McMurtry to Close Shop

If you head north from Dallas toward Wichita Falls, you won’t exactly feel like you’re in an area conducive to expansive collections of literary artifacts. On the three-hour trip, you will see the number of protestant churches and catfish restaurants increase exponentially. You will also see (and smell) lots of livestock and, well – not much of anything else. Nevertheless, if you take the right number of turns at the right moment and press through vast and lonely fields on barren highways, you may be lucky enough to end up in Archer City.

I arrived early on a Saturday afternoon to see famed Texas author Larry McMurtry’s sprawling collection of antiquarian books (photostream). McMurtry graduated from Archer City High School many decades ago, and lives here now part of the year. Archer City is the backdrop for McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show. He also penned Lonesome Dove and Terms of Endearment.

He opened the All Booked Up bookstore here in 1986, fifteen years after opening the original store in Washington, D.C. I’m drawn to this city to see the bookstore before it closes later this year. McMurtry announced he would close the store to pursue additional writing and traveling interests. It remains unclear if the stores will ever be re-opened.

It’s difficult to describe the number of books housed in the four buildings that make up All Booked Up. There are lots. The store, which is actually housed in four seperate buildings scattered throughout the town square, is operated on an honor system—customers can peruse the stores, then visit store #1 to pay for their purchases. Books are somewhat aggressively priced, but I was able to find a copy of John Melville’s Guide to California Wines, published in 1960, for about $5. More collectable books, housed in store #1, can fetch up to $1500.

I was on the lookout for McMutry for most of the day with no luck. I did, however, get to spend some time with his two cats, Sophie and Leo, who spent the day sauntering between the rows of dusty volumes. McMutry does not sell his books at All Booked Up, and signs near the cash register indicate they McMutry will no longer autograph copies of his books, either in person or through the mail.

“Forty years of signing has had a bad effect both on his signature and on his deposition. Read and Enjoy.”

For lunch, I checked out Onion Creek Grill, located between store #4 and store #1 on the town square. It’s hard to go wrong with a double cheeseburger and home-sliced French fries with the skins still on. The iced-tea is served in glasses are robust as the George Strait songs booming over the speakers. Several local men perpetuate stereotypes by wearing camouflage while eating chicken fried steak. I’m saddened by McMurtry’s decision to close the stores, a sentiment no doubt shared by Onion Creek’s owner, who caters largely to hungry tourists and regulars who meander from store to store with armloads of books.

Archer city feels like Texas. Even Hollywood’s version of Texas: lonely, desolate, kind, a little dusty. I left to return to Dallas Love Field to catch my flight, looking at Archer City in my rearview mirror, and wondered when I might be back.

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