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Larry McMurtry at the Strip Mall

The legendary author’s voluminous private book collection landed at an unassuming spot off the Tollway.
| |Photography by Michael Paulson via Getty
Larry McMurtry
In addition to being Texas’ most famous author, McMurtry was also its most well-known book collector and seller. Michael Paulson

After Larry McMurtry died on March 25, 2021, I often wondered where the vast and diverse personal book collection of the famed author and bookseller would eventually end up. I knew that his estate would take a while to get settled. His home in Archer City, Texas, was said to be more than 30,000 volumes strong at the time of his passing. Not to mention all of the furniture, objects, and art that filled the former country club clubhouse (the “big house”) and servants’ quarters (the “book house”). 

When the Lonesome Dove author shuffled off this mortal coil, there was no public service, no celebration of Texas’ most famous man of letters. Almost seven months later, on October 9, a group of writers corralled by George Getschow—the co-founder and former director of the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference at UNT—descended upon Archer City to do just that. A bookman myself, I was traveling across state lines that weekend to assess the working library of a recently deceased publisher of literature in translation and sadly couldn’t attend. But Getschow did help answer my question about McMurtry’s library. 

The day after the Archer City get-together, I saw an announcement of a forthcoming book of essays commemorating the life and legacy of McMurtry, provisionally titled Larry McMurtry: Reflections on a Minor Regional Novelist, edited by Getschow. I had first met Getschow on an Archer City street on the day I spent with McMurtry in July 2011, while reporting a cover story for Fine Books & Collections. A little over a week later, via email, I pitched him on including what I had written for Fine Books in his project. After a phone call, though, I was easily persuaded to break new ground illuminating McMurtry’s life as a book scout and bookseller.

In our conversation, I asked Getschow if he knew what was going to happen to McMurtry’s personal library. “Powell’s in Portland,” he told me. I sunk a bit at the prospect of all of his books being carted up to the Northwest, admittedly mainly for selfish reasons. But I still thought I might get one last visit to his library before it was all boxed up and sent to the so-called “World’s Largest Independent Bookstore.” To help with my essay, sure, but also just to see it again, as it was.

Getschow provided me with an introduction to Adam Muhlig, an independent appraiser out of San Antonio specializing in libraries and writers (and other fields of expertise) who had been hired to parse McMurtry’s expansive estate. Larry’s only son, the singer-songwriter James McMurtry, was in charge of making the decisions regarding such, and I was trying to get back into the house to write about the books before they left the shelves for good.

I had a few conversations with Muhlig over the phone, but James wasn’t letting anyone back in unless their visit was completely warranted. Soon thereafter, two inquiries were left unanswered, and I buried the notion.

I wouldn’t have another chance to gaze up at the suite of seven 19th-century portraits of women, taken from a purported Dallas bordello, that graced the walls of the room that was otherwise completely devoted to French literature. Nor the hallway holding the majority of his women travelers books. His collection of novels written by poets. Yards and yards of English literature, travel books, his own novels and nonfiction books and film scripts. Floor-to-ceiling shelves lined almost every wall and hallway. If memory serves, one cabinet near the kitchen housed both his Texana books and his beloved works of Nathanael West. In the back house, there was a large, varied grouping of animal skulls, Italian fumetti (erotic comic mags from the ’60s through ’80s), and an impressive assemblage of works by H.G. Wells.

Over the next few months, I would check the Powell’s website for any clues, keywords, or announcements. I started calling in the spring of 2022; the staff hadn’t heard anything regarding McMurtry’s books coming to the store. Eventually, the prospect of the 30,000 volumes making their way to Portland seemed to falter, and it appeared that the library had no buyer nor home.

His home in Archer City was said to be more than 30,000 volumes strong at the time of his passing.

The only sign or news of the books being released upstream in Portland came a year later, in March 2023, when Vogt Auctions of San Antonio announced it was selling off McMurtry’s estate on Memorial Day, May 29. Thirteen of his prized Hermes typewriters (which he thanked during his acceptance speech at the 2006 Golden Globes) and everything left in the author’s manse save for the library, with only a fair selection of around 40 of the author’s copies of his own novels and nonfiction, were being offered. The Dallas Morning News quoted director Rob Vogt saying that the Texan’s extensive book holdings were indeed still headed to Powell’s. (Just before deadline, Michael Powell, founder of Powell’s, returned my call and stated that he had never heard of the books headed to his store.)

