General blog posts

A Modern View of an Ancient Nazarene

With so many writings about Jesus already in existence, one has to wonder why Reza Aslan would want to contribute another. However, from the outset, Aslan makes it clear that ZEALOT: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JESUS OF NAZARETH is a study of the historical Jesus--not to be confused with Jesus the Christian icon, who has become a celebrity in his own right.

Aslan's hope? “To spread the good news of the Jesus of history with the same fervor that [he] once applied to spreading the story of Christ.” It’s a big hope, but he is diplomatic in his introduction. He defends the narrative in the book as “the most accurate and reasonable argument” and points readers who are interested in the debate to the back of the book where he has “exhaustively detailed [his] research, and, whenever possible, provided the arguments of those who disagree with [his] interpretation.” (And there is interpretation: Aslan did all Greek translations of the New Testament himself.)

Aside from Aslan's extensive knowledge--which allows him to pivot between time periods, subjects, and perspectives with ease--the main thing that struck me about ZEALOT was Aslan's quest for truth. Take, for instance, a moment in part two when he examines John the Baptist and his role in baptizing Jesus. When Jesus came to John, John was the “superior” figure--a “popular, well-respected, and almost universally acknowledged priest and prophet.” Because John had established himself first, his most loyal followers refused to acknowledge Jesus's legacy, even long after both figures were dead.

So how did the role reversal between John and Jesus come about? Aslan suggests that the gospels “massaged” the story in order to comfort their readers. Mark’s version of John the Baptist is a “wholly independent figure who baptizes Jesus as one among many who come to him seeking repentance,” whereas, in Matthew’s version, John does not baptize Jesus at first, insisting that Jesus should be the one baptizing him; it is not until Jesus gives John permission that John performs his duty. The depictions become more and more conservative until, in the gospel of John (the fourth gospel), John is not a baptist at all. John does not even baptise Jesus. Rather, John simply says, “I have been sent before him...He must increase, as I must decrease” (John 3:28-30).

Aslan uses these discrepancies not only to highlight the contradictions in the Bible but to reinforce that the Bible as a text was never meant to be a factual document. Rather, Aslan argues that writers of the Bible portrayed Jesus to fit the times in which they were writing. Jesus became whatever his audience needed him to be, which is why separating Jesus of Nazareth from Jesus the Christ is so critical--and why Aslan’s work is so necessary.

Tickets for Reza Aslan's September 19 presentation of ZEALOT at Christ Church Cathedral, Episcopal are on sale now. Click here for all the details.

A Love Story Spanning Decades and Continents

Xiaolu Guo's new novel I AM CHINA opens with a cryptic letter from punk rock revolutionary Jian to his “dearest woman” Mu. It is only three pages but contains enough drama for a novel unto itself. Airbound, Jian cannot tell Mu where he is, where he is going, what will happen when the airplane lands, or how long he'll be forced to stay. He recalls the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square, regretting that he didn't anticipate his current predicament sooner: captive, alone, seemingly defeated. 

Although this letter, dated December 2011, provides the prelude, the first chapter moves the reader forward one and a half years, jumping into April 2013 in London. There, Scottish-born Iona has been doing freelance translation projects since graduating from SOAS, the world’s leading institution for Asian, African, and Middle Eastern studies. Now in her mid-thirties, she feels unfilled by her translation work. But this changes when she receives her latest assignment: to sift through photocopies of Jian and Mu’s correspondence and diary entries. Their relationship consumes her, and she wants to find out as much as she can about her two new friends (for example, she eats one of Mu’s favorite meals at a local restaurant).

Readers who like unconventional narrative strategies will enjoy I AM CHINA’s epistolary form and its chapters that span decades and continents. However, it is easy to wonder why two characters with such rich history also require a frame story. If this novel is about Jian and Mu and China, who is Iona, and what role does she play?

The answer comes toward the end of part one, when we learn about the day Iona left Scotland to start her college studies. Although she vowed to escape home since she was a child, the experience proves strange and empty when she is finally standing on the boat at seventeen, watching the figures of her parents shrinking in the distance. At the last moment, her father shouts into the wind for her to write home, the only affectionate gesture from him that she can remember. Young Iona puts on a brave smile and watches the waves through her tears until the English coast reveals itself. This is where Jian, Mu, and Iona's stories meet, and where they find the way to discovering one's identity is a journey both public and private, shared and individual.

