Friday Reads: Books: a Memoir, by Larry McMurtry

booksI’ve been a Larry McMurtry fan since reading Lonesome Dove (1986 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Fiction), the only book I recall reading twice. Most likely, I’ll read it again someday. Since then I’ve read many of McMurtry’s books: The Last Picture Show, Comanche Moon, Dead Man’s Walk, Streets of Laredo, and more. Well known as a prolific novelist, McMurtry also has credits as an Academy Award winning screenwriter (Terms of Endearment, Brokeback Mountain and The Last Picture Show to name some), and has added nonfiction writings including Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen – a wonderful autobiographical reflection on many things – and particularly those things from his home state Texas.

McMurtry self describes as a reader, writer, and bookseller. Add teacher, book scout, dealer, business owner to those descriptors. It is his passion for books, book scouting, and book dealing that many might not know of and that is the subject of Books: A Memoir. In Books, McMurtry reflects on his life-long affinity to all things books. The reader will discover that McMurtry knows books, really knows books – all kinds of books.

It’s curious that McMurtry tells of growing up in a house without books and musing that it is perhaps his discovery of books that led to his lifelong passion for them. The absence of books in his home ended when a relative gave him a box of nineteen books, a small batch that the young McMurtry read and re-read many times. When his family moved from their Texas ranch home to Archer City he had opportunities to explore many other books, including those in the local public library.

McMurtry’s book scouting, buying and selling happened in many places, emphasis on many. And those pursuits resulted in acquaintanceships with many book stores and book dealers – a good number colorfully described in Books. I took special notice when he mentions searching, in San Francisco, for a Weldon Kees’ book, and for Wright Morris’s The Home Place.

McMurtry estimates he’s handled over a million books during his lifetime. His own collection, at the time his book was published, numbered nearly 30,000, including a few thousand reference titles.

For over 30 years McMurtry co-owned, with long-time partner Marcia Carter, the legendary Booked Up book store in Georgetown (Washington DC). Booked Up was moved in the mid ‘90s to McMurtry’s Texas hometown in Archer City, eventually growing to several stores housing some 450,000 books (a true book town somewhat on the order of the notable Welsh village of Hay-on-Wye). Sadly, several years ago, McMurtry sold many of the books in these stores – described by McMurtry as “The Last Book Sale.” Fortunately, it wasn’t and he kept Booked Up No. 1, the original store.

For those who love books and fine writing, McMurtry’s Books will be an enjoyable read. And for those who enjoy book stores there is a great adventure ahead in traveling to Archer City, Texas, to visit McMurtry’s remaining store.

McMurtry, Larry. Books: A Memoir. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008. Print.

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