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Rare books: Author Larry McMurtry’s true passion

Created date

January 26th, 2010

Larry McMurtry proves the old adage that you can t judge a book by its cover. Readers and moviegoers familiar with the Oscar- and Pulitzer-Prize-winning author might think that they have him all figured out. Childish pleasure He speaks of the thrill of the hunt, and looks on his pursuit as a childish pleasure, wherein much like an Easter egg hunt, you might find the egg, and you might not. In some of those instances when you do, he adds, there is serious money involved, highlighting a collection of inscribed Hemingway novels that sold at auction for more than $800,000. At the very top level in this country, there are nearly 1,000 billionaires, and they have to spend their money on something, he muses. If we had a highly desirable book worth $100,000, we could sell it tomorrow. Still, McMurtry sadly confesses that his beloved trade withers away a little more each year. The six-figure copies that would sell tomorrow aren t nearly as common as the $20 to $1,000 copies that bring less exposure and carry little status. [caption id="attachment_7542" align="alignright" width="280" caption="On any given day, customers can expect to find an inventory of 300,000 books on the shelves of Larry McMurtry s shop, Booked Up, in Archer City, Tex. (Photo courtesy of Larry McMurtry)"][/caption] In McMurtry s words, the lower levels of the trade are simply dying, and it doesn t look as though they re going to survive. By his observation, many people are no longer interested in rare books, and he cites as a grim example the San Francisco Bay Area, where 52 of the 54 small bookshops have closed over the last half century. Even so, the man who penned such classic films as The Last Picture Show (1971) refuses to give up and takes pride in fighting what may be a losing battle.

New home for books

More than a decade since Georgetown s excessive property costs priced him out of the D.C. market, McMurtry has taken Booked Up to his hometown of Archer City, Tex., where the total population is just shy of 2,000. The town that gave him a wealth of material for many of his own westerns, Archer City was the only place where McMurtry could keep his passion alive. We would have little chance of surviving in major metropolitan areas, but in a place like Archer City, it s different because real estate there is dirt cheap, he says. Knowing this, I went back and bought six buildings a hardware store, variety shop, appliance store, and three others and filled them with books. In fact, he s created a veritable book town packed with some 300,000 volumes, all for sale and each part of his mission. This is my passion, I love doing it, and I m going to keep doing it while I can afford it, he asserts with unmistakable conviction. The trade may be dwindling, but it will last so long as there is somebody like me who really wants it to last. I m doing everything I can to keep it alive.