Books : a memoir

by Larry McMurtry

Hardcover, 2008




New York : Simon & Schuster, 2008.


In a prolific life of singular literary achievement, Larry McMurtry has succeeded in a variety of genres: in coming-of-age novels like The Last Picture Show; in collections of essays like In a Narrow Grave; and in the reinvention of the Western on a grand scale in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Lonesome Dove. Now, in Books: A Memoir, McMurtry writes about his endless passion for books: as a boy growing up in a largely "bookless" world; as a young man devouring the vastness of literature with astonishing energy; as a fledgling writer and family man; and above all, as one of America's most prominent bookmen. He takes us on his journey to becoming an astute, adventurous book scout and collector who would eventually open stores of rare and collectible editions in Georgetown, Houston, and finally, in his previously "bookless" hometown of Archer City, Texas--From publisher description.… (more)

Media reviews

In his own way, McMurtry is no less evasive. “Books: A Memoir” reads like notes waiting to be assembled into a book. Many of its 109 chapters run to under a page, and McMurtry has a fondness for single-sentence paragraphs, a technique that carries a built-in resistance to amplitude. There is a good book in “Books,” struggling to get past all the “I’m not sures” and “I don’t knows” and the truisms (“choice is a mystery”) that McMurtry’s editors should have saved him from.

User reviews

LibraryThing member knittingfreak
I was more than a little disappointed when I discovered that this book is not what I expected at all. First of all, it's not a memoir. It's not even really a book per se. If anything, I'd describe this as a random collection of thoughts from McMurtry. There is absolutely no organization to the book whatsoever. Each 'chapter' (which is often only a couple of paragraphs) dryly details some recollection from McMurtry regarding his life as a writer and bookman. The snippets go back and forth in time and I was never quite sure at what point in his life I was reading about. Normally, I don't mind a non-linear structure, but this was not done well at all. It was jarring and confusing. I also never got any feeling as to McMurtry's emotions or passions regarding books, and I didn't really learn anything much about his life. It read as a long list of his dealings with particular second hand bookshops and bookmen. To be fair, this was an arc that I read. But, I don't think publishers usually make major changes, but rather just correct typographical errors, etc. But, I would be anxious to see the published book just to compare it to the arc. I don't usually finish books that I don't like, but in this case, it read so quickly that it was over before I knew it. I love books about books but this one just didn't deliver. In fact, I'm really surprised that this book made it to publication. I don't like doing negative reviews, so I will end on a positive note -- the book did make me want to go book scouting. Who knows, maybe I'll find a rare treasure at the local Goodwill.… (more)
LibraryThing member WaxPoetic
Usually, I am somewhat leery about beginning this way, but: I really enjoyed this book. It is not one that I will keep close to my bosom for ever and ever, but I anticipate that I will seek it out and buy a copy for myself at some point.

Larry McMurtry is an experienced writer with a very good sense of storytelling. He carries the story along in clips and sometimes longer strolls with the comfort of someone who doesn't need to hurry or censor himself.

It is lovely to read a writer writing confidently, telling stories that are and are not about himself because they are about something that he does and so must include him quite naturally. The book trade is one that he's been in since around the time that I was born and he writes comfortably about it. I particularly enjoyed the little clauses of acknowledgment to the readers who may not be avid book lovers or collectors. It's like a very kind 'thank you' to someone who has been nodding and smiling and is about to doze off if you don't do something right now.

The end of many bookshops around the nation and the closing of many library branches has redistributed the wealth of books in the US, but it has not erased it and it has not made books or the people who live with them any less vital or vibrant or valid.

It is not a given that the Internet or eReaders will be the 'death' of books. These are different media with different strengths and do not exist in a state of mutual exclusion. It matters that the book trade exists because with that trade there is an established infrastructure to rely on when the trend toward larger collections in a few hands turns once more to smaller collections in many hands.

