A bookman is a person who lives for, by, and with books. Not simply a bookseller, a bookman (or bookperson) is someone for whom books are a governing metaphor, providing not only financial but also social and intellectual support. It would seem that with the advent of online bookselling, the physical bookstore, particularly the secondhand and antiquarian bookstore, may be a thing of the past, but in this memoir Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove (1985) and Terms of Endearment (1975), among many others, in a ramble through his life as a bookman, lovingly and somewhat dryly illuminates his love of books and how his life has been shaped by them and the people who buy and sell them.
McMurtry has had a dual career: novelist/essayist and bookman. For many years he has operated Booked Up, first in Washington, D.C., and more recently in his hometown Archer City, Texas (the prototype for the fictional Thalia in McMurtry’s 1966 novel The Last Picture Show). This Booked Up is a massive bibliographic enterprise, sprawling over four separate locations (including a former automobile showroom) in the small north-central Texas town.
Books: A Memoir is as much a memoir of books as it is of McMurtry, and it begins with a description of a box of nineteen books, adolescent literature given to McMurtry as a child by an older relative. McMurtry writes that the books “changed my life.” These books are the genesis of both McMurtry’s intellectual life and the memoir itself, launching the book on its seriatim evocation of important books and bookpeople that have influenced McMurtry’s life.
McMurtry’s first book, from the box of nineteen, is Sergeant Silk, The Prairie Scout (1929). Few people (except book lovers) can remember the first book that they ever read. It is significant that McMurtry can, and he chronicles how this early collection set him on his diverse reading and acquisition journey.
McMurtry’s journey is not without its stumbles. He tells of books that he sold for a relatively small amount of money that soon after realized a much higher price. “Les Jeux de la poupée, the famous tortured-doll book by the Belgian surrealist Hans Bellmer, ” was sold by McMurtry for $45, then sold by another for $120, and later was on sale for $5,000. Another time, a bookstore McMurtry managed acquires valuable historical letters that are likely stolen.
The writer regales the reader with stories of the bookpeople he has known through the years: Dorman David (the acquirer of the shady letters), “who seemed to simply attract good things” (but was a poor businessperson and eventually left the country to avoid bankruptcy); David’s mother (and McMurtry’s early employer), Grace, a charming woman who had nineteen telephones in her home; Gershon Legman, mysterious scholar of erotica who hid...
(The entire section is 1185 words.)