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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

We bow before these Austin honorees including Maria Cisne Farahani

The world honors Austinites. We report.

Maria Farahani and her niece, Fargol Farahani, at Fara Cafe in the Austin Bergstrom International Airport in 2007. Mark Matson for American-Statesman

Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn. presented Maria Cisne Farahani its Rhodes College Distinguished Service Medal. Born in Nicaragua, Farahani attended the University of Texas and later settled in Austin with her family. She founded Fara Coffee’s philanthropic arm, the Fara Foundation, which operates clinics among the coffee workers in her home country.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott honored longtime community volunteerEvelyn Reininger, with the Yellow Rose of Texas Award for her dedication to the betterment of our state. Reininger, 89, was the first female engine manager at Bergstrom Air Force Base. She also worked alongside Lady Bird Johnson, Gov. Ann Richards and journalist Liz Carpenter on the Federal Women’s Program. After retiring, she worked on day care for need kids and teaching adults to read. We learned that she’s also more than a bit history-minded.

Impact Austin just gave out $403,000 in its latest raft of high-impact grants. Their new community parters for the giving group of more than 400 women deal with homeless youth, refugees, school-age kids, first-time mothers and families of incarcerated adults. Receiving $80,600 each were the Safe Alliance, the Contemporary Austin, Any Baby Can, Interfaith Action of Central Texas and Seedling Foundation. Acting executive director Lisa Apfelberg reminded folks that Impact Austin has given out more than $6 million since 2003.

Comings and goings: Erin Wiegert is the new development associate and major gifts officer for the Austin Symphony. … The collection of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros is giving 83 works of Spanish Colonial art to the Blanton Museum of Art.


Best Austin coffee shops near North Lamar Boulevard

If you toddling along North Lamar Boulevard, you’ve got a few choices for a coffee break and all that goes with it.

Houndstooth on North Lamar Boulevard. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Houndstooth. 4200 N. Lamar Blvd. Open 6:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Sat., 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun. Parking in a lot to the north, but limited. Good WiFi. Teas and chai. Decaf. Burbling music. Some seating outside on a terrace, but not ideal in the a.m.

This place might produce the very best coffee drinks in town. Their menu is actually pretty lean. Brewed coffee and espresso drinks. Teas and chai. Some pastries and nutrition bars. Bagged coffee beans and paraphernalia. This, the original location, is located in a upscale strip center underneath an office building that includes a Taco Deli and — nearby — Uchiko, two Austin faves. Several small tables wait outside, shaded a bit by a canopy. Inside are long and short tables with lots of customers at almost any time. In fact, it’s sometimes a chore to land a seat. Blonde wood, black modernist chairs, light brick and paint conspire to give the spot a streamlined feel at odds with the its tweedy name. Hipsters, students and folks in business drag sip shoulder to shoulder and can it get a little loud inside during peak traffic. I don’t know the secret for their great coffee, but I promise to keep asking.

MORE COFFEE: Best Austin coffee shops near South First Street.

Austin Java at North Lamar Boulevard and Parkway. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Austin Java. 1206 Parkway. (512) 476-1829. 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri., 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat., 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun. Happy hours: 2 p.m. until close on weekdays, 6 p.m. until close on the weekends. Very limited onsite parking. Decaf and teas. Lively but not intrusive music. Quiet corners. Outside seating.

More of a hearty cafe than a coffee shop these days, the Austin Java trio started out on this very spot at the corner of North Lamar Boulevard and Parkway. And something about it harks back to an even older Austin. Scruffy tables and chairs sit  in neat rows inside a converted house, while a picnic areas offer outdoor seating. A heavy wooden bar and counter line the west wall and this can make a good perch if you are alone. The place draws an eclectic crowd, including students from Austin Community College uphill. There’s always a sizable mass on hand for lunch. The drink choices are numerous and include frappes, Italian sodas, smoothies, beer, espresso and coffee drinks, wine. The food encompasses comforting selections such as soups, sandwiches, toasts, quesadillas, wings, hummus and egg dishes. Menu divided between Breakfast and Lunch/Dinner selections. One odd offering: butter coffee bomb, purported to help you be healthy and productive.

MORE COFFEE: Best Austin coffee shops near South Congress Avenue.

Whole Foods on North Lamar Boulevard. Nick Wagner/American-Statesman

Whole Foods Market. 525 N. Lamar Blvd. (512) 476-1206. 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Sun. Limited surface parking, much more in a busy underground garage. WiFi is free without a password, but your time is limited to 120 minutes. Decaf. Very noisy.

“Were you surprised by my simple order?” I asked the barista after several previous customers required elaborate help. I ordered a small decaf. “No,” he said. “I can’t hear you over this loud music.” He’s right: The music in Whole Foods food service area discourages conversation. The coffee bar is located to the right of the northwest entrance at a long, curved counter shared with the hopping juice bar. Despite the dozens of tables outside and in, it’s sometimes hard to find a place to sit. Brewed coffee? It’s behind you at a self-service counter. (Small decaf: $2. A deal!) Espresso drinks are constructed farther down the counter. Food? Are you kidding? It’s everywhere at the WF mother ship, recently acquired by tech giant Amazon. Nutrition bars are right there at the counter, but several usually packed cafes and a few acres of fresh and packaged food can be found down the busy aisles. Who is here? Who’s not? I recognized a couple of celebrities mixed in among folks in every manner of casual and business clothing.

