Book Lists

This category is for lists of books (example: Top 10 Books for Summer Reading)

The Sound of Music

Houston is the epicenter of American music. Okay, that may not be exactly true, but can it just be a coincidence that pop-divinity Beyonce was born here, and her mom used to run the salon just a few doors down from us on Bissonnet? Okay, yes, that may just be coincidence. But what is indubitably true is that most of us on staff are infected with an irrepressible case of musicophilia, and at least one of us has already subjected his poor spouse to multiple listenings of Kanye’s The Life of Pablo. And another of us put together a recent book list with suggested death-metal pairings.

Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374277901
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - February 9th, 2016

The internet and digital music allow the possibility of listening to virtually whatever whenever, and this superabundance of sonic options can be alternately thrilling and numbing. In this brilliant new book, Ratliff—a music critic for the New York Times—presents twenty short chapters with twenty ways to listen, twenty themes that cut across time and genre. The themes he chooses are structural (like “repetition”) and semantic (like “sadness”), and taken together they create a map for navigating the modern ocean of music, as well as an amiable, thumb-nail sketch of music history.

The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs Cover Image
ISBN: 9780300216929
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Yale University Press - September 15th, 2015

Greil Marcus is arguably the best music critic alive (thus his appearance twice on this list), but he’s more than that: he’s a historian, a philosopher, a cultural critic who uses music as a lens to read the story of America. This 2014 volume is perhaps the best introduction to Marcus’ style and way of thinking: it will rock your world (pun, sadly, intended). Why? Because he is able to construct wormholes across the spacetime of American music which illuminate seemingly distant and disparate artists, genres, and cultural moments. And he does it by choosing less well known songs. Just read the chapter on Etta James, Beyonce, and their versions of All I Could Do Was Cry—you’ll be hooked.

Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music: Sixth Edition Cover Image
ISBN: 9780142181584
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Plume Books - April 28th, 2015

This is the book; simple as that. It’s been called the best book on American music, the best book on rock ‘n’ roll, and even, by one national critic, “the best book on being alive.” Alive is the best word for Marcus’ writing—it is ragged, ranging, resilient, rapturous—you read it and you can feel his perceptiveness and his sensitivity coursing through you. The most amazing part about MYSTERY TRAIN is the “Notes and Discographies” section, which runs to about 200 pages in this sixth edition, a section that Marcus has been expanding and updating since 1975 when the first edition was published. The ultimate guide to the history and experience of American music. A must-have.

The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393241921
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - October 5th, 2015

Modern pop music is expertly engineered like fast food, with just the right balance of salty beats and sugary hooks to poke the brain’s pleasure sensors and keep you coming back for more (whether or not it’s good for you). This book from New Yorker staff writer Seabrook has been a big seller for us, and it’s no mystery why; there’s no other book out there like it, combining fine-grained musical appreciation with big-picture economic and social analysis of the contemporary music industry. Whereas Greil Marcus’ classics have the exploratory scent of an anthropologist or ethnographer, Seabrook writes with a streamlined, modern style perfectly suited to the digital landscape of the iTunes revolution.

The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic Cover Image
ISBN: 9780983186335
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Featherproof Books - May 12th, 2015

I love the provocative title of this wide-ranging, smart, and deeply-engaged collection of interviews, think-pieces, and reviews of contemporary music by Hopper, Senior Editor at Pitchfork and Editor-in-Chief of The Pitchfork Review. The book is not, technically, the first of its kind, but Hopper points up an obvious phallocentric orientation in contemporary music criticism (note the gender of the other authors in this list; not unrepresentative). She is SO smart, and SO aware of the state of contemporary American music, and she writes with such an infectious overabundance of energy that you can’t help but get carried along with her stream of consciousness.


Is there any color that hits harder than red? It’s not just primary, it’s primal, evoking extremes of rage and lust, blood and guts, communists and Tea Party Republicans. For this week’s Brazos Book List, we’re taking a look at our inventory through rose-tinted glasses, drawing connections across new fiction and the arts.

The Red Notebook (New Directions Pearls) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780811220972
Availability: Backordered
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - July 16th, 2013

There’s no shame in getting a little hot over the beautiful form of a physical book, or how it feels in your hand as you thumb the stiffly yielding cover and the whispering, cottony pages (rawr, baby). The publisher New Directions and the living-legend cover designer Rodrigo Corral came together to produce a little pearl of an artifact for Paul Auster’s classic off-beat THE RED NOTEBOOK. Mark sums it up: “A brilliant writer reflecting brilliantly on coincidence, memory and the importance of chance in life.” Could this be the perfect little red book?

Sabbath's Theater Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679772590
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - August 6th, 1996

There’s a special place in the literary afterlife for Mickey Sabbath, the leering demon on the rich vermillion cover of this National Book Award-winner. He’s an egotist, a misogynist, a boor. As it happens, there are more than a few readers who ascribe the same qualities to Philip Roth himself. But whether you love or hate the character and his creator, you can’t deny their virtuosic creativity, their dynamic storytelling, their mastery of language. This is probably Roth’s best novel; you can’t turn the pages fast enough, and you can’t believe a human mind can create a hilarious fictional world so dazzlingly alive.

Year of the Goose Cover Image
ISBN: 9781939419514
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Unnamed Press - December 22nd, 2015

This new novel is one of Annalia’s favorites of the year. She writes: “Ask me about YEAR OF THE GOOSE and I will tell you it’s like sucking on a lemon, in a good way. In her spunky, strange, debut novel, Carly J. Hallman addresses decadence in the form of China’s tycoon culture. With sinister secrets from the heiress of China’s most successful corporation, Bashful Goose Snack Company, to tales of woe from a monk trapped inside the body of a turtle, Hallman’s characters are as grotesque as they are intriguing. The moral of the story here: beware of decadence.”

