Sunday, May 1, 2011

Portland Press Herald :: Trillin on Texas

Trillin on Texas
by Calvin Trillin
Book Review: Mining depths of Texas travels
A consummate New York writer returns to his roots without missing a beat.
By SCOTT GOLD, McClatchy Newspapers

Calvin Trillin is a man of principle.

He can't stand, for instance, people who talk about themselves in the third person, which made things difficult back in the days of Dole and Dukakis. He once declared that people caught trying to sell macrame should be, themselves, "dyed a natural color."

And of writers, he once said: "There is no progress" -- no corporate world to fall back on, no middle management. Writers are as good as the last thing they wrote, and sometimes not even that.

Atop that bedrock of curious dogma, Trillin has built an itinerant and confounding career.

He is viewed as a consummate New York writer, though he grew up in the sturdy Midwest. He was a big wheel in the Ivy League, though he relishes kicking the pedestals beneath those who were big wheels in the Ivy League. He became an early and influential guru of regional cuisine, though he professed to know next to nothing about the subject.

During his prolific 50 years, in the New Yorker and other publications and in 27 books, Trillin has tackled a ridiculous array of subjects: politics and culture, Americana and adventure, lore and history, catfish and milkshakes, even -- famously -- parking.

So in his latest book, "Trillin on Texas," it is surprising and even mesmerizing to watch Trillin return -- sort of -- to his roots.

Trillin's fans know he was the son of a Kansas City, Mo., grocer, but it turns out his family of Ukrainian Jews traced its arrival in the United States to an unlikely port: Galveston, Texas.

In the early 1900s, thousands of Jewish families were brought to Galveston -- among them, Trillin's grandparents and father. This was a social program; many of the families had been traumatized by the era's pogroms. But like most everything in Texas, it was an exercise in capitalism, too.

Just a few years earlier, Galveston had been a cosmopolitan hub of finance and culture. Then came the hurricane of 1900, still the deadliest to strike the United States; the Galveston Movement, as it was known, was one of the ways the city tried in vain to recapture its luster.  Read more »

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