Tuesday, August 30, 2011

30 More Days Book Challenge: Day 21

Day 21:  Favorite Book By a Texan or About Texas


Unlike our good friend (and part-time lover) Liz, I am not a Texan. [And I am not Gianna's part-time lover.] I’ve lived in Austin for over a decade but….Texans are pretty strict so as far as anyone here is concerned, I am a northerner. On that subject, I suspect anything over three drinks and Liz’s East Texas accent makes a big appearance. [Wouldn't you like to know.]

You really cannot talk about Texas literature without mentioning The Gay Place by Billy Lee Brammer. This novel (it is actually made up of three novellas) captures Texas politics in all its glory – think All the Kings Men with an LBJ-like character at the center. The Gay Place is a true classic that would inspire a generation of writers.

I thought this favorite would be easy, a slam dunk. But then I started putting real thought into it – I mean when you have to choose between Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy (the battle of the Mc’s). I finally decided on The Border Trilogy by McCarthy over The Last Picture Show because I am going to write about McMurtry’s book later.

All the Pretty Horses was the first Cormac book I read, and if you’ve read him then you understand when I tell you I immediately read pretty much everything he had written to that point. The plot of Horses is filled with romanticism, which is very different than his previous or most recent work (although Horses certainly is dark as well). In 1950’s Texas a teenager learns that after the death of his grandfather their ranch will be sold. Rather than move into town, he convinces his best friend to travel with him via horseback to Mexico where they attempt to get work as cowboys. Things don’t go as planned.

Please put the movie out of your head – Cormac McCarthy is one of a handful of truly great American writers. I think it is safe to say that you will never find him on a list of overrated writers. I hope you will give All the Pretty Horses a chance; I feel pretty confident that you will go on to read The Crossing and Cities of the Plain to complete The Border Trilogy.

Yes, I was born in Texas, but most Texans seem to think I'm from New England or Midwest.  I don't correct them.  I'm not a rah-rah "Texas is the greatest place in the universe" type of person.  And for the record, this topic was Gianna's idea.  That said, I have read a number of Texas books, both fiction and non. Gianna and I had decided on the topic in advance and I had a book in my head that I planned to select...and then I read what Gianna emailed me and realized that for the first time in this challenge we'd picked the same book: All the Pretty Horses
I stumbled onto McCarthy.  My boyfriend at the time read lots of Texas-themed books, but mostly the naturalists.  I found myself over at his apartment one night without reading material, and one of the few novels he owned that I hadn't yet read was All the Pretty Horses.  I picked it up, and I kept reading.  (By the way, one of the things we shared, the two of us, was that we could spend an evening reading in the same room.  This is a must for me--somehow I'm guessing that the convicts Gianna suggests for future Liz companions wouldn't be able to be still in a room and read.  Or, you know, in general, be able to read.)  This is a literary adventure story of the first order. 
I do think that West Texas and East Texas books are two distinct regional genres, however, and for that reason I would also like to give a shout-out to Rodney Crowell's Chinaberry Sidewalks.  Crowell, best known for his songwriting and country music career, wrote a brilliant, poetic memoir about growing up in '50's Houston and East Texas.  Hurricanes, family violence, music, and coming of age--this is a great read and a great addition to the Texas canon.  I can't stress enough how strong the writing is; Crowell is a wordsmith.  He's also the type of guy with whom you want to have drinks and then just listen to him spin stories.

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