At Large: AI Weiwei on Alcatraz Cover Image
By David Spalding (Editor)
ISBN: 9781452142760
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Chronicle Books - March 10th, 2015

Your eye is inexorably drawn to the vibrant red on the cover, accented with gold letters—as you get closer you see the subtlest variations in shade, creating what you slowly realize are intricate floral forms. The reference is two-fold: to the red and yellow of the Chinese flag, and to the delicate porcelain flowers of the installation Blossom, one of the off-beat and fascinating installation pieces featured in this handsome volume. The concept for the collection here is a startlingly diverse set of installation pieces executed at the island prison of Alcatraz, including a set of Icarus-like mechanical wings made of solar panels (Refraction), Lego-portraits of dissident artists and thinkers, and an interactive installation with custom designed postcards. Ai Weiwei has generated controversy recently with his self-portrait mimicking the corpse of the dead Syrian boy on the Turkish beach. This collection is something radically other, and gives you a sense of the diversity of his genius.

Staff Pick Logo
The Vegetarian Cover Image
ISBN: 9780553448184
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Hogarth Press - February 2nd, 2016

Our pick for Brazos Best for the month of February—this slim, eerie novel has been flying off our shelves. Keaton says: “A terrifying vision of madness and obsession from a South Korean author poised to make huge waves in English translation. After a disturbing nightmare, Yeong-hye swears off eating meat and sets off a chain reaction that spirals outward from her and draws into question the very notions of identity and relationships. Exuding creeping psychological dread and a dark eroticism, THE VEGETARIAN will get under your skin and stay there.”

After Birth Cover Image
ISBN: 9780544582910
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Mariner Books - February 2nd, 2016

Wanna know what Brooke thinks about AFTER BIRTH, one of her recent favorites? “Albert’s new novel delivers a delightful sucker punch. Love, sex, procreation; hot neighbors; loving husbands; powerful lady friendships. At times an all-out screed, AFTER BIRTH is not a warm and fuzzy dose of motherhood. Hold onto your hat—Albert has a lot to say and you’ll want to hear every word.”

My Funny Valentine

Ah, love: a perpetual Valentine’s Day where the sun shines a soft copper light on the tender conjunction of two balanced souls in perfect harmony. Or, often, a big pile of shit. For this week’s Brazos Book List, we’re setting aside the lollipops and roses and gamely probing love’s slimy, putrid underside. Five Brazos staffers went to a dark place and brought back an eclectic mix of books, from poetry to fiction to memoir, to sate your Valentine’s lust for dirty love.

Some Ether Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555973032
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Graywolf Press - May 1st, 2000

Nick Flynn’s mother committed suicide when he was twenty-two, after reading a story he was writing about a single mother with two sons. Later, Flynn met his prison-bound father for the first time while working at a homeless shelter in Boston. Jonathan, at the time, had been sleeping outside, until the night he came in to ask for a bed, a ghost appearing. The underscore to all this: Flynn drinking, more than anyone should. SOME ETHER, Flynn’s debut poetry collection, ruminates on these times. It is a testament to bewilderment, all the ways we can leave and be left, love that keeps opening. —Annalia

The Age of Innocence (Vintage Classics) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307949516
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - June 5th, 2012

Despite the title (and the delicate script on the cover), there’s nothing innocent about this classic American novel or the love triangle at its center. Aristocratic young lawyer Newland Archer finds himself frothing with desire for the dangerously independent Ellen, but there are two problems: 1) she’s still married to a Polish count, and 2) she’s the cousin of Archer’s wife. What makes Wharton’s storytelling so satisfyingly brutal is the push-pull of highly refined exteriors (including Wharton’s impeccable, lapidary style) and tortured, frustrated interiors. The rarefied culture of the Gilded Age setting will appeal to the same mental taste buds that savor Downton Abbey and THE GREAT GATSBY (published just a few years later), but whereas the tragedy of Gatsby plays out in car crashes and gunshots, THE AGE OF INNOCENCE cuts out your heart with sharp wits and tongues. —Corby

Geek Love (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780375713347
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - June 11th, 2002

If GEEK LOVE hadn't been recommended to me by a friend, I probably would have thought it was a romance about a couple of gamers. But, happily, “geek,” in this context, means "a carnival performer who performs wild or disgusting acts,” including, but not limited to, biting the heads off of chickens. This book does, however, involve romance. By which I mean incest. I hope I'm not giving away too much here. I promise it's not like any kind of incest you've heard of before. The players in GEEK LOVE are members of a carny family whose parents set about breeding their own freaks. The parents experiment with a little cyanide and whatever under-the-sink poisons happen to be around and, voila, the mother gives birth to Siamese twins, a flipper boy, a dwarf and, most perplexing of all, the youngest, Chick, whose powers are disturbing and potent. Every stripe of dysfunctional family drama is on display here, except for cannibalism, maybe. Can't have everything. (If you want EVERYTHING, you should really read Titus Andronicus. I haven't, but I hear it's nice and gruesome.) GEEK LOVE touches on every dark corner of love. Also, there's a girl with a tail, so that's cool. —Brooke

Preparation for the Next Life Cover Image
ISBN: 9780991360826
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Tyrant Books - November 3rd, 2015

Love isn't always pretty. This visceral and highly charged debut tells the dysfunctional love story between an Iraq War veteran and an illegal Chinese immigrant. The setting is New York City and, much like the relationship, the things hidden in “prettier” novels are exposed. Yes, Lish seems to be saying, love is real, it exists, but here are what the bumps and bruises look like. A stunning and unforgettable book where the love between two people is as palpable as the graffiti on a subway. —Mark

