Friday, January 7, 2011

Memorable Texas Books of 2010

About this time every year I offer my thoughts on the 10 best Texas books I have encountered in the past 12 months.

The problem, invariably, is that I have missed some of the better books produced by Texas writers. Their publishers didn’t send me review copies, or somehow I just overlooked them. So I’m changing it up just a little this year and offering, not a top 10 list, but rather a few of the more memorable Texas books you might want to consider reading or giving this holiday season.

Highest on my list are two coffee-table books that particularly impressed me: “Texas, A Historical Atlas” and “Whooping Cranes: Images from the Wild.”

The atlas, published ironically by the University of Oklahoma Press, was written by A. Ray Stephens with more than 175 full-color maps by Carol Zuber-Mallison. The 430-page book ($39.95) includes short essays and maps on 86 topics, ranging from early to modern eras.

The whooping crane book (Texas A&M University Press, $45) features the photographs of Klaus Nigge and is a majestic tribute to a magnificent bird. The cranes winter in Texas before heading north to their Canadian home and breeding ground. Nigge captured incredible photographs of the whooping cranes in both habitats.

A third big book that I like this year is “Encyclopedia of Texas Seashells” (Texas A&M University Press, 524 pages, $50), full of color photos of hundreds of seashell varieties. Each shell gets a fourth to a third of a page description, with front and back photos.

I know it is an emotional selection, but Elmer Kelton’s final novel makes my list of memorable Texas books. Kelton, the beloved San Angelo western novelist who died in 2009, had completed two novels that were published after his death. The last one, “Texas Standoff” (Forge, $24.99 hardcover), came out this fall. It brings to a conclusion Kelton’s nine-book Texas Ranger series, which he launched in 1999.

It’s not a Texas book per se, but several Texans figure prominently in “Escape from Davao” by John Lukacs (Simon & Schuster, $27.99) and it features a Texan on the cover -- Edwin Dyess of Albany, for whom Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene is named. The book details the horrendous suffering of American POWs in the Philippines during World War II and the daring escape of 10 of them from the Japanese prison camp at Davao (da-VOW). It is a gripping, gruesome, yet heroic story of inhumanity, survival, and sheer courage.

Two heart-warming, inspirational Texas books on high school football and faith were published in 2010 -- “Remember Why You Play” by David Thomas (Tyndale, $14.99 paperback), which I wrote about last week, and “Brother’s Keeper” by Al Pickett and Chad Mitchell ($14.95 paperback) about Abilene High School’s football championship team in 2009.

Pickett also teamed up with Emory Bellard, inventor of the wishbone offense, to write Bellard’s memoirs, “Wishbone Wisdom” (State House Press, $19.95). After the book came out, Bellard was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Several coffee-table tributes to the Dallas Cowboys were published in 2010 in observance of the Cowboys’ 50th anniversary, and my friend Carlton Stowers wrote a very readable biography of one of the greatest Cowboys of them all, perhaps the greatest – Roger Staubach.

A new book about Texas women in the twentieth century – “Texas Through Women’s Eyes” (University of Texas Press, $24.95 paperback) – makes the list as an important and compelling addition to the literature dealing with modern Texas.

Of course, two memoirs by Texas authors drew a lot of attention – Laura Bush’s “Spoken from the Heart” and George W. Bush’s “Decision Points.” I haven’t yet had a chance to read Rick Perry’s recently published book, “Fed Up,” but plan to before the year is over.

S. C. Gwynne’s “Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History” (Simon & Schuster, $26 hardcover) and Leila Meacham’s epic novel set in Texas, “Roses” (Grand Central, $24.99 hardcover), garnered a lot of national and statewide attention as well.

John Erickson brought out numbers 55 and 56 in his popular Hank the Cowdog series – “The Case of the Secret Weapon” and “The Coyote Invasion.”

He doesn’t write about Texas in his blockbuster young adult novels, but San Antonio’s Rick Riordan has certainly hit the big time, first with his Percy Jackson series, and this year with two new series for young adult readers. “The Red Pyramid” kicked off the Kane Chronicles in May, and in October “The Lost Hero” launched the Heroes of Olympus.

