Books: A Memoir

More than forty years into his career as an antiquarian bookseller (not to mention his other job as a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist), Larry McMurtry has paused to reflect on a life hawking secondhand tomes in Books: A Memoir. Given his accounts of the shops and bookmen who’ve succumbed to mortality and economic reality, much of this amounts to an extended shout-out to the dearly departed of the signed-first-edition-with-fine-dust-jacket set. There’s a winning poignancy to McMurtry’s affection for his fellow eccentrics (such as one San Francisco shopkeeper who offered binoculars to scan the titles on his top shelves) while his self-deprecating attitude toward his own novels—“Three or four were really good. None, to my regret, were great”—suggests that he would be happier as a book scout who writes than the other way around. This is a peripatetic collection; its short chapters bounce between anecdotes from the trade, like when a partner of McMurtry’s sells a $100,000 Winston Churchill limited edition, and personal reminiscences, like his first book sale, in 1962, to pay the hospital after his son, James, is born. The effect is not unlike perusing the volumes at a high-end estate sale: It’s worth pawing through the ordinary to ferret out the gems. Simon & Schuster, $24

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