The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555977283
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Graywolf Press - January 19th, 2016

“Will you be my Valentine?” This dumb phrase has huge resonance in pop culture, but it’s a simplification; over the course of one’s lifetime, one has many different “Valentines.” Just ask Paul Lisicky. In this dazzling memoir, he recounts two major relationships, two major loves: one with his longtime partner, poet Mark Doty; the other with his best friend, novelist Denise Gess, who died of cancer in 2009. Lisicky has been writing for decades, but this is his breakout moment, a poetic memoir that intersects the personal with the global (all of our lives take place against the backdrop of history’s lurches, don’t they?), and a perfect story of “romance”—one that shows all the different forms love can take.  —Ben

On the Shelf Now: Get Him to the Greek

Don’t save the drama for your mama—go on and get yourself some Greek tragedy! At Brazos, we read a lot of contemporary fiction and nonfiction, but sometimes we lust for a bracing dose of the classics to give us that vertiginous sense of tradition and (let’s be honest) for all the gory family dysfunction, death, and destruction. Most of us know the cliches (incest! eye-gouging!) but not much else, which is a pity because Greek tragedy offers fascinating insights into the politics, philosophy, religion, and society of classical Athens.

The Story of the Iliad: A Dramatic Retelling of Homer's Epic and the Last Days of Troy Cover Image
ISBN: 9780871408907
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Liveright Publishing Corporation - February 16th, 2015

I know what you’re thinking: wait a minute—the ILIAD is an epic poem, not a tragedy! True, but that’s what makes this new play by award-winning British poet Armitage so compelling—it’s a hybrid (or many-headed Hydra?) marrying the best plot points and themes of Homer’s military epic to the compressed time-frame and dramatic arc of tragedy. (As it happens, Aristotle said Homer was really the father of tragedy anyway, so we’ve got our bases covered.) Marvel at the hero Achilles and feel his accursed wrath; despise the deer-hearted Agamemnon; and indulge your love-hate relationship with Helen in this full-blooded modern adaptation that played at the famous Globe Theater in London just last year.

Bacchae Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062319678
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Ecco Press - August 18th, 2015

Never even dipped a toe into the bloody puddle of Greek tragedy? Then this is the play for you! All you really need to know about Euripides’ masterpiece is one ancient Greek word: “sparagmos,” which means “ripping something limb from limb.” Intrigued? You should be. This play’s got it all—an evil, repressive king; Jedi-style mind tricks; LOTS of cross-dressing; drunken all-night ragers; vindictive divinities; and, of course, sparagmos. Beyond all the jaw-dropping action, BACCHAE also shows a lot about Greek ideas of politics, religion, and gender norms. This new translation from acclaimed Scottish poet Robertson (who also has a wonderful translation of poems by Swedish Nobel-laureate Tomas Tranströmer) is light and nimble like Hermes, but when it needs to, it thunders like Zeus.

The Oresteia (Penguin Classics) Cover Image
By Aeschylus, Robert Fagles (Translator), W. B. Stanford (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780140443332
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Books - February 7th, 1984

Fagles is probably the most loved, best-selling, and all-around strongest modern American translator of ancient Greek poetry (and Latin; his AENEID is incredible). Let him be the Vergil to your Dante as you step with trepidation into the dark underworld of Aeschylus’ ORESTEIA, which is hands down the richest, grimmest, most aesthetically magnificent example of tragedy in existence. THE ORESTEIA—which takes its name from Orestes, son of Agamemnon—is the only surviving three-play set (trilogy) from ancient Greece; in the ancient world, all three plays would have been performed on a single day, outdoors in the spring sunshine on the slope of the Athenian acropolis. The poet Aeschylus manages to generate such suspense (the famous carpet scene!) and such dynamic characters (you’ll have nightmares about Clytemnestra and Cassandra, believe me) that you’ll be tearing your hair, rending your clothes, and begging the Furies for a shred of mercy.

All That You've Seen Here Is God: New Versions of Four Greek Tragedies Sophocles' Ajax, Philoctetes, Women of Trachis; Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound Cover Image
By Bryan Doerries (Translator), Sophocles, Aeschylus
ISBN: 9780307949738
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - September 1st, 2015

These brand new translations from Bryan Doerries are beautiful on the page, but like a magic spell, their deep power lies in being spoken out loud, both in the study and on stage. Doerries (who will probably win a Genius Grant in the next couple of years) produced these direct contemporary versions in conjunction with his Theater of War project, a truly unique enterprise that brings together ancient texts, famous actors (including Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn, and Dianne Wiest) and audiences of real soldiers. By experiencing the trauma of war as represented in these ancient Greek tragedies, contemporary veterans have found an avenue for talking about their own traumas, leading to more dialogue and the potential for more healing. All of this is explained in riveting detail in Doerries recent, acclaimed memoir THE THEATER OF WAR: WHAT ANCIENT GREEK TRAGEDIES CAN TEACH US TODAY (published by Knopf, also on our shelves now).

Antigonick Cover Image
ISBN: 9780811222921
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - May 29th, 2015

Antigo…who? You may think you know the story of Antigone—that ancient Theban Katniss Everdeen whose unwavering loyalty to family brings her to a bad end—but groundbreaking poet Anne Carson will open your eyes with this slim, challenging retelling which puts the Sophoclean original in dialogue with its many historical admirers like Hegel, Heidegger, and Brecht. The publisher—New Directions—is one of our absolute favorites here at Brazos; they also published Carson’s phenomenal NOX, an ode to her dead brother based on Catullus which took the form of an oversized, accordion-style facsimile scrapbook. This translation/adaptation is not for the timid—but lovers of Greek literature will find new ideas in Carson’s encounter with what Hegel called the confrontation of “right and right.”

