Having written about other aspects of his life, novelist and screenwriter McMurtry (When the Light Goes, 2007, etc.) finally gets around to his bibliomania.
Just about the time his first novels were appearing in the 1960s, McMurtry was setting up shop as a book scout and dealer, working thrift shops and garage sales and other booksellers’ stock to make, by his account, a pretty decent living. That he had long since become a voracious reader was not something anyone might have predicted. As he writes, he grew up on a little ranch nearly 20 miles away from the nearest library, with parents who apparently did not reach much beyond cattle-trade journals. “It puzzles me how totally bookless our ranch house was,” he writes, though he did borrow the occasional cowboy book from a wealthy neighbor whose mansion McMurtry now owns and has filled with a library of—he tells us more than once—28,000 volumes. Rather frustratingly for his bibliophile readers, he doesn’t go into much detail about what that library contains, save a smallish collection of 20th-century pulps. (“I’m hanging on to them,” he writes, “against the day when I might want to write something Legmanesque about violence in American popular culture.”) Like all booksellers, McMurtry is rueful about the rare book that got away, which, he counsels, is about the best way to learn. Yet, since his own early catalogues are rarer than most, he is fairly content to keep at his trade, which, when he is not winning book prizes and Oscars, involves keeping up a “book village” on the English model, but located on the high plains of north Texas. Elsewhere he writes of bookish eccentrics (though, as he warns, this book is mostly “personality-free”), deals gone right and wrong, chain stores, the Internet and the decline of reading, sticking to his guns even as he cautions that “it didn’t take electricity long to kill off the kerosene lantern.”
A pleasant amble in Bookland and a treat for the bookishly inclined, as well as for McMurtry buffs.