Sig Byrd's Houston
In the '50s and '60s, Sig Byrd was a columnist for the old daily Houston Press
and later the Houston Chronicle
, and his beat was the human tragicomedy. Byrd was irresistibly drawn to the city's lowlife; in his words, the "curious assortment of hard-bitten merchants, working men and women, wineheads, goofball addicts, [and] desiccated trollops" that congregated in the "scrounging retail stores, flophouses, brothels, and honky-tonks" along the skid rows that were Preston and Congress streets. Though Byrd's Houston existed 50 years ago, it might as well have been the Middle Ages. Who today remembers that the entire 400 block of Milam was once a den of sin called Catfish Reef, or that in the '50s there were still blacksmiths beating on red-hot metal in a place near the Preston Street Bridge called Vinegar Hill? Who recalls when people would say something was "lagoo-oon" when they wanted to call something cool? While virtually every other book about Houston concerns the deeds of great men -- Sam Houston, Jesse Jones, Roy Hofheinz and the like -- Byrd explored the deeds of the forgotten souls who lived on the fringes or did the grunt work, and in doing so, he wrote the finest book about Houston and one of the best ever works of Texan nonfiction. It's a tragedy that it's out of print, but you can almost always pick up a copy online. It's well worth the hunt.