General blog posts

The Lone Star Book Festival Launches Next Weekend

Ask anyone: Houston is a city on the rise, expanding so rapidly that sometimes the Loop feels like a belt on a guy who suddenly realizes he’s gained twenty points. (Or is this the right simile to use? After all, the pounds are welcome ones, mostly.) Talking about Houston on the rise has become, in the last few years, a bit of a cliché: everyone knows it, but where can you actually see it?

My Lagos Story: A Q&A with A. Igoni Barrett

Satire is not the same as comedy. While satirical works can often be humorous, they are never played simply for laughs. Satire points out the absurdities in societal habits and perspectives by letting their bias come to the forefront. Critically engaged with the world, satire aims to incite us (as humans) to do better, to change—think of Voltaire’s CANDIDE, Brecht’s MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN, Kafka’s THE METAMORPHOSIS, or the recent NBCC Award-winning THE SELLOUT by Paul Beatty.

Blackass Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555977337
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Graywolf Press - March 1st, 2016

AIB: Most of my earlier fiction is set in Poteko, an imaginary place influenced as much by Lagos as by Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Abuja, Warri, all of the Nigerian communities I had spent my life collecting impressions from. But from the start I thought of BLACKASS as my Lagos story—a book written for Lagos, about Lagos, and, in a sense, by Lagos. Almost from the first moment of my adult engagement with the city, I had been struck by my mixed emotions towards it, emotions so intense that over the years I’ve caught myself using the term ‘hate-love’ to express my reaction to Lagos society. In this book, I wanted to peel back the layers of my contradictory response, as much for the sake of the story as for myself. I’ve come to see that sense of place is crucial to me in fiction, both as a writer and as a reader.

BB: BLACKASS has a plot that is odd, outlandish, and imbued with no small amount of humor. Still, the narrative posits quite serious questions of social importance, especially in regards to the legacy of colonialism. Why did you choose satire to approach these topics?

AIB: As anyone who has ever seen a performance by the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen knows, humor allows the artist to adopt outlandish guises and verbalize the most outrageous ideas. We forgive Cohen because we recognize the sensitivity it takes to capture the nuances of his role-playing, and we understand the seriousness, indeed the socio-political depth, of his purpose. In my case, I didn’t decide ab initio to write a satirical novel—it just turned out that way because, I suspect, whenever the unstoppable force of humor meets the immovable object of social commentary, what you’re left with is satire. As for how the concepts of race and whiteness are perceived in Nigeria at large, I really can’t give more insight than I’ve attempted in my novel. Generations of Nigerian writers would be needed to exhaust that lode.

BB: I am always intrigued when novelists insert themselves into their works of fiction, and you do appear in various guises in BLACKASS. Why did you make this aesthetic decision? Did you always know you’d have a character part to play in the narrative, or is it something that developed over the course of writing?

AIB: It was an impulsive choice that grew to feel integral. I’ve subsequently ruminated on that decision long enough to expound theories about its function within the novel’s narrative, but I’d rather let each reader decide for themselves what the point of that puzzle is.

Keaton Patterson is the book buyer at Brazos Bookstore in Houston, TX. He earned his M.A. in Literature from UH-Clear Lake.

Where I Am: An Interview with Rick Bass

My tendency when I am on the phone is to pace. Unless it’s windy, outside is best, but every roommate I have ever had can tell you I am not afraid to make laps around the house. For interviews, though, I have to stay put: I use a hands-free headset and type. For this reason, it’s comforting when I can tell the authors are doing something, some activity other than simply talking to me, to remain a body outside of their voice. When I spoke to Mary Karr last fall, she was moving pots and pans; University of Houston’s Martha Serpas took a moment to grind some coffee beans.

For a Little While Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316381154
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Little Brown and Company - March 1st, 2016

Annalia Luna is currently the marketing assistant at Brazos Bookstore in Houston, TX. She earned her B.A. in Music and Literature from Butler University. Her work has been published in Plougshares.

Inspired by the Emerald Isle

In which Keaton Patterson (Buyer) and Mark Haber (Store Manager) discuss books—what they’ve already read, what they’re currently reading, and what they’re excited about reading in the future.

