Here’s some bittersweet news for North Texas book lovers. This August famed author and book collector, Larry McMurtry, will host a massive book auction in Archer City, the West Texas town that is the home to his sprawling, multi-venue downtown book store, Booked Up, and the setting of his novel The Last Picture Show. “Watch a great river of books as it flows on,” the release materials say of the auction. Try not to cry. Here’s more from McMurtry:
The several hundred thousand books that we are putting in play constitute a kind of anthology of American bookshops past. In our forty-one years as booksellers we have bought twenty six bookshops and some two hundred personal libraries, some humble, some grand.
So why push them out?
Because we believe that in the book world migration is healthy: old pages await new eyes. Yesterday in Lubbock, Texas I found a copy of Sons and Lovers in the oil-cloth Modern Library with my bookplate in it. Twenty eight thousand volumes have my bookplate in them; they reside in my big house in Archer City, and yet this one strayed. How it got to Lubbock I’ll likely never know. It’s home again now; but three hundred and fifty thousand of it’s cousins will be flooding into the great river of books that delights and refreshes. Good reading and good luck!
On the one hand, this is an incredible collecting opportunity. But the massive sell-off may also point to the beginning of the end of McMurtry’s store. There have been rumors about Booked Up closing for years, though none of them have come to fruition. Still, in the latest edition of Fine Books & Collectibles, Brandon Kennedy, Dallas-based artist, writer, and rare books expert at Heritage Auction Galleries, writes about McMurtry’s growing unease over the state of the book selling business. Here’s McMurtry speaking in the piece, which isn’t online (unfortunately):
“I don’t even see a new generation of bookseller, I don’t see a new generation of customers. We have virtually no customers under fifty; we have good costumers, but they’re not young. And I don’t know if a new generation of some sort …” [McMurtry] trails off. “If I write the second volume that’s the question I’ll be asking. If it feels like it’s going to die. I don’t see us stopping it from dying. The ‘electronic age’ is what it is, nothing you can do about it.”
Where does that leave Booked Up?, Kennedy asks.
“Here I am, I’m seventy-five and I’ve got three hundred thousand books in this little town. What’s going to become of them? I don’t know. I haven’t answered those questions.”
Perhaps this auction is the first indication of an answer. Don’t miss it.
Photo: Larry McMurtry and his books, c. 1970s via