That’s right, shop. Because this year we are introducing the Bum Steer Catalog, offering you the opportunity to browse actual items that’ll help you keep that Bum Steer feelin’ all year long. (Please note: that Bum Steer feelin’ can sometimes be confused with chafing; this sensation should abate over time.)
In choosing a name for their new literary press, A Strange Object, Callie Collins and Jill Meyers turned to a quotation from an early Donald Barthelme short story, “Florence Green Is 81.” In the story, a character describes the aim of literature as “the creation of a strange object covered in fur which breaks your heart.”
It’s a quotation that seems especially resonant, now that many in the publishing industry wonder if physical books are an endangered species.
The eighteenth annual Texas Book Festival kicks off at the Capitol this weekend, and this year's edition features nationally acclaimed authors Meg Wolitzer, R.L. Stine, Lemony Snicket, and Sherman Alexie, among others. Although the festival honors authors from across the globe, it takes care to celebrate its home state too, and we've listed all the Texas books and native authors you can find at the festival.
Welcome to “Read State,” a recurring TM Daily Post feature in which we ask noteworthy Texans—from writers and singers to athletes and politicians—what they’re reading. Today we bring you the reading habits of Will Sheff, longtime Austinite (and current Brooklynite) and lead singer and songwriter of the indie rock band Okkervil River, whose latest album, The Silver Gymnasium, was released in September.
Because of the way my schedule tends to work, I don't really have "average days." When I'm at home in Brooklyn I read on the subway on the way to my writing/recording space, to kind of get my mind ready to work. Usually I'm reading something intended to help with the project I'm working on at the moment, and it's most likely to be fiction or poetry. When I'm traveling with the band I read in stolen moments, most often at soundcheck while I'm waiting around. Usually I read more page-turner style books because it's easy to stay focused on them (detective fiction is a favorite tour read for me, and I also love biographies). When I'm traveling by myself I'm unlikely to read at all because I'm usually either driving or working or sleeping. If I have spare time while traveling by myself it's usually while I'm eating, and then I might read something on Instapaper, like some more long-form journalistic stuff.
I resisted reading from a screen for a long time before giving in. I still feel a little weird about reading from a screen, but the reality is that when I'm trying to travel light—like on tour—it's a lot easier to read on my tablet or my phone because I don't have to pack seven books in my luggage, which is what I used to do. Books are heavy, and lugging around a bag full of books is a drag. I miss passing books around with other band members on tour, but I don't miss always having a bent-up crumpled book underfoot in the van along with all the water bottles and travel pillows and apples and bananas and tambourines that are always rattling around. When I'm at home I'm more likely to read a physical book. Physical books feel so glamorous to me now.
I like reading before bed because it's easier to fall asleep that way, but only it if it's a real book; staring at a glowing screen at 3AM is way more likely to keep you awake than help you nod off. Sometimes I glance at my phone right when I wake up but that's a bad habit I'm trying to break. The best thing to do first thing in the morning is to work for 45 minutes to an hour. I find I'm very clear-headed at that time and I've just been in the dream-world and so I'm thinking a little more creatively maybe. So I try to spend that time working.
I wish I had more time to read, period. The reality is that most of my waking hours are spent trying to stay on deadline for whatever projects I have coming up. I feel guilty when I read because I know I'm endangering a project. I think fiction is the most valuable thing to read. Nonfiction is fun but it's only an illusion that you learn more about life from nonfiction. I think fiction teaches you so much more about human psychology and enriches and strengthens your imagination and your inner world.
Some of the fiction writers I think I always kind of keep in my mind when I'm working are Borges, Raymond Chandler, Isaac Babel, Chaucer, Faulkner, Barthelme, Mikhail Bulgakov, Henry Miller, Nabokov. These are some of the guys I guess I always kind of confer with in my head. With journalists, there are film, music and TV critics where I kind of enjoy their point of view or their style, but not many that I read obsessively. It seems to me that music and film criticism aren't what they once were. I think Lester Bangs hit a high-water mark for music criticism but he's one of the those writers that maybe did more harm than good in that he gave several generations of male bozos the clearance to make everything they write all about themselves. I like when a critic either has an entertaining prose style or something meaningful to say, and both of those things seem kind of rare. There are definitely lots of columnists I read semi-regularly though, because I love TV and movies and I love reading peoples' opinions and getting worked up about them. I avoid a lot of music criticism because I feel like everybody's afraid of looking like a snob so they devote all this ridiculous serious analysis to these cheesy popmeisters now and I can only read so many thinkpieces about Miley Cyrus before I get indigestion.
Although John F. Kennedy died half a century ago this month, the legend of his assassination lives on—at least in the publishing industry, which has never stopped taking us back again and again and again to Dealey Plaza. Nearly 1,400 books have been written about the assassination; one New York house, the Norton-distributed Skyhorse Publishing, has recently turned the topic into a cottage industry, with plans to print or reprint 25 Kennedy books this year alone.
When book critics gather around the campfire to list the names of the best Texas authors of contemporary Westerns, one name jumps out among the usual suspects of Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurty, and Elmer Kelton: James Carlos Blake.
Near the end of his extraordinary new book, Run, Brother, Run: A Memoir of a Murder in My Family, about the killing of his older brother, Alan, outside Houston in 1968, David Berg writes about going to see Joel and Ethan Coen’s 2007 film No Country for Old Men—not knowing that the film featured the actor Woody Harrelson in a supporting role.
On the night of February 2, a Saturday,William Doyle was busy with the manuscript of American Gun, a book he was working on with Chris Kyle, the retired Navy Seal who had gained celebrity status with his first book, American Sniper, one year earlier. Kyle provided the framework and ideas for the new book, his attempt to tell the history of the United States through the stories of ten guns. Doyle, an established nonfiction author, did much of the research and writing.
It’s 6:30 a.m. and somewhere in the balmy dark, the feral hogs are trotting back from the nearby hay fields to make their bed in the mesquite timbers. I’m tiptoeing after the acclaimed 38-year-old novelist Philipp Meyer, one step behind and slightly to the right of him, clear of the radius of his Remington 700. And Meyer is one step behind our guide, a hulking, bearded man named Tink Pinkard, “a real teddy bear of a guy,” Meyer called him.