The Nightstand | June 2014

Summer reading: it’s a phrase that conjures images of fluffy, frivolous page-turners forgotten the day after finishing them or paperbacks abandoned for the next beachgoer to read at the condo you rented. But why should lazing away on vacation mean you lose your good taste in books? Have at the latest Danielle Steel if you’d like, but these Austin writers (or writers with ties to Austin) offer in their new books all-encompassing worlds that are gripping, funny, dark, and thoughtful. We all know by now the virtues of eating local, but take it a step further this month: read local.


Above the East China Sea

  • By Sarah Bird
  • 336 pp., $25.95

Bird’s new novel opens with the suicide of a pregnant girl, Tamiko, in Okinawa in 1945 as the Japanese government spreads propaganda that the incoming American soldiers are going to rape and kill the women there. Fast-forward seven decades to present-day Okinawa, where Army brat Luz James, the daughter of a severe military sergeant mother, is mourning her sister, killed while serving in Afghanistan, and battling suicidal thoughts of her own. This is Bird’s most provocative and thoughtful novel yet, about a place that has haunted her imagination since her own experiences with the island.


Thunderstruck & Other Stories

  • By Elizabeth McCracken
  • 240 pp., $26

A cursory description of the events that occur in McCracken’s new collection (her first in 20 years) makes her stories sound like tabloid fodder, more like a horror novel than a thoughtful offering from one of the most respected literary writers publishing today. Murder, disappearing children, a ghost child, abuse: welcome to McCracken’s world! But horror and deep insight, humor and grim happenings intertwine themselves in her writing. McCracken is a National Book Award finalist who teaches at the Michener Center; her stories wittily evoke strange associations while serving up honest revelations.

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Fourth of July Creek

  • By Smith Henderson
  • 480 pp., $26.99

The pleasurable feeling of being menaced by a suspenseful story that entirely grabs you and won’t let you go starts on page 1 of Henderson’s debut novel, as a social worker shows up in a Montana town to investigate (and attempt to help) a troubled teen whose mother is hopped up on speed. Henderson, an alum of the Michener Center for Writers at UT, is a Montana native. His determined social worker, Pete Snow, uncovers an assortment of vicious cases until his estranged daughter disappears and the FBI starts sniffing around.


Surf Texas

  • By Kenny Braun
  • 144 pp., $55

After eyeing the pages of Surf Texas, lingering on its black-and-white images, you put the book down feeling a little water-logged and sun-baked. That’s a compliment to the deeply immersive quality of Braun’s photographs: he makes you feel as if you’re in the water with these bands of surfing brothers. A surfer himself, Braun has shot for Texas Monthly, Wired, Southern Living, and Pentagram Design, among others. Feeling ambivalent about sunbathing with the crowds at South Padre Island this summer? Spend time with Surf Texas and you’ll feel as if you were there (without the sting of sea salt in your eyes).


Claiborne Smith photo courtesy of Kirkus Reviews

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