Best Texas books: Birders alert

Texas birds, Texas musicians, Texas media stars, Texas festivals and a guide to the Texas Capitol stack up on our state shelves this week.

“Book of Texas Birds.” Gary Clark with photographs by Kathy Adams Clark. Texas A&M Press. For some of us, there are never too many Texas bird books. This one might not fit as easily into a backpack as snugly some of the more traditional guides — not to mention its weight at more than two pounds — but the clarity and beauty inside more than make up for its relative girth. It seems manufactured to last, too, another crucial argument in its favor, since it will get a lot of use. Gary Clark’s easy journalistic style — he writes a column for the Houston Chronicle — nicely matches Kathy Adam Clark’s generous images. We plan to keep it handy whenever possible.

MORE ABOUT TEXAS BIRDS: “One More Warbler.”

 

“When the World Stopped to Listen: Van Cliburn’s Cold War Triumph and Its Aftermath.” Stuart Isacoff. Knopf. Curious how Van Cliburn mania comes in waves. Texans are particularly prone to flights of fancy about their native son who won the Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow at the height of the Cold War in 1958, then was lionized around the world, including a ticker tape parade in New York. He is now the subject of two new books, this one by piano expert Stuart Isacoff, who doesn’t stint on the socio-political context, and “Moscow Nights: The Van Cliburn Story — How one Man and His Piano Transformed the Cold War” by Nigel Cliff. Isacoff is particularly good at describing Cliburn the performer both at his peak and during his declining years. We were lucky enough to hear him several times during that autumnal period. The freshness had vanished, but never the glamour.


 

“It’s News to Me.” Olga Campos Benz. Self-published. One special treat that awaits those who ply Austin’s social circuit is to land at a table next to media savvy Olga Campos Benz. Not only is she a first-rate storyteller, but she’s got ripe stories to tell from her years as a top Texas broadcast journalist and afterwards, when she became one of Austin’s most visible volunteers and activists. She’s met a crazy character or two along the way. This brisk, fluent novel is informed by all that experience. Now, I can’t tell you how much of this story is based on real people — the same is true with Rob Giardinelli’s sweet and recently published society memoir, “Being in the Room” — but I can confirm some parallels between the fictional photojournalist of the novel and flesh-and-blood husband Kevin Benz. This volume confirms the instinct: If you’ve got a novel in you, please write it.

“Cornyation: San Antonio’s Outrageous Fiesta Tradition.” Amy L. Stone. Trinity University Press. Fiesta is one of those singular things that sets San Antonio almost completely apart from its sister Texas cities. One aspect of this annual holds special meaning for the state’s LGBT community. Fiesta itself goes back to the 1890s and, like Mardis Gras, its sprawling celebration is staged by not one, but dozens of local groups. That structure generated isolated pockets of social exclusion, while allowing a broader cross-section of the population to participate in novel ways. Cornyation is a drag spoof of Fiesta’s debutante Coronation of the Queen of the Alamo. It goes back at least to the early 1950s and was embraced as part of the accepted party landscape. Author Amy Stone has fun with this phenomenon, while taking it seriously on a sociological level. The pictures are out of this world!

“Legends & Lore of the Texas Capitol”

“Legends & Lore of the Texas Capitol.” Mike Cox. History Press. What would we do without Mike Cox? The journalist and author had published more than 3o books, a great many of them about Texas and its history. Here he delves into the enduring myths and verifiable facts about one the state’s most charismatic shrines, the Texas Capitol. Cox was working for our newspaper in 1983 when a fire that started in the lieutenant governor’s office nearly brought down the building. In response, our leaders lovingly restored the building and the grounds while adding a clever underground extension to alleviate horrific overcrowding in what had become a firetrap. At the same time, almost everything we assumed about the Capitol’s legacy was reexamined. Cox is very good at sorting out the legends and lore, making this an essential read for any Texas history advocate.

MORE TO READ: Best Texas books to read straightaway.

MORE TO READ: Best Texas books to read these days.

MORE TO READ: Best Texas books to read nowadays.

MORE TO READ: Best Texas books to read forthwith.

MORE TO READ: Best Texas books to read this time of year.

MORE TO READ: Best recent books about Texas rivers.

Best Texas books: Start off with ‘The Nueces River’

We’ve learned more about the Nueces River, Texas birding, a standout West Texas Congressman, the King Ranch and Texas swimming holes.

