When asked to come up with a list of 100 Lone Star–inspired books, I turned to librarians, avid readers, teachers, fellow writers, filmmakers, and multigenerational Texans, and inquired about their favorite books for readers of all ages. Quickly the list began to take shape as I delved into the deep reservoir of literature that defines and contributes to the complicated layers of richness and identity of our vast state. (Hat tip to The Washington Post’s Books for the Ages, published over the summer, for the inspiration.)
For almost 20 years, I have worked as a book critic, reviewing fiction and nonfiction for several publications, including The New York Times Book Review and The San Francisco Chronicle, among many others. Through this experience, I’ve learned about the inestimable relationship between reader and author, and how a critic offers a continuum—or a bridge—between the two. For me, this exercise has been an opportunity to expand the conversation on the joys and rewards of reading.
This wide-ranging list is meant to be a starting point for readers. It is not definitive; instead, we’ve recommended books for specific ages. Think of it as a prescription that keeps in mind one’s reading interests as one moves through the various chapters of life. With the curation of this list, I hope to create a lively conversation about the past, present, and future of Texas-related literature, and the talented authors who make their homes here and elsewhere.
So, here’s our list: Texas Books for 100 Ages! Read—or reread—a handful. Start a book club and initiate your own conversations. And be sure to let us know what favorite books you would add to the list by emailing us at [email protected] or commenting on social media using the hashtag #100TexasBooks.
By Adam Gamble
Illustrated by Joe Veno and Cooper Kelley
Good Night Books
This board book draws its inspiration from the classic Good Night series while traveling to the major attractions of the Lone Star State—the Alamo, Galveston, Big Bend National Park, and others. Pre-language, the young ’uns can learn about the geography and gems of Texas via these colorful illustrations of famous locales.
Written and illustrated by Jan Brett
Putnam Publishing Group
Set in the heart of Hill Country, this vibrant tale chronicles the travails of a young thrill-seeking armadillo named Bo, who enters himself into the Curly H Rodeo. The Western flair in Brett’s bold illustrations brings this comical story alive for young readers who have a penchant for bucking broncos and mischievous armadillos.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
Illustrated by Barry Gott
Dutton Children’s Books
Aptly titled after its boisterous protagonist, this favorite features a young boy who is born with a distinct set of vocal chords that produces both chaos—in movie theaters, libraries, and fishing trips—and eventually heroics. Leitich Smith, a New York Times–bestselling author and citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation, is a champion of the YA literary community in Austin and around the country, providing leadership for both Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators and We Need Diverse Books.
Written and illustrated by Keith Graves
Born from a very large egg in a very tiny chicken coop, this young, enormous chicken and his adventures reinvent the familiar fable of “the sky is falling.” Whimsical, captivating illustrations with a zany sense of humor strike a perfect pitch for this comic retelling. Born in New Orleans, Graves now lives in Austin with his family.
Written and illustrated by Carmen Lomas Garza
Children’s Book Press
Set in Kingsville, this beautiful narrative depicts vibrant scenes inspired by the author’s Mexican American childhood and community—from holidays to festival celebrations, such as Day of the Dead. Each page spotlights a different memory from Lomas Garza’s own life with descriptive captions written in English and Spanish. The book is a favorite for bilingual elementary teachers for learners of both languages, and it provides myriad opportunities for exercises and activities for immersion into this memorable world of South Texas.
By Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrated by Don Tate
This biographical picture book is the latest from award-winning Tate, a prolific illustrator and author based in Austin. Carter G. Woodson, the son of two formerly enslaved people, was responsible for establishing Negro History Week in 1926, which later evolved into Black History Month. Though Woodson’s father couldn’t read, the young Carton read the newspaper to him and later researched current events. This educational book offers an engaging point of entry into history and how one’s curiosity can lead to world-changing moments.
By Nathan Hale
The sixth in the Hazardous Tales series, this graphic novel animates the central historical figures of Texas—such as Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, General Santa Anna, and others—through entertaining illustrations and action-packed sequences. Similar to the other books in this series, Hale doubles as spy/storyteller in the narrative and recounts these tales to his captors. Alamo All-Stars presents a vivid introduction to the early chaos of the Texas Republic from the perspectives of both the Texans and Mexicans.
Series by John Erickson
Illustrated by Gerald Holmes
One of the longest-running series of a children’s book, these popular stories follow Hank, a canine who attempts to solve mysteries and other conundrums as they unfold in his home ranch in Ochiltree County in the Texas Panhandle. Several of these books—part history, part comedy, part Western—have also been published in Spanish as well as other languages, and the series has sold more than 9 million copies worldwide.
Series by Rick Riordan
This series of bestselling books revolve around a 12-year-old boy named Percy Jackson. As many readers know, the original story was inspired by the author’s son, Haley, who was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia; therefore, this spirited protagonist views his learning disability as a part of his demigod status, being the son of Poseidon and a mortal woman. Though the story or characters don’t reside in Texas, the author is a longtime resident of San Antonio. A favorite in the series: The Battle of the Labyrinth.
By Louis Sacher
In 1998, this young-adult novel sprang into the imaginations of millions of young readers with its lively narrative devoted to the misfortunes and adventures of a boy named Stanley Yelnats IV, who is sent away to a juvenile-detention facility in the middle of the Texas desert. As a part of his prison chores, Stanley is assigned to dig holes—and he begins to unearth surprising discoveries. Structured as a cycle of interconnected stories, the novel explores important themes of race, justice, homelessness, and literacy. Holes won the 1998 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the 1999 Newbery Medal for the year’s “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” Since the first book, the Austin-based Sacher has penned several sequels for his huge following of dedicated readers.
By Donald Barthelme
Harry N. Abrams
The wildly innovative writer Barthelme only published one children’s book during his literary career, and this title went on to win the National Book Award in 1972. The illustrations are inspired by 19th-century textbooks with equally eccentric captions to make for a rambling and amusing read about Mathilda, who wakes up one morning to go “hooping” only to discover a newly emerged Chinese house in her backyard. From there, Barthelme-esque strangeness and absurdity ensues. The author lived in Houston for part of his life and taught for many years at the University of Houston (where he founded the creative writing program there).
by Fred Gipson
First published and awarded the Newbery Prize in 1956, this timeless story traces the unforgettable relationship between a stray yellow dog and young Travis Coates, who lives and works on his family ranch in the late 1860s in the Texas Hill Country. Multiple generations of readers have fallen under the spell of this classic that belongs on the same bookshelf as other coming-of-age stories, such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Gipson himself grew up in Mason, and the author’s papers are archived at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas.
by Jacqueline Kelly
Also a winner of the prestigious Newbery Award, this historical young adult novel centers on Calpurnia, a girl living during the turn of the 20th century in a small Texas town. She is an inquisitive naturalist, and her grandfather introduces her to the world of science, which captivates her imagination. This whimsical narrative draws multiple parallels between Darwin’s discoveries in The Origin of Species and Calpurnia’s evolution as a young student. The author was born in New Zealand, but grew up in the high desert of El Paso before settling in Fentress.
