Connecting Texas books and writers with those who most want to discover them

What makes a place a
Top Texas Bookish Destination?


Most of the readers and writers we know, far from being the sort to only haunt the recesses of their town's library or curl up on the couch when the sun's shining, like to get out and visit the places they've read about. Or the places that inspire them.


We polled our staff—in a most informal but serious way—about the places in Texas that fueled their bookish imaginations. What literary  destinations called to them to get out the map, get in the car, and go? Was it a whim to attend a festival, a desire to follow in a favorite author's footsteps, an urge to browse the shelves of an unusual bookshop, a hunt for a novel's real-life inspiration?


It didn't take long for our list to grow. In fact, things got a bit heated as we tried to decide which destination might trump another — especially as we applied our own growing knowledge of attractions new and old to updating our 2016 list. You’ll see a few new entries this year, as new events, updated libraries, and big new books play a huge part in our determinations. We visited alluring locales from the pineywoods to the prairies, in big cities and small, from the coast to the mountains. We ranked and researched and ranked some more.


Our writeups and rankings are highly subjective, we grant you. The book scene is ever-changing, and we have to own up to not always being able to mention every recent development, or to acknowledge every worthy author, publisher, or bookstore in our pages. Though we concentrated primarily on those aspects of literary life that make a place “visitable,” we strive to capture the bookish flavor and fabric of each place that depend on the ongoing products of its writers behind closed doors, or the experiences shared by locals that visitors can only occasionally tap into.


All we can hope is that Lone Star Literary Life readers will find something here they didn't know before—and even if they have to just toss all ten names in a hat and take turns choosing the next goal for a road trip, they'll enjoy what they find when they get there.


Read on, share this issue with a friend, and send us your own thoughts when you're done:


Angelina & Nacogdoches Counties / East Texas Fort Worth Rio Grande Valley, Laredo to Brownsville Midland

Texas's Top Ten Bookish Destinations 2017

  • 10   EAST TEXAS   >>

    The pineywoods of Angelina and Nacogdoches Counties join our Top Bookish list this year — with a new indie store and more >>MORE

  • 9  EL PASO   >>

    Far West Texas is a bilingual, bicultural literary mecca, home to Benjamin Alire Sáenz and dozens of other working writers, the Cormac McCarthy legend, award-winning Cinco Puntos Press.  >>MORE


    An array of literary and cultural festivals, plus new bookstores, push the region from Laredo to Brownsville and SPI into our top ten for 2017.  >>MORE

  • 7  FORT WORTH    >>

    It’s where the West begins, and where your search for great libraries, bookstores, and events ends. While you're visiting the Stockyards, spend a little time reading up, too. >>MORE

  • 6  SAN ANTONIO     >>

    The Alamo City hosts the state’s largest spring book festival, celebrates the literary arts with institutions like Gemini Ink and Wings Press, and welcomes readers to the Twig’s digs in the rehabbed Pearl Brewery complex. >>MORE

  • 5  PERMIAN BASIN     >>

    Midland and Odessa combine to make Texas’s longest hyphen—and together a great destination for bookish travelers. >>MORE

  • 4  ABILENE     >>

    The Key City celebrates 20 years of illustrated children’s literature—and designation as the Storybook Capital of Texas.  >>MORE

  • 3  DALLAS     >>

    The Big D has been experiencing a literary renaissance of late — with new indie bookstores, publishers, and events.  >>MORE

  • 2  HOUSTON     >>

    Bookstores, big-name writers, readings, workshops —Houston has it all, amid a world-class milieu for art, museums, and the outdoors.  >>MORE

  • 1  AUSTIN     >>

    The capital city continues to attract literary visitors to its libraries, bookstores, and sites of pilgrimages — and we aren’t joking.  >>MORE






——­——— A D V E R T I S E M E N T —————




Those for whom language is not a laughing matter might want to avoid one of the iconic events occurring each spring in the state’s number one bookish destination. Participants in Austin’s O. Henry Pun-off World Championships have been creating clever wordplays for nearly four decades — and the event will be celebrating its 40th anniversary on Saturday, May 13, 2017.  >>READ MORE







These days, more than two dozen bookstores don the Houston literary landscape. We count more than twenty-five new, used, independent, chain, and specialty stores in Houston proper, not to mention destination-worthy stores in nearby locales such as Conroe, Galveston, Spring, and the Woodlands. Houston’s Brazos Bookstore, Blue Willow Books, Murder by the Book, River Oaks Bookstore, and Kaboom! Bookstore, in addition to a dozen Barnes & Noble, Mardel, and Half Price Books outlets, are among those regularly featuring touring and local authors for readings and signings.  >>READ MORE




For nearly twenty years The Book Doctor, located at 1320 West Davis St. in Dallas’s now-trendy Bishop Arts District, has provided custom bookbinding, book restoration, and book and bible repair services. The Book Doctor approaches book repair and restoration with the intention of maintaining the original character of a book. By using excellent materials and methods, they can make your book last — whether your book is an heirloom, an antique, or an everyday volume.