IMG_5519 (1)

“The Nueces River: Rio Escondido.” Margie Crisp with artwork by William B. Montgomery. Texas A&M Press. Much admired Texas artist and naturalist Margie Crisp made quite a splash with her award-winning “River of Contrasts: The Texas Colorado,” a gorgeously written and illustrated look at the long, ever-changing waterway that runs through Austin. Now she turns her attention to the Nueces River, which she calls “Rio Escondido,” apt since this stream that falls off the southern edge of the Edwards Plateau goes underground during dry seasons until it reemerges at Choke Canyon Reservoir near Three Rivers.  A team project with William B. Montgomery, this book represents an ideal marriage of words and images. One only wishes that Crisp were given several lifetimes so she could do the same for 48 more Texas rivers.

MORE TEXAS TITLES: Best recent books on Texas rivers.

IMG_5518 (1)

“One More Warbler: A Life with Birds” Victor Emanuel with S. Kirk Walsh. University of Texas Press. To say that Victor Emanuel is a god among naturalists is almost an understatement. The owner and operator of one of the world’s most prominent nature tour groups grew up in Houston and has lived in Austin for decades. This memoir, written in close collaboration with S. Kirk Walsh, tells not just about birding adventures, but also looks deeply into the way that habitual observation of nature changes the way we perceive the world around us. Bonus: Emanuel employs a natural literary touch, which Walsh clearly amplifies. You might have read our own profile of Emanuel. We promise a big feature interview about this book before long.

MORE TEXAS TITLES: Best Texas books to read in November 2016.

IMG_5516 (1)

“The Swimming Holes of Texas.” Julie Wernersbach and Carolyn Tracy. University of Texas Press. Like our much more adventurous colleague, Pam LeBlanc, we love this guide book. We had to add our tributes. It’s crucial, first, because this information was previously not readily available in such a user-friendly, physical format. Arranged by region — the Austin area counts as its own region — it fully lists addresses, phone number, websites, hours, entrance fees, park rules, camping options, amenities, and swimming opportunities, along with sharp descriptions that could only be acquired through sustained personal reporting. Funny thing: Writing this capsule, my thumb led me to the entry for Choke Canyon Reservoir (see above). Oh no you don’t! Last time we were there, alligators floated just offshore. No swimming for us.  Pam, don’t take that as a challenge!

MORE TEXAS TITLES: Best Texas books to read in December 2016.

IMG_5517 (1)

“A Witness to History: George H. Mahon, West Texas Congressman.” Janet M. Neugebauer. Texas Tech University Press. We must admit up front we have not made a big dent into this biography that runs almost to 600 pages with notes and index. But what we’ve read so far has impressed us enough to place it here. Mahon, a country lawyer, went to Congress in 1935 and served on the House Committee on Appropriations almost he his entire tenure of 44 years. Along the way, he acquired enormous power, which, if this book is any evidence, he used judiciously. A specialist in defense spending, his career spanned World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, and almost the entire Cold War. We look forward to digging deeper into this crisp volume when we have more time. A lot more time.

MORE TEXAS TITLES: Best Texas books to read in October 2016.

IMG_5521 (1)

“Bob and Helen Kleberg of King Ranch.” Helen Kleberg Groves. Trinity University Press. Not as many books have been published about the King Ranch as have been about Texas football, rangers, tacos or politics. But it sometimes seems that the vast, daunting South Texas empire of cattle and thorn brush holds writers in an unbreakable spell. This time, the motivation is personal, since this volume was written by Helen King Kleberg Alexander-Groves. It constitutes the memoirs of the only child of the celebrated Bob and Helen Kleberg. At first, it feels like a picture book with historical and contemporary photographs that take you directly into the world of ranching past and present. Yet don’t overlook the words, because Bill Benson has helped Groves thoroughly research and confirm the history, genealogy and other aspects of this quintessentially Texas family tale.

MORE TEXAS TITLES: Best Texas books to read in September 2016.

Best Texas books: Recent on rivers

As many of you know, Joe Starr and I have traced 50 Texas rivers — by car and on foot — from their sources to their mouths, or vice versa.

RELATED: How to trace the Medina River.

Texas A&M University Press, teamed with the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University, noticed our progress. And the good folks at the Press now send us their latest releases related — sometimes tangentially — to Texas rivers.