By Guadalupe García McCall
Lee & Low Books
The mesquite—a sturdy and resilient species of tree—provides the symbolic heart for this narrative that details the story of a teenage girl, Lupita, who forges her identity amid the challenging circumstances of her close-knit Mexican American family, including her cancer-stricken mother. Equal parts poetry and prose, this poignant novel-in-verse illuminates the life of one family on the borderlands. Under the Mesquite won the Pura Belpré Award for the best portrayal of the Latino cultural experience.
By Sandra Cisneros
First published in 1984, this timeless debut novel recounts the story of Esperanza Cordero, a young Latina girl growing up in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago. The beautiful, breathless vignettes propel this memorable narrative forward. The Miami Herald praised the book: “Like the best of poetry, it opens the windows of the heart without a wasted word.” And as residents of San Antonio know, Cisneros lived there for 29 years before moving to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, six years ago. This past spring, the author was awarded the Texas Institute of Letters Lifetime Achievement Award.
By Domingo Martinez
A finalist for the National Book Award in 2012, this gritty memoir chronicles the author’s youth in Brownsville in the 1980s. Martinez trains his narrative lens on his extended family and his experiences of living in a culture steeped in machismo, violence, and sexual bravado. Honestly told, this memoir examines the fault lines of the racism and classism in Texas. For a nonfiction/fictional pairing of this border town, consider reading Brownsville: Stories by Oscar Casares (see age 78).
By H. G. Bissinger
This classic nonfiction expose focuses on the 1988 Permian High School Panthers football team from Odessa as they made a run toward the state championship. Translated to both film (2004) and television (2006–11), Friday Night Lights has been elevated to a cultural institution of sorts in Texas and around the country. The latest update on Bissinger: The HBO documentary Buzz follows the Pulitzer Prize–winning author as he explores cross-dressing, gender, and identity while writing about Caitlyn Jenner for Vanity Fair.
By Elizabeth Crook
For almost three decades, Crook has been a favorite among Texas readers with her many novels inspired by the state’s myths and stories. This fifth novel doesn’t disappoint: The suspenseful narrative follows an intrepid young girl who attempts to track down the panther who murdered her mother one early morning in the Hill Country. Tapping into the literary vein of revenge stories, Crook’s memorable narrative reveals the steadfast resolve of the girl as well as the myriad layers of Civil War–era Texas.
By Fernando A Flores
This inventive collection of 10 stories opens up a cultural window onto the psychedelic music scene of the Rio Grande Valley. A cross-pollination of punk rock, satire, and fairy tale, the mind-bending prose animates the artists and bands from this southern stretch of Texas. Born in Reynosa, Mexico, and raised in Alton, the author now resides in Austin and currently works at Malvern Books, an indie bookstore near the University of Texas. This past year, Flores published his debut novel, Tears of the Trufflepig (check out the author’s nine-song Spotify playlist for this book).
By Cormac McCarthy
Alfred A. Knopf
The first of the Border Trilogy (which also includes The Crossing and Cities of the Plain), this novel abides more to the literary conventions of plot and traditional narrative than McCarthy’s other books, with its romantic tale about 16-year-old John Grady Cole and what transpires soon after he is evicted from his family’s West Texas ranch in 1950 and rides into the mountains of Coahuila, Mexico. Considered one of the author’s most appealing characters, Cole and his adventures also reveal some of the darker aspects of Texas and its slaughter of indigenous people. All the Pretty Horses won both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992. Now a resident of New Mexico, McCarthy lived in El Paso for almost 20 years and was a lunchtime regular at Luby’s Cafeteria on Mesa Avenue.
By Larry McMurtry
Thalia Reprint Editions, Simon & Schuster
This 1966 semiautobiographical narrative famously begins: “Sometimes Sonny felt like he was the only human creature in town….” The story follows Sonny Crawford and his high-school friend Duane Moore during their senior years in their almost-abandoned town of Thalia in North Texas. Desires and wants guide the characters’ trajectories that end somewhat tragically and somewhat quietly. The directorial debut by Peter Bogdanovich, the cinematic black-and-white version reflects a similarly bleak vision of the town and its lonely inhabitants. For bibliophiles, McMurtry’s secondhand bookstore Booked Up is still open in Archer City.
By Bryan Washington
This debut collection depicts an array of vivid characters who are searching for different versions of community amid Houston’s ever-changing urban geography (each story’s title speaks to a specific neighborhood in the city). Throughout the 10 voice-driven stories, the author reflects a modern, diverse city undergoing rapid gentrification in the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Next year, Washington will be publishing his first novel, Memorial, which is also set in Houston.
By Suzan-Lori Parks
Published in 2003, this lesser-known debut novel from the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright (Topdog/Underdog) unfolds as a pregnant 16-year-old transports her mother’s body in Texas in 1963. Readers might discover traces of William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying) and Jesmyn Ward (Sing, Unburied, Sing) in the narrative as Parks takes the reader on a ghost-like adventure where the protagonist’s six-year-dead mother is literally along for the ride. Growing up in a military family, Parks lived temporarily in Texas among many other states.
By Mary Karr
This memoir is responsible for launching the memoir-genre revolution that followed its publication in 1995. Both a poet and nonfiction writer, Karr writes about her gritty childhood in the industrial town of Groves in southeast Texas. Her mother suffered from mental illness and married seven times, and her father was a drinker who worked at a Gulf Coast oil refinery. In the meantime, Karr suffered unspeakable traumas at the hands of others. Despite the brutality of her early life, the author manages to employ humor, lyricism, and wit when recounting these memories.
By Karen Olsson Farrar Straus & Giroux With this impressive debut novel, fiction writer Olsson pays homage to the Texas classic The Gay Place by Billy Lee Brammer (see age 49) with her sly, wit-filled, politics-as-usual narrative that moves between the austere corridors of the State Capitol and the slacker streets of Waterloo (read: Austin). It’s an entertaining read about the once-sleepy city in all of its complex glory. In an opening chapter, Olsson writes: “The rose-tinted dome of the state Capitol hovered in the north of the downtown skyline like the airborne skirt of a faded party dress.” For the author’s latest, check out The Weil Conjectures, a distilled hybrid narrative that explores the intersections of creativity, mathematics, and the famous Weil siblings.