This is a refreshing book, and it was an enjoyable read. I plan to scour it once more before I return it; there are some titles I want to jot down.
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LibraryThing member TimBazzett
I've read and enjoyed several of Larry McMurtry's early books, but none for quite a few years. I laid off buying this book for a long time because it didn't look much like a real memoir. Truth is, it isn't much of a memoir, but if you're a book nerd like me then you'll love this book. It does contain some surprising admissions, like the fact that McMurtry lost his 'passion' for writing years ago. But he keeps on cranking out books (over thirty now) because that's what he does, it's his 'vocation.' He actually enjoys his book collecting a lot more, if you believe the guy. And I do. He also mentions that push-pull dilemma that often faces writers who are also dedicated (addicted?) readers. When you're writing, you'd rather be reading, and when you're reading you feel guilty that you're not writing. Been there. It's a problem. Maybe why I haven't really written anything myself (other than a journal and blurbs like these) for well over a year now. McMurtry also names plenty of names and titles of obscure writers and rare books that intrigue book folks. I've gotta find this James Lees-Milne character he mentions, and whose Diaries have become addictive reading for McMurtry. There are at least four volumes of diaries from the 40s through the 90s, as well as a kind of memoir, ANOTHER SELF, which got him hooked originally on the Brit writer. And lots more esoteric info like this. I devoured this book in a couple sittings on the same day, and just lent it to a fellow book-guy neighbor. It makes me want to make a special pilgrimage to his enormous BookedUp store in Archer City (his Texas hometown and setting for THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and its sequels) and cruise its several buildings filled with tens of thousands of rare and specialized books. Hawg heaven for booklovers. I will recommend this book highly, but only to a select few who meet certain rarified criteria.… (more)
LibraryThing member CraigHodges
For a Book Scout who has lived in self-denial for many years I enjoyed McMurtry's bibliophile memoir. It was read in one sitting.

McMurtry's clear open and easy going prose was a pleasure to read, and only a few repeated phrases and details distract.

His is a fortunate and fascinating story, given that he came from a Mid-West farming family without books to the present day where as a bookseller he has now changed the economic geography of his small home town after years of successful business on the east coast.

I found his musings towards the end on the possibility of the death of 'reading' highly relevant and a reluctance for buyers to bid for large lots sobering. The issue of reading is once again going to be open to debate with the launch of i-Pad and Kindle.

Since finishing the book my views about some of Melbourne's booksellers here in Australia have been for even changed. And for that, I thank you Larry.
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LibraryThing member VivienneR
It is always interesting, sometimes amazing, to hear how readers get started. McMurtry's story is one of the impressive ones. However, in this book he swings around in time a lot leaving the reader trying to figure out when the events happened. The most disappointing aspect was that this was hardly a memoir but a random account of rare book collecting, a topic that would normally attract me but in this case fell flat.… (more)
LibraryThing member ChristineEllei
Mr. McMurtry is a celebrated novelist (Leaving Cheyenne, The Last Picture Show), an Academy Award winner screenwriter (The Last Picture Show, Hud) and a well-known bookseller. As the title suggests this book is focused on his career as a bookseller. He divulges quite a few “insider” secrets about the book trade outside the world of major retailers and drops a few names in the process. The mention of some books that he has bought and then sold made my mouth water. How can one sell books like that? How can one not want to hold on to them for a personal library? How does one part with old friends? Obviously, being a book dealer would not be the right occupation for me!

