Sunday, December 10, 2017


Trails and Memories
of the Big Bend

Ben H. English
  Genre: Memoir / Travel / Texas
Publisher: TCU Press
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Date of Publication: November 17, 2017
Number of Pages: 221

It was a time before Terlingua Ranch, chili cook-offs, and when you could drive a hundred miles without seeing another vehicle or another person. The year was 1961, and the tides of humanity that ebbed and flowed into the lower reaches of the Big Bend were at their historical nadir.

It was a vast, empty land spotted by isolated ranch headquarters, a national park with few visitors, and the many ruins of a past shrouded in legend, lore, and improbable truths. Six generations of Ben H. English’s family have called this enigmatic region home. With his family headquartered at the old Lajitas Trading Post, he worked and lived on ranches and in places now little more than forgotten dots on yellowing maps. He attended the one-room schoolhouse at Terlingua, prowled the banks of the Rio Grande, and crisscrossed the surrounding areas time and again on horseback and on foot.

Some fifty years later he writes about those years, revealing along the way the history and legends of the singular land he knows so well, separating fact from fiction, and bringing the reader into a world that few have experienced. He also explores the lower Big Bend as it is found now, and the extraordinary vistas one can still discover just over the next rise.

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Excerpt from Yonderings: Trails and Memories of the Big Bend
By Ben H. English

There are certain places in this world that seize the soul of those who journey into their environs. They tantalize our senses, both physical and otherwise, with a thousand varieties of awe, wonderment, mystery, and exultation. Even though we may only visit them but once, the mental snapshots we develop during the event never seem to fade or go away, remaining firmly entrenched within our psyches from that moment forward until death’s bed or beyond. Someone once said that life is not a series of years, but a recollection of special moments. The same can be said about those special places exemplified by the Big Bend of Texas.

These same moments and places call for a more introspective look at ourselves and where we fit into the larger scheme of things, which often enough leads us to questions about those who came before. Did they truly see and appreciate what was here, or were they so involved in their existential struggles as to not take much notice of the rare natural beauty surrounding them? What did they learn from this unique land, what enigmas did they unravel here? For many, we will never know, as their stories have been irretrievably lost, trapped in a void of forgotten memories or anonymity. They were too busy living history to have the opportunity or inclination to leave written documents of it. Their implacable enemy was time, or to be more accurate, the lack thereof.

As I have grown older the true value of time has become more apparent to me, and far more precious. It is the one thing we cannot change, call back, speed up, or slow down. With all of our advanced technological marvels and attending vanities, time pays no more attention to our needs and schemes than we of a tiny fleck of dust laying upon parched, barren soil. Time remains the unchanging constant in our mortal continuance, unconcerned with nothing else but its unrelenting march forward.

Yet this does not mean we mere mortals don’t entertain fanciful wishes of being able to bend it to our petty wills. As the decades have passed by, I have found myself wishing that I had just one hour to talk with Aunt Mag about the Hot Springs, “Sis” Hay concerning early Marfa, or Grandfather Cash regarding his days as an underaged infantryman in Lajitas. Much more so, I wish I had just one more hour to sit with my father and Papa English and hear their voices again. The two of them prowled a big part of this region of the Big Bend, spurred on by a consuming passion for this land and what there was to be learned from it.

No measure can be taken of any land without speaking of those who make use of it. What they hold to be true and inviolate sets the tone for what will happen to that ground in the future. In this respect there are basically two competing groups and philosophies, championed by those who think upon themselves as land owners versus those who consider themselves more as people of the land. The latter have a deep emotional attachment to what they stand upon and desire to keep it as naturally pristine as possible. The former faction sees whatever land within their grasp mostly in terms of how much wealth can be extracted from it; the long-term results are of secondary importance.

Though some may find this perspective to be overly simplistic or demeaning to one group or the other, it nevertheless cuts straight to the heart of the matter. The Big Bend country of Texas has had ample quantities of both breeds, as well as ample evidence of where strict adherence to each of the two philosophies can lead. In reality our nation needs both groups to successfully meet the unending challenges we face as a society, but there should be certain locales set aside that deserve the respect and the support of both parties for the mutual benefit of all.

The Big Bend has been repeatedly lauded by many of our fellows who profoundly care about this land and intuitively comprehend just how special it really is. They understand that God did not give us such splendor to have it defiled and abused, as so many other areas in our part of Texas have been. We as a people should never take this priceless gift lightly and need to pay proper homage to those with the forbearance to see what was being lost, and the personal courage to go forth and do what needed done to halt the ensuing blight.

       For myself I will enjoy the Big Bend as long as possible in the most intimate way one can, on my own two feet--sometimes going where no trail has ever been known to run. Early on I made a promise to myself not only to go and see, but to write about what I learned and experienced. This book contains only a few of the hundreds of stories I could tell about this country, and before I die I hope for many more to come. 

