University of Texas alumni will tell you that it's the dullest-looking building on campus. But the Harry Ransom Center houses a world-renowned collection of manuscripts, books, artworks, photographs and artifacts. Visitors will discover everything from a copy of the Gutenberg Bible (c. 1450) to the world's first photograph (c. 1826) to Edgar Allan Poe's writing desk, Harry Houdini's stage props and even Leatherface's mask from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.The center just completed a $14 million renovation and expansion. It's reopening with the exhibit "In a New Light," which contains 300 of the center's most popular items, including works by Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Willem de Koonig, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol and Al Hirschfeld, and the letters of Oscar Wilde, Albert Einstein and Charles Dickens.
At the heart of the center's vast collections are 36 million manuscripts and five million rare books, including peerless collections of James Joyce, William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. An editor from London's Times Literary Supplement called it the second-best collection of English literature in the world, after only the British Library. Much of the credit goes to founder Harry Ransom himself, a UT president and chancellor whose relish for acquisitions during the '60s is part of Austin legend.
What's surprising is that much of the collection is available to the public in a monitored reading room. But don't ask to put on Leatherface's mask -- it probably smells a little funky by now. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays. 21st Street and Guadalupe in Austin. For information, call 512-471-8944 or visit www.hrc.utexas.edu. -- Bob Ruggiero
Owning a reptile can get hairy
Those who think they might enjoy watching mice quiver in fear while a python eyes its next meal won't want to miss the Bayou City Reptile Breeders' Expo. But as herpetologists know, it takes more than a strong stomach to raise a reptile. The slippery critters require specialized care and meticulously controlled environments; for example, owners of anole lizards, which feed on live crickets, must be schooled in how to avert cricket uprisings (it happens, and it's a horrific sight). So think about it before you buy one of the hard-to-care-for, captivity-bred reptiles up for sale at the expo. But if you do decide to acquire a scaly new friend, you won't have to look far for supplies galore (aquariums, heat lamps and, of course, shit-scared mice). 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 17 and 18. Clarion Inn, 500 North Sam Houston Parkway East. For information, call 281-931-0101 or visit www.houstonherp.com. $4 to $6. -- Troy Schulze
A Despot's Discard
Depression-era Uruguayan dictator Gabriel Terra couldn't have imagined that his 1931 Cord L-29 convertible sedan would one day go up for auction at the Great Southwest Equestrian Center Mansion Arena in Katy, Texas. Yet that's where it will be -- along with New York Yankee Roger Clemens's 1934 Ford Cabriolet street rod and other exotic rides -- for the RM Classic Car Productions Houston Classic. The person who buys the car will almost certainly be a rich old fart, but at least he won't be a despot. 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, May 16; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 17; and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, May 18. 2501 South Mason Road. For information, call 1-800-211-4371 or visit www.rmauctions.com. $5. -- Cathy Matusow
It's a good bet that all the musicians at the Ima Hogg National Young Artist Competition will perform exquisitely. Still, the contest, named after the daughter of a 19th-century Texas governor and sponsored by the Houston Symphony League, will award $5,000 to only one winner. How to distinguish among the perfect players? Perhaps it's a bit like a dog show, where the judges seem to champion a different breed each year. Will it be the classy violin, the playful clarinet or, perhaps, the muscular marimba? Semifinals: 9 a.m. Friday, May 16. Finals: noon, Saturday, May 17. Lillian Duncan Recital Hall, Shepherd School of Music, Rice University (entrance no. 8 off University and Stockton). For information, call 713-238-1447. Free. -- Troy Schulze
First Wives' Club
After the love is gone, the squabbling starts. Divorce can be a nightmare, especially for women who've let their husbands control the family finances. "There are women whose spouses told them the minimum, and they haven't quite gotten the whole picture," says Leslie Brock, a financial adviser with Waddell & Reed. "You find women who don't know how to find out what types of retirement plans their spouses have, and where the marital assets are." Brock helps women sniff out the money to make sure they get a fair deal when everything's divided up. Too bad she doesn't have the 411 on why half the time love just ain't forever. She speaks at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 21. Wells Fargo Bank Building, 1160 Dairy Ashford, suite 240. For information, call 713-920-4777. Free. -- Cathy Matusow