many know from the blockbuster films Miller’s Crossing and The Usual Suspects. Byrne has also starred in more than 80 films, television series, and acclaimed Broadway performances. Now he’s added author to that resume.

Celebrity memoirs are not uncommon, but Byrne’s is uncommonly well written. In a lyrical narrative that is by turns uproariously funny and heartbreaking, he shares the story about growing up in Dublin and his sometimes trepidatious road to Hollywood, and reveals how inextricably bound his life as a famous actor is to the poignant echoes of his childhood.


Poetry

"My Book of the Dead" by Ana Castillo

Ana Castillo is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and came of age in 1960s Chicago.

Her decades long career includes award-winning novels, memoir, and essay collections. While she is recognized for her prose, she is also a poet. Her latest poetry collection is My Book of the Dead.

"Machete" by Tomás Morín

Tomás Morín’s newest collection of poems is Machete. He hails from the coastal plains of Texas, a space that figures heavily in his work, poems where he explores a world where place and identity can shift as if blown about by the wind.

"Frances of the Wider Field" by Laura Van Prooyen

Frances of the Wider Field is an enigmatic title for a collection of poems by Laura Van Prooyen that deal with the inscrutable nature of our closest relationships.

We understand the intimate and familiar parts of those negotiations, even when loss seems to be the intransigent common denominator.

The eponymous Frances listens as the poems’ speakers ask questions, imagine new worlds, share secrets.

"The Blues of Heaven" by Barbara Ras

In the poetry collection, The Blues of Heaven, Barbara Ras offers us a range of poems that move from subjects of personal grief to larger national concerns.

The blues of heaven, we can imagine, are hues by turns bright and beautiful or dark and foreboding — but also with a shimmering hopefulness as dazzling as Barbara Ras' idea of the world as a “blue ball spinning at a 1,000 mph.” As she says in her poem “My Cloak of Not Knowing,” the sky itself is “disguised by different weathers.” And so it is with the blues of heaven.

"100 Poems to Break Your Heart" edited by Edward Hirsch

No one goes through life unscathed. We all suffer loss and heartbreak. Poetry addresses these sorrows and helps us share them. Poems give language and voice to those things that are sometimes incommunicable.

Edward Hirsch knows something about this and brings us the new collection, 100 Poems to Break Your Heart.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Arts & Culture News Desk including The Guillermo Nicolas & Jim Foster Art Fund, Patricia Pratchett, and the V.H. McNutt Memorial Foundation.