Book List: North Korea

North Korea's recent test of what may or may not have been a hydrogen bomb has added a little extra spice to the kimchi of international politics. It would be easy to laugh at this propaganda state (as in The Interview, for example) if it weren’t so heartbreaking and so dangerous. Whereas war in the Middle East is spreading millions of refugees across the eastern Mediterranean and beyond, the victims of the North Korean military dictatorship are hermetically sealed off in a political and historical black hole.

The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374175849
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - January 12th, 2016

If you’ve never read about the surreal North Korean abduction campaign, this book is for you. It’s a page-turner about various unsuspecting Japanese citizens who were disappeared in the 1970s/80s, plucked from their daily routines by teams of military commandos, put in sacks, and shipped off to live in cloistered communities in North Korea. Why? It’s complicated—but suffice it to say that the training of North Korean spies is involved. Boynton has published reporting in The New Yorker and New York Times (among other places), and this is a nonfiction thriller with the pace and excitement of a novel, but which will also teach you a lot about the troubled history of Korean-Japanese relations.


The Orphan Master's Son Cover Image
ISBN: 9780812982626
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Random House Trade - August 7th, 2012

Johnson won the National Book Award in 2015 for his story collection Fortune Smiles, and this 2013 novel—which won the Pulitzer Prize—is a contemporary American classic and one of the best dystopian novels of all time. It’s protagonist Jun Do is a man of many faces—a commando, a radio operator, a diplomat (who travels to Texas, of all places), an impersonator—and the plot follows his Odyssean twists and turns up through the climactic confrontation with the Americans at the novel’s conclusion. Johnson was able to travel to North Korea during his research period for the book, and although it’s fiction, the book has been praised by journalists who’ve worked extensively in North Korea for its attention to the grim realities of life. Complex, bizarre, and compelling, the novel is a must-read.


Under the Same Sky: From Starvation in North Korea to Salvation in America Cover Image
By Joseph Kim, Stephan Talty (Contribution by)
ISBN: 9780544373174
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Houghton Mifflin - June 2nd, 2015

This memoir is one of the best things we’ve read so far this year.  Yes, admittedly, part of the success of the book depends on our inevitable fascination with the surreal and macabre aspects of North Korean society; e.g. the section where the narrator and his sister try to figure out whether the soup they were served at a restaurant along the railroad tracks contained human meat (thousands, perhaps millions, of people died of starvation in North Korea in the 1990s, and the rumors about what people did for food are haunting). But what really makes this memoir compelling is Kim’s keen memory, sharp intelligence, and his way of crafting prose with a spare, light touch. You will feel incredibly close to this sensitive young man, which makes following his desperate journey—losing his family, escaping to China, and eventually ending up as a college student in New York—all the more riveting.

Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea's Elite Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307720665
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Broadway Books - October 13th, 2015

A truly unique memoir. Kim is a journalist who was born in the South but has traveled often to the North reporting for the New York Times, Harper's, and the New York Review of Books.  In 2011, she was hired to teach English to a small cadre of elite North Korean university students attending the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (all the other universities were closed at the time, with the students sent off to do manual labor for the state). She was struck by their unquestioning devotion to the state, but what makes this memoir engrossing are the fleeting glimpses into their individual personalities and private lives. The effect is heartbreaking because we sense just how much is suppressed in order not to run afoul of the ever-present surveillance state. A lucid, heartbreaking look at a part of North Korean society we rarely see.

Book List: Martin Luther King Jr. Day

It’s a sad and amazing fact that Martin Luther King Jr. was not yet forty when he was assassinated at Memphis’ Lorraine Motel in 1968. The title of King’s last book was WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE: CHAOS OR COMMUNITY?, and it’s hard to think of a more apt question for where we now find ourselves as a nation in 2016. This week, we acknowledge King’s incomparable strength of spirit and intelligence, as well the ongoing, evolving struggle for civil rights in America. Check out these seven titles—all on our shelves now—to get you thinking about where we go from here as a community.

The New Jim Crow Cover Image
By Michelle Alexander, Cornel West (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9781595586438
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: New Press - January 16th, 2012

The best recent book on the state of race relations in America; this is what you want to read if you want to really understand what’s behind #blacklivesmatter. Impassioned law professor Michelle Alexander makes a compelling case—supported with lots of data and an expert’s legal analysis—that the last few decades of America’s war on drugs has had a devastating impact on black America, essentially instituting a New Jim Crow. Cornel West blurbed it as “an instant classic” and has a characteristically brilliant introduction to this paperback edition.

Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul Cover Image
ISBN: 9780804137416
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Crown Publishing Group (NY) - January 12th, 2016

Published just two weeks ago, this emotional, truth-telling book from Princeton professor Glaude builds a case for what he calls the Great Black Depression, a perfect storm of economic and social injustices that have left black America disproportionately impacted in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. This is a book from the heart, not a dry history or sociological analysis—part memoir, part manifesto. A keenly intelligent inside look at America in the age of Ferguson.

Citizen: An American Lyric Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555976903
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Graywolf Press - October 7th, 2014

On pages 134-135 of this poetic masterpiece, Rankine has a list, a list that keeps growing with every reprinting: “In memory of Eric Garner…In memory of Tamir Rice…In memory of Sandra Bland…” These names—of African Americans who have died recently at the hands of law enforcement—are the names that define a troubling moment in American history. Rankin’s mixed-media volume has received more accolades than can be comfortably printed on the back cover—including being a National Book Award Finalist and the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry. This is the book that caused a stir at a Donald Trump rally—and rightly so. Widely hailed as one of the best, most original books of 2015.

