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Giant Country

Essays on Texas

Don Graham

Publication Year: 2013

In Giant Country Don Graham brings together a collection of lively, absorbing essays written over the past two decades.

The collection begins with a twist on book introductions that sets the tone for the essays to come—a self-interview conducted poolside at an eccentric Houston motel favored by regional rock bands. Over piña coladas the author works on his tan and discusses timeless Texas themes: the transition of the state from a rural to an urban world, the sense of a vanishing era, and the way that artists in literature and film represent a state both infectiously grand and too big for its britches.

In “Fildelphia Story,” Graham remembers his Ivy League professorial stint in a city the small-town Texan who rented him a moving van looked up under “F.” In “Doing England” the Lone Star Yankee courts Oxford University and returns with a veddy British education. In “The Ground Sense Necessary” a native son journeys inward to explore the dry ceremonies of frontier Protestantism and to recount movingly his father's funeral in Collin County.

With his wide-ranging knowledge of classic regional works, Graham unerringly traces the style and substance of local literary giants and offers a sometimes irreverent but always entertaining look at the Texas triumvirate of Dobie, Webb and Bedichek. Other essays look at such Texas greats as Katherine Anne Porter, George Sessions Perry, William Humphrey and John Graves.

In a section he calls “Polemics,” Graham includes his best known essays, “Palefaces vs. Redskins,” a sardonic survey of the Texas literary landscape, and “Anything for Larry,” a tour de force that has already become a minor classic. The essay weighs the puny financial achievements of Graham against those of mega-author Larry McMurtry and never fails to bring down the house when Graham gives a public reading.

A recognized authority on celluloid Texas, Graham provides a rich sampling of his knowledge of Texas movies in pieces that blanket the territory from moo-cow cattle-drive epics to soggy Alamo sagas to urban cowboy melodramas.

In the larger-than-life state that is Texas, nobody sizes up the Lone-Star mythos, its interpreters, boosters and detractors better than Don Graham.

Published by: TCU Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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With Thanks ....

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pp. ix-11

I owe so many debts stretching back nearly twenty years in the making of the essays that comprise this book that it would be impossible to thank or even recall everybody who offered a suggestion, a hint, a lead, a bit of encouragement. But before that, to my parents, Willie and Joyce Graham, now both deceased, lowe an incalculable debt:...

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Greed, Creed, and Me: The Author Interviews Himself by Way of an Introduction

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pp. xi-xvii

Don caught up with himself poolside at the Allen Park Inn, Houston, Texas. He looked tanned and fit....


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pp. 1-21

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Filadelphia Story

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pp. 3-11

In 1971 I moved from a ranch outside Buda, Texas (population 498) to Philadelphia (population 1,949,996) to take a teaching job at the University of Pennsylvania. It was a big step for me, and like every step in my pursuit of what I had trouble thinking of as a "career,"...

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The Ground Sense Necessary

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pp. 13-19

When I was an undergraduate at North Texas State University in the early 1960s I read Jessica Mitford's new book, The American Way of Death, with a good deal of excitement. What Mitford had to say about American burial practices...

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Texas in 1940: The WPA Guide

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pp. 21-29

Nineteen-forty, another time. The speed limit in Texas was forty-five miles per hour; Lyndon Johnson was serving his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives; Audie Murphy, sixteen years old, was living hand to mouth with his disintegrating sharecropper family in Hunt County; Howard...

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Doing England

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pp. 31-49

At breakfast the next morning-an English breakfast with scrambled eggs unredeemable by any measure of salt, some stewed tomatoes (beloved of all Englishmen and good for Vitamin C), and a pink, meat-like substance said to be bacon, curling with fat-Elvis was still...

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American Narratives

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pp. 51-58

There are only three or four Oklahoma narratives. There is the Boomer Sooner story, the opening of free land to anybody capable enough or lucky enough to grab it. There is the Grapes of Wrath story, the one all Oklahomans have been trying to live down since 1939. This is a story of being busted flat, of...

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Giant Country

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pp. 59-72

"It don't look so grand here, does it, it don't look like it could hardly make it all the way to the ocean, does it, it looks like it might just curl up and die. It don't look a bit like it does in those mountains outside Pilar where it comes crashing out of that ravine and makes that turn towards Taos," said Harry....


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pp. 73-93

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Cotton and Classicism: George Sessions Perry’s Farm Novel

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pp. 75-86

It was not until long after my family had forsaken cotton fields and the labor thereof that I first read George Sessions Perry's novel of sharecropping life, Hold Autumn in Your Hand. It struck many resonant chords, though we were not sharecroppers, my father and mother and myself in that time of war so long ago, in...

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Katherine the Great

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pp. 87-95

The third annual Texas Writers Month celebration in May 1997 featured William Sidney Porter (0. Henry) as its poster boy. Male writers had also been honored the two previous years, Horton Foote in 1995, John Graves in 1996. One could argue that the 1997 poster pictured the...

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William Humphrey: Last of the Southern Belle-Lettrists

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pp. 97-102

First things first: his name was William Humphrey, not Humphries as I have heard absolutely hundreds of people say who should know better. There must be something in Texas linguistic patterns that makes people want to pluralize that name....

