Books

More Smarts Than a Rattlesnake Whip: 'Heroes of a Texas Childhood' & 'What Would Kinky Do?'

(Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

With two of his latest books, Kinky Friedman: Heroes of a Texas Childhood and What Would Kinky Do? How to Unscrew a Screwed-up World, we find Kinky in his roles, respectively, as historian and Texas Cultural Ambassador to the Rest of the World.

Publisher: Kismet
Book: Kinky Friedman: Heroes of a Texas Childhood
Author: Kinky Friedman
Price: $19.95
Format: Paperback
Length: 150 pages
Publication Date: 2009-07
Publisher: St. Martins Press
Book: What Would Kinky Do?
Author: Kinky Friedman
Price: $14.99
Format: Paperback
Length: 288 pages
Publication Date: 2009-07

Kinky Friedman is a national treasure. You don't need to live in Texas to know this, but it probably helps if you do. Kinky's a character, people will say. He's a legend. He's country singer and a purveyor of fine cigars. He's a former Texas gubernatorial candidate who got 12 percent of the vote in 2006. He's the author of a series of mystery novels, and he's also a columnist, humorist and activist. He is Texas's answer to Mark Twain. Rumor has it Kinky is half of what keeps Austin weird.

With two of his latest books, Kinky Friedman: Heroes of a Texas Childhood and What Would Kinky Do? How to Unscrew a Screwed-up World, we find Kinky in his roles, respectively, as historian and Texas Cultural Ambassador to the Rest of the World.  

Kinky Friedman: Heroes of a Texas Childhood is a collection of short essays, each about one of Friedman's personal heroes. There are some well-known names here, of course, including Willie Nelson, former Texas governor Ann Richards, cartoonist Ace Reid, political journalist Molly Ivens, Sam Houston, Ladybird Johnson, Davy Crockett and Quannah Parker. There are also plenty of equally important people who may not be known outside of Friedman's life, like Lottie Cotton, the woman who was as much a part of Friedman's family as his own mother, and his father, Tom Friedman, a decorated war hero and community activist who taught his son to stand up for the underdog, among other crucial life lessons.

Heroes of a Texas Childhood, with stunning sketches by Copper Love, is a thoughtful, affectionate history lesson written with Friedman's singular candor. His straightforward style is beguiling and his descriptive knack is unparalleled. This book will make readers nostalgic for people and places they never knew. It will also make them feel as though they now know Kinky Friedman, whether or not they actually do.

What Would Kinky Do? How to Unscrew a Screwed-up World switches gears a bit, from respectful reminiscence to the more irreverent revelations for which Friedman is famous. It's a humorous commentary on society today, as only Kinky could provide. Its introduction begins with the assumption that, "No human being who has ever lived in this world has ever taken good advice", and takes it to its hilarious, logical—or illogical conclusion. What Would Kinky Do? is a guide for life, a navigational tool to help us better our existence, and if that fails, at least it'll be there to make us laugh.

"Part I: Advice on Life, Death and Everything in Between" includes a chapter entitled "A Pocket Guide to Mullets", followed by a poignant discussion of immigration, which itself is followed by a side-splitting recounting of conversations with John Kerry George W Bush and Bill Clinton.

"Part II: My Personal Heroes" touches some of the same territory as Heroes of a Texas Childhood, obviously, but also includes pieces on Don Imus, animal heroes, Jack Rub and Jack Kennedy, Billy Joe Shaver and Bob Dylan. I should mention here that What Would Kinky Do? features cartoons by the brilliant John Callahan, because it's in this chapter that they started making me laugh out loud and caused perplexed and annoyed looks from my fellow caffeine junkies in the restaurant where I was reading. Callahan deserves his own chapter in this section.

"Part III: Advice on Writing", which incidentally caused this writer to need to leave the aforementioned restaurant (apparently laughter is not an acceptable accompaniment to Americano anymore!) opens with Friedman discussing his decision to kill off the protagonist of his series of mystery novels. The protagonist, if you haven't read them, is Kinky Friedman. He then writes of fictional characters killed off by their creators: Sherlock Holmes, Captain America, Hercule Poirot... Chewbacca.

"What Would Kinky Read" is filled with his thoughts on Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler, among others. "Questions From A British Journalist—1999" is exactly what it says, a straightforward Q &A, and all the more absurd and amusing because of that. The questions are mostly stale and standard, but Friedman's answers are classic Kinky ("When I write I like to pretend I'm Oscar Wilde behind bars with my hair on fire..." "My life is a work of fiction. I'm merely writing an unauthorized biography over and over again.").

"Part IV: Advice on Going on a Journey", opens with "Texas for Dummies". I can tell you that every single one of the things on this list, though they may seem trumped up for comic effect, is absolutely true. "Y'all" is singular, "All Y'all" is plural and "All Y'all's" is plural possessive. Everything goes better with picante sauce. No exceptions. Don't pet a dog standing in the back of a pickup truck. All truck dogs are dangerous weapons. Don't call it "soda" or "pop". It's all Coke. Unless it's Dr Pepper (except at The Sons of Hermann Hall in Dallas, where Jo will flash her biggest smile if you answer properly when she asks if she can get you a drink. Tell her Dr Pepper is your favorite kind of Coke!).

"Part V: Advice on Coming Home" finds Friedman waxing nostalgic again with chapters on the Austin music scene, cowboys, ponies and his home at Echo Hill. He also holds forth on Texas etiquette ("The only thing that really differentiates Texas from any other place in the world is the proclivity of its people to urinate out of doors and to attach a certain amount of importance to this popular pastime") and tells you how to handle a Nonstop Talker on an airplane (it is more difficult in a post-9/11 world).

What Would Kinky Do? is yet another love letter to the Lone Star state from one of its most illustrious elder statesmen. Readers will recognize the truth in the humor as Kinky skewers and sanctifies his home. Along with Kinky Friedman: Heroes of a Texas Childhood, What Would Kinky Do? How to Unscrew a Screwed-up World is the perfect introduction to Kinky Friedman and Kinky Friedman's Texas for the uninitiated, and a peerless reminder for everyone else that Kinky's got more smarts than a rattlesnake whip.

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