Meeting Larry McMurtry

One of the most famous writers from Texas passed away this week. Larry McMurtry was a rare breed who charted his own path, committing every day to spend hours writing, no matter what. Fame and notoriety mattered little to him, yet likely that determination plus his natural character endured him to many people.

His passing brought back memories of a long ago trek some Fort Worth friends and I made to Archer City to spend the day wandering the famed book town. As a lifelong book lover, and at the time a part-time online bookseller, I knew about McMurtry’s efforts to create an American version of the famed Welsh bookshop town, Hay-on-Wye. But unlike there, the many bookstores in Archer City were all owned by McMurtry. Yet, it became a mecca to me and I finally got the chance to visit in the late 1990s.

For the record, I’ve always loved getting lost in the bookshelves of old bookshop, spending hours just wandering the shelves not knowing what I’d find. So I expected Archer City experience, due to its size, to be many times better.

It worked the opposite way: so many books all at once cause book paralysis instead of an enjoyable serendipitous voyage through bookshelf after bookshelf. Back then the “bookshop,” consisting of seven buildings holding more than half-a-million books, was an intimidating venture. Still, I enjoyed it, although I fairly quickly became “snowblind” in wandering the shops.

Despite being overwhelmed, I got to meet Larry McMurtry, although saying “meet” is overstating it. I walked up to him and shook his hand, introduced myself as a part-time bookseller, said I loved what he was doing here, and that was pretty much it. He said all of three words to me: “Enjoy your visit.” And that was it. Still counts, I guess.

He was an imposing figure, a tall, soft-spoken, polite man whose body language was obvious that he didn’t enjoy meeting strangers nor the attention drawn to him the writer rather than his book town. I hung around the front room where he was filing books away and watched other interactions for probably 20 minutes. In each case he was polite, but not friendly. Even to staff, and one local who came in that he obviously knew, he was reserved and a man of few words. Granted, one brief observation session doesn’t tell the full story, but in interviews of him I’ve read his answers were typically short and to the point.

Still, one of America’s great authors has left the bookshop, leaving some hard-to-fill gaps on the great American novel shelves. RIP Larry McMurtry.

Of the several interviews post-passing, these versions by Texas Monthly’s Skip Hollingsworth were well-written and highly formative. Each has a different twist and some unique content, but also different images: GetPocket, Texas Monthly 1, and Texas Monthly 2.

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