It’s that time of year when hundreds of thousands of college students would normally be packing their backpacks to return to school. While some students may be arming themselves with pens, notebooks, and face masks to attend in-person classes, many will enroll in online-only courses. During a moment that feels alien, I’ve found comfort in going back to the basics. For me, that’s following along with the University of Texas’s summer reading list.

As per tradition, UT released its “Texas-sized reading list” this week with a wide range of selections in all genres. There are classics (Pride and Prejudice, The Great Gatsby), self-help reads (Atomic HabitsGrit), and books about racial injustice (Between the World and Me, The New Jim Crow). Even though UT students will be discussing the books over video chat rather than in person, there’s still something that feels right about returning to the ordinariness of a summer reading book list.

Sierra Juarez, assistant editor 

Jennifer duBois’s Novels

With a global pandemic and impending election at the forefront of my mind, it can be difficult to focus on anything longer than a news snippet or more substantive than a season of Selling Sunset.

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Still, my brain craves stimulation. The novels of Jennifer duBois, an assistant professor in the MFA program at Texas State University, strike a perfect balance. Mercifully easy to devour, her books (two of which I’ve read in recent months, as the third sits ready to go on my nightstand) use cultural touchstones of the nineties—the Amanda Knox case, Jerry Springer–era talk shows, a school shooting—as springboards for layered, morally sticky stories that unveil how media narratives operate to create our reality. Despite being fiction, the books’ basic theses ring true.

Taylor Prewitt, social media editor 

Nixta Taqueria’s Free Fridge

In the wake of pandemic-related job losses and the drying up of unemployment benefits, free community fridges have been popping up across American cities. These fridges are open for anyone to drop off or take produce, canned goods, prepared meals, cooking supplies, and even hand sanitizer. In Austin, the ATX Free Fridge Project has set up outside the front door at Nixta Taqueria. Not only is the community fridge an opportunity for neighbors to help neighbors, it’s proof that the staff at Nixta, a modernist East Side taco spot, haven’t forgotten their own working-class immigrant roots. Fill up the fridge and fill a need in East Austin.

—José R. Ralat, taco editor

Garden Marcus

Though scrolling on TikTok hasn’t been a cure-all by any means for doom and gloom caused by the pandemic, it has introduced me to one of my new favorite plantfluencers (yes, that’s a word): Garden Marcus. Residing in Spring, Marcus Bridgewater cares for roughly six hundred plants, and in his videos he doles out a holistic gardening philosophy that often overlaps with self-care tips. Cultivating nearly 660,000 followers, Bridgewater has proven to be a balm for the times with his lighthearted and heartwarming content. His videos span everything from positive affirmations and ways to relieve stress to garden tours and process updates on plants. As a new plant owner myself, his videos are certainly aspirational, but they’re also friendly reminders that growth takes time.

Arielle Avila, editorial coordinator