True Confessions, or What I Bought and Who I Stalked at Texas Book Festival

What yearly event causes people to wander around downtown Austin, giddy after up-close-and-personal encounters with idols and in a stupor from dropping hefty amounts of cash?

Did you guess South By Southwest? Nope (though, yeah, totally, all of the above’s true about SXSW).

I’m talking Texas Book Festival.

Books to read scattered on a nightside

Texas Book Festival is a local book nerds’ ultimate weekend. Author discussions are free; only the sheer scope and number of offerings limits attendance at sessions. Readings are given. And there are books, books, books to purchase and have autographed.

Those who couldn’t make it—and I’m sure the downpours did drive away a few less hardy souls—have no fear. There’s still a chance to experience the weekend vicariously.

2016’s Texas Book Festival Finds

What This Story Needs Is a Munch and a Crunch by Emma J. Virján

Bright pink wig with sparkle bow next to copies of children's book "What This Story Needs is a Munch and a Crunch"
I found this awesome pink beauty at CoCo Coquette, an East Austin wig shop with sparkle. I wear it whenever I can, which is more often than one might imagine.

Who loves clever rhymes, adorable illustrations, and brightly colored wigs? That would be emerging readers, Pig, and me. I own all of the “Pig in a Wig” series (three books published so far), each signed by Austin writer and illustrator Emma Virján. I am lucky enough to know Virján in real life; she graciously tells me about her readings and I repay her by attending as that embarrassing adult “Pig in a Wig” groupie. And for the record–this book screams out for a plush toy…with wig options.

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

Book tote and books from 2016 Texas Book Festival

I confess–this session (“Vintage Writers on Reading”) drew me in with a free book. But authors Chris Bohjalian and Helen Ellis captured me with their witty chat. The discussion flowed as though we were sitting in on a literary cocktail party, sans alcohol.

Moderator Jennifer Marshall had an easy rapport with the writers and asked fun questions. Bohjalian gave a shout-out to junior high othodonist appointments and the public library, which guided him to modern classics: The ExorcistJawsTo Kill a Mockingbird, and Expensive People by Joyce Carol Oates.

“I am a writer today because of these books and the Hialeah Miami Lakes Public Library.”~Chris Bohjalian

I’m halfway through The Guest Room, and I wish I’d read it before the panel, as I am curious about the research Bohjalian did into sex trafficking (it’s a much more serious book than the cover would lead one to believe). It’s so good I’ve put another of Bohjalian’s books–Midwives–on my library list for later.

American Housewife by Helen Ellis

Writers from Vintage Books on a panel on reading at Texas Book Festival
Austin’s Omni Hotel hosted many of the book sessions I chose to attend.

Ellis made my day by writing a very personal inscription in my copy of American Housewife and taking a photo of my Hillary Clinton rainbow pantsuit T-shirt. She read from a new piece (“How To Check Out a Library Book Like a Grown-Ass Lady”) and revealed that American Housewife was drawn from tweets originally posted under @WhatIDoAllDay during a literary dry spell. She reads a well known “trashy” novel each month, posting brief and hilarious excerpts on Instagram and Twitter under #classictrashybookclub (you know you want to look now). Bonus: I recognized Ellis from a New York Times Magazine piece–fun, published, and oh so stylish!

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

I love a freebie, and the  tote (boy, did that come in handy) and book included with the Vintage Books session did not disappoint. While the bags were identical, books varied. So people traded: I swapped my book with a woman who’d already read the one she’d gotten. Procrastination paid off, then, as I am sure I was one of the few who hadn’t read Nora Ephron’s autobiographical novel Heartburn.

Poets from Typewriter Rodeo create poems on old fashioned typewriters.
So much to do besides listen to authors and buy books. Typewriter Rodeo created on-the-spot poetry.

The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West by Peter Cozzens

Unfortunately, no one has discovered a way to bend the time/space continuum, so I could not be in two places at once. But I hurried to catch the tail end of this discussion and wound up with time to chat with moderator S. C. Gwynne (author of Empire of the Summer Moon:Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History, a book I’ve mentioned here on the blog several times). Attendees raved about the American history-focused panel; I was excited by my copy of Cozzen’s latest work, what he describes as a response to Dee Brown’s classic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

The Perfect Pass: American Genius and the Reinvention of the Pass by S. C. Gwynne

Author S. C. Gwynne signs a copy of his latest book at Texas Book Festival
S. C. Gwynne signs a copy of his book “The Perfect Pass.”

A talented writer like Gwynne can engage readers in any subject. I’m a huge fan of the former Texas Monthly executive editor, and I will eagerly devour any book the man ever cares to pen. As mentioned previously, I have great regard for Empire of the Summer Moon and have read it several times. One of these days, I’m sure I’ll dive into Gwynne’s Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson.

Technically, my husband bought this one, so the book’s living on his nightstand. But odds are good I consume it before he does. We were both fascinated by Gwynne’s passionate recounting of how college football coach Hal Mumme radically changed the game with his inventive offensive strategies.

 Glory by Natashia Deon

Wow. Wow. Wow. Did I say “wow”?

Not every writer at the festival chooses to read from a work, but both Yaa Gyasi and Natashia Deón did. I’d read Gyasi’s novel Homegoing, promptly read it again, and then loaned it to my voraciously literate daughter. I knew that seeing Gyasi, author of what I consider one of 2016’s best books, would be a highlight of my Texas Book Festival weekend. What I hadn’t anticipated was Deón. I was unfamiliar with her novel Grace, and Deón’s powerfully intense reading gave me gooseflesh. I had to have it—and I’m quite sure I babbled fawningly in the minutes we chatted as she graciously signed my copy.

Authors Yaa Gyassi and Natasha Deon at 2016 Texas Book Festival

Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape by Jessica Luther

Jessica Luther has been blipping on my radar screen since I attended a 2016 SXSW Sports panel about social issues and reporting called “Sports Media’s Role in Shaping Social Justice.” I followed her on Twitter after researching her past articles; she writes the kind of things I like to read and hope to write (I admit to kind of wanting to be her, in a star-struck writerly sort of way). Again, there’s that time/space limitation, so I couldn’t attend her talk in the C-SPAN2 tent but I made a beeline for her new highly topical work at the Big Tent anyway (so many books! The book sale tent is a dangerous place for those who can’t “just say no” to our print addiction).

 Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

Some authors are so engaging that I’m perfectly willing to build a fantasy world where we’re buddies who hang out over drinks. Maria Semple’s last book (Where’d You Go, Bernadette) captured me with its clever format, richly drawn characters, and sassy dialogue; I literally LOLed. And her new novel promises to be every bit as entertaining.

Semple started out as a comedy writer on a variety of shows, and I totally dig her self deprecating voice.

“I always felt that novelists had a certain level of dignity and intelligence that I didn’t have.” ~Maria Semple

Today Will Be Different  takes place within the framework of one day. The main character is a woman profoundly disappointed in herself. Semple said she pulled the premise from a painfully deep and sad place. And yet, as in Bernadette, she deftly finds humor in the pathos: “There’s just something funny about someone psyching herself up for a bar that’s set so unbelievably low.”

Find Out More About Texas Book Festival

Books to read before bedtime on a nightstand

CoCo Coquette in Austin (wigs!)

Hillary Clinton Rainbow Pantsuit T-Shirt

“The Real Housewife of New York (Who Happens to Be a Poker Star) by J. Courtney Sullivan for more on Helen Ellis

“Beach Reads for Family Trips”, an Empire of the Summer Moon recap

“What Do SXSW, President Obama, and Cuba Have in Common?” for SXSports descriptions


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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

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