Farm woman's essays recall simpler times

For more than 20 years, Nellie Witt Spikes wrote a newspaper column, “As a Farm Woman Thinks,” for several West Texas weeklies in and around Crosby County, east of Lubbock – from 1937 at age 49 until 1960.

Selections from those columns have been collected into a delightful book edited by Geoff Cunfer and published by Texas Tech University Press under the title “As a Farm Woman Thinks: Life and Land on the Texas High Plains, 1890-1960” ($34.95 hardcover).

The columns are grouped into several categories, such as Settling the Llano Estacado, Small Town Life, Drought and Dust Storms, Women’s Work, and A Poetry of Place.

In the short, descriptive, conversational essays, Cunfer notes, “we find ourselves sitting next to Nellie on a friend’s porch, strolling down a dusty small-town Main Street, or trudging behind a rattling covered wagon across endless rolling prairie.

“Her articles,” Cunfer adds, “provide the reader with a window into life in a place and a time that has passed, but that established the cultural foundation of the modern southern plains.”

Nellie really had a way with words and a subtle sense of humor. A few random examples:

On drought and dust storms (1945): “This day, the twentieth of May, has been a regular March sandstorm. Our feelings seem as wilted as the things in the garden. No prospect of rain is in sight, and we farm people wait and hope and wait and hope; each day takes more toll on the moisture that was left deep in the ground.”

On modernization of farm life (1941): “My husband does not think he can shave unless his shaving things are on the dining table in the kitchen, although we have had a bathroom for over two years. We become creatures of habit about ordinary things.”

On the birth of a grandson (1938): “If I fill this space too much with news of the baby, I know the mothers will think it is all right and I hope the rest of you will excuse me.”\

On the beauty of autumn (1941): “I thought the president called in all the gold and it was buried safely deep in dark dungeons, but I have found this not true. Someone has hung gold leaves on the apricot tree, and I see gold dollars, fresh from the mint, hanging on graceful poplar and spreading cottonwood trees.”

And this one, published on March 30, 1939, on spring’s arrival in West Texas: “Spring is coming to the prairie country. Not with a breathtaking parade of beauty as she does in the timbered country, but shy as the antelope and the blue quail. She spreads a cover of pale green on the pasture and starts the wildflowers; gives the haze on the canyon hills a deeper blue; entices the killdeer back to call ‘dee dee dee’; swells the buds of the cottonwood trees, promises them millions of tiny fans. She waves her wand and peach trees are dressed in pale pink, pear trees in white satin; gives the freshly turned furrows a fragrance dear to folks on the farm; pins a corsage of sweet wild plum blossoms on her brown dress.”

The 288-page book is filled with piece after wonderful piece of lyrical prose about bygone days, accompanied by more than 40 black and white photos. What a treasure.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

More spooky Texas tales

Storytellers Tim Tingle and Doc Moore are back, just in time for Halloween, with More Spooky Texas Tales (Texas Tech University Press, $18.95 hardcover).

Tingle and Moore teamed up on two other books from Texas Tech Press – Spooky Texas Tales (also for young readers) and Texas Ghost Stories: Fifty Favorites for the Telling.In More Spooky Texas Tales they relate 10 stories, including:

“Skinwalker” – a man picks up a hitchhiker only to discover that his passenger is not human.

“The Chupacabra and Berto” – a bloodthirsty creature haunts the Valley, and a grandson wanders off the ranch.

“Screaming Banshee Cattle of the Night Swamp” involves fang-bearing cattle in the swamps near Orange, Texas.

“Mary Culhaine” – a girl has to give a graveyard creature a piggyback ride to town and is offered a bowl of bloody oatmeal to eat.

Tingle and Moore perform at schools and libraries, telling and collecting stories. Several of the stories in the book were first told to them by students.

HOME FRONT: Sylvia Dickey Smith’s novel, A War of Her Own (Crickhollow Books, $16.95 ), is set in the summer of 1943 in Orange.

The story features Bea Meade, a young mother whose no-good husband announces he is leaving her for another woman. To support her infant son, she takes a job as a riveter at the shipyards.

