Texana Book Reviews -- 1999
(by Mike Cox)

Fall Harvest of Books
(October 17, 1999)

If some bored pollster, temporarily lacking a political account, ever decided to survey Texans on their favorite month of the year, my vote is for October.

On the High Plains, October is cool but not yet too chilly for comfort. In the lower parts of the state, October at least is not quite as hot it was in September, which is almost the same as cool.

The temperate weather raises our energy level, and that’s a good thing because there’s plenty to do in Texas during October. The month offers many choices, from homecomings to the annual run of the State Fair of Texas, from dove hunting to the World Series. For many, October is best represented by its very last day, Halloween. Kids dress up in costumes and go trick or treating. Adults dress up in costumes and go to parties.

Here’s a fall harvest of books which seem particularly appropriate for October:

A good place to start is “Good Times in Texas: A Pretty Complete Guide to Where the Fun Is,” by Larry Hodge. Published by Republic of Texas Press, the 280-page softcover sells for $18.95.

This book is a compendium of fun things to do in Texas, from scenic drives worth taking to notable food festivals.

Hodge, an outdoor and travel writer based in Mason, knows at least one or two interesting things about most anything, particularly when it comes from getting from Point A to Point B and where and what you can eat along with way.

To get back to October, Hodge has identified 14 notable festivals held in Texas each October, from “Punkin” Days in Floydada to Tyler’s Texas Rose Festival.

“Good Times in Texas” is as fun to read as the activities it outlines. It is not a mere listing of places to go and things to do. Like its author, the book has a personality. (The first clue is the book’s dedication, which is to Hodge’s cat, Comet.)

Aside from its stated content, the book has value added in the form of Hodge’s pecan praline and peanut brittle recipes. Don’t look for either in the table of contents or index, however. You have to hunt for both, but it’s worth the effort. Trust me on this. If Hodge wanted to work that hard (which he doesn’t), he could quit writing for a living and start selling this candy.

Hodge’s candy is dandy any time of the year, but it’s ideal for Halloween. While you’re waiting for the your pralines to firm up, you can read tales of ghostly goings on in and around the Alamo in “Spirits of the Alamo” by Robert Wlodarski and Anne Powell Wlodarski. Also from Republic of Texas Press, the 202-page book is $18.95 in softcover.

No one has scientifically proven that the spirits of the dead can return to haunt us, but no one has disproved it, either. If nothing else, ghosts are real in the imagination of many. “Spirits of the Alamo” is an interesting piece of folklore.

Looking for an easy, inexpensive Halloween costume? In “$10 Horse, $40 Saddle,” a book on old-time cowboy gear by Don Rickey, Jr., there’s a section on the bandana. This colorful handkerchief, usually red, had numerous uses. One of those usages, popular with stagecoach and train robbers, was as a hastily improvised mask. First published in 1976 and out of print for some time, the 135-page book has been reprinted by the University of Nebraska Press. It sells for $19.95. Rickey’s book is an excellent reference work for anyone interested in everything from saddles to shootin’ irons used during the heyday of the cowboy, a period that ran from about 1865 to 1885.

Texas’ October foliage, while not a threat to Vermont tourism, is living art. But any time of the year is a good time for art. Marjorie von Rosenberg has written a concise overview of 19th and early 20th Texas art, “Artists Who Painted Texas.” Published by Eakin Press, the 90-page book sells for $15.95. Though written for young readers, the book is a useful survey for anyone interested in early Texas artists.

Texas Christian University Press has published “Sweetie Ladd’s Historic Fort Worth” by Cissy Stewart Lale. The 75-page hardcover contains 38 primitive paintings of early Fort Worth landmarks by Ladd. The book sells for $39.95.

In October 1969, Texan Nolan Ryan pitched for the New York Mets in that year’s World Series. The Mets weren’t supposed to, but they beat the Baltimore Orioles, winning the world championship of baseball. One of the millions of Americans who followed that wild, improbable series was Ken Anderson, who is now Williamson County’s district attorney. By day, Anderson and his staff prosecutes criminals. At night and on weekends, Anderson writes. His latest book is a biography of Ryan for young readers.

Published by Eakin Press, “Nolan Ryan: Texas Fastball to Cooperstown,” the 174-page paperback sells for $5.95. Anderson’s book is well-researched and well-written biography of a kid from Alvin, Texas who became one of baseball’s greats.

Book Reviews from Previous Month: (February 1999)

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