Reading

Little Free Libraries

You can find Little Free Libraries in front yards, parks, and near community buildings. There are few rules and much to be discovered. That was the inspiration of this Typewriter Rodeo poem.

Senate adopts rules for Ken Paxton impeachment trial

The rules are in: How Texas senators will manage the history-making impeachment trial of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Texas parks officials want to keep nearly 2,000 acres of parkland open to the public using eminent domain. Leaders in the county where Fairfield Lake State Park is located say not so fast.

First Twitter, now Reddit? The details are different, but another information-sharing site is seeing major owner/user conflict.

She has one of the most recognizable names in Texas history, but how much do you really know about Lady Bird Johnson? A new podcast explores.

Plus, the latest on severe weather across the state.

El Paso scraps plans for multimillion dollar arena

Another day, another attempt to elect a speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Fights over who should lead lawmakers aren’t limited to D.C. There have been similar surprises in Pennsylvania and Ohio. So could it also happen in Texas? Brandon Rottinghaus of the University of Houston shares his insights. Also Bloomberg with a list of ten lawmakers to watch in 2023: one’s from Texas, and the choice just might surprise you. Plus with a controversy over LGBTQ content in libraries, city leaders in Huntsville decide to put the library in the hands of a private company. Those stories and more today on the Texas Standard:

Miles And Miles Of Texas

One way I know a book is special is if I keep thinking about it years after I first read it. Miles and Miles of Texas, 100 years of the Texas Highway Department, by Carol Dawson and Roger Allen Polson, is such a book. I first read it several years ago, and even recommended it on air back then, but ever so briefly. I was unable to do it justice in the ten seconds I had to devote to it that day. So, let me give it the time it deserves right now. 

One reason I have a particular fondness for the book is because my father drove me and my brothers all over Texas when we were kids and bragged about our great road system. This book makes my father’s case, and also, quite honestly, lays out just how early Texas political corruption (can you say Ferguson?) raided the highway funds and delayed the quality work that eventually became routine, thanks to meticulously ethical overseers who finally took charge.

This book is about how the Texas highway system got built, the story of how the state, as the authors say, “got the farmer out of the mud.” Farm to Market roads and Ranch to Market roads, FM and RM, were pioneered in Texas. The wildflowers being seeded along the highways was started long before Lady Bird Johnson took on the promotion of the practice as her special project, and enhanced it. That story is here. 

Miles and Miles of Texas points out that “throughout recorded history, roads have provided opportunities for criminals.” Bonnie and Clyde used the good roads for fast getaways. Serial killers stalked the interstates. Smugglers of all kinds took advantage of the anonymity offered by crowded, fast-moving expressway traffic. 

Roads do not always mean universal progress. Roads connect, but they also divide and circumvent. They unite some and isolate others. Eminent domain is often invoked for the public good, but it’s generally the poor that pay the biggest price for the “public good.”

What I most love about the book is that it is overflowing with marvelous anecdotes that are sometimes shocking, sometimes inspiring and sometimes just hilarious. One I found particularly amusing was how inmates working road construction during WWII got tired of people doing drive-bys with their kids just to gawk at them in their prison stripes. The inmates would pick the scariest looking among them and chain him to a tree with a forty-foot chain. Then, when cars would come by, he’d run after them until the chain grew taught and then he’d strain at the end like a zombie. The car would speed off with the kids staring out the back window, wide-eyed in horror. I imagine those petrified kids kept their parents up late into the night. Some poetic justice in that perhaps.   

Another aspect of the book that is noteworthy is the photographs. They were chosen in close cooperation with the Texas Highway Department, which has phenomenal archives. The book contains dozens of these rare photographs of Texas roads and bridges in all phases of construction. The photographs were often taken by engineers and others uniquely involved in the building of roads so you feel privileged to see perspectives few have seen. This is a book that truly animates history because of the unique relationships between the photos and those who took them. Impressive, intricate research went into compiling this book.  