It truly is a war of her own for Bea, who has to come to grips with mysteries from her past while fighting prejudice against women in the workplace and other personal and social challenges.

AN AUTHOR’S YEAR: Susan Wittig Albert is the author of the popular China Bayles mysteries, which always have the name of an herb in the title, as well as numerous other books.

Now she tells about a year in the life of an author in An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days (University of Texas Press, $24.95 hardcover). The year was 2008, a year of financial crises and political change, and she includes various news developments and her reaction to them.

Basically, it is a daily diary by a very talented writer who is willing to share her private thoughts publicly.

She also includes in the margins a lot of food for thought from other writers and sources in quotations that she has collected.

Her days may have been ordinary, but certainly the year wasn’t, nor is her writing about it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

New Texas photo books on football, baseball, music

The University of Texas Press has released three new oversized photography books this fall paying tribute to Texas high school football stadiums, the best little semipro baseball team in Texas, and the popular TV music series, Austin City Limits.

The books are:

Homefield: Texas High School Football Stadiums from Alice to Zephyr by Jeff Wilson (foreword by Buzz Bissinger, text compiled by Bobby Hawthorne), $39.95.

The Amazing Tale of Mr. Herbert and His Famous Alpine Cowboys Baseball Club by DJ Stout, $34.95.

Austin City Limits: 35 Years in Photographs by Scott Newton, $40.

FOOTBALL: Jeff Wilson presents more than 80 photographs of empty high school football fields, all taken from the 50 yard line facing the home side of the stadium. The fields range in size from tiny Veribest (pictured on the cover) and Penelope to huge stadiums like Alamo Stadium in San Antonio and Ratliff Stadium in Odessa.

“The promise of an empty football field,” Wilson writes, “is an irresistible force for those who understand and revere the game. It represents a blank canvas begging to be painted with the varied sights and sounds of youthful action and enthusiasm.”

Accompanying some of the photographs are brief comments by residents who coached, played, announced, or cheered for their team on Friday nights. The book grew out of a photo essay published in Texas Monthly in 2005.

BASEBALL: After World War II, minor league and semi-pro baseball reached new heights of popularity. And nowhere was a team more popular than the Alpine Cowboys.

Wealthy rancher Herbert Kokernot Jr. took ownership of the struggling Alpine team in 1946, changed the name to the Alpine Cowboys, built a dream ballpark called Kokernot Field, and outfitted his players in the most fashionable uniforms. The team won regional tournaments as well as the hearts of their fans and praise from around the country.

DJ Stout of Austin, whose father pitched for the Cowboys, has put together a coffee table book full of vintage black-and-white photos, comments by team members, and a year-by-year recounting of the 1946-1961 teams.

MUSIC: Fans of the Austin City Limits TV show will no doubt enjoy reliving the appearances of the great stars who have performed on stage in the show’s 35-year history.

Scott Newton, the show’s photographer for 31 years beginning in 1979, chronicles the appearances of 80 of the best-known performers and bands. Beginning and ending with Willie Nelson, the rest of the artists are presented in two-page spreads alphabetically rather than chronologically, since some have performed on Austin City Limits more than once.

To name just a few: Garth Brooks, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Dixie Chicks, Norah Jones, B. B. King, Lyle Lovett, Dolly Parton, Keith Urban, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Glenn Dromgoole writes about Texas books and authors. Contact him at

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mike Cox named A.C. Greene Award winner

Austin author and journalist Mike Cox is the 2010 winner of the A. C. Greene Literary Award given each year to a distinguished Texas author. The award will be presented at the Boots & Books Luncheon on Saturday, Sept. 25, during the West Texas Book & Music Festival in Abilene.

Cox, who has had 17 books published including his signature two-volume history of the Texas Rangers and several collecions of historic Texas photos, headlines a list of 14 featured Texas authors who will speak during the 10th annual West Texas festival sponsored by Friends of the Abilene Public Library.

The festival runs all week, Sept. 20-25, culminating with a full day of activities on Saturday. For a full schedule, go to and click on the festival logo.

Founded as the West Texas Book & Author Festival in 2001, the event added music to its lineup in 2006. This year’s festival promises a lot of both.

