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Books Are Life | Summer Reading at Trinity University Press

Summer is just around the corner, and that means chances to travel and time to read, or the perfect staycation with books galore. Whether on the road or "away" at home, books are life, and we have new books for wanderlusters and the road weary alike. All are available in paperback and ebook, from road trip and travel adventures to puzzle magic and essays. Come away with us.  

Crossing the Plains with Bruno by Annick Smith 

Writer and filmmaker Annick Smith weaves together a memoir of travel and relationships, western and family history, human tenderness, and animal love. A road trip across the Great Plains with her chocolate lab, Bruno, takes Smith from her rural homestead in Montana to pick up her nearly 100-year-old moth from her senior residence on Chicago’s north side and a beach house on a dune overlooking Lake Michigan. This is a story narrated by a woman living with the imminent reality of a parent’s death, but it is the dog riding shotgun, like Sancho Panza to Don Quixote, that is the reminder of the physical realities outside our own imaginations. 

The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness by Rebecca Solnit

From women’s issues to Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring, Rebecca Solnit is an important voice for human rights, the degradation of the environment, and the socioeconomic and cultural boundaries that hold us back from hope. She’s been compared to Susan Sontag, Annie Dillard, and Joan Didion and has been called “one of our finest thinkers” by the Los Angeles Times. As the title of her book suggests, the territory of Solnit’s concerns is vast, and in her signature alchemical style she combines commentary on history, justice, war, and peace, and explorations of place, art, and community. Available in hardcover or paperback, whichever works best for your poolside reading! 

Getting to Grey Owl by Kurt Caswell

Writer, teacher, and adventurer Kurt Caswell has spent his life canoeing, hiking, and pedaling his way toward a deeper understanding of our vast and varied world. Getting to Grey Owl chronicles more than twenty years of his travels as he engages with merchants in Morocco, riverboats in China, and bullfights in Spain. Caswell climbs four mountains in the United Kingdom and backpacks through Iceland’s wild Hornstrandir Peninsula. He explores the meaning of roads and pathways, the story of Cain and Abel, nomadic life and the evolution of the human animals, and the fragility of love. Maybe Caswell journeyed somewhere that you’re traveling to this summer! 

A Muse and a Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery, and Magic by Peter Turchi

Discover the magic that goes into creating puzzles. In A Muse and a Maze, Peter Turchi draws out the similarities between writing and puzzle making and its flip side, puzzle solving. As he teases out how mystery lies at the heart of all storytelling, he uncovers the magic–the creation of credible illusion–that writers share with the likes of Houdini and other master magicians. This much-anticipated follow-up to Maps of the Imagination is a joy for readers (and writers!) of any genre, helping them navigate the fine line between the real and the perceived, between the everyday and the wondrous. 

A Cloud of Unusual Size and Shape by Matt Donovan

Donovan pursues the image of the cloud throughout fourteen spellbinding essays on ruin and redemption, exploring the flawless connections between antiquity and the present, personal experience and historical events, architecture and art and literature. The redemptive power of beauty hovers over this spectacular work, reminding us that darkness and light make an inextricable pattern in our lives and form the delicate balance of what ultimately makes life worthwhile, what gives meaning to the sorrow and joy of being human.  

Delayed Legacy by Conrad Netting

This nationally acclaimed account of a son’s search for his father’s legacy is now available in paperback. When the infant Conrad Netting received his late father’s Air Medal in a military ceremony in February 1945, it seemed to close the book on yet another tragedy of World War II. But what appeared to be closure was only a pause after Netting dug deeper into his father’s past. The resulting tale is part love story, part wartime thriller, part coming-of-age struggle, and, above all, a compelling real-life reminder that the human story is not over when a war ends. 

Starting 2016 with a Leadership Transition

by Sarah Davis on

Thomas Payton, former associate director of sales and marketing at TU Press, stepped into the role of director on January 1 as part of a leadership succession plan developed by Barbara Ras, the press’s director for the past thirteen years.  

Ras, who headed up the press starting in 2002, reviving the organization after its fourteen-year dormancy, will serve as associate director for editorial. “This is a fabulous opportunity to keep a great leadership team in place,” she said. 

Payton, who has twenty-six years of experience in the book business, joined the press in 2010 after stints at the University of Georgia Press, Hill Street Press, the American Institute of Architects, and Oxford Bookstores. He will oversee print and digital publishing operations, strategic planning, fund-raising, budgeting, and marketing and sales. 

