What to read, see, and watch this month to achieve maximum Texas cultural literacy.
La Belle, the Ship That Changed History (Bullock Texas State History Museum, through May 17)
For more than three hundred years, this ill-fated French ship lay on the floor of Matagorda Bay, before it was rediscovered in 1995, excavated, and subjected to thorough study, resulting in this multimillion-dollar exhibit, which includes more than 115 artifacts, such as a dolphin-handled brass cannon and a rat skeleton.
American Sniper, Directed by Clint Eastwood (December 25)
This adaptation of the autobiography of Chris Kyle, “the most lethal sniper in U.S. history,” was set in motion well before the Odessa native was killed, an event that forced a revamp of the entire project. Bradley Cooper, in the title role, is definitely pushing past his comfort zone; director Eastwood, by contrast, is no stranger to the stories of men who live amid violence.
Togetherness (HBO, January 11)
University of Texas grads Jay and Mark Duplass have made a career out of writing, directing, producing, and starring in movies (like 2010’s Cyrus) about men confused about what, exactly, it means to be a man these days. Their first foray into television (not counting their acting gigs) is a comedy about four people—including Amanda Peet as an unhappy Houston transplant—trying to make their way in Los Angeles.
College Football Championship Game (AT&T Stadium, January 12)
The old bowl championship system hasn’t disappeared, but it has a new name, a new trophy (goodbye, crystal football), and a new method of qualifying (hello, bracket competition). There’s also a new, Texas-flavored sponsor (Dr Pepper), a Texas locale for this year’s big game, and, barring a last-minute collapse, maybe even a Texas participant. Go, Frogs!
Migratory Animals, Mary Helen Specht (Harper Perennial, January 20)
For her first novel, Specht, an Austin-by-way-of-Abilene writer with sterling credentials (Rice undergrad degree, Fulbright scholarship, Dobie Paisano fellow, laudatory blurb from Ben Fountain) looks at a handful of young Texans—including one who just returned from five years in Nigeria—questioning the lives they’re not sure they want to be living.
See How Small, Scott Blackwood (Little, Brown, January 20)
Five years ago Blackwood published We Agreed to Meet Just Here, a debut novel that was set in a melancholy version of Austin. The long-awaited follow-up draws inspiration from his hometown once again—specifically, from the infamous 1991 “yogurt shop murders” of four young women, transformed here into the heartbreaking killing of three young Texas women at an ice cream shop.