Earlier today, Larry McMurtry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show and Horseman, Pass By, began auctioning off some 300,000 books from his antiquarian store, Booked Up.
The taciturn man of letters said he does not want to burden his children with nearly half a million titles when he passes. It was time, he added, for the books he had culled and warehoused in downtown storefronts encircling the buff, sandstone county courthouse, to disperse back into the world. This is not the end of Archer City -- a town whose lifeblood is oil and beef -- as improbable literary Mecca.
A diminished Booked Up will continue to stock books you never knew you were looking for, impressionistically categorized, whose lawful sale is wholly dependent upon the buyer's honor. And the ink-stained man himself may still be glimpsed, shambling between his stores, or taking his breakfast at the Wildcat Cafe with his wife, Faye.
It does, however, toll the beginning of a new chapter. Archer City never asked for any of this. In fact, conduct an informal poll in the dimly lit, smoky recesses of the Legion Hall, or at the Lucky Dollar convenience store on Archer's main drag, and you might be surprised how few, if any, have actually set foot inside Booked Up. The storefronts his books occupied were lamented in terms of opportunity costs, robbing the struggling downtown of real business. Some wondered aloud whether it amounted to a spiteful thumb in the eye from the remote author to a townspeople who just never got him, from bookish rancher's kid to celebrated novelist.
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But whatever ice existed between them seemed to thaw last summer, when locals turned out for a screening of The Last Picture Show, in the shadow of the Royal Theater's hollowed carcass. McMurtry gave a fascinating introduction and was greeted warmly, as one of their very own. To see him celebrated in a town where he had been the subject of such scorn was moving. And though it's unlikely many of Archer City's residents will attend his auction this weekend, Booked Up is his legacy in Archer City, dedicated to the written word, and to a town and its people, who both infuriated and inspired him.