Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Last Book Sale

Summer Serendipity

Archer City, TX city limits, as of 2010, population 1,834 in the whole county
County Court House means this town is the county seat.
Crossing the street between Booked Up No. 1 and No. 2

On a lark, my husband and I drove from Lubbock to Archer City, TX near Wichita Falls, to check out the auction called The Last Book Sale of more than 300,000 books, gathered over the course of 40 years by antiquarian book collector, Larry McMurtry.

What I didn't know about book auctions soon became apparent. If only I had read Larry McMurtry's memoir, Books, before the sale instead of after, I could have better appreciated this experience. But then, being there was 80%.

A steady stream of people sat in those chairs to hear McMurtry (wearing suspenders) spin his stories.
Book buyers from all over the country came early in the week to scope out titles and to determine which lots and how much to bid for the books McMurtry had decided to part with. He's keeping Booked Up No. 1 open with an inventory of about 120,000 books, plus he has 28,000 books in his personal library at home. 

"I'm proud of my carefully selected twenty-eight-thousand-volume library and am not joking when I say that I regard its formation as one of my most notable achievements," he said in Books.

Before that weekend, my husband would give me a hard time for my book purchases, but that weekend he bought several books, which he has since read, and now he talks about getting a couple more bookcases for the room in our house we call the library.

A Writer on Writing

While I thought it was amazing enough that Larry McMurtry has written 29 novels, 3 memoirs and more than 30 screenplays, seeing that many books collected, sitting on shelves in 4 buildings in this tiny town felt like a visit to the Library of Congress or the British Museum, where books sit in silent judgment on those who enter, almost daring a person to take and read.

When I read Lonesome Dove soon after watching the television production, I sent a copy to my mother, who sent it back to me saying it was trash. Her reaction shocked me at the time because she was a reader who read widely, and in some cases, wildly. 

I always tell people when loaning or recommending a book that "A book is only as good as it is timely," my own caveat for whether or not someone else will respond to a book as I did. In my mother's case, bad timing.

Lonesome Dove is perhaps McMurtry's best known work, and if so, the iconic characters, Captain Call and Gus, portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duval in the television production had a lot to do with the book's success. Given the time constraints of film, Lonesome Dove as a mini-series brought to life the dying of the Old West. "We don't sell pigs."

 But Larry McMurtry does sell books.
"One reason I've hung onto book selling is that it's progressive––the opposite of writing, pretty much. Eventually all novelists, if they persist too long, get worse. No reason to name names, since no one is spared. Writing great fiction involves some combination of energy and imagination that cannot be energized or realized forever. Strong talents can simply exhaust their gift, and they do." McMurtry said this in his memoir called Books (1 of 3 memoirs he has written).

View of movie theater in Archer City linked to McMurtry's breakout novel and screenplay, The Last Picture Show

A Reader on Reading 

"What depressed me most in D.C. was that the various great houses I was invited to contained so few books … In our thirty-two years in Georgetown, we sold only one real book to a member of Congress …."

This he said in the context of his 1972 success of the movie version of his novel, The Last Picture Show, a success that afforded both the means as well as continuing opportunities to write both books and screenplays.

"In the cyber revolution that we're now in the midst of, where do readers stand?

I am not fully convinced that the big chain stores … draw off that many readers from the secondhand shops, and if they do, there's a rapid flow-through factor. Since, as nearly as I can tell, few young people are forming personal libraries today, the books bought new at the chains soon trickle back into the secondhand market …

What does any of this say about the most important factor of all, when it comes to books: reading? Book selling will never quite expire unless reading expires first." (Books, by LM)
He also made a point to emphasize at the sale and in Books, the importance of purging books, what he calls being "a junk rejecter." His "iron rule is that good books do not pull bad books up: bad books pull good books down."

That leaves me facing more to do than buy and read books. The Last Book Sale marks a time for me to select and reject too.
This store will remain open to house 120,000 books for sale.

Books, books and more books

"Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body," said the writer of Ecclesiastes. Now I have seen what a half million books looks like––stacks floor to ceiling in 4 bookstores in the tiny Texas town of Archer City.

Auctioneers cleared the inventory in 2 days of bidding.
These books, sold in lots of 100–200, are all gone.
And so are these. These books are now somewhere else, but not in Archer City.