Other visiting authors include Paulette Jiles and Scott Zesch, who have written books about children and families kidnapped by Comanches on the Texas frontier, and Fort Worth children’s authors Jan Peck and David Davis, who will visit Abilene and Wylie schools on Friday of festival week.

Three authors of books about Texas sports legends will speak at a Saturday morning session – Carlton Stowers, Mike Cochran and Al Pickett. Stowers has a new biography coming out on Roger Staubach, Cochran co-authored The Godfather of Poker with the godfather himself, Doyle Brunson, and Pickett co-authored Wishbone Wisdom with Emory Bellard, inventor of the wishbone offense in college football.

Steve Huddleston, senior horticulturist for the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, will lead a session on Saturday based on his book, Easy Gardens for North Central Texas. Bobby D. Weaver, author of two books on the Texas oil patch, will join Cox at a Saturday session on Texas oil.

Novelist Jane Roberts Wood, the festival’s 2006 A. C. Greene Award winner, will debut her upcoming novel, Out Summerhill Road, at sessions on Friday and Saturday.

Abilene novelist Karen Witemeyer will talk about her first two novels, both published this year. Also featured are Abilene authors Wanda Middleton, a retired teacher who has written Best Foot Forward, a helpful guide on manners and etiquette for middle and high school students, and retired history professor Bennie Gallaway, author of The Ragged Rebel about one Texas soldier’s experiences in the Civil War.

Abilene authors who have had a book published in the past year will be recognized at a Local Author Reception on Tuesday evening at the library. Each author is given two minutes to tell about his or her book, and most of the authors display and sign their books in the Hall of Texas Authors on Saturday.

A preview party on Friday evening at Frontier Texas! will honor this year’s featured authors, two of whom – Paulette Jiles and Scott Zesch -- have written books related to the era covered by the Frontier Texas! exhibit.

Music activities include daily noontime concerts Monday through Friday in downtown Minter Park, showcasing a different local or area band every day. Bands and musicians will perform at the Abilene Civic Center throughout the day on Saturday. Added to the music lineup this year is a Gospel Music Concert at 3 p.m. Saturday at the civic center, preceding the fifth annual West Texas Gospel Hymnfest at 4 p.m. The hymnfest, led by Judge Lee Hamilton, is an hour of congregational singing of old-time gospel favorites like “When We All Get to Heaven.” Both the concert and the hymnfest, sponsored by several Abilene churches, are free.

In fact, most events during the festival are free. Other free events include the noon concerts, the author reception on Tuesday, brown bag programs at the downtown library Wednesday through Friday (light lunches are available for $4 but the programs are free), and the various author panels and sessions on Saturday morning. The Hall of Texas Authors, a roomful of writers displaying and signing their books, is free to enter, but you will probably spend some money on books before you leave. The hall will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Authors from all over Texas also are welcome to purchase table space to sell their books. Details are on the festival web site.

The free events are made possible by grants from the festival’s corporate sponsor, the Abilene Reporter-News, and local foundations and the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council.

Ticketed events include the Texas Cookbook Gala, a $150-a-plate fundraiser at the Abilene Country Club on Thursday night, and the Boots & Books Luncheon at the civic center on Saturday -- $30 a person or $300 for a table of ten. Funds from these events benefit the Abilene Public Library.

At the cookbook gala, outstanding Texas chefs and award-winning vintners provide the menu and wines for the evening. The Boots & Books Luncheon concludes with the presentation of the A. C. Greene Award.

For information about tickets and updated details on festival participants and activities, see the festival web site at or call the library, 325-676-6025.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

10 American POWs fled Japanese prison camp

A new book about a daring escape from a brutal Japanese prison camp in the Philippines during World War II features a Texas war hero on the cover and throughout the narrative.

Lt. Col. William Edwin Dyess, a native Texan for whom Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene is named, was one of the leaders of the group of 10 Americans and two Filipinos who escaped from the Davao prison camp (pronounced da-VOW). Three of them were Texans – Dyess, Jack Hawkins and Bob Spielman.