Xiaolu Guo presents I AM CHINA at Asia Society Texas on Wednesday, September 3. Tickets are available on their website.

Pre-order books to be signed below. Pick your book up at the event or at the bookstore!  

Staff Pick Logo
I Am China Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385538718
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Nan A. Talese - September 2nd, 2014

#debooze: Read and Drink Local

Let’s set the scene:


You’re a debut author. It’s the magic hour—that time in the afternoon when the sun has set but light still dusts the sky. After years of struggle, your first book is forthcoming, about to enter the world. Tomorrow, there will be time for more stress—for interviews, for readings, for sleeping on couches as you tour the country and share your work with the world…but for now, take a deep breath, put on some music, and grab yourself a drink. It’s time to relax. It’s time to reflect. It’s time for #debooze.


In #debooze, we ask a debut author to reflect on his/her road to publication, and to also recommend some booze.



My first weekend after moving to Houston some fifteen years ago, a friend introduced me to a friend of his. That friend invited me to meet him and another friend of theirs at The Ginger Man. We managed to find a shaded table on the back patio. It was August—Houston’s most beer-friendly month. I was not even two months removed from my last day as a Children’s Attendant (unarmed guard) at Chicago’s 500-cell juvenile jail, and already, I was aspiring to write about that experience. I hate to admit it, but I probably mentioned these aspirations to my companions. I hope I didn’t say “book,” but, alas, I may have. The more bookless years that passed, the more embarrassed I became for mentioning it.


While I regret what I might have said that afternoon about my aspiring “book” on The Ginger Man’s back patio, what I don’t regret saying was, “Sure, sounds good,” when one of the guys recommended a local beer. Saint Arnold was the brewery. “The Amber Ale,” he said, “is probably their most popular one.” It’s been my most popular one ever since. I’ve yet to taste one just like it. I could pass its blind taste test just like I could tear the cover off some yet unread Faulkner or Cormac McCarthy or Grace Paley or Flannery O’Connor and then identify said author within a few paragraphs because those writers do something no one else does or even can. And Saint Arnold Amber does something no other beer does. It’s my “deserted island beer.” By no means am I its only fan. Saint Arnold Amber has medaled twice at the Great American Beer Fest in Denver. How fitting that the year my book is finally published, Saint Arnold is offering three variations of its iconic (and original) brew by altering the hops—one of beer’s four basic ingredients. In one year, my writing life changes, and so does my beer life.   


The Booze: Houston’s own Saint Arnold Amber Ale

The original uses several hops from the Pacific Northwest. The only way I can explain or quantify this ale as a non-beer biochemist is to say that it’s more hoppy than malty and comes off with a hint of apple cider tartness. Sounds simple, but I know it isn’t, like writing a book isn’t simple.   


Saint Arnold Amber Redux:  Dry Hopping

Three limited release variations of the Amber are out this summer and fall. A different hops is added later in the brewing process, that is “dry hopped,” to ramp up the bitterness and floral aroma. These hop strains are: Liberty, Cascade, and Mosaic. And yes, I am ramping up my literary ambitions once again, not out of hope or an optimistic sense of accomplishment over a first book, but rather the same foolish dream that dared me to write a book in the first place. I’m keeping these ambitions much more secret. For now, I simply aspire to figure out which of the four Saint Arnold Amber Ale incarnations I like best.


Mark Dostert will be in-store on Friday, September 5 to sign and discuss UP IN HERE. Reserve your copy today!

Up in Here: Jailing Kids on Chicago's Other Side Cover Image
ISBN: 9781609382704
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: University of Iowa Press - September 1st, 2014

#Murakamania in Technicolor

Every new novel by Haruki Murakami—Japan’s most significant author—is an event, but COLORLESS TSUKURU TAZAKI AND HIS YEARS OF PILGRIMAGE seems especially substantial, and not only because we at Brazos have been Tweeting about #murakamania for ages! Rather, COLORLESS follows Murakami’s expansive, bold, and somewhat divisive 1Q84, a novel that seemed, in its scope, like it aimed to be a definitive statement—a summation of a great author’s lifelong themes/concerns.

