That August Saturday was fine and hot and The Husband and I were in a mood to roam, so when we heard that Larry McMurtry was closing some of his used bookstores in Archer City – he has four there – we decided to go out and see what was going on. After all, it was a lovely day and it was only a two and a half hour drive out there.
The bookstores are scattered around the low, weathered cluster of buildings that is Anarene’s downtown. There is also a disproportionate number of antique stores, too – five, as I recall, which I look forward to exploring on another trip.
Unimaginatively named #1, #2, #3 and #4, the bookstores are jammed into old buildings that originally had vastly different uses but which were turned into book heavens by the liberal applications of ten feet tall white painted shelves placed in close ranks, with shelves jammed as full as possible.
#s 2, 3, and 4 are being closed and the contents auctioned off. The Husband and I sat and watched the auction for a while. Watch was all we could do, as we were not – thank Heavens! – registered bidders. All the books were sold in lots, a lot being a floor to ceiling bookcase, which means lots of books. LOTS of books.
Have I said we live in a house with three overflowing libraries? We don’t need any more books.
We poked around for a while, astonished at what was there. For example, a five inch thick octavo-sized hardback of Books Printed In the English Language, 1938-1943. There were several of them, in various and not necessarily sequential years. The entire oeuvre of Gore Vidal. Texts and technical books on subjects ranging from maintenance of water flora to aerodynamics, none of which was less than twenty-five years old. Unremembered fiction of all genres going back at least a hundred years. And Heaven only knows what else. Of course you couldn’t pull a book from a lot to buy, but I did peek into a couple of them. Amazing.
Since I’m supposed to keep this about writers and writing, perhaps I should say something about how I felt while looking at all those books. Some, of course, were by names from many eras that are instantly recognizable. More, though, were by people that I’ve never heard of, and may have not been very well known in their own time. Some didn’t even have author’s names attached.
It makes you think, doesn’t it? How many people have gone through the agony – and the ecstasy – of writing and publishing a book, only to have their name fade from popular memory? Was it worth it to them? Were they successes in their day, or almost as unknown then as now?
But – to look at it from another viewpoint, famous or obscure they might have been, but their words, their ideas, will live forever – or as long as paper and ink can survive. That’s not too shabby, and it’s all because of used bookstores and libraries all over the world.
As far as
is concerned, store #1 will remain open for the foreseeable future, and it is a
treasure trove in spite of the unprepossessing building with the sagging and
water-stained ceiling. There is an air conditioned ‘showcase’ room, where the
valuable books are kept, and behind that is another enormous building simply
bursting with tall, stuffed bookshelves. Archer City
The fact that this particular room was only minimally air conditioned (according to the store manager – I didn’t feel any a/c at all!) and it was 105F outside, I didn’t last long, After a few minutes of looking my eyes glazed over and my brain went into overload. Of course I had headed immediately to the mystery wall – ten feet high, probably fifty feet long and solid with books. I saw a couple of rarities that I would love to have, but since the first one was $65 I put it back. There were ones that were as low as $5, too, but by that time the sweat was running into my eyes and I was starting to feel a little sick. I do not do heat well, unlike The undaunted Husband, who served two summers in
Iraq when the average daily
temperature was 120F and he wore full pack and armor. I left him happily
ferreting away among the history books, went back into the air conditioning and
claimed a seat at the reading table.
After a little while of simply breathing and trying to stop sweating, I recovered enough to read a couple of book collectors’ magazines. Really, the prices on some books…! They made that little $65 rarity look positively cheap.
I had been sitting there for a while when this little old man shuffled in and sat down at the next seat at the table, about three feet away from me. I glance up ... and it is LARRY MCMURTRY himself. I am actually barely an arm’s length away from one of the best-known writers in the world – and one of my idols.
I would love to write that we fell into conversation and had a delightful time with him giving me all kinds of information about my own career, but it didn't happen that way. I don't know if he is just old, or sick, or simply exhausted from the multi-week process of the sale, but he sat there like a bump on a log, not looking at anyone except when a customer came up and started chattering to him. Then he would mumble a response and extend a very limp hand for a short shake.
I didn't speak and he didn't speak and we just sat there until The Husband came out of the back room with an armload of books - just what we need! More books! - and showed them to me. As we were getting read to leave, I couldn't help myself. I introduced The Husband and myself to Mr. McMurtry and told him how much I loved his work. He mumbled something polite and extended a very limp hand for a short shake.
It was enough – almost.
(Janis Patterson didn't see any of her books in Archer City, but you're all right because you can order them from fine etailers everywhere.)