Literary Lone Stars Ten Best Texas Books

The longer I live and

the more I read of the strange and fabulous saga of this state, the more I am obsessed by it. I have the tired eyes and bulging bookcases to prove it. These are the 10 books of and about Texas I treasure most.

* A Texas Cowboy, or Fifteen Years on the Hurricane Deck of a Spanish Cow Pony, Charles A. Siringo (1885). Siringo's life was one great adventure after another -- becoming a cowboy at age 11, going up the Chisholm Trail, hanging out with Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, chasing the Wild Bunch, kicking around the sets of Hollywood westerns during his final years. The first cowboy autobiography and still the best.

* The Longhorns, J. Frank Dobie (1941). Dobie did more -- far more -- than any other individual to preserve and elevate the status of the folklore, history, and literature of the Southwest. Dobie said he had hoped to "reveal the blend made by man, beast, and range." I'd say he succeeded. A classic, magical piece of work with appeal for the cowboy reader and naturalist alike.

* The Texas Rangers, Walter Prescott Webb (1935). In Dobie's estimation, "The beginning, middle, and end of the subject." Actually, it's got holes in it a mile wide and it's slanted as hell. But it's a great read. It's an epic. For balance, readWith His Pistol in His Hand, by Américo Paredes (1958), the story behind the story of "The Ballad of Gregorio Cortéz," the corrido that recounted the 1901 killing of a Texas sheriff by a Mexican ranch hand, making Cortéz a folk hero to the Mexican people of the border country. Paredes also gives some of the dark side of the Texas Rangers saga, or at least another point of view.

* Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy (1985). Dense, horrific, mythic, mystical, Blood Meridian is a fictional history of mercenary adventure, scalp-hunting, massacres, desolation, and gut-shot strangeness. Yet it transports the reader to a time and place that feels both real and remembered. Inspired by the terrific and equally strange autobiography of Sam Chamberlain, My Confession. Yes, fellow Texans, these are the skeletons rattling in your closet.

* The King Ranch, Tom Lea (1957). This history of Captain Richard King's transformation of the Wild Horse Prairie into a ranching empire is lyrically written and lavishly illustrated by Tom Lea, and beautifully designed by Carl Hertzog. Take two men blessed with artistic genius and a grasp of the epic sweep of Texas history, give them a wonderful story like that of the King Ranch, and you have one of the Mona Lisas of books.

* John Selman: Texas Gunfighter, Leon Metz (1964). Best known as the killer of Texas' deadliest gunfighter, John Wesley Hardin, Selman had neither the scruffy appeal of Billy the Kid nor Hardin's dark charisma, but his amoral and violent life does much to explain why the West was wild. As a companion, read Hardin's autobiography,The Life and Adventures of John Wesley Hardin. Then read every book you can find by Leon Metz, the top gun of Texas outlaw-lawman biographies and one of our finest historians.

* Goodbye to a River, John Graves (1964).
What can I say that might add to all the praise that has been heaped on this classic for the last 30 years? It deserves all of it, and more. Graves brings it all together -- the land, the people, and the myth. As he floats down the Brazos River, the churning currents of life -- blood, water, and time -- become one. And it doesn't come off like a phony literary contrivance when he does it, either.

* Adventures With a Texas Naturalist, Roy Bedichek (1947). Bedichek could talk for hours and write long, intensely involving essays on simple things -- the form and habits of oak trees, the social behavior of small groups of birds. He even wrote a book, one of my favorites, about the nose (The Sense of Smell). There are good reasons we have a statue of Dobie, Webb, and Bedichek holding forth at the entrance to Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park. This book is one of them.

* Texian Iliad, Stephen L. Hardin (1994).
I have many other favorites that cover the Texas Revolution and early pioneer life, including the memoirs of John Holland Jenkins, Noah Smithwick, A.J. Sowell, and John Duval. Could a modern, scholarly military history of the Texas Revolution that leans toward revisionism be anywhere near as exciting as the prickly recollections of the men who fought in those battles? Hell, yes. Parts of this book are absolutely -- and fabulously -- hard-boiled.

* I Say Me For a Parable: The Oral Biography of Mance Lipscomb, Texas Bluesman, Glen Alyn (1993). Mance Lipscomb (1895-1976), the Navasota bluesman, tells his life story in his own distinctive words and dialect, edited from five years of interviews conducted by Alyn. Lipscomb was a direct link between seminal blues artists like his mentor, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and people like Taj Mahal and Janis Joplin, who learned from him. Ironically, the former sharecropper who was such a great communicator in story and song grew up in a time when African-Americans were discouraged from learning to read and write. n

Currently, Jesse Sublett is writing scripts for The Incredible Shrinking Character Game, a mystery-science fiction CD-ROM game, and Forever Wild: Preserving America, a 9-hour documentary for the Disney Channel. But he'd really rather be sing-ing "Home on the Range" with his two-year-old son, Dashiell.

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