Hidden Gems at Your Library and Around Town

A dark image of treasure chest with a golden glow emanating from unseen contents

It goes without saying that any list of hidden gems in a library, let alone in a metroplex as big as Houston is bound to be incomplete. So, this project was probably doomed from the start, but we had a lot of fun putting it together. In the end, the list probably says more about the people who compiled it than the wealth of treasures to be found at your library and around town. But we would like to think of it as just a starting point. We invite you to use the comments section to add your favorite hidden gems, whether they be little-known books or movies that you think folks should know about, or something cool, in the greater Houston area you discovered. Leave us your hidden gem in the comments!

Bored to Death? Go to the Funeral History Museum! 

still from Houston's Funeral History Museum
Still from the National Museum of Funeral History website. Click or tap image to visit www.nmfh.org

As often as tragedy surrounds the concept of death, it can also be something beautiful. Customs and cultures around the world are forever changing, and although the ritual of mourning and honoring the dead is one that is a universal practice, methods of grieving vary depending on region, beliefs, religion, etc. An unknown gem that has been in Houston since 1992 is the National Museum of Funeral History, opens a new window. Brimming with artifacts and knowledge surrounding death care across the world, it is no surprise some might find it a little off-putting—I mean, who wants to be constantly thinking about death? However, when I recently visited the museum, I was taken aback by just how informative and fascinating the various exhibits were. You can travel to Mexico to learn about the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos); you can go to Rome, Italy where you learn just how complex funeral processions are for popes and sainted/canonized people; the museum can also take you to many more places around the world! If this sounds interesting to you, it is also worthwhile to check out the book From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, opens a new window by Caitlin Doughty, a mortician taking an anthropological venture into the unexplored domains of death in different countries (check out her incredible YouTube channel here, opens a new window as well!). Understanding death is the first step to understanding life itself, so take a trip into the unknown! --Yasmene Sadek

From Here to Eternity

One of America’s Best Kept Secrets: Lucia Berlin 

Book Cover - So Long by Lucia Berlin featuring photo of the author

But what bothers me is that I only accidentally noticed them. What else have I missed? How many times in my life have I been, so to speak, on the back porch, not the front porch? What would have been said to me that I failed to hear? What love might there have been that I didn't feel?
― Lucia Berlin, A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories 

Author Lucia Berlin is my choice for hidden gem. She is one of the great talents of the past century, and like so many of our great artists, virtually undiscovered in her lifetime. She was not published by a major publishing house while she lived., opens a new window She has been called “One of America’s Best Kept Secrets,”, opens a new window deserving to be shelved with the likes of many other great storytellers like Raymond Carver and Denis Johnson (read: Men). Berlin is best known for her posthumously released short story collection A Manual for Cleaning Women, opens a new window. She has a knack for describing the lives of women in various stages of life, love, and tragedy that feels honest and real, a peek behind the curtain. These are the women we pass on the street every day or even a forgotten version of ourselves. The most recent curation of Lucia Berlin’s stories is called Evening in Paradise, opens a new window. Her books are also available in Spanish, opens a new window--Sarah G.

A Manual for Cleaning Women

Evening in Paradise

Murphy’s Law Makes an Appearance in Award-Winning Student Film 

Still image from the opening of Crescendo. It shows to character sitting at a picnic table in a park
A Still from The Crescendo. Click on link or image to go to YouTube to check it out.

Crosby High School recently participated in the 2022 UIL State Young Filmmakers Festival with a short filmed called The Crescendo. The film was nominated in the Best Narrative category and was selected as one of six films to go to the state finals in Austin. 

The Crescendo is seven minutes long and show the struggles of a young man who very nearly misses the opportunity of a lifetime with an audition for placement in a college music program thanks to low gas, a flat tire, and a bully who beats him up. 

The film is humorous as we watch the young man struggle with Murphy’s Law, because we’ve all experienced days like that, but in its more poignant message, the film shows the young man’s progression in his self-confidence and the power of believing in oneself, which is another universal message. 

