A couple of years ago Husband and I took a road trip to North Texas to check out family history on my father’s side. We visited small country cemeteries, a beautiful old courthouse, a log cabin and Uz, a town near where my grandfather was born. All that is left of Uz is a state historical marker. My great-great-grandmother, who is buried in the area, kept a diary from 1876 to 1888. Today I think she would have been a blogger and would have definitely embraced Facebook. But that may be another post!
Since we were so close, I had to visit Archer City, where my favorite bibliophile – Larry McMurtry – lives. He was born near Archer City and grew up in the area where his father ranched. The first stop was the Royal Theater.
As a not-so-famous-bibliophile myself I love to visit used bookstores wherever I travel as I seek bargains and rare treasures, so a visit to Archer City was perfect. The small town (population 1848) is home to Booked Up Inc., a series of bookstores owned by McMurtry. They are right in downtown Archer City near the courthouse and scattered around in several buildings. There is a guide to tell you what type of books are in each building. The day we were there it was quiet and we usually found that we were the only customers. When I found my first treasure, “The Golden Man” by Victor W. von Hagen, there was not even a sales person around to take my money. Then I noticed something posted by the front door directing me to go to building number one to pay. It was like being in someone’s personal library with books stacked high on shelves (ladders for he brave) and organized loosely by category. There were no other literary related items for sale. And we would have to go elsewhere for coffee. The other buildings were similar: some smaller, some larger but all smelled of warm dust and old paper.
The last stop was building number one where indeed I was able to pay for my treasures and encountered Leo, the bookstore cat. Dare I think that since Larry McMurtry does maintain a home in Archer City not far from his book stores that he might actually be in town and stop by? Alas, a sign read, “When will Mr. McMurtry be here? At his whim.” I confess that I did persuade Husband to drive ever so slowly by his home before we left town.
I have read many of his books, fiction and non-fiction, and it would be hard to choose my favorites, but these would be at the top of my list.
“Terms of Endearment”
“In a Narrow Grave”
“Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen”
Recently I was surprised to learn that at age 72 he had married the widow of fellow author and friend, Ken Kesey, on April 29, 2011. James McAuley interviewed him last year for an article in The New Yorker titled “Larry McMurtry’s Dying Breed: A Visit to Archer City.”
McMurtry, in addition to being a novelist, essayist and screenwriter, has been a book collector for many years and has bought out the stock of several old and prestigious bookstores. In one non-fiction book he includes a chapter titled “Book Scouting” and explains it this way.
“I’m sure that I’ve had as much pleasure in the hundreds (or maybe thousands) of bookshops I’ve been in, going along row by row and shelf by shelf looking for a title or an edition that I’ve never seen, as my father did culling and inspecting the many cattle herds he bought from. The process of selection, weighing the qualities of various animals, in his mind, was a work that required judgment, sophistication, experience, and – if you will- taste.
And that, essentially is what I try to bring to the composition of my book shops: taste, which if applied persistently will result in an interesting mixture of books, none of which is undesirable or unappealing.”
McMurtry has often written about the changing world of the dying breed of the cowboy and co-wrote the screenplay for “Brokeback Mountain.” He also hints that book collectors may be a dying breed as well.
How we read is changing. I like the digital world for blogging, news, articles, shopping, reservations/tickets and some of the social media, but I must have my books. They are comforting to me. I can take them with me anywhere and anytime, touch them, make notes in them, mark them with a favorite bookmark, stack them on the floor or make room for one more in a book shelf. When I give one as a gift, I write a dated message inside.
Perhaps I am a dying breed also. Maybe I am in good company!