Larry McMurtry and the Barber

Last evening, I finished reading Larry McMurtry’s Books: A Memoir (2008).  He sustained a theme about books in his life, defining himself in book lingo as antiquarian, second-hand bookseller and book scout.  A few years ago, he settled back in his hometown of Archer City, Texas, bringing his Georgetown bookstore business into the small Texas town, about two hours away from where I live.  The name of his bookstore in Archer City is the Blue Pig (merged with his Georgetown Booked Up bookstore) from the notorious pigs in Lonesome Dove.  He owns six buildings on the square in Archer City, five of them devoted to books, about 400,000.  At his home, he has a personal library of 28,000 volumes that began with his original nineteen books as a boy.

Dustcover of Books by Larry McMurtry

I’ve been there twice and have an appointment to go again in the near future with my wife and friends, Selden Hale and Claudia Stravato.  I am interested in purchasing ethnography of Western America.

I met McMurtry once in Amarillo, Texas, where he lectured at the Amarillo Art Center back in the 1980s.  I asked him what was the greatest novel ever written and he replied, “Anna Karenina.”  He is not fond of novels anymore, preferring non-fiction, especially travel journals of the late-nineteenth, twentieth century.

McMurtry has bought bookshops in bulk and one that he bought was Barber’s Book Store in Fort Worth, Texas.  When I came to TCU in 1990, I asked about second-hand bookshops and was referred to Barber’s.  It was downtown.  (Last weekend when I was in Fort Worth, I saw that the sign for Barber’s was still erect over the closed shop.)  The shop was quite large and had a good collection of Western Americana.  I purchased several books, including a five or six-year collection of The New Mexico Historical Quarterly.


Filed under Recollections 1966-1990

15 responses to “Larry McMurtry and the Barber

  1. Ruth Karbach

    There are still a number of books at Barber’s; I called Brian Perkins three years ago, and he met me there. His son operates a very small bookshop out the side door. I suppose there were sections McMurtry deleted in his purchase of Barber’s stock, or possibly just duplicates. The two times I went to Booked Up; I ended up in one building all day. Bud Kennedy of the Star-Telegram and I were sitting on the floor going through the vintage Texas section on one of these occasions.

    A visit to these special bookstores suspends time with a wondrous sense of connection to the authors and those who walked this earth before us. By the way, I found such a place four years ago in Tolar. The previous owners had collected Texana books and made a complete inventory. The books were stored in the bay of an auto repair shop; in the front where the office had been were used paperbacks. A trip there was completed by buying cinnamon rolls for Armin and his friend back at home from Aloha Bakery, suitably decorated, and operated by a couple from Taiwan. A global world in a small Texas ethnic town.

    • Ruth: Of all places, Tolar! That’s where my step-dad got his trailer re-floored with railroad ties. But, a bookstore? I must go by there. I can take the ranch road to Morgan Mill, then over to Bluff Dale. My cell phone signal is relayed through the Morgan Mill-Bluff Dale repeater. Not far, must go. And, pick up some cinnamon rolls while there.

      [Readers: Please note that Ruth Karbach who wrote this comment is one of the chapter contributors to “Grace and Consumption,” the book about Fort Worth women. She is also an historian.]

  2. Jack, I’m so glad you’ve given more information about McMurtry’s bookstore. I hope to include it on my next trip down that way. I love bookstores that invite one to do just as Ruth, in the above comment, mentions, immerse oneself in book after marvelous book. I first started reading McMurtry over thirty years ago. He has provided some wonderful literature to the American canon, but much like him, I find I have no interest in fiction anymore, prefering non-fiction. How fun that must have been to meet him in person. Teresa

    • Teresa: I am of the same mind, most of the time, ninety percent. I want what is, not what someone imagines. I do veer off in reading the 100 greatest books (see my page above) and in reading Alan Furst on espionage, World War II, eastern Europe and France. I picked up “The World at Night,” Furst’s novel on World War II, occupied Paris. I bought the novel at the book shop across from the Louvre Museum, a shop I visited several times, once shopping with Donald Sutherland who was looking for art books on Greece and Rome. Pleasant and friendly, Donald was. Of course, he went his way, I went mine. Tall guy.

      • How fun. I’ve always been a fan of his work. It’s interesting to see these larger-than-life, but very real people, out and about. Thank you for the tidbit on your Paris years…

  3. Jack: I am in awe…I cannot imagine having a personal collection of 28,000 books, let alone a bookstore with 400,000. One would have to take days to visit. While my reading has never come close to my ability to buy beloved, old, books…I still consider them one of the highest forms of personal wealth one can have. Thanks for sharing this treasure. I look forward to hearing more about it after your next visit.

    • Martie: I was in awe also. 28,000? At one time I had maybe 1,500. I am replenishing now. McMurtry’s books are in a building that was once the Ford Motor Company, Archer City, Texas. I am with you, personal treasure, books are.

  4. Your subjects here – McMurtry, books, collections – are enticing.

    Two hours away from you the Blue Pig. Does it have pleasant lighting?

    Book collections like that can be better than a library – just as complete and you can purchase!

    In Albuquerque we have a great book collector, Gary Wilkie, and his shop Acequia Booksellers @ 4019 4th Street north of Candelaria has great lighting – tall ceilings and the entire north wall all windows. His Southwest collection very good and his art and poetry excellent. He has been doing it for decades and really knows how to amass the good ones in great shape.

    I came late to McMurtry. My first to read of his was Buffalo Girls and then read his bio of Crazy Horse. Then all the Berrybender novels – the chronicle of the Englishman’s Missouri River trip that has the artist George Catlin on board. All books to be savored.

    Thanks, Jack, for opening up my day to interesting topics!

    • C.C.: I must go and see the Acequia. Like the name, of course. McMurtry’s work is spread over five buildings. I was in two of them. The lighting is sufficient. The shop central has some seating, but when I was there in the 1980s, he had yet to bring his Georgetown bulk to Texas. Enormous inventory. There’s an lot of information in McMurtry’s “Books,” including his older opinion of his 28,000 personal library and what it means to him late in life.

  5. StarkRavingZen

    Love this. There is nothing better than a book store with a soul. But now I feel guilty, because I started Anna Karenina but never did finish it. It still sits there on my shelf, taunting me. Perhaps I’ll take another shot at it, though I seem to be on a non-fiction bender these past several years myself. 🙂 Great post Jack. Thanks again.

    • Kristy: Truth known, after I talked with McMurtry, I got a copy of “Anna Karenina” from my mother-in-law and started to read it, but did not finish it. Like you, I must pick it up again.

  6. Now I want to travel to Texas! The bookshops of Texas, specifically. Maybe this winter when we’re buried in snow here in Minnesota.

    Wonderful post, Jack…you do have some fine adventures.

    • CherylK: We do have fairly mild winters. Last year, it was colder than usual. The Blue Pig is worth the trip here. If only our politics in Texas would be a little more like Minnesota. Our Board of Education on books…enough said.


    this link is to the bookstore I mentioned above – thanks!

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