Book Review: Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry

July 19, 2010
Title: Books
Author: Larry McMurtry
Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir
Format: Hardcover
Year Published: 2008
Source: I purchased this book.

 Larry McMurtry is the author of many fine books and screenplays, including The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment, and Lonesome Dove. He has won both the Pulitzer Prize and an Academy Award.

What many people don't know as that during his very successful writing career he has also worked as a professor, a bookseller, and a rare book collector. He has also owned antiquarian bookstores. His current shop is Booked Up in Archer City, TX, the town in which he grew up.


Books: A Memoir is a most unusual autobiography. It rarely discusses his family life or his writing or his Hollywood career. It is mainly concerned with his career as a rare-book seller and dealer. Although not a particularly long book, it is written is very short chapters -- 109 chapters in all!
McMurtry fell in love with reading at an early age despite growing up in a house that contained virtually no books. In his twenties he started scouting books and then selling them. As he says:
For the first twenty years of my career as a book hunter I actually read almost all the books I had gone to such trouble to find. Getting the books I wanted to read was the main reason for the pursuit.

But there can be secondary and tertiary reasons for wanting a particular book. One is the pleasure of holding the physical book itself: savoring the type, the binding, the book's feel and heft. All these things can be enjoyed apart from literature, which some, but not all, books contain. 

McMurtry goes on to tell interesting stories about the books he had bought and the eccentricities of the book sellers he has encountered over the years. Many of these buyers and sellers are not interested in reading the books but only in making a profit from them, since some rare books can sell for many thousands of dollars.

McMurtry really loved the business. Despite his great success as a writer:

Sometime in the mid-seventies I began to view myself as essentially a bookseller -- or maybe just a book scout. The hunt for books was what absorbed me most. Writing was my vocation, but I had written a lot, and it was no longer exactly a passion. 

I was mystified at first why McMurtry rarely discussed his life outside of book selling and collecting, because he must have led a very interesting life. Then I discovered that this book is part one of a triology. The second part, Literary Life: A Second Memoir, came out last December, and the next volume, Hollywood: A Third Memoir, will be published in August.

Books: A Memoir is very interesting reading if you are interested in book collecting or in rare or old books. If you are not, then you might not find it interesting. I also found the extremely short chapters a little irritating. I did at times put the book down for a few days only to come back to read more. 

I am definitely interested in reading the sequels, because I want to know McMurtry's memories of writing bestsellers and Hollywood screenplays!


  1. Sounds like a great read. I've added it to my TBR (hoo boy...that's a long list). I enjoyed Terms of Endearment (the movie) & have yet to read his novel (any of them to be precise).

    The description of this one reminds me of 84 Charing Cross Rd. by Helene Hanff. Have you read that one? I've seen the movie & want to read it soon. The relationship between rare bookseller & avid reader/collector is an interesting subject to write about.

  2. It is an interesting book, although sometimes McMurtry discusses books he's found without really describing them. I mean, I've never heard of these books, so I don't know what he's talking about!

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