Escape from Davao by John Lukacs (Simon & Schuster, $27.99 hardcover) tells the story from the perspectives of all 10 Americans who were captured after the fall of Bataan and Corregidor in the early months of the war and then pulled off the only successful group escape from a Japanese POW camp.

Lukacs (LU-kiss) relates in gripping detail the three-week-long Bataan Death March, which he calls “the most infamous war crime in the annals of American military history.” Nearly 700 Americans and as many as 10,000 Filipinos were executed or died from starvation during the 85-mile walk.

Dyess, then a captain and squadron leader, would not know freedom for nearly a year, somehow surviving the harsh conditions, disease and near starvation of three prison camps and a prisoner transport ship.

When he and the other escapees managed to pull off their unbelievable prison break, their main objective was to get back to the U.S. and tell about the conditions under which the men still imprisoned were suffering.

However, that turned out to be harder than they could have expected. After Dyess and two other escapees told their story to General Douglas MacArthur, the Pacific commander said it needed to be told to the American people and singled out Dyess as the person to tell it.

“But I am afraid, captain,” he added, “that the people back home will find it hard to believe you.” Wartime censorship proved to be the biggest hurdle in getting the story out.

Indeed, the inhumanity is hard to believe, even now, more than 67 years later. The author drives it home in gruesome detail. I read the book in two days but had to put it down every so often and catch my breath, the descriptions were so powerful.

Dyess’s story eventually was told in a 24-installment series of articles in the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers in early 1944 and helped galvanize public opinion about the war in the Pacific.

Dyess, however, didn’t live to see it in print. He died in a plane crash before the series was published. It was later reprinted in a book, Bataan Death March: A Survivor’s Account, which is still in print (Bison Books, $16.95 paperback).

Lukacs concludes the book with an epilogue that tells what became of the escapees and also what happened to the Japanese officers who brutalized them.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Etiquette for Kids

Here is a self-published book I came across that should be required reading for everyone ages 9 to 14. Heck, all the rest of us as well!

As an advocate of more civility, I heartily recommend this book.

Best Foot Forward: A Basic Guide to Good Manners for Kids (or Grownups Who Need a Little Reminder) by longtime middle school teacher Elizabeth Middleton is a book that is desperately needed these days. In very simple, straightforward language, Middleton offers practical etiquette advice on introductions, conversation, telephone use, table manners, correspondence, dances & parties, and dating.

Her Number 1 cardinal rule for young people dealing with adults? “Always look people in the eye!”

Every young person, from fourth grade up, should read this book. Parents, too! $14.99 paperback.

You can order Best Foot Forward by calling Texas Star Trading Company at 325-672-9696. Or e-mail

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Top Texas Books of the Year, 2009

Each year around this time I go back and look at the Texas books I’ve written about in the past 12 months and try to pick my favorite 10.

Of course, it is a subjective list. The 10 books are ones I particularly liked, for one reason or another. They are not necessarily the 10 most significant Texas books of the year, or even the 10 “best,” whatever that is.

But they are my Top 10 – books I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to you. I do try to include a variety of topics and interests in my list, some fiction as well as non-fiction, maybe a children’s book or a cookbook, some elegant coffee table volumes.

Here they are, in no particular order, my Top 10 Texas Books of 2009, plus a few honorable mentions.

Historic Texas from the Air by Gerald Saxon, David Buisserer, Richard Francaviglia and photos by Jack W. Graves Jr. (University of Texas Press, $45) is a colorful and informative coffee table book that focuses on 73 historic sites. Graves’ aerial photographs are the highlight of the book, but each photo is accompanied by a page or two of text explaining the site’s significance. This one deserves a place in every Texan’s library.

Lovin’ That Lone Star Flag by photographer E. Joe Deering (Texas A&M University Press, $29.95) is a wonderful collection of photographs of the many creative ways that Texans display the Texas flag -- on boots, spurs, caps, shirts, running shorts, arrows, golf balls, windmills, buckets, birdhouses, and steakhouses, among other uses.

Time of the Rangers by Mike Cox (Forge, $27.95) is the second volume of his comprehensive two-volume history of the Texas Rangers, 10 years in the making. Together, the two books constitute about 1,000 pages of stories, developments, facts, notes and bibliography.

