Trillin on Texas

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Overview

"Yes, I do have a Texas connection, but, as we say in the Midwest, where I grew up, not so's you'd know it." So Calvin Trillin introduces this collection of articles and poems about a place that turns up surprisingly often when he's ostensibly writing about something else. Whether reporting on the American scene for the New Yorker, penning comic verse and political commentary for the Nation, or writing his memoirs, Trillin has bumped into Texas again and again. He insists that "this has not been by design . . . ...

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Trillin on Texas

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Overview

"Yes, I do have a Texas connection, but, as we say in the Midwest, where I grew up, not so's you'd know it." So Calvin Trillin introduces this collection of articles and poems about a place that turns up surprisingly often when he's ostensibly writing about something else. Whether reporting on the American scene for the New Yorker, penning comic verse and political commentary for the Nation, or writing his memoirs, Trillin has bumped into Texas again and again. He insists that "this has not been by design . . . there has simply been a lot going on in Texas." Astute readers will note, however, that Trillin's family immigrated to the United States through the port of Galveston, and, after reading this book, many will believe that the Lone Star State has somehow imprinted itself in the family's imagination.

Trillin on Texas gathers some of Trillin's best writing on subjects near to his heart—politics, true crime, food, and rare books, among them—which also have a Texas connection. Indulging his penchant for making "snide and underhanded jokes about respectable public officials," he offers his signature sardonic take on the Bush dynasty and their tendency toward fractured syntax; a faux, but quite believable, LBJ speech; and wry portraits of assorted Texas county judges, small town sheriffs, and Houston immigration lawyers. Trillin takes us on a mouthwatering pilgrimage to the barbecue joint that Texas Monthly proclaimed the best in Texas and describes scouting for books with Larry McMurtry—who rejects all of his "sleepers." He tells the stories of two teenagers who dug up half a million dollars in an ice chest on a South Texas ranch and of rare book dealer Johnny Jenkins, who was found floating in the Colorado River with a bullet wound in the back of his head. And he recounts how redneck movie reviewer "Joe Bob Briggs" fueled a war between Dallas's daily newspapers and pays tribute to two courageous Texas women who spoke truth to power—Molly Ivins and Sissy Farenthold.

Sure to entertain Texans and other folks alike, Trillin on Texas proves once again that Calvin Trillin is one of America's shrewdest observers and wittiest writers.

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Editorial Reviews

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As millions of New Yorker readers have learned, Calvin Trillin can rivet our attention about any topic on earth. His subject might be prime time Texas barbecue, unspeakable crimes, or the twisted language of President George W. Bush, but you just keep reading, whether you're a vegan, a pacifist, or a registered Republican. As a born and bred Midwesterner, Trillin views Texas with the fascination of a wry, affectionate outsider. This collection of his best pieces on the Lone Star State deserves a nationwide audience. Editor's recommendation.

Publishers Weekly
These 18 previously-published articles, many seen originally in The New Yorker, deal with the state to which Trillin's paternal grandparents emigrated only a few years into the 20th century, and tackle food, politics, crime, literature, and several other subjects. "By Meat Alone" deals with barbecue in general and Snow's BBQ in Lexington in particular, named the Lone Star state's top barbecue joint in 2008 by Texas Monthly. "In central Texas," Trillin writes, "you don't hear a lot of people talking about the piquancy of a restaurant's sauce or the tastiness of its beans; discussions are what a scholar of the culture might call meat-driven." Pieces on Texas politicians continue to carry weight: "The Dynasticks," "If the Boot Fits…" and "Presidential Ups and Downs," about former presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, will arguably be relevant forever. The same can not be said of "Mystery Money," about two teen-age boys who find half a million dollars, which fizzles despite promise; written in 1984, it now feels slight. The disappointments are rare, however, and these essays will impress Texans and non-Texans alike. (Mar.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780292726505
  • Publisher: University of Texas Press
  • Publication date: 3/15/2011
  • Pages: 168
  • Sales rank: 690,111
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

CALVIN TRILLIN has been a staff writer for the New Yorker since 1963. Since 1990, he has also been the Nation’s “deadline poet.” He is the author of twenty-seven books.

Biography

As a religion reporter, Calvin Trillin showed himself as something of a Doubting Thomas.

