The “shop local” mantra has taken on new importance due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has hobbled small-business owners, including San Antonio’s booksellers.
But book lovers looking to shop locally this holiday season not only can support independent bookstores, they can read local, with several books written by San Antonio authors among recent releases.
Below is a selection of offerings ranging from the re-release of a 1966 novel by Sherry Kafka Wagner to the September release of a debut novel by Rudy Ruiz and from a new history of revolutionary Mexican and Texas women to a revolutionary book of protest songs and poetry by performance artist Amalia Ortiz.
A stunningly photographed book on the award-winning work of Lake/Flato Architects has just been released by the University of Texas Press, while in time for the holiday season, photographer Natalia King-Sun teamed with author Patricia Hart McMillan to bring Christmastime in San Antonio to light with a coffee table book of festive images.
Those who prefer electronic books have several selections from which to choose, including a new work of fiction by Shea Serrano, and if you’re not yet sick of reading about diseases, an April e-offering from the Texas State Historical Association collects articles on past epidemics and treatments that shed light on the medical history of the Lone Star State.
As a New York Times writer noted in a recent column, books are easy gifts to wrap. With the advent of independent bookseller-supporting Bookshop.org to complement the market dominance of Amazon.com, buyers seeking an online shopping alternative now have a fast, reliable resource.
Nearer to home, The Twig Book Shop offers several shopping options including online, curbside, and in-store; the recently opened Nowhere Bookshop offers online ordering with curbside pickup; and Half Price Books locations are currently open, with special holiday hours.
Sí San Antonio: Our Favorite Places, People and Things at Christmas
Each year, the River Walk comes alive with 100,000 lights during the holiday season, in past years drawing perhaps as many people for the official lighting.
This year, Mayor Ron Nirenberg has been consistent in discouraging such large crowds from gathering. To make up for it, the River Walk holiday lighting season started early. “If you’re like me, one of the things you look forward to most every year is watching the River Walk light up for the holidays,” Nirenberg said Nov. 12 from his home quarantine. “Why wait?” he asked playfully before a countdown, offering the lights as a salve from pandemic isolation.
Nirenberg also features as one of the notable personalities in Sí San Antonio: Our Favorite Places, People and Things at Christmas, a lavishly photographed new coffee table book by photographer Natalia King-Sun and author Patricia Hart McMillan.
Other locations are the San Fernando Cathedral (with Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller writing the foreword for the book), the San Antonio Zoo, the North Star Mall, with proceeds from book sales benefiting the San Antonio River Walk Association.
Lake/Flato: Nature, Place, Craft & Restraint
These are just two projects highlighted in the firm’s third monograph Lake/Flato: Nature, Place, Craft and Restraint, which explores 16 projects across the U.S., grouped by the four main themes that drive the Lake/Flato ethos.
Confluence Park is one of three projects representing restraint, while the Witte joins the Museum of Fine Arts Houston in the craft category. The Pearl, the former brewery complex that feels like a neighborhood, leads the list in the place-themed group of projects, and the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, headlines the nature category.
Japanese architect Kengo Kuma calls the firm’s work poetic, nuanced, and audacious –not for calling attention to itself but for focusing on “other, more pertinent aspects of the human experience.”
The copiously illustrated book begins with a detailed look at the Austin Central Library, a design inspired by a quote from Jorge Luis Borges, according to an unattributed passage. “I had always imagined Paradise as a kind of library,” Borges noted during a series of lectures in 1977, “others think of a garden or of a palace.”
The author spoke of the irony of becoming blind at the same time he was appointed director of the National Library of Argentina, unable to enjoy its 900,000 tomes.
From the array of images of the Austin library’s airy, sunlit spaces, readers might recognize elements of all three places: garden, palace, and paradise.
Revolutionary Women of Texas and Mexico
A group of San Antonio-affiliated women came together to produce a book that sets the record straight on the role of women in the Mexican Revolution and its aftermath.
“Nobody has ever really recognized these women of the revolution in this way,” Kathy Sosa told the San Antonio Report. Sosa co-edited the book and provided illustrations for Revolutionary Women of Texas and Mexico: Portraits of Soldaderas, Saints, and Subversives, released this month by Trinity University Press, and joins Dolores Huerta, Sandra Cisneros, Ellen Riojas Clark, Norma Cantú, Carmen Tafolla, and other local luminaries in providing commentary on women whose names are perhaps not as familiar as they should be.
