It has been a troubling year for books and education in Texas. Following the passage by the Legislature of a “Critical Race Theory” law that restricts the way teachers can talk about racism, history and current events in classrooms , Republican heads of state have increased their attempts to cancel the teaching of subjects which they deem to cause “discomfort”. Gov. Greg Abbott and some GOP lawmakers have proposed banning books related to race and sexuality in school libraries. Fort Worth State Representative Matt Krause recently identified 850 of these books, written largely by women, people of color and LGBTQ authors, that strike her sensibility. The wave of activity is already having an effect: Earlier this month, a San Antonio school district announced it would review more than 400 books from Krause’s List that are part of its libraries.
It is therefore fitting that many books published by Texans or on Texas this year offer challenges and fixes to harmful systems and mythologies. the ObserveThe staff have rounded up some of our favorites that we’ve reviewed, checked out, or otherwise devoured this year. Some serve as critical history lessons on pivotal moments in state history. They cover Juneteenth, the death penalty, COVID-19, and more. And they clearly highlight two points. A: There is a lot more to Texas if you are ready to learn. And two: Amidst it all, 2021 was a banner year for the Texas books.
Forget the Alamo, by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson and Jason Stanford
In Forget the Alamo, a trio of Texan writers question what they call the “Anglo-heroic narrative” that has long been taught about the Battle of Alamo. As they explain, and as Chicano writers, activists, and communities have long agreed, the events that occurred at the Alamo have been mythologized and used to demonize Mexicans throughout Texas history. and obscure the role of slavery “, writes Observer contributor Nic Yeager. The book so offended Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that it prompted the Bullock Texas State History Museum to cancel an event with the authors hours ahead of its scheduled date. Patrick, Abbott and other GOP heads of state serve on the board of trustees that oversees the museum.
Code of silence, by Lise Olsen
In Code of silence, Observer Senior journalist and editor Lise Olsen sheds a critical light on the mysterious world of federal judges. Because they have lifelong appointments and rarely face the consequences of bad behavior, some federal judges have been allowed to mistreat and harass their staff with impunity. Code of silence takes us to Southeast Texas, where a judge accused of sexually assaulting staff is finally brought to justice by a brave whistleblower.
Let the Lord sort them out, by Maurice Chammah
Other important books on the death penalty have been written by Anthony Graves, a former exonerated death row convict, and Texas defense lawyers, but none have delved into Texas’s historic role in the modern death penalty. like Let the Lord sort them out, by Maurice Chammah. Chammah, which covers the prisons for Marshall Project, links Texas’ adherence to the death penalty to the myth of the state border and the history of slavery, lynchings and racial violence. It also delivers personal accounts of people who have encountered the state’s mechanisms of death and explores the enduring trauma of ultimate punishment. The book, written Observer Writer Michael Barajas illustrates how “executions leave a mark on everyone involved”.
The year of the plague: America in the time of Covid, by Lawrence Wrightt
Pulitzer Prize winner and Austin-based journalist Lawrence Wright appears to be, in addition to being a talented writer and journalist, a gifted medium. Long before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Wright was already working on a novel about a future deadly disease: The end of October, which debuted in May 2020. It then quickly followed up with a non-fiction account of the progression of the real COVID-19 plague that was released in mid-2021. Starting to worry about what he’ll write next?
June 17, by Annette Gordon-Reed
Pulitzer Prize-winning Texas historian Annette Gordon-Reed weaves a first-person account of her family with historical context and analysis in a series of essays on the significance of Juneteenth, now a federal holiday , which commemorates the announcement of the end of legal slavery in Galveston in 1865. “For anyone who has learned history in the classrooms of Texas, June 17 provides a compelling counter-narrative to familiar stories of the origins of the state, ”writes Observer contributor Irene Vázquez. But Gordon-Reed knows that “correcting the historical record is not easy,” writes Vázquez, who quotes the book: The experiences of Indians, Blacks and Mexicans wreak havoc with these legends and myths.
On the porch, by W. Chase Peeler
Terlingua is a place that seems to encapsulate elements of the Texas myth. Rugged individual, far from civilization, a gathering place for creative minds and home to the world’s greatest chili cuisine. In On the porchWriter W. Chase Peeler tells the story of the far west Texas city from a musical perspective: the titular porch has attracted musicians for decades. Jam sessions here can last 10 hours and include 20 players. Readers will hear about the giant mosquito sculpture welded together from old car parts and the people who live so far from the grid that their homes are only visible from airplanes. Journalist Julie Poole writes in the Observer that “Peeler’s sentences fly the most when he describes the landscape of Terlingua, so much so that it is impossible not to daydream in search of this incredible city, where at night” the Milky Way appears, its entire length clearly visible like a trail of powdered sugar thrown across the sky.
Heart Atlas, by Brene Brown
Brene Brown’s new book, which explores human emotions and connections, continues the folk writing style of the University of Houston social work professor who combines fascinating, delivered research – especially in audiobook versions – in a decidedly Texan twang.
Accommodation, by Jim Schutze
A 34-year-old book reissued in September, Accommodation is a searing tale of racial terror in the city of Dallas that “unearths a painful past with poignant provocation,” writes Observer editor-in-chief Gus Bova. Prior to the reissue, the rare book had passed like literary contraband among the young Dallasites of a progressive bent. Now, thanks to Deep Vellum press, the book, whose style and content remains provocative, is accessible to all those interested in the troubled past of North Texas.
God save the girls, by Kelsey McKinney
Journalist and Texan Kelsey McKinney’s debut novel is set in the fictional town of Hope, Texas, where the family of a large church pastor is consumed with scandal when he has an affair with a church member. In a magazine, the former Observer Digital editor Sunny Sone writes that the book, which follows the pastor’s two daughters, is a “fix” to Lot’s biblical story: “The plot hasn’t changed much – the father, a man drenched in holiness, always betrays the women in his family, but the prospect has.
Aristotle and Dante dive into the water of the world, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
The authors of El Paso rarely get the recognition they deserve from the literary world at large, but Benjamin Alire Sáenz is the exception. Critics have praised Sáenz Aristotle and Dante books; in addition to having racked up the highest honors in young adult fiction, the first book in the series was chosen for a film starring Eva Longoria. The second part of the series, released this year, follows two young homosexuals who fell in love on the border between Texas and Mexico. More than a love story, Sáenz’s book explores deeper ideas (What does it mean to belong?), Making the novel an enjoyable, memorable and thoughtful journey. Saenz told the Observer he is somewhat taken aback by the critical reception of his books, and knows that success can “be as fleeting as a rainstorm in the desert.”