Considered one of Texas’ most distinguished writers, Porter published poetry and stories before joining the editorial staffs of Fort Worth Critic and The Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Colorado. Similar to her contemporary John Cheever, Porter mined her own life for her material: She grew up poor in South Texas despite her Louisianan family once being wealthy and grand. Over the years, Porter’s voice and style inspired other Southern writers, such as Carson McCullers and Flannery O’Connor. This award-winning collection of 19 short and long stories (Porter was known to dislike the word “novella”) offers a comprehensive introduction to her literary virtuosity and prowess.
By John Rechy
Originally published in 1963, this landmark novel captures the grit and hustle of gay street life throughout different cities in the United States. Noted for its stream-of-consciousness style that almost spills onto the page, the narrative chronicles the encounters of the protagonist—only referred to as “youngman” and modeled after Rechy’s own life experience—as he drifts from place to place. In a blurb for the book, James Baldwin noted the novel’s “beautiful recklessness.” Later, the filmmaker Gus Van Sant remarked that this novel inspired him to write and direct My Own Private Idaho. Rechy was born in El Paso and attended Texas Western College (now the University of Texas at El Paso).
By Sarah Hepola
Grand Central Publishing
With this debut memoir, the Dallas-based writer delivers her captivating story of addiction and subsequent recovery with her signature candor, clarity, and flair. New York Times critic Dwight Garner praised: “Ms. Hepola’s electric prose marks her as a flamingo among this genre’s geese. She has direct access to the midnight gods of torch songs, neon signs, tap beer at a reasonable price, cigarettes and untrammeled longing.” Not surprisingly, this memoir became a New York Times bestseller.
By J. S. Kaulfus
This memorable collection showcases nine speculative short stories that explore identity, gender, and sexuality with several of the narratives taking place in Texas. In many of these stories, the mundane melds with measures of magic realism to considerable effect. Falling on the literary continuum of Shirley Jackson and Dan Chaon, Kaulfus deftly examines the in-between spaces of transgender identity, life and death, and other shadow-like places of transition and transformation. Each story underscores a kind of unspoken—and in some cases, spoken—tension, loneliness, and violence.
By Jia Tolentino
Tolentino has made a name for herself as a skilled reporter and staff writer for The New Yorker (and previously as a deputy editor of Jezebel) as she reports on the cultural riptides of today’s society. She forces both herself and her readers to stare at themselves unapologetically in the mirror. In the process, Tolentino manages to tap into a vein of truth and compassion of what it means to be living in today’s social-media-reality-television-driven world. Born and raised in Houston, the author writes masterfully in one of these essays of what it was like to grow up in a mega-church and later find religion under the hallucinatory sway of ecstasy. More than once, critics have referred to Tolentino as the Joan Didion of her time.
By Bret Anthony Johnston
Hurricane gales—and other forces (both natural and human)—rumble through these 10 stories of everyday humanity. Sliding between loneliness and quiet optimism, these portraits—from struggling teens to adults nearing the end of their lives—examine the broken emotional landscapes of the past and present. “On the Gulf Coast, you’re always in a state of flux and vulnerability, and that shows in the way people live their lives,” Johnston once said about his hometown setting in The Atlantic. “It’s a place that reinvents itself almost on a daily basis, especially when a hurricane hits.” Currently the director of the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas, Johnston now lives in Austin.
By Don Delillo
Published in 1988, this ingenious novel recounts the tragic assassination of John F. Kennedy during the parade through Dealey Plaza on the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963, from the troubling point of view of Lee Harvey Oswald. In the novel, the author describes the murder of the president as “the seven seconds that broke the back of the American century.” This book promises to make for a thought-provoking read for individuals who were born after this historical event. Now considered one of the major voices in contemporary American fiction, DeLillo has made frequent appearances in Austin over the years, and his papers are housed at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas.
By Natalia Sylvester
Little A Books
This moving novel details the multigenerational immigrant experience of one family, with characters crossing over from one country to another as well as crossing over from the living to the dead. Isabel’s relationship with her husband’s Mexican American family provides the heart of this narrative. Taken altogether, the novel animates the porous spaces of the past and present, the real and the supernatural, and the before and after of the traumatic border-crossing experience. Born in Lima, Peru, Sylvester now lives in Austin. Everyone Knows You Go Home won the International Latino Book Award.
By Scott Blackwood
Little, Brown and Company. This lyrical, economical novel revisits the horrific Yogurt Shop Murders—which took place in Austin in December 1991—by narrating the traumatic event through short elliptical chapters punctuated by the ghost-like voice of the murdered teenagers. Blackwood writes in the opening chapter: “We have always lived here, though we pretend we’ve just arrived. That’s the trick, to make forgetful shapes with your mouth so everything feels new and unremembered.” For a nonfiction chronicle of these murders, see age 83 for Beverly Lowry’s Who Killed These Girls? The Unsolved Murders That Rocked a Texas Town.
By Manuel Gonzales
These 18 stories are inspired by the extraordinary and the ordinary with laugh-out-loud humor, electric prose, and supernatural surprises. Readers won’t forget Gonzales’ imaginative characters: For example, there is the composer who speaks with his ears (“The Artist’s Voice”) and a man with a shrinking wife (the titular story). And you’ll never experience an end-of-flight delay at DFW the same after reading the sublime “Pilot, Copilot, Writer.” Born in Plano, Texas, to immigrant parents, the author lived in Austin before moving to teach at Bennington College. Gonzales is also the author of the novel The Regional Office Is Under Attack!, which revolves around a subterranean superhero organization and its eccentric constellation of superhuman characters.
By Merritt Tierce
This striking novel charts the self-destructive spiral of a 20-something single mom, Marie, who works long hours as a waitress in a string of Dallas restaurants. The protagonist experiences numerous setbacks that are only compounded by excessive use of drugs and alcohol, promiscuity, and other harmful behaviors. As this fierce narrative careens forward, Marie’s lost baby becomes the center of the story, underscoring the character’s missteps and choices of the past and present. Born and raised in Texas, Tierce now lives in Los Angeles and writes for the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black.
By Susan Choi
A fiction finalist for this year’s National Book Award and the author’s fifth novel, Trust Exercise is set in the early 1980s in a large Southern city (read: Houston) and follows a group of students and teachers at a performing arts high school. What begins as a traditional story unfolds in a triptych-style narrative where the author asks the reader to participate in a kind of meta–trust exercise. Written in bold, lucid prose, Trust Exercise crackles and thrums with its ideas, characters, and inventive structure. Choi grew up in Houston and attended Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts there.