To enjoy this short, fun, and beautiful film created by the talented students of Crosby High School’s CTE Audio Video Production, check out The Crescendo.  --Molly M.

Buffalo Bayou Cistern View of the Buffalo Bayou Cistern's columns

Last February, my wife and I took a physical and spiritual journey into the heart of one of Houston’s most unusual and awe-inspiring historical landmarks, the Buffalo Bayou Cistern, opens a new window. Built in 1926 as an underground drinking water reservoir for the city of Houston, this massive and haunting structure was nearly demolished in 2010 before being renovated and reopened as a public event space by the non-profit Buffalo Bayou Sponsorship. While it’s a fascinating tourist destination on its own, the remarkable acoustics inside the Cistern make it a particularly magical venue for music performances, as we discovered while attending a concert by saxophonist and musical icon Joe Mcphee , opens a new windoworganized by the experimental music organization (and fellow Houston hidden gem) Nameless Sound., opens a new window Short, staccato phrases by Joe’s sax balloon into staggering minute long reverberations, and the 1.5 hour improvised performance by McPhee and an ensemble of Violin and electric guitar players was among the most bewitching and indelible concert experiences of my life. For those intrigued, the concert was part of the music series Underground Sounds,, opens a new window which is hosting nine more concerts inside the Cistern by various artists throughout 2022. Buffalo Bayou Park also offers regular sound meditation and yoga, opens a new window events inside the Cistern. Whether you are a music lover, an urban explorer, or simply a Lord of The Rings fan looking for the closest analogue to the Mines of Moria that the city has to offer, the Buffalo Bayou Cistern is unmissable. --Leif S

The Best Gay Series you have Never Heard About 

Cover - Sotus

I will die on this hill every single time. Sotus the Series is one of the best LGBTQ+ shows that has been created and NO ONE is talking about it (other than my friend and I)! Sotus is a Thai series featuring 3rd year college student Arthit who is the Head Hazer for the Engineering department and Kongpob who is the strong willed and outspoken unofficial leader of the freshman engineering students. The two butt heads at every single turn, with Arthit trying to keep Kongpob in line and Kongpob essentially saying “Line? What line?” Kongpob’s endless charm and unflappable affection for the surly Arthit slowly starts to wear the angry Head Hazer down and the two develop the cutest relationship that I have ever witnessed. Coupled with the fact that season 2 (the final season) follows the duo out into the real world of graduations and jobs, and you have one of the most well developed and realistic relationships put to the screen.  --Jennifer L.

I cannot adequately explain how cute this show is! If one of your favorite tropes is watching the personification of a cat and a dog fall in love, you have stumbled on the right show. Give it a chance and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.  

You can watch the first season of Sotus the Series on Netflix, or you can watch both seasons on the GMMTV youtube channel.  --Jennifer L.

Love You To (Watch the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine) 

DVD Cover - Yellow Submarine

Sometimes the best place to hide something is in plain sight. Following the release of Peter Jackson’s monolithic Beatles documentary series Get Back at the end of last year, I took it upon myself to dig through every bit of Beatles ephemera that I could get my hands on. A long-time fan of their stripped-back, surreally realistic jukebox musical A Hard Day’s Night, opens a new window, I can’t say that I was looking forward to their lone foray into animation: 1968’s Yellow Submarine, opens a new window. After all, the Beatles aren’t even in it! And yet, somehow, I find that this is the Beatles flick I keep coming back to. While the story might leave a little something to be desired, let’s be honest with ourselves: are we really watching a Beatles movie for the story? The real draw is George Dunning’s frankly stunning animation work, which is beautiful, psychedelic, and perfectly matched to the tone of the music. Plus, the Yellow Submarine soundtrack, opens a new window listens like a greatest hits album, including all-timers like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “All You Need Is Love” in addition to underrated gems like “All Together Now” and “Hey Bulldog.” Whether you’re a lifelong Beatles fan like me (and, really, who isn’t?) or you’re just looking to have a genuinely wonderful time, I strongly recommend giving Yellow Submarine a watch. Plus, it was John Lennon’s favorite of the Beatles movies, and who are we to argue with John Lennon? --Elizabeth Burton

Yellow Submarine

(Perhaps) The Ugliest Statue in Houston: Yuri Gagarin at Gragg Park. 

