If this is your first time at the rodeo, the rich literary history of Texas can seem intimidating. But there’s no better jumping off point than Larry McMurtry, the Lone Star State’s most prolific author. His novels take you everywhere from the Rio Grande to the Gulf of Mexico, and he never skimps on hilarious but nuanced Texan-to-the-core characters. So grab some Lone Star and a tub of Blue Bell, because you’re about to go on a virtual road trip through the best state in the South (not bragging — just telling the truth).
The Last Picture Show // Denton
In his most famous book (turned iconic film), McMurtry reveals his greatest strength: examining small-town life with an honest, non-judgmental eye. The small city of Denton, which has experienced significant cultural change that hasn't always gone over well with the locals, is the ideal stand-in for the novel's fictional town. Once a small but successful trading post, Denton blossomed into a hotbed for the arts, making it a pseudo-Austin. Change is a constant in The Last Picture Show — whether it’s seen through an illicit affair or a heinous schoolboy prank, its presence in the book is undeniable.
Lonesome Dove // Waco
Cattle herding may not seem like the most scintillating topic, but McMurtry can captivate even the most hardcore of city slickers. This novel earned him a Pulitzer, but the physical heft of the book tends to scare off readers. In the end, I was drawn in by the old timey love story, which is as tangled as Twelfth Night. Waco, a stop on the famous Shawnee cattle trail, would be the perfect setting to dive into this book. You’ll want to wear a Stetson to cover your eyes while reading, though: you’re bound to get choked up at some point.
Terms of Endearment // Houston
Houston tends to get shafted when it comes to literary tributes, but McMurtry’s Terms of Endearment trilogy ensured that the city finally got its due. Though it’s not always the prettiest or most sophisticated place, Houston — through McMurtry’s eyes, at least — is the ideal spot for an aging woman to fall in love, repeatedly. Aurora, the heroine, has two loves: men and food. Where better to live than the place that once held the national title of Fattest City? This novel both pokes fun at and idolizes the Bayou City, and anyone who’s ever spent time in Houston (and in its traffic) can relate.
The Evening Star // Dallas
As the sequel to Terms of Endearment, The Evening Star may still be set in Houston, but there’s definitely an older, more reserved tone to the book. It brings to mind the city of Dallas, where classy oil families reside and people eat their ribs with cloth napkins. Though Aurora is significantly older now, her love life is no less complicated. She has no interest in a slower pace, despite everyone else around her grinding to a halt. The book is a funny anomaly compared to McMurtry’s other books, just as Dallas is to the rest of Texas. It has traces of the state’s charm, but it definitely sets itself apart.
All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers // Austin
Danny Deck is McMurtry’s hippest character. A frustrated writer, he meanders through Austin, Houston, El Paso, and even California, trying to get his shit together. He takes drugs, breaks hearts, survives floods, and makes vain attempts at self-actualization — basically your typical undergrad summer spent in Austin. Danny is torn between three women the entire time, and his indecisiveness will drive any reader crazy, until you realize he’s just another twentysomething male being a twentysomething male. In short, this is the perfect book to take on your inevitable road trip from SXSW to Marfa.