Visiting Larry McMurtry’s hometown

By Kristen Tribe | Published Thursday, July 15, 2010

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Archer City is a town of 1,848 people.

One of those people is Larry McMurtry.

Technically, the author splits his time between homes in Archer City and Tucson, Ariz., and although he’s had a tumultuous relationship with his hometown, he is inarguably its most famous native son.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of his most popular book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Lonesome Dove,” making this the perfect time for a summer road trip to his unlikely literary oasis.

Archer City is 25 miles southwest of Wichita Falls at the crossroads of Farm Road 79 and Farm Road 25. Thousands of visitors trek to the tiny town to visit Booked Up, the bookstore McMurtry opened in 1986.

Hundreds of thousands of books fill four downtown buildings. Patrons wander between the buildings and tote their treasures back to Building 1 to where the only cash register is located.

It’s like Barnes and Noble, but with character and creaky floors.

The most-often asked question: “When will Mr. McMurtry be here?”

The answer: “At his whim,” according to the store’s website.

Although it’s rare to run into the writer, I have several friends who have caught a glimpse of him moving books or getting into his car.

The July issue of Texas Monthly has a story on the anniversary of “Lonesome Dove,” and interviews were conducted with people associated with the book and later the movie.

Dave Hickey, an art critic, professor of art practice at the University of New Mexico and a longtime friend of McMurtry, described the author’s public self this way:

“If you leave Larry alone, he’ll write books. When he’s in public, he may say hello or goodbye, but otherwise he is just resting, getting ready to go write.”

Booked Up does not sell any of McMurtry’s books, and it’s unlikely that he would sign anything for you if you did see him.

But when I visited in 2006, I’ll admit, I hoped to run into the famous author, and perhaps even more, sought the palpable inspiration that must lie in the local landscape.

My visit was spurred by a story assignment. I was writing a feature on the Royal Theater, made famous in McMurtry’s “The Last Picture Show.”

My husband and I rolled into town just after lunch with plans to explore before my interviews that evening. We perused the bookstore, each and every building, before making a stop at the local watering hole – Dairy Queen.

The Dairy Queen’s walls are decorated with posters of McMurtry’s book covers. There were only a handful of patrons there that afternoon, but you could tell most of them were from out of town.

“Are the bookstores open today?” asked one man, between bites of his ice cream cone.

The gal behind the counter wrinkled her nose and looked quizzically at her co-worker, as if she had never heard of Booked Up.

As if “Lonesome Dove” was a country song.

As if the name Larry McMurtry didn’t ring a bell.

Their seeming indifference was infuriating to me.

But maybe the feeling is mutual. McMurtry doesn’t exactly ooze affection for his hometown.

He’s been described as a “demythologizer,” and as such, probably the last thing he would want was for his hometown to pay homage to him.

He probably appreciates the indifference and is glad for the distance.

So even though I want to tour his family home and visit “the sites” on which many of his fictional settings were based, I realize that’s not going to happen.

I must be satisfied to know him through his books – those he has written and those he has collected.

For information about Booked Up, visit The store is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and there is a summer sale of 25 percent off.

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