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Bookmarks Issue: 
36-Sept-Oct-2008
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A-BooksLarry McMurtry, antiquarian book dealer and one of the most prolific and well-respected writers working today (Terms of Endearment, The Last Picture Show, and the Pulitzer Prize–winning modern classic Lonesome Dove), goes back to his roots.

The Topic: Larry McMurtry is best known as a novelist, though his first—and abiding—love is book collecting. Having grown up "bookless" in Texas, McMurtry quickly became passionate about discovering, admiring, buying, and selling books, as he tracked their "silent migration" from owner to owner. From the original incarnation of his famous Booked Up in a Washington, DC, storefront in 1971 to that store’s improbable multibuilding, 300,000-volume resurrection in McMurtry’s hometown of Archer City, Texas, the author has absorbed impressive knowledge about the rare-book trade. Now 72, McMurtry arranges those experiences in 109 chapters, many briefer than a page. Each gives readers insight into the quirky characters and the one-of-a-kind finds that resonate after half a century in the book trade.
Simon & Schuster. 272 pages. $24. ISBN: 1416583343

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"The moral among antiquarian booksellers … is that you can’t know everything. … The book trade has long been his central passion and his own library now contains 28,000 volumes of books he’s still reading." Elizabeth Brown

San Antonio Exp-News 4 of 5 Stars
"Books comprises rambling anecdotes about McMurtry’s reading life, his book-scouting activities and the personalities he has met across the decades, some famous, most of them not. … Although a few passages slip into antiquarian bookseller insider information, the pages stay entertaining because of McMurtry’s easygoing, humorous narrative style." David Hendricks

Chicago Sun-Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"While this volume may not be the straight, literary autobiography you’re wishing for, it still provides many fascinating glances at McMurtry’s life, world and thoughts. … Those who want to read books, own them and collect them will understand McMurtry’s obsession and his engaging tales of great finds and great eccentrics." John Barron

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Taken as a whole, the McMurtry corpus brings us inside the complicated world of human emotions more successfully than any other modern American writer. … The accounts of first-edition hunting and encounters with literary eccentrics he offers in this book entertain, but it seems more like a finger exercise than a sonata." Paul Wilner

Houston Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"I’m not sure who will want to read this book besides habitues of antiquarian bookstores, a spectral tribe that appears to be dying out. As it happens, I’m of that tribe, so I enjoyed it, although it’s a thin, anemic thing, a very minor addition to Larry McMurtry’s oeuvre." Fritz Lanham

New York Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Mr. McMurtry does not try to teach the love of books. But the fetish is surely universal, at least among readers, and the occasional goodie pops up as an unexpected payoff for sticking around." John Leland

Denver Post 2 of 5 Stars
"McMurtry is uncomfortably anti-introspective when it comes to delving into the deeper aspects of his own psyche or anyone else’s. … In this book, the collector’s impulse that has now overtaken McMurtry seems to have slaughtered the artistry within him that is required to write a moving memoir of any sort." Elaine Margolin

Critical Summary

Despite McMurtry’s well-deserved reputation as a writer, including a Pulitzer Prize and more than a handful of best sellers, critics are unsure about his latest effort. They cite it as an uneven volume that glosses over some important characters and anecdotes (or, conversely, delves a bit too much into the details of book collecting) and doesn’t advance its purported mission of offering a "memoir" of the reticent author’s life in books. Some of the vignettes seem to have been dashed off almost as an afterthought, though McMurtry’s style can be an acquired taste. Still, even if Books doesn’t transcend its limited subject matter and won’t win over many readers not already familiar with McMurtry’s story, devotees will enjoy digging alongside the bookman, thrilling to the next great discovery.