IMG_4789 (1)

“Neches River User Guide.” Gina Donovan. Texas A&M University Press. Oh, how we wish there was one of these guides for every Texas river. This is the gold standard. Handy in size and format. Clearly delineated maps. Carefully notated river access points. Helpful nature samples with color photographs of many of the mammals, birds, reptiles and the trees you’re likely to see. Now, the Neches is an East Texas river that cuts through the Big Thicket and its bottomlands are periodically at risk. Getting to know the river through this guide should help the general public make a case for its preservation.

RELATED:  Repost: Texas River Tracing: Neches.

IMG_4791 (1)

“Of Texas Rivers & Texas Art.” Andrew Sansom and William E. Reaves. Texas A&M University Press. Virtually an exhibit catalogue, this volume is a handsome collection of representations of Texas rivers — paintings, lithographs, pastels and linocuts. Aspects of Texas’s history and culture are tied together with a riverine theme. It is particularly gratifying to see how artists saw some of the exact same views we enjoyed during our 10 years of Texas river tracing. We are also pleased to see some of our favorite artists — Margie Crisp, Fidencio Duran, Robb Kendrick — represented here. Essays by Sansom and Reaves serve as natural introductions to the subject of Texas rivers.

IMG_4800 (1)

“The Blanco River.” Wes Ferguson. Texas A&M University Press. While much of the book is a survey of the history and geography of the Blanco River, the final chapters are a very personal recounting of the devastating Memorial Day Flood of 2015. It bears a family resemblance to Jim Kimmel’s fine “The San Marcos: A River’s Story,” also published in the Texas A&M Nature Guides series. It tracks the trajectory of observations we made of this Hill Country river — so rugged and beautiful for much of its run — and how its final stretch onto the plains around San Marcos is not a thing of beauty.

RELATED: A healing line a year later: The Blanco River.

IMG_4790 (1)

“Why the Raven Calls the Canyon.” E. Dan Klepper. Texas A&M University Press. Less focused on the nearby Rio Grande River than on the Fresno Ranch, this collection of photographs can still be grouped with these other books, for the river’s presence is never far offstage. Divided into chapters such as “Labors,” “Dogs,” “Horses” and “Haircuts,” each introduced by a brief commentary, the book’s images nearly form a narrative of the years that the author and the ranch’s caretaker spent “Off the Grid in Big Bend Country.” It’s a gorgeous book that will be appreciated by anyone who savors travel in West Texas.

IMG_4792 (1)

“Discovering Westcave: The Natural and Human History of a Hill Country Nature Preserve.” S. Christopher Caran and Elaine Davenport. Texas A&M University Press. With everything from caretaker families’ photos to highly technical geological and topographical charts, this book should satisfy your various curiosities about this stunning seventy-six acre preserve on the Pedernales River. We’ve visited at various stages of the rescue of this box canyon, once trashed out by casual visitors and campers. It’s now a paragon of natural education.

 

Best Texas books: Rev up with ‘Miles and Miles of Texas’

This week in “Texas Titles,” we take a very long road trip, scan murals at Texas post offices, seek solutions for the Yogurt Shop Murders, take in more football and dive into a museum’s loaned artifacts.

img_4438-1

“Miles and Miles of Texas: 100 Years of the Texas Highway Department.” Carol Dawson with Roger Allen Polson. Texas A&M University Press.

What a great and necessary book! So much of Texana focuses on the state’s pre-industrial past. Yet Texas is a place of cities and suburbs connected to vast expanses by an intricate modern network of interstates, federal highways, state highways, farm and ranch roads, as well as county roads and city streets. Austin-based writer Carol Dawson and former TxDOT thought leader Roger Polson put together this 100-year history relying partly on the agency’s priceless photo collection, edited by Geoff Appold. We promise to dig deeper into this fine volume to produce a feature story in early 2017. Meanwhile, it makes a terrific coffee table book with as much to read as to see.

img_4428-1

“The Texas Post Office Murals: Art for the People.” Philip Parisi. Texas A&M University Press.

