The Texas Center for the Book at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission has chosen Marfa for the Perplexed by the late Lonn Taylor as the Texas Great Read for 2021. Every year, the Library of Congress asks each state Center for the Book to select a title that represents the state’s literary landscape to highlight at the National Book Festival. The event, sponsored by the Library of Congress, showcases the importance of books and reading. The 2021 National Book Festival will take place virtually September 17-26.
Texas Center for the Book invites Texans to read Marfa for the Perplexed and to take part in a statewide book club by using the hashtag #TXGreatRead on social media. For more information on the 2021 Texas Great Read program, visit http://www.tsl.texas.gov/greatreadtexas.
In celebration of its selection as the 2021 Texas Great Read, Marfa for the Perplexed is now available to Texas residents as a freely accessible e-book thanks to E-Read Texas, TSLAC’s statewide public library e-book program at www.tsl.texas.gov/greatread2021ebook.
Marfa for the Perplexed by the late Lonn Taylor
Marfa for the Perplexed is literary nonfiction, essays, and Texas history all rolled into one. Readers meet artists, priests, ranchers, movie stars, chili aficionados, and more in the rugged borderlands of the Big Bend Country. This compilation brings people and historical events of Marfa, Alpine, Fort Davis, Presidio County, Mexico, and the surrounding area to life.
After a career in museums, curating exhibits, and writing well-researched books on such subjects as historic furniture and the history of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” Taylor and his wife Dedie moved to the small town of Fort Davis in West Texas in 2002. There Taylor found a different calling writing a weekly column, “Rambling Boy,” for the Big Bend Sentinel. He collected many of his columns into books, including Texas, My Texas, and Turning the Pages of Texas.
The genesis for Marfa for the Perplexed came about when he learned that many of the thousands of tourists who flock to Marfa each year were always seeking “a small book about Marfa.” Tourists come to Marfa, he said, “because they read about it in the New York Times, and now that they are there, they can’t figure out what the town is all about.”
Each room of the Hotel Saint George in Marfa now contains a copy of the book to help guests understand why they are there. Should you choose to pick it up, you will find the sixty essays within well-researched, charming, interesting, touching, and often very funny. And you will learn much about the area and its people, past and present, who traveled through and settled in this remote and fascinating corner of Texas.
The book became very popular. During one interview, when asked what surprised him most when researching the stories in the book, Taylor confessed that he had not realized “how deep the scars left by a century of segregation and suspicion between Anglo and Hispanic residents were, or how hard younger members of both groups are working to heal them.”
About the Author
Read the 2018 Lone Star Listens interview with Lonn Taylor
Lonn Wood Taylor’s career took him to many different locations around the country before he resettled in the Big Bend area. He was director and curator at the Winedale Historical Complex in Central Texas, curator at the Dallas Historical Society, and deputy director of the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe. In 1984 he went to Washington, D.C., as the historian and director of public programs for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Described by the Washington Post as a “lively presence during his 18 years at the museum on the National Mall,” Taylor had a major role in preparing several of the museum’s permanent exhibits. One of his most renowned projects involved the history of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” which resulted in the book, The Star-Spangled Banner: The Making of an American Icon. On the 200th anniversary of the battle that generated the anthem, Taylor was invited to appear on The Colbert Report, and, just in case Stephen Colbert asked, he memorized all four verses of Francis Scott Key's song.
His last work, Child of the Sun, a memoir of his childhood in the Philippines, was published posthumously after his death in 2019.
In addition to Marfa for the Perplexed, the E-Read Texas collection currently includes more than 7,000 high-quality e-books from top publishers. While many of the e-books in the collection have limits on the number of simultaneous users, more than half the e-books are available for simultaneous use with no wait lists or holds. These titles are available to any resident of Texas via geolocation at https://e-readtx.biblioboard.com/home. Public libraries participating in the full E-Read Texas program can also access the entire collection of e-books via SimplyE, a free library app supported by the Amigos Library Consortia. Individuals are encouraged to visit their local library’s website to learn more about available digital resources.
Established in 1987, the Texas Center for the Book seeks to stimulate public interest in books, reading, literacy and libraries. The Center builds partnerships with library professionals, educators, authors, publishers, and booksellers who provide support to our shared mission of promoting a love of literature throughout the Lone Star State. The Texas Center for the Book is under the direction of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission at the Lorenzo De Zavala State Archives and Library Building in Austin, Texas.