|Larry McMurtry & Kurt Zimmerman in 2012
Larry McMurtry died recently, and both the writing world and the antiquarian book trade mourn his passing. McMurtry thought of himself as a bookseller as much as a writer, although that is not how he will generally be remembered. For he was a good and prolific author of fiction; a natural storyteller that also ventured successfully into history, screenplays, and insightful essays which covered many topics. I enjoy his essays the most. But I still a have a tough time forgiving him for killing off Gus McCrae’s pigs at the end of Lonesome Dove.
McMurtry scouted and sold used and rare books since his college days. These scouting adventures were loosely drawn upon for example in his novel Cadillac Jack about a rodeo cowboy turned antiques hunter. McMurtry had a predilection for buying whole book collections rather than straining out the rarities and leaving the rest. He told me in 2012 he’d purchased the stock of twenty-six used / rare bookstores and over 200 private collections. So, he dealt mainly in quantities of better used books rather than focusing on rare ones, although he sold plenty of the latter over a long bookselling career. He would go on to establish used bookstores in Houston, Washington, D.C., and his hometown of Archer City, Texas. He eventually closed the Houston and Washington, D.C. stores and doubled down on the Archer City location. Here he filled a number of buildings he owned on the town square with over 300,000 books in all subjects. He may have had an American vision of Hay-on-Wye in mind. That didn’t quite happen, but he did attract a steady stream of book hunters to the tiny north Texas town far from big city amenities.
I made my first book buying pilgrimage to Archer City in 2001. I arrived on a toasty August day, stopped at the Dairy Queen for an Oreo blizzard, and got situated in my room at the Lonesome Dove Inn. The Inn was owned by friends of McMurtry. They were used to having a variety of book hunters come through – in fact, I think book people were their primary guests. I still have my Lonesome Dove Inn t-shirt.