Friday, October 31, 2014

The 10 Books Every Texan Should Read

In the November issue of Texas Monthly, freelance filmmaker, producer, journalist, and author John Phillip Santos shared his list of the greatest Texas books ever written -- also tapping a number of prolific Texas writers for their own selections.

"As a writer born in San Antonio, I have always felt myself anointed, or perhaps branded, by the conflicted literary legacies of the Lone Star State," writes Santos.

"That a canon of Texas literature notionally exists cannot be denied;" Santos goes on to say. "J. Frank Dobie first made the case for one in 1943 with his Guide to Life and Literature in the Southwest, and it was the pantheon of Texas literati that later inspired Larry McMurtry's curmudgeonly takedown of our letters in his essays "Southwestern Literature?" (1968) and "Ever a Bridegroom" (1981).

As publishers both of Texas literature and groundbreaking Texas history, Texas A&M University Press and the Texas Book Consortium loom large on many writers' personal lists of required reading.

Jeff Guinn, author of Glorious, listed A Texas Jubilee: Thirteen Stories from the Lone Star State by James Ward Lee (TCU Press, 2013) as one Texas book deserving a greater audience.

Set primarily during the early 1940s, the book is a collection of short stories about life in fictional Bodark Springs, Texas. Through these stories, author Jim Lee paints a humorous picture of the politics, friendships, and secrets that are part of day-to-day life in this eccentric little Texas town.

TCU Press, which has the reissuing rights to the late Elmer Kelton's famous "cowboy" novels, also received a nod on Guinn's personal reading list and that of Steven L. Davis, curator at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University in San Marcos. Davis is also co-author of Dallas 1963, for his book The Time it Never Rained (TCU Press, 1984).

Of Kelton's novel, Davis wrote, "No historian will ever describe the Great Drought better than Elmer does in this novel."

Davis also selected Windfall and Other Stories by Winifred Sanford (SMU Press, 1988) among his favorites, saying the fictional stories depict the immense changes wrought by the oil boom.

Texas A&M University Press books -- and especially those dealing with Mexican American history -- were picked by several Texas authors.

With Santa Anna in Texas: A Personal Narrative of the Revolution by José Enrique de la Peña -- one of the first books published by Texas A&M Press after it was established in 1974 -- appeared on writer James Donovan's personal list.

Donovan, author of The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo -- and the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation, called the book, an account of the March 6, 1836 assault on the Alamo from the Mexican army officer's perspective, "excellent reportage of the Texas revolution."

Cecilia Balli, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Texas, listed Caballero: A Historical Novel by Jovita González and Eve Raleigh (Texas A&M University Press, 1996), a milestone in Mexican-American and Texas literature written during the 1930s and 1940s centered on a mid-nineteenth-century Mexican landowner and his family living in the heart of southern Texas during a time of tumultuous change. 

Also on her list was Tejanos and Texas under the Mexican Flag, 1821-1836 by Andrés Tijerina (Texas A&M University Press, 1994).
Tijerina's work focuses on Texas between 1821 and 1836, providing background facts for a better understanding of the exchange of land, power, culture, and social institutions that took place between the Anglo-American frontier and the Hispanic frontier.

Guinn, a fan of Kelton's western novel, also stated that he loved Lon Tinkle's book 13 Days to Glory: The Siege of the Alamo (Texas A&M University Press, 1996) as a kid and still enjoy it as an adult.

In the book, Tinkle tells the day-by-day story of how 182 men fought a losing battle but won for their cause an almost unparalleled measure of fame.

For more notable Texas literature and history, including works by noted Texas writers J. Frank DobieA. C. GreeneDon Graham, and many others, check out the Texas A&M University Press and Texas Book Consortium website.

Read Santos's full article here.

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