Seeking some form of closure, I headed down to San Antonio for the auction. The estimates, it turned out, were conservative. Everything would sell, and sell well. The celebrity aspect of such a public offering brings out all the die-hard fans, looky-loos, and cowboy wallets. I watched bidding soar and local color parade. Well priced out of the books, I headed for the exit when the guns went up on the block. On my way out, I signed up for phone bidding on my long drive back to Dallas and ended up winning a broadside from 1968’s In a Narrow Grave.

UT Press published Getschow’s essay project, now titled Pastures of the Empty Page: Fellow Writers on the Life and Legacy of Larry McMurtry, in September 2023. Along with pieces by Diana Ossana, Lawrence Wright, and Skip Hollandsworth, Pastures of the Empty Page included my “On Book Scouting and Ghostwritten Erotica.” Getschow invited me to join the Archer City Writers Workshop (ACWW) taking place at the Spur Hotel over four days later that month. I was flooded with day-job woes and didn’t have anything ready to workshop, so I arrived on Saturday afternoon (two days late) to network, take part in a book signing at the Royal Theater, and celebrate McMurtry in his hometown with fellow writers for the first time, since I’d missed the initial gathering. 

There was no one at the front desk when I arrived at the Spur, but a key had been left for me. As I picked it up, I noticed a small, locked, glass-front bookcase to my left with a descriptive postcard taped to the front: “Books from the Collection of Larry McMurtry,” it read, with his family’s stirrup cattle brand—his bookplate’s sole image—positioned below. The card also listed a by-appointment-only Addison address and contact info for InkQ Rare Books. The name of the business was a bookseller in-joke, a play on incunabula, an early printed book, typically prior to 1501.

I decided to make a quick walk around the one-stoplight town, going just past the square to peer into the shuttered doors of Booked Up, McMurtry’s famed, sprawling bookstore that closed upon his death. Number One, the main building where the register was located, was stripped of all the books from the front room: higher-priced items of note, collectible editions, signed copies. Just beyond, the main stacks appeared disheveled but mostly intact. Number Two across the street looked much the same, with fewer areas of bare shelves seen from the window.

It was widely reported in late February 2023 that Chip Gaines of Fixer Upper fame and the Magnolia empire had purchased Booked Up. According to records, a deal had been brokered the previous November, with Gaines acquiring the shop and its inventory for an undisclosed amount, though rumors were on the high end. McMurtry had left the store and its inventory to longtime manager Khristal Collins.

On my visit to Archer City that weekend, a few locals in the know shared their tale of the Gaines’ helicopter making a brief but noticed appearance to seal the bookstore’s fate. It was widely thought that he had very likely overpaid for the buildings and their contents. Perhaps out of pure sentimentality as he had spent summers in Archer County—his parents grew up there, and his grandparents lived there. Perhaps just because he could.

McMurtry himself had purchased the contents of several bookstores (26, he once noted in a letter) over many years to make Booked Up what it was. But he had also sold more than 300,000 volumes of the stock on-site in The Last Book Sale in August 2012. I hadn’t been back since the auction and the shuttering of two of the four buildings afterward. 

As Gaines and his crew removed the books from the front room of Booked Up (and maybe a bit more), a source close to the town’s library said that they had asked for an appraiser’s opinion regarding the value of remaining book inventory. The news wasn’t good, and the new owner of Booked Up inquired if the Archer Public Library would be interested in a donation, which they declined in turn.

A few months later, I was told, Gaines met Nancy Perot, the owner of Interabang Books in Dallas, at a moneyed function. The new bookstore owner sought the wisdom of the seasoned vet, which resulted in Interabang employees driving up to Archer City and having their pick of books to haul back from Booked Up’s shelves. Two vintage books from McMurtry’s former shop were ribbon-bundled with the new McMurtry biography by Tracy Daugherty and were sold for $250 each, until only a scant few were left and discounted after the holidays.

Once back in Dallas, I sent an email to InkQ and was promptly answered by Blake Thompson with a list of 100 or so books in the case at the Spur, with most of the titles priced at $100 or below. Thompson mans the workweek hours of the Addison shop and runs the day-to-day. He is a bookseller by trade, formerly of hometown stalwart Half Price Books as well as the rare books department of the Irving-based Heritage Auctions. He told me that InkQ had also previously issued four e-catalogs of McMurtry’s collection, which he forwarded to me.