S O S: Poems 1961-2013 Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802124685
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Grove Press - February 9th, 2016

Poet Amiri Baraka started his career in conversation with the Beats and the New York school poets, but after the assassination of Malcolm X he essentially started a new life (including leaving his wife and kids) and evolved into a founder and leading voice of the Black Arts movement. SOS—a New York Times Notable book of 2015--is the most complete collection of Baraka’s poetry, from his first published work in the early 60s all the way to unpublished work written just before his death in 2014. Dip in to this tome to sense the ferciously intelligent, jazz-infused and improvisational aesthetic, much of it forged in the fire of the 1960s civil rights movement.

Between the World and Me Cover Image
ISBN: 9780812993547
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Spiegel & Grau - July 14th, 2015

When Toni Morrison tells you something is required reading, you’d best pay attention. Coates writes about being black in America on a visceral level, and it’s this immediacy that touched thousands (if not millions) of readers and won the book the National Book Award for non-fiction for 2015. Cast as a letter from Coates to his teenage son, BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME is also an outpouring of grief over the death of Coates’ Howard University friend Prince Jones, who was shot and killed by police after being mistaken for a criminal. This book has quickly become the most important literary and cultural talking point in America.

The Sellout Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374260507
Availability: Backordered
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - March 3rd, 2015

This is without a doubt one of the smartest and funniest novels of 2015. In 2006 Paul Beatty edited a great anthology, HOKUM: AN ANTHOLOGY OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN HUMOR, and his authorial voice in this novel is not only laugh-out-loud funny, it’s also antic, cuttingly satiric and insightful. THE SELLOUT tells the story of an artisanal watermelon and marijuana dealer who ends up in a case before the US Supreme Court (where he doesn’t shy away from lighting up in front of Clarence Thomas). Beatty does not write superficial satire, and every aspect of racial conflict in America comes in for skewering.

Voyage of the Sable Venus: And Other Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101875438
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Knopf Publishing Group - September 29th, 2015

Lewis dedicates her volume “for BEAUTY,” and this glittering, enigmatic National Book Award-winning collection certainly lives up to it. The title poem is an 80-page masterpiece, constructed completely from “titles, catalog entries, or exhibit descriptions” of museum pieces representing the black female form, from 38,000 BC to the present. Lewis is a genius, and she uses her gifts for language to give voice to these anonymous, objectified women. This is a book that will stand up to re-readings for years.

Indie Inspiration: Discover Great Books

Anyone who knows us knows that we’re big fans of indie presses—especially ones that specialize in literature-in-translation. Recently, we were ecstatic to host the editors of five of our favorite presses: Archipelago Books, New Directions, Open Letter, Restless Books, and Tyrant Books. To celebrate them, check out these ten great titles that will introduce you to new characters and worlds.

From Archipelago Books…

In Red Cover Image
By Magdalena Tulli, Bill Johnston (Translator)
ISBN: 9781935744085
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Archipelago Books - October 21st, 2011

In this book, fantasy doesn’t just meet history; fantasy drives a book into history’s home. Set in an imaginary fourth partition of Poland, IN RED finds all the nastiness in humanity: greed, stasis, and cruelty. Bleak literature? Hard to say so when the writing is this exhilarating. Tulli is one of Poland’s greatest writers, and thanks to Archipelago, we have this remarkable book available in the United States.

My Struggle, Book Four Cover Image
ISBN: 9780914671176
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Archipelago Books - April 28th, 2015

Come on, it’s Knausgaard. What more do you want? The man embodies everything about the European intellectual, and in photographs, he smolders. Oh boy, do I sound like I’m getting the vapors? My, my, bring me my fainting chair. Meanwhile, Archipelago will release book five of the monumental MY STRUGGLE series in April. Wake me up when it gets here.

From New Directions…

Beauty Is a Wound Cover Image
By Eka Kurniawan, Annie Tucker (Translator)
ISBN: 9780811223638
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - September 8th, 2015

One of the great pleasures—perhaps duties—of indie presses, especially those that specialize in translation (like New Directions), is to introduce readers to the literature of new countries. Consider Indonesia: what was the last Indonesian novel you read? Thanks to New Directions, you can pick up BEAUTY IS A WOUND by Eka Kurniawan. He’s one of the great young world writers, and without New Directions, he would’ve been completely unavailable to American readers—which would’ve been a shame. You won’t want to miss this magical, haunting saga.

The Musical Brain: And Other Stories Cover Image
By Cesar Aira, Chris Andrews (Translator)
ISBN: 9780811220293
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - March 3rd, 2015

New Directions: the only English publisher of César Aira, one of Argentina’s greatest authors. Where to even start? After all, the dude has published an estimated eighty novels, all teensy. No, he’s not precious with his work. He writes a book? He puts the damn thing out. (And he claims he never revises anything!) These books are strange and experimental, but they’re still founded in great storytelling. Aira is very much in the lineage of other legendary New Directors authors...including, yes, Bolaño.

From Open Letter…

The Things We Don't Do Cover Image
By Andres Neuman, Nick Caistor (Translator), Lorenza Garcia (Translator)
ISBN: 9781940953182
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Open Letter - August 25th, 2015

There’s this Bolaño quote that always gets thrown around when talking about Neuman: that twenty-first century literature will belong to him. Read THE THINGS WE DON’T DO and you’ll see why. The stories are inventive, smart, snazzy—but forget that for a second. What I remember about Neuman is when the Brazos staff joined him for dinner after an event in October. Over Italian food and wine, he proved himself a supreme intellect, regaling us with stories while also demonstrating great curiosity in all of us. Literature will belong to him indeed.

