The moral among antiquarian booksellers, according to Larry McMurtryâ€™s new Books: A Memoir, is that you canâ€™t know everything. Pricing errors are bound to happen, like the day McMurtry bought a book for $250, sold it the next day for $750, and then watched it sell a few months later for $8,000. The book turned out to be a rare, censored edition that had passed through the libraries of two important collectors â€“ a Russian prince and a â€ścreepy Parisianâ€ť â€“ and contained the unusual photographic bookplate of the latter.
Such tales fill McMurtryâ€™s 50 years as a book dealer. Heâ€™s handled hundreds of thousands of books yet recalls even the tiniest details.
After growing up in a â€śbooklessâ€ť house in Texas, McMurtry began writing, then buying and selling books. The book trade has long been his central passion and his own library now contains 28,000 volumes of books heâ€™s still reading.
In this memoir he recounts the thrill of finding, buying, researching, selling, and sometimes just holding many of these books. He keeps tabs on the â€śsilent migrationâ€ť of books, and brings to life the dealers and buyers whoâ€™ve owned them. One dealer insisted buyers view his collection through binoculars. Another kept his best books hidden in paper bags in dark corners and would unscrew light bulbs to discourage casual browsers. When McMurtry acquired the shop he immediately screwed in lights and uncovered valuable tomes.
McMurtry and his partner, Marcia Carter, opened a bookshop in Washington, D.C., in the 1970s,. Eventually they moved to Houston and finally settled â€“ along with their current stock of 300,000 books â€“ in McMurtryâ€™s hometown, Archer City, Texas. Theyâ€™re still buying and selling.
Itâ€™s hard to imagine McMurtry having time for another pursuit; heâ€™s written 28 novels (â€śLonesome Dove,â€ť â€śTerms of Endearmentâ€ť), and 30 screenplays (including â€śBrokeback Mountain.â€ť) He still writes 10 pages a day, â€śignoring holidays and weekends,â€ť yet considers himself a book man first, writer second.
He has no plans to retire. â€śThe things there are to know about a given book,â€ť he writes, â€śabsorb the attention of the best dealers for a lifetime.â€ť