I inquired about a few books of interest and association that I felt were key and maybe undervalued. McMurtry’s first edition (sans jacket) of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear & Loathing with his notations, presumably for a screenplay penned in 1976. His Beat novels. His Kesey, his Pynchon. Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence. Finnegans Wake, Huckleberry Finn. Some with his early legible signature, all with his bookplate. Every single one of them had been previously sold. 

During our back-and-forth, we settled on an appointment that Friday. InkQ is situated in a featureless commercial strip mall just west of the Tollway. I brought a copy of Pastures of the Empty Page for the shop as an offering to McMurtry, seeing as this would be the closest it would ever get to the book residing on his library’s shelves.

Thompson let me into the front room lined with decorative bindings, illustrated sets, and quality books from the first half of last century as I got my bearings. In the central portion of the office suite, chest-high shelves line a medium-size, fluorescent-lit room with two sorting tables at either end with stacked boxes adjacent. At around 3,000 volumes, this is the beginning stage of the public offering of Larry McMurtry’s private library. The McMurtry room at InkQ represents about a tenth of Larry’s total volumes, the remainder being packed away in storage. Currently, there is a large selection of literature, books on books, cinema, pulps, Western Americana, travel books, and more available for browsing. In addition to the McMurtry books, InkQ houses volumes from the library of Oscar-winning screenwriter and author William Goldman, as well as a tantalizing selection of printed matter under the banner of “Psychoactive Drugs: Books from the Ronald K. Siegel Collection.”

After Thompson gave me the rundown of the shop’s inventory, I got up the nerve to ask who else was involved with InkQ.  “James Gannon,” he replied. I cursed a bit under my breath for not connecting the dots earlier, as Gannon was my former boss at Heritage Auctions years ago (before Thompson’s tenure there). The rare book trade is a small place indeed, especially in North Texas.

As it turns out, Gannon had cut his teeth in the book business under the tutelage of Ben and Lou Weinstein of the fabled Heritage Book Shop in Beverly Hills, at which McMurtry was a customer. During his time in the former funeral home-turned-bookshop, Gannon and his wife, Yoonjeong Lee, also had a small side hustle where they offered books and prints for sale, with the knowing blessing of the brothers. When Heritage shuttered in 2007 after 44 years, Gannon moved to Dallas to work for Heritage Auctions (no affiliation) as the director of the rare books department there.

It was widely reported in late February 2023 that Chip Gaines of Fixer Upper fame and the Magnolia empire had purchased Booked Up.

InkQ Rare Books, owned by Lee, bought the McMurtry library in partnership with Potter & Potter Auctions in Chicago. (Gannon is also employed as a senior consultant by Potter, whose staff he joined after parting ways with Heritage Auctions in August 2022.) While at Heritage Auctions, Gannon had reignited his dealings and working relationship with McMurtry as the author was already looking to divest his stores of some of their stock back in 2011. As the general retail books were well below typical auction offerings, Gannon and Heritage turned down the offer to consign and sell in situ. 

The Last Book Sale came around a year or so later to help alleviate some of McMurtry’s load, resulting in two days of selling shelf lots of general stock and “The McMurtry 100,” single lots handpicked by Larry himself.

Gannon and McMurtry circled back and worked together to auction off the H.G. Wells in 2015 and Italian fumetti the next year. The prized collection inside the “big house” would have to wait until McMurtry was no longer around to deal with such matters. 

According to Gannon, InkQ was initially offered the library as a partnership between them and another former Texas bookman (currently working in New York) that eventually fell through. The second time around, partnering with Potter & Potter, the two entities could consign the high points to auction (after first offering them on lists and through quotes to clients) and sell the remainder through trade shows and book fairs, the retail shop, catalogs, and online. A check for the collection was handed over to James McMurtry in January 2023. With the assistance of Dotty and Johnny of the Spur Hotel—where he was staying while in town—Gannon wrangled the paid help of mostly high school kids to box up the library over several visits. 

More than 1,500 cartons were put in a moving truck headed to the warehouse in Carrollton, where the majority still rests, waiting to be taken to Addison to be processed and priced and shelved once again. 

This story originally appeared in the April issue of D Magazine. Write to feedback@dmagazine.com.