Don't Worry, Rene Steinke's Novel Friendswood Is Not About You

Photo by Michelle Ocampo
The inspiration for her novel Friendswood came when author Rene Steinke was back visiting friends in her hometown of the same name. "They were talking about a neighborhood on the edge of town that had to be demolished," explained Steinke. "It was close to an old oil refinery where chemicals had been dumped in a field for decades." Her friends were referring to the real-life Brio Superfund site, which Steinke thought made for an excellent jumping off point for a new book.

"[My friends] were talking about how this place had become something of a ghost town. I was fascinated by the stories they were telling. My friends knew someone who had lost their home, another person who had cancer, and someone else who was related to [a refinery owner]." The interconnectedness intrigued Steinke, who saw potential in a setting where all of the characters' fates are so intertwined, that there would be repercussions for all in the end.

Steinke will present Friendswood at Brazos Bookstore on Thursday, October 9, at 7 p.m.

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Politics Aside: Senator Wendy Davis Signing Forgetting to Be Afraid: A Memoir at Brazos Bookstore on September 13

Maybe you #StandWithWendy, maybe you don't, but on Saturday, September 13, you'll have the chance to stand in line to meet her at Brazos Bookstore. Senator Wendy Davis will be signing copies of her highly-anticipated new book, Forgetting to be Afraid: A Memoir, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and the event was an anticipated sell-out before it was even announced.

"The book is coming out next week, and there is a lot of excitement about it," said Brazos manager Jeremy Ellis. "We certainly expect a huge crowd, which is why we are limiting tickets to one per person." Ellis anticipates about a thousand tickets will be sold for the two-hour event, and is urging patrons to order tickets early to ensure a spot in line. Tickets are $27.95, and include a copy of the senator's memoir; a second copy of the book may be reserved and purchased, but tickets are strictly limited to one per person.

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Murakamania Midnight Release Party at Brazos Bookstore on Monday, August 11

Haruki Murakami fans may want to consider taking a cat nap on Monday, August 11, in advance of Brazos Bookstore's Murakamania Midnight Release Par-tay [emphasis added], which kicks off at 10 p.m.

Stop in to talk about what you talk about when you talk about running with other Murakami fans, and walk away with a one-of-a-kind, Brazos Bookstore-designed original Murakami-themed coloring book--"What I Talk About When I Talk About Coloring." At the stroke of midnight, copies of "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage" will go on sale, but beware--the store strongly encourages pre-ordering, in anticipation of a sell-out.

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Houston author Rick Mitchell on Modern Jazz: "There's Too Much Good Music Out There!"

Categories: Books, Jazz

Photo by Pin Lim
Cassandra Wilson during the Da Camera's 2012/13 season at the Cullen Theater.

No matter how great you think your music room is, Rick Mitchell's is better. Way better.

The longtime local journo--who spent a decade as the jazz and pop writer for The Houston Chronicle and even longer as the Artistic Director for the Houston International Festival--settles into a comfy, well-used easy chair in the center of an area the size of a small apartment at his home.

The visages of Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Dizzy Gillespie, and - oddly - the boys from Hanson in their teen dream prime stare down at his stereo setup (featuring two 1972 huge Infinity speakers) and a full drum kit. Bookshelves groan with music tomes. And around him are shelves lined with thousands--maybe tens of thousands--of CDs, cassettes, and vinyl records, so many that they spill onto the floor, albeit in neat piles.

A good chunk of that music is jazz titles. Appropriate, since Mitchell is here to talk about his latest book, Jazz in the New Millennium: Live and Well (160 pp., Dharma Moon Press, $24.95/$9.99 e-book).

In it, he collects close to 60 profiles culled from his program notes and interviews of jazz musicians who have all performed at Da Camera of Houston's jazz series since 2000.

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Finding the Black and White Truth on Tomlinson Hill

If your car radio is usually tuned to NPR, you may have already heard from journalist and author Chris Tomlinson--his recent appearance on Fresh Air with Terry Gross likely caused a driveway moment or two. Tomlinson will be discussing and signing his new book, Tomlinson Hill, at Brazos Bookstore on Wednesday, July 30, and he says that sharing the story of his own Texas family's slaveholding roots is an exercise in personal and historical honesty.

