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With 'Last Book Sale,' Lit Giant Leaves One More Gift

Aug 8, 2012
Originally published on August 8, 2012 12:54 pm

Larry McMurtry is perhaps best known for novels like The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment and Lonesome Dove; but the author also has a career as a bookseller.

His store, Booked Up, spills across four buildings in his small hometown of Archer City, Texas, and houses nearly half a million rare and used books. But starting this Friday, McMurtry is holding an auction to whittle down that number — by a lot.

He's calling it "The Last Book Sale," and it includes more than 300,000 titles.

"There's 100 books that I picked very hastily that I just thought were appealing books, and they'll be sold individually," McMurtry tells NPR's Renee Montagne. "They're called [The McMurtry 100]."

Some of the titles listed on the McMurtry 100 include a little-known book by Fyodor Dostoevsky's daughter and an early Navajo autobiography. Those not included on the list will be sold in lots.

McMurtry says part of his reason for downsizing is because his current collection has become too big to handle.

"I have a son and a grandson, and they're literate but they're not book people," he says. "And if I died and there [were] 450,000 books to deal with, it would be a real burden."

But the auction also presents a great opportunity for aspiring booksellers.

"I attended an auction like this 41 years ago in D.C., and that's how I got my start, with about 1,500 books we bought at this auction," McMurtry says. "It's a great chance for anyone who wants to be in the book trade, any young dealers. And we've already had a couple of young dealers show up."

So in a way, McMurtry says, the auction is a way for him to give back to the industry he fell in love with all those years ago.

"I'd like for the American antiquarian book trade to stay vital and to stay energetic," he says, "and pouring some books into it is a good way to help, it seems to me."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Larry McMurtry is downsizing. The prolific writer whose novels include, "Lonesome Dove," "Terms of Endearment," and "The Last Picture Show," also has another life as a bookseller. The book store he's long had in his tiny Texas hometown spills across four buildings, nearly half a million titles, from an early Navajo autobiography to Elmore Leonard's first book. And this Friday, Larry McMurtry is holding a two-day auction to whittle down that number by a lot. He's calling it The Last Book Sale. We rang him up there in Archer City to find out more.

Good morning.

LARRY MCMURTRY: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Why don't we just start with a simple number? How many books are you selling in this auction?

MCMURTRY: Three hundred thousand-plus. I don't know if it's quite 350,000. It might be. It's a lot of books.

MONTAGNE: And how does it work? I mean, I gather the books are not being sold - one can't pick a title. They're being sold in lots.

MCMURTRY: No. There's 100 books that I picked very hastily that I just thought were appealing books, and they'll be sold individually. They're called McMurtry's 100. We try to have interesting books and appealing books. We are downsizing simply because we have really too many books for us to handle. And I did it because I have heirs. I have a son and a grandson, and they're literate, but they're not book people. And if I died and there was 450,000 books to deal with, it would be a real burden.

MONTAGNE: Well, though, beyond trying to help out your son and your grandson, this sounds like it would be so wonderful for book lovers.

MCMURTRY: Well, it is. It's a great chance. I attended an action like this 41 years ago in D.C. and that's how I got my start, with about 1,500 books we bought at this auction. It's a great chance for anyone who wants to be in the book trade, any young dealers. And we've already had a couple of young dealers show up. It's a wonderful, wonderful chance to get a stock.

It's a kind of seeding of the clouds, you know. I'd like for the American antiquarian book trade to stay vital and to stay energetic and pouring some books into it is a good way to help, it seems to me.

MONTAGNE: How big is Archer City?

MCMURTRY: Archer City's an oil patch town a little over I think it's 1,800 at the moment. It's been pretty much that population during my lifetime. It's definitely built on oil. And it's in that part of Texas that is essentially Midwestern. So it's a Midwestern small town.

MONTAGNE: Well, I'm wondering if this big sale where people - I gather at the auction you have to be there to buy.

MCMURTRY: You do, it's not Internet.

MONTAGNE: So does that mean there are people descending on your town, Archer City?

MCMURTRY: Yes, ma'am, there are. We signed up a bunch yesterday.

MONTAGNE: Well, just finally, you've been in the book business, not just as a writer but also a seller now, for decades. Are there some books, even in this auction, that you couldn't bare to sell?

MCMURTRY: No, no, not at all. I'm a professional bookseller. I have a 28,000 volume personal library that's not for sale. And that's (unintelligible) other ways. But there's nothing in the sale that I'm going to miss. I've been doing it for 50 years, you know. I expect to sell the books and I want to sell the books. And I'll be happy to see them go. I've had them long enough. Somebody else should have them now.

MONTAGNE: Well, Larry McMurtry, thank you for talking with us and good luck with the auction.

MCMURTRY: Thank you very much.

MONTAGNE: And that's bookseller and author Larry McMurtry. His book auction starts on Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: It's NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.