The best books that show Texas isn't just about cattle and oil

Who am I?

I was born and raised in Texas, and I’ve lived here most of my life. For good or for ill, Texas looms large in the American consciousness and, since everything is bigger in Texas, so are the stereotypes. While you can definitely still find cattle ranches and oil wells in our state, modern Texas is much more complex and diverse than many people might think. While I love books that show those traditional elements of Texas (looking at you, Lonesome Dove!), I have always delighted in finding books that give me a new lens on what it means to be a Texan. I hope you’re delighted by these too.


I wrote...

Olympus, Texas

By Stacey Swann,

Book cover of Olympus, Texas

What is my book about?

The Briscoe family is once again the talk of their small town when March returns to East Texas two years after he was caught having an affair with his brother's wife. His mother, June, hardly welcomes him back with open arms. Her husband's own past affairs have made her tired of being the long-suffering spouse. Within days of March's arrival, someone is dead, marriages are upended, and even the strongest of alliances are shattered. In the end, the ties that hold them together might be exactly what drag them all down. An expansive tour de force, Olympus, Texas cleverly weaves elements of classical mythology into a thoroughly modern family saga, rich in drama and psychological complexity. 

The books I picked & why

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Bluebird, Bluebird

By Attica Locke,

Book cover of Bluebird, Bluebird

Why this book?

I’ve always been a huge fan of mystery novels, especially ones of the noir variety. Attica Locke brings this genre into rural East Texas with her series featuring Darren Mathews, a Black Texas Ranger. Bluebird, Bluebird kicks the series off with Mathews investigating two murders in a small town—a Black lawyer from Chicago and a White woman from the town of Lark. Locke crafts an incredibly satisfying and tense mystery while also exploring the complicated way race and racism thread into Mathews’ work in law enforcement and the town of Lark itself. Add in complex characterization and a stunningly atmospheric setting, and you have a can’t-miss novel.


Tears of the Trufflepig

By Fernando A. Flores,

Book cover of Tears of the Trufflepig

Why this book?

I tend to be a language-driven reader, as delighted by an unexpected and beautiful sentence as I am by a thrilling turn of a plot. On the second page of Flores’s novel about genetic manipulation and organized crime near the Texas/Mexico border, we get this stunner: “It was a roosterless dawn, in the part of South Texas where no beast yawned.” I knew from that moment that I was in excellent hands and would follow the book wherever the author wanted to take me. Flores takes multiple genres—sci-fi, surrealism, crime, and others—and gives us an utterly original tale that defies easy summary. And it’s very funny!


Hollow

By Owen Egerton,

Book cover of Hollow

Why this book?

There’s a special pleasure in reading novels set in the place you’ve long lived, and there’s also a special pleasure—at least for me!—in diving into subcultures with strong and strange beliefs. Owen Egerton delivers on both in Hollow. Set in the Austin far removed from tech money and hip new restaurants, Hollow follows Oliver Bonds, a former religious studies professor whose life unraveled after the death of his young son. Oliver finds distraction in Hollow Earth theory and the idea a whole different world lies inside the one we currently occupy. Hollow broke my heart in the best sort of way with its exploration of grief, regret, and the lengths we go to in order to survive being human.


The Killer Inside Me

By Jim Thompson,

Book cover of The Killer Inside Me

Why this book?

It was Jim Thompson who first ignited my love of noir. In my twenties, I worked at a used book store and would snatch up every Thompson novel that came in. He was born in Oklahoma but his family then moved to Texas, and many of his novels are set in seemingly sleepy small Texas towns that actually teem with violence and treachery. The Killer Inside Me features Lou Ford, a violent sociopath hiding inside an outwardly dull and corny sheriff. This book woke me up to the amazing powers an author can wield just by using point of view. 


Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death

By Maurice Chammah,

Book cover of Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death

Why this book?

I spent my twenties watching in horror as Texas and then-Governor Bush executed more prisoners than any other governor in modern American history, only to be replaced by Gov. Rick Perry who executed even more. In Chammah’s deeply researched non-fiction exploration of the death penalty, he focuses on Texas, “the epicenter of capital punishment.” I better understood our justice system through his intimate focus on the individuals impacted by the larger system. And the book gave me a measure of hope, too—the societal problems that seem intractable can actually improve over time, through the work of many.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Texas, the upper class, and murders?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Texas, the upper class, and murders.

Texas Explore 85 books about Texas
The Upper Class Explore 37 books about the upper class
Murders Explore 302 books about murders

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Texas Crime Chronicles, Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, and Stormy Weather if you like this list.