COLORLESS is a more focused novel—perhaps more “reader friendly” too—but no less ambitious. It zeroes in on the life of Tsukuru Tazaki, a 36-year-old bachelor who has been alone, in one way or another, ever since his four closest friends—a group with whom he grew up—cut him off for no reason when they were all in their early 20s. Prompted by a new girlfriend, Tsukuru decides to track down his old friends and find out what made them turn on him so suddenly. Accordingly, the plot of the book is loose, episodic—imagine Tarantino’s Kill Bill if, instead of bloodshed, the Bride just wanted to chat.

Of course, nothing is straightforward in COLORLESS, and though the narrative framework exists in “the real world,” Murakami suggests deeper mysteries in a subplot involving Tsukuru’s friendship years earlier with a strange young man who once invaded his dreams—hell, who might’ve even been a ghost. These surreal passages shouldn’t surprise any fans of the author: Murakami has never been one to craft easy solutions to his mysteries.

Murakami is 65, and COLORLESS is a book that only an old man could’ve written—a clear-eyed, powerful work about the choices we make in our lives and the alternate potential histories that exist for all of us. Murakami’s vast experience has flowed into this book, and as Tsukuru, still a young man, wonders what the point of life is, Murakami seems to be saying that you never figure it out—but that, at a certain point, you realize the mystery is the best part.

First Symptoms of Murakamania

Two of Haruki Murakami’s slimmer novels are also his most accessible. NORWEGIAN WOOD, the novel that turned Murakami into a reluctant star and literary icon in Japan, is a gorgeous and elegiac book. Toru Watanabe, a 37 year-old businessman, hears The Beatles’ classic song “Norwegian Wood” on a plane and is quickly transported back to his college days. The novel touches on friendship, mental illness and the promises we make to friends that are often impossible to keep. A subtle and moving coming of age novel - often sexy, sometimes sad and consistently brilliant - NORWEGIAN WOOD is a compelling and redemptive tale of the universal search for happiness. A book sure to turn any Murakami novice into a fanatic.

Norwegian Wood (Vintage International) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780375704024
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - September 12th, 2000

SOUTH OF THE BORDER, WEST OF THE SUN is a deceptively simple story that also negotiates the subject of young love and middle age. Hajime and Shimamoto were childhood sweethearts; they held hands, played records and shared secrets. They eventually drifted apart. Now, decades later, Hajime is a father and husband as well as the successful owner of a jazz club. Suddenly Shimamoto is thrust back into his life and Hajime, filled with passion, feels destined to consummate his first love. Shimamoto is as beautiful as she is mysterious, refusing to talk about her life or anything that has happened since they were children. Hajmi feels unspeakably drawn to Shimamoto and is convinced that leaving his family to be with Shimamoto is his destiny.


South of the Border, West of the Sun (Vintage International) Cover Image
By Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel (Translator)
ISBN: 9780679767398
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - March 14th, 2000

Both of these novels eschew the fantastic elements of Murakami’s larger novels but are no less layered and sophisticated. Each story negotiates such subjects as lust, enchantment and first loves. Both deal with the power of childhood experience and how the events in our younger lives ripple into adulthood. In addition, they refuse to arrive at an easy answer and, much like life itself, remain vague and ambiguous.

For anyone wanting to dip a toe into the world of Haruki Murakami, NORWEGIAN WOOD or SOUTH OF THE BORDER, WEST OF THE SUN are great starting points!

Experience MURAKAMANIA first hand on Monday, August 11. Our Midnight Release party for COLORLESS TSUKURU TAZAKI AND HIS YEARS OF PILGRIMAGE begins at 10PM.

An Interview with Lacy Johnson

When she was twenty-one, Lacy M. Johnson was kidnapped, raped, and nearly murdered by an ex-boyfriend. Johnson's new memoir THE OTHER SIDE is her reconstruction of that time in her life—of the events leading up to and away from that harrowing act of domestic violence. Yet THE OTHER SIDE does something remarkable: Despite its disturbing content, it never wallows in despair. Instead, it becomes a moving, life-affirming work about learning to take control of one’s own story.

Johnson will read and sign books at Brazos on July 24, 7pm. She was nice enough to answer some questions for us in advance of her event.