Beatlebone Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385540292
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Doubleday Books - November 17th, 2015

Keaton: Kevin Barry.

Mark: Yes! Kevin Barry's fantastic. He's really funny and really—he's got that really weird grasp on language. He can make it bend and do stuff.

Keaton: Comedy's hard! It's one thing to be able to write a good, gut-wrenching, heartstring-pulling work of drama, but when you can make people laugh, that means you've got some special talent. He's a strange writer, too. Very funny, but always kinda goes into those underground areas—kinda flirts with crime, even. CITY OF BOHANE [another Barry novel] was one of the first books I read when I worked here, actually, and I remember, it was funny and odd, and it had this certain voice. The one thing that I really thinks comes through with Irish authors, whether you're talking about Joyce or Donal Ryan, Kevin Barry or Edna O'Brien, or Eimear McBride, who made a big splash last year with her debut from Coffee House Press, A GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING, is that the narrative voice that Irish authors come up with is very, very powerful.

So, moving away from Ireland, what have you read recently, that you've really enjoyed?

Against Nature: The Notebooks Cover Image
By Tomas Espedal, James Anderson (Translator)
ISBN: 9780857422354
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Seagull Books - May 15th, 2015

Mark: I read a book called AGAINST NATURE by Thomas Espedal (Coming May 15, 2016), and it was fantastic. It was really beautiful. It's kind of a mix of memoir and fiction, and it reflects his life—you don't know what’s real and what’s not. And he's friends with [Karl Ove] Knausgaard, another Norwegian writer—they're kind of contemporaries. There's a twenty-or-so-page passage where the girl [Espedal is] with basically leaves him. And he's just wandering around this empty house, and I've never seen a better description of just heartbreak. I mean, you're just like, Wow, this guy has just hit the bottom. Really, really beautiful, though—really, really good stuff. So I'm interested in reading more of his work from Seagull Books. They have other books of his that I've ordered for myself and for the store that I'm looking forward to reading.

Keaton: Yeah, I have to say that Seagull's been putting out some stellar stuff, especially recently. Beautiful hardcover editions.

Mark: Yeah, beautiful—they're like works of art. How about you? What have you read lately that's blown you away or that you've enjoyed?

Keaton: Well, anybody that's walked into the store recently is probably tired of hearing me talk about A COLLAPSE OF HORSES, a new short story collection by Brian Evenson. Just top-notch, stellar, psychological horror. I mean, fans of Edgar Allen Poe, fans of Shirley Jackson, Twilight Zone, those kind of things where the horror is really in the mind more than the creepy, outdoorsy, in the shadows kinda stuff—fans of that kind of stuff will really just love it. Evenson is just stellar. For anybody who grew up reading scary stories, this is like that for adults. It's very mind-bending, unnerving, lovely, scary stuff. I've been a big fan of it.

Golden Years: An Iranian Punk Beat Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780571321063
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Faber & Faber Social - March 15th, 2016

Also, this novel GOLDEN YEARS that I read recently, by Ali Eskandarian, who was tragically murdered back in 2013. It's an Iranian-American immigrant story, but in the guise of a beat road novel. Just lots of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll, but also soul searching. It's the only novel he wrote before he was killed. He seemed a very promising writer.

So, what are you looking forward to that's coming out in the next few months?

Mark: Well, I think the last time we did this, last month, I was excited about the Javier Marías book THUS BAD BEGINS. I have it now, and I'm going on a short vacation to Florida, so I'm going to probably try and read that, if I can. It comes out in November, and it should be good—a big, promising novel by one of my favorites.

Keaton: Well, let's see. I just finished a couple books, and I'm in-between right now. I'm not exactly sure where I'm gonna go next. I'm very intrigued by the new Alejandro Jodorowsky book that's coming out, ALBINA AND THE DOG-MEN. That's coming out from Restless Books—a nice, short novel that’s being put forth as this Western meets werewolf story, plus surreal trippy Mexican psycho-babble magic. I'm looking forward to it. I'm kind of at a loss for what to read next because there's so many choices. Bookseller problems.

