12 Best Books Set in My State
Big Bend and the Hill Country.
Those would be my answers if you asked me where my favorite places in Texas were. In fact, I'm visiting them right now!
That's right, this homebody is on a road trip with my husband, Simon. Even though we've celebrated 3 of the last 5 of our anniversaries exploring the open road in, around, and through these two astonishingly diverse regions in Texas, we keep coming back because we just can't get enough.
We can't quit it.
After enjoying some pretty stellar audiobooks on our road trip last year, we decided to do the same this year with one slight caveat - that we listen to a book set where we are driving.
Let me tell you, choosing which one was an easy decision because I absolutely loved the novel Lonesome Dove by Texan Larry McMurtry and this year's anniversary road trip was the perfect opportunity to share the 37-hour Pulitzer Prize winner with my man - a native Texan himself.
It started me wondering, though, about other books set in my state, which titles I have read that I would consider the best, and which authors would give YOU the best vicarious vacation because they have loved our Great State of Texas as much as we have.
Texas Book Recs
1. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
My sister, Lynda, was my first guest on Pretty Literate LIVE for two reasons:
- She was the most widely read of all of my sisters (and that says A LOT!)
- She lived close enough to meet me halfway so we could broadcast in person.
During that LIVE, we presented each other with a book we wanted the other to read before we got together again and I confess that my breath literally caught in my throat when I saw the girth of the hardback edition of Lonesome Dove she produced from her bag.
The first chapter completely lassoed my heart and the rest of McMurtry's epic tome spirited me away like cattle driven to market. I'm so glad she introduced me to Larry McMurtry's unforgettable characters and places when she did because the following summer she and I went on our own epic road trip to Montana and back taking in the sights and experiencing some of the places Gus & Call visited in this great American western.
And right now, I'm sharing that experience again...this time with my man...as we drive around our Great State!
2. Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck's 1960s epic road trip with his canine companion, Charley, was completely enthralling and left my husband and me eager to build an entire book box featuring this amazing adventure. While his over 10,000 mile road trip traverses the whole of the United States, as die-hard Texans we especially loved his travels through our Great State.
“Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.” -John Steinbeck
Truer words, Mr. Steinbeck. Truer words.
(If you haven't already, I invite you to check out our Summer Road Trip Book Box featuring Steinbeck's Travels with Charley...through Texas, as well as the other 43 states he visited on this clever, humorous travelogue by one of America's beloved writers.)
3. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
Speaking of Steinbeck (see Travels with Charley in Search of America), I read The Grapes of Wrath a few years ago and not only fell in love with the author, but also with a new-to-me time period. Once I learned that Kristin Hannah had written her own depression-era novel - this one from a woman's perspective and set partially in my own great state - I could not get my library card out fast enough. A few days later, I not only added a new author to my most loved list, but a new favorite title to my newly created Kristin Hannah collection.
4. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
The first in The Border Trilogy, All the Pretty Horses is the story of a young man in his late teens who, in dealing with the loss of his grandfather (and subsequently, his grandfather's ranch) takes to cowboying with a young friend of his. The book is set along the fuzzy, indistinct border between Mexico and Texas in 1949 in West Texas and paints an accurate picture of how desolate, vast, and breathtaking the area is. Note: The writing style is different, lacking the grammatical formalities many readers appreciate and is kind of reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway in that way.
5. News of the World by Paulette Jiles
Set in Texas during the westward expansion & the pioneering times in America, this title combines my love of Texas with my favorite time period, thanks to growing up watching the beloved 1970s tv show Little House on the Prairie. If you loved LHotP, too, or pioneer America, you're already primed to want to read News of the World. Bonus: Tom Hanks starred in the movie adaptation bearing the same title in 2020!
6. Old Yeller by Fred Gipson
I have yet to watch the movie because Gipson's 1956 classic already lived up to all the hype in my head. An 1860s ranching family in need of a new dog finds themselves adopted by an ugly yellow dog who not only earns his keep, but finds his way into the hearts of the family, especially young Travis who is still grieving the loss of his prior pooch. It is said that Old Yeller was based on the state dog of Texas - a Black Mouth Cur - which is the breed of dog my in-laws currently have. I am here to testify that he is the sweetest stray and most loyal family dog you've ever met, so kudos to Fred Gipson for perfectly portraying the breed in his novel. Bonus: This book is a great read for any age, so if you've got kids or grandkids you could enjoy this with - or without - them.
7. Holes by Louis Sachar
Some of our best memories as a family were created on Family Movie Night. It was a good night, indeed, when we found a movie we could enjoy together as a family and Holes starring Shia LaBeouf was one of those movies. In fact, my teenagers loved the 2003 movie so much that they bought the book so they could experience Stanley's story again (and again!) in print.
This one? It's got the Texas heat locked down and portrayed perfectly!
My Texas TBRs
8. Giant by Edna Ferber
Pretty Literate's Monthly Book Club read our first Edna Ferber read-along this Spring, the author's engaging 1925 Pulitzer Prize winner titled SO BIG. (Check it out here.) While many of us recognized the author's name, few of us knew she was the author of the book that inspired the 1956 film starring James Dean by the same title - including me! The irony is that Giant was filmed in the same area of West Texas that I'm currently visiting on our road trip! And this year, I am enjoying reading it in the mornings while Simon sleeps in.
9 & 10. The Crossing and Cities of the Plains by Cormac McCarthy
These top my Texas TBR pile because they are the second and third books in McCarthy's The Border Trilogy that began with All the Pretty Horses (see #4 above). They are set in the desolate landscape of West Texas, right along the border of Mexico - one of my favorite spots in Texas!
11. Rainwater by Sandra Brown
Set in a rural Texas town during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, I am already primed to love this one by a new-to-me author. (See my comments on John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and Kristin Hannah's The Four Winds above.)
If you are as enamored with Big Bend National Park as my husband and I are, I know you'll want to experience it through the firsthand account of homesteader J.O. Langford's 1909 trip to the Rio Grande, a two-fold search to regain his health (reportedly obtained through hot springs located on the banks of the Rio Grande) and to establish a new home for his family.
12. Big Bend: A Homesteader's Story is the Langfords' story, their life lived in the rugged and spectacularly beautiful country which they came to call their own, and Langford's memoir is brought to life beautifully with the help of acclaimed Old Yeller author Fred Gipson (see #6 above).
What About You?
I've shared the 12 Best Books Set in My State. What are some great books set in your own? I hope you'll share your favorite titles in the comments.
Here are some wonderful books set in the state of Oklahoma, where I live:
The Outsiders- SE Hinton
The Grapes of Wrath-John Steinbeck
Where The Red Fern Grows- Wilson Rawls
The Innocent Man:Murder and Injustice in a Small Town – John Grisham
Where The Heart Is- Billy Letts
Killers of the Flower Moon- David Grann
True Grit- Charles Portis
Paradise- Toni Morrison
Ready Player One- (set in future OK)- Earnest Cline
The Outsider- Stephen King
Zeke and Ned- Larry McMurtry
I have read most of these and recommend them all highly!! Several of these have been made into movies; True Grit (either film) interesting wordplay and conversational rhythms are nearly identical to the book. I look forward to the release of Killers of the Flower Moon in October from Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jesse Plemmons, Robert DeNiro among others and it is a former FBI agent’s nonfiction account of the Osage Indian murders in the 1920s. One can even visit the Outsiders house/museum in OK; and as in Paradise, there are 13 left of 50 all-black towns in Oklahoma; I went through Rentiesville on the way to visit the Honey Springs Battlefield where my son was a tour guide as part of his History course.