By Antonio Ruiz-Camacho
With this debut collection, the author takes on the timely themes of immigration, ethnicity, and class. The nine stories revolve around the kidnapping of a wealthy patriarch of a large family, José Victoriano Arteaga, in Mexico City, and offer an affecting glimpse into an upper-class Mexican family and how it’s thrown from its homeland to far-flung corners of the country (several of the stories take place in Austin). A favorite is titled “Origami Prunes,” where the daughter of Arteaga meets a young lover at a laundromat in Austin. Born and raised in Toluca, Mexico, Ruiz-Camacho lives with his family in Austin.
By Lacy Johnson
Female essayists are experiencing a renaissance today, thanks to the thought-provoking work of authors such as Eula Biss, Leslie Jamison, and others. A professor at Rice University, Johnson joins the ranks of these astute writers with this collection of essays that explores the challenging dimensions of violence—from sexual violence (the silence of sexual-assault victims) to environmental violence (BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico). In 2014, Johnson published her memoir The Other Side, where she wrote about an ex-boyfriend who kidnapped and raped her. She revisits this trauma with thought-provoking questions about retribution and reckoning.
By Ben Fountain
This propulsive, provocative narrative follows the Bravo Company on a single afternoon of the Cowboys Thanksgiving Day football game in Texas Stadium. Largely told from the perspective of 19-year-old specialist William Lynn, this stunning novel constructs a blistering portrait of America’s zeal for football and battle, the U.S.’s presence in Iraq during George W. Bush’s presidency, and what it means to be a soldier in today’s military. With electric, daring language (sometimes the prose literally appears like confetti on the page), this book will keep you reading from start to finish. Fountain is a longtime resident of Dallas and has taught at the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas.
By Kimberly King Parsons
On the fiction long list for the National Book Award, this fierce collection of 12 stories animates the ache and longing of love, the fumbling of adolescence, and the missteps of marriage. From the simmering interstate highways to the dingy motel rooms, the author writes about the darker pockets of Texas—both its stretches of wildness and industrial wasteland—with vibrancy and honesty. In the opening story, “Guts,” Parsons writes: “When I start dating Tim, an almost-doctor, all of the sick, broken people in the world begin to glow. Light pours from careful limpers in the streets, from the wheezers and wet coughers who stop right in front of me to twist out their lungs.” Born in Lubbock, Parsons will publish her debut novel, The Boiling River (also set in Texas) in 2020.
By Michael Arcenaux
This 2018 collection of essays swiftly became a New York Times bestseller with its humorous, insightful take on growing up black and gay in a Catholic family in Houston. With these pieces, the author offers an honest look at what it means to be a minority and gay in America, and how his beliefs swing from religion to Beyoncé. As the author said in an interview on NPR: “Beyoncé is, as I write in the book, my lord and gyrator—the end, the beginning, the body roll. She’s everything to me.” A good book for fans of David Sedaris and Samantha Irby.
By Stephen Harrigan
University of Texas Press
Published this month to much anticipation, this new 944-page history of the Lone Star State provides an excellent perspective on its rich history with a wider, more diverse lens. For example, Harrigan includes stories from lesser-known historical figures, such as Emma Tenayuca (the great civil rights leader) and Norma McCorvey (“Jane Roe” in Roe vs. Wade). A veteran journalist of Texas Monthly and an author of six novels and four nonfiction books, Harrigan brings his exceptional talents for storytelling and reporting to this volume that promises to educate—and entertain—many about the complexities of this rich and storied state.
By Eileen Myles
In recent years, Texas has claimed poet/writer Eileen Myles as one of its own since she began dividing her time between Marfa and the Lower East Side in Manhattan. Praised by The New York Times as “one of the essential voices of American poetry,” Myles brilliantly explores a variety of public and personal subjects—from Quakers to queerness—with her signature voice and vision. The poet Natalie Diaz wrote of Evolution: “These poems do not decenter the body in exchange for engaging politics; instead they engage the body politic, which here is inescapably against the state.” For readers looking to sample Myles’ stripped-down, radiant prose, her seminal, semiautobiographical novel, Chelsea Girls, is a great place to start.
By William Goyen
Triquarterly Books, Fiftieth Anniversary Edition
First published in 1950, this lyrical, groundbreaking novel recollects a specific language and landscape of East Texas. In the literary vein of Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner, the author steers away from conventional plot and scenes, and immerses the reader in the ethereal memories of small-town Texas. More than a novel, this bold meditation explores identity, family origins, sexuality, memory, and the erosion of time on one’s life. Goyen was born in Trinity, and later resided in Taos, New Mexico.
By Larry McMurtry
Simon & Schuster
This 1985 Western masterpiece is likely the one title that will show up on everyone’s Texas book lists. A favorite among Texans and non-Texans, Lonesome Dove chronicles a band of famous retired Texas Rangers and their epic adventures in driving cattle from Texas to Montana during the 1880s. The novel became a bestseller and won the Pulitzer Prize. The 1989 miniseries—starring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall—generated even more fans for this cult-like novel. Originally, the screenplay was written by McMurtry and Peter Bogdanovich (who directed The Last Picture Show), but the project languished for 12 years before it was eventually adapted as a television series by Bill Wittliff, who passed this year and is considered a cultural gem of Texas. He and his wife, Sally, founded The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University.
By George Saunders
Born in Amarillo (he continued to visit his grandparents there into his 20s), Saunders has elevated himself as one of America’s greatest living writers, with his zany, often disturbing, short stories and other prose. Echoing Kurt Vonnegut and Nathaniel West, Saunders’ stories bring together linguistic invention with startling characters and surreal circumstances. For example, in this collection, “The Semplica Girl Diaries” is a kind of dystopian domestic comedy, where a father tries to keep up with his neighbors by hoisting up women from third-world countries like yard ornaments. It’s strange, unsettling, and thought provoking in the very best way.
By Donna Johnson
This tender, poignant memoir recounts the author’s childhood, when her mother, an organist, followed and worked for tent revivalist David Terrell in the rural backwaters of the South. Soon, her family becomes a part of the preacher’s inner circle, and while Terrell remained married to his wife, the author’s mother secretly gave birth to two children with the preacher. Through vivid scenes of exorcisms, speaking-in-tongues experiences, and encounters with the Ku Klux Klan, Johnson brings to life this specific period and place. The author lives in Austin, and frequently offers workshops for other creative nonfiction writers.
By Brené Brown
With over 1 million copies sold, this self-help book provides a transformative roadmap for individuals looking for a new way of life. With a unique combination of down-to-earth storytelling and clinical research, the Houston author gives her readers clear steps and tips for understanding the physiology of their own vulnerability. Brown’s Ted Talk about the “power of vulnerability” has become one of the most popular Ted Talks of all time, with more than 50 million views. Recently, Brown launched a Netflix special inspired by her message. Indeed, this title is the perfect book for the reader who is on the verge of 50.