I enjoy it as an extraordinary read, cover to cover, and as a coffee-table book to be perused at leisure. 

Compared to other states, we have some impressive achievements in our road system. We have, as mentioned, the pioneering of FM roads, the landscaping of the highways for beauty and safety, the invention of the Texas turnaround (where you don’t have to go through the light to reverse direction on a freeway), and truly exceptional, even beautiful, roadside rest areas. 

Miles and Miles of Texas is an entertaining collection of Texana. It’s worth a look.

Texas Standard: November 25, 2020

You now the saying so many books, so little time? Well if you’ve got an hour, we’ve got a page turner for you. We’ll take a trip to the library. From ideas about voting and civic duty, the untold story of a war often repeatedly revisited, an agent of change who might otherwise have been lost to history, the tale of a Texas music scene that breaks all the stereotypes and loving sports when they don’t love you back. Conversations with authors from across the Lone Star State and beyond as we hit the bookshelves for a very special edition of the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: August 14, 2020

A new bill coming before Texas lawmakers next year addresses police action and accountability. It’s called the George Floyd Act, we’ll have the latest. Also, a Texas federal prison has more COVID-19 positive inmates than any other facility in the country. What’s being done about it. And what are you still wondering about the Coronavirus? We put your questions to a doctor. Plus, what Kamala Harris said about Texas in this election season before she became the VP nominee. And 50 years later… why it’s still worth remembering a long-gone Austin music venue. Those stories and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: October 2, 2019

Guilty. A jury has convicted a former Dallas Police officer of murdering her neighbor in his own apartment. We’ll have reaction and a look ahead to sentencing. Also, Texas State University under scrutiny for under-reporting sexual assaults on campus. We’ll take a look at what happened and why. Meanwhile, the state’s first black city is at risk of being overtaken by developers. A look at the history we’re about to lose. And California is going to let college athletes profit off their images despite NCAA rules. Why Texas should care. All of that and then some today on the Texas Standard:

Best of “Higher Ed:” The Well-Read Grown-Up

This episode was originally posted on Nov. 18, 2018.

In school, our reading choices are mostly dictated by what is assigned for classes or from reading lists. But once we are out of school, the decisions are up to us.  In this episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton discuss the joys and impacts of lifelong reading.

Ed believes that there are a couple of keys to staying well read beyond our school years.

One: expand the canon of what is considered “must reads” in school and beyond.

“Those canons traditionally are Western, usually written by white dead men,” says Ed. “What about the voices of individuals who are out there, in history and beyond, who were creative beings, or even not, but just having their story told….And so now, the question is, how do we find a balance where we can get a diversity of voices and perspectives?”

Two: read books that will push us in reading and in other arenas.

“Reading can transport you to a world where you might not be comfortable but you can actually find your way,” Ed believes. “That’s really the exciting world of ideas which can be reflected through reading.” Ed says exploring new ideas in our reading can lead us to exploring new ideas in other aspects of our lives.

What are on Ed’s and Jennifer’s bookshelves? Ed says he prefers non-fiction and likes reading about the art of comedy. But he also was completely mesmerized by the “Harry Potter”series. Jennifer also favors non-fiction but cites “The Thorn Birds” and “The World According to Garp” as favorite reads from the past.

What is the one classic series that Jennifer has never touched? And what is the one book that Ed suggests everyone read?

Listen to the full episode to find out, and to get the answers to the riddles about veggies and witches!

This episode was recorded on Oct. 30, 2018.

Higher Ed: Good Reading In And Out Of School

In school, our reading choices are mostly dictated by what is assigned for classes or from reading lists. But once we are out of school, the decisions are up to us.  In this episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton discuss the joys and impacts of lifelong reading.

Ed believes that there are a couple of  keys to staying well read beyond our school years.

One: expand the canon of what is considered “must reads” in school and beyond.

“Those canons traditionally are Western, usually written by white dead men,” says Ed.  “What about the voices of individuals who are out there, in history and beyond, who were creative beings, or even not, but just having their story told….And so now, the question is, how do we find a balance where we can get a diversity of voices and perspectives?”