“It’s a good day for us, he said. “This is part of a leadership succession plan that Barbara developed, thinking about the press’s future and her role with it. It’s really a win-win, for Barbara, for the university, and for me.” 

Read more about the transition: Rivard ReportSan Antonio Express-NewsPublishers Weekly.

Book People Are So Flipping Smart

by Burgin Streetman on

Readers were invited to submit solutions to the acrostic puzzle on pages 28–29 of our 2014 release A Muse and a Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery, and Magic by Peter Turchi. Michael Ashley created the puzzle expressly for the book, which recently released in packback. The winner, chosen at random from the submissions, received a prize package that included a custom-made Liberty Puzzle of the book’s cover.

For those who don’t know, Liberty Puzzles are classic, wooden jigsaw puzzles finely crafted with quarter-inch maple plywood and archival paper and inks. No two puzzle pieces are alike, and they're manufactured in Boulder, Colorado. Very cool.

A Muse and a Maze is the follow-up to Peter Turchi’s bestselling Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer, a book that Fast Company says "has inspired writers, artists, and designers for more than a decade" and the New York Times Magazine editors cited as one of the best nonfiction books of all time. 

We received a few correct entries, and the winner was bookseller James Crossley, of Island Books on Mercer Island in Seattle. When he is not hand-selling Trinity University Press titles ; ), he can be found expounding literary wisdom all over the interwebs.

Needless to say, the guy is awesome, and we were thrilled to find out he was the winner. Back-and-forth banter ensued; addresses were exchanged. And upon recieving the prize, Crossley sent me a series of pictures that I forwarded to Barbara Ras, the press's director. Her e-mail reply was swift and frank: “OMG. I love this guy. Book people are so flipping smart. How did I end up in this business?” 

Gotta love books. Even more, gotta love the people who love them.

Congrats, Mr. Crossley.

The Spellbinding Power of Books

by Char Miller on


There aren’t many places more beguiling than the native-plant garden on the fourth floor of Trinity University’s Center for Science and Innovation, itself a captivating structure of brick, limestone, and glass. The open-aired plaza, home to blue grama and bear grasses, Blackfoot daisies, salvias, and bluebonnets, faces southeast to capture the prevailing breeze, a movement of air that can take the heat out of the sky. So it did the other night, ruffling green leaves, red flowers, and white tablecloths.


What drew us to the rooftop on that balmy night was a celebration of Trinity University Press and its embodiment of our collective love of books and the cultural conversations they can spark. Our appreciation of words and the worlds they can create. Our respect for smart ideas and the debates they should engender.

As for me, I was also there because of the way the past set up this particular moment under the stars, a direct connection between then and now, history made manifest in a telephone line.

In 2001, the Ewing Halsell Foundation had provided a magnificent leadership gift to re-launch the Trinity University Press. That summer I was asked to chair the search committee for the new director of the publishing program, and so one hot August day I picked up the phone and called Barbara Ras, then Senior Editor at the University of Georgia Press. A friend had recommended her as a consummate editor, superb poet, and someone with a keen sense for where the publishing industry was heading. She’d know everyone I would need to know to build the candidate pool, he advised.

What he didn’t tell me was that I would be bowled over by Barbara: less than five minutes into our first conversation and I was no longer just describing the position but was pitching the job to her — selling this as an exciting start-up opportunity, promoting the University’s intellectual energy, and touting San Antonio’s manifold virtues. By some sweet luck, we managed to lure her to the Alamo City and this red brick campus, and in 2002 the press was open for business.

That puts it too gently: “kicked-down-the-doors open” might be more apt. Notable writers, poets, and critics — like W.S. MerwinRebecca Solnit, and Barry Lopez,Naomi Shihab NyeEdward Hirsch, andGary SnyderDesmond TutuLucia Perillo, and Peter Turchi — were among the literary luminaries eager to publish with the press. Not bad company.

Better still is to see their beautifully produced books, and the invariably eye-popping covers, laid out on display. Working my way along the three book-laden tables at the recent reception, what jumped out was the plenitude of texts devoted to identifying, pondering, and probing the human place in place, sparking this idiosyncratic catalog of some of them:

Elemental Forces:

Places Near

And Far:

Lyrical Landscapes:

The Planted:

The Platted:

Sublime States:

Ethical Terrain:

The last of these, W.S. Merwin’s meticulous recounting of the painstaking process by which to reconstruct a single tree felled in the woods, a poem gracefully illustrated by Liz Ward’s as-precise renderings of the cellular structure of the arboreal, offers a moral challenge: how will we restore what we have cut down, scraped clean, or paved over? How will we respond to Merwin’s daunting, because existential, charge: “Everything is going to have to be put back.”