"Almost every day I read or hear a Texan bragging about being a fourth or fifth-generation Texan, but I don't hear them talk about what that means," said Tomlinson, who recently joined the staff of the Houston Chronicle. "If you can trace your family history back that far, you are going to have a family history much like mine. I get angry when I hear people talk about being a fifth-generation Texan, but they don't want to talk about slavery or Jim Crow; they want to choose the history they talk about, and when they do that, they deny African Americans their history and their experience, and that's problematic."

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Book Check: The Other Side, Lacy M. Johnson

Categories: Books

Title: The Other Side

Tell Me About the Author: Lacy M. Johnson is the Director of Academic Initiatives at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at the University of Houston; she earned a Ph.D. from the university's acclaimed creative writing program in 2008. She's the author of the memoir Trespasses, and her creative and academic work has appeared in Tin House, Fourth Genre, Creative Nonfiction, Sentence, and Gulf Coast. She is also the co-artistic director of [the invisible city], a multimedia project that made its debut at this year's CounterCurrent Festival. [the invisible city] allows people to connect through narratives specific to location, community, and culture.

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Book Check: Funny Once, by Antonya Nelson

Categories: Books

Title: Funny Once

Tell Me About the Author: Antonya Nelson, who holds the Cullen Chair in Creative Writing at the University of Houston, is one of the nation's undisputed masters of the short story. Prior to Funny Once, she's published ten books of fiction, six of which are story collections. Just how powerful are her stories? When Nelson's 2006 collection Some Fun was released, her publisher decided to use the book cover to enumerate her lengthy list of accolades. She's won the Rea Award for the Short Story, the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and has been named one of Granta's 50 Best Writers Under 40, and one of The New Yorker's 20 Writers for the 21st Century. Since then her 2009 collection Nothing Right and her 2010 novel Bound were named Notable Books in their respective years by The New York Times.

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Amazon's New Kindle Unlimited Sounds a Lot Like the Public Library -- Only Not for Free, But Still Really Good

Categories: Books

Photo by Zhao !
This is a visual metaphor.
Amazon's new subscription service Kindle Unlimited, sounds tempting. For just $9.99 a month, subscribers get unlimited access to some 600,000 Kindle books and thousands of audiobooks. Okay, sounds good.

Best sellers are available on Kindle Unlimited (the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Water for Elephants, Wonder Boys), as are classics (The Good Earth, To the Lighthouse, 2001: A Space Odyssey). Again, sounds good.

Audio books offered include Life of Pi, the Hunger Games trilogy, The Handmaid's Tale and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

Kindle features such as Whispersync (switching from reading to listening a book) are available and you can use your Kindle (duh!), iPhone, iPad, Android tablet or phone to access the titles. Again, all that sounds good.

Oh wait, all that also sounds like the services offered at the public library.

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Watership Down and Why I've Given Up on Gun Control

You win.

All you guys in Open Carry Texas and everyone else who feels like even the slightest infringement on the types of armaments you can own and where you can take them? You win. I officially surrender, and the reason is Watership Down.

Yes, the book about rabbits, a beloved classic by Richard Adams that is usually assigned in school.

If you've never read the book somehow, the story follows a group of rabbits that flee their warren because one of them named Fiver has a prophetic vision of the warren's destruction by men. All in all a group of 20 rabbits or so leave with Fiver in a quest for a new home.

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Christina Escamilla Writes a Book About Not Writing a Book and It's Great

Categories: Books

It's been only four months since I got to know local author Christina Escamilla through her amazing anthology, 64 Deaths, and already she's back with a new and very different novel called The Day the Words Went Away. Rather than exploring a variety of strange endings, she's gone down-right farcical comedy. The amazing thing is that she proves herself just as adept.

Our hero is Peter, and geeky aspiring writer who pays the bills writing term papers for people and awkwardly crushes on the cute medical student living next door. His best friend is Andy, an Alpha Male who also wants to be a writer. The problem is, the two of them are completely out of ideas.

Peter, in a fit of melancholy writer's block wonders if there are no new ideas any more. He sees the dearth of sequels, remakes, and homages and theorizes that somewhere in the universe the place where stories come from has run dry.

Andy thinks that's hogwash, but the two of them make a bet on it and try to come up with a truly new idea by the end of the day.

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