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SUPER By Jim Lehrer RANDOM HOUSE 207 PAGES, $25 Why have books survived the onslaught of short-attention-span entertainment? Maybe humans still crave the depth that can be communicated only by reading thousands of words strung together in meaningful order. Books remain the best way to absorb the thoughts of another person. A book can put history in context, convey a subtle argument, and tell a story in ways technology hasn’t been able to improve on. Books don’t have serious competition when it comes to countering convential wisdom, sparking conversations, or, dare I say, entertaining. The Texas Observer is committed to celebrating books, not just as a solitary pleasure, but as a means to generate debate and bring people together. Every quarter we devote an issue to books. In this issue, Steve Kellman reads Karl Rove’s memoir so you don’t have to, and cuts through the latest partisan blitz by the king of spin. Robert Perkinson shares part of his meticulously researched book on the history of Texas prisons, and sheds light on why civil rights-era Democrats, who con trolled state government, didn’t slow the growth of the state’s prison population. Dave Mann interviews death penalty defense lawyer David Dow, whose gripping memoir is a fresh reminder of how arbitrary and cruel the Texas justice system can be. Poet Wendy Barker shares memories from the front lines of school integration and tells us how she transformed the often-painful experiences into poems. To continue the discussions that begin in these pages, the Observer is holding its first writers’ festival, at Scholz Garten in Austin on May 8. Jim Lehrer is flying in from Washington to read from his historical novel Super the book. Sarah Bird and Spike Gillespie will bring their Texas-sized wits to a discussion of humor writing. Joe Lansdale and Robert Leleux will take us deep into the East Texas Piney Woods that inspire them. You’ll find the rest of the schedule at . We hope to see you there, with books in mind. MICHAEL MAY EXCERPT A Vintage Ride OMEHOW, WHEN HE’S NOT HOSTING PBS NEWSHOUR, JIM Lehrer has found the time to write 20 novels. His latest is a mystery called Super, which takes place in 1956 aboard a luxury train called the Super Chief. Clark Gable and President Harry Truman are onboard, as well as a reporter, A.C. Browne. Eventually, the ride becomes deadly. The book’s plot is based on real events, which gives Lehrer a chance to imagine conversations between historical figures that could have actually taken place. Here’s an excerpt from the book: SEE THE SCHEDULE of the first Texas Observer Writers’ Festival at Mr. Truman decided to take his chances with the passengers and other members of the public who might be around the Albuquerque station. He needed some exercise, some fresh air. So did A. C. Browne. And, suddenly, there they were together walking along side by side. Neither said a thing at first except in body language, to welcome the other’s company. Nobody bothered them. Some waved and nodded but they left the thirty-third president of the United States alone to talk with his friend, whoever he was. A. C. Browne provided him covera form of protection. “How have you occupied your times since we last spoke?” Truman asked. “Banging away on a typewriter, sir.” “What kind of scary television story are you writing, Browne, if I may ask?” “It’s about how television programs are beginning to affect movie making since the war. I got the idea from Jimmy Stewart. He was a friend of my father’s and we’ve remained in touch. I’m going to stay with him while I’m in California, in fact.” “If you want to know what I think, there aren’t enough television sets out in the country to amount to an effect on anything,” said Truman, using his walking stick to dismiss the thought. “But maybe one day there will be. You can quote me on that, if it will help your story.” “Speaking of quoting you, Mr. President,” said Browne, carefully. “That was a joke, Browne, for god’s sake. I don’t know anything about movies or television and don’t give a damn about finding out.” “I was thinking about doing another piece instead of the TV one,” Browne said. “I was wondering what you would think if I wrote about what we’ve been talking about, Mr. President … not only nuclear testing but the other things as well. A kind of ‘Conversation with President Truman on the Super Chief’ story. I’m sure Reader’s Digest or one of the other magazines would jump at it …” Truman stopped abruptly, looked at Browne and then strode off as fast as before. A. C. Browne had had a sudden flash that Harry S Truman might whack him across the head with his walking stick. “Permission denied, Browne.” “I certainly wouldn’t write it without your permission, that’s for sure,” Browne said. “But you’ve known from the beginning, Mr. President, what I do for a living.” “What’s the penalty for killing a son of Albert Roland Browne?” 14 THE TEXAS OBSERVER WWW.TEXASOBSERVER.ORG