For some reason, the sculptor chose not only to portray the first human being to travel in outer space dressed as if he were going to an Oldsmobile company picnic circa 1957 but also in the arms-outstretched posture of a slightly abashed minor league baseball fan in the midst of forming the "Y" in a sing-along of the Village People's "YMCA." Instead of looking skyward to the cosmos into which he was the first to dip a tentative, but nonetheless epically courageous, toe, he is staring off into a tangle of scrub oak and pine abutting a Braes Bayou pump station across Wayside Drive. Why, you might ask, is there a statue of Yuri Gagarin standing in an otherwise undistinguished pocket park in a working-class neighborhood a few blocks from the once notoriously sleazy Telephone Road? Because the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired building squatting low and sturdy behind him was the first home of NASA in Houston. This at-best pedestrian and mostly ignored sculpture stands, I think, as a tribute to the now nameless civil servants who did all the unglamorous number-crunching and contract writing and wastepaper basket emptying that eventually led to Neil Armstrong's giant leap. This very unheroic statue seems to fit here. --David C. 

Learn more about the history of NASA in Houston at HCPL

Therese Raquin by Emile Zola: A Classic that is not for the fainthearted but not tedious reading 

A classic that I have never seen on High School Reading List or read in any of my college literature classes is In Secret by Emile Zola.  This novel will satisfy psychological thriller readers with its mesmerizing plot, and classic readers with its eloquent language.  Therese Raquin feels trapped in a loveless marriage to her sickly cousin Camille.  Theresa and her lover Laurent murder Camille and eventually marry.  Do they live happily ever after?  They are definitely surprised when Therese’s murdered husband seems to daily remind them of the murder that they committed.  How is this possible?  You will have no trouble finishing this book because it is 201 pages, and the story will keep you transfixed. --Cynthia G

In Secret.

Do You Hate Having to Let Go of a Character in a Series? Gena Showalter's Lords of the Underworld 

Gena Showalter, opens a new window has been an amazing find for me. Not often do you find books that have multiple protagonists that fulfill their entire storyline in a series, but Showalter sure made that happen with her series Lords of The Underworld, opens a new window. I was completely smitten with her style of writing and the fact that she didn’t give up on any one character and their development, even going so far as to include more growth in the characters even after their moment in the spotlight ended with their books. The premise is a breath of fresh air as demons, harpies, gods, humans, and angels come together to create the most entrancing world I’ve ever read about. You will not be able to put it down once you start! --Crystal M.

The Darkest Fire

Have You Ever Played Chicken with a Peacock? 

Peacock prowling the grounds at Alexander Deussen Park

Green space is something I don’t take for granted in Houston. We have parks speckled all throughout Harris County, and I’ve enjoyed my time at most of them. However, there’s one park in Precinct One that will forever be my favorite. Alexander Deussen Park is nestled between Summerwood and Sheldon on the southern shores of Lake Houston, and it has everything I look for in a park. Accessible trails, playgrounds, a waterfront, and plenty of Pokestops for anyone still playing PokemonGo. But my personal favorite thing is at the back of the park, over by the duck pond. Roaming amongst the ducks and geese (who all have a serious attitude problem), you’ll find a pride of peacocks roaming free. They are loud, they are beautiful, and if you drive over that way you may have one or two stare your car down from the middle of the road. It’s a super fun place to go for a picnic and relax with your favorite book. Preferably a book involving flashy birds, opens a new window. --Anna W.

Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring

This blog was written by HCPL Staff and first appeared in June 2022.