This book could have been a very dry book about a very specific subject matter, but as a testament to his success as a writer, I found it very informative and written in an interesting and entertaining way. A good read for anyone who loves books.
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LibraryThing member kristenn
I got through this in one sitting. In part because most 'chapters' are a page or two long (with a blank backside to boot), and in part because it's just sort of shallow. I knew going in about the focus on book selling rather than on reading, but that still sounded interesting. I've always found passionate collecting of any sort interesting and wish I could find something I wanted to collect myself. But this book is more about the people than the business, and got gossipy enough that I was uncomfortable. (Although the anecdote about Jackie Kennedy's mother was a fascinating illustration of class consciousness.) I've never read McMurtry's fiction, although he's one of my mother's favourites. Odd use of commas meant it took a while to get his rhythm down. There was a lot of repetition on the details (like 28,000), although that would be a good refresher if you were dipping into the book once in a while. Since he made a point of explaining why he hasn't read fiction in about 20 years, it would have been nice to have an explanation of how he nevertheless ends up repeatedly referencing Alexander McCall Smith (the Botswana detective fellow).… (more)
LibraryThing member nemoman
This book is at most a selective "memoir" that parses that portion, and that portion only, of Larry's life that involved collecting and selling books. If this were his true passion, as opposed to writing, then that passion only comes through in bits and pieces. The book is fun when it connects with your own collecting; otherwise it falls flat, as in who cares? I do not regret reading this book; however, that is the most I can say for it.… (more)
LibraryThing member mmignano11
I was a bit surprised by "Books" as it was not a memoir of Larry McMurtry's acquisition of books or his reading of books as much as a name-dropping list of people who, over the years have come into his bookshop or he has come across in his search for certain editions. I felt overwhelmed by the many names he threw out to the reader. I wasn't familiar with all of them and I didn't feel any closer to them by the end of the book. It was wordy but not in a way that explained much about book collecting. It was entertaining due to McMurtry's usual wit but I thought it could have been organized better. Too much information and too little organization in a relatively small book becomes mind-boggling. His fiction was always very clear to me while I think his memoir was confusing. I think there is a third book coming out. I will still pick it up bur fear more of the same from this last book. For readers that like McMurtry, I don't think it would hurt to pick up "Books" since it is a quick read. Just don't expect much.… (more)
LibraryThing member MerryMary
What a wonderful find. A loose-jointed memoir of McMurtry's book-scouting, book-buying, book-selling adventures. Very spritely, very conversational, very appealing. I felt like I was listening to a friend talking about our favorite subject over a beer.
LibraryThing member soam
Somewhat scattered memoir. Not very impressive.
LibraryThing member bookworm12
McMurtry has been both an author and a bookseller for decades. This book is about his lifelong love affair with books. It starts with the 19 books his cousin gave him, which were the first he ever read, and then it meanders through his years of writing, reading and selling books.

I enjoyed the sections where he talks about his love of reading much more than those that specific details of buying and selling. His thoughts about book auctions, vintage erotica, comics and buying personal libraries quickly became tiresome. Unless you deal with those things in your own life, it wasn't very interesting to read about. McMurtry excels in writing fiction much more than memoirs.… (more)
LibraryThing member ggarfield
Of Books & Bookman

I might have said I was crazy to pick up a book all about books and “bookman”, but I do love books and the cover photo of a library is alluring. I found McMurty’s book to be great fun, much like his book “Roads”. I found myself drawn into this story about “bookman” and the process of buying and selling of personal libraries and collections. And so I had to keep going to the next chapter.

To try to explain why this book is hard to put down would be time consuming, so suffice it to say that if you’re a lover of books, you’ll probably enjoy this memoir. And like “Roads” there are a rich set of book references that you might have never known about and when you start reading those, you can’t imagine having missed them.

