Friday, July 11, 2008

Lonesome Bookseller

How did one of the pillars of civilization come, in only 50 years, to be mostly unwanted?”
writes Lonesome Dove author Larry McMurtry about used-bookstores.

McMurtry is so passionate about collecting books that he decided to create "a book town" in Archer City, Texas (modeled on the Welsh village of Hay-on-Wye) and opened a used-bookstore called Booked Up which now fills nine buildings. But the business is struggling and this year almost had to close down.

As Diana Lynn Ossana notes in her New York Times piece about his latest work Books : A Memoir :
... the colorful characters and frontiers Mr. McMurtry has encountered during his four decades in the antiquarian book trade are disappearing from the American landscape just as much as the vernacular cultures that have occupied his 28 novels. ... he notes that his trade has become a fringe one that makes his neighbors uneasy. Many of the booksellers and scouts he wrangled with and admired are now dead, out of business or marginalized. Their collections now fill Booked Up. The habit they served, reading, is no longer a driving passion for many Americans.
The book though is largely about McMurtry's experiences in the business, and Ossana says is full of "fishing stories" of the rare books caught and those that got away.

I liked this :
Toward the end of the book Mr. McMurtry describes finding a rare copy of “The Whale,” as “Moby-Dick” was called in England, apparently the working copy given to a writer named Charles Reade to abridge to a more manageable length. Reade, a contemporary of Melville’s, “was not a man to be intimidated by a mere American classic.” His first stroke is through the opening line: “Call me Ishmael.”
Damn! I've just gone and Amazon 1-clicked it!

Postscript :

See also this USA Today interview with McMurtry [found via] in which he explains why he doesn't sell his own books in the store. (He sounds a bit of a grouch! Does that naturally go with the territory of being a second-hand bookstore owner I wonder?)


Amir said...

A few months ago I visited the Melaka Book Village; anyone here been there?

bibliobibuli said...

can i guess? it's abandoned or neglected? certainly uninspiring.

(the langkawi book village (which i very much wanted to visit when i was there) had already closed down.)

c'mon amir, i'm waiting for you to tell me i am completely wrong and should have more faith in such initiatives.

Anonymous said...

It's in Melaka Bib, nothing ever happens in Melaka. And books (I'm sorry to say) are not as popular as they used to be. When there was no TV and no Internet, maybe. Doesn't mean writing (as a craft) will ever die out, but books will probably be something older people use (like dictionaries and thesauri.)