Intangible Consciousness: A Q&A with Danielle Dutton

History usually remembers women who break the norm as either heroes ahead of their time or villainous instigators disrupting the status quo. (And usually, the same woman will be described as both, depending on who's doing the talking.) But there's one thing that a rule-breaking woman will always be to the people of her time, no matter who's doing the talking: a spectacle. Breaches in standard femininity draw scrutiny from all corners, whether in support or in outrage.

Margaret the First Cover Image
ISBN: 9781936787357
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Catapult - March 15th, 2016

Translation Spotlight: Mark Sees Red

One of the great things about working in the world of books is the advance copies—books by amazing writers that you can’t wait to share with the rest of the world. Often these are books by authors I’ve never heard of, which makes the surprises all the more satisfying.

Seeing Red Cover Image
By Lina Meruane, Megan McDowell (Translator)
ISBN: 9781941920244
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Deep Vellum Publishing - February 23rd, 2016

Loathsome and Lovable: Amy Gustine Doesn't Want Pity

Surprise to no one: my favorite type of writing is that in which the author is right there with you, or seemingly so. Hence, my love for Amy Hempel, Mary Karr, Nick Flynn, Linda Gregg—writers whose work depends upon, or at least investigates, the I/you relationship. That is the type of writing I know.

You Should Pity Us Instead Cover Image
ISBN: 9781941411193
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Sarabande Books - February 9th, 2016

The Crossover: History’s Out-of-Body Experiences

The Crossover: in which kids specialist Liz stacks up the best young adult books of the moment, for the most "grown up" of readers

Salt to the Sea Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399160301
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Philomel Books - February 2nd, 2016


Titanic. Lusitania. Wilhelm Gustloff? You've probably heard of the first two ships, but not the third—even though more than 9000 people, 5000 of whom were children, lost their lives. (In comparison, both Titanic and Lusitania had less than 3000 casualties combined.) The January 1945 sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in the Baltic Sea, as it evacuated military personnel, civilians, and refugees from eastern Germany in advance of the oncoming Russian Army, was the largest loss of life from a single ship sinking in history.

SALT TO THE SEA moves inexorably toward this tragedy, as our characters flee the devastation of war toward the ships that are meant to be their saviors. A Lithuanian nurse, a Prussian runaway, a Polish refugee, and a German soldier trade narration as they journey to the sea: four teenagers doing the very best they can in the horrors of wartime, making the choices that will save their lives—or end them. Ruta Sepetys doesn't flinch from showing any of the horrors of wartime in deep winter, and freezing and starvation even start to seem gentle compared to the gruesome lengths some people take to keep themselves and their loved ones alive.

As difficult as some parts of this book were, I have to say, I couldn't put it down. There's hope and bravery, kindness and generosity, even in bitter cold and terrible circumstances. It's enough to keep spirit alive—for the reader as well as the characters. SALT TO THE SEA is triumphant, illuminating, and mesmerizing, and it gives a necessary voice to this shockingly-forgotten tragedy. I'm not going to forget this book for a long time.

Anna and the Swallow Man Cover Image
ISBN: 9780553513349
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers - January 26th, 2016


I still have so many questions about this book, days after finishing it. The story won't leave my head—it asked so much of me as I read it, and now, I'm finding myself with so many things I want to ask it. Not for a lack of answers provided, you understand, but questions about the characters' pasts, their futures, and the world created in the bell jar of this gorgeous little novel.

Seven-year-old Anna's father leaves her with a friend one day—in Poland, 1939—and never comes back for her. Anna, being the smart girl that she is, realizes she has to leave, too, and finds herself under the protection of a mysterious man who can whistle birds down out of the sky. The two of them set off to traverse the Polish countryside together: Anna and the Swallow Man.

It's melancholy and beautiful, watching a child learn about the harshness of the world under such a protective arm. This book is a gorgeous example of craft: Savit's spare writing focuses on language, specifically the many languages that Anna and the Swallow Man speak to each other. A person's language, in this book, represents their identity—a powerful statement in a book that focuses on the chaos and bloodshed of Eastern Europe in World War II.