An eighth-generation Texan, Ben H. English was raised mostly in the Lajitas-Terlingua area. An honors graduate of Angelo State University, he served in the United States Marine Corps for seven years, was a high school teacher, and retired after twenty-two years in the Texas Highway Patrol.

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Friday, December 8, 2017


I reviewed Durations: A Memoir and Personal Essays  (Wings Press) by Carolyn Osborn for Lone Star Literary Life. This is a valuable account of growing up against the backdrop of WWII by a Texas literary treasure.

Carolyn Osborn
Durations: A Memoir and Personal Essays
Wings Press
Paperback, 978-1-6094-0544-1, (also available as an e-book), 200 pgs., $16.95
September 1, 2017

Carolyn Osborn is a grande dame of Texas letters. She has won awards from PEN and The Antioch Review, and the Lon Tinkle Lifetime Achievement Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. Several of her short stories have been anthologized, including in The O. Henry Awards (Doubleday, 1990) and Lone Star Literature (Norton, 2003); she is the author of four short story collections and two novels.

Durations: A Memoir and Personal Essays is Osborn’s newest book. “Durations” is a recounting of her childhood in the United States during World War II, and the volume includes seven recent essays; several of these works have been previously published in various forms in such journals as the University of North Texas’s American Literary Review and Southern Methodist University’s Southwest Review.

Osborn was five years old when the United States officially entered World War II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. Rather than continue frequent relocations according to her husband’s Army orders, Osborn’s mother chose to return to her Tennessee home “for the duration,” a phrase Osborn understood as “nobody knows how long.”

Osborn’s mother suffered, unbeknownst to Osborn, from schizophrenia and was hospitalized while Osborn’s father was away training troops. Osborn and her brother were taken in by the aunts of their extended Southern family, but lived in different households until the end of the war when their father remarried, and the family regrouped and decamped for Texas. I was lucky to hear Osborn speak passionately about mental illness at the Texas Book Festival this year, about the necessity of talking about it openly and without shame, banishing stigma. Osborn didn’t talk to her mother or see her again until she was a grown woman with children of her own, a heartbreaking and unnecessary tragedy.

A series of vignettes firmly grounded in the alien atmosphere of a country at war (“a vast and terrible confusion that had already hospitalized my mother, divided my brother and me, and threated to kill my father and uncle”), Osborn’s account of her early life playing out against the backdrop of world history is moving and important. These are valuable memories of a generation that will be lost to us in the not-too-distant future. Osborn has an understated style that speaks volumes.

Her teenage years take place against the backdrop of Texas’s transition from a rural to an urban state. Cultural adjustments were necessary, leaving a genteel Southern existence for the West, where “the sun wouldn’t quit shining and drugstore cowboys decorated the streets,” and football pep rallies where the team sat “like visiting royalty watching the antics of the common people.”

Osborn’s frequently funny (“I learned I was morally lacking in many ways but I tended to forget which ones”); astute (“She was personally as antiseptic as her always clean white uniform”); and observant (an aunt’s suitor had a “beseeching face, making him look as if you knew the answer to something he needed to know”).

The essays following “Durations” address the everyday mundane and everyday extraordinary in a wide range of subjects, from guns to Hill Country ranching to ambivalent travel essays, evidencing a naturalist bent. These are a gentle read, musing and insightful.

Osborn learned the art of storytelling from her aunts. We can thank those steel magnolias, “curiosity, that great provoker,” and “whim, that small action that changes everything,” for the gift of Carolyn Osborn.

Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Excerpt: UP NEAR DALLAS by Gina Hooten Popp

Winds of Change -- Book III
  Genre:  Texas Historical Fiction / Romance
Date of Publication: November 12, 2017
Number of Pages: 307

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The year is 1934. Economic turbulence rocks the country. And record drought dries up crops, along with the spirits of every farmer south of the Mason-Dixon. Yet for sixteen-year-old Mick McLaren, life is good as he takes to the open road to chase his dream of being a musician. Riding boxcars, hitchhiking, walking and driving his way across Depression Era Texas, he finds not only himself, but the love of a girl from Dallas named Margaret. Along the way, they befriend Cowboy Larson, a Delta Blues guitarist. Together the three teens, from three very different worlds, come-of-age as their life-changing journey carries them through killer dust storms, extreme poverty, and the unprecedented gangster activity of the Dirty Thirties.

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Excerpt from Up Near Dallas
Winds of Change, III
By Gina Hooten Popp

The camp was down by the water’s edge in a grove of trees. We would’ve driven right past it if Woody hadn’t known how to find it. It certainly wasn’t visible from the road. But after we parked our auto in a clearing, we walked down a winding trail that had tents and more autos parked strategically throughout the heavily treed area. Mirrors, pots and pans and other necessities needed for cooking or grooming dangled from the tree limbs giving the woods an overall magical fairy-like feel. As we walked along, we saw small shacks tacked together with wood and metal scraps the owners had gathered to make their own unique shelter. I had to admit they did look sturdier than the ragtag tents some of the homeless had.

