I hate to be disrespectful of a man who’s probably doing his Yankee best, but either I know nothing about West Texas, despite having been born on the edge of the Edwards Plateau and having lived half my life smack dab in the middle of Texas ranching country, or Mr. Hynes likes weirdly unrepresentative books about West Texas.
in this Salon article, Destination: West Texas, Hynes admits his lack of qualifications for writing about West Texas literature:
” . . . as your tour guide to West Texas literature, I’m a foreigner, a native Michigander, an NPR listener, a daily reader of the New York Times, a Midwestern college-town liberal, a wearer of Birkenstocks, an atheist. A Yankee, in short. So the selection of books that follows is by no means an official one. They’re just the books about West Texas that I love.”
So, my first question is: why didn’t they find a Texan? Preferably, the editors at Salon could have hired somebody from West Texas since that was the area in question.
Of the four authors that James Hynes recommends in his article, I know one: Larry McMurtry. Yeah, Lonesome Dove and others by McMurtry are worth reading to get a sense of Texas and the West. As far as the others are concerned, they sound mostly like violent, gritty guy-books. Sorry, I don’t read romances, and I don’t read “combative, horny, smart-mouthed” nor “ferociously cynical and deeply unsettling noir” nor “gritty and emotionally blunt and often violent.” If you like those descriptions, you might like Mr. Hynes’s list better than mine.
Giant by Edna Ferber is really a fantasy. I just don’t know very many people in Texas who live like the Benedicts or who ever did. And Ms. Ferber was from Michigan just like Mr. Hynes; I’m not sure she ever got as far as Austin. But Giant is a fun Texas fantasy, and it does manage to give the sense of how everyone in Texas wants to at least pretend that Texas and all its cultural appendices are bigger than life.
James Michener’s Texas is even better. The book itself is big, over 1000 pages long, and it covers all of Texas, not just West Texas. James Michener did make it to Austin, and he did his research, and he can tell a story, several stories in the course of this epic. In fact, Michener made Texas his home in his later years, and he died in Austin in 1997. If you want to read fiction and learn about Texas history and culture in the process, Michener is the guy to read.
Elmer Kelton is underrated because he writes westerns, I think, but he’s a very good writer. I recommend his Lone Star Rising three fiction stories in one book about the formation and history of the Texas Rangers. Two other good books by Kelton are The Time It Never Rained and The Day the Cowboys Quit. Kelton was born in Crane, Texas, and he used to live in San Angelo, my hometown, maybe still does. His day job was editor of The Sheep and Goat Raisers’ magazine and associate editor of Livestock Weekly. How’s that for authenticity?
These books have the flavor of West Texas.
Austin, where Mr. Hynes lives, isn’t even in West Texas, and neither is Ann Arbor, Michigan.