Book about Texas is best appreciated for the journey, not the destination

I invested in God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State when it came out 2018 in hardcover because I intuited that I might settle in Texas at some point. I thought I ought to learn something about the state.

undefinedLawrence Wright’s book certainly taught me something, that Texas is a state of contradictions. It’s big and it’s intimate. It’s conservative and it’s liberal. It’s rich and it’s poor. Its people value ancient natural resources and space-age technology, religion and themselves, independence but also community. Whatever you might want in lifestyle or geography, you can probably find in Texas.

According to the acknowledgments, the book came to be when Wright’s editor at The New Yorker asked him to “explain Texas,” exactly what a transplant needs. A Pulitzer Prize winner, Wright covers a lot of ground in this story, a little bit memoir and a lot of history and politics. He is clearly left-leaning, but his book paints a balanced picture of a state known for both Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush.

The writing, as you would expect from such an esteemed correspondent, is lovely, but not in love with itself. Here’s how Wright describes Willie Nelson’s guitar, Trigger:

It has a big hole near the bridge, worn through by Willie’s pinky and ring fingers. Pick marks have scored the face paper thin. The entire instrument feels sheer, the frets worn down to nearly nothing. It’s been signed many times—Leon Russell used a pocketknife—but the signatures are fading into the patina. If you saw this guitar at a garage sale, you would walk on by.

Wright is a keen observer who understands what makes Texas distinctive in so many ways. He devotes whole chapters to the state’s unique politics (“The Cradle of Presidents” and “Sausage Makers”), music (“The City of the Violet Crown”) and geography the defines it (“Borderlands”). Ever been to Buc-ee’s? “It is the largest convenience store in the world—a category of achievement that only Texas would aspire to,” he writes, and then describes in the sort of detail an extraterrestrial visitor would appreciate and understand.

If I have a problem with this book, it’s that it lacks a narrative, or at least one I could follow. This is a book about place, not person. I began reading it in late 2018 and it wasn’t absorbing enough to keep my attention. It wasn’t until I bought property in Texas that I returned to it and finally finished it. It’s good in pieces, just not compelling as a whole. But whether you aspire to be a Texan or not, it’s a good little piece about a mighty big state.

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