The Texas literary scene shows no signs of slowing down, with dozens of spring and summer titles headed our way.
The uptick in Texas books follows a banner year in 2015, which will be celebrated Friday and Saturday at the annual Texas Institute of Letters reception and banquet, which is being held in Austin. The finalists for the Jesse H. Jones Award for fiction are Austin writers Karen Olsson (“All the Houses”), Antonio Ruiz-Camacho (“Barefoot Dogs”) and Elizabeth Harris (“Mayhem: Three Lives of a Woman”).
The finalists for the Carr P. Collins Award for nonfiction are University of Texas creative writing director Michael Mewshaw (“Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal”), Bastrop’s Randy Fritz (“Hail of Fire”) and San Antonio’s Jan Jarboe Russell (“The Train to Crystal City”).
But spring is a good time to start focusing on what’s ahead. And there’s plenty.
This Sunday, I’m reviewing “The Midnight Assassin,” the terrific, fast-paced look at Austin in the 1880s by Skip Hollandsworth, executive editor of Texas Monthly. (For a review, see the Insight and Books section in the American-Statesman.)
The book, which is bound to be a finalist for next year’s awards, focuses on a series of killings of black servant women and the panic it caused. And with his customary wit, Hollandsworth points out that the city really became alarmed when the same serial killer attacked and mutilated two white women. He suggests that the famous Austin moontowers might have been installed to help people feel safer on the streets. And he further notes that many newspapers around the country, at least at one point, thought that the Austin killer had moved on to London, where he became Jack the Ripper. It’s really quite a tale, and it’s the Statesman Selects title, in conjunction with BookPeople, for April.
Also coming in April: A review of Austin author Dominic Smith’s “The Last Painting of Sara de Vos.” It’s historical fiction, dealing with the first woman to be admitted as a master painter to Amsterdam’s Guild of St. Luke in 1631. The book goes back and forth in time, from the 1600s to the 1950s and 2000. And it deals with an art historian who, in her earlier days, made a forgery of a de Vos painting, only to have it haunt her later in life after she became a bigwig at an art museum. Smith will be the subject our series called Literary Austin.
Meanwhile, Austin’s Noah Hawley, who’s best known for TV work on “My Generation,” “The Unusuals,” “Bones” and “Fargo,” has a new novel titled “Before the Fall.” It’s due in late May and focuses on a group of people who board an ill-fated private plane from Martha’s Vineyard to New York. There are only two survivors — a down-on-his-luck painter named Scott Burroughs and a 4-year-old boy, who’s the son of a media mogul. The book goes back in forth in time, with the backstories of the passengers. And there’s more than a suggestion of foul play. I haven’t started it yet because I’m trying to finish “The Adventurist,” by Houston’s J. Bradford Hipps.
I have to say that I’m really enjoying the Hipps novel, in part because of the satirical, riotously funny tone about the modern corporate world. The main character is Henry Hurt, a software engineer in the South who tries to navigate a financially perilous situation at work while nursing a bit of lovesickness on the side. And on top of that, he’s haunted by the death of his mother, the possibility that his father is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, and the persistent questioning of his career choices by a do-good, liberal sister who works for a nonprofit. I haven’t quite made up my mind what I think about poor Henry. But he makes me laugh, so I guess I’m simultaneously appalled and amused. It’s set for release in April.
One of the biggest surprises of the past couple of weeks was the arrival of the advance reading copy of Lawrence Wright’s “The Terror Years.” It’s due in bookstores in August, and its subtitle, “From al-Qaeda to the Islamic State,” indicates it’s a sequel of sorts to Wright’s Pulitzer-winning “The Looming Tower.” It consists of 10 pieces published in The New Yorker about the path to today’s Islamic State terrorists.
With all of this coming up, I’m not sure how quickly I’ll get to the following titles, but I’ll try. They include:
- “Welcome to the Poisoned Chalice: The Destruction of Greece and the Future of Europe,” by James K. Galbraith, who holds the Lloyd Bentsen Chair in Government/Business Relations at the University of Texas. He argues that the Greek financial situation is a potential international disaster. Galbraith sees the policies used toward Greece as a “moral abomination.” It’s from Yale University Press and is due in June.
- “Waylon: Tales of My Outlaw Dad,” by Terry Jennings and David Thomas. Terry Jennings, Waylon’s son, was born when his dad was only 19, and he grew up in a wild period of touring, drugs and chasing women, along with multiple divorces and other troubles. It’s being billed as an honest warts-and-all biography. Terry Jennings is the founder of Korban Music Group and lives near Waco. He teamed up with Thomas, whose books including “Wrestling for My Life” and “Foxcatcher,” the inspiration for the Oscar-nominated film. He lives near Fort Worth. It’s due in April from Hachette.
- “Terminated for Reasons of Taste,” by Chuck Eddy. Austin-based journalist Eddy shares his views on rock ’n’ roll and how he thinks that most histories focus on winners rather than losers. He thinks the losers help make rock interesting. It’s due in September from Duke University Press.
- “Before We Visit the Goddess,” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. The author, who was born in India, is the McDavid professor of creative writing at the University of Houston. And her new novel focuses on the daughter of a poor sweet-maker in Bengal, India, who longs for an education. The girl eventually gets a benefactor, but the relationship sours. And years later, her estranged daughter flees India for America, only to have her dreams upended as well. The book jackets says that the novel “captures the gorgeous complexity of these multi-generational and transcontinental bonds, sweeping across the twentieth century from the countryside of Bengal … to the streets of Houston.” It’s due in April from Simon & Schuster.
- “Another Year Finds Me in Texas: The Civil War Diary of Lucy Piers Stevens,” by Vicki Adams Tongate. This one deals with a young Ohio woman who is visiting Bellville, Texas, when the Civil War breaks out and makes her return home impossible. The diary is one of the few from women during Civil War-era Texas and details her perspective on just about everything, from the weather to chores to slaves. Tongate explores the diary and provides commentary along the way. It’s from the University of Texas Press and is already in bookstores.
- “Kent Finlay, Dreamer: The Musical Legacy Behind Cheatham Street Warehouse,” by Brian T. Atkinson and Jenni Finlay. Texas journalist Atkinson teams up with Finlay’s daughter, Jenni, to talk about the late Kent Finlay’s efforts to help aspiring artists while working at Cheatham Street Warehouse. Those he helped at the legendary San Marcos honky-tonk include George Strait, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Randy Rogers, James McMurtry and Eric Johnson. It’s already in bookstores and is from the Texas A&M University Press.
- “Indeh: The Story of the Apache Wars,” by Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth. Austin native Hawke teams up with illustrator Ruth to bring us a graphic novel about the Apache nation in 1872. It’s due from Grand Central Publishing in June.
Also of note: One of Austin’s favorite writers, Sarah Bird, has a small UT Press book titled “A Love Letter to Texas Women.” It’ll make a great Mother’s Day gift, if you’re wondering. We’ll have more on this title soon.
There are many more Texas-related books coming up, of course. I’ve just mentioned a few. But this year is going to be a good one for fans of Texas literature.