Clark wrote about Gloria Anzaldua, the writer and activist who has influenced generations of Latina American women. “She was revolutionary, this small, little woman who has impacted so many disciplines, from women’s studies, to queer studies, to cultural studies,” Clark said during a Trinity University Maverick Book Club virtual broadcast.
Cisneros lauded the book’s introduction by Cantú and afterword by Huerta “for holding up a mirror to the reader and saying, what are you going to do to make change?”
She summed up the spirit of the women portrayed in the book and its hopeful effect on the young women of today.
“This is great timing, that the book has come out at a time when young women, I hope, will look at this book and say, ‘OK, what am I doing to be to be changing the universe to be making it better?’” Cisneros said.
The Canción Cannibal Cabaret & Other Songs Amalia Leticia Ortiz
One woman looking to make a revolutionary impact on the society she sees around her is performance artist Amalia Leticia Ortiz.
Her “Xicana punk rock musical” performance of The Canción Cannibal Cabaret has been turned into a book released by Aztlan Libre Press. Described as a “collection of post-apocalyptic prose poems,” the title refers not to people eating each other but to the cannibalization of knowledge from before civilization collapsed.
Cantú echoes her commentary on the Revolutionary Women of Texas and Mexico in commenting on Ortiz’s book: “These pieces impel us to take action. They are wild horses running and bolting across the page but with a sense of purpose and direction that lead us to consider our own courage, or lack thereof. We ask ourselves, ¿somos valientes?”
The book won the 2020 Oral Literature Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, which expanded its categories “to embrace the performance and theater of poetry.”
Hannah Jackson by Sherry Kafka Wagner
Wagner’s first novel was actually written in 1962. It took some distance for her to regard it as worthy of publication, and only after her father died two years later would she submit it. Hannah Jackson, the story of a rural Texas family, was lauded by editor Lois Dwight Cole, who took it on as the final project of her noted career.
Cole had shepherded Margaret Mitchell’s famous novel Gone With the Wind into being for The MacMillan Co. and later found Wagner’s manuscript among a stack of submissions to William Morrow and Co.
“When a book comes in from somebody that nobody knows, an unknown person like me, the editorial staff has to give a unanimous vote,” Wagner said. “[Cole] told everybody, ‘This is the book I want to be my last book that I retire on.’”
The book has now been republished by Texas Christian University Press as part of its Texas Traditions Series, as part of its effort to “reprint classic Texas literature which would otherwise disappear from bookstores and libraries,” according to its website.
The story of Hannah Jackson is told from multiple viewpoints, drawing out the tensions between people who often misunderstand each other and themselves. Its themes are perhaps more resonant today than they were back when Wagner was a 22-year-old budding novelist, she said.
Issues in the book such as the role of women in social and domestic life, religion, and the tremendous divide between the city and the small town are at the forefront of today’s politics, Wagner said.
“Some of the issues that were smoldering through the book … are really out there much more today, and I’m finding people’s response to it today is much stronger than when it first came out,” Wagner said. “I think it fits better today, actually.”
The Resurrection of Fulgencio Ramirez by Rudy Ruiz
After earning laudits for his short stories, Matamoros and Brownsville native Rudy Ruiz in his debut novel turned to a Romeo-and-Juliet-like tale of love complicated by an old family feud crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Resurrection of Fulgencio Ramirez tracks the Mexican American protagonist through two phases of his life, young and in love, and older and embittered. But the true protagonist of the story might actually be the deeply embedded racism, classism, and ethnic tension that prevents his young love with a white American girl from blossoming into marriage, thus throwing his whole life plan off course.
After the death of his former girlfriend’s spouse, Ramirez sets on an uncertain quest to regain her love. Along the way, he learns more about himself, his family history, and the family curse that has complicated his life.
As Ramirez delves deeply into his past with the help of long-gone ancestors, he plumbs how the Mexican-American divide, a literal border and a metaphorical one, can form a person’s identity.
Though the book has its tragic elements, one reviewer said of it, “With an atmospheric setting and beguiling prose, lavish details, fascinating, well-developed characters, and charming elements of magic realism, Ruiz conjures a magnetic story about the kindness of strangers, solid familial bonds, bold perseverance, and steadfast love.”
For those who prefer electronic and audio books, two offerings can be downloaded and sent as gifts.
• Shea Serrano has taken advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to release his first work of fiction, titled Post and set in the 1996 San Antonio of his youth. It is available as a PDF document and an audiobook.
• In April, the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) released an electronic publication on the history of epidemics, chronic diseases, and medical breakthroughs of Texas history, titled From Malaise to Miracles: Health and Healing in the Lone Star State. Downloads are free on the TSHA website.