Books: A Memoir | Book Review
Original Publication Date: 2008
Source: I purchased this book
Larry McMurtry wrote books in many genres, from coming-of-age novels, such as The Last Picture Show to the reinvention of the “Western” on a grand scale like the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lonesome Dove. He writes about himself as a boy growing up in a largely “bookless” world, as a young man devouring the world of literature, as a fledgling writer and family man, and above all as one of America’s most prominent screenwriters.
He Is An Academy Award and Pulitzer Prize Winner
Larry McMurtry is the author of many fine novels and screenplays, including The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment, and Lonesome Dove. He has won both the Pulitzer Prize and an Academy Award.
What many people don’t know is that during his very successful writing career, he has also worked as a professor, collecting and selling rare books.
Table of Contents
His “Secret” Life Behind The Scenes
This is a most unusual memoir. It rarely discusses his family life or his writing or his personal life. It is written in very short chapters — 109 chapters in all!
McMurtry fell in love with reading at an early age despite growing up in a house that contained virtually no reading material.
In his twenties, he started scouting volumes and then selling them. As he says:
For the first twenty years of my career as a book hunter I actually read almost all the books I had gone to such trouble to find. Getting the books I wanted to read was the main reason for the pursuit. But there can be secondary and tertiary reasons for wanting a particular book. One is the pleasure of holding the physical book itself: savoring the type, the binding, the book’s feel and heft. All these things can be enjoyed apart from literature, which some, but not all, books contain.
McMurtry goes on to tell interesting stories about the volumes he has bought. He also discusses the eccentricities of the sellers he has encountered over the years. Many of these buyers and sellers are not interested in reading the literature but only in making a profit from them. That’s because some rare books can sell for many thousands of dollars.
McMurtry really loved the business. Despite his great success as a writer:
Sometime in the mid-seventies I began to view myself as essentially a bookseller — or maybe just a book scout. The hunt for books was what absorbed me most. Writing was my vocation, but I had written a lot, and it was no longer exactly a passion.
I was mystified at first why McMurtry rarely discussed his life outside of selling and collecting because he must have led a very interesting life.
Then I discovered that this book is part one of a trilogy. The second part, Literary Life: A Second Memoir, came out last December, and the next volume, Hollywood: A Third Memoir, will be published in August.
This is interesting reading if you are interested in book collecting or in rare or old books. If you are not, then you might not find it interesting.
The extremely short chapters were a little irritating.
But I am definitely interested in reading the sequels because I want to know McMurtry’s memories of writing bestsellers and Hollywood screenplays!
Update: Larry McMurtry died on March 25, 2021. This is his obituary in The Guardian.
His bookstore in 2022: Visiting Larry McMurtry’s Booked Up, Texas’ greatest bookstore
You may also read about a famous bookstore chain: Borders Books 1971-2011 Farewell
You can also read my review of a love affair with books: So Many Books, So Little Time by Sara Nelson.
Sounds like a great read. I've added it to my TBR (hoo boy…that's a long list). I enjoyed Terms of Endearment (the movie) & have yet to read his novel (any of them to be precise).
The description of this one reminds me of 84 Charing Cross Rd. by Helene Hanff. Have you read that one? I've seen the movie & want to read it soon. The relationship between rare bookseller & avid reader/collector is an interesting subject to write about.
The Literary Lioness
It is an interesting book, although sometimes McMurtry discusses books he's found without really describing them. I mean, I've never heard of these books, so I don't know what he's talking about!