War, So Much War Cover Image
By Merce Rodoreda, Martha Tennent (Translator), Maruxa Relano (Translator)
ISBN: 9781940953229
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Open Letter - November 10th, 2015

The best books from Open Letter feel fresh, contemporary, and universal, no matter what country or time they come from. Consider Rodoreda, a giant of Catalan literature, and a favorite of #CultOfMark’s leader and Brazos’ floor manager Mark Haber. In WAR, SO MUCH WAR, she tells a story about the Spanish Civil War, and a young boy’s poetic, surreal adventures. Though she wrote this book in the 1980s, it feels vital still. Literature in translation? Yes—and Open Letter proves that, through translation, we can all get closer to each other as readers.

From Restless Books…

A Legend of the Future Cover Image
By Agustin De Rojas, Nick Caistor (Translator)
ISBN: 9781632060358
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Restless Books - June 23rd, 2015

Smart readers know to look toward indie presses for some truly genre-defying work. Consider de Rojas, considered the father of Cuban science fiction. Not until Restless Books translated A LEGEND OF THE FUTURE was his work available in English. So, do you know people who turn up their noses at genre fiction, thinking it pedestrian? Give them de Rojas...and thank Restless Books.

Where the Bird Sings Best Cover Image
ISBN: 9781632060280
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Restless Books - March 31st, 2015’s Jodorowsky. What more do we need to say? The man is a master filmmaker and artist. You know his works: the trippy western El Topo, the surreal horror film Santa Sangre, and plenty of visionary works of visual art. This novel is no different. There are insane beekeepers. There are ghosts. There are a variety of weirdoes, all of whom Jodorowsky loves. Want strange, moving works of fiction like this? Look to indie presses like Restless Books.

From Tyrant Books...

Bad Sex Cover Image
ISBN: 9780991360802
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Tyrant Books - September 15th, 2015

Okay, check out Clancy Martin’s author photo: long black coat, mussed hair, cigarette to his lips, disaffected as hell. Yes, this is the portrait of an indie author. Thing is, Clancy Martin, a philosopher and novelist, published his first books with FSG, one of the big New York publishers. Now, he brings his signature style—smart, tough, and a little irreverent—to an indie press. In the past, the indies have acted as a sort of warm up for authors waiting to make the jump to big corporate publishing; it’s nice to now see the opposite happening. [Clancy Martin visits us Tuesday, 1/12, at 7pm!]

Preparation for the Next Life Cover Image
ISBN: 9780991360826
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Tyrant Books - November 3rd, 2015

The story behind this book seems so unlikely. Lish wrote a dense, troubling book about modern America. Yes, it’s a love story, but one that exposes the difficult situations of veterans and undocumented immigrants. Not an easy read, this book came from a boutique indie press. Expectations, perhaps low. But from there, well, the damn thing caught on, sold and sold, and eventually won the PEN/Faulkner Award. Now, Lish is nearly a household literary name. Powerful things, these indie presses.

2015 National Book Award Winners

The National Book Awards for 2015 were announced in New York City on November 18. For the second year in a row, a collection of short stories wins the fiction prize. Ta-Nehisi Coates' runaway hit takes the non-fiction award. Kids Lit that deals with schizophrenia and poetry that deals with biography and race win in their respective categories. Reserve your copies online or call us at 713-523-0701 and pick them up in the store!

Staff Pick Logo
Fortune Smiles: Stories Cover Image
ISBN: 9780812997477
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Random House - August 18th, 2015

Fiction Winner -- 2015

Ben interview Adam Johnson earlier this year. Read the article here >>

Between the World and Me Cover Image
ISBN: 9780812993547
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Spiegel & Grau - July 14th, 2015

Non-Fiction Winner -- 2015

Voyage of the Sable Venus: And Other Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101875438
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Knopf Publishing Group - September 29th, 2015

Poetry Winner -- 2015

Challenger Deep Cover Image
ISBN: 9780061134111
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Harper Teen - April 21st, 2015

Young People's Literature Winner -- 2015

The Freedom to Tell Stories: A Banned Books Week Manifesto

When it comes to books, “necessary” might actually be one of the most dangerous words. It suggests that some books should—nay, deserve!—to fade into obscurity, while others should be lauded by all. Every year for Banned Books Week, schools, libraries, and bookstores huddle around a similar list of (admittedly great) English-language titles—BELOVED, CATCH-22, CATCHER IN THE RYE, etc. After all, they were saved from hellfire! But what about books beyond the standard list?

Gargoyles (Vintage International) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781400077557
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - October 17th, 2006

Thomas Bernhard may be the only author on this list to have banned himself. In a legendary act of spite that he referred to as “posthumous literary emigration,” Bernhard directed in his last will and testament that his novels and plays could not be published or staged in his native Austria for the duration of his copyright over them. Which seems a little counterproductive as a punishment, as his literature is often an exacting condemnation of precisely what he detested about his fatherland—wouldn’t he want Austrians to read it? But anyway, thankfully he did not disbar the rest of the world from publishing it, and this is a right you should definitely exercise. I recommend you start with the grotesque, spectacular GARGOYLES.

Kiss of the Spider Woman (Vintage International) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679724490
Availability: Backordered
Published: Vintage - April 3rd, 1991

As politics in Argentina were going from bad to worse—that is, from a fascistic government under the military officer Juan Perón to an outright military junta that murdered tens of thousands of its own citizens—Manuel Puig decided to publish a brazenly sexual novel about two Argentine men locked away in a military prison, one of whom was an insurgent fighter, and the other of whom was a homosexual. If ever there were a book destined to be banned. But it is also an astonishing novel that was far, far ahead of its time—for starters, it anticipated the sampling and cultural recycling that has been popularized by Internet culture, and it also pioneered an understanding of gender, sexuality, and identity that has only just recently become widespread and popular. Plus, it’s just an incredibly entertaining, moving, and beautifully-written book.

