Best Texas books to read at the end of the year

This week in “Texas Titles,” we follow a riverine journey, a myth busting gang, the career of a Texas historian, a ship named “Texas” and a Texas modern artist finally receiving her due.

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“Río: A Photographic Journey down the Old Río Grande.” Edited by Melissa Savage. University of New Mexico Press. This slender, exquisite paperback volume collects silvery gray images of the Río Grande from the 19th and 20th centuries. Editor Savage arranges them by themes, such as crossings, trade, cultivation, flooding, etc. This is no mere picture book, however, and each page reveals a lot about particular places and people. William deBuys, Rina Swentzell and Juan Estevan Arellano are among those who contributed the accompanying essays. One can find any number of books about this great river, including Paul Horgan’s two-volume masterpiece, “Great River.” Yet few are as beautiful or as evocative as this one.

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“Texan Identities: Moving beyond Myth, Memory and Fallacy in Texas History.” Edited by Light Townsend Cummins and Mary L. Scheer. University of North Texas Press. Texas is awash with mythology. This collection of academic essays attempts to sift through them to review the state’s shifting and enduring identities. The Alamo and the Texas Rangers, for instance, are ready targets for myth busters. The editors, professors at Austin College and Lamar University, have already produced multiple books on on the statae’s history that have examined the roles of women and others who have often been ignored by the keepers of our shared memory. Mary L. Scheer, Kay Goldman and Jody Edward Ginn are among the contributors, while distinguished Texas State University professor Jesús de la Teja provides the trenchant foreword.

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“Archie P. McDonald: A Life in Texas History.” Edited by Dan K. Utley. Texas A&M University Press. McDonald specialized in East Texas. Molded from oral interviews, this biography, edited by Texas State History historian Utley  attempts to recover the career of the late teacher and leader who died in 2012. For decades, McDonald headed the East Texas Historical Association and edited the East Texas Historical Journal. His hand touched many other statewide groups, including the Texas Historical Commission. This book might seem like “inside baseball” — and to a certain extent, it is — but too often this kind of institutional remembrance is lost in the shuffle.

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“The Battleship Texas.” Mark Lardas. Images of America. We love the “Images of America” series from Arcadia Publishing. Compiled in template form, these small books offer scores of singular historical images, along with tightly composed captions and chewy introductory essays. (Since these books are not rigorously edited, always check the facts.) This one covers the 1914 dreadnought battleship that served the U.S. Navy in World Wars I and II. Throughout my lifetime — I grew up not far away from its final berth near the San Jacinto Monument — the ship-turned-museum has been under enormous physical stress. Lardas, who writes about maritime and Texas history, pulls from numerous sources to produce black-and-white pictures of the U.S.S. Texas in peace and war, including the charismatic jacket shot of the crew assembled on deck for a USO show starring — it would seem to me — Rita Hayworth, or someone who looks a lot like her.

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“The Color of Being/El Color del Ser: Dorothy Hood, 1918-2000.” Susie Kalil. Texas A&M University Press. Texas Monthly has already done a terrific job of telling the almost forgotten story of Dorothy Hood, a respected and distinctive abstract painter who has finally received the kind of treatment she deserves, including a vast retrospective at the Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi. After 1941, the Houston native spent most of 22 years in Mexico City working alongside the greats of the day. Following time in New York City, she returned to Houston and, despite her promise and prolific output, never became famous. She died in 2000. The Corpus Christi museum ended up with her archives and now curator Kalil has righted an artistic injustice by making Hood’s case to the world. Makes you want to take a road trip to Sparkling City by the Sea.