Buy new books about Texas and its culture
The “Think, Texas” mail bag is packed with new and unreleased Texan books.
I just finished “The Plague Year: America in the Time of COVID” by Lawrence Wright. Austin’s author, journalist, and playwright’s synopsis of the coronavirus crisis isn’t just about Texas, but Wright includes well-etched scenes of our state’s particular and seemingly inevitable struggles.
Previously, Wright used his prodigious reporting skills to build the 2020 insightful novel, “The end of October“, which closely predicted the collision of science, politics and personal drama we then witnessed in the worst pandemic in a century (and one that is not finished).
Wright’s access to scientists, planners and medical personnel is an invaluable asset. Yet just as welcome – and valuable – is his ability to synthesize the news in “The Year of the Plague.” He also thinks thoughtfully about the changes in his life over the past few months.
He accomplished something similar in his 2018 extended essay, “God Save Texas: A Journal to the Soul of the Lone Star State,” as he patiently explained recent developments in the state’s culture, while looking with clear eyes on our future. I regard “God Save Texas” as an essential library companion for the wonderful 2019 gift from friend Stephen Harrigan to our state, “Big Wonderful Thing: A Texas Story. “
Let’s face it, if you see the names “Lawrence Wright” or “Stephen Harrigan” on a jacket, buy it or borrow it right away.
The very next Texas story to read
My next reading is more intimidating: “The Governor and the Colonel: A Duel Biography of William P. Hobby and Oveta Culp Hobby” by Don Carleton.
Weighing in at nearly 900 pages, it promises to be a comprehensive account of a family that has influenced Texas politics and culture for over a century. Carleton is director of the Briscoe Center for American History and was a member of the recent University of Texas committee that reviewed the complicated past of “The Eyes of Texas”.
Governor William P. Hobby (1878-1964) came to power through the publishing industry and rose from the post of lieutenant governor in 1917 when Governor James Ferguson was removed for corruption. His wife, Oveta Culp Hobby (1905-1995), shared a background in journalism, politics and law. During World War II she led the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and in 1953 President Dwight Eisenhower appointed her first secretary in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
Quite the power torque. Other than the even more powerful team of LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson, I can’t think of many rivals in Texas history. Their only son, William P. Hobby Jr., served as a powerful lieutenant governor from 1973 to 1991.
I have only read the first well-designed pages so far. I also leafed through the generous help of photographs.
One thing that struck me right away: So many subsequent photographs make Oveta Culp Hobby look stern, when in fact she was young and stylish, in her twenties, when she and Hobby got married. She was already incredibly accomplished and ended up being more so than her husband, who was in his 50s and mourning the death of his first wife when they started dating.
I look forward to reading the rest of this magnum opus and interviewing Carleton about his landmark achievement.
More books from Texas are waiting on my table “to read soon”
I reserved some quiet for “The Governor and the Colonel” – I grew up reading the Hobby newspaper, the Houston Post – but I also look forward to the following Texan books that are lined up behind:
“The writings of Ferdinand Lindheimer: botanist from Texas, philosopher from Texas” translated with commentary by John E. Williams. I’ve already devoured large chunks of this book from “The Father of Texas Botany,” which painstakingly describes raw central Texas in the late 19th century. We all thank Williams for making it available in English.
“One Star and Bloody Knuckles: A History of Politics and Race in Texas” by Bill Minutaglio. Journalist, educator and author, Minutaglio examines 150 years of Texas politics primarily through the prism of race. This isn’t the only new book on this hot topic, but in this case, I expect new avenues to be crossed.
“The Texas Triangle: An Emerging Power in the Global Economy” by Henry Cisneros, David Hendricks, JH Cullum Clark and William Fulton. A new study explores the networks that connect Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin-San Antonio. I have been fascinated by this notional triangle since childhood. Four authors may mean too many cooks in the kitchen, but I’m optimistic.
“A Cookie for Your Shoe: A Memoir from County Line, a Texas Free Colony” by Béatrice Upshaw. Published by the Texas Folklore Society, these memoirs complement photographer Richard Orton’s key book, “The Upshaws of County Line: An American Family,” previously celebrated in this column.
“Freeing the butterfly: a love story in four acts” by Max Sherman. This heartbreaking memoir about a couple who grew up in the Texas Panhandle in the 1950s has already charmed readers. It was written by politician and education leader Sherman, who lives with his wife in an Austin nursing home.
“Morris Kight: humanist, liberator, fantabulist” by Mary Ann Cherry. While Kight pushed his pioneering gay rights activism primarily in Los Angeles, his youth in Texas left an indelible mark on his personality.
“The Sports Revolution: How Texas Changed American Athletics Culture” by Frank André Gurdy. I’m not a big fan of sports books, but this one stays on my “read soon” pile because of its ambitious and entirely plausible thesis. With news of the college conference realignment in the air, it should be even more informative.
“Sabotage: Dreams of Utopia in Texas” by James Pratt. I have heard of the failure of the French utopian socialist colony of Reunion Island most of my life, but this is the first modern study I come across on it.
“From Presidio to the Pecos River: Survey of the United States-Mexico Border Along the Rio Grande, 1852 and 1853” by Orville B. Shelburne. This monumental scientific achievement in the rugged Big Bend country required a book-length treatment. Now it’s here.
“Inside the Texas Revolution: The Enigmatic Memoir of Herman Ehrenberg” edited by James E. Crisp (with others). The Texas State Historical Association has been particularly good at unearthing documents on half-forgotten but crucial chapters in our state’s past. Granted, I know next to nothing about Ehrenberg, a writer, engineer, surveyor, and cartographer who survived the Goliad massacre.
“Reading, Writing and Revolution: Escuelitas and the Emergence of Mexican-American Identity in Texas” by Philis M. Barragán Goetz. Spanish-language schools helped change the way Mexican Americans saw their world at a time when speaking Spanish could cause big problems in English-dominated classrooms.
“The Texas Railroad: The Scandalous and Violent History of the International and Great Northern Railroad, 1866-1925” by Wayne Cline. I will admit that any book on Texas railroads piques my interest, especially if the tracks for the railroad in question pass within a mile of my house.
“Growing Up in the Lone Star State: Notable Texans Remember Their Childhood” by Gaylon Finklea Hecker and Marianne Odom. I first heard about this laudable “project of a lifetime” at a gig with Austin Found and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.
“Nepantla Familias: Anthology of Mexican-American Literature on Families Between Two Words” edited by Sergio Troncoso. Some big names in literature – Sandra Cisneros, Octavio Solis, Oscar Cásares, for example – are represented here, but writers new to me are too. This volume complements “Hecho en Tejas” by Dagoberto Gilb.
“Texas Jazz Singer: Louise Tobin in the Golden Age of Swing and Beyond” by Kevin Edward Mooney. At 102, Tobin is one of the last living stars of the swing era. Music historian Mooney is to be applauded for rekindling interest in her life story. Now I also want to hear his voice.
“War on the Border: Villa, Pershing, the Texas Rangers and an American Invasion” by Jeff Guinn. It’s great that this early 20th century period attracts big guns like bestselling author Guinn. So many recent studies have shaped our knowledge of the border during the Mexican Revolution that another well-told synthesis is in order.
Michael Barnes writes about the people, places, culture and history of Austin and Texas. He can be contacted at [email protected]
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