By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Brown, preternaturally low-key -- if not excruciatingly boring -- hasn't made much of a splash in office, and is likely to face serious opposition this fall.
But, Gray says, his election was a watershed in the city's history. "Now," he adds, "if only the Phantom of Smith Street could figure out the budget."
After agreeing to pick the category of novel, former Houston Post book editor Elizabeth Bennett realized she had her work cut out for her: There just aren't many to pick from.
The city has been a major character in some classic nonfiction books, like Tommy Thompson's Blood and Money, but the shelves of Houston-related novels are not quite as full.
Most Overrated: Terms of Endearment
Thanks to a successful Hollywood treatment, Terms of Endearment is, along with The Last Picture Show and Lonesome Dove, the best known of Larry McMurtry's extensive oeuvre.
The movie wasn't the most faithful book adaptation ever done, but as in the film, the 1975 novel follows a River Oaks widow with a rebellious daughter.
"I think McMurtry's a great storyteller and he invents great characters and he makes me laugh," Bennett says, but Terms of Endearment's renown is probably more than it deserves.
"I liked it, but it's a bit overrated," she says. "It's just sort of a good read, not really much more than that."
Although it doesn't deal strictly with Houston, there is a special place in Bennett's heart for James Michener's Texas, a jaw-droppingly long historical best-seller packed with clichéd characters and stilted dialogue.
"It's my all-time favorite worst book," she says.
Most Underrated: Baby Houston
If you've heard of writer June Arnold -- and that's not very likely -- it's probably in connection with her founding the publishing company Daughters Inc., which specialized in lesbian literature and published the classic Rubyfruit Jungle.
But Arnold's mother was a member of Houston's legendary Wortham family, and the author, as she was dying of cancer, decided to come home and write a book about her mother and her city.
Arnold the author had been a debutante here, attended The Kinkaid School and received a master's in literature from Rice.
Set around the middle of the last century, Baby Houston has thinly disguised versions of luminaries such as Gus Wortham, and it features real-life characters such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Oveta Culp Hobby. The witty book concerns a young widow who is financially dependent on her brother and includes scenes of the nightlife at Galveston's Balinese Room and the smoke-filled power enclaves at the Lamar Hotel.
"It's just a wonderful book; I went to the library to check it out because I had forgotten it, and I stayed up half the night finishing it," Bennett says.
Baby Houston was published in 1987, five years after Arnold's death. It's out of print but can be found for sale on such rare-book sites as www.alibris.com. The novel is a small gem for local readers, a chance to peek inside a city that no longer exists but whose influence is still felt today.
(Side note: In a lengthy 1987 story about Arnold and Baby Houston, the Houston Chronicle couldn't bring itself to mention the "L" word, simply noting that the twice-married Arnold became "a feminist in her later years [who] founded Daughters Inc. to publish the work of women writers.")
If there's a trend out there in the restaurant industry, it will make its way to Houston -- eventually.
Our city is known perhaps more for its steak houses than for its cutting-edge dining. But restaurants come and go with alacrity here, trying out all kinds of new cuisine on residents who want to be seen dining at the latest hot spot, the kinds of places where the boldfaced types go.
The city also has a wealth of neighborhood joints where the boldfaced types wouldn't dare be seen, but which offer the best of any of the countless cultures that have made this city their home.
Alison Cook has written about Houston restaurants for just about every local publication that's existed. She's now the regional restaurant critic at Gourmet magazine.
Most Overrated: Ruggles
Ever since taking over Ruggles Grill 15 years ago, chef-owner Bruce Molzan has been consistently praised for his establishment, which remains popular with the BMW/Jaguar crowd long after a string of competitors has bitten the dust. He's opened spin-off restaurants in the Galleria area and even at Enron Field.
Don't ask Cook why, though. "Okay, I respect Ruggles as an urban institution, but what are those great Zagat ratings all about?" she says, referring to the noted dining survey. "I've never really 'gotten' the busy, busy food. There's too much going on on the plates. The kitchen invariably seems to add when it ought to subtract. I find the famous desserts way too sweet and heavy."
It's not only the food -- Cook also faults Ruggles for being way too noisy and snobby. "Factor in the logjam at the door, the lack of a welcome unless they know you, and the general racket, and I end up feeling pummeled by the whole experience," she says.