Don’t overlook university press books

By Kristen Tribe | Published Thursday, March 10, 2011

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Anything addressed to the “book editor” lands on my desk.

Although that’s not my title, it’s a topic I’ve claimed as my own here at the Messenger.

Most of the book mail is less than interesting, but Thursday’s mail rendered a treat – a Texas Tech University Press catalog.

Tribe KristenUniversity presses traditionally publish works with intellectual or creative merit. They also often focus on regional history and culture, whereas a commercial house publishes books for a popular audience and those that are pegged to make money.

I think university press books are often overlooked by the general reader because they’re assumed to be too scholarly or simply a textbook.

I always assumed the same thing until I worked in the marketing department for the Texas A&M University Press while in college. I was surprised to find books on a wide variety of topics and on subjects that were of interest to me.

Readers are selling themselves short by automatically striking university press books from their lists.

As I flipped through the Tech catalog last week, I immediately found a few books I wanted to read, including “Will Rogers: A Political Life” by Richard D. White Jr., which is about, you guessed it, Will Rogers.

Another book that caught my attention was “The Notorious Dr. Flippin: Abortion and Consequence in the Early Twentieth Century” by Jamie Q. Tallman. The catalog entry said Dr. Charles Flippin was a “godsend” in Kansas and Nebraska because of “his skill as a physician and willingness to help anyone, regardless of race or social class” in the early 1900s.

But Flippin’s reputation was scarred when people discovered the African American physician also performed abortions. Flippin avoided “conviction in several trials until finally pleading guilty in 1924.”

I also came across “One Page at a Time: On a Writing Life” by Pat Carr. I devour these books because I’m always curious about how others have made their way through a career in the written word.

While I worked at the A&M press, I was also taking a publishing class from the press director. Even though my job primarily entailed mailing catalogs and handling other correspondence, I felt like the class and job were good exposure to the publishing industry.

The A&M press is also a consortium press, which means they sell and distribute books for other presses, too, including the Texas Christian University Press, Texas Review Press, Texas State Historical Association Press, Southern Methodist University Press, State House Press and the University of North Texas Press.

Between all of these houses, several books caught my eye even though my schedule didn’t allow for much “extracurricular” reading outside of what was required for my classes.

One of great interest to me was “Whatever Happened to Jacy Farrow?” by Ceil Cleveland, published by the UNT Press. It is believed that Cleveland was the model for the character Jacy Farrow in Larry McMurtry’s “The Last Picture Show,” and in her memoir, she describes what it was like as a girl to grow up during this era in Archer City.

Cleveland has taught at several universities and currently serves as vice president for university affairs of the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

I’m happy to report that her book is still available from the A&M Press, and now that I have the means, and more reading time, I think I’ll order it.

I encourage everyone to give university press books a try. You might be surprised what you find on their shelves.

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