Two: read books that will push us in reading and in other arenas.

“Reading can transport you to a world where you might not be comfortable but you can actually find your way,” Ed believes. “That’s really the exciting world of ideas which can be reflected through reading.” Ed says exploring new ideas in our reading can lead us to exploring new ideas in other aspects of our lives.

What are on Ed’s and Jennifer’s bookshelves? Ed says he prefers non-fiction and likes reading about the art of comedy. But he also was completely mesmerized by the “Harry Potter”series. Jennifer also favors non-fiction but cites “The Thorn Birds” and “The World According to Garp” as favorite reads from the past.

What is the one classic series that Jennifer has never touched? And what is the one book that Ed suggests everyone read?

Listen to the full episode to find out, and to get the answers to the riddles about veggies and witches!

This episode was recorded on Oct. 30, 2018.

Texas Standard: June 20, 2018

How much longer? If there’s growing bipartisan opposition to the policy of separating families at the border, why isn’t congress stepping in? Today on the Standard, Democratic Congressman Vicente Gonzalez of McCallen joins us to talk about gridlock in Washington and heartbreak on the border. Also, fears of an all out trade war with China rising. How it might play out in our own backyard. And how do you spell dynasty? T-E-X-A-S. A Lone Star sweep of the national spelling championships gets people wondering what’s in the water? We’ll find out. And 50 years after the landmark documentary Hunger in America turned a spotlight on San Antonio, we’ll explore its lasting impact. All of that and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: May 23, 2018

Lupe Valdez is the Democratic gubernatorial nominee. We’ll take a look at what she faces as she sets her sights towards the November Election, and Greg Abbott. Plus, we’ll break down the runoff results and hear from the political experts about which races surprised them and which could be clues to what could happen next Election Day. We’ll also look at the conversation from the Governor’s first roundtable on how to prevent school shootings like the one that devastated Santa Fe. And we’ll fact-check some of the claims that came out in the wake of the shooting. Also, drought conditions in Texas are causing some ranchers to take dire measures. We’ll talk to one. Those stories and so much more, today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: December 5, 2017

Lawmakers thought they’d fixed the voter ID question in Texas. Today, the state defends the new law in federal court, we’ll have the latest. Also, when hurricane Harvey made landfall, Rockport took it on the chin. As people talk about rebuilding in other parts of Texas, the question for Rockport is far more stark: can it survive? With its tax base disappearing, the mayor’s literally counting the days until coffers hit zero. Plus: four juvenile justice groups call for the state to close its youth lockups. The response from the top? You might be surprised. And a surprising study on racism south of the border. Those stories and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Reading Vs. Listening (Rebroadcast)

Have you ever told someone, “Hey, I read that book!” then continued with a guilty, “…well, I listened to the audio version.”

It’s time to wash that guilt right out of your soul, because in this edition of Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke, talk about how our brains process information differently based on how we consume it.

Texas Standard: September 18, 2017

According to the US census bureau the American middle class is back, but what about in Texas? We’ll have a check in across the lone star state. Also: SB4, the wall, a boost in deportations. Taken together, is this having an impact on health? And the offer for aid that that some Harvey victims regret having taken. Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Summer Reading

It’s high time for a good summer read. That’s the subject of this week’s Typewriter Rodeo poem.

Higher Ed: Curling Up With a Good… Podcast?

It’s a major milestone in our educational development: learning to read. Throughout school, we read books for classes and assignments and also just for fun. But what happens once we’re out of school? Do we still enjoy curling up with a good book? In this episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” KUT’s Jennifer Stayton and Dr. Ed Burger explore our relationship with reading and books. Ed may be the ‘rithmetic guy, but listen on for his and Jennifer’s discussion about all things reading- including what kind of books Ed favors, and Jennifer’s trick for getting through really long reads. You’ll also get the latest puzzler. No reading required – but bring some geometry and creativity.

