Spare Time in Texas: Recreation and History in the Lone Star State
By David G. McComb. Austin: University of Texas Press, September 2008. Cloth:
ISBN 978-0292718708, $60; paper: ISBN 978-0292718890, $24.95. 300 pages.
Review by Muhammad Aurang Zeb Mughal, Durham University, England
History does not only mean the record of wars, kings and queens, disasters, or the spread of movements. History also accounts for the lives of common people and their daily activities not specifically related to their economics, politics, or religion. Spare Time in Texas is the recreational history of Texas since its emergence as a state. The book presents the different activities of Texans that they have pursued in their spare time including prostitution, gambling and drinking, football and baseball, visits to zoos and libraries, theatre, movies, radio, and television. According to McComb, who grew up in Houston and is affiliated with Colorado State University, recreational activities are “true interests” and are representative of an individual’s character because one does not choose these activities under the direction of a boss or as a job requirement (1).
McComb describes how cowboys after their farm activities came to saloons, bars, or restaurants for entertainments like gambling, drinking, and prostitutes, which have sometimes been in separate places and sometimes been under the same roof. Discussing the biological aspects of human sexuality and prostitution, McComb has shed light on the life of prostitutes and certain legal and moral concerns associated with this profession, which served as a form of pleasure or entertainment for cowboys. He has also collected information about red-light areas like “Post Office Street” and “The Chicken Ranch” from the research of different historians and social scientists. Similarly, he discusses the brief history of “The Garten Verien,” “Gruene Hall,” and “Scholz Garten” while providing details about Scottish whisky and German beer from their household use to their commercial preparation. Gambling at “Fatal Corner” and “The White Elephant” are also interesting elements of the history of recreation in Texas.
Public recreational spots like parks, zoos, and beaches are an important aspect of human life due to the participation of more than one generation and gender. City parks in Texas were built by philanthropists; later, changes in transportation systems gave rise to the development of rural parks. These public recreational places provide the pleasures of nature and are an integral part of Texan life covering approximately two million acres (68). McComb has collected the history of different such places in Texas from their construction to their development. Some of these are the plazas and parks of San Antonio, Barton Springs of Austin, Stewart Beach of Galveston, Palo Duro Canyon, Big Bend National Park, The Desolate Shore, Padre Island National Seashore, and the zoos of Fort Worth, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Brownsville, as well as the Gladys Porter Zoo.
A sports stadium either small or great occupies a considerable area of land and resources for its construction. Therefore, allocating resources to stadiums shows the value of sports. Football and baseball are an integral part of Texans’ recreation, and the Astrodome and Cotton Bowl stadiums are among the places where Texans have most enjoyed watching sports.
In the area of academic leisure pursuits, no one can deny the importance of books and libraries. McCombs stresses that reading acts as a pleasure beyond academic requirements. People enjoy reading books in their areas of interest in their leisure time. Thus, libraries enjoy the status of an important place. In Texas, there are many private and public libraries, and some of them are for special subjects and disciplines. Texans also own small personal libraries in their homes, while schools and universities have huge libraries with millions of books in them.
Another important and widely used source of recreation in Texas is theatre. Even after the introduction of radio, cinema, and television as alternative forms of entertainment, live theatre performed on the stage in front of audience is still popular (145).
At the end, the book has a special section that presents the history of recreation in Texas in carefully selected black and white photographs with some explanation of the context of each photograph. In all regards, the book is a wonderful description of the history of Texas recreation, providing considerable insight into Texan culture. There are some aspects not covered, however: for instance, video games and the internet.
Not only the idea itself but the way McComb has traced Texan character in the history of recreation is very innovative. It provides an opportunity to look into the history of the State with a different angle and to reveal some important aspect of Texans’ lives. The book has the potential to help researchers of history, recreation, and the American South. McComb’s use of phrases from everyday Texas life and literature will be appreciated by the readers with a literary aesthetic. Those interested in U.S. culture, especially that of the South, will find this book helpful in understanding Texans’ way of life and the status of recreational activities in their lives. Similarly, the history of these recreational activities and places in Texas will be revealing for many Texans. This book will serve as a valuable future reference on the topics it covers.