Top positive review
"Shaking off the Mythic Illusions and Telling...About Who We Really Are"
Reviewed in the United States on April 26, 2018
A friend from another country once asked me why Texans are so proud of their state.
Other than my dad’s attempt to move us to Florida when I was four (we moved back to Texas in eight months), and my year of teaching in Oklahoma, I’ve lived in Texas my whole life. My roots are deep here--there are two streets in Fort Worth named after my great-grandfather, whose father farmed the banks of the Trinity River. I’ve lived in East Texas, South Texas, North Texas, West Texas and the panhandle. I’m thoroughly Texan. In college, I was on the rodeo team—the Tarleton Texans. I mix Spanish with English, wear boots without irony, and know the price of cotton and cattle. I even--I hate to admit--have an armadillo tattoo (the official small mammal of Texas), a remnant of my Tarleton Texan days. Still, the question above is a tough one.
In his book, “God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State,” Lawrence Wright attempts to answer that question and others.
I read this book with more interest than I have any other in a long while. That’s partly because the material is familiar to me—the author writes about places I’ve visited, lived, and loved. But it’s also because of the author’s style. He is a remarkable writer who can really spin a yarn (Texan for “tell a story”) with vivid detail and subtle humor.
One of Wright’s main subjects is the political culture of Texas, how it began, how it evolved, and why it matters, not just to Texas, but to the whole country. In short:
“The political story in Texas both reflects and influences the national scene.”
Wright misrepresents nothing; Texas is exactly as he describes it. And he has the necessary background to get it right—he was born and raised in Texas and knows many of his subjects personally—George and Laura Bush among many others.
In the early part of the book, Wright describes three levels of culture: level one—the most basic and authentic level. The early German settlers in the Texas hill country built their homes from limestone because limestone is what was available. Level two culture is the least authentic, when a place adopts a foreign culture to become more sophisticated. Northeastern high rises in Austin, Texas, for instance. And level three—an informed return to the original culture: “Returning to one’s roots with knowledge, self-confidence, and occasionally, forgiveness…Level Three requires shaking off the mythic illusions and telling new stories about who we really are.”
These levels of culture are also stages that we pass through in life; maybe the author hints at that. His discussion of Level Three reflects his own position in writing this book. He isn’t blindly patriotic about his native state, but he’s not ashamed of it, either. Rather, he sees it accurately—the good and the bad, appreciates it for what it is, and helps readers do the same.