In a book where you never learn one of the main characters' given names, of course identity becomes a central question. But what I loved the most about ANNA AND THE SWALLOW MAN was that it never forced any questions, or made any reveal feel cheap. Identity, illness, choice, and personhood: the book revolves around these core ideas, but they come up as characters come in and out of the narrative. ANNA AND THE SWALLOW MAN feels almost like a fable, or a myth, but set against one of the most painfully real and unforgettable eras of our time.

A Madness So Discreet Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062320865
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Katherine Tegen Books - October 6th, 2015


A MADNESS SO DISCREET, explained most simply, is a psychological thriller. Well. A thriller about psychology. Criminal psychology. And regular psychology, at that. All right, it's not very simple. You might have guessed by now that I like books that don't present tidy answers to neat questions. A MADNESS SO DISCREET goes so far from providing neat, clean answers to obvious black-and-white questions that it's off the color spectrum entirely.

Grace, our protagonist, begins the book pregnant by assault and voiceless from her trauma, imprisoned in a nineteenth century insane asylum. When she's freed, she descends immediately into a different type of madness, using her near-photographic memory to assist a doctor developing the new science of criminal psychology. Much of the initial horror in this book comes from simply the nineteenth-century approach to mental illness (wrapping in sheets? lobotomy? no thank you), but as in all good thrillers, the real spectre becomes the dark and horrible things that people can do to other people. It's not nice, and it's not pretty, and it certainly hasn't changed from the 1800s to now.

But while A MADNESS SO DISCREET spends much of its time in the darkness, the really important parts of this book are what happen in the light. The moments of agency and empowerment that Grace and her fellow inmates can have amongst themselves; the way Grace begins to use her intelligence and aptitude to keep what happened to her from happening to anyone else. Grace's journey to finding her own strength becomes a powerful statement about agency in a book that is so much about victimization—of women, of the mentally ill, of the powerless. A MADNESS SO DISCREET becomes a story about finding yourself when you've been locked away—and taking those prison bars and breaking them over your knee. I think we need more books like this.

The Passion of Dolssa Cover Image
ISBN: 9780451469922
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Viking Books for Young Readers - April 12th, 2016


All right, this book isn't out until April, but I need to put it on your radar now. It's the story of a thirteenth-century girl from Provence who hears God in all things—and who, when she decides to preach what she hears, is violently pursued and silenced by the Inquisition. It's about a teenage matchmaker in a small seaside town who finds this girl dying and decides to help. It's about faith and truth and the beauty that can be found in all kinds of heresies. It's about conscientious objectors, and dissidents, and iconoclasts. It's timely and timeless. Get ready for this book.

Flex, Space, Some Windows: An Interview with Paul Lisicky

In THE NARROW DOOR, a priest says, “The closer we get to someone, the more we must stand humbly before [their] freedom.” The sound byte, taken from a homily about hospitality, is a complicated imperative for those who, like Paul Lisicky, have ever found themselves in a captivating, if volatile, friendship. Through rich vignettes, Lisicky sensitively heeds the demanding logic of friendship without ever posing as a logician. Rather, he is an excavator and bricoleur, mining precious correspondences and memories, and aerating them with journalistic meditations on global grief.

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

PL: Initially, the book was about Denise, just Denise. As I was gathering material, it became clear that it was [a] chronicle of grief—what it felt like to stand in the wake of losing my friend. So it was a day-to-day account, even though it moved around in time. A book written consecutively, but a nonlinear narrative. My relationship with my ex started to come apart well after I’d had about 120 pages of manuscript, and I pretty much wrote that material into the book because, well—I honestly didn’t know how to keep it out, as painful as it was. The end of the two relationships immediately talked to each other on the page. I tried not to be afraid of what the book was doing, I just kept going. The conversation between the two narratives seemed to have a life of its own. It felt a little like physics. After I had a complete draft I had to go back and write my ex into the earlier chapters. That initially felt like a hard thing to do on multiple levels. I didn’t want to destroy the structure I’d already built, but I was surprised by how much it opened up to admit that new material. Its architecture seemed to be stronger than I’d initially thought.

