Writing into the Sunset


Brad Tyer

There I was, sweating midnight puddles in a nylon tent at the Enchanted Rock campground, convincing myself that if I survived the swelter and the pre-sunrise walk to the summit I’d come for, I would drive into Fredericksburg and see if Berkman Books was open on the Fourth of July. If so, I was going back to buy a book I’d convinced myself I could live without earlier that afternoon, when I’d stopped off at Berkman on my way through town. It was a nice hardback of John McPhee’s Alaska opus Coming Into the Country. I’d already read it, and Berkman’s wasn’t even a first edition, just a crisp, clean copy with the price clipped and someone else’s inscription on the title page. Yes, of course, I could live without it, but given a choice, why would I?

I went to Enchanted Rock last weekend because during the 35 of my 41 years that I’ve lived in Texas, I somehow had never been out there before, and that oversight needed rectifying. In a couple of months I’ll be leaving the state again, at least for a while, and who can tell when I might next get a chance?

Like Ruth Pennebaker, who laughs her way painfully through the personal library-winnowing process on page 38 of this issue, I’ve been trying to thin the herd in anticipation of the move. I stopped at Berkman Books, which has become one of my favorite Hill Country attractions, for the same reason Ruth walks away from her selling trips to Half Price Books carrying the same amount of lumber she walked in with: I can’t help myself. At least I choose not to.

There was that perfectly unremarkable but perfect unread paperback of J. Frank Dobie’s The Longhorns, which I’m remiss in not having read, and of which I’d been reminded by recent Dobie-Paisano fellow Mary Helen Specht’s vividly thoughtful recounting of her time working on J. Frank’s ranch, which starts on page 5. I also picked up a gorgeous first edition of A.C. Greene’s A Personal Country, another Texas classic, and the sort I prefer to buy from an actual Texas book shop rather than over the Internet.

This is the last Observer books issue I’ll have the pleasure of editing, and I’m pretty pleased with it. From Robert Leleux’s sweethearted ode to Wharton-born playwright Horton Foote to Dan Oko’s dissection of separated-at-birth superstars Lance Armstrong and Roger Clemens, there’s a lot of Texas in it. Azita Osanloo’s read on recent Iranian-American memoirs and Josh Rosenblatt’s take on Reza Aslan’s How to Win a Cosmic War expand the horizon well beyond state lines. Memoirist Stephanie Elizondo Griest admires a border-blurring new Latina voice from UT Press, and poet Carrie Fountain finds such voices missing in action from a new Library of America compendium of verse. And that’s not the half of it. Plenty of good reading to catch up on, and plenty more to look forward to.

Speaking of which: It turned out that Berkman Books opened just before 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 4, blissfully unperturbed by the patriotic parade honking down the street. I found the books I’d come back for, and another short stack to boot. I bought those, too, to carry home and pack up in boxes and take away with me again. I could probably have lived without them, but owning books in this age of e-readers isn’t about necessity. It’s another way of connecting with the places you’re from and the places you may go. And you never can tell when I might be out that way again.