I’m not an expert on many things, but when it comes to judging the quality of Texas literature, or Texana as it is called, I am as confident as a bronc rider still upright at seven seconds. That last second of the eight is reserved for humility. Chance needs scant time to have one spittin’ up dirt.
So I decided I would take my chances and prepare a list of good Texas books you might want to tackle in the coming year. Each book is tied to the month that will perhaps enhance your reading of it.
January – “The Tacos of Texas“
This has been a best-seller in Texas (and beyond) this past year. By January 3 your New Year’s resolutions will be somewhat less resolute. When that time comes, you will want tacos. And the tacos will give you strength for a fine year of reading ahead.
February – “The Son“
To my mind, this is the best Texas novel since Lonesome Dove. It was first runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in 2014 and the miniseries will air on AMC in 2017 – starring Pierce Brosnan. So binge read it first so you can binge watch it later. And you will have the advantage of saying, somewhat snobbishly, “I read the book and the book is way better.”
March – “Miles and Miles of Texas“
Just in time for your Spring Break trip is this magnificent book on the history of Texas roads and how they got built. The original mission of the Texas Highway Department was to “get the farmer out of the mud.” Obviously, they went far beyond that goal to succeed in building a state of superhighways. Let’s not talk about I-35.
April – “Lonesome Dove“
Cattle drives in Texas typically began in the spring. So this is a good time to read or re-read Lonesome Dove. This is the Iliad of Texas. If you haven’t read this Pulitzer Prize winning literary treasure, it’s time. Gus and Call are waiting for you. Let’s “head ‘em up and move ‘em out.”
May – “Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, the Man Who Killed Bonnie and Clyde“
He killed them in May actually. Hollywood made Hamer out to be the bad guy, but as is often the case, they were seduced by myth and got it wrong. I like what the Dallas Morning News says about this book: “Frank Hamer’s is perhaps the last great story of the American West to be told… Well, Hollywood? Now you have the book, so go make the movie.”
June -“Issac’s Storm“
For the start of Hurricane season, read Isaac’s Storm, the best-selling history of the killer hurricane that devastated Galveston in 1906. The Washington Post says that Erik Larson’s book is, “Gripping … the Jaws of hurricane yarns.”
July – “Empire of the Summer Moon“
This book tells the story of the last years of the Comanche Nation and how Quanah Parker and his warriors were never militarily defeated. The New York Times says it “will leave blood and dust on your jeans.”
August – “The Time it Never Rained“
The story of the West Texas rancher, Charlie Flagg, who survived the greatest drought in modern Texas history.
September – “Friday Night Lights“
For the beginning of football season, read the book that launched the popular series. And if you have read it already, go for “The Last Picture Show” instead, which is also anchored in Texas football culture.
October – “All the Pretty Horses“
Once you’re in, go ahead and read the whole border trilogy.
November – “Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans“
As the days shorten and the nights lengthen, sit by the fire and read T.R. Fehrenbach’s take on Texas history.
December – “The Big Rich“
As you begin worrying about presents and money, it is an ideal time to read the rags to riches stories of Texas oil men like H.L. Hunt and Roy Cullen. These were men who were, for their time, among the absolute richest in the world. They knew how to spend money and to play on a scale few have ever known. It will inspire your Christmas shopping, make you want to play poker for oil leases, buy sprawling ranches, and purchase your own Texas island.
There’s not a lot of romance in these books. There is a lot of tough love, though. And that’s good. If you don’t get tough love early in life it’s hard to find lasting love later.
So there you go. Print this out and put it on the fridge. Happy reading.
W.F. Strong is a Fulbright Scholar and professor of Culture and Communication at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. At Public Radio 88 FM in Harlingen, Texas, he’s the resident expert on Texas literature, Texas legends, Blue Bell ice cream, Whataburger (with cheese) and mesquite smoked brisket.