BRAZOS BOOKSTORE: In an interview you did a couple years ago with PEBBLE LAKE REVIEW, you said THE OTHER SIDE was “a book I must write, and I must write it now, at this point in my life.” What was your motivation for finally writing it?
LACY M. JOHNSON: When I was twenty-one years old, just after I had graduated college, just as I was beginning to think of myself as a writer, I was kidnapped and raped by a man I used to live with. So as long as I’ve been writing, I’ve had this story weighing on me—maybe it’s even why I pursued writing. Over the years, I’ve tried to write about these events many different times and in many different ways—essays, poems, little things here and there. In none of them do I ever even say what happened. Maybe I wasn’t strong enough, or brave enough to tell the truth. Not until very recently. Writing TRESPASSES, in many ways, prepared me for the challenge of THE OTHER SIDE, because I learned very much about myself as a writer in the process—who I am, what I am capable of, what I am willing to say. The story I tell in THE OTHER SIDE is one that I’ve ever only told my very closest friends. On a personal level, I wanted to write it and get it out into the world so that I wouldn’t feel compelled to tell it anymore. As if I could write the story and be rid of it. The irony is, of course, that now I’m touring and doing interviews, so I’m telling the story more than ever, over and over, to thousands and thousands of people.

BB: You spent hours and days conducting interviews and then weeks and months transcribing, sifting, reworking, and filling in blanks when writing your first book, TRESPASSES. THE OTHER SIDE, by contrast, seems to be constructed mostly from memory, sometimes with whole pieces missing. In TRESPASSES, you refer without hesitation to real people by name, whereas you are the only character named in THE OTHER SIDE (everyone else receives nomenclatures like "My Good Friend" and "The Strange Man"). Were these decisions you made in the beginning or something that developed during the writing process? How did the form of the book change between your initial manuscript and its current state?
LJ: I don’t see my methods in the two books as being so very different. In TRESPASSES, I am writing about how public memory and shared memories define our identities. I looked for documents, written records, archives, and newspaper clippings, but none existed. I tried to go to the historical society in the county where my family has apparently lived for the last 170 years, and the place was a nightmare. There were cardboard boxes piled up to the ceiling against every wall in the whole place, and organized in no particular order I could decipher. That seems to me an apt metaphor for the past, which is indecipherable until it is ordered into the narrative of history. I did have my grandmother’s photo albums—stacks and stacks of them—and scraps of letters and journals. I started interviewing family members at first to learn about our family history, but no one seemed to be able to tell me anything more than I already knew. So instead I started asking them about their own lives, and in the process learned very much about where I come from—not only about the place as a geographical location, but also as a culture. I also learned about the relationship of stories to identity, and the role of silence in all of that, since what we won’t or can’t say determines who we are as much as the stories we do share. THE OTHER SIDE picks up this question—about the relationship of story and silence to identity—but it focuses on a single moment in my life when words completely failed me. The primary project of the book was, from the very beginning, to articulate the inarticulable, to speak the unspeakable, to give voice to a part of myself that had up to that point remained speechless.

BB: For TRESPASSES, University of Iowa Press sought you out and requested a manuscript. What sparked your relationship with Tin House?
LJ: My agent, the amazing and talented Ethan Bassoff of Lippincott Masie McQuilken, got in touch with Masie Cochran, a brave and brilliant editor at Tin House, which is a small indie press out of Portland. They also publish a magazine, TIN HOUSE, which I’ve admired for years. At the time we began a conversation with Tin House, we were also in conversations with editors at some of the larger presses. One day I had two phone calls, one with an editor at a large, reputable press in New York, and one with Masie at Tin House. The editor in NY expressed to me that she wanted me to really dial up the sexual tension in the book, like some kind of 50 SHADES gone wrong. I was so offended. I thought, Have you even read my book? But from the very first conversation that day with Masie at Tin House, I felt really impressed with the way she, and all of the folks there, showed their respect and admiration for the work. It was clear from the moment she began speaking that she shared my vision of what the book could be. It took a lot of courage on the part of Tin House to publish a book like this. I get choked up when I try to express how grateful I am to them for it.

