Best of 2015: Annalia

Article by annalia

The best thing about living writers is that they’re not dead. Let me rephrase: I love meeting the strange, charming creatures responsible for the books we carry, lend to friends, pile on our nightstands. I like seeing the person separate from the page. So this year for my top ten list, I decided to share not only great books but stories about the kind, lopsided writers who wrote them—a Brazos Bookstore behind-the-scenes featurette, if you will.

Spoiler alert: no divas here. That is a different list for another day.

The Water Knife Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385352871
Availability: UNAVAILABLE
Published: Knopf Publishing Group - May 26th, 2015

Pub Date: May 26, Author Event: November 2

I wear many hats at Brazos Bookstore, but one of the most prominent is that of Offsite Captain. This means that there are times I go on bookselling adventures outside the bookstore to sell books for conferences, benefit lunches, books fairs, private parties—you name it.

For Paolo Bacigalupi, the venue was the chapel at Rice University. I was staged outside in a strange hovel between buildings and Bacigalupi, whom I had never met, invited me inside. He helped me lug the books from the chill patio air into the warm empty cathedral, and I got to hear him say “fuck” in church. He was nervous and kind, a considerable contrast to THE WATER KNIFE, a dystopian sci fi novel where water is scarce and what water remains is dealt in (literal!) cutthroat deals.

Jam on the Vine Cover Image
Unavailable from Brazos Bookstore
ISBN: 9780802123343
Availability: OUT OF PRINT - Not Available for Order
Published: Grove Press - February 3rd, 2015

Pub Date: February 3, Author Event: March 31

There’s some back-story to this one. We interviewed Jill Alexander Essbaum, Texas native and author of HAUSFRAU, in anticipation of her in-store event. When she saw that LaShona Katrice Barnett was visiting soon after, she gave us a message to pass along: hi and thanks for everything you’ve done. As I discussed in my interview with Atticus Lish, writers love secrets! We waited and we hoped for something good—an inside joke, maybe. What Barnett gave us? Essbaum’s author origin story.

Barnett and Essbaum met at a party in New York. At this time, Essbaum had some poetry published but felt like a breakthrough was some shore she’d never reach, out to sea forever while seagulls pecked her curly hair. She relates this to Barnett, who understands with a depth that doesn’t require acknowledgement. Rather, Barnett says, with so much confidence I wrote the damn thing down and it sits at my own writing desk to this day: “I saw all of it and I said, ‘You are so close. It’s not poetry, though. You have a best-selling novel in you.’”

As we now know, that novel, the one that Barnett could see before Essbaum could fever dream about it—she was a poet, remember—is HAUSFRAU, an international bestseller that has often been compared to MADAME BOVARY. Ask Essbaum herself and she will insist that HAUSFRAU would not exist without Barnett’s belief.

Like Barnett herself, JAM ON THE VINE is lovely and edges on profound. The historical novel follows Ivoe Williams, a young black woman in the Jim Crow South whose passion for journalism inspires her to found Jam! On The Vine, a female-run African American newspaper.

Whisper Hollow: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781590517116
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Other Press - March 17th, 2015

Pub Date: March 17, Author Event: March 24

One of my favorite things about Brazos Bookstore is that the store itself has many friends, from customers who come every week (here’s looking at you, Barbara and Pablo Ruiz) to writers and publicists. Houston author Chris Cander, of course, is on this list. Her arrival always inspires warm greetings, conversations about books and family; she is someone that does not need an occasion to say hello.

When we had the launch party for her novel WHISPER HOLLOW, I was ecstatic to finally see Cander in the spotlight. Centered in West Virginia, the historical novel explores the Catholic faith through three different women over two generations in a coal-mining town and the tragedies that unite them.

Picture this: the store floor packed to the gills including a camera crew, marketing guru Jeff Waxman (who flew in from New York!), balloons, Cander at the center in a coral blouse. But the real treat was going to Beckrew Wine House afterward, chatting and hugging and taking selfies. (Which is basically a long way of saying that I hope if I ever put a book out that my first reading only goes even half as well.)

The Clasp: A Novel Cover Image
Unavailable from Brazos Bookstore
ISBN: 9780374124410
Availability: OUT OF PRINT - Not Available for Order
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - October 6th, 2015

Pub Date: October 6, Author Event: October 16

Fact: not everyone wants to read slow, sad books that span, like, 700 pages. Fact: we all need to laugh sometimes. Fact: if you want to write comedy, you need extra hustle, and Sloane Crosley has it. In the snarky spirit of her essay collections I WAS TOLD THERE’D BE CAKE and HOW DID YOU GET THIS NUMBER, Crosley’s debut novel, THE CLASP, charms with its portrayal of estranged friends Kezia, Nathaniel, and Victor who team up to hunt down a lost (read: valuable!) necklace.