If ever a regional book demanded a second printing in paperback, this is one. The New Deal sparked an unprecedented outbreak of public art in styles readily accessible to the general public. And where else to place them during the 1930s than at government gathering places that every community patronized? Parisi, formerly of the Texas Historical Commission, first produced this marvelous guide in 2004. It provides 127 images from the 106 artworks — some gone — commissioned for 69 post offices in the state. The images celebrate Texas life and history, with an emphasis on everyday labors. On a side note, Parisi does not mention contemporaneous artist Paul Cadmus, but several of the images are rendered in his unmistakable homophile style.

img_4427-1

“Who Killed These Girls? Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders.” Beverly Lowry. Knopf.

Here’s something to contemplate: The Austin Police Department is still working on the Yogurt Shop Murders case. Yes, still. The four girls were found naked, bound and gagged on Dec. 6, 1991. The late Corey Mitchell’s 2005 “Murdered Innocents” raked up all those terrible memories. Now, distinguished Austin journalist and fiction writer Lowry tells the ongoing tale crime, punishment, reversal and frustration. We’d love to interview the author on the subject, but we’ll have to read it more thoroughly first. That will happen.

img_4429-1

“Pigskin Rapture: Four Days in the Life of Texas Football.” Mac Engel and Ron Jenkins. Lone Star Books.

Recently, we wrote about Nick Eatman’s “Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Texas: A Year in the Life of Lone Star Football from High School to College to the Cowboys.” Seems like an idea that’s going around. Engel, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and Ron Jenkins, a DFW-based contract photographer, teamed up on this chronicle of a four-day period in autumn 2015. Again, the granddaddy of this form was H.G. Bissinger’s groundbreaking “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream,” later morphed into a movie and one of the best TV series ever. This volume maintains a playful tone to go along with the lively photographs, which often capture what’s happening off field as well as before and after the games.

img_4431-1

“Seeing Texas History: The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.” Edited by Victoria Ramirez. The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda.” Steven Luckert and Susan Bachrach. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

What a matched pair: Two handsome books tied to the state’s history museum. The first lays out the artifacts borrowed by and displayed by the Bullock. The texts are minimal but essential and exacting. All is organized by periods such as “Empires,” “Struggle for Independence” and “Modern Texas.” The second books goes with an extremely powerful exhibit that includes local contributions from Austin’s Phillipson family collection. You can read more about the first book here, and more about the second book here.

Best Texas books: Picture the Rio Grande

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.

51haxgkzdxl

“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.

RELATED: DIP INTO BOOKS ABOUT TEXAS FOOTBALL, SAN ANTONIO, AND, YES, OVETA CULP HOBBY

51titupcoql

“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.

RELATED: LBJ, FOOTBALL, DEVIL’S SINKHOLE AND MORE HOT TEXAS TITLES

51fn23ewj2l

“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.

RELATED: SEVEN TEXAS TITLES TO SAMPLE AT SUMMER’S END

51s6lk2rkul

“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.

51aynovtr1l

“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.

Best Texas books: Remember Oveta Culp Hobby?

In this latest installment of our “Texas Titles” series, we look at a pioneer, a cause, a sport, a feud and a batch of the state’s artists.

winegarten_s14_c
‘Oveta Culp Hobby.’

“Oveta Culp Hobby: Colonel, Cabinet Member, Philanthropist.” Debra L. Winegarten. University of Texas Press. It’s hard to believe that this is among first biographical treatments of a Texan who ran the Women’s Army Corps — becoming the first women colonel — then served as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, only the second woman to be appointed to a president’s cabinet. Not only that, she teamed with her husband, former Texas Gov. William P. Hobby, to run a media powerhouse that included the Houston Post as well as radio and TV stations (an analog for LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson?). Not the least, her son Bill Hobby served as Texas Lieutenant Governor from 1973 to 1991. Winegarten, a practiced freelance writer, penned this slim, readable volume for the Louann Atkins Temple Women & Culture Series, which includes a handy time line. It originally came out in 2014, but the author continues to speak around town on the subject, including a recent presentation to the Capitol of Texas Rotary Club.

RELATED: LBJ, FOOTBALL, DEVIL’S SINKHOLE AND MORE HOT TEXAS TITLES

xl_cover-front-for-pgw-4-gif
‘Saving San Antonio.’

