1. Goodbye to a River by John Graves
(Also anything else by John Graves.) A magnificent natural history of a place, a classic down-the-river narrative in which Graves and his dog float on a section of a river about to be buried by a dam. The book finished runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in 1960, second to Cry the Beloved Country. No one writes a sentence as beautiful and intelligent, as charming—that old-fashioned word—nor as elegant as Graves does.
2. The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy
(All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain.) Technically the setting is in New Mexico and Mexico, not Texas, but it’s close enough. The people and animals that pass back and forth through those (once upon a time) porous borders cared nothing for whether it was Texas or New Mexico, nor, for that matter, Mexico or the United States. As with few other writers, landscape and culture are natural characters, and major ones, in these novels.
3. Scorpio Rising by R.G. Vliet
One of the most scorching, incandescent romances ever. Magnificent language, a luminous, fevered dream of obsessive caliche-hued desert love.
4. The Gay Place by Billy Lee Brammer
I still haven’t read this, but folks whose opinions I respect hugely, even completely, say it is one of the Texas must-reads. I’ll try to get to it this year. I’ve been putting it off way too long.
5. An Unreasonable Woman by Diane Wilson
It does not go unnoticed by me that this list is male-heavy. Bloated, one could say. Mary Karr’s Liars’ Club for contemporary work? Pattiann Rogers’s universal/non-Texasy poetry Splitting and Binding? Diane Wilson’s An Unreasonable Woman? I think the latter. It will change your life. Wilson is a maximum bad-ass single mother of five, a shrimper who singlehandedly fought Formosa Chemicals in Seadrift, Texas, to a zero-discharge policy. An incredibly harrowing adventure tale; I won’t give away the ending, but it’s a corker.