Books

by Larry McMurtry

Brief memoir by a writer who is also known for his movies but his real passion was dealing in used books. Especially high end collectibles and rare editions. So of course he tells how he came to be a reader, and his love of books which any bibliophile would enjoy absorbing in these pages. However this volume felt a bit choppy to me, as he tells about part of his childhood, then where that led to or some related aspect of his adult life, then drops back into the chronological narrative again. Every other page nearly, as the chapters are mostly only one or two in length. It didn\’t bother me too much, though. I\’ve liked before many memoirs written by readers or writers, but this one is really about being a dealer. A book scout. Mingling with wealthy and monied people (they have the best private libraries) and what finds he had (or missed out on). How some copies resurfaced years later, or were re-bought and sold when you wouldn\’t expect them to be. Lots of titles I recognized fondly, and many many more I didn\’t (my reading tastes are not quite the same). Loads of name dropping which did nothing for me, but I skimmed through that, interested regardless. Plenty of interesting snippets of stories about curious customers or individuals met while seeking out fine book collections. He tells about when secondhand bookshops were thriving, and how he watched them slowly begin to decline in the seventies. This account wraps up just when online selling was becoming a thing, in fact the last chapter is a sort of obituary list of defunct bookshops- many of which he\’d acquired the complete stock when they went under. He also noted how computers are gradually taking over space in public libraries, saying though Book selling will never quite expire unless reading expires first… Civilization can probably adjust to the loss of the secondhand book trade, though I don\’t think it\’s really likely to have to. Can it, though, survive the loss of reading? That\’s a tougher question, but a very important one.

Aside from the bookishness, I also enjoyed reading about places- I\’ve lived briefly in San Francisco and Baltimore, and now am near Washington, D.C.- all locations McMurtry tells about thick with book dealing and bookshop visits. Made me want to visit more of them, before they disappear. (McMurtry says of D.C: What depressed me most in D.C. was that the various great houses I was invited to contained so few books.) !

I haven\’t read any of McMurtry\’s novels yet, but have wanted to try Lonesome Dove. Which he says he wrote as a western version of Gone with the Wind. Another one that\’s on my list!

My favorite quote: Very quickly…. I realized that reading was probably the cheapest and most stable pleasure of life. Sometimes books excite me, sometimes they sustain me, but rarely do they disappoint me- as books that is, if not necessarily the poetry, history, or fiction that they contain.

This amused and saddened me: I\’m proud of my carefully selected twenty-eight-thousand-volume library and am not joking when I say that I regard its formation as one of my most notable achievements. Yet, when I walk along the rows of bookshelves now, I feel that a distance has opened between me and my books.… I think sometimes that I\’m angry with my library because I know that I can\’t reread it all. I would like to, but the time is not there. It is this, I think, that produces the slight sense of alientation that I feel when I\’m together with my books now. They need to find other readers soon- ideally they will be my son and grandson, but if not them, other book lovers.

Rating: 3/5                   259 pages, 2008

6 Responses

  1. I used to see Mr. McMurtry in his Houston used book bookstore called Booked Up and was able to chat books with him on three or four occasions. It was a sad day when he decided to sell the store and start consolidating everything up in Archer City.Then just a few years ago I was at his Archer City bookstores when he held the big public auction to sell of the bulk of his stock. That was a bittersweet day for all involved, including observers like me. I wasn't lucky enough to come away with anything that day, but the memories are vivid ones.I've read almost everything the man has written, and I wish there was more to come.

  2. Man, I know just how he feels. I have 300+ unread books on my Kindle, and sometimes I wonder if I'll be able to read them all before I die. (Doesn't help that I keep adding more and more…)Sounds like it must have been an enjoyable read! He and I seem to share a lot of the same feelings on things (like secondhand bookstores! They were so much fun to explore when I was a kid).

  3. Thistle- yeah. My personal library is not nearly so large as his, but I've only read just over half of it. I AM getting better at being selective of the books I add, and at culling quickly those that don't appeal to me when I try them- DNFs are often now discarded without even a mention on the blog. There were three this past week! But still, I doubt I will manage to read them all in time, much less have a chance to re-read my favorites.

  4. I'm thinking about not blogging DNF books anymore, too. Or maybe just making just a shorter mention of them or something. It takes me so long to make a post; all that formatting, even if I have the template HTML saved in a notepad file, takes forever. As far as I can tell, only 2-3 people read my posts, so I don't think the change would be met with protest.I feel bad about not being able to reread favorites, too, yeah. But there are so many unread ones, potential new favorites…

  5. Well, I usually write about them if I read at least fifty or a hundred pages, with full expectation to finish. If I just tested it out for a chapter and realized it wasn't for me, the book usually gets no mention.

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