Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Whole Damn Cheese ~ Lone Star Book Blog Tours Promo & Review!

Genre: Biography / Texana 
Publisher: Texas Christian University Press 
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Publication Date: October 12, 2018
Number of Pages: 160 pages with B&W photos

Anecdotes about Maggie Smith abound, but Bill Wright’s The Whole Damn Cheese is the first book devoted entirely to the woman whose life in Big Bend country has become the stuff of legend. For more than twenty years, Maggie Smith served folks on both sides of the border as doctor, lawyer, midwife, herbalist, banker, self-appointed justice of the peace, and coroner. As she put it, she was “the whole damn cheese” in Hot Springs, Texas. A beloved figure serving the needs of scores of people in Big Bend country, she was also an accomplished smuggler with a touch of romance as well as larceny in her heart. Maggie’s family history is a history of the Texas frontier, and her story outlines the beginnings and early development of Big Bend National Park. Her travels between Boquillas, San Vincente, Alpine, and Hot Springs define Maggie’s career and illustrate her unique relationships with the people of the border. Vividly capturing the rough individualism and warm character of Maggie Smith, author Bill Wright demonstrates why this remarkable frontier woman has become an indelible figure in the history of Texas.


HALL WAYS REVIEW: Admittedly, I have a bit of a love affair with Big Bend. It’s one of the most dramatic and beautiful landscapes I’ve seen, and hiking there feels otherworldly — a complete escape from this city girl’s realities.  It has been many years since I visited, but since reading Yonderings:Trails and Memories of the Big Bend by Ben English, I have longed to return there.

Sadly, I haven’t yet physically returned to Big Bend, but I did return via Bill Wright’s The Whole Damn Cheese: Maggie Smith, Border Legend. Much to my surprise and delight, Ben English made some appearances in the book, as he is the great nephew of the book’s namesake. I shouldn’t have been surprised, given the people of Big Bend country have long established, common roots. The story behind the title of the book is revealed quickly, and it sets the tone for this no-nonsense woman’s life. Maggie Smith was of a heartier stock than most and didn’t  just survive in Big Bend, but thrived — no matter what barriers or hardships were thrown her way.

“If you can’t share something you have, then it really isn’t worth having.” — Maggie Smith

Author Bill Wright has done his research and what shines through is a picture of a frontier woman who not only bucked the system, but who was allowed to buck the system - unheard of for a woman, primarily dealing with men in those times. Not only did she make and follow her own rules in dealing with the governments and people of both the United States and Mexico, she was respected as a leader and businesswoman and humanitarian. She had a tough exterior that warned you, “Don’t mess with Maggie,” but she had a heart of gold and her benevolence was known far and wide. Those stories of her selflessness and blindness to economic status, race, color, or creed are my favorite but also underscore how rare is that quality of blindness in our society.

“Maggie’s death marked the end of an era 
that will not be seen again.” - Bill Wright 

As is the case with most biographies, readers get a lot more from reading The Whole Damn Cheese than just one woman’s story. Through his interviews and research, Wright shares many stories of the times and the people in Texas from the late 1800s forward. These side stories serve to really enrich the story that was Maggie’s life and give a clearer picture of the events that shaped her life. There are generations of stories, and it helps that the author includes a timeline at the beginning of the book. A final glance back at that timeline upon concluding the story further cements the idea of a bygone era and way of life.

The book is a very quick read at just over a hundred pages and includes numerous, well-placed black and white photos. There are some flipped captions and one photo that really needed more explanation (a family picture with horns? Please tell me more!), but including the photos really adds a layer of interest to the book and helps immerse the reader into Maggie’s life.  Also, the author includes information in the Acknowledgment and Notes sections that explain, clarify, and give credit to the sources used in writing the book.

Wright uses a lot of direct quotations to lend authenticity to the story, and the quotations and spellings also show readers the accents  of the speakers. Maggie’s voice comes through clearly, and by the end, I could really hear her speaking. The book needs a little polishing to fix some awkward sentences, repetition, and a few typos/errors, but the overall feeling in reading The Whole Damn Cheese is informal and comfortable and like hearing stories of the olden-days at a family get-together.  I recommend it to history lovers, Texas lovers, and those who want to delve into the fascinating, unexpected life of an amazing human.

Thank you to TCU Press and Lone Star Book Blog Tours for providing a lovely print copy in exchange for my honest opinion — the only kind I give.

For thirty-five years Bill Wright owned and managed a wholesale and retail petroleum marketing company. In 1987 he sold his company to his employees and since then has carved out a remarkable career as an author, fine art photographer, and ethnologist. He has written or contributed to seven books, and his photographs appear in Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Character Interview
Character Interview
Author Interview
Scrapbook Page

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