Roger D. Hodge tells a Texas story in a way you haven’t heard before


West Texas native Roger D. Hodge’s new book, “Texas Blood,” has a peculiar structure — and a peculiar approach. It’s part memoir, part travelogue, part history and part literary criticism.

In other words, it’s quite remarkable, mainly because it refuses to follow traditional forms of storytelling, and that makes it all the more interesting.

TEXAS BOOK FEST 2017: What you need to know about going

And here’s the strange thing: The most intriguing part of this book, especially for anyone who appreciates the writing of Cormac McCarthy, is an essay on how underappreciated “No Country for Old Men” has been. This essay, in a slightly different form, was first published in February 2006 in “Harper’s Magazine,” and it’s as wonderful today as it was then, exploring McCarthy’s dark visions about violence, both past and present.

But it’s even more startling because of how this essay fits in with the whole of Hodge’s themes in his new book, which is subtitled “Seven Generations Among the Outlaws, Ranchers, Indians, Missionaries, Soldiers, and Smugglers of the Borderlands.”

Hodge, who lives in Brooklyn, says he was haunted by the tidbits of the past that he picked up while growing up in West Texas, mainly in the Del Rio area, and near Devil’s River. He knows the area well, but it’s also clear that he’s done more than his share of research to flesh out the Texas tale.

If you’re like some readers, you’ll be looking for footnotes, wanting to know where Hodge got certain anecdotes. You won’t find them. And that’s the only frustrating part of this narrative. You might be able to deduct the sources by studying the bibliography, but this omission will irritate some readers.

Still, “Texas Blood” (Alfred A. Knopf, $27.95) is full of wonderful stories as Hodge retraces the journeys of his ancestors, from the eastern United States to Missouri to Texas to California and back to Texas. One of the coolest tidbits? His ancestors in Texas, who go back seven generations, used to own a ranch in what is now Big Bend National Park.

And if you suspect his might be a provincial story of an overly proud Texan, you’re wrong. Hodge is the national editor of “The Intercept,” an online publication created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Previously he was the editor of the “Oxford American” and “Harper’s Magazine.”

A lot of the book looks at the current debate over the border — how to secure it, the role that the drug trade has played and the efforts of the Border Patrol to use technology to thwart criminals.

PLANNING YOUR SCHEDULE: Some of our staff picks for Texas Book Festival 2017

Hodge is not a fan of President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall. But this book was written before the election of Trump, and it doesn’t directly address suggestions of building a wall. Instead, Hodge takes us into the world of border agents and new technology, some details of which were first published in “Popular Science.”

But Hodge’s narrative soars when he talks about the hardships faced by early settlers. Some of his forebears died in their frequent migrations, as did so many people back in the early days of the nation. The brilliance is in the details.

Hodge will participate in a panel discussion of his new book at 3 p.m. Sunday at the C-SPAN Tent during the Texas Book Festival. The session is titled Forces at Work: Contemporary Stories of the Border.

MORE TEXAS BOOK FEST 2017: All our previews and coverage



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Insight and Books

Letters to the editor: Jan. 23, 2018

Re: Jan. 18 commentary, “TEA must commit to an overhaul of its special education practices.” I love Texas. That’s why we moved here in 1979. But I am very sad that we have not kept up with services for those with developmental disabilities. Capping the number of students who can receive special education services is beyond ridiculous...
Facebook comments: Jan. 23, 2018
Facebook comments: Jan. 23, 2018

As reported by the American-Statesman’s Kevin Lyttle, Precourt Sports Ventures, owners of Columbus Crew SC, has ruled out the Travis County Exposition Center as a possible Major League Soccer stadium site. PSV officials said they toured the site and researched it before determining that it did not fit their needs for an urban-core facility with...
TWO VIEWS: Democracy? Bag it, say the Republicans
TWO VIEWS: Democracy? Bag it, say the Republicans

The urgent love Texas Republicans feel for plastic bags is a mystery. Let’s look, though. Maybe there’s a clue in the trail left by former Texas congressman Tom Loeffler all the way back in the 1980s. The game is afoot — literally. As a candidate for governor back in 1986, Loeffler confessed that he had worn plastic shower caps on...
Letters to the editor: Jan. 22, 2018

Re: Jan. 18 article, “Expo Center trimmed from PSV’s list of Austin MLS stadium sites.” The possibility of Butler Shores being decimated for a soccer stadium worries me. I am absolutely against such a move. These negotiations appear to be similar to the bullying of Austin that Uber and Lyft attempted. Butler Shores, at the confluence...
TWO VIEWS: Why Supreme Court should rule against bag ban
TWO VIEWS: Why Supreme Court should rule against bag ban

Shoppers might soon discover that the grocery store is less expensive and more convenient. Two weeks ago, the Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case questioning the legitimacy of municipal bans on plastic bags. If justices reaffirm an appellate court ruling, consumers will be unburdened from this clear example of government overreach. At...
More Stories