New Kerr County History Book Available!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Book Review: The Essential J. Frank Dobie

The Essential J. Frank Dobie, edited by Steven L Davis.
Wolfmueller's Books is hosting a book signing Thursday October 17 from 4 - 6 pm,
at 229 Earl Garrett Street, in downtown Kerrville.
This past week I enjoyed reading stories from Texas and the southwest, stories about vaqueros, coyotes, lost mines, wolves, and ranchers. Ben Lilly, Charles Goodnight and others told their stories, not as characters from a history book, but as themselves. I heard singing and rested by a campfire while reading the firsthand reports of frontier life. These true tales are much more than history.
The man who collected these stories was J. Frank Dobie. The book I’ve been reading is “The Essential J. Frank Dobie,” edited by Steven L. Davis, published recently by the Texas A&M University Press.
Dobie had connections to Kerrville; his sister who co-owned a bookstore here, and he often spent time writing during his stays at her Methodist Encampment home in Kerrville. The late Forrest Salter, the kind publisher of the Kerrville Mountain Sun decades ago, was a student of Dobie's at the University in Austin. Lots of people in Kerrville knew Dobie. He was like a cousin who came to see us in Kerrville, a cousin we liked.
J. Frank Dobie was one of the first Texas writers to gain national attention; before Dobie, the words "Texas" and "writer" were seldom used together. Not only was Dobie a successful professional writer, he demonstrated one could make life in the southwest a literary subject.
Fred Gipson, who also has connections to Kerrville, and is the author of "Old Yeller," "Hound Dog Man," and other books set in Texas, said he never realized it was possible to live in Texas and be a writer until Dobie set the example. Other Texas writers have been influenced by Dobie, whether they admit it or not, including some of his harshest critics.
For the reader, Dobie presents a problem. To get a true sense of Dobie as a writer, the reader would have to track down and winnow from the mountain of pieces Dobie published during his long career. He wrote for newspapers and magazines, he wrote books, he had a syndicated column, he gave lectures, he was a college professor, and he was the longtime secretary-editor of the Texas Folklore Society. Just finding the best place to start is daunting.
Steven L. Davis
Fortunately, a new book, "The Essential J. Frank Dobie," edited by Steven L. Davis, provides a helpful trailhead. Davis, the literary curator of the Witliff Collections at Texas State University in San Marcos, is also the author of a biography of Dobie. Davis is a knowledgeable and reliable guide.
"My hope," Davis writes in his introduction, "is that these stories will interest and delight you as much as they have me. I also hope that the quality of writings collected here will help all of us arrive at a more balanced judgment of Dobie's literary merit -- which in the end is far greater than he's previously been given credit for."
Davis certainly achieves his ambition in this edited collection of Dobie stories. The stories here present Dobie at his best, and cast a magic spell on the reader, carrying one to a time long gone, to gather around campfires with storytellers. The stories presented in this curated book are fun to read, a mixture of adventures, histories, essays and biographies -- and are a great introduction to the spirit and talents of Dobie.
J. Frank Dobie died in 1964, only a few days after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House. Returning home, he simply went to his room to take a nap, slipping away in his sleep. He and his wife, Bertha, are buried in Austin at the Texas State Cemetery.
"The Essential J. Frank Dobie," edited by Steven J. Davis, is a great introduction to Dobie's writing and I heartily recommend it to you.
On Thursday, October 17, from 4-6 pm, Wolfmueller's Books at 229 Earl Garrett in downtown Kerrville is hosting a book signing for Mr. Davis. Copies of his book are available for reservation now at Wolfmueller's.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native. This review originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times October 17, 2019.

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