Sex, Murder and the Unwritten Law by Bill Neal (Texas Tech University Press, $$29.95 hardcover), the third in his frontier justice series, is a lively read about – well, just what the title says. The “unwritten law” justified killings in the jury’s eyes in certain cases, especially when the victim was engaged in sexual indiscretions with the defendant’s wife.

The Color of Lightning by Paulette Jiles (William Morrow, $25.99 hardcover) is a novel based on the true story of ex-slave Britt Johnson, who settled in Comanche territory in West Texas in the 1860s. While the Civil War winds down, Johnson’s family is attacked by Comanches while he is away on business. He vows to bring his family back together again, which is the principal plotline of this multi-faceted historical novel.

The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes by Bryan Burrough (Penguin, $29.95 hardcover) focuses on the oilmen who became known as the Big Four – Roy Cullen of Houston, Sid Richardson of Fort Worth, and Clint Murchison and H. L. Hunt of Dallas. Burrough presents a detailed account of how oil fortunes were made, flaunted, and lost.

Batty About Texas by J. Jaye Smith (Pelican, $15.95, illustrated by Kathy Coates)was my favorite children’s book about Texas published this year. It is an informative and entertaining look at the Mexican free-tailed bat, the type that lives under the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin.

Other Men’s Horses by the late Elmer Kelton, the beloved Western author from San Angelo who passed away in August (Forge, $24.99). Kelton completed two more novels in his Texas Ranger series before he died, and this is the first of them. It is one of my Top 10 favorites, both for sentimental reasons and because it is a very good read.

Looking for Lucy Gilligan & Other Stories by Murray Edwards($22.95 trade paperback), a delightful self-published collection of 19 short stories and one of my personal favorites of the year. The title story involves an overweight trucker selected for a TV “makeover,” but he has to find a significant other to ooh and ah over his new look, so he goes searching for the ideal “Lucy Gilligan.”

Music in the Kitchen by Glenda Pierce Facemire (UT Press, $34.95) is a very different kind of cookbook, a collection of favorite recipes from musicians who have performed on the PBS show Austin City Limits. It includes recipes from dozens of well-known entertainers such as Willie Nelson, Robert Earl Keen, the Dixie Chicks, Los Lonely Boys and B.B. King. Color photos of the singers, rather than the food, accompany the selections.

Honorable Mentions:

Two new series of biographies for children about Texas heroes were launched by Bright Sky Press in 2009, one for children ages 5-7, the other for ages 8-11. Veteran children’s author Mary Dodson Wade is the principal writer for both series.

Historic Photos of Texas Lawmen and Historic Photos of Texas Oil, both by the aforementioned Mike Cox,are great collections of black and white photos tracing the history of Texas law enforcement and oil exploration. Each book is $39.95 (Turner Publishing).

Jon Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine (Gibbs Smith, $30) is an upscale Texas cookbook by a Fort Worth chef and restaurateur. Gorgeous color photographs and recipes for such exotic dishes as Rocky Mountain Elk Tacos, Quail Raviolis, and Texas Ostrich Fan Fillet.

Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde by Jeff Guinn (Simon & Schuster, $27), well-researched and well-written profile of the famous crime couple published on the 75th anniversary of their death.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Great Variety of Books by Abilene Authors

Abilene authors continue to write and publish books covering an interesting variety of topics and styles, from recipes, essays and poems to etiquette, history and culture. Here are a few examples of books by local authors that have crossed my desk in recent weeks:

This Path is an excellent collection of essays and poems dealing with the various paths that people’s lives have taken them. This isn’t strictly a local book because the contributors come from all over, but it was edited and published by the Silver Boomer Book group of Abilene, which includes Barbara Rollins, Ginny Greene, Kerin Riley-Bishop and Becky Haigler. Greene’s essay, “This One Can,” about a teacher who encouraged her to read, is especially noteworthy. But the book is loaded with outstanding short pieces of similar quality. $14 paperback.