By Julie Wernersbach and Carolyn Tracy
University of Texas Press
A brisk swim will do wonders to remind one of her or his youthful days of summer where time seems to never end and the sun continues to shimmer. Organized by region, this resourceful guide provides comprehensive information—complete with color photographs—about 100 scenic swimming holes around the state. There is nothing like a dip into a remote swimming hole to cool off from our summer temperatures, and then during the winter months, a swim can have an equally refreshing effect.
By Ire’ne Lara Silva
Saddle Road Press
This accomplished writer and poet insightfully examines what is commonly referred to as the herida abierta, or the open wound that is the U.S.-Mexico borderlands and the healing needed for the individuals struggling to find new homes in new places. These beautiful poems are particularly poignant, given the escalating crisis on our border, giving a critical voice—and song—to where we need to look and listen. Silva is from Edinburg and currently lives in Austin.
By Billy Lee Brammer
University of Texas Press, reprint edition
The first sentence of this famous Texas tome—an interlinking series of three novellas—begins: “The country is barbarously large and final. It is too much country—boondock country—alternately drab and dazzling, spectral and remote. It is so wrongfully muddled and various that it is difficult to conceive of it all of a piece.” Over the years, Brammer’s novel has become something of an institution among Texans with its carnival-like portrayal of politicians during the 1950s. Brammer served as an aide to Lyndon Johnson and tapped into his firsthand experience in order to animate this particular world in all of its contradictory glory in this cult classic. See Karen Olsson’s Waterloo for a contemporary updating on this story (age 25).
Tomlinson Hill: The Remarkable Story of Two Families That Share the Tomlinson Name—One Black, One White
By Chris Tomlinson
Thomas Dunne Books
A columnist for The Houston Chronicle and a former war correspondent for the Associated Press (mostly in Africa, covering the end of apartheid and the Rwandan genocide), Tomlinson turns his reporting and writing skills onto his own familial history with this compelling examination of the plantation (of the title) that his ancestors built in Falls County, Texas, in 1850s as way to understand both the past and present. As a part of his exhaustive research, the journalist tracks down the descendants of the slaves who kept the Tomlinson name after they were freed. In the process, he discovers that former NFL running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who wrote the introduction to the book, is a descendant of a Tomlinson Hill slave.
By Cormac McCarty
The fifth novel by McCarthy features “the kid” as he drifts westward and eventually joins the vicious Glanton Gang, a band of scalp hunters who murdered Apaches and others along the U.S.–Mexico borderlands during the mid-1850s. Less conventional than All the Pretty Horses, this later novel makes for a more challenging read, but the author juxtaposes his trademark lyricism with the brutality of his characters to produce a certain kind of alchemy on the page and many questions for his dedicated readers.
By Paulette Jiles
Finalist for the National Book Award, this economical historical novel takes on epic storytelling proportions as it follows Captain Kidd as he reads headlines in small towns throughout North Texas until he meets Joanna, a 6-year-old girl who was kidnapped and lived with the Kiowa tribe four years earlier. Kidd is charged with the responsibility of returning the girl to a distant relative in San Antonio. What emerges is a tender—and adventurous—portrayal of two strangers relying on each other in surprising ways. Many friends recommended this novel to me, and I realized their praise was fitting: News of the World is an exquisite, perfect novel.
By John Graves
Considered an American classic, this mesmerizing memoir chronicles the author’s farewell canoe excursion—with his dachshund and other supplies—down the Brazos River in north-central Texas before the tributary was dammed in the 1950s. This quiet narrative offers up a timeless meditation on the autumnal landscape, the former inhabitants and scenes of the river, and the ever-changing shades of nature. His trip concluded near Glen Rose, near Fort Worth, where the author would eventually settle until his death in 2013. A compelling read for enthusiasts of John McPhee and Peter Matthiessen, and a good reminder that we’re never too old to float down the river.
By James Michener
Dial Press, reprint edition
Even though Michener was born in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, his name and generosity has become synonymous with Texas (with his extraordinary endowment to the Michener Center for Writers in the early 1990s and then gifting much of his art collection to the Blanton Museum of Art). If you haven’t read any of his 40-plus doorstop tomes, Texas might be a good place to begin. Being a bold and ambitious writer, Michener takes on the entire history of the Lone Star State, with a blend of fiction and fact to tell this complex and expansive story, starting with the 1540 expedition of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado to historic heroes, such as Jim Bowie and Sam Houston.
By Robert Caro
Many consider this monumental book—published in 1982—to be the first political biography of its time. Fastidious and meticulous in his research, Caro successfully depicts the emergence of LBJ in all of his complexities, charisma, and cleverness—from his childhood in the Hill Country to his victory as a congressman and eventually his success of rising onto the national political stage. Caro wrote recently in The New Yorker: “There were about forty thousand boxes, the archivist told me; each had a capacity of eight hundred pages, but, she said, not all of them were completely filled, and some were overfilled. There were thirty-two million pages in all.” Read his brilliant distillations of the archives—and more—in this extraordinary volume.
By Attica Locke
With this author’s second installment of her Highway 59 series (Bluebird, Bluebird was the first), Locke returns to the adventures of Texas Ranger Darren Mathews as he searches for the missing 9-year-old son of a local white supremacist. As she skillfully realizes in her most recent novel, Locke addresses the contemporary race relations through the perspective of this African American Texas Ranger. The author doesn’t shy away from the hard truths while keeping the reader engaged from start to finish. Locke is the recipient of the Texas Writer of the Year 2019. (A special presentation will be made at the Texas Book Festival on Saturday at 2:30pm, House Chamber.) A native of Houston, Locke lives in Los Angeles with her family.
By Shea Serrano
Illustrated by Arthur Torres
Foreword by Reggie Miller
Harry N. Abrams
Chockfull of humor and basketball-centric anecdotes, this graphic narrative offers laughs, entertainment, and even education for hoops fans of all ages. Not surprisingly, this book was one of President Barack Obama’s favorites in 2017. Serrano hails from San Antonio. In an interview with The New York Times, the author said: “I thought I was going to play for the Spurs all the way through high school. Then I stopped growing. I’m only 5-foot-7, and at the time I thought that was tall. For a Mexican, that’s pretty tall.”
By Lawrence Wright
Despite being born in Oklahoma City (like his fellow writer and friend Stephen Harrigan, who is featured in several chapters of this book), Wright has been long associated with the Lone Star State since moving to Abilene as a child and his lengthy tenure as a journalist for Texas Monthly before becoming a staff writer for The New Yorker in 1992. With this impressive tome, Wright delivers a wide-ranging primer on the history of Texas for outsiders and insiders alike while reflecting on the darker shadows of his own family’s history (some of his ancestors fought for the Confederate). NPR called the book “essential reading for everyone.”