“Saving San Antonio: The Preservation of a Heritage.” Lewis F. Fisher. Trinity University Press. Now out in a second edition — in paperback — this essential book on historic preservation chronicles one of the oldest such movements in this part of the country. As soon as the railroads arrived in the late 1870s — ending this major city’s long geographic isolation — lovers of its Spanish, Mexican, Anglo and German heritage spoke out against the destruction of its ancient sites. Fisher, who has written several books about San Antonio and its history, is something of a myth buster, though perhaps not as disruptive as Chris Wilson, whose “The Myth of Santa Fe” stripped away the Anglo-American image-making of that tourist town. This book is thoroughly and painstakingly researched and it includes rarely seen images of San Antonio before, during and after the battles to keep its built environment safe.

conine_6538_f16
‘The Republic of Football.’

“The Republic of Football: Legends of the Texas High School Game.” Chad. S. Conine. University of Texas Press. It sometimes seems that one in every five books about Texas is about football. Waco-based Conine is a journalist and, more to the point, an enthusiast. Here he interviews coaches, players and others to resurrect outstanding high school programs around the state, from Snyder’s 1952 season to Aledo’s record string of wins from 2008 to 2011. Austinites will recognize some greats witnessed locally in high school or college play, such as Drew Brees and Colt McCoy. When historians look back on this time in Texas, they will find no shortage of records about a particular communal activity engaged every fall.

212-8408-product_largetomediumimage
‘The Red River Bridge War.’

RELATED: SEVEN TEXAS TITLES TO SAMPLE AT SUMMER’S END

“The Red River Bridge War: A Texas-Oklahoma Border Battle.” Rusty Williams. Texas A&M University Press. Who doesn’t love a feud? I knew next to nothing about this short but consequential fight between Oklahoma and Texas over a Red River toll bridge. In the summer of 1931, National Guard units from the two states faced off, backed by Texas Rangers and masses of angry civilians. The two-week skirmish included the presence of field artillery and a Native American peace delegation. Williams is a former reporter with a sweet tooth for history and every indication suggests he’s also a diligent researcher. The wider question settled for a time after this confrontation involved the place of private highways and bridges in a free market, a subject that has returned to the forefront in recent years.

212-8552-product_largetomediumimage
‘The Art of Found Objects.’

“The Art of Found Objects: Interviews with Texas Artists.” Robert Craig Bunch. Texas A&M University Press. The found object as art has a long and distinguished history in this state. Bunch, a librarian at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, has interviewed more than 50 Texas artists — including a few expats — about the gritty insides of their creative processes. Despite the size of the volume and its color execution, it’s not a picture book. The sampled images are relatively small. But the details are sometimes priceless. Neither is this a regionalist survey. The artists Bunch contacted — the conversations are rendered in a Q&A format — represent all sorts of styles, materials and genres. It doesn’t appear this edition in the Joe and Betty Moore Texas Art Series is in any way attached to an exhibit. But some curator might get some ideas.

 

 

Best Texas books: You can’t miss with Bill Wittliff

This week, we’ve got a novel, a true crime tale, an investigative report, a sports chronicle and a family history among the latest Texas titles to cipher.

wittliff_5602_comp
“The Devil’s Sinkhole”

“The Devil’s Sinkhole.” Bill Wittliff. University of Texas Press. Wittliff appears at BookPeople on Oct. 10. We can’t wait to bury ourselves deeper into this sequel to Witliff’s highly praised first novel, “The Devil’s Backbone.” Set in a rugged slash of Central Texas, both books follow the adventures of a frontier boy, Papa, told in irresistible dialect. Although it takes the loose form of a series of folktales — illustrated with bone-dry wit by Joe Ciardiello — one can also imagine the “Devil’s” duo as a movie or a mini-series, which shouldn’t surprise us, coming as they do from the Austin screenwriter who gave us the magnificent “Lonesome Dove” mini-series. We promise more reporting on Wittliff and his spiky stories, rightly compared to Mark Twain’s and J. Frank Dobie’s.

wolf-boys-9781501126543_hr
“Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico’s Most Dangerous Cartel”

“Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico’s Most Dangerous Cartel.” Dan Slater. Simon & Schuster. Dan Slater appears at BookPeople on Oct. 7. This is “Beyond Breaking Bad” for real. Two otherwise promising Laredo boys, along with their friends, join the Zetas drug-smuggling cartel and go deep into its hyper-violent culture on both sides of the border. The boys are tracked by a veteran detective with cultural insights into their background. A magazine reporter, Slater knows how to tell a thrilling story in long form. This book, excerpted in Texas Monthly and banned in the Texas prison system, also illuminates the inner lives of the Laredo and Nuevo Laredo hoods far from the tourist traps and NAFTA highways. Another book that screams out for dramatization.

