How every Texan sees himself in the mirror.
How every Texan sees himself in the mirror.
Illustration by Jack Unruh/Courtesy of University of Texas Press

Thank God The Texanist Is Here to Help Us Act Right

The Texanist: Fine Advice On Living In Texas
By David Courtney; illustrations by Jack Unruh
University of Texas Press; 110pp.; $24.95

We’ve all been there, maybe. Trailing skid marks on a state highway or godforsaken county road, wondering if it’s appropriate to field-dress and book a dinner-table appointment for the white-tail buck that recently wrecked your SUV’s suspension. Or, so giddy at ye olde alma mater’s triumph on the gridiron that the urge to wear the bold colors of your school’s home jersey to Sunday services the next morning is simply overwhelming. Or, heaven forbid, waking from a hormone-induced sensory leave-taking to the chilling realization that the guy you’ve been dating for six whole weeks simply can’t abide Willie Nelson — his songs, his politics, his bandannas, nothing.

Record scratch. Come again?

These issues and many others besides, both profound and absurd, can easily be distilled into one master query: What is any good self-respecting Texan to do? Or, if the social moré du jour is particularly prickly, what is any Texan to do in order to hold onto his or her self-respect? The cad who dared disparage the Red Headed Stranger is dispatched as a "birdbrain," for one.

Trying to negotiate the infinite vagaries of modern Lone Star life is a trying proposition in the best of times; just watch the late local news any night of the week. Since 2007, Texas Monthly’s David Courtney has been attempting to set such matters straight as best he can; whether their names are withheld or gamely disclosed, his advice as “The Texanist” is the main reason discerning readers know to flip to the back of the magazine before even glancing at the cover.

Indeed, even more than the blow-by-blow accounts of biennial legislative misdeeds; deep-dive longform investigations into the gross miscarriages of justice that happen with alarming frequency in this state; or invaluable insight into the brightest creative minds to ever call Texas home, the Texanist is, according to UT Press anyway, the magazine’s most-read regular feature. Now, with the publication of this handsome hardbound volume, the Texanist’s most sagacious advice is as close as your nearest coffee table. Out of the nearly 100 columns collected in the book, subtitled "Fine Advice on Living In Texas," here are but a half-dozen choice submissions.

** When out at a dance hall, do I need to stick with the one that brung me?

** Propane or charcoal?

** Is it legal to be buried on my own property?

** What are the rules regarding the setup of a new tailgating spot?

** Is it real Tex-Mex if it’s served with a side of black beans?

** How is it possible that the word “Texan” is not accepted for play in the game Words With Friends, but “Texas” is?

Spoiler alert: With a few exceptions, The Texanist’s counsel cuts one of two ways: ’Don’t do it’ or ‘Go ahead.’ The joy of his columns, like a leisurely drive through the Hill Country, lies not in the destination of Courtney’s answer but in the journey of his prose, which, if not plumb purple, can definitely take on a lilac-tinted hue from time to time. By way of an example, here’s how he handles that touchy Words With Friends question.

By way of informing us that the Scrabble-derived game was created by a company based in McKinney; that he considers it as fine a pastime as skipping stones, whittling, and mumblety-peg, to the chagrin of friends, loved ones and colleagues; and that the database of playable words is more than 173,000 entries strong, Courtney, who does love a good digression or three, explains that while “Texan” is indefensibly a proper noun and thus taboo, “Texas,” by contrast, “is a structure on a steamboat that houses the officers’ cabins,” he writes.

But that’s only part of the real answer. Like all great advice columnists, Courtney has a soft touch and self-deprecating air that keeps him from coming off as insufferable, essential traits for any know-it-all. In this entry — which, like all the others, comes with a wonderful, whimsical, somewhat dissolute drawing by the late Dallas-based illustrator Jack Unruh — more important matters are afoot. “Now, if you’ll please excuse the Texanist, it’s his move in a lively match he’s got going on with his 11-year-old daughter,” The Texanist writes. “She just dropped ‘jhodpurs’ on him and he has nothing but a tray full of vowels.”

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