Petals of Blood (Penguin Classics) Cover Image
By Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, Moses Isegawa (Introduction by), Chinua Achebe (Editor)
ISBN: 9780143039174
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Books - February 22nd, 2005

This is an author who has done many different things to get himself banned. The troubles started in 1976 with his novel PETALS OF BLOOD, which deals with the aftermath of the Kenyan independence movement. This book was incendiary because it delved into the incredibly controversial and frightening Mau Mau Uprising (a thing many in Kenyan politics would like to forget).

His next work, a play titled I WILL MARRY WHEN I WANT, was controversial for its themes, but even more because Ngũgĩ chose to write it in the indigenous language Gikuyu, which the Kenyan government has sought to suppress. Since then, as he has continued to write important, politically-charged works, he has been imprisoned and harassed in his native Kenya, forcing him to live much of his life in exile. His magnum opus, and an extraordinary read, is the 800-page WIZARD OF THE CROW, a remarkable modern fable about African power politics that also is a deep examination of storytelling and folktales.

Scott Esposito is the co-author of THE END OF OULIPO? His book THE SURRENDER will be published next spring. In August, he interviewed Ben Moser about Clarice Lispector for The Paris Review Daily, and other recent publications include the San Francisco Chronicle, the Literary Hub, Words Without Borders, and the Times Literary Supplement. He's a Contributing editor to BOMB magazine.

Lori Feathers picks...

The Stalin Epigram Cover Image
ISBN: 9781416598657
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Simon & Schuster - June 1st, 2010

We are living, but can’t feel the land where we stay,
More than ten steps away you can’t hear what we say.

These first two lines of Osip Mandelstam’s STALIN EPIGRAM (reproduced with the permission of translator Dmitri Smirnov) distill the emotional alienation inflicted by censorship. The poet and essayist Mandelstam lived for years in debilitating fear, not knowing whether he and his wife Nadezhda would be executed because of his writings. Stalin enjoyed playing psychological games with Mandelstam, once arresting and sentencing him to death only to later reduce his sentence to exile to Russia’s interior.

Mandelstam wrote STALIN EPIGRAM in 1933 but was not arrested for it until five years later. He died soon after in a Soviet prison camp at the age of forty-seven. The artist’s years of creativity and anguish are captured in Robert Littell’s absorbing historical novel, THE STALIN EPIGRAM, and in Nadezhda Mandelstam’s memoirs, HOPE AGAINST HOPE and HOPE ABANDONED.

Life and Fate (New York Review Books Classics) Cover Image
By Vasily Grossman, Robert Chandler (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9781590172018
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: New York Review of Books - May 16th, 2006

Rightly compared to WAR AND PEACE for the grandeur of its scale and ambition, LIFE AND FATE portrays the life of ordinary Soviet citizens and soldiers during World War II. Grossman not only provides a vivid, historical account of the hardships endured by Hitler’s invasion but through the novel’s flesh-and-blood characters, he exposes the terrors wrought by Soviet totalitarianism, questioning whether fascism would be any worse than Stalin’s dictatorship.

Although he finished the novel years earlier, Grossman waited until 1960 to submit the manuscript of LIFE AND FATE for publication under the mistaken belief that Khrushchev’s “thaw” signaled what would be a likely openness to his novel. In February 1961, the KGB came to his home and confiscated what they believed to be the only copies of the novel, and according to Robert Chandler in his introduction to the novel (New York Review of Books edition), this is the only time that Soviet authorities “arrested” a book rather than its author (other than the temporary confiscation of Bulgakov’s A DOG’S HEART).

Grossman died in 1964 and it was not until ten years later that his friend was able to smuggle out of the Soviet Union one of the two secret copies of this remarkable novel.

The Family Mashber (New York Review Books Classics) Cover Image
By Der Nister, Leonard Wolf (Translator), David Malouf (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9781590172797
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: New York Review of Books - May 20th, 2008

Der Nister, which means “the hidden one,” was the pen name of Ukrainian author Pinhas Kahanovitch. His THE FAMILY MASHBER is a detail-rich, dramatic novel about a prosperous Jewish family living in 1870s Ukraine. Along with its colorful depiction of Yiddish society in Eastern Europe and the robust commercial ties that existed between Jewish merchants/bankers and the local Polish nobility, the book’s focus is the family crisis that develops when one of the Mashber brothers breaks with the community’s religious traditions.

Der Nister was among a group of Yiddish writers that was arrested by Soviet authorities in 1949, and he died soon after in a Soviet prison hospital. The first two volumes of THE FAMILY MASHBER are contained in the New York Review of Books edition; the third, completed but not published prior to Der Nister’s death, has never been found.

Lori Feathers is a freelance book critic. Her recent reviews can be found at Words Without Borders, World Literature Today, Three Percent, Rain Taxi, and on Twitter @LoriFeathers.

Sophie Hughes picks...

Lysistrata (Signet Classics) Cover Image
By Aristophanes, Douglass Parker (Translator), Judith Fletcher (Afterword by)
ISBN: 9780451531247
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Signet Book - April 7th, 2009

LYSISTRATA is perhaps the best known of Aristophanes’ surviving comedies, and was banned in 1967 in Greece because of its anti-war message. If you don’t know anything about the plot, you won’t spot the implicit irony in the mere single accusation that it is anti-war. By modern standards, it is also incredibly lewd and explicit. Our titular heroine’s name, Lysistrata, translates as “she who disbands armies.” She does so by persuading the women of Greece to withhold sex from their husbands, forcing them to end the Peloponnesian War. Lysistrata’s sex-strike speeches, and the MONTY PYTHON-esque double entendres are simply unmissable:

CLEONICÉ: And why do you summon us, dear Lysistrata? What is it all about?
LYSISTRATA: About a big affair.
CLEONICÉ: And is it thick too?

