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.