I am on the road this week, taking a cross-country trip with my husband to pick up his son, who is spending the summer with us.
There is no better way to chew up the miles than reading books set in the places we are visiting. For the past few days, I focused on East Texas, which is far different than the dust-filled ranches in the western part of the state. East Texas features rolling hills, beautiful woodlands and a humidity similar to Florida.
Pulitzer Prize winner Annette Gordon-Reed framed her newest book, “On Juneteenth,” on the East Texas landscape where she was born and raised. This collection of essays is a tribute to Juneteenth, June 19, 1865, the day enslaved African Americans in Texas were told slavery had ended.
The book also is an examination of Texas’ complicated history by a scholar who has a deeply personal connection with it. Gordon-Reed shares anecdotes, including her memories of integrating her town’s schools and her family’s long history of working the land, interspersed with information about Africans in Texas and the myth of the Alamo.
Stacey Swann used her East Texas roots to craft her debut novel, “Olympus, Texas.” With a nod to mythology, Swann introduces the Briscoe family, a larger-than-life brood with all of the drama of a “Dallas” episode.
Patriarch Peter has six children with three women, and his philandering has shaped wife June’s relationships with all of the kids. The reader meets five of them. Oldest daughter Thea escaped to Chicago at the first opportunity; brothers Hap and March are estranged; and Arlo and Artie are twins who have been close their entire lives. That is, until a new man in Artie’s life leads to a fateful encounter that threatens to tear apart the entire family.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention Attica Locke’s Highway 59 mystery series featuring Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger who returns home — reluctantly — to reunite with his family and solve murders. Racial tensions, long-held grudges and the oppressive East Texas weather fuel the storylines of “Bluebird, Bluebird” and “Heaven, My Home.”
We are taking our time coming home with stops planned in New Orleans, Oklahoma, the Grand Canyon and Utah, all amazing locations to inspire my next week of reading.