The Power of Words


A version of this story ran in the September 2012 issue.

It’s no small feat to harness the power of words. Words can free you or trap you; make you feel or make you think. The authors featured in our Fall Books issue have done so admirably, and on subjects from the personal to the political.

The issue begins with Larina Lavergne’s funny, irreverent and poignant story about the shady circumstances of a woman’s birth (publishing Friday). Lavergne is the winner of this year’s Observer’s Short Story Contest, selected from among more than 200 entries by guest judge Heidi Durrow, the author of the award-winning The Girl Who Fell From the Sky.

David Duhr, Steven G. Kellman and Christine Granados helped select the books for this issue with an eye for the stories that are shaping or have shaped Texas. Domingo Martinez’s brave coming-of-age memoir, The Boy Kings of Texas, captures the deep poverty of many communities in the Rio Grande Valley. Douglas Brinkley’s sweeping biography of legendary broadcaster (and Houstonian) Walter Cronkite explores the rise of broadcast journalism and its impact on modern American politics.

Brinkley’s Cronkite is part of our nod to the presidential election year. Before we wade too far into the political swamp, we look at Texas’ impact on the presidency and the national agenda through the lens of Robert Caro’s The Passage of Power (publshing Thursday), the fourth installment in his biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson, and Gail Collins’ As Texas Goes … How The Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda.

Our books issue wouldn’t be complete without recognizing Librotraficante, a word play on trafficking and books. Earlier this year, when the Tucson school district removed books taught in Mexican-American studies classes from high school classrooms, artists and writers in Texas organized to symbolically “return” the books to Arizona. The caravan, which traveled from Houston to Tucson, underscored the power of books to shape both individual identity and political discourse.

Candace Lopez, a freelance writer for the Observer, explained her reaction when she read the list of books removed from Tucson classrooms: “I saw Occupied America, Borderlands, The House on Mango Street and other texts by Chicano authors that had played a profound role in shaping my pride and confidence as a Latina. Imagining someone taking that from me is aching.”

That’s the power of words.

Read all the reviews and features from our Fall Books issue. We’ll continue to add more reviews here as September continues.  

Austin’s Literary Fairy Godmother

Uncle Walter and American Politics

Power Politics

Slide Show: Viva Los Traficantes! See 9 books by Texas authors banned in Arizona.


An Unforgettable War

A Soccer Team Mirrors Juarez’s Decline 

A Dangling Metaphor

Coming of Age in Brownsville

Lost in South Texas

The Other Side of the American Dream