Nonchalantly, I tagged behind Woody’s solid footsteps. And I have to say, even though I didn’t see anyone, I felt eyes on us as we picked our way down to the water’s edge where the concert was going to be held. Lifting my head, I could smell rain in the air, but I knew from experience it didn’t always come. However, the gusts blowing off the water, and the animals rustling in the woods around us, told me it might just happen tonight. Hopefully, after we played our music.

Woody stopped on the trail. And I took a moment to really listen. And I have to tell you, there’s no other sound in the world like the sound of the wind blowing through oak trees before a thunderstorm. It was exhilarating. The others around us must have been listening too because there was very little noise except the sounds of Mother Nature.

A native Texan, Gina Hooten Popp was born in Greenville and now lives in Dallas with her husband and son. Along with writing novels, Gina has enjoyed a long career as a professional writer in advertising. Her debut novel THE STORM AFTER was a finalist in the 2014 RONE Awards, and her just-released book CHICO BOY: A NOVEL was a 2016 Medalist Winner in the New Apple Annual Book Awards. Recently, her novel LUCKY'S WAY, about a young fighter pilot from Houston, was endorsed by the United States World War One Centennial Commission. 

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

TexasBookLover Named a TOP 50 TEXAS BLOG!

My blog has been named to the list of Top 50 Texas Blogs! Thanks so much to the lovely people at Feedspot. If you'd like to discover the other forty-nine top Texas blogs, then click here.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Monday Roundup: Texas Literary Calendar 12/4-10

Bookish goings-on in Texas for the week of December 4-10, 2017: 

Special Events:
13th Annual SIGNATURES AUTHOR SERIES featuring Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train), The Woodlands, December 8

Humanities Texas Holiday Book Fair, Austin, December 9

Laredo Book Festival, December 9

7th Annual Austin Writergrrls Book Fest, December 10

Ongoing Exhibits:

San Antonio
Trinity University, Holiday Open Mic with the Trinity Review, 7PM

Tuesday, December 5:
Brazil Houston, Glass Mountain Volume 19 launch party, 7PM

Murder By the Book, James Rollins will sign and discuss The Demon Crown, 6:30PM

San Antonio
The Twig Book Shop, Kimberly Fish reading and signing Comfort Plans, 5PM

Wednesday, December 6:

B&N - Lincoln Park, James Rollins signing The Demon Crown, 7PM

Deep Vellum Books, award-winning South Korean author Jung Young Moon in conversation with David Searcy, 7PM

El Paso
B&N - Sunland Park, The Mermaid book signing with Jan Brett, 5PM


SMU - McCord Auditorium, Peter Baker discussing Obama: The Call of History, 6PM

El Paso
Literarity Book Shop, An Evening with El Paso Poets Rosa Alcalá and Sasha Pimentel, 6PM

Apanas Coffee & Beer, NeoSoul WOWPS 2018 Qualifier hosted by Ebony Stewart, 6PM

Malvern Books, celebrate the launch of Ryan Sharp’s new chapbook, my imaginary old man: poems, 4PM

St. Edward's University, Writers' League of Texas workshop: "Honing the Spark and Mapping Out Your Revision" with Charlotte Gullick, 9AM

Patrick Heath Public Library, Geraldine Guadagno signs her new picture book, A Christmas Story with St. Joseph, 11AM

Cedar Hill
B&N - Hillside Village, Dana Barney signing HALF LIFE, 1PM

El Paso
El Paso Public Library - Memorial Park, Tumblewords Project Workshop: "Writing in Light" with Lucy Hopple, 12:45PM

Fort Worth
Forth Worth Restaurant of the Mind, Meet & Greet with author John J. Smith, 7PM

Galveston Bookshop, E.R. Bills signing Texas Far and Wide, a collection of tall tales, 2PM


East Branch Library, annual Posadas celebration featuring award-winning author and poet Dr. Carmen Tafolla, 2:30PM

West Branch Library, third annual Harry Potter Yule Ball, 5PM

Market Square, San Antonio's Historic Market Square book signing with Edna Campos Gravenhorst, 2PM

Trinity University Holt Center, Gemini Ink/Trinity University Press present "Writing Gifts: A Celebratory Workshop" with Naomi Shihab Nye, 10AM

The Twig Book Shop, Book-reading party with author Charity Marie, 10AM

Sugar Land
Fort Bend County Libraries - University Branch, Holiday Open House, 2PM

Sunday, December 10:
Half Price Books Mothership, local author Tracy Lawson will sell and sign books from her young-adult series Resistance, 1PM

The Mix Co-Working Space, Writing Workshops Dallas Publication Seminar: "Submitting to Journals & Magazines" with Mag Gabbert, 3PM

El Paso
Pershing Inn, Cinco Puntos' La Mama Bravo’s Book Club & Social Hour: Benjamin Alire Sáenz reading from The Last Cigarette on Earth, 6PM


San Antonio
B&N - San Pedro, A.L. Kaplan signing Star Touched, 1PM