Last night, folks who attended the Nasher Salon Lecture Series featuring Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana spent roughly a dollar a minute to hear the two authors, screenwriters and essayists talk about reading, writing and threatening Hollywood producers. Writing together for more than 15 years, the pair won an Academy Award for adapting Annie Proulx's short story Brokeback Mountain.
Drawing the biggest turnout of any of the previous Salon Lectures, tickets for the event sold out in just over an hour, with over 200 people signed to a waiting list. The Nasher’s Director of External Affairs, Jane Offenbach, introduced the pair by saying, “When news hit who our guests were gonna be tonight, we could have sold out Texas Stadium -- twice.”
The 219 people who did manage to get tickets were jammed into the room like cattle packed into a holding pen. Jerome Weeks moderated the 45-minute lecture, and the event was sponsored by AFI Dallas; thus, the fair amount of talk about The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment and Brokeback Mountain. But the lion’s share of the evening’s lecture was devoted to books.
In 1986, McMurtry’s epic western Lonesome Dove won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and his newest book, a memoir titled, um, Books: A Memoir, hit the shelves last week. On its pages, McMurtry chronicles his life as he transitioned from book reader to collector and, finally, “book wrangler.”
As attendees walked into the Nasher Hall, two lovely, buxom ladies asked them to write down questions for either Ossana or McMurtry. (Though, if memory serves, all the questions were addressed to the latter.) Craig Hokenson rushed over to the table, grabbed a pen and quickly scratched out a question. A rare bookseller for more than 20 years, he bought two signed copies of McMurtry’s new memoir. “I can’t wait to read it,” he said. “I’ve read reviews that say it’s kinda dry, but to a bookseller like me, it’s gonna be like reading a James Bond novel.”
Wearing a black blazer, blue jeans and cowboy boots, McMurtry sat slouched in a director’s chair as he told the audience how his love affair with books began. He’s written that when he was growing up, Archer City was “a bookless part of a bookless state.”
“I can’t remember a single book -- not even a Bible -- at the ranch house,” McMurtry said, eliciting peals of laughter. In 1942, Larry was 6 years old when his cousin Robert Hilburn dropped by the McMurtry ranch on the outskirts of Archer City Hilburn was on his way to boot camp, and he brought Larry a box of 19 books.
“That was the defining moment in my life," he said. "From that time on, I was devoted to books. Because of the grace of Robert Gilbert just stopping by to pass off some boy’s books he didn’t want anymore. Ninteen books are now … it’s up to 350,000 in Archer City.”
Weeks asked the two writers how they ended up collaborating. McMurtry explained that he ended up at Ossana’s house after a heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery in the early ‘90s. Ossana chimed in.
“I thought he would just be there for three days, but he stayed three years,” she said. “He quit writing. But not only that, he stopped reading as well. He was one of those people who read seven newspapers a day and maybe 10 books a week. He just sat on the couch. He became an outline of himself.”
McMurtry refused to write without her help. So, they started writing together.
“I was very badly wounded,” McMurtry continued. “I didn’t even go into my bookshop for five years. And that’s a big deal for me.”
Using the reference to Booked Up, McMurtry’s shop, Weeks segued into a question about what the citizens of the previously bookless town think about his “stuffing it full of books.”
“My neighbors aren’t crazy about those books, but there’s not much they can do about it,” he said. “I mean, the books are passive, they aren’t attacking anybody. And, yet, the neighbors still feel a certain threat.” --Daniel Rodrigue