Two New Books Take Readers Back To 1950s Texas

Don Graham recounts the history of the classic Texas film “Giant.” Austin author Varian Johnson’s novel tells the story of mysterious treasure hidden under a Texas town.

By Laura RiceMarch 28, 2018 1:32 pm| ,

Books are like little time machines. They can transport you to a different time and place.

Clay Smith, Editor in Chief of Austin-based Kirkus Reviews, highlights two books that take readers back to the 1950’s.

The first is a book about a classic Texas film. It’s called “Giant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber and the Making of a Legendary American Film.” The author is Don Graham, an English professor at University of Texas at Austin.

“It’s a really detailed, sort of witty account, of the making of the movie,” Smith says.

The book describes the tensions between the film’s cast, both on and off camera. Carol Baker, an actress in the film, likened the environment to high school, complete with cliques and social climbing. Two of the films male leads had a particularly contentious relationship.

“This is apparently because Rock Hudson made a move on James Dean,” Smith says. “It also could be because James Dean was a major method actor. His character in the movie, is a total jerk.”

Smith says Graham’s book has lots to offer those who are familiar with the film, and newcomers alike.

“His level of detail in this book is really beautiful,” Smith says. “You go away from this book knowing so much, not just about “Giant,” but about how films were made at that time.”

Austin author Varian Johnson‘s middle-grade novel (recommended for children aged 8-12) is called “The Parker Inheritance.” It’s set in contemporary times, but at its heart, the book a mystery that dates back to the 1950s.

The novel tells the story of a young girl whose grandmother is a city manager in the American south. The grandmother is disgraced after digging up a tennis court searching for a mysterious treasure. After the grandmother passes away, the girl takes up the quest to find the treasure and clear her grandmother’s name. The novel incorporates themes of racism and racial tension to tell a unique story, Smith says.

“He does a great job with it,” Smith says. “I just love the way he subverted the typical kid’s book.”

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.

Written by Jeremy Steen.