BB: Earlier this year, you did a social-media interactive, location-based storytelling project called [the invisible city]. Could you talk more about that? Were you familiar with all the locations prior to the project?
LJ: [the invisible city] is a location-based storytelling platform that was launched during the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts’ inaugural CounterCurrent festival. I collaborated on the project with two other artists, Josh Okun (www.joshokun.com) and Rob Ray (http://robray.net/). The multiple stories in the project are geolocated, and readers have to move around the city to read the work, which can be accessed only from a GPS-enabled mobile device. It’s a sort of mix between the Choose Your Own Adventure gamebook series, which was far more popular in the 1980s than it is now, and early text-based games like Zork. I started working on the project after I had finished THE OTHER SIDE, and really wanted to write something that was lighthearted and fun. I imagined writing a cyberpunk neo-noir novella that would have people running through the tunnels under downtown. I did research and scouted locations, and spent a lot of time drawing plot diagrams. But when I actually sat down and started to write, I found that the lighthearted, fun, neo-noir novella wasn’t the story I felt most compelled to tell about the city. What I ended up writing for the project is an essay called “The Invisible City”, which leads users on an hours-long exploration of Houston’s many social, economic, and political wards. It’s a work about gentrification, and economy, and environmental justice. It’s a very serious essay, and those who follow it to all the locations have a eye-opening, gut-wrenching experience, so it’s not at all the light-hearted palate-cleanser I had originally envisioned. But, my collaborators and I published it anyway as a kind of beta test for the platform, which works beautifully. Hooray! The current plan is to publish location-based stories, essays, games, and adventures twice a year, in April and October. We’re currently reading submissions for our October launch, and I’m really hoping someone will send me a cyberpunk neo-noir novella. We’ll do one more round of stories set only in Houston, and then we’ll start publishing in other locations as well. The format is open-ended, so we could potentially publish a story that takes users all the way around the world.

BB: When you moved to Houston ten years ago, you worried about “passing” as someone who belongs here, deserves to be taken seriously, is more complex than the stereotypes made about her hometown. You took a pilot interdisciplinary art class and now direct the program that offers it every year. How has Houston changed in your mind? What was it like adjusting to life in “the big city”?
LJ: I love Houston—I’ve loved it from the very beginning, when I first moved here in 2004 to attend the Creative Writing Program at UH. And even though I know there are millions of people living here, I’ve never really thought of it as “the big city”—more like an enormous, sprawling cluster of interconnected small towns. One of the things I most love about Houston is that it’s a great art city, though I don’t think outsiders give Houston much credit in that regard. Our art community tends to be tremendously supportive, and I think people who look in from the outside can’t even fathom a rigorous art scene that isn’t cut-throat and viscously competitive. What works in our favor is that we have a robust philanthropic community that gives very generously to the arts, so it never feels (from my perspective anyway) that we’re all competing for the same resources. There are plenty of galleries, and plenty of bookstores, and plenty of museums. Some of my favorite artists and writers are living and working right here in the city—creating brilliant work that garners attention and creates social change on a local and national scale—and as a Houstonian I take a lot of pride in that. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like an impostor here as far as the city goes; I think my worry about “passing” had more to do with graduate school than with Houston itself.

BB: What are your current and upcoming projects, writing or otherwise?
LJ: I’m always working on a lot of things—right now a few essays, some cultural criticism, a bit of art writing. I’ll probably start working on my third book very soon, which will likely be another work of unconventional nonfiction. But it’s hard to even begin thinking about that because I’m not yet finished with the larger project of THE OTHER SIDE. Yes, the writing is done, and the book is nearly out in the world, but now I am touring and giving readings, speaking publicly and learning to do so without fear or shame. What I’ve learned so far in the conversations I’ve had about this book is that there are certain ways our culture reacts when women speak publicly about having been sexually assaulted—most of them are either offensive or unfortunate, and none of them actually change anything. In some ways this is the more important part of the project—the one in which I try to be a catalyst for change. I don’t know what that will look like yet; it’s only now just beginning.