The Amazing Grace cookbook was published in conjunction with the centennial celebration of the Grace Hotel building, now the Grace Museum. Sponsored by Los Aficionados, the museum’s volunteer support group, the book is intended as a fundraiser for the museum. The cookbook committee, chaired by Judy Godfrey, selected several hundred recipes submitted by Abilenians, as well as shared memories and comments about the Grace and its history. Good reading, good cooking, good cause. $25 hardcover.

Prexy: James Winford Hunt by Darris L. Egger and Robert W. Sledge is a biography of the founding president of McMurry University who, in his lifetime, was a cowboy, newspaper editor, preacher, president of two colleges, poet, essayist, and crusader. He was president of McMurry from 1923 until his death in 1934, but his legacy is still very evident on the campus. Current president John H. Russell wrote the introduction. $23.95 hardcover.

The Gift by Lila Ellexson Senter is a collection of “word gifts” or poems she has shared with family and friends at Christmas for more than 25 years. All proceeds from the book benefit the Hope Haven endowment fund. The book is illustrated with black and white renditions from a number of local artists. Certainly a “gift” for the season. $15 paperback.

Best Foot Forward: A Basic Guide to Good Manners for Kids (or Grownups Who Need a Little Reminder) by longtime middle school teacher Wanda Elizabeth Middleton is a book that is desperately needed these days! In very simple, straightforward language, Middleton offers practical etiquette advice on introductions, conversation, telephone use, table manners, correspondence, dances & parties, and dating. Her Number 1 cardinal rule for young people dealing with adults? “Always look people in the eye!” Every young person, from fourth grade up, should read this book. Wouldn’t hurt some of the rest of us as well. $14.99 paperback.

Moonlady is a children’s book beautifully written and illustrated by Marsha Middleton Murray. The soothing lyrical cadence makes it a great “sweet dreams” book to read to young children before bedtime. $15.95 hardcover.

Answer Book: Abilene Christian University is a 330-page reference guide to ACU and Abilene. Edited by Charlie Marler, longtime ACU journalism professor and student newspaper adviser, the Answer Book (now in its 15th edition) is a copy desk reference for student journalists on The Optimist, ACU’s student newspaper, and now offered to the public. Presented in alphabetical order, the entries provide invaluable information about the campus and the larger Abilene community. Certainly a handbook on ACU history, this book deserves a place on the reference shelf of all Abilene writers, broadcasters, historians and trivia buffs. $19.95 paperback.

New Elmer Kelton Novel Continues Ranger Series; New Western from Kent Conwell

Elmer Kelton, the masterful Western author from San Angelo who passed away in August, completed two more novels in his Texas Ranger series before he died.

The first one, Other Men’s Horses (Forge, $24.99 hardcover), came out last month. It is the eighth novel in the Ranger series. One more is due next year, which should in turn lead to a third repackaged trilogy the year after that.

Andy Pickard is back as the lead character, still serving as a Texas Ranger in the 1880s but wishing he could retire from the force and spend more time with his young wife, Bethel, on their farm. But rangering provides a more stable income than farming, and at this stage in their marriage they need the money.

He is assigned to track down a man who killed a horse thief, which he does in short order only to find the man’s associates ready to kill him. The wanted man saves Pickard’s life and then hightails it, but Pickard warns him that he will still have to hunt him down and bring him to justice.

When the wanted man’s wife sets out to join her husband, Pickard trails her. The woman stops at a prairie shack where she learns that her husband is not who she thought he was. Another horse thief shoots her husband, leaves him for dead, and takes her captive, intending to have his way with her.

Pickard and a deserter from Fort Concho who killed a man follow in pursuit as the chase takes a number of twists and turns. They cross the trail of quite a few low-life characters but also some decent folks who go out of their way to help a lady trying to make it on her own.

Days of Vengeance: Western author Kent Conwell of Port Neches has written a fast-paced tale set in Arizona territory – Days of Vengeance (Leisure Books, $6.99 paperback).

Ben Elliott and other ranchers find themselves besieged by someone who is obviously trying to drive them from their land. First come the cattle rustlers, then the stakes get considerably more deadly.

When Elliott’s best friend is killed and Elliott is cheated out of his property, he vows vengeance on the man he has determined is trying to run off all the ranchers and claim their land for himself.

