A few years ago, back in the days when the LATimes had a stand-alone Sunday magazine, Scott Kraft wrote a tremendous story about visiting Larry McMurtry, the writer, author of "The Last Picture Show," "Lonesome Dove," and "Terms of Endearment," among many other great stories, at his bookstore in tiny Archer City Texas. It's called The Loner.
A couple of noteworthy lines:
McMurtry lives in a majestic three-story home a few doors down from the single-story house where he grew up and not far from the high school where he graduated in 1954 among a senior class of 19. He moved back to Archer City, population 1,848, just five years ago.
He keeps mostly to himself, and locals know better than to try to engage him in chitchat. "He's a very conservative-type feller," says Max Wood, the town's 68-year-old mayor. Wood has known McMurtry since high school but doesn't consider himself a close friend. "Larry was always the type of person who was more of a loner."
Here's a picture of McMurtry, from a photo posted in one of his bookstores in Booked Up:
Well, to put it simply, to learn that one of this nation's greatest writers has a bookstore — a monster bookstore — in a famous (from "The Last Picture Show") little town in Texas, and what's more hangs out at his store, and can be talked to — well, I had to visit. So yesterday, after attending a reporting workshop that gave me the chance to visit Dallas, two hours away, I did.
Felt a little nervous driving into town on Saturday morning. This person can get geeky in the presence of heroes, and McMurtry is without question a hero, if only for Sam the Lion's speech in "The Last Picture Show," and his Oscar-winning adaptation of Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain."
("If anybody had any sense," says the writer Carolyn See, a professor of English at UCLA, in the Kraft story, "they'd throw out 'Moby Dick' and put 'Lonesome Dove' in the center as the great American epic novel. No question about it. His heroes in that book are just terrific. His women are just terrific. And he sustains it for 800 pages.")
So I found myself dawdling on my way, and, once inside the plain storefront of a bookstore that once contained a half-million volumes, a bit tongue-tied. I did note a fellow who appeared capable of being McMurtry, and expressed my amazement as he passed at the incredible multitude of "rare and fine" books in the store — no crap at all.
"Somebody should put prices on these books," noted this fellow dryly.
I then stumbled on a book I last read when I was twelve years old, no lie, on the trail actually, a great book, a classic, in the same edition I read almost fifty years ago. I could not suppress my astonishment, and actually had McMurtry price the book (which had just come in).
Well, to make a long story short, I was too shy to ask him all the great questions I had to discuss with this great writer, but I did ask him for direction on where to look for types of books, and did express my fandom, and did ask — in amazement — if he had read most or all of the books in his bookstore(s).
"Well, I have some books of my own," he said, and added, "I wouldn't say that I've read them all, but I've considered them."
And he encouraged me to do the same. Which I then did — for hours.