The Other Side Cover Image
ISBN: 9781935639831
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Tin House Books - July 15th, 2014

The New South Exposed with a Scapel

Wilton Barnhardt’s LOOKAWAY, LOOKAWAY is a “Southern novel”—it’s set in Charlotte and takes on questions of what exactly the term “New South” means—but it has more in common with the rollicking, maximalist humor of John Kennedy Toole than with the existential sobriety of Walker Percy. Yet anyone expecting something frivolous should prepare him/herself for the depth of this book; Barnhardt uses humor as a scalpel, opening the skin of his characters and finding what lurks beneath.

His subject is the Johnston family of North Carolina and its various tormented members. They are wealthy denizens of the South—real estate brokers, ministers, college students, famous novelists—struggling to understand and face the problems of a world changing beyond their imagination. Each of these family members has his/her own problem, but when mixed together, those problems become volcanic. Barnhardt describes this world and its transgressions with the sheen and detail of a photograph glimpsed in a glossy magazine.

Barnhardt’s characters often behave badly, yes, but as an author, he delights in pushing characters beyond their indiscretions into torments so banal they almost seem life-threatening. Take, for instance, the novel’s earliest passages, in which college freshman Jerilyn snorts cocaine for the first time. Many writers would focus on the feeling of the drug itself, but Barnhardt pushes the situation toward absurdity: while navigating the physiological effects of the drug, Jerilyn suddenly finds herself on the phone with her mother, creating a whole different kind of tension. It’s a small moment that suggests Barnhardt’s method of piling trouble after trouble upon the shoulders of his characters in a way that moves beyond specific economic or geographical circumstances—in a way that reflects how we all often feel.

In this sense, what’s the point in calling LOOKAWAY, LOOKAWAY a Southern novel? Yes, it takes place in the South, but to imply its appeal is merely geographical does Barnhardt a disservice. If anything, I tasted as many notes of THE CORRECTIONS and THE MARRIAGE PLOT as of the opulent Southern novels of the past. Of course, the world of Franzen and Eugenides is much removed from Barnhardt’s, but these are novels united by one important notion: that the characters’ deepest displeasures cause us, the readers, our most transcendent pleasures. It would almost seem cruel if Barnhardt didn’t force us to know and identify with his characters so completely—to show us how much like ourselves the Johnstons are, regardless of any geographical differences. This, finally, is the wonderful paradox of LOOKAWAY, LOOKAWAY: the more we see ourselves, the harder we laugh.

Lookaway, Lookaway Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250022288
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: St. Martin's Press - June 24th, 2014

Wilton Barnhardt signs LOOKAWAY, LOOKAWAY on Tuesday, July 15 at 7PM

A Debut to Remember | Scott Cheshire

Discovering new authors is one of the true joys of bookselling. Over the next several months we're proud to feature some of our favorite debut authors presenting their books. We begin with Scott Cheshire, author of the new novel HIGH AS THE HORSES' BRIDLES.

"On October 28th, 1999, my grandmother passed away. This became my first experience with loss. She was an elegant, loving, and hilarious woman who’d brought her two daughters to America from Viña del Mar, Chile, some thirty years before. Sadly, she’d been sick for a long time, confined to her bed in a care facility. As a family, we prayed for her final passing into grace, because, after all, we were a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses—a family of faith. And this was religion doing its best possible work, giving us, especially my mom, a sense of peace and hope in the face of death. But I must confess, the question dogged me then, and it dogs me still, twenty years after leaving the Witness community: where is my grandmother?

I spent most of my twenties running from my own history while immersing myself in books by writers interested in metaphysics—in our human drive toward transcendence and meaning—like Herman Melville, Don DeLillo, and Marilynne Robinson. Before long, there opened up inside me a tremendous desire to contribute something to that conversation. So I stopped running and, instead, became intensely interested in Witness history, a fascinating American phenomenon. But my writing never really took flight. It felt insular, constrained, self-involved.

As I got older and hopefully more mature, and as I read more deeply into the vast and varied religious histories of this country, I realized I wanted to tell a story not of my own history, but ours—a story of a family, of a country, of all of us, really, and our very human desire to forestall and make sense of death. HIGH AS THE HORSES' BRIDLES is about that human urge to frame Time, to make a story of our imperfect journey toward Meaning, to give it a Beginning, a Middle, an End."

