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TOP 10 TEXAS BOOKISH DESTINATIONS 2017
Lots of books and magazines are printed on paper—still. And big woods are where the paper comes from, right?
Deep East Texas, long a favorite destination of travelers for spring blossoms and fall foliage, boasts some 11.9 million acres of productive timberland, according to the Texas Almanac. For a significant chunk of the twentieth century, those acres of big woods supplied the voracious appetites of newspaper, magazine, and book readers in Texas and beyond.
Starting in 1940, when University of Georgia scientist Charles H. Herty persuaded Texas investors that newsprint could be made locally and economically from the pulp of Southern pines, the timber town of Lufkin geared up to manufacture giant rolls of the paper.
<< NEWSPRINT GIANT Left: A 1943 photo by Farm Security Administraton photographer John Vachon shows rolls of newsprint being wrapped at Lufkin’s Southland Paper Mill.
Seat of Angelina County, the only one of Texas’s 254 counties named for a woman (), Lufkin had no general bookstore to call its own following the closure of its mall Waldenbooks and its Cornerstone Christian Bookstore in 2011. But last year, after careful planning, Becky Jackson and her husband, Jay, opened on a well-trafficked stretch of John S. Reddit Drive.
LITTLE BOOKSTORE IN THE BIG WOODS Becky Jackson (center) and family launched Absolutely Fiction in Lufkin in 2016.
In a handsomely arranged space adjacent to the Wishing Well gift store, Absolutely Fiction carries a curated selection of nonfiction and an excellent array of children’s books as well. Jackson points particularly to a strong patronage by home schoolers as one reason she offers such extensive children’s and YA sections.
Lufkin’s (right; courtesy Visit Lufkin) is named for a local timber baron who donated funds in the 1930s to expand the library. After numerous renovations and additions, a new, two-story building was dedicated on South Raguet Street in 2001. The new library houses genealogy and special collections in the Ora McMullen Genealogy Room, named for the library’s first employed director, in 1933.
Eleven miles down the highway in the timber-company town of Diboll stands yet another public library named for a timber industry leader. The draws visitors in with its streamlined, modern exterior and its warm, inviting interior furnishings and shelving—also, fittingly, of locally manufactured wood products. The award-winning building was designed by architect John Desmond of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1964. The 2,300-square-foot Ellen & Buddy Temple Community Room and the Judge John Hannah, Jr. Reading Room were added in 2008; today, both rooms are rich repositories of local history through books, artifacts, and mementos.
“Diboll’s love affair with its library is almost as old as the town itself,” the library’s website explains. “Thomas Louis Latané Temple founded Diboll in 1894, and a few years later his Southern Pine Lumber Company built a guesthouse known as ‘The Library’. The house was frequently visited by the Temple Family and company officials, and the living room featured bookshelves lined with books for guests to read. Soon after, Temple convinced Mrs. Fannie Farrington to relocate from St. Louis and assist in establishing a community and the bringing of culture to the area. Farrington managed a non-circulating book collection until Diboll’s citizens gained access to a public library for the first time in 1934 when, following the opening of Lufkin’s Kurth Memorial Library, a book station was established in Diboll.”
<< HOMEGROWN Diboll native Justin Barkley (left, with library supporter Ellen C. Temple), began his career with his hometown library right out of library school, and currently serves as director of the Temple Memorial Library.
Diboll’s grandest new destination for bookish types, however, is (far right), a purpose-built facility to house a growing collection of regional archives, oral histories, photos, maps, and publications. The Center’s Craftsman-style architecture harks back to an era when graceful, sturdily built wooden paneling and trim, and solid wood furnishings, testified to the makers’ appreciation for handmade objects and original decoration. While the 12,000-foot Center, established in 2003, primarily serves historical researchers in its wood-paneled reading room, the gallery space, gift cabinet, and outdoor garden paths also welcome visitors as a museum of the region’s heritage.
The Center is committed to the ongoing preservation and digitization of historical resources, which are made increasingly available through online finding aids and via the Portal to Texas History. It also publishes the semi-annual Pine Bough, a colorful and informative local-history journal, that's available to members and by purchase on-site.
Director Jonathan Gerland (far left and below left) enthusiastically points out aspects of Texas settlement and industry revealed through the Center's current exhibition of state maps from sixteenth-century entradas to recent airline routes. The Center welcomes individual visitors, and groups with advance notice, for free tours.
Oh, and be sure to ask your host to pull the steam whistle on the 1928 locomotive #13 out back, too.
A TREASURE TROVE FOR BOOKISH TRAVELERS Below, The History Center in Diboll maintains extensive archives of East Texas history.
On the campus of in neighboring Nacogdoches (the “Oldest Town in Texas”), there’s always some sort of literary activity happening. The Stephen F. Austin University Press is known for fiction, poetry, biography, and creative nonfiction as well as elegant photo-essay volumes such as Barbara Stump’s The Azaleas of Nacogdoches and Francis Edward Abernethy’s Let the River Run Wild!: Saving the Neches, which help visitors appreciate what’s special about this part of Texas.
Prolific fiction author Joe R. Lansdale () serves as the university’s writer-in-residence, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in fiction writing and screenwriting. But Lansdale is generous with his signing-and-reading schedule, too, and you can catch him at numerous events this spring, on tour with his latest novel, Rusty Puppy.
Nacogdoches has in recent years become the home of the annual Pulpwood Queen’s Girlfriend Weekend, hosted every mid-January by author Kathy L. Murphy. Although Murphy, who rose to fame as the creator of the world’s most extensive book club network (the Pulpwood Queen’s and Timber Guys book clubs today number more than 700 chapters worldwide), shuttered her Beauty and the Book shop in Hawkins last year, the book club convention is going strong, next slated for January 14–18, 2018.
On her Facebook page, Murphy announced new details for book submission, as well as book club selections for the first half of 2017:
August through End of 2017 will be announced later this year.
The pineywoods, home to such natural wonders as the Angelina National Forest, the Davy Crockett National Forest, the Big Thicket, and Caddo Lake, seem to inspire a haunting subgenre that Lone Star Lit critic Michelle Newby this week calls East Texas Gothic (read her full review of ); East Texas native Cynthia Bond’s recent Oprah 2.0 book club selection Ruby is another with a similar fictional setting. Lufkin native Mary Lynn Baxter is the author of more than 40 Harlequin romances—contemporary rather than gothic.
KINGS AND QUEENS OF EAST TEXAS LETTERS From left, Cynthia Bond, Kathy L. Murphy, Joe R. Lansdale, Mary Lynn Baxter
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