Sure, it happens that on the way, the friends find each other again, question authenticity, etc etc. But if you only get to meet five authors before you die, Crosley deserves to be on that list because for small readings (like ours), she will read sex scenes. Because she says such amazing and relatable statements as, “I cry a lot and eat too much cheese.” Because she never says “I’m sorry” if she laughs too loud. We need more of that.

My Feelings: Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555977108
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: Graywolf Press - June 2nd, 2015

Pub Date: June 2, Author Event: October 19

Anyone who has met me in the last six years will not be surprised that this book is on this list. To that end, I won’t say much about MY FEELINGS except that it’s my favorite collection by Nick Flynn since his debut, SOME ETHER. What I want to talk about is meeting Rachel Eliza Griffiths, author of LIGHTING THE SHADOW; Pulitzer Prize Winner Gregory Pardlo, author of DIGEST; and Jonathan Moody, author of OLYMPIC BUTTER GOLD.

We caught Flynn, Griffiths, and Pardlo toward the end of a nation-wide tour they’d been doing for weeks, including Texas Book Festival in Austin. On October 18, Flynn showed a movie at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the latest documentary by French filmmaker Hubert Sauper, We Come As Friends, and it’s there I first meet Griffiths and Pardlo. They asked me if I, too, am a poet and were happy enough when I said yes, as tends to be the case with published authors. For whatever reason, published authors don’t need proof, unlike grad students who would rather quiz you all day on where you’ve been published, who you read. You meet a Pulitzer Prize Winner and he just nods in recognition.

After Flynn, Griffiths, and Pardlo’s joint reading at the store on October 19, we all went to dinner at a Thai restaurant in Midtown, with Moody and another friend of Flynn’s whose name I’ve forgotten. Though we’re all poets, we were there as friends, talking about anything but poetry. Moody showed us some pictures of his son on his phone. We talked about movies, India, local coffee shops. Flynn showed us some stickers his daughter Maeve made for him that he had put on the back of his phone case.

Later that week, Moody read with fellow poet Kyle Dargan, author of HONEST ENGINE. Unlike most readings, theirs was interactive, where they shared stories about hip hop, their adolescence, masculinity, poetry, and what it means to be a black male poet.

That week made me realize that doing hundreds of events in the same place with the same people transforms the space into sort of a disembodied living room, and I was happy to have Flynn, Griffiths, Pardlo, and Moody as guests.

Year of the Goose Cover Image
ISBN: 9781939419514
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Unnamed Press - December 22nd, 2015

Pub Date: December 22, Author Event: January 2016

Besides events, the joy of being a bookseller has been discovering independent presses, and Unnamed Press is one of my favorites. We featured THE PAPER MAN by Gallagher Lawson back in May, and I’ve followed the press and editor extraordinaire Olivia Taylor Smith ever since. When she asked me if I’d be interested in reading an advanced copy of YEAR OF THE GOOSE, I said yes. I would’ve said yes no matter what it was, but I’m so, so glad it was Carly J. Hallman, whose debut novel is so strange and brutal that I tend to think of it in terms we usually use to describe food: bitter, sour, pungent.

As the cover implies, the book is about China, modern-day China whose elite dwarf even the most sought-after American starlets. You know, the “more money than God” sort of situation. In sections, YEAR OF THE GOOSE details a government-sanctioned fat camp, the mental breakdown of a neurotic organic hair farmer, and a monk whose current reincarnation is that of a turtle. So, yes, the subject matter is a little wild, but Hallman is thoughtful, never veering into pure nonsense.

And I know, I know—her in-store event isn’t until January 2016, but I don’t want this book to be left out.

Staff Pick Badge
Get in Trouble: Stories Cover Image
ISBN: 9780804179683
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: Random House - February 3rd, 2015

Pub Date: February 3, Author Event: N/A

For Kelly Link, I don’t really have any excuses except that I love her and that GET IN TROUBLE is my favorite book of 2015. (True, I did interview her for our website, but it was so long ago, my questions were so dumb, and she does so many Q&As to begin with that I bet I’m probably the only one that remembers it.) From “I Can See Right Through You,” a story about some codependent movie star vampire ex-lovers who can’t seem to escape each other, to “Light,” a story about estranged siblings and pocket universes, GET IN TROUBLE does the exact thing short fiction is supposed to do: shake you around, wake you up, and plant you here.