RELATED: MORE RECENT TEXAS TITLES.

9781620408063
“Faustian Bargains: Lyndon Johnson and Mac Wallace in the Robber Baron Culture of Texas”

“Faustian Bargains: Lyndon Johnson an Mac Wallace in the Robber Baron Culture of Texas.” Joan Mellen. Bloomsbury. LBJ attracts a certain prosecutorial style of reporting, even decades after he left positions of power. Think of the Robert Caro magnum opus. From all available indications, the late president deserved that kind of attention. If one sets aside his monumental political achievements and their subsequent shortcomings, it’s also clear he was also involved with shady characters such as Malcolm “Mac” Wallace, who shot the lover of LBJ’s unpredictable sister, Josefa, herself doubling as Wallace’s paramour. He was not only defended by LBJ’s lawyer, he went on to bypass vetting and do work for a major defense contractor. Mellen turns up a lot of previously unrevealed evidence and makes a potent case. Documentary film in the making?

1306393547
“Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Texas: A Year in the Life of Lone Star Football from High School to College to the Cowboys”

“Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Texas: A Year in the Life of Lone Star Football, from High School to College to the Cowboys.” Nick Eatman. Dey St. The “year in the life” format is time-tested in sports, movies, law-making and the arts. Eatman, who manages and writes for DallasCowboys.com, starts with the premise that football is a year-round activity central to the lives of Texans throughout the state. So he follows the Plano Wildcats, Baylor Bears and Dallas Cowboys through the 2015 season, packed with ups and downs, and, if you were paying any attention at the time, you’d can predict some of the spectacular scandals. Eatman has been given extraordinary access to the high school, college and pro teams, in part because he has been following all three levels of the sport for a long time. (His previous two books were “Art Briles: Looking Up” and “If These Walls Could Talk: Dallas Cowboys.”) There’s no attempt to get under the skin of the culture in the way of H.G. Bissinger’s “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream,” but there’s a lot of football here and Texans can’t get enough of that.

RELATED: EVEN MORE RECENT TEXAS TITLES.

91gfjpnuwql
“The Long Shadow: The Lutcher-Stark Lumber Dynasty

“The Long Shadow: The Lutcher-Stark Lumber Dynasty.” Ellen Walker Rienstra and Jo Ann Stiles. Tower Books. I have long wanted this story told. After cotton and before oil, for the most part, there was Texas timber and the family fortunes associated with it. One formidable tribe dominated the field for a long time. The dynastic enterprise was founded by Henry Jacob “H.J.” Lutcher, then was vastly expanded by his son-in-law, William Henry “H.W.” Stark. Profits from Lutcher-Stark investments were devoted to philanthropy by Henry Jacob Lutcher “Lutcher” Stark, creator of the Stark Foundation of Orange, which was followed much later by the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports at the University of Texas. The Foundation commissioned Ellen Walker Rienstra, a contract historian, and Jo Ann Stiles, who taught history at Lamar University, to write this richly researched this in-house family biography, published as an imprint of UT Press.

Best Texas books: What the German Texans left us

Face facts, it’s still summer, weather-wise in Austin. So let’s look back at some recent Texas titles before rummaging through the fall books.

212-8403-Product_LargeToThumbImage.jpeg

“The Material Culture of German Texans.” Kenneth Hafertepe. Texas A&M Press. This is a big, beautiful book on a subject that will delight antiquarians and collectors as well as the just plain curious. Heftertepe, who chairs the department of museum studies at Baylor University, has already provided two volumes essential to understanding our region, “Abner Cook: Master Builder on the Texas Frontier” and “A Guide to the Historic Buildings of Fredericksburg and Gillespie County.” Here, he delves into a rich variety of vernacular architecture, as well as covering cabinetmakers, interiors, public buildings, houses of worship and — smart to include — graveyards and grave markers. Hafertepe speaks on his book’s subject at the Neill-Cochran House, designed by Abner Cook, on Sept. 25.

