The Road Trip Stops in McMurtry’s Texas

The Great American Road Trip

Larry McMurtry´s Book Store Archer City TX

Larry McMurtry's Book Store

Destination: Texas

Writer: Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show)

A GUEST POST by Ruth Pennebaker

I feel so fortunate to have Ruth Pennebaker, a Texan through and through, as our guest today.

Also check out Music Road for the musical sound track to accompany the road trip. Kerry Dexter says,” From the Gulf Coast at Galveston to border at El Paso, from windswept landscapes of the Permian Basin to the Riverwalk in San Antonio, from the hill country of Austin to the cattle country of Amarillo, Texas is a state filled with music and with the names and lives of towns, cities, musicians, and places that resonate through music’s past and present.”

Enjoy Ruth’s words about a Texas writer, and then read about her own latest accomplishment in the bio at the end. VMB

Years ago, my husband and I prowled around the acres of books housed in tiny Archer City, Texas.  Archer City is close to Wichita Falls, which might not tell you much, a dot on the plains where the wind blows hard and the sun scorches the earth.  You wouldn’t expect to find tens of thousands of books in a place like this, unless you knew this is the hometown of Texas writer Larry McMurtry, the town immortalized in the classic movie The Last Picture Show.
McMurtry´s Archer City Booked UP #1

McMurtry's Booked Up

We browsed through the aisles of Booked Up, along with the other curious tourists, walking through room after room of books collected over the decades by McMurtry, who’s a rare book collector and dealer, as well as author.  Then we saw McMurtry himself.  I drew in my breath, hoping my husband recalled the stories I’d told him about McMurtry’s legendary scorn for any fan foolish enough to compliment him or profess admiration.  In the years he’d owned a rare bookstore in Washington, D.C., the writer had been notorious for pitching any gushing admirers out of his store.  He didn’t want to talk about his novels, he didn’t care that you’d liked them, that they’d meant something to you, that you felt some kind of connection to him he didn’t feel to you.  He wanted you gone, if you couldn’t keep your fawning mouth shut.

Both my husband and I would have been guilty as charged.  We’d loved Lonesome Dove: A Novel, McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a cattle drive – a sprawling, wonderfully engrossing epic of the American West.  And I’d particularly loved Terms of Endearment, a sharply observed novel full of the complicated, restless, searching female characters McMurtry is famous for.  But we stayed silent as McMurtry passed by us, grizzled and brooding.

It’s been a long mystery to Texans who love to read (and wipe that smirk off your face, pilgrim: we do exist) why McMurtry is so contemptuous of the people who love his work.

Reading reviews of his latest volumes of memoirs, I’ve come across repeated mentions of how little pleasure or pride he takes from his lifetime of work.  Most of his books, he feels, are second-rate or worse, hardly worthy of any acclaim they’ve gotten; little wonder he can’t bear to be around readers who have enjoyed them.

Maybe that sentiment makes you think of Groucho Marx and the club he wouldn’t want to join.  But it makes me think of Woody Allen, instead: another man and artist who’s given such enjoyment to wide audiences, but lacks the capacity to find pleasure in what he’s done.  (As you may remember, Allen’s original title for Annie Hall was Anhedonia, or the absence of pleasure.)

So, my husband and I left Archer City and headed north into Oklahoma.  So what if McMurtry doesn’t like me or the rest of his reverent fans?  Maybe, in a part of the world where the sky and land and weather are harsh and unforgiving, you get the kind of writer with a similarly unyielding temperament.

My advice is to enjoy his body of work nevertheless.  Sink into the sprawling, wonderful, real-West saga of Lonesome Dove or watch the acclaimed TV mini-series of the same name.  Look at the lonely landscape of a desolate small town in The Last Picture Show in either print or in the aching, black-and-white melancholy and sly humor of the movie.

But seek shelter if you’re around the author himself or the fierce Texas elements.

Ruth Pennebaker (Photo by Marsha Miller)

Ruth Pennebaker’s new novel, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough, comes out in January.  She’s a columnist at the Texas Observer and blogs at The Geezer Sisters.

Even though the new book isn’t about travel, I recommend it heartily because of Ruth’s incredible way of drilling into human feelings and coming up with a Texas bonanza of truth. (You can pre-order at Amazon, by following the title link). Thanks so much for sharing Texas, for the road trip, Ruth.

You might also want to read: Steinbeck and McMurtry Hit the Road; and Who Writes Texas?, which talks about McMurtry and others.  And thanks to the photographers who allow us to use their work through a Creative Commons License. Click on the pictures to learn more about them.

Do you have a McMurtry favorite? Or is there another Texas writer you prefer? Let’s talk.

Vera Marie Badertscher

Travel and lifestyle writer, wife, mother and grandmother. Publisher of A Traveler’s Library and Ancestors in Aprons>. Also co-authored a biography of Navajo artist Quincy Tahoma.

Vera Marie Badertscher – who has written posts on A Traveler's Library.


10 thoughts on “The Road Trip Stops in McMurtry’s Texas

  1. Sounds like Archer City is a better fit for McMurtry than Washington, DC – although he’d probably be fine in NYC with his companion in anhedonia, Woody Allen. We ignore EVERYONE here.

  2. Too bad the author could not feel about his work the way his fans do, isn’t it?
    PS. I’m so looking forward to reading Ruth’s new novel.If it’s anywhere as good as her post here, it’ll be a real page-turner.

  3. I’ll admit it. My favorite Texan writer is Kinky “Big Dick” Friedman. So little plot, but I devour each book laughing. His style is all about description and “leaving the cat in charge”. I love his work! Listening to his band “Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys” is also a good way to have a LOT of laughs.

  4. Any fan of Texas lit will want to visit J. Frank Dobie country, which encompasses all of Texas. Dobie is particularly vivid in his accounts of the “brush country” cattlelands. All subsequent writers of Texas lore, especially McMurtry, owe a huge debt to Dobie, rancher’s son, folklorist supreme, and literature professor. Don’t let the professor part turn you off. His books are without exception delightful mixes of the myth, epic romance, and hard history that define the legendary land of Texas. Visit the Dobie Room in library of the University in Austin to get a sense of the scope and essence of this writer.

    1. Ah yes, might have known you’d come along to champion Frank Dobie. Now I have to go back to that book of essays I reviewed earlier to see if McMurtry mentions Dobie–and what he has to say.

  5. In answer to the question about Texas authors: I was inordinately fond of the courageous, dearly departed Molly Ivins, who’s wit was outrageous;y insightful, besides funny, and wholly accurate.

  6. Howdy – I have met a number of artists who disdain public affection. Can’t blame them. (Once I met Exene Cervenka and asked her to sign her book of poetry-she was excited that someone knew her as something other than a singer). Still, the bookstore is a landmark! Thanks for sharing. -r

  7. What a surreal encounter. In this day and age of authors craving attention, it’s interesting to see one who tries to keep fans away. Then again, he started writing before eBooks, the Internet and such took hold. Thanks for recommending Pennebaker’s book–sounds like a good one.

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