ARCHER CITY -- Larry McMurtry had 300,000 books to sell beginning this morning.
He, however, didn't stay long to witness it. About 20 lots into the massive auction of much of the inventory he has amassed in Archer City, McMurtry excused himself from the proceedings. He walked back to the main Booked Up store, found a comfortable seat and began answering questions from a handful of people there to witness what McMurtry, 76, called "seeding the clouds" of the book business.
"I'm not destroying, I'm downsizing," McMurtry said of his decision to sell off 300,000 of the 450,000 books he has in four downtown Archer City buildings.
McMurtry, one of the lions of the U.S. literary scene of the last 40 years and an Academy Award-winning screenwriter, has generated a scene in Archer City this week that one local said hasn't been duplicated in several decades. Out-of-state cars, people with hipster clothes and unfamiliar accents arrived for what has been dubbed "The Last Book Sale," a play on McMurtry's coming-of-age 1960s book, The Last Picture Show.
Citing his advancing age and eventual mortality, McMurtry said he wanted to make the Booked Up operation "more manageable" for his son, singer/songwriter James McMurtry, and other heirs. He also brought up that he'd suffered another heart attack in January, although he said he feels fine now.
"My heirs are literate, but they're not book people," he said. "Leaving them with 450,000 books would be a huge burden."
A book seller for decades, McMurtry brought his entire book-selling business to his hometown some years ago, hoping to turn Archer City into a destination for collectors. His bookstore in Washington, D.C., was financially failing, he said, because rent prices were too high for someone selling "good second-hand books."
"I couldn't afford four buildings anywhere else in the country but here," he said.
He said he feels as though he has succeeded in bringing attention to Archer City for books, although fewer people make the visit in person now because they can get the books over the Internet.
"We sell books to the world more than we sell to people locally," he said. "Quite a few locals signed up to bid, though. I think they want to be part of an event, and this is an event."
He will continue to operate the first and main Booked Up store on Texas 79. The others, he said, will probably become antique stores in the future when his son sells the buildings.
"It wouldn't surprise me if it became known as more of an antique town," he said.
McMurtry is still writing books -- he just finished days ago a book on his personal library and will see the publishing of a book later this year on George Armstrong Custer. But he's done with fiction, he said, because "it's a gift I've exhausted."
"I think I had about 20 good years" of writing fiction, he said. Among his favorites, he cited, were Duane's Depressed, Desert Rose, All My Friends are Going to be Strangers and Terms of Endearment. Lonesome Dove he did not mention.
The book auction, which drew about 130 bidders from around the country, continues Saturday.
Chris Vaughn, (817) 390-7547