ces_cover_copy_large

“Haiku Austin: Vol 1.” Carlotta Eike Stankiewicz. Haiku Empire Press. Small gift books are all the rage. And we approve. Not every opus should double as a weapon. Stankiewicz’s slender volume brandishes its bright, quirky images and light, quirky words quite effectively. Don’t seek profundities here. Instead enjoy page after page of knowing smiles inspired by our town’s beloved singularities. Sample “Lucy in Disguise,” based on the costume shop on South Congress: “sequins and Spandex/drag queens flirt with evil clowns/grown-ups play dress-up.”

we_come_to_our_senses

“We Come to Our Senses.” Odie Lindsey. Norton. I look forward to reading this book more carefully and interviewing the Nashville-based author, who has lived in Austin and sets some of his stories here. Lindsey will appear at the Texas Book Festival Nov. 5-6. I can tell you from what I’ve read so far: His dialogue and scene-setting ring absolutely true. His prose reminds me, to some extent, of the plays and the novel, “Rules for Werewolves,” by Austinite Kirk Lynn, which I understand is being considered for movie or TV treatment. Lindsey’s vets are characters of natural interest, given the generational involvement in what seem like endless wars fought for an American public that doesn’t much care.

918t8mwp3yl

“Finding Dorothy Scott: Letters of a WASP Pilot.” Sarah Byrn Rickman. Texas Tech University Press. The author is one of the key keepers of the flame regarding the nearly lost history of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, who trained in West Texas and ferried planes from base to base during World War II. (We recently wrote about one of the WASP flier, Susie Winston Bain, pegged to an excellent exhibit at the Bullock Texas History Museum.) Here, Rickman presents the letters of Scott, preserved by her twin brother, which reveal the flier’s inner life, but also the day-to-day routines of the WASP forces. Incredibly ambitious, Scott died in a mid-air crash at age 23.

mammalstx

“The Mammals of Texas.” (Seventh Edition). David J. Schimdly and Robert D. Bradley. University of Texas Press. I love this book. And I’ve used it in the field for years. I can’t tell you what has been improved in this, the Seventh Edition, but what will likely open the eyes of first-timers are the number of whales, porpoises and dolphins that live just off our coast, as well as the numerous introduced species, such as eastern Thompson’s gazelles, Barbary sheep and Sika deer. There are even Japanese macaques loose in Central Texas. The authors have not left out domesticated mammals, which fewer Texans could identify these days as the state urbanizes and suburbanizes. One thing: The range maps, organized by county reports, seem pretty primitive for such a image-conscious publisher like UT Press.91pymvgiw7l

“A Kineñero’s Journey: On Family, Learning and Public Service.” Lauro F. Cavazos and Gene B. Preuss. Texas Tech University Press. A Kineñero is a descendant of Mexicans who worked on the King Ranch in the 1800s. Former Secretary of Education Lauro Cavazos — appointed by President Ronald Reagan — counts himself as one. His father served as ranch foreman. A longtime educator, Cavazos also was president of Texas Tech University. He is assisted here in recalling his journey by Preuss, a professor of history at University of Houston-Downtown. The father of 10 children with Peggy Ann Murdoch, Cavazos was blessed with a wide-ranging interest in learning and, especially in interactions among cultures.

14117803_10154432900996585_1150298956419590267_n

“Texas Land Grants, 1750-1900: A Documentary History.” John Martin Davis, Jr. McFarland. Despite the cover art, this is a serious book about serious history. What could be more important to a country than the claim to the land and its resources? Especially in Texas, where, until the modern era, much of what happened here happened because of land grants. Davis, a retired tax attorney who lives in Fort Davis, is an authority on maps. He patiently takes the reader through the history of Spanish and Mexican grants, military and emigrant headrights, Republic of Texas practices, grants among disputed territories in the Trans-Nueces and Trans-Pecos regions, as well as homestead, education and internal improvement grants. He also provides lots of images of sample grants.

UPDATES: References to Lauro Cavazos, Kenneth Hafertepe and Sarah Byrn Rickman have been corrected.

 

 

Best Texas books: Who is Homer Thornberry?