There actually is a third friend in the book—the woman who’s called Braunwyn. She doesn’t have as much space on the page as Denise or M, but I think of her presence as being emotionally important to the book.

BB: You write about Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Do you think artistic friendships are, in some way, rarefied?

PL: That’s an interesting question. I suppose any two artists understand what it’s like to be pulled out of the present by the work: the vocation and distraction of it, the continual buzz in the ear. How to fix the piece you’re working on, how to transform its limitations? I think that that drive is hard for others to get and maybe that’s why artistic friendships might seem rarefied to outsiders. Two artists together have a mutual understanding—that heightened sense of time. I know my friends who aren’t artists are sometimes much more spontaneous about time than I am. They might not feel as worried about changing plans on the spur of the moment, whereas I have this vaguely insane compulsion to protect some openness in my schedule. I have to sit still with my work for a certain percentage of the day or I’m not quite right!

BB: There are a few recurring concerns in THE NARROW DOOR. I’m thinking about the micro essays on disasters (both natural and unnatural), Joni Mitchell’s career, and the deep ecology of animals. Can you talk about what role they play in the memoir? Were these written concurrently with the Denise and M vignettes? Or after?

PL: Yes, all that material was written concurrently. The disasters, with the exception of the Mt. Saint Helens explosion, were all happening during the real time of the writing. On one hand, they’re there to dissolve the border between the world outside and the world of the relationships. But more specifically I felt a need to suggest something about interconnection between forces. Certainly the Joni Mitchell story—the myth of it, as represented by the book—does a lot to shape how the players understand themselves as artists.

BB: Did you initially reconstruct the timeline linearly? How did you ultimately decide on the ordering of these vignettes?

PL: Each of these moments is intended to be organized around an image. Each image is meant to talk to the next image and so on. So though there’s plenty of narrative in the book, its structure is primarily associative. It’s built on patterns, not just of description, but of repeated phrases. Straightforward storytelling just felt too simple to me. There was a point, maybe a year into the editing of the book, that my editor asked me to consider rethinking the book as a linear narrative, though she didn’t use the “l word.” I tried it, made a valiant six-month go of it, and it ended up feeling false and diminished. It lost all the dimensions that the collage form seemed to offer. So we went back to the original plan.

BB: You had to keep many of your friends’ secrets as you wrote this memoir. What do you do with those secrets if not write with them?

PL: There’s a passage very late in the book when a well-meaning mutual friend wants to give me Denise’s diary from the year 2004, part of the sixteen months we didn’t talk to each other. I refuse it, without understanding why. I think I’d still refuse it to this day. Maybe the impulse is really to respect mystery. Besides, would the knowledge of a secret take us closer to the heart of a person? As frustrating as it can be, there’s something infinitely compelling and possibly beautiful about the unknowability of other people and maybe better just to rest with that—or at least try.

Lawrence Lenhart is the author of ISOLATING TRANSGRESSION: ESSAYS (forthcoming from Outpost 19 in Fall 2016). His work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Fourth Genre, Guernica, Gulf Coast, Passages North, Prairie Schooner, Terrain.org, Wag’s Revue, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from the University of Arizona, teaches fiction and nonfiction at Northern Arizona University, and is a reviews editor and assistant fiction editor of DIAGRAM.

Brazos Best: Lose Weight, Lose Your Mind!

The Book: THE VEGETARIAN, a novel by Han Kang, our February Brazos Best pick

The Chatters: Augusta Bartis (Inventory Manager), Ülrika Moats (Gift Buyer), Keaton Patterson (Book Buyer), and Benjamin Rybeck (Marketing Director)

The Plot: After disturbing dreams, a Korean housewife decides to become a vegetarian. As she loses weight, her mind begins to deteriorate as well, and her choice begins to affect three of her family members—her husband, her brother-in-law, and her sister (each of whom anchor a section)—in disturbing ways.

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