Thursday, June 30, 2022 Jun 30, 2022
98° F Dallas, TX

Archer City

For true bibliophiles, James McMurtry’s hometown, Archer City, is a gold mine.
By Mary Brown Malouf |

Wherever you’re coming from, you have to want to go there. Archer City is miles of empty, two-lane blacktop, two hours and a civilization or two from Dallas. Bui a few people are finding their way there just because Larry McMurtry wants them to. It’s a quixotic endeavor, and its unlikely story requires a certain suspension of disbelief; Larry McMurtry, successful writer, Texas’ prodigal son, returns to found an improbable empire in his dying hometown. It has the taint of a Texas tale, a grandiose, eccentric, ego-clouded vision wished on an unrecep-tive population in a hardscrabble landscape.
McMurtry has a vision. A confirmed book lover (he was a book peddler in Houston long before he was a published author), he’s owned several bookstores over the years. Now he’s moved his own book collection to Idiot Ridge, the family ranch outside Archer, and he’s transferred the bulk of his bookstores’ inventories into Archer City storefronts. His idea is that Archer City could become the next Hay-on-Wye, the formerly forgotten, quaint Welsh hamlet that has become a world destination for bibliophiles. Unfortunately, Archer City could never be called quaint. It might become a destination, but until Larry showed up again, it could have been called dead.
The model for McMurtry’s Last Picture Show, the Royal Theater, is a ruin, although there is an organization alive trying to rebuild it. The town’s only restaurant, the Texasville Cafe (also named after a McMurtry novel) is closed.The stone courthouse stands in the middle of a square lined with shuttered stores. There are only four mobile homes in the trailer park. But Booked Uptakes up four buildings in downtown, all filled floor to ceiling with books. In the main store, glass cases display the precious books-everything from a first edition of Italian Villas and their Gardens by Edith Wharton to a wanted poster for H. Rap Brown. To get from one store to another, you have to cross a flat, four-lane highway, the kind of street that’s death to armadillos. There are rooms and rooms and rooms of books, one opening out of the other, lined with shelves like Citizen Kane’s warehouse. Sales help is nonexistent- your only guides are the labels sticking out from the plain white shelves: military history, Canadian history, photography, art, fiction. There’s a whole wall of the works of P.G. Wodehouse. Another one of the works of Larry Mc-Murtry. Books are sacked on the floor and boxes of books are parked by the shelves. It’s quiet in there, and the few people browsing the stacks don’t talk much. Book people don’t talk much.
The place to stay in town is the Spur Hotel, a recently restored old hotel across from the Archer Public Library. But it’s not the book buyers who are filling its rooms; it’s deer hunters-you can buy a hunting license at the front desk. The hotel offers a package deal for hunting groups. There’s no such deal yet for the bookworms.
Archer City is a two-hour drive from Dallas. Once there, the Spur Hotel is your only choice, and it’s only open Thursday through Saturday nights. Rates are $62-$69 per night; call 940-574-2501.