Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Books on the Texas Perimeter

For those of you who have already seen me in your area of the state, you may have noticed me walking with an open book in my hands. It has long been a habit of mine to read and walk at the same time, and I have read a number of books this way. The Texas highway system seemed a good place to continue the tradition.

Now in order to really be with me, you have to imagine a long Texas road, the moist heat filling the space around you, mosquitoes going crazy on your legs and arms and face, perhaps a bit of wind and rain for kicks. The drivers whiz by as drivers do, and you’re walking along with a book, occasionally using it to bat the bloodsuckers off your shiny, sweaty skin. It was just like this that I read a couple of books during the first two weeks of my hike.

The first was Stories I Want to Tell You… by my mom Esther Bonilla Read. She compiled several dozen articles she had written for our local Corpus Christi paper over the years, added a few dozen more, and threw the whole thing together (and as the South Texas Hispanics like to say, she “threw herself” as well). The stories were primarily reminiscences of her childhood and stories told to her by her mother, my grandmother. She made four copies of the book and gave one to each of her children as a Christmas present in 1994.

I remember one particular aspect of this present. In the summer of 1994, my mom asked me to draw a picture of a Model-T. There is something about commissioned art that I don’t like, and I postponed doing her the favor. She was resolute. She asked about it all the time and eventually demanded a product (I suppose my payment was not having to pay rent.). The result can be seen on the cover of the book.

I was seventeen at the time. I don’t remember what else I got that Christmas, but I can picture myself putting on some new clothes, playing with anything game-related, and leaving the book near the spot I had unwrapped it. I honestly can’t recall receiving my own personal copy of the book, but I know I didn’t read it. I know I didn’t read it because my mom reminded me for years that I was the only one who didn’t read it.

Well, look who’s home for chicken pot pie. I finally read the book and am happy to report that I finally have my mom’s entire repertoire of stories in one handy dandy little spot. Any time she starts to tell a story now, I can beat her to the punch by flipping to the appropriate chapter. Reading Stories I Want to Tell You… was like stumbling upon Harry Houdini’s personal diary of exposed tricks.

That said, there were some very sweet tales. My favorite detail is how my grandfather first met my grandmother wearing two different shoes, one light one and one dark one. He asked her to dance amidst the general snickering of young girls, and she accepted. It is simple, true, and beautiful. You just can’t invent a story like that.

The second book I read was Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson. Mr. Larson chronicled the Galveston hurricane of September 8th, 1900. He weaves the story of two brothers positioned within the U.S. Weather Bureau’s Galveston station who were among the few professional weathermen to witness the storm so close. For good measure, Mr. Larson also includes a few other perspectives to add color to the tragedy.

This was a good book, well written, and gripping at moments. The back story about the uphill battle of the U.S. Weather Bureau to gain prominence and importance was fascinating and telling. Mr. Larson did a wonderful job to make the tale more about the people, the politics, and the random mishmash of errors and egos that led up to and through an avoidable disaster.

I would ask Mr. Larson to tone down the use of the single sentence paragraph. It was a bit much, the written equivalent of DUN-DUN-DUN! Toward the end of the book, the use of this technique became almost comic.

(For example:

“Spencer and Lord died instantly. Three others died with them – Kellner, Dreckschmidt, and young Dailey. Five other men were badly hurt. Ritter dispatched a waiter to find a doctor.

The waiter drowned.”)

Both books were enjoyable and good for the long walk I have undertaken. I will undertake to read many more along the way, so stay tuned.

Until next time, walker-readers…

No comments: