Five Things to Stuff Your Literary Stocking
Supercharge your personal, locally sourced library
Your bookshelves (and even your coffee table) deserve what's brilliant and locally produced, whether those things are composed mostly of words or mostly of images or of some compelling combination of both. Here's an eclectic selection of recent works from talented locals.
Not Jeanne Thornton's first novel, but her first for literary powerhouse Soho Press, this musically rich story follows the exploits of a young trans woman, Gala, who works at a hostel in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, and is obsessed with the Get Happies, a quintessential 1960s California band, helmed by its resident genius, B----. As Gala writes fan letters (probing, revelatory letters) to this reclusive B----, wanting to know why the band stopped making music and why their rumored album Summer Fun was never released, we witness the interweaving of two separate yet mutually resonant lives, a story in which "the parallel narratives form a dialogue about creation – of music, identity, self, culture, and counterculture." Also? Thornton's writing as writing? Glorious.
St. Philomene's Infirmary for Magical Creatures
Sadly, we have to wait until next spring for the new adult novel from Bill Cotter, the author of Fever Chart and The Parallel Apartments, who's a deeply literate chronicler of societal fuckups everywhere. Happily, here is his delightful adventure book for kids: St. Philomene's Infirmary for Magical Creatures, about what happens when two human siblings wind up in a secret underground realm's hospital where all beings are welcome ... except for humans. Writing as W. Stone Cotter, the author's magic is differently skewed but no less ferocious in crafting a narrative sure to thrill your favorite middle-graders – who will then be bugging you for the book's sequel. Bonus: That rollicking follow-up, Second Chance, was published by Macmillan earlier this year.
Oh My God, Guns, and Country
Available at chadrea.com, $30
Here's a fancy paperback retrospective – more than 150 slick, full-color pages, sized for your favorite coffee table – from Austin-based artist Chad Rea. "Drawing upon my emotional response to current events, and utilizing communication techniques mastered as an advertising copywriter," says Rea, "I explore the duality of self and our attempts to understand our changing world." Not that that's untrue, but, luckily for our CV-jaded peepers, that's not how Rea's outrageous and pyrotechnic oeuvre splashes itself upon a fascinated retina. You'd think that, with so many influences and engagement with current events, a fellow would fall into aping established gambits of expression – oh hey, I know, I'll paint like, uh, Basquiat, I'll wreak text like Holzer – but that's not happening with Rea. He's plowing rich cultural fields with harrows of his own invention, though the resultant images and texts are no less fierce than more famous ones. This collection of "The Art and Artivism of Chad Rea, 2017-2021" is a well-designed showcase for the man's intense work.
Janna Garza Looks Familiar
Available at jannagarza.com, $45
Well, of course Janna Garza looks familiar: The artist has taken dozens and dozens of photographic self-portraits and displayed them in galleries and in her own workspace for the annual Austin Studio Tour. But only slightly familiar – because, in each selfie, Garza has transformed herself with colorful costumes and makeup and, when necessary, prosthetics, creating character after character after character – a whole scattered community of individuals, whose distinct images (and brief but detailed bios) are included in this new hardbound book. All types, all sorts, all classes, all genders, if all just perforce a bit more compelling than the average Joe or Jane. "Some of the characters bend toward humor," says Garza. "Some are tragic, and some are a mixture of both." Just like, in other words, real people.
SCOL (OPEN) DRA
Available at matthewmagruder.com, $200
That's Scolopendra morsitans, the big centipede that's beneficial when it comes to clearing out other, smaller pests, but that can also fuck you up if you mess with it. And this, the most rarefied recommendation on our list, is a handmade artist's book, available in an edition of only six. The artist is Matthew Magruder, a polymath craftsman who for years has been working the drawing and printing and bookbinding arts. The result in this instance – recently displayed at Austin Book Arts – is a stunning volume, letterpressed and bound by hand. Depicted upon the symmetrically formatted pages of this papery wonderment, accompanied by a variety of relevant texts, is a single, life-sized centipede in full color: The book's size and shape is just sufficient to frame the creature. Magruder's Scol (Open) Dra is an exquisite example of book-as-object, a fine work of artistic documentation, and a powerful magnet for anyone attracted to the intersection of arthropods and human-wrought beauty.