This episode was recorded on Jan. 19, 2017.

Here’s Your Texas-Themed Reading List for 2017

I’m not an expert on many things, but when it comes to judging the quality of Texas literature, or Texana as it is called, I am as confident as a bronc rider still upright at seven seconds. That last second of the eight is reserved for humility. Chance needs scant time to have one spittin’ up dirt.

So I decided I would take my chances and prepare a list of good Texas books you might want to tackle in the coming year. Each book is tied to the month that will perhaps enhance your reading of it.

January – “The Tacos of Texas”
This has been a best-seller in Texas (and beyond) this past year. By January 3 your New Year’s resolutions will be somewhat less resolute. When that time comes, you will want tacos. And the tacos will give you strength for a fine year of reading ahead.

February – “The Son”
To my mind, this is the best Texas novel since Lonesome Dove. It was first runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in 2014 and the miniseries will air on AMC in 2017 – starring Pierce Brosnan. So binge read it first so you can binge watch it later. And you will have the advantage of saying, somewhat snobbishly, “I read the book and the book is way better.”

March – “Miles and Miles of Texas”
Just in time for your Spring Break trip is this magnificent book on the history of Texas roads and how they got built. The original mission of the Texas Highway Department was to “get the farmer out of the mud.” Obviously, they went far beyond that goal to succeed in building a state of superhighways. Let’s not talk about I-35.

April – “Lonesome Dove”
Cattle drives in Texas typically began in the spring. So this is a good time to read or re-read Lonesome Dove. This is the Iliad of Texas. If you haven’t read this Pulitzer Prize winning literary treasure, it’s time. Gus and Call are waiting for you. Let’s “head ‘em up and move ‘em out.”

May – “Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, the Man Who Killed Bonnie and Clyde”
He killed them in May actually. Hollywood made Hamer out to be the bad guy, but as is often the case, they were seduced by myth and got it wrong. I like what the Dallas Morning News says about this book: “Frank Hamer’s is perhaps the last great story of the American West to be told… Well, Hollywood? Now you have the book, so go make the movie.”

June -“Issac’s Storm”
For the start of Hurricane season, read Isaac’s Storm, the best-selling history of the killer hurricane that devastated Galveston in 1906. The Washington Post says that Erik Larson’s book is, “Gripping … the Jaws of hurricane yarns.”

July – “Empire of the Summer Moon”
This book tells the story of the last years of the Comanche Nation and how Quanah Parker and his warriors were never militarily defeated. The New York Times says it “will leave blood and dust on your jeans.”

August – “The Time it Never Rained”
The story of the West Texas rancher, Charlie Flagg, who survived the greatest drought in modern Texas history.

September – “Friday Night Lights”
For the beginning of football season, read the book that launched the popular series. And if you have read it already, go for “The Last Picture Show” instead, which is also anchored in Texas football culture.

October – “All the Pretty Horses”
Once you’re in, go ahead and read the whole border trilogy.

November – “Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans”
As the days shorten and the nights lengthen, sit by the fire and read T.R. Fehrenbach’s take on Texas history.

December – “The Big Rich”
As you begin worrying about presents and money, it is an ideal time to read the rags to riches stories of Texas oil men like H.L. Hunt and Roy Cullen. These were men who were, for their time, among the absolute richest in the world. They knew how to spend money and to play on a scale few have ever known. It will inspire your Christmas shopping, make you want to play poker for oil leases, buy sprawling ranches, and purchase your own Texas island.

There’s not a lot of romance in these books. There is a lot of tough love, though. And that’s good. If you don’t get tough love early in life it’s hard to find lasting love later.

So there you go. Print this out and put it on the fridge. Happy reading.

W.F. Strong is a Fulbright Scholar and professor of Culture and Communication at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. At Public Radio 88 FM in Harlingen, Texas, he’s the resident expert on Texas literature, Texas legends, Blue Bell ice cream, Whataburger (with cheese) and mesquite smoked brisket.