Best Texas books to read nowadays

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"The Devil's Sinkhole"

This week, we’ve got a novel, a true crime tale, an investigative report, a sports chronicle and a family history among the latest Texas titles to cipher.

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“The Devil’s Sinkhole”

“The Devil’s Sinkhole.” Bill Wittliff. University of Texas Press. Wittliff appears at BookPeople on Oct. 10. We can’t wait to bury ourselves deeper into this sequel to Witliff’s highly praised first novel, “The Devil’s Backbone.” Set in a rugged slash of Central Texas, both books follow the adventures of a frontier boy, Papa, told in irresistible dialect. Although it takes the loose form of a series of folktales — illustrated with bone-dry wit by Joe Ciardiello — one can also imagine the “Devil’s” duo as a movie or a mini-series, which shouldn’t surprise us, coming as they do from the Austin screenwriter who gave us the magnificent “Lonesome Dove” mini-series. We promise more reporting on Wittliff and his spiky stories, rightly compared to Mark Twain’s and J. Frank Dobie’s.

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“Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico’s Most Dangerous Cartel”

“Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico’s Most Dangerous Cartel.” Dan Slater. Simon & Schuster. Dan Slater appears at BookPeople on Oct. 7. This is “Beyond Breaking Bad” for real. Two otherwise promising Laredo boys, along with their friends, join the Zetas drug-smuggling cartel and go deep into its hyper-violent culture on both sides of the border. The boys are tracked by a veteran detective with cultural insights into their background. A magazine reporter, Slater knows how to tell a thrilling story in long form. This book, excerpted in Texas Monthly and banned in the Texas prison system, also illuminates the inner lives of the Laredo and Nuevo Laredo hoods far from the tourist traps and NAFTA highways. Another book that screams out for dramatization.

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“Faustian Bargains: Lyndon Johnson and Mac Wallace in the Robber Baron Culture of Texas”

“Faustian Bargains: Lyndon Johnson an Mac Wallace in the Robber Baron Culture of Texas.” Joan Mellen. Bloomsbury. LBJ attracts a certain prosecutorial style of reporting, even decades after he left positions of power. Think of the Robert Caro magnum opus. From all available indications, the late president deserved that kind of attention. If one sets aside his monumental political achievements and their subsequent shortcomings, it’s also clear he was also involved with shady characters such as Malcolm “Mac” Wallace, who shot the lover of LBJ’s unpredictable sister, Josefa, herself doubling as Wallace’s paramour. He was not only defended by LBJ’s lawyer, he went on to bypass vetting and do work for a major defense contractor. Mellen turns up a lot of previously unrevealed evidence and makes a potent case. Documentary film in the making?

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“Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Texas: A Year in the Life of Lone Star Football from High School to College to the Cowboys”

“Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Texas: A Year in the Life of Lone Star Football, from High School to College to the Cowboys.” Nick Eatman. Dey St. The “year in the life” format is time-tested in sports, movies, law-making and the arts. Eatman, who manages and writes for DallasCowboys.com, starts with the premise that football is a year-round activity central to the lives of Texans throughout the state. So he follows the Plano Wildcats, Baylor Bears and Dallas Cowboys through the 2015 season, packed with ups and downs, and, if you were paying any attention at the time, you’d can predict some of the spectacular scandals. Eatman has been given extraordinary access to the high school, college and pro teams, in part because he has been following all three levels of the sport for a long time. (His previous two books were “Art Briles: Looking Up” and “If These Walls Could Talk: Dallas Cowboys.”) There’s no attempt to get under the skin of the culture in the way of H.G. Bissinger’s “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream,” but there’s a lot of football here and Texans can’t get enough of that.

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“The Long Shadow: The Lutcher-Stark Lumber Dynasty

“The Long Shadow: The Lutcher-Stark Lumber Dynasty.” Ellen Walker Rienstra and Jo Ann Stiles. Tower Books. I have long wanted this story told. After cotton and before oil, for the most part, there was Texas timber and the family fortunes associated with it. One formidable tribe dominated the field for a long time. The dynastic enterprise was founded by Henry Jacob “H.J.” Lutcher, then was vastly expanded by his son-in-law, William Henry “H.W.” Stark. Profits from Lutcher-Stark investments were devoted to philanthropy by Henry Jacob Lutcher “Lutcher” Stark, creator of the Stark Foundation of Orange, which was followed much later by the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports at the University of Texas. The Foundation commissioned Ellen Walker Rienstra, a contract historian, and Jo Ann Stiles, who taught history at Lamar University, to write this richly researched this in-house family biography, published as an imprint of UT Press.


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