By Molly Ivins
Before and after her untimely death to breast cancer in 2007, Molly Ivins has been revered as one of the Texas’ best columnist with her skewering commentary on its political scene, George W. Bush, and other myriad topics. During the past few years, many have inquired, “What would Molly Ivins say in response to the current state of our nation?” Though we will never know, readers can revisit her signature, incisive, uninhabited voice with this collection of her writings.
By Philipp Meyer
Published in 2013 by a graduate of the Michener Center of Writers, this well-crafted narrative is a frequent entry in best novels about Texas. With a vast cast of characters of six generations and spanning 200 years, Meyer successfully invokes the spirit of Texas—and its history—through every aspect of his engaging novel. Readers experience all of this through the narrative lens of the McCullough family as they move through massacres, land grabs, and other adventures. If you enjoy this novel, check out Meyer’s debut novel, American Rust, which also demonstrates the author’s command for lyrical prose and brutal violence at the same time.
Edited by Dagoberto Gilb
University of New Mexico Press
With almost 100 selections chosen, this anthology offers a deep read into the state’s talented writers of Mexican American descent—from Jovita González and Angela de Hoyos to younger writers, such as Christine Granados and Erasmo Guerra. Beyond illuminating the importance of these voices, Gilb also presents a rich mosaic of the state’s literary community that is not always recognized. The editor is the writer-in-residence at the University of Houston–Victoria as well as the executive director of CentroVictoria, a center for Mexican American Literature and Culture. If readers are interested in reading Gilb’s own fiction, pick up his memorable story collection titled Before the End, After the Beginning.
By James Magnuson
This comical romp takes readers inside the renowned Michener Center and the famous author (see age 57). Written by the former director of the Michener Center, Magnuson delivers a humorous takedown of the MFA world when a deceptive schemer, Frankie Abandonato, disguises himself as a recluse writer (think J.D. Salinger) and encounters a wealthy literary lion (read: a fictional version of Michener). Amid the madness, the sympathetic narrative tells an honest story about what it means a writer and where the characters end up discovering unexpected friendship and the freedom of creative expression.
By Sarah Bird
University of Texas Press
In her first collection of nonfiction that encompasses over four decades of work, Bird shows off her wit and wisdom on subjects ranging from motherhood to making Texas her adopted home. The author of 10 novels, this Austin-based writer is a favorite among Texas readers for her comical deliver, polished prose, and poignant calls to action. After reading these entertaining essays, a reader might feel like she’s put in a satisfying visit with an old friend. Bird’s many accolades include induction into the Texas Hall of Fame.
By Elmer Kelton
Inspired by true events, when one of the longest droughts struck West Texas in the 1950s, this 1973 Western novel centers on a hardscrabble rancher named Charlie Flagg who refuses allotments from the government for his dying cattle and sheep. As the long days of the drought persist in the fictional town of Rio Seco, Flagg and his family’s circumstances grow direr. This main character—in all of his stubbornness and perseverance—certainly reflects a fictional version of what many consider the true Texas spirit.
By Francisco Cantú
The grandson of a Mexican immigrant and the son of a mother who works as a ranger in the Guadalupe Mountains, Cantú decided to become a border cop, working along the dusty stretches of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Through his four years of firsthand experience, the author depicts a border of brutality (where water bottles and other containers are slashed so migrants have no water) with fleeting moments of compassion for frightened border crossers.
By Stephen Harrigan
This 2000 bestselling novel is popular among many Texas readers. Throughout the narrative, Harrigan brings to life one of the most epic stories of the Alamo from both sides—the Texans and the Mexicans—through his rotating cast of characters. The results of the author’s skillful storytelling and exhaustive research offer up an authentic wide-angle perspective—without casting judgment on one faction or the other. This gripping novel will also provide another way to understand one of the most critical battles in the state’s history. (For endurance readers, a good companion to this novel: Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas, age 43.)
By Naomi Shihab Nye
This title is the latest poetry collection from San Antonio’s beloved writer Naomi Shihab Nye, who inspires writers and people of all walks with her wisdom, kindness, and unending generosity. Janna Jihad Ayyad—a self-proclaimed journalist at the age of 7 and a child of Palestine—is both the book’s namesake and its language in a way. Throughout the poems (and often through Janna’s own words), Shihab Nye delivers the wisdom and hope that is often found in the pure words and innocent minds of children. The poet challenges her readers and invites them to participate in a powerful conversation that revolves around the suffering of others.
By Skip Hollandsworth
This sweeping crime thriller traces the unsolved murders by a serial killer who stalked the streets of Austin in 1884–85. First the victims were African Americans (all female domestic servants), but then the killer mutilated two prominent white women within an hour of each other. More than a century later, this violent series of events—and the arrests and accusations that followed—speaks to the ongoing tragedy of black individuals becoming the victims of a racist system.
By J. Frank Dobie
Introduction by Dayton O. Hyde
University of Nebraska Press
A rare combination of scholar and storyteller, Dobie worked as the editor of the Texas Folklore Society and wrote more than 17 books about rural Texas and Southwestern life. His house serves as the location of today’s Michener Center for Writers on the northern edge of UT’s campus. (In addition, the author’s ranch in its natural state provides the space and time for the Dobie-Paisano Fellowship.) This book is a wonderful introduction into the naturalist’s voice and vision as he writes about the plains and the majestic animals that used to run free along its open spaces.
By Denis Johnson
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, this excellent short novel tells the story of Robert Grainer, a day laborer in the Idaho Panhandle in 1893. The prose is spare, tender, and heartbreaking all at once, as the protagonist moves through a bare landscape of loss. During his lifetime, Johnson became an honorary Texan with his years of teaching at the Michener Center and later at Texas State. Despite his early death at age 67, his boundless spirit and inspiration lives on. Younger readers might enjoy Johnson’s masterpiece Jesus’ Son, a story cycle about a drug-addled drifter. The author’s papers are archived at the Harry Ransom Center. Visitors can request to view a video of the author reading “The Other Man,” one of his stories from Jesus’ Son, or even the prosthetic eye that Johnson wore in his cameo of the film version of his seminal story collection.
By Roy Bedichek
University of Texas Press, reprint edition
An instant classic since its initial publication in 1947, this nonfiction collection of essays charts the curiosities, musings, and other observations of one of Texas’ most beloved naturalists, Roy Bedichek. Born in Illinois in 1878, the author moved with his family to the community of Eddy in Falls County, in 1884. As he grew older, Bedichek developed a passion for nature, and though he had no formal training, the author became an expert naturalist. Inspired by Henry David Thoreau and his stay at Walden Pond, Bedichek took a yearlong leave in 1946, resided at a ranch outside of Austin, and wrote this thought-provoking book.