Step One: read. Read to deepen our environmental literacy and regain our sense of agency, for this knowledge and activism are as crucial to the restoration of this blue planet’s once-teeming biodiversity and as they are to the rebuilding of more resilient, just, and habitable communities.

There is nothing new about the claim that words can change the course of human events. “I cannot live without books,” the author of the Declaration of Independence once asserted, believing them “a necessary for life.” If only we could conjure up Thomas Jefferson, invite him to join us in a certain upper-story garden, where we will have spread out some of the press’ most recent publications—The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness, A Muse and A Maze, A Natural History of North American Trees, A Cloud of Unusual Size and Shapeand Crossing the Plains with Bruno—and then watch him dream up a new found land.

Repost from The Rivard Report in celebration of University Press Week.

Kurt Caswell's Plea for Walking

by Kurt Caswell on

My new book, Getting to Grey Owl: Journeys on Four Continents, is a collection of travel essays that celebrate a wandering life. While I love being at home, travel is one of my central tenets. When I was a boy, my father’s work with the U.S. Forest Service took our family from one place to another every few years, and I came to depend on and love this rhythm, and to love the excitement, risk, and novelty of the next new place. For me, this translates into a life devoted to travel, and to writing the stories of my travels. 

We live in a different world now. When I was growing up, the earth’s population was about 4.5 billion, and the U.S. population was about 225 million. Today the earth’s population is over 7.3 billion, and the population of the United States is at 320 million. Every day some 80,000 commercial planes transport people around the world. That’s every day. And carbon levels in our atmosphere have risen 36 percent since 1958, faster than at any other time in the earth’s history. As a result, our planet is warming, sea levels are rising, and species are going extinct at an unprecedented rate. We live in a time of extinction, a time when our climate scientists, looking a few decades down the road, can see the collapse of ecosystems that will drive the collapse of human civilization. 

I don’t mean to spoil anyone’s fun, but I can’t help asking if airplane travel in the name of adventure or vacation is the right thing to do. I wonder if it is even an ethical thing to do. In “Getting to Grey Owl’s Cabin,” the title essay of my book, I calculate the carbon cost of making a journey from my house in Texas to the cabin in Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan, where Grey Owl lived and is now buried. I ask whether the carbon cost is worth it. It’s self-defeating to devalue journeys we’ve made, but perhaps such questions can help us evaluate the need and purpose of future journeys. 

As a species, we are and have always been explorers. Our ancestors traveled out of Africa and took up residence in almost every place on earth. We have even begun to make real plans to colonize other planets, starting with Mars. I do not wish to deny us what we are, nor to deny myself what I am, but it feels right to face the environmental cost of travel. Jetting around the world or driving hundreds of miles for a weekend vacation is not sustainable on a planet with so many billions of people. We need alternatives. 

I’d like to make a plea for walking, for simple travel on foot. It’s cheap, it’s easy (most people can do it), and the carbon cost is almost zero. If it rains, use an umbrella; if it’s warm outside, wear a hat. Walking betters our health too. An interesting new study shows that walking, especially walking in nature, offers psychological and emotional benefits, and, of course, physical benefits too. 

Why not explore your area? If you live in a town or a city, take a weekend walk from your home to an inn for an overnight. What you save in fuel or airfare you can spend on the room and good local food and drink. If you live in the country, walk to a friend’s house and stay over. The great American nineteenth-century saunterer, Henry David Thoreau, mostly made walks near his cabin on Walden Pond and sometimes into town to visit friends. You might also make walks of utility—to the market, the movies, the gym. We could do a great deal, of course, to reorganize our cities around people instead of cars; that would help a lot. 

If you wish to make grander journeys, walking can get you there. Two of the greatest traveler poets—Wordsworth and Coleridge—mostly sojourned on foot into the countryside near their homes in England’s Lake District. As a young man, Wordsworth tramped all over Europe. Paul Salopek is currently retracing the migration route of early humans from Ethiopia to the southern tip of South America. And Istvan and Ferenc Ivanics, brothers from Hungarian, were midway through a walk around the world when I met them a few years ago in Spain. When I pressed Istvan about why they were walking, he said, “Well, it is rich in details.” 

Before you book passage on yet another airplane, consider going for a walk. Perhaps the greatest adventures of our near future will necessarily be on foot, sojourns that will open us to the richness of our places, improve our health, and improve the health of our neighbors.