The Writes of Spring
Robert Caro on LBJ. Marcus Luttrell on war. Douglas Brinkley on Walter Cronkite. James Donovan on the Alamo. Steve Coll on ExxonMobil. Ben Fountain on a surreal Dallas Cowboys halftime show. Dan Rather and Sissy Spacek on themselves. For some reason, May has turned out to be a month like no other for Texas-related books. Here’s our handy guide. By Gregory Curtis, Skip Hollandsworth, Christopher Kelly, Paul Knight, Jeff Salamon, Mimi Swartz, and Brian D. Sweany
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This month sees the publication of no fewer than eight major books by or about Texans. To guide you through this literary bonanza, we put together a helpful roundup. On your mark, get set, read!
Hog Hunting With Marcus Luttrell
The author of Lone Survivor still has his gun at the ready. By Paul Knight
“Can you handle steel?” Marcus Luttrell wanted to know.
The 36-year-old Navy SEAL turned best-selling author held a black 9mm pistol and moved it from hand to hand while explaining the finer points of making it shoot. He pulled out the clip and turned it a bit, flashing brass bullets that peeked from the top. He slammed the clip back into the gun
and handed it over. “Hang on to that,” he said. “You never know what we might run into out here.”
Ben Fountain Undoes Dallas
Decades after he started writing, the acclaimed author is publishing his first novel. And some of his neighbors may not be happy. By Jeff Salamon
By December 2008, Ben Fountain must have thought that his years of frustration were behind him. In 1988, half a decade after he moved to Dallas from his native North Carolina, he quit his lawyer job at Akin Gump to devote himself to the craft of writing fiction. What followed was eighteen years of countless rejections and a few signs of success before he finally published Brief Encounters With Che Guevara, a short-story collection that drew comparisons to the works of Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad and earned Fountain a prestigious PEN/Hemingway Award. His arrival as a major literary figure was pretty much certified in October 2008, when Malcolm Gladwell penned a flattering profile of him in the New Yorker.
In Praise of Sissy Spacek
Why doesn’t Texas’s greatest movie actress get the respect she deserves? By Christopher Kelly
It may sound odd to suggest that Sissy Spacek has long been underrated as a performer. She has been nominated six times for the Best Actress Oscar, winning the prize for her transformative turn as Loretta Lynn in 1980’s Coal Miner’s Daughter. In an industry that tosses aside its leading ladies once they turn forty, the 62-year-old actress has sustained a four-decades-long career, often managing to connect with immensely gifted directors—Alan Rudolph (Welcome to L.A.), Robert Altman (3 Women), Costa-Gavras (Missing), and Bruce Beresford (Crimes of the Heart)—just when their talent was reaching full flower.
Reading Along With James Donovan
The latest Alamo chronicler offers a glimpse of his reference library. By Skip Hollandsworth
In 2008, after Dallas author James Donovan hit the best-seller lists with his first book, A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn, his editor, Geoff Shandler, asked what he wanted to write next. Donovan sent him a long proposal on the sinking of the Titanic. Shandler turned him down, saying he wanted Donovan to stay focused on the West. Thinking fast, Donovan said, “Well, there’s this thing that happened down here in 1836 called the Alamo.”
The One-Question Interview with Douglas Brinkley, author of Cronkite
What’s the most surprising thing you learned about Walter Cronkite?
Interview by Jeff Salamon
Because Walter Cronkite used to be Mr. Center, always the objective journalist, I was surprised to learn that he was a flaming liberal . . .
Dan Rather Pop Quiz!
By Jeff Salamon
1. In his new book, Rather Outspoken (Grand Central, $27.99), which image does Dan Rather not use to describe his state of mind?
a. “A jukebox came on in my head and replayed the horror over and over, and there was nothing I could do about it.”
b. “At that moment, my brain felt like an iTunes playlist, and someone had just pressed the shuffle button.”
c. “In my head, there is a huge rack of videotapes tucked away in my mental museum.”
d. “My mind begins to wander: a kaleidoscope of thoughts.” READ MORE
Debating Robert Caro
The fourth volume of an epic LBJ biography stirs more controversy.
Days before this magazine went to press, we received an advance copy of The Passage of Power (Knopf, $35), the latest installment of Robert Caro’s life of Lyndon Johnson. We asked two followers of Caro’s work, TEXAS MONTHLY deputy editor Brian D. Sweany and the magazine’s former editor Gregory Curtis, to read the book and engage in an email exchange about how, in particular, Caro deals with John F. Kennedy’s assassination and the immediate aftermath. What follows is the conversation that ensued.
On 3/28/12, 4:01 PM, Gregory Curtis wrote:
As I was reading The Passage of Power, I kept getting faint echoes that I couldn’t identify until I got to the chapters dealing with Johnson taking power after the assassination and realized that, yes, I was reading a volume in a life of Lyndon Johnson, but I was also reading a grand, epic nineteenth-century novel . . .
The One-Question interview with Steve Coll, author of Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power
In terms of difficulty, how would you compare reporting on Exxon with the reporting you did for your previous book, The Bin Ladens?
Interview by Mimi Swartz
Reporting on Exxon was not only harder than reporting on the bin Ladens, it was harder than reporting on the CIA (for my book Ghost Wars). By an order of magnitude. The fundamental problem is that they really don’t want to be written about and they are disciplined . . .