By Jan Jarboe Russell
Considered the definitive biography of Lady Bird Johnson, this book illuminates the monumental life and accomplishments of the First Lady as well as her complicated marriage to President Johnson. The San Antonio-based author had the opportunity to interview Lady Bird extensively for this book, providing a significant degree of intimacy and insight in the narrative. This biography could be paired with Caro’s opus about LBJ (age 58) as a sort of corrective to his narrative, demonstrating how much the first lady accomplished and how she managed to move out of her husband’s shadow.
By T. R. Fehrenbach
Da Capo Press
Published in 1968, this book has long been considered the canonical text about Texas history, and has been read in classrooms throughout the state. Given when the 700-plus-page book was written, it offers a singular perspective on the state’s complex history of enduring legends and heroes. During a recent interview that I wrote for the December 2019 issue of Texas Highways, Stephen Harrigan admitted to me that when he was writing his own history of Texas (see age 43), he abstained from reading Fehrenbach’s tome. “I decided to avoid his book while researching because it’s an imposing book and it has a very imposing voice and I didn’t want his very intoxicating voice to infiltrate mine.”
By Bud Shrake and Harvey Penick
Simon & Schuster
The New York Times called this book “the golfer’s equivalent of The Elements of Style,” a sort of required reading for any player learning the game. At age 8, Penick began his golfing career as a caddie in Austin. He went on to coach at the University of Texas for 30 years, and then worked with many of golf’s notable champions. “Once you address the ball, hitting it to the desired target must be the only thing in your life,” Penick wrote in the book. “Allow no negative thoughts, and focus on your goal.”
By Oscar Cásares
Back Bay Books
Using his hometown as the central character for this collection, Casares skillfully portrays this border town with his memorable constellation of characters struggling against the larger forces of poverty, racism, domestic violence, and other issues. In the literary spirit of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio and James Joyce’s Dubliners, the author demonstrates how a specific place can hold—and shape—its people. Casares teaches creative writing at the University of Texas. His most recent novel, Where We Come From, also examines life and tragedy at the border in spare, naturalistic prose.
By Walter Prescott Webb
University of Nebraska Press
Born in 1888 in rural Panola County in East Texas, Webb was a child of the Great Plains and made the American West frontier his life’s work of scholarship and writing. Published in 1931, this classic nonfiction narrative describes the open plains of the West and its local inhabitants, and was considered a breakthrough text in terms of its historical interpretation of the region. (The book was a part of Webb’s dissertation for his doctorate degree from the University of Texas.) As the president of the Texas State Historical Association, Webb established a project that later produced the seminal, encyclopedic Handbook of Texas.
By Rick Bass
Southern Methodist University
Part love story, part philosophical musings, and part geology primer, this exquisite, unassuming memoir melds together these unlikely elements into a powerful narrative. Structured in the form of journal entries (likely written during the author’s lunch breaks when he worked as a geologist), the prose is economical and beautiful, and chronicles a personal journey through specific landscapes during a bright time of romantic love. Born in Fort Worth and raised in Houston, Bass worked as a petroleum geologist before becoming a full-time writer.
By Melissa del Bosque
A former reporter for The Texas Observer and a current journalist for ProPublica, del Bosque provides an in-depth look at money laundering, horse-racing, the drug cartels of Mexico, and the FBI agents who are attempting to crack the case that keeps eluding them. (FBI agent Alma Perez is one of the standout characters.) This fast-paced crime story makes for a compelling, educational read that allows the reader a front-row seat to this covert, dangerous world.
By Edwin “Bud” Shrake
John M. Hardy Publishing Company
This lesser-known novel penned by one of Texas’ favorite sportswriters tells the story about an actor who quits his role on a television series (the show is aptly named Six Guns Across Texas) in order to return to his hometown of Dallas and make a documentary about the truth about the Big D. In the process, he encounters the underworld of drugs and arms smuggling. Writer Don Graham once told Texas Monthly: “When anybody asks me what Dallas was like during the time of the Kennedy assassination, I always refer them to one book: Edwin ‘Bud’ Shrake’s Strange Peaches.”
By Beverly Lowry
On Dec. 6, 1991, in Austin, the bodies of four teenage girls were incinerated and left on the floor of a frozen yogurt shop, each with a bullet in their head. Through numerous interviews and exhaustive reporting, Lowry reconstructs the harrowing mystery of these still unsolved crimes without being able to land on a definitive theory of what happened that night. Having lost her own son in a hit-and-run accident, the author understood the ongoing nightmare that the victims’ parents endured. Lowry is a longtime fixture in the Austin literary community and has served as president of the Texas Institute of Letters. For a fictional companion to this read, check out Scott Blackwood’s See How Small (age 34).
By Edna Ferber
Ferber’s 1952 epic unfurls the story of the Benedict family in West Texas (with much of the novel inspired by a visit to the King Ranch in 1927). When the novel was first published, many readers found it scandalous with the author’s cartoon-like depictions of the characters and their close-minded attitudes. The Houston Press went as far to say that Ferber should be lynched. Thankfully, attitudes have changed, and Ferber’s novel is now embraced by many readers. In fact, dedicated fans often make the pilgrimage to Marfa to stay at the Hotel Paisano where many of the stars—James Dean (his final role), Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson—stayed during the shooting of the 1956 movie. To learn more about the making of the movie, readers can pick up Don Graham’s Giant.
By Douglas Brinkley
Published on the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, this nonfiction book meticulously charts President Kennedy’s 1961 proclamation of putting the first man on the moon—and the immense work of the men and women of the space program who made this landmark event possible. Through a wealth of interviews and research, the award-winning historian and journalist offers a comprehensive view on all that took place leading up to historic liftoff. Brinkley is currently a professor of history at Rice University.
By Joe R. Lansdale
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
The author of more than 30 novels, Lansdale follows a brother and sister after they discover the mutilated body of a black prostitute in the bottomlands of the Sabine River. They take it upon themselves to solve the crime. Soon, two other bodies are discovered, but when a corpse of a white prostitute surfaces, a mob takes to the streets for revenge. Set in East Texas during the Depression, this Edgar Award–winning novel gives the reader an authentic look at this area and the injustices that existed at the time. The author currently lives in Nacogdoches with his family.