-- Scott Cheshire

High as the Horses' Bridles Cover Image
ISBN: 9780805098211
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Henry Holt & Company - July 8th, 2014

David Berg Returns to Brazos with His True Tale of Law and Order

Halfway through RUN, BROTHER, RUN, author (and Houston attorney) David Berg’s brother winds up in a ditch near Galveston, the victim of a murder. The year is 1968, and sad though the murder is, it’s not exactly a surprise to the family: Alan Berg owed money to dangerous people all over Houston and had been missing for six months.

By mentioning this plot point, I am not giving anything away: Berg reveals his brother’s fate in the book’s introduction—and besides, since the entire story hinges upon the murder, nearly everything written about the book discusses this “spoiler.” But the mysteries still abound: How did Alan—the author’s troubled brother—die? Who pulled the trigger? What happened at the trial? Was justice done? Berg answers all of these questions with a great lawyer’s gift for clarity and narrative; there’s nothing tricky about the way he tells his story, presenting the events in chronological order, thus allowing the reader to be present, almost in real-time, for the murder trial’s most disturbing twists. At the same time, Berg winds up recording an alternate history of Houston, told in the seediest bars and nightclubs of the city’s old “Sin Alley.”

But how has all of this affected David Berg himself?

Ultimately, this is why mentioning details of the case doesn’t really function as a “spoiler”: because the power of RUN, BROTHER, RUN comes not from its true crime elements; rather, the power comes from the memoir’s portrait of a family torn apart—by violence, yes, but also by years of leaving matters unspoken. Berg’s gifts are apparent in how well he establishes the dynamic of his family—especially his close but difficult relationship with Alan. When his brother was around, Berg writes, “it felt as though a limb I hadn’t realized was missing had been sewn back on. When he left, I felt pain as profound as if it had been ripped off again.”

Alan led a troubled life, which Berg watched with dread. In this sense, RUN, BROTHER, RUN feels urgent and powerful. Now, writing about the murder nearly forty years later, Berg seems to view it as an opportunity to, if not change history, at least correct it.

For years, Berg has wished he could’ve saved his brother. Now, with RUN, BROTHER RUN, he gets his chance.

David Berg signs the paperback release of RUN, BROTHER, RUN on Monday, June 30 at 7PM

Antonya Nelson: Master of the Short Story

Midway through her new book, Houston resident Antonya Nelson describes a suburban scene that’ll feel familiar to any resident of the Gulf Coast: “The night was soggy, Houston autumn, frogs like squeezeboxes wheezing in and out.” But if this image feels like a mirror held up to a reader’s own suburban life, the next sentences fly into it like rocks, shattering the reflection: “Her neighbor’s nakedness seemed sad and enervated, breasts flat on her chest, a kind of melted look to the rest of her flesh, ankles thick on splayed feet. Southern belle in decline, a dismal ‘after’ picture.”

This story, “Chapter Two,” is an example of what makes FUNNY ONCE such an ambitious collection of fiction. It takes as its premise a visit from a naked older woman to her younger neighbor’s home. The older woman has been wandering the humid streets with her clothes shed, as if her loneliness is something she can sweat from her pores. But Nelson, a writer forever in search of further complications, makes a substantial narrative leap: the encounter with the naked neighbor becomes a story the younger woman tells to her AA group as a way of not discussing her own issues. The pieces in FUNNY ONCE work this way, forever shifting under the reader’s feet as they portray an adult life fraught with sinkholes; whenever you get a grasp on what the author is trying to do, she adds another, more dangerous layer. Adult life, Nelson seems to suggest, is a process of discovering uncomfortable truths.

And what are those uncomfortable truths? Often they come unannounced from the past, jarring the stability of the present day. In many stories, visitors from the past—whether it’s the stepdaughter from a previous marriage who makes a 2 a.m. call in “First Husband,” or the heartbroken ex-best friend who reaches out in “Winter in Yalta”—drive the plots forward. But perhaps the most resonate moment comes fleetingly in the collection’s best story, “The Village”: an old man in a nursing home, speaking to a series of hallucinations, each of which corresponds to a person from his past whom he has yet to shake.

This moment, like the whole of FUNNY ONCE, proves a powerful reminder of the ghosts we carry with us—apparitions that, even if we can’t always see them, form the foundations of our lives.

Antonya Nelson reads from and signs copies of FUNNY ONCE at 7pm on Monday, June 23rd