Author and Bookshop Owner Larry McMurtry Receives the LAPL Literary Award
Larry McMurtry will receive the Los Angeles Public Library Literary Award this week because he is a “bibliophile par excellence.” That’s how City Librarian Fontayne Holmes describes the novelist, essayist and screenwriter. “He really is such a book person in every single meaning of the word, as a bookstore owner, as a book collector, as a writer and as an incredible reader of literature,” she said.
McMurtry, who has published 41 books, is known for depicting an un-idealized vision of the Old West and his native Texas. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1985 novel Lonesome Dove, which became a television mini-series starring Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones and Danny Glover in 1989.
Among his other novels that have become popular films are Terms of Endearment, Hud (from the novel Horseman, Pass By) and The Last Picture Show (which McMurtry adapted and for which he received an Oscar nomination). Most recently, McMurtry won a Golden Globe and an Oscar as co-screenwriter (with longtime collaborator Diana Ossana) of Brokeback Mountain, adapted from an Annie Proulx short story.
Born in 1936, McMurtry grew up on a cattle ranch in Archer City, Texas. He still lives there, and in 1986 started Booked Up, which is now one of the largest used bookstores in the country, boasting 300,000 titles. With another 30,000 books in his personal collection, McMurtry has described himself as a “herder” of books as well as words.
McMurtry will receive the LAPL Literary Award at a Library Foundation dinner on Wednesday, April 30. He will also appear Thursday, May 1, at the Central Library as part of the Aloud series (although the noon event is already, well, booked up).
The normally press-shy bibliophile spoke to Los Angeles Downtown News last week from Ossana’s home in Tucson, Ariz.
Los Angeles Downtown News: What does the LAPL Literary Award mean to you?
Larry McMurtry: It means $10,000 is going to the little library in Archer City that myself and some others founded 25 years ago.
Q: Tell me about Booked Up, your bookstore in Archer City.
A: I own a book town. That is, we have five buildings full of books. This is modeled on the famous book town in Wales called Hay-on-Wye, which was started in the ‘60s in a little town where the real estate was very cheap. In Archer City, the real estate is really cheap.
Q: Besides size, how is Booked Up different from traditional bookstores?
A: The problem with large bookstores is that they contain usually a lot of junk. My focus as a bookseller is to keep the junk out. Because good books don’t pull bad books up, bad books pull good books down.
Q: Why do you think bookstores and libraries are so important?
A: They bring pleasure and knowledge to millions of readers. Unfortunately, since I first became a book buyer in Los Angeles, 50 stores have closed. And Dutton’s is closing forever on the night I make my speech [at the awards dinner].
Q: With so many independent bookstores closing, how is your store faring?
A: I’m going to talk about that in my speech at some length. Remember that I’m an antiquarian bookseller, not a new bookseller; and those two businesses are very unlike one another. I’m not like a Barnes and Noble or a Borders, and they’re not like me. I survive entirely on selling books. They survive mostly on selling movies and music and some books. I think it’s mostly music that really keeps the chains robust. We are clearly in a time when reading is threatened.
Q: Do you think there’s a solution?
A: I don’t think there is a solution, unfortunately. I’m publishing a book called Books: A Memoir. It will be published in July by Simon and Schuster, and it gives my history as a reader, writer and bookseller. I kind of put everything in there.
Q: Do you see your recent novels, like Telegraph Days and When the Light Goes as similar or different from your earlier work?
A: I just don’t think about my work at all. I think about being a bookseller. I don’t think about being a writer.
Q: And yet you’re very prolific.
A: I worked very regularly for 50 years. I’d get up early and write five pages every day, not finished pages, I do three drafts of every book. After 50 years of doing it every day, you pile up a lot of words, a lot of pages.
Q: Since screenwriting has brought you to L.A. a lot, what do you like, or not like, about the city in comparison with your hometown?
A: Well, you really can’t make a comparison between a city with millions of people and a hometown of only 1,500. It’s like a village, and over here is a great metropolis. I first came to L.A. as a screenwriter in 1962. I’ve always liked L.A. for its hustle and its energy, and I still do. I very much lament the loss of the bookstores though. I literally don’t have anywhere to go now.
For information about the Library Foundation or the awards dinner, (213) 228-7500 or lfla.org. For Aloud, (213) 228-7025 or aloudla.org.