What I Read and Why

By Sarah Bird

You get your salad greens from Boggy Creek, your tofu from White Mountain, your bacon from Pederson’s, your goat cheese from Pure Luck. The eggs you’re going to dye for Easter are from your own backyard chickens. Your “coffee” is brewed from chicory grown by a neighbor, and you’ve considered whitening it with milk you express yourself.

Could you be any more local?

Depends. Let’s get out of the larder, into the library, and analyze what we find lurking there. If you need an abacus to tally-up the number of scribes you’ve sourced from out-of-state, and your bookshelves are groaning beneath a tower of ginormous doorstops from New York, well, I don’t know how to put this any more gently: you’re eating locally and reading globally.

You eat locally because you like knowing where your food is grown, right? These far-flung authors? Who knows where they’ve been? And fresh? Please. How fresh can any writer produced outside of the Austin thought-shed be after having been transported, carted and shuttled to readings from D.C. to L.A? Nobody wants to see a pale, haggard, trucked-in David Sedaris, trust me.

We all know about giant food conglomerates. They’ll shove anything down the throat of a gullible public: tomatoes that have been circling the globe for weeks, chickens raised in factory farms, Funyuns. Same with the multinational publishing conglomerates. You think the factory farm corn used as a filler is bad for you, wait until you try to choke down a show-biz bio padded-out with every pedicure date and sexual peccadillo the out-of-town author can cram in. But the basic problem with any of these imported writers is that they lack what we have in spades: Hill Country terroir—that essential jalapeño/grits bouquet that perfumes the work of our best, grown-in-limestone fare.

But what’s a local-lovin’ sustainable-supportin’ book-buyin’ reader to do? Not many of us can afford to go all Barbara Kingsolver and uproot our families to live near our favorite writers in their natural habitat. Luckily, we don’t have to! If you’re ready to make a change, take the Read Local Challenge for one week and read only those writers within a 50-mile-radial thought-shed from Austin. And here’s the best news: you could not have picked a better place to do it than our fair city. This ain’t Midland. Our city is a veritable literary breadbasket.

By taking the Read Local Challenge, you’ll enjoy a cornucopia of the freshest, most nutritious literary talent available anywhere. And to enhance your experience further, I suggest you accompany the quill with some swill.     

First, the quill: you’ll, of course, want to source your talent at BookPeople. They were voted Bookstore of the Year by Publishers Weekly in 2005, and their local produce is so fresh they’ve got authors working on manuscripts down in the coffee shop right now, guzzling fair trade coffee and stoking-up on homemade muffins.

The past year produced a bumper crop of Austin authors good enough to gain gold medal recognition in national tastings. Denis Johnson is this year’s winner of the National Book Award for Tree of Smoke (Johnson qualifies as local since he was teaching at Texas State University when he completed his 600-page journey through the physical, moral and spiritual extremes of the Vietnam War).

And now, the swill: the dean of Austin wines, John Roenigk, owner/manager of The Austin Wine Merchant, suggests that Johnson be paired with a Dickson Pétard Blanc (2006). The exotic character of this Hill Country wine, with aromas ranging from melons and pineapples to banana cream pie, will enhance Johnson’s profoundly Asian flavor.

You can’t get more local than Lawrence Wright, whose book The Looming Tower was harvested directly from a plot in Tarrytown. Nor can you get more prestigious. Wright’s epic investigation into the roots of Middle Eastern terrorism was the winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction.

Wash him down with Stone House Vineyard’s Claros red table wine (2005), a vintage hearty enough to stand up to Wright’s dense couscous.

Should you be craving some great historical fiction, tuck into Pemberton Heights author, Elizabeth Crook. Her book The Night Journal was the winner of this year’s Spur Award for best long novel. Crook’s potent brew of mystery, rich characters and lush landscape will go beautifully with McPherson Cellars Rose of Syrah-Grenache (2006).

You’re going to have to drink iced tea with this next selection, but what better accompaniment to a book about Luby’s? Carol Dawson’s House of Plenty: The Rise, Fall, and Revival of Luby’s Cafeteria is as compulsively readable as a mystery novel and one that will leave you hankering for fried okra and just one of those yeast rolls.

And, now, if I may be so impertinent, allow me to suggest that you finish off your literary feast week with moi. How Perfect is That is my freshest offering from NitWrit Farms, and only one bev can truly complement this effervescent Sweet Tart of a comic novel: champagne.

For this one, invoke the Paris Hilton exemption and ship-in a few bottles of Gruet’s Blanc de Noirs from New Mexico, just one thin state border away. By taking the Read Local Challenge and consuming these ripe, in-season originals you will have offset more than enough of your carbon footprint to deserve at least one really righteous, slightly nonlocal, bubbly buzz on.