That’s a metaphor for the metamorphosis of the Dallas literary scene. By maintaining the original character of the city’s eclectic neighborhoods and cultural districts, the once all-but-dormant Dallas literary scene is being rehabbed to its original luster.  >>READ MORE




In December 1993, Abilene’s mayor at the time, Dr. Gary McCaleb, was invited to a local elementary school to read author-illustrator William Joyce’s Santa Calls. Inspired to learn that Joyce had set his story in Abilene, McCaleb invited Joyce to speak at the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council luncheon. From this meeting originated the concept of a place that would honor the artwork of children’s picture book illustrators.


In March 1997, the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) was born. Two years later, a statue depicting the children from Santa Calls, “Childhood‘s Great Adventure” by Rick Jackson, was erected downtown, and the following year the beautifully renovated circa-1920s Rhodes Building opened as a home for the center.


This year the “Nickel,” as the locals call it, celebrates its twentieth anniversary with a year chock-full of special activities. >>READ MORE



Permian Basin (Midland and Odessa), West Texas

In significant ways Texas’s Permian Basin stands at the crossroads of the state’s literary culture in 2017. Visitors to the Ellen Noël Art Museum in Odessa can view an impressive WPA-era mural by the late El Paso artist Tom Lea (see El Paso, 2017 Bookish Destination #9). That same Lea mural is featured prominently in a book that Texas A&M University Press has recently made available again in reprint, Philip Parisi’s The Texas Post Office Murals: Art for the People.


And twenty miles away in Midland, a host of destinations and events await the bookish traveler.  >>READ MORE



San Antonio

The Alamo is pretty close to being Texas’s mecca, where natives must make a pilgrimage to fulfill their heritage. The events of the Alamo have continued to beckon writers as well, more than 180 years after William Barret Travis drew the line. Performer and collector Phil Collins has a whole list of books that he recommends about the Alamo—even if Pee Wee Herman’s bicycle has still not been found there. Who knows what you might discover if you visit? >>READ MORE


Left: San Antonio Central Library



Fort Worth

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram came of age in the early twentieth century when larger than life men such as Amon G. Carter, William Randolph Hearst, and Joseph Pulitzer acquired newspapers and newspaper readers through aggressive beat reporting instead of hostile takeovers by shareholders agitating for better portfolio performance.

      The Fort Worth journalism scene has proven fertile ground for authors such as Gary Cartwright, Dan Jenkins, Bud Shrake, Molly Ivins, Sandra Brown, Jeff Guinn, and Julia Heaberlin. These authors have generated best sellers on the national scene over recent decades. >>READ MORE


——­——— A D V E R T I S E M E N T —————

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Rio Grande Valley

Every winter tens of thousands of snowbirds flock to the Rio Grande Valley, bringing with them an annual economic impact of $1 billion into the warm and palm-tree-lined streets from Laredo to Brownsville, including such cities as McAllen, Harlingen, Mission, Weslaco, Donna, Edinburg, and Pharr.




From anywhere in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, it’s is a quick jaunt to beautiful South Padre Island and the beaches of the Texas Gulf Coast—an inviting opportunity to literary travelers. >>READ MORE







El Paso

Perched on the spur of Texas’s boot heel between the Rio Grande border with Mexico and the Franklin Mountains, through which the pass gave the city its Spanish name, El Paso is a cultural and literary melting pot of the highest order. Every flavor and genre of writing is richly intermingled here, predominantly, but not only, in English and Spanish. And no author better exemplifies the range of accomplishment here than Benjamín Alire Sáenz, the first Latino writer ever to win the PEN/Faulkner award.  >>READ MORE






Angelina and Nacogdoches Counties, East Texas

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. And today, travelers can discover that history in an enticing range of history museums, archives, libraries, and bookstores.


Book lovers will also discover a wide array of authors hailing from the region, with new books to enjoy and treasure  >>READ MORE





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