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Pen Pals: Dobie, Bedichek, and Webb

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pp. 103-116

In front of the famed Barton Springs Swimming Pool in Zilker Park in Austin, there is something new under the sun: a statue honoring the memory of three men who were neither statesmen nor soldiers, the, usual subjects of such public approbation. Passersby wonder out loud who these men are. Few recognize...

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John Graves and The Regionalist Enterprise

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pp. 117-128

When Yankee writers began arriving in Austin in the late seventies, the first thing they wanted to do was meet a Real Texas Writer. Dobie, Bedichek, and Webb--the old lawgivers with names linked like a law firm--were dead, and Larry McMurtry had decamped to the nation's capital,...

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“Urban, by Cod”: Billy Lee Brammer’s Texas

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pp. 129-152

For over three decades now, Billy Lee Brammer's The Gay Place has carried the aura of a legend. The legend is partly true. Brammer was a supremely talented writer who wrote one very good novel but was never able to write another. Frustration and anxiety dogged his subsequent efforts, and...

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Take My Sequel from the Wall: The Lonesome Dove Cycle

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pp. 153-172

By winning the Spur Award of Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters Prize for Fiction, and, best of all, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove far outstripped any of his previous ten novels. It also made the Best Seller List of The New York Times. Before this...


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pp. 173-193

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Palefaces and Redskins: A Literary Skirmish

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pp. 175-181

The Texas literary scene reminds me of the skirmish line a famous critic once observed in the landscape of American literature. Philip Rahv said it was the Palefaces versus the Redskins, Henry James vs. Mark Twain. On one side, culture, refinement, and technique; on the other, raw life, realism, and...

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Land without Myth; or, Texas and the Mystique of Nostalgia

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pp. 183-191

AImost a dozen years later, it's possible to look back on the Texas Sesquicentennial with something considerably less than awe. The Centennial, in 1936, had been a watershed moment in Texas cultural history. A whole book has been written about that congeries of events, but when the history...

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Anything for Larry

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pp. 193-198

The last time I saw Larry was in t 988 when he came to the University of Texas to give a talk. Actually give is not quite the word. Larry is not into giving, as they say. I don't even want to know how much he was paid to give this talk. But he was still riding the crest of Lonesome Squab and I know the...

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Paris, as in Texas

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pp. 199-202

At the UCLA Student Union the two English majors at the next table were growing animated. The topic wasn't politics or money or sex; it was the film Paris, Texas. "You've got to see it. It's a great film. It's about these abysses, right? It's German expressionism." Then the one who loved Paris,...

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Puerto Vallarta Squeezed

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pp. 203-205

Reviewer walks through the door, sits down. Has a review to write. Trying to remember the wind, how it feels to have been out there. Has known a lot of sorrow but never faced anything this tough before, trying to say how it is, this novel by a man called Robert James Waller....

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What the World Wants to Know

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pp. 207-209

In Terlingua a man walked up to John Grady Cole and said without preamble, my name is Perez, and I am Commander of the Chili....


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pp. 211-231

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Moo-vie Cows: The Trail to Hollywood

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pp. 213-226

First there were cattle drives and then there were cattle-drive movies. The time span between the end of the trail drives and the beginning of motion pictures was surprisingly brief: about ten years in all. As early as 1898 the essential elements to make a trail-drive film were in place. That was the year Thomas...

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The Big Show: Autry’s Artful Oater

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pp. 227-233

I grew up seeing big-budget A westerns at the Ritz Theater, on the square in McKinney, Texas, but on Saturday afternoons I also saw a lot of double-feature B westerns and serials, cheaper, cruder fare for kids and die-hard adults in a seedier venue, at the Texas Theater, off the square. Looking back, I don't feel any great...

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Remembering the Alamo: The Story of the Texas Republic in Popular Culture

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pp. 235-258

In thinking about the Texas Revolution we would do well to heed the advice of English novelist Hemy Fielding, who long ago urged the importance of scrutinizing popular materials in order better to understand a culture. Wrote Fielding: "I must blame you for taking so little notice of our Diversions and Amusements;...

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Nowhere Else But Southfork: What Texas Looks Like in the Movies

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pp. 259-263

During a trip to the Caribbean in the early nineties, we spent an afternoon at a small cafe in Martinique, eating, drinking, and talking to the locals. On a TV set behind the cash register, reruns of Dallas flickered brightly, the owners' small child transfixed by the dubious doings of J.R., Bobby, Sue Ellen, the...

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“Time-Traveling Through Texas”: A Half-Centuy of Lone Star Movies on Video

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pp. 265-285

One of three American films made by famed French director Jean Renoir, who during World War II came to Hollywood to escape the Nazi occupation of his country. A heart-warming, faithful adaptation of George Sessions Perry's novel Hold Autumn in Your Hand, this film explores the economic...


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pp. 287-289

E-ISBN-13: 9780875654874
E-ISBN-10: 0875654878
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875651835

Page Count: 290
Publication Year: 2013