MORE COFFEE: Best Austin coffee shops near Burnet Road.


Starbucks. 4440 N. Lamar Blvd. (512) 374-9784. Despite the large, shared parking lot, it’s still hard to find a slot at certain hours. And don’t try the highly regulated street parking. Decaf (pour-over and Americano at noon). Teas and chai. Harmless music. Some outdoor seating with umbrellas.

Some readers might wonder why we sample representative Starbucks locales as part of this series. Because, despite corporate conventions — or perhaps because of them — each outlet is different, if only because the people are different. And their roles in each neighborhood’s texture evolves over time. One Starbucks at North Lamar Boulevard and West Fifth Street, for instance, is too small for today’s traffic. So we concentrated this report on the outlet at North Lamar just south of West 45th. It’s is quite large, but for good reason. To one side, you have fashionable midcentury modern districts, on the other, large state facilities bookended by big developments at the Triangle and Central Park. This spot offers plenty of tables inside and out, as well as the now required laptop counters and cocktail tables. When traffic is high, four or five baristas churn out the orders. Clerestory windows keep this shop light even as the color scheme and decor trend to the dark end. This day I overheard a businessman making a pitch, a couple whispering sweet nothings, a bearded man working through some problems through a an earpiece, and a foursome of well-bundled workmen who might have come from the Northeast or Upper Midwest. All are welcome.

MORE COFFEE: Best Austin coffee shops near Lower South Lamar Boulevard.

MORE COFFEE: Best Austin coffee shops near Upper South Lamar Boulevard.



WAY MORE COFFEE: In 2007, we published a series titled “10,000 Coffee Shops.” We found only 100 around Austin, but it felt like 10,000. Our point back then: That in the 1980s, there had only been three such coffee spots here! How our culture had changed! We’re sure to count more than 200 during this new coffee run, started casually in 2016.

Tributes rain down on outgoing UT VP Gregory Vincent

The community farewell for Gregory Vincent at the AT&T Center was something to behold.

Kim and Gregory Vincent at his Community Farewell. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Two University of Texas presidents, Gregory Fenves and Bill Powers, along with Austin Mayor Steve Adler and President and & CEO of the Austin Area Urban League, Teddy McDaniel III, were there to laud the outgoing UT vice-president for diversity and community engagement. So was Fine Arts College Dean Doug Dempster, Austin City Council Member Ora Houston, former State Rep. Wilhelmina Delco and several of my favorite judges. 

Suchitra Gururaj and Erica Saenz at Vincent Gregory Community Farewell. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

A long line of distinguished speakers lionized Vincent, who leaves to take the president’s job at his alma mater, Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York. (Take a winter coat!)

MORE: UT diversity czar Gregory Vincent leaving to lead alma mater.

Jeff Becker and Tatiana Artis at Gregory Vincent Community Farewell. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Representatives from four black alumni groups, five fraternities and sororities and five community organizations from outside UT praised his ability to bring African-American, Asian-American, Latino and LGBT groups into the heart of the university.

Among many other things, Gregory deftly handled the removal of controversial statues from the South Mall and he mended strained relationships with East Austin residents. Although we’ve socialized almost exclusively in public, he’s also been a dear friend. I’ll miss Gregory and his wife, Kim Wilson Vincent, very much.


Meanwhile we learned that, on the West Coast, the late William Charles Akins, a distinguished Austin educator after whom Akins High School is named, was given a Celestial Award of Excellence posthumously. Rev. Lee Yarbrough, pastor of Neighborhood Baptist Church, accepted the award in his behalf.
Late Austin educator Charles Akins. American-Statesman
He was in good company: Other honorees included Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, actor Lou Gossett, Jr., Olympic gold medalist Edwin Moses and civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams, wife of the slain leader Edgar Evers.
We also miss Akins, who always helped any reporter or historian who had questions about Austin at midcentury or later.

Take a look-see at this week’s Austin shows and parties.

Light week for Austin shows and parties. Still, we are pleased with the slimmed-down choice, including a salute for our dear friend, Gregory Vincent, who leaves the University of Texas to become president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

Outgoing UT Vice-President Gregory Vincent. Contributed

June 13: Gregory J. Vincent, UT Vice President, Community Farewell. AT&T Center.

Front (Hi-Rez FINAL)

June 15: Michelle Schumann and Graham Reynolds CD release: “Late Show.” Blanton Museum of Art.


June 15-25: Austin Shakespeare’s Young Shakespeare presents “As You Like It.” Curtain Theatre


June 16: “New Editions: 2016-2017” opening reception“New Editions: 2016-2017” opening reception. Flatbed Press.


June 17: “Laura Lit: Where You End and I Begin” opening reception. Women & Their Work.

Paul Novak won First Prize in the Sarah and Ernest Butler Texas Young Composers Competition. Contributed by the Society of Composers.

June 17: Austin Symphony’s Texas Young Composers Concert. Long Center. EXTRA: Austin Symphony: Young Composers Rule!


June 18-Aug. 27: Revel Solstice Festival. Various locations