Mein Kampf Cover Image
By Konrad Heiden (Introduction by), Ralph Manheim (Translator), Adolpf Hitler
ISBN: 9780395925034
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Mariner Books - September 15th, 1998

Adolf Hitler’s political manifesto, was unsurprisingly banned in most European countries and in several others around the world. In early 2014, digital sales soared, and arguments for whether Mein Kampf should still be read or not abounded. Of course, one must decide for oneself. Oddly, there is also a nice piece of bookshop trivia about MEIN KAMPF: during WWII, at the start of the Blitz, co-founder of London’s Foyles bookshop, William Foyles, filled sandbags with old books to protect the shop from damage and covered the roof with copies of Mein Kampf to ward off bombers.

Ulysses (Oxford World's Classics) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780199535675
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Oxford University Press, USA - September 1st, 2011

James Joyce’s novel ULYSSES was temporarily banned in UK, Australia and U.S.A for its sexual content. There’s really nothing I can add to Adam Thirwell’s incisive, joyous essay/review, “It’s Still A Scandal!,” which I read earlier this year in The New York Review of Books. For me, as a literary translator, ULYSSES is a bible. Do I understand it all? Of course not! But Joyce is my unfailing saviour when I’m stuck for a voice…

Sophie Hughes is a literary translator and editor living in Mexico City. Her translations and reviews have appeared in Asymptote, Dazed and Confused, Words Without Borders, The White Review, and the Times Literary Supplement. Her translation of Iván Repila’s internationally acclaimed novel THE BOY WHO STOLE ATTILA’S HORSE is published this fall by Pushkin Press.

Antonio Ruiz-Camacho picks...

Kiss of the Spider Woman (Vintage International) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679724490
Availability: Backordered
Published: Vintage - April 3rd, 1991

It almost feels silly to include on this list a novel that has been, we assume, so widely read—and then there's the 1985 movie adaptation, directed by Hector Babenco, and the Broadway adaptation, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1993 and ran for more than 900 performances. But have people actually read it? I'm sure I'm not the only one who watched the movie first and then read the book, as I'm convinced somebody else has already said this: nothing prepares you for this book. KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, which depicts the relationship between two inmates inside a prison cell during the Argentine dictatorship, is not only a devastating portrait of the abuse of power and machismo in Latin America, but a master class in the novel form in and on itself. Puig, who lived in exile for most of his life, reveled in the use of raw, unmarked dialogue and alternating points of view, and in turning seemingly vain pop culture references—B movies, soap operas—into profound and hysterical, twitching and heartbreaking classic pieces of storytelling.

Dirty Havana Trilogy: A Novel in Stories Cover Image
ISBN: 9780060006891
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Harper Perennial - February 5th, 2002

In October of 1998, the prestigious Barcelona-based house Anagrama published Matanzas-born Pedro Juan Gutiérrez's first book, DIRTY HAVANA TRILOGY, to instant critical and commercial success. Three months later, Bohemia, the Cuban magazine where he had worked as a journalist for twenty-six years, fired him without further explanation. Censorship of his works—unsentimental, seismic, in-your-freaking-face depictions of life, poverty, hunger and sex in Cuba under the Castro regime, that reject definition—ensued.

While some of his books have been translated to English and even published here in the past, they are still somewhat hard to find in the U.S. Banned in the island for years, Gutiérrez is now being published, and recognized, in his homeland. With a new book published by Anagrama last week—FABIÁN Y EL CAOS—and our newly restored buddy-ness with Cuba, make sure to watch out for the writings of soul-searing, flesh-slapping Gutiérrez. He might as well become the next Karl Ove Knausgaard.

Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter's Journey Through a Country's Descent Into Darkness Cover Image
ISBN: 9780143125532
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Books - May 27th, 2014

With eighty-eight journalists killed since 2000, Mexico has become one of the world's most dangerous countries for reporters. "They are threatened and murdered by organized crime or corrupt officials with impunity," explains Reporters Without Borders. "The resulting climate of fear leads to self-censorship and undermines freedom of information."

Alfredo Corchado, a Nieman, Woodrow Wilson, and Rockefeller fellow and the Mexico bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News, knows one thing or two about the willingness of Mexico's dark forces to silence journalists. One night in 2007, Corchado, who had long been reporting on government corruption, murders in Juárez, and Mexican ruthless drug cartels, received a tip that he could be the next target of the Zetas, a violent paramilitary group—and that he had twenty-four hours to find out if the threat was true.

MIDNIGHT IN MEXICO is not only the moving and gripping journey of a reporter to understand and expose the truths of the newfound country he left as a kid. It is also a must-read for those on this side of the border willing to understand the hidden war next door we are, admittedly or not, part of—one that keeps getting more convoluted, and more tragic, by the minute.

Antonio Ruiz-Camacho is the author of the critically-acclaimed story collection BAREFOOT DOGS. A former John S. Knight Journalism fellow at Stanford University and a Dobie Paisano fellow in fiction, his work has appeared in The New York Times, Texas Monthly, Salon, Etiqueta Negra, and elsewhere. He lives in Austin, where he's at work on a novel.

Join us for our 5th Annual Banned Book Celebration on Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Pulitzer Prize Winner, a Neuroscientist, and a Nobel Prize Winner Walk into a Bookstore

This fall, we are proud to have a calendar full of amazing authors. Three of our biggest events will be hosted at Christ Church Cathedral downtown and the soon-to-open Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston (MATCH).