Pleasantville (Jay Porter Series #2) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062259400
Availability: UNAVAILABLE
Published: Amistad - April 21st, 2015

Pub Date: April 21, Author Event: April 25-April 27

When Attica Locke came home to Houston for her new novel PLEASANTVILLE, her parents went all out. Over a weekend, they threw two parties then Locke’s friends and family trekked over to our store to watch her greet her public.

It was a lot of time to be together, but as someone from a big family and a TV writer for Empire, maybe Locke is used to this. I have to believe that because she never complained about being tired (though she must have been), never snapped at anyone for asking her to talk about the show instead of her book. She was always in communication with us about where we needed to be and when, always generous.

We brought almost two hundred books to the party her father hosted at a local golf club. Even so, we sold out. Usually when that happens, we go home early. Because it was Locke, we stayed to help her put sticky notes in everyone’s books. That way, when people met her they could actually say hello instead of spelling and repeating their names.

Locke is nothing but lovely. Her darling PLEASANTVILLE is punchy and intense. Set in the eponymous Houston neighborhood, Locke’s thriller deals with a woman’s disappearance, a shady local election, and the return of lawyer Jay Porter, her protagonist from her 2010 debut BLACK WATER RISING.

The Things We Don't Do Cover Image
By Andrés Neuman, Nick Caistor (Translator), Lorenza Garcia (Translator)
ISBN: 9781940953182
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Open Letter - August 25th, 2015

Pub Date: August 25, Author Event: September 15

Any friend of Brazos Bookstore knows that our floor manager Mark Haber has good taste. Take, for example, Magda Szabó’s THE DOOR, which has sold over 125 copies since Mark adopted it. Behind the counter—and sometimes on Twitter, we call it the Cult of Mark. Because Argentine writer Andrés Neuman had achieved the Haber seal of approval, I should have known that I would adore his work. Alas, before Neuman’s reading, all I had ever read was Neuman’s story “A Terribly Perfect Couple,” which was featured in the PEN America Center flash fiction newsletter days before the event. Mark sent it to me with a reassurance: “You can read it in about 90 seconds.”

And it’s true: Neuman’s collection THE THINGS WE DON’T DO luxuriates in the minutiae when it comes to form. Its content, though, lassoes those big feelings that we recognize first in our reaction to them (crying, screaming, etc) than our understanding of them. For me, the experience of reading them is what I imagine having an espresso is like: you shouldn’t have too many shots at once.

Neuman himself is not like that. He could’ve stayed in Houston for ten days and I think we would’ve been ok with that. Everyone was surprised to discover it was close to midnight when we were walking back to the bookstore from our meal at Antica Osteria. We miss him.

The Unraveling of Mercy Louis: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062319098
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: Harper - March 10th, 2015

Pub Date: March 10, Author Event: March 10

Keija Parssinen is the first author that I interviewed then got to meet in person! Her event was on her pub day and I will never forget what it felt like to sit at the front counter and watch Parssinen’s face change when she recognized me. At the time, I had been at Brazos for close to a year, but that evening was one of the first nights I actually felt like I was part of the bookstore, instead of someone who just works there.

Parssinen knows a lot about home. Her first novel THE RUINS OF US is an homage to her mother country Saudi Arabia, the second THE UNRAVELING OF MERCY LOUIS a tribute to her second home in Texas. Though the town in MERCY, Port Sabine, is fictional, the dank Southern air is thickened by secrets, oil spills, and suspicions about the future—a thriller for adults and teens alike!

Staff Pick Badge
Multiply/Divide: On the American Real and Surreal Cover Image
ISBN: 9781941411049
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Sarabande Books - August 11th, 2015

Pub Date: August 11, Author Event: October 30

There are four books that I’ve had signed—two by Nick Flynn, one by Mary Karr, and one by Wendy S Walters. I wasn’t there the night Walters came to read at the store, but she wrote one of my favorite phrases as the inscription in my copy of MULTIPLY/DIVIDE: Thank you for everything.

Last summer, I spoke to Walters and managing editor Kristen Radtke for a profile I was writing on Sarabande Books, MULTIPLY/DIVIDE’s publisher, but I thought for sure that she would have forgotten. After all, Walters is not on Twitter, has multiple books to her name, lives and teaches in New York. Not so! Walters is one of my favorite type of writers, the kind that remembers everything.

The full title of MULTIPLY/DIVIDE is MULTIPLY/DIVIDE: ON THE AMERICAN REAL AND SURREAL. Much of it is dedicated to memory: reflections on events true and could-be true, recollections of spoken and unspoken conversations. It’s about race and sexism and being seen and being heard, but I don’t want to say it’s a political book because that might make certain people avoid it. Don’t. Read this book with your eyes open and your phone off.

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