Monday, May 09, 2016

How to Be a Texan: The Manual

Andrea Valdez
Illustrated by Abi Daniel
Genre: Texas Customs / Social Life / Humor
Date of Publication: May 3, 2016
# of pages: 208, 58 B&W Illustrations

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There are certain things every Texan should know how to do and say, whether your Lone Star roots reach all the way back to the 1836 Republic or you were just transplanted here yesterday. Some of these may be second nature to you, but others . . . well, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to have a few handy hints if, say, branding the herd or hosting a tamalada aren’t your usual pastimes. That’s where How to Be a Texan can help.
In a friendly, lighthearted style, Andrea Valdez offers illustrated, easy-to-follow steps for dozens of authentic Texas activities and sayings. In no time, you’ll be talking like a Texan and dressing the part; hunting, fishing, and ranching; cooking your favorite Texas dishes; and dancing cumbia and two-step. You’ll learn how to take a proper bluebonnet photo and build a Día de los Muertos altar, and you’ll have a bucket list of all the places Texans should visit in their lifetime. Not only will you know how to do all these things, you’ll finish the book with a whole new appreciation for what it means to be a Texan and even more pride in saying “I’m from Texas” anywhere you wander in the world.

I am one of the lucky ones.  I have been a Texan since the moment I drew my first breath, and although I have at times lived all over the world, not once have I stopped thinking of myself as a Texan.  Texans are just funny that way.  That’s why I had to chuckle a bit when Andrea Valdez said in her introduction to How to Be a Texan: The Manual that an aunt of hers once said, “When people asked me where I was from, I never said America – I always said Texas.”  My initial reaction to that was, “yeah, well me, too.” Then it hit me that author Valdez was making a joke, and that I just might not be entirely normal.  

The idea for How to Be a Texan came from Valdez’s Texas Monthly magazine column that was not coincidentally titled “The Manual.”  And the resulting book, I have to admit, has something for everyone in it, be they lifelong Texans like me, recent transplants to the state, or those right now considering some kind of corporate relocation to Texas.  Want to talk like a Texan?  Valdez has you covered.  Want to look and dress like a Texan…cook like a Texan…hunt and fish like a Texan…relax like a Texan?  Valdez devotes lighthearted chapters to these skills – and to several others like them. 

In the chapter on learning to talk like a Texan, the reader picks up little tricks and tips that seem to elude even some native Texans (Texas, after all, is so big that very few native Texans have seen the entire state for themselves.)  Learn how to properly pronounce place names like Gruene, Refugio, Mexia, Bexar, and Iraan – and let’s just say that a perfect understanding of phonetics won’t help you much with these.  Learn not just how to properly use the word y’all, learn how to spell it correctly (a skill that is not as common as you might expect).  And, then there’s my favorite tip, one I’ve wondered about for a long time: when writing the brand name of Texas’s favorite “coke,” you never ever put a period after the “r” in Dr Pepper. 

Those preferring to cook, not just read about, the food Texans are most fond of will be pleased to find detailed recipes for Tex-Mex dishes such as Pork Tamales, Breakfast Tacos, Barbacoa (Google that one; I dare you), and King Ranch Chicken Casserole.  Valdez also offers recipes for some old standbys like Texas fried chicken, brisket, and Chili and Frito Pie – and for a couple of my personal weaknesses like pecan pie and the heavily Czech-influenced kolache.  Tex-Mex cuisine is dearly loved by Texans, as I can affirm.  I still remember how thrilled I was to discover a Tex-Mex restaurant in London called “The Texas Embassy” when I lived there in the nineties.  I was so happy that I didn’t even complain about paying imported beer prices for my Lone Star beer. Valdez is right: once a Texan, always a Texan.

How to Be a Texan has convinced me that I have badly neglected large geographic portions of my home state, something I’ll be fixing this summer.  Maybe I should say I'm fixing to fix that.


A native Houstonian who has worked for Texas Monthly since 2006, Valdez is the editor of She has written on a wide range of subjects, including more than forty columns on activities every Texan should be able to do, which provided the inspiration for this book. She also helped Texas Monthly launch The Daily Post and TMBBQ.comFOLLOW ON TWITTER

May 3 - May 17, 2016
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