Giving Austin Authors

Milagros: A Book of Miracles
by Helen Thompson,
with artwork by Paddy Bruce
HarperSanFrancisco, $15.95 hard

Milagros are small charms found throughout Latin America, made of tin, aluminum, stone, or wood, and shaped like body parts in need of healing. They are religious symbols of thanks by petitioners for overcoming illness, and when offered as promesas, are pledges of faith in exchange for guidance through a personal difficulty.

Austin author Helen Thompson's Milagros: A Book of Miracles should appeal to the novice curious about this age-old tradition. Thompson succinctly takes readers from ancient appearances of milagros to the present, while devising a contemporary practice for their use today. The book is divided into five chapters, titled after the most common milagro shapes ó head, heart, hand, foot, and mouth.

Each chapter is subdivided into meditative statements on the physical, mental, and spiritual condition of each shape, and how to tend to it when it's aching or mind it when it's well. The result is an informational text cum little book of New Age affirmations which seems to have proliferated like crabgrass in recent years.

Colorfully appealing artwork by Paddy Bruce will likely extinguish any urge to fully interrogate the text, which in the span of 90 pages, manages to take a traditional, highly personal and spiritual gesture, and refashion it into a wholesale, over-the-counter remedy for what ails you. Still, the book is pleasing to the eye and a swift read. Milagros: A Book of Miracles is a lovely confection and someone's ideal gift for the holiday season. ó Belinda Acosta

If you're looking to give a sense of place this Christmas, try giving these other Austin authors' books as gifts:

ïGiant Country: Essays on Texas (TCU Press, $22.50 hard) by Don Graham. The fact that this book comes from the J. Frank Dobie Regents Professor of American and English Literature at the University of Texas at Austin belies its author's wit, verve, and charmingly self-effacing humor but not the abundant scholarship he employs. Texas bold and strong.

ïOrdinary Paradise (Winedale Publishing, $22.95 hard) by Laura Furman. An engaging and frank memoir from another UT English professor about growing up, cancer and its threat to the author and her family, and, quite simply, the details of life ó a necessary ingredient of a good memoir.

ïThe Empty Quarter (Boaz Press, $21.95 hard) by David Marion Wilkinson. An atmospheric tale of a sidetracked Texan gone to Saudi Arabia to work on an oil rig very much against the wishes of his near-fiancée. Disillusionment is the linchpin here, as well as a strong and exciting depiction of place. Get the book signed at Congress Avenue Booksellers on Monday, December 21 at noon.

ïBarbara Jordan: American Hero (Bantam, $27.50 hard) by Mary Beth Rogers. It seems hard to go wrong giving this new biography from KLRU chief Rogers ó who doesn't admire Barbara Jordan? There's a good opportunity to get the book signed by the author at Barnes & Noble Westlake on Saturday, December 19 at 2pm.

ïGod, Cars and Souvenirs (City Desk Press, $22.95 hard) by Frances Nail. A really touching and often hilarious memoir; if you grew up in a small Texas town and need to give a gift to someone who just might appreciate the inherent oddities of small Texas towns, you couldn't do better than giving God, Cars and Souvenirs. Frances Nail will sign her book at Borders on Saturday, December 19 at 3pm.

ïReal Answers (Paleface Press, $24.95 hard) by Gary Cornwell. This nonfiction book by an Austin trial lawyer is a sensible and revealing account of the Select Committee on Assassinations' work on JFK's assassination. The author was the deputy chief counsel for that investigation.

ïThe Lunch-Box Chronicles (Pantheon, $22.95 hard) by Marion Winik. A schoolday in the life of Marion Winik and her two boys. It's kids and taking care of them, as only our astute Winik can tell it. By turns hilarious and poignant.

ïWasted (Kensington Books, $5.99 paper) by Suzy Spencer. A no-holds-barred true crime account of the 1995 Austin murder of Regina Hartwell. Gripping and sobering.

ïHistoric Austin: An Illustrated History (Heritage Society of Austin, $49.95 hard) by Mike Cox. This new coffee table book is more comprehensive than you might imagine; history with some life to it. Mike Cox will be at Congress Avenue Booksellers on Friday, December 18 at noon. ïAll the Dead Lie Down (Doubleday, $22.95 hard) by Mary Willis Walker. Walker's protagonist Molly Cates investigates her biggest story to date, the death (and alleged suicide) of her father while investigating a plot to blow up the "Austin State House."

ïPlain View Press publishes quite a few Austin poets, the most recent among them Susan Bright and Stan Biderman. View their catalog at  or call 441-2452.

ó C.S.

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