Five Books That Capture Houston’s Spirit

There’s something about Houston – and these five books encapsulate its soul.

By Texas StandardJanuary 4, 2016 10:50 am

Here at the Standard we’re a big fan of books. Especially if they have anything to do with the Lone Star state. In the coming weeks, we’re taking a literary tour of Texas. First up: the largest city in the state, Houston.

Ben Rybeck of Brazos Book Store in Houston says what his top five books about the Bayou City have in common isn’t only their sense of place.

“They all say something about who we are as Houstonians,” he says. “I think that one of the things that any list of books set in Houston… simply shows the breadth of the city and that Houston is a place that’s constantly redefining itself and constantly sort of inviting new cultural influences in.”

Here’s Rybeck’s top five list, and what he has to say about it.

5. Pleasantville by Attica Locke

“Attica Locke, the author, she’s best known at this point for being one of the writers on the show Empire. But before that she grew up in Houston. In her novel she often returns to the city. Pleasantville in particular is a legal thriller that’s set in one of Houston’s oldest African-American communities.”

4. Friendswood by René Steinke

“René Steinke, another Houstonian, she grew up in Friendswood and with this book she returns to her hometown. Friendswood takes its basis from the true story of the Brio Superfunds site, which was a chemical waste problem that happened out in the Houston suburbs and really wreaked havoc on the population out there.

“René Steinke looks at this tragedy up close, following some people in the town of Friendswood and the surrounding areas. What this book really captures is the sprawl of Houston as the suburbs grow ever wider around us.”

3. Run, Brother, Run by David Berg

“David Berg is a Houston lawyer. He’s lived here for a very long time and Run, Brother, Run is really a fantastic true crime story that tells about David Berg’s brother who was murdered by actor Woody Harrelson’s father. What this story does is, while sort of telling this gripping tale of true crime, it also acts as an alternate history to Houston. It’s set in the 1960s and what it does is it shows the rise of the city through that period.”

2. The Martian by Andy Weir

“A lot of people know it as the basis for the movie, of course. It’s the story of NASA’s efforts to bring a man home from Mars. NASA is so woven into Houston’s fabric. So it seems like you gotta pick something that does that and kind of covers that, and this is a very optimistic take on it.”

1. All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers by Larry McMurtry

“[McMurtry] is really one of the foremost cataloguers of Houston…. He wrote [the book] in the early ’70s. It’s about a young writer in Houston who actually takes leave of the city and sets out for California. What’s special about this book is it captures the transient nature of Houston’s population, but it also captures the way that some people can never truly leave Bayou City.”