By Estela Portillo-Trambley
In 1975, Estella Portillo-Trambley became the first Chicana author to publish a collection of stories in the United States. The nine short stories, as well as one novella, focus on female characters and the challenges they often experience in a male-dominated society with its unyielding traditions. With several of these stories, the author transports her characters to other countries, such as France and Spain, in order to underscore the universality of this experience. Portillo-Trambley was born to Mexican immigrant parents in El Paso and taught high school English there before devoting her time to writing.
By Julia Heaberlin
The 24-year-old narrator of this psychological thriller has spent the past 12 years trying to determine what happened to her older sister who disappeared. Through her sleuthing, she concludes that the primary suspect is a 61-year documentary filmmaker suffering from dementia. She manages to release him from his halfway house for a cross-country road trip to solve the mystery. A journalist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Dallas Morning News, Heaberlin grew up in Texas and lives with her family near Dallas-Fort Worth.
By Glenn Frankel
John Ford’s masterful 1956 adaption of The Searchers (a novel by Alan LeMay) became one of the classics of American cinema. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Frankel takes the reader behind the scenes of this film while revisiting the origin story of Cynthia Ann Parker and how, in 1836, she was abducted at age 9 by Comanches after they slaughtered her family. Most readers know the second half of this story when Parker is recaptured 24 years later and her grown son transforms into the mythic warrior leader of the Comanche Nation. Despite its caricatures of Native Americans, The Searchers became an important point of reference for many contemporary directors, such as George Lucas and Martin Scorsese.
By Tomás Rivera
This bilingual edition is made up of 14 stories and 13 vignettes about a community of migrant workers in South Texas from about 1945 to 1955. Many of these short narratives depict the harrowing work conditions and discrimination that migrant agricultural laborers faced (and still encounter today). This collection was one of the first books to draw the attention of a wider-reading public by a Mexican American author during the early 1970s. Rivera was born in Crystal City to parents who were migrant workers, and he was a worker himself until he completed junior college.
By Carrie Fountain
This debut collection put Fountain on the proverbial map as a gifted poet to read and watch. Many of these poems explore the author’s complicated familial roots in New Mexico through the lyrical lens of honesty and humor. Poet Tony Hoagland said of the collection: “Her work reminds me of the poems of Marie Howe and of Brigit Kelly; like them, Fountain is a seeker, and like them, she holds herself to the rigorous standards of observation and deduction that make spiritual intelligence convincing.” Last year, Fountain, who lives with her family in Austin, served as the State Poet Laureate of Texas.
By Annie Proulx
Though this author is better known for her famous short story set in Wyoming (“Brokeback Mountain”) and her novel in Newfoundland (The Shipping News), Proulx takes on the setting of small-town Texas and other locales in Oklahoma and Colorado. In this short narrative, Dollar Bob struggles to find footing for himself as an outsider. Similar to her other works, Proulx’s attention to details and landscape transport the reader into this specific world.
By Larry L. King
Published in 1971, this book discusses the weighty topic of the role of white supremacy in our country. In the wake of the tragedy of white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, this critical piece of narrative nonfiction still remains pertinent to the heated issues and questions we find ourselves confronted with today. King made a name as a journalist for Harper’s when Willie Morris was the editor of the magazine. King is perhaps best known for his Tony Award–nominated play The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
By John Phillip Santos
A finalist for the National Book Award, this memoir artfully examines Santos’ family with his grandfather’s suicide that occurred in 1939 at the heart of his haunting story. Both a personal journey and an elegy, this narrative provides readers with an intimate glimpse into the enchantment of Mexican American culture. The author was born and raised in San Antonio, and was the first Mexican American Rhodes Scholar. His writings on Latino culture have appeared in many major newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.
By H. Joaquin Jackson and David Marion Wilkinson
University of Texas Press
When his image appeared on the cover of Texas Monthly in February 1994, Jackson transformed into something of a mythical icon. In this adventure-driven memoir, the Texas Ranger reflects on his 27-year career where he was assigned a large swath of territory along the border—and encountered a dizzying range of the chaos and crimes. For anyone who is interested in learning more about what it takes to be a Ranger, this powerful memoir will provide those answers—and more. Jackson passed away at his home in Alpine in 2016.
By Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa
Aunt Lute Books
A scholar of Chicana cultural theory, feminist theory, and queer theory, Anzaldúa writes about her life growing up along the border while examining the condition and roles of women in the Chicano and Latin cultures. The second half of the book is made up of poetry, where the author employs six variations of Spanish so readers can begin to understand the challenges—and barriers—of language that Anzaldúa experienced as a child. The author’s papers are housed in the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas.
By Dan Rather with Digby Diehl
This memoir covers much of the highlights and lowlights of Rather’s illustrious career, including his own defense of his departure from CBS News that revolved around his reporting of George W. Bush’s service record with the Texas Air National Guard. The narrative delivers a kind of manifesto of institutional misconduct in addition to the importance of a truly free press. Rather’s roots run deep in Texas. Born in Wharton County, he attended Sam Houston State University, and his first job in journalism was as an Associated Press reporter in Huntsville. Despite what transpired at the end of his career, this reflection delivers the complexities and courage of an extraordinary journalist.
By S. C. Gwynne
A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and a New York Times bestseller, this engaging narrative interweaves two epic stories—the rise and fall of the Comanches and the aforementioned story of Cynthia Ann Parker and her son Quanah. Gwynne skillfully portrays the battles and bloodshed, and in the process, brings deeper meaning and understanding to this remarkable era of Texas history while redefining the prominent role of Native American tribes in the state’s making. The author is the former executive editor of Texas Monthly and lives in Austin with his wife.
By Victor Emanuel with S. Kirk Walsh
University of Texas Press
Emanuel is considered one of the foremost birders in the country with his expertise for identifying birds and success of his tour company that takes travelers to observe birds all over the world. In this autobiography and travelogue, readers learn how Emanuel’s passion emerged as a young teen and then transported him to far-flung locations for rare sightings, such as the King Penguins in Antarctica and the cranes of Asia. (Disclaimer: I collaborated with Emanuel on the writing and research of this memoir.)
By Gabriel García Márquez
Harper Perennial Modern Classic
Published in 1967, this masterpiece of a novel chronicles the multigenerational story of the Buendía family in Macondo, a fictional town in Colombia. The elegant, seamless narrative sets the standard for magic realism in contemporary literature. Estimated to have worldwide sales upwards of 50 million copies, Márquez’s novel is perhaps the most widely read Latin American novel of all time. In 2014, the Harry Ransom Center in Austin acquired the papers of the Nobel Prize-winning author. Visitors can view his original manuscripts, notes, photographs, scrapbooks, and more (over 27,000 documents have been digitized so interested readers can visit the archive remotely). A life—and an extraordinary body of work—that is always worth revisiting.