Great fun.
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LibraryThing member ALinNY458
A few semi-interesting anecdotes but not a book I can recommend. I feel a bit suckered. I was expecting a little more from the McMurtry "brand".
LibraryThing member realbigcat
I haven't seen too many good reviews for this book. However, I found the book extremely interesting. If you are trying to compare this book to McMurys other famous novels well then it's cetainly no Pulitzer winner. But if you are a passionate book collector that trasures the hunt as much as the aquisition then I know you will like this book. McMurtry has lead a fascinating life in his book dealings and it doesn't hurt that he's a great author as well. The characters "book scouts" and "book dealers" he tells about are very interesting. I think anyone that collects has a lot of wonderful stories about their rare finds. McMurtry says his personal library contains 28,000 volumes. I wish the book told more of exactly what is in his collection. If you are a person that likes to spend their free time perusing dusty old book shops then I think you'll like this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member brianinbuffalo
"Books" was a book I really shouldn't have liked. I only acquired it because I found it in the dollar bin at a major bookstore. I'm certainly not an antiquarian book aficionado. I've never read any McMurtry. Some of the books he mentions I've never heard of until now. Even with all these impediments, I enjoyed this glimpse into the book-scouting world. True, some of the anecdotes are "inside baseball." Many of the short chapters don't seem to hold together as the type of cohesive unit one would expect from a master storyteller. But I learned a lot about the bookselling 'biz while also coming to appreciate McMurtry's lifelong love affair with books.… (more)
LibraryThing member Tasker
Easy reading for someone that's veryy interested in collecting and selling First Editions - evokes a sadness about the demise of brick and mortar used bookstores where you never know what you may find.
LibraryThing member ut.tecum.loquerer
A series of short vignettes about the books in Larry McMurtry's life. Most are about books he's bought and sold, and his favorite booksellers. I found it rather dry; the vignettes don't really connect to each other, and there's no emotional hook.
LibraryThing member smc1
Content very interesting, but book seems to be in a pre-final draft state.
LibraryThing member rsubber
Fascinating story of the life of a libriphile or book-o-phile. Worth re-reading for book collection tips.
See Taste and Technique in Book-Collecting by John Carter.
See Clegg's dictionary of the world book trade
LibraryThing member moibibliomaniac
An excellent memoir of a bookman who not only bought, sold, and collected books, but enjoyed reading them as well. The theme of the book is McMurtry's life with books, a story he tells in 109 very short chapters. Some of the chapters are only a page long.
LibraryThing member brendajanefrank
nonfiction, autobiography, audio book, book collecting
LibraryThing member nmele
McMurtry offers some insights into his education and some interesting stories about buying and selling books, but unless you are very interested in either McMurtry, bookselling or books as physical objects, this memoir is too full of references to book scouts, book sellers and book stores McMurtry has known for me to give more than three stars.… (more)
LibraryThing member murderbydeath
There were so many things I didn't like about this book, yet I still couldn't stop reading it.

I've not read any of McMurty's other books, although his bibliography is certainly impressive, but I have to believe they were not written in the same style as Books: A Memoir. If they are, I'm missing something.

As I started this book I kept thinking who writes like this? How did this make it through editing? About 25% of the way through I realised this was written as though it's a straight transcription of a dictation: imagine someone you know, probably an older someone, sitting in their chair, telling you stories about 'the old days'; the kind of stories where the teller gets sidetracked because he's reminded of another story. That's the narrative style of this book. There's no timeline to speak of, no narrative cohesion. The book is 259 pages long and there are 109 chapters; a few chapters are no more than a paragraph and mostly just fleeting thoughts written down as they pass through.

I bought the book because I wanted memoirs of a bookseller and collector, but while I got some of that, I got a lot more "I" than I wanted. There's a lot of matter-of-fact boasting about his accomplishments, his successes and a metric ton of name dropping. If the names were rain, we'd need an ark. Now, I don't actually mind a bit of name dropping sometimes, if I have the first clue who the people actually are. But 90% of the names were other booksellers, traders, or scouts and were meaningless to me and a burden to keep track of. He writes, in chapter 101:

I've chosen, for the most part, to keep this memoir personality-free. Attempting to interest twenty-first-century readers in the personalities of (mainly) twentieth-century bookmen risks making this narrative more circumscribed than I want it to be.

Really? All due respect to McMurtry, but isn't that something a writer should do? Does he think so little of me as a twenty-first-century reader that he thinks I can't be interested in twentieth century bookmen? Were they that boring? Or can he just not be bothered because that would take the attention off himself? I gotta be honest, it feels like door #3 is closest to the truth. He must drop at least 100 names in this book and if any of them had any personality at all, it would have made this a much more interesting book.

In spite of all this, I never actually considered DNF'ing the book; I harbour a dream of someday being a book seller myself and as such, I hunger for first hand information about others' experience. Sprinkled all too lightly throughout the 109 chapters were glimpses of just what I was looking for and I was eagerly forging my way through all the somewhat narcissistic horn blowing in order to mine these small gems. I was left at the end with the vague sense of getting what I wanted, but man, he made me work for it.
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LibraryThing member nicdar111
It was interesting hearing about secondhand books stores and the acquistions that McMurty acquired since he started.



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