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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.