Relying on the lessons learned when he lived with the Apaches as a boy, Elliott sets out to even the score and bring the offender to justice.

Conwell, a prolific author of Westerns and mysteries, also has several new titles from Avalon Books, which markets novels primarily to libraries. Recent hardback titles ($23.95) include a Western – Shootout on the Sabine – and two contemporary Tony Boudreaux mysteries – An Unmarked Grave and The Puzzle of Piri Reis. Inquire at your library about these and other Conwell stories.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Joe Nick Patoski kicks off fall Texas Author Series

The Texas Author Series, sponsored by Friends of the Abilene Public Library, has been held in the spring for the past several years. This year they've added a fall series as well.

Noon brown bag programs, free to the public, will be presented on three Mondays – Oct. 19, Nov. 2, and Nov. 16 -- at the Abilene Public Library, 202 Cedar. The Nov. 16 program will also be the annual meeting of Friends, when new officers are elected.

Kicking off the series next Monday, Oct. 19, is Joe Nick Patoski, a veteran Texas magazine writer and author whose biography of Willie Nelson: An Epic Life won the TCU Book Award as the best Texas book of the year. Come hear him talk about Willie Nelson, Texas music, and Texas culture.

Sherrie McLeroy of Aledo will tell true Texas tales on Nov. 2 from her new book, Bragging on Texas, a collection of about 50 stories of Texas firsts and bests. Her book is part of the Small Texas Books series from TCU Press. Priced at just $9.95 hardcover, they make good inexpensive birthday or stocking-stuffer gifts.

On Nov. 16 two of the authors of a great new coffee-table book, Historic Texas from the Air, will tell stories and show pictures of historical Texas sites. Author Gerald Saxon, Dean of the Library at the University of Texas at Arlington, and photographer Jack Graves will take us on a historic tour that includes downtown Abilene and Fort Phantom Hill among its 73 selected sites.

As usual, sandwich plates will be available for $4, or you can bring your own lunch. Drinks will be provided by Friends. Authors will sign books after their presentations.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

'Flagatography' book pays tribute to Texas flag

Longtime Houston Chronicle photographer E. Joe Deering noticed a Lone Star flag painted on a building in Cisco in 2002, and then he began seeing the flag on pickups and barns and gates and mailboxes and boats.
He decided there might be a photographic story there, and a few months later the Chronicle published an eight-page spread in its Sunday magazine.
That led to a “Flagatography” exhibit at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the Texas A&M campus in 2005 (Deering even provided handmade frames for the 135 pictures).
Now Texas A&M University Press has published a delightful collection of Deering’s inspired photographs – Lovin’ That Lone Star Flag – an elegant coffee-table book reasonably priced at $29.95. It's one of my favorite Texas books of the year.
Ruth Rendon, a former colleague at the Chronicle, provides an informative introduction and foreword telling about the Lone Star flag itself and about Deering’s obsession with it.
Each picture is accompanied by a caption telling about the flag image portrayed and when and where it was taken.
Photographs show the flag on:
A guitar used by the band Lonestar.
Bruce Lavorgna’s Texas Lone Star balloon, Aerodactyl.
An outhouse outside Schulenburg.
A police car in Palmer.
A muffler in Dayton.
Bowling pins at a bowling alley in Lake Jackson.
A watering trough in Texas City.
A fleet of tanker trucks in Brookland.
Oil drums and cell phones in Kerrville.
An El Campo family’s basketball backboard.
A single-engine airplane in Kingsville.
A bathtub in San Marcos.
One photograph shows a couple decked out in Lone Star flag shirt and skirt for their wedding in front of the San Jacinto Monument, “where Texas won its independence,” the wife points out, “and (husband) Kenny lost his.”
There are pictures of flags on boots, spurs, caps, shirts, running shorts, arrows, golf balls, windmills, buckets, birdhouses, and steakhouses, among other uses.
Deering, not a native Texan himself, said he understands why so many people like to paint and display the Lone Star flag in so many creative ways.
“It’s just because they like being in Texas and being a Texan,” he says. “It’s that Texas pride.”