212-8612-Product_LargeToMediumImage.jpeg

“Homer Thornberry: Congressman, Judge and Advocate for Equal Rights.” Homer Ross Tomlin. TCU Press. Sandwiched between Lyndon Baines Johnson and J.J. “Jake” Pickle, Austin’s U.S. Congressman was Homer Thornberry, whose full story begged to be told. That duty was taken up by his grandson, Homer Ross Tomlin, an elegant writer who covers his grandfather’s early years in Austin — the son of deaf parents who taught at the Texas School for the Deaf — his service on the Austin City Council, in the Texas Legislature, as Travis County District Attorney, in the U.S. Navy, as Congressman before becoming a federal judge, whom Johnson nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Thornberry was deeply involved in the big stories of the day, including civil rights. There’s also a lot of Austin history here. Expect an interview with the author in the coming months. Tomlin appears at BookPeople on Aug. 27

grauerrounded

“Rounded Up in Glory: Frank Reaugh: Texas Renaissance Man.” Michael R. Grauer. University of North Texas Press. We wanted to learn more about Frank Reaugh (pronounced ‘Ray’), the “Dean of Texas Painters.” Best known for his pastel depictions of the West, he straddled the artistic trends of two centuries and two continents, since he trained in Europe and his landscapes owe a good deal to Impressionism and post-Impressionism. In 1890, he settled in the Oak Cliff part of Dallas and he became one of the prime movers of that city’s art scene, mentoring the next generations of painters. He also was an inventor and photographer. The author is a curator at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon and he wrote the companion book to the recent Ransom Center exhibit of Reaugh’s work. This volume fills out the personal canvas.

516RZYtwgkL

“Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” Jayme Lynn Blaschke. History Press.” Is there a Texan over a certain age that doesn’t know the outline of this story, retold in magazines, musicals and movies? Sheriff protects longtime country bawdyhouse outside La Grange, run by classy, sassy Madam Edna Milton. It then is closed after a big-city media campaign coupled with some political maneuvering. Enterprising journalist and author Jayme Lynn Blaschke has done some more digging, however, and added some twists to the tale, including an intriguing conspiracy angle. He also thoroughly covers the afterlife of the story, and the ways that it has been misrepresented. Look at this: Former Lt. Gov. William P. “Bill” Hobby Jr. endorses this telling.

Roth CONVICT COWBOYS.jpeg

“Convict Cowboys: The Untold History of the Texas Prison Rodeo.” Mitchel P. Roth. University of North Texas Press. Running from 1931 to 1986, the Texas Prison Rodeo was like no other show in town. Professor and author Mitchel P. Roth, who teaches criminal justice and criminology at Sam Houston State University, devoted years to research in Austin and Huntsville in order to profile this, the first of the country’s prison rodeos. Some of the events staged in what would become a 30,000-seat stadium were mind-bogglingly dangerous and reflected an extreme prison state of mind. But Roth also looks at the Texas Prison Rodeo as pop culture. It attracted movie stars and pop musicians; it also took on meanings far beyond the Western ranch practices that spawned the first rodeos. By the way, the tradition continues at the Angola Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, as recently recorded by American-Statesman writer Pam LeBlanc.

911GCM1KruL.jpg

“West Texas Middleweight: The Story of LaVern Roach.” Frank Sikes. Texas Tech University Press. The death of LaVern Roach, a middleweight boxer from Plainview, on Feb. 22, 1950, from injuries incurred — right in front of television audiences — changed what was then one of the two most popular sports in America. But there’s much more to the story. Telling it in his first book is Frank Sikes, whose family has hailed from Plainview — located between Lubbock and Amarillo — for three generations. Roach boxed in the military and rose through the sport’s ranks to be named Rookie of the Year in 1947. He was a top contender for the world championship. Sikes was lucky to land legendary boxing authority Angelo Dundee for one of his key sources. Takes the reader back to a time when boxing was part of everyday life.

91nwqAEQWpL

“Shooting for the Record: Adolph Toepperwein, Tom Frey and Sharpshooting’s Forgotten Controversy.” Tim Price. Texas Tech University Press. Did Tom Frey play fast and loose when he broke Adolph Toepperwein’s aerial sharpshooting record? The elder marksman (1869-1962), who grew up in the Boerne area and entertained the country with his markswoman wife, Elizabeth, had shot more than 72,000 little wood blocks thrown up in the air, missing only nine. In 1959, Frey missed six out of  100,010, but the conditions were different. Price, a freelance journalist who co-wrote “Texas Sports Trivia,” opens up a world of exhibition shooting that few probably knew existed with his careful exposition of the controversy.

Update: In the item about the middleweight boxer, the last name was wrong in an earlier post.