He was working for Time in the 1960s, and he didn't much like his assigned beat. So, he turned to one of the standard tricks of a good reporter: He hedged. "I finally got out of that by prefacing everything with 'alleged,' " he told Publishers Weekly. "I'd write about 'the alleged parting of the Red Sea,' even 'the alleged Crucifixion,' and eventually they let me go."

Fans of Trillin's writing -- his snapshots of ordinary U.S. life for The New Yorker, his political poetry in the Nation, his search for the ideal meal with his wife good-naturedly in tow -- will recognize his style in this early exercise in subversion. He is warm, gentle, and human, but there can be a dash of mischievousness for taste. Even the unwelcome sight of a brussels sprout at a buffet provoked his ire. Turning to his wife, he said, "The English have a lot to answer for."

Humorist Mark Russell took note in the pages of The New York Times in 1987: "Mark Twain, Robert Benchley and [S. J.] Perelman are dead, but Calvin Trillin is right there with the post-funeral cocktail to assure us that life goes on."

Born in Kansas City but transplanted to the West Village of New York City, Trillin has kept in touch with his midwestern roots for much of his writing. A collection of articles from The New Yorker on so-called ordinary murders from around the country became the book Killings, called by The Wall Street Journal "one of the most low-key, dispassionate, matter-of-fact books on murder ever produced."

In its review, the Los Angeles Times said: "He may be The New Yorker's finest stylist, and his writing is quite different from the careful accretion of detail that characterizes much of the magazine's writing. Trillin omits as much as he possibly can; he leaves spaces for resonating, like a guitar string stopped and kept mute to sound the overtone from the next string down."

In Travels with Alice he writes of looking for hamburgers on the Champs Elysées in Paris. Even in a classic New York story, Tepper Isn't Going Out, he writes not of theater or restaurants or even a rent-controlled apartment equidistant between Zabar's and Central Park. Instead he seeks out deeper pleasures: finding the perfect parking space, and holding onto it.

Humor is a Trillin trademark. He began writing a humor column for The Nation in the late 1970s called Uncivil Liberties that became two book collections. In 1980, The New York Times chuckled gratefully at his first novel, writing that "the antics around the nameless news magazine in...Floater are as funny as The Front Page and as absurd as playground pranks."

In 1990, he began treating Nation readers to a new column, a weekly spot of verse on the political hijinks of the day, pieces with names like "If You Knew What Sununu." This, too, became a book, The Deadline Poet: My Life as a Doggerelist. He even shares insights into the creative process: "A fool is fine. A pompous fool's sublime. / It also helps if they have names that rhyme."

Trillin's résumé has a sense of elasticity: journalist, novelist, humorist, satirist, poet. But there is a commonality to his work: It's approachable. And The Washington Post's Jonathan Yardley points out that, for a journalist, this may be the toughest feat of all.

"Calvin Trillin is like an old shoe," he wrote in a 1998 review of Trillin's Family Man. "Whatever he may be writing about, he always makes you want to slip into it and get comfy. This may seem like a modest compliment, but it is a high one indeed. Few tricks are more difficult for the journalist to pull off than being consistently likable and engaging, making oneself and one's little world interesting and appealing to others."

Good To Know

Growing up in Kansas City, Calvin Marshall Trillin was known as Buddy.

The family name was originally Trilinsky.

He staged two one-man shows showcasing his humor in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Calvin Marshall Trillin (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 5, 1935
    2. Place of Birth:
      Kansas City, Missouri
    1. Education:
      B.A., Yale University, 1957

Table of Contents

Introduction
By Meat Alone
The Dynasticks
Mystery Money
Bad Language
Scouting Sleepers
Confessions of a Speechwriter/And Especially to Pickens, S.C.
Knowing Johnny Jenkins
If the Boot Fits . . .
New Cheerleaders
Whose Mines Are They?
Not Super-Outrageous
Three Texans in Six Lines
Making Adjustments
Presidential Ups and Downs: Washington Pundits Take Their Analytical Skills to the Ranch
The Life and Times of Joe Bob Briggs, So Far
One Texan in Eight Lines
Reformer
Molly Ivins, R.I.P.
Credits
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2011

    A treasure

    Droll. Witty. At times laugh-out-loud funny. A good bedside read. You will never go wrong with Calvin Trillin.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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