Renee Thompson's Reviews > Books

Books by Larry McMurtry
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Oct 14, 09

Read in July, 2008

I confess up front I’m a loyal fan of Mr. McMurtry, so I won’t attempt an unbiased review of Books: A Memoir, except to say this is not a memoir in the traditional sense, but a series of essays detailing Mr. McMurtry’s love of books – reading them and hunting them down, and eventually amassing a collection that numbers in the tens of thousands.

The history of his career as a collector and antiquarian bookseller are interesting (and educative: if at some point you begin collecting books and think you might one day sell them, don’t write your name in them; it’s death for resale), but it was the understanding that he’s almost indifferent when discussing the creation and success of his own books that I found not only astonishing but unsettling. He shares a brief anecdote early on about the publication of his first novel, Horseman, Pass By, which, he says, was anticlimactic: “…unfortunately I felt very little, but almost at once, it was sold to the movies and soon produced. The reason for the speedy route to production—which usually takes several years—was that Paul Newman wanted to star in it, and did. The movie was called Hud, and it did well.”

Toward the end of the book he says, “As I went on through life I wrote novel after novel, to the number of about thirty. Most were good, three or four were indifferent to bad, and two or three were really good. None, to my regret, were great, although my long Western Lonesome Dove was very popular—the miniseries made from it was even more popular. Popularity, of course, is not the same as greatness.”

Mr. McMurtry also shares an anecdote, where, in the 1960s he was interested in the writer Gershon Legman, and says he “foolishly” sent Legman a copy of his second novel, Leaving Cheyenne, which he’d inscribed to the man. Legman fired back a rude response, claiming “fiction was shit,” after which there was no correspondence between them for 10 years. Mr. McMurtry says: “That copy of Leaving Cheyenne, by the way, has been on sale on the West Coast for several years. Legman didn’t want it and neither does anyone else.” That’s surprising, considering a quick search on abebooks.com reveals that Between the Covers—Rare Books, Inc. in Gloucester, NJ, is selling his “scarcest novel”—a signed, first edition with dust cover in fine condition—for $4,500. It might as well be $450,000, but if I had it, I’d spend it, and in a heartbeat too.

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