Texas Times: A Texas Town with an Abundance of Books

By U.S. Sen. John Cornyn | Nov 29, 2014

Take State Highway 79 southbound out of Wichita Falls and, after about 30 miles of wide-open countryside, you’ll find yourself in Archer City, Texas. Home to some 2,000 souls, you might say it takes a certain amount of bravado to call yourself a city.  Then again, this little town on the Texas prairie knows something about artistic license.

Archer City has been a source of creative merit that extends far beyond its borders.  This is the home of legendary novelist and screenwriter Larry McMurtry.  The 1971 Academy Award-winning film The Last Picture Show, written by Mr. McMurtry, was filmed there.  A native son of Archer City, Mr. McMurtry became a household name across the country with the publication of Lonesome Dove.  The book went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and a place of pride on bookshelves across Texas.

Small though it may be, Archer City is no stranger to big things; and until a few weeks ago, perhaps nothing in town was bigger than Mr. McMurtry’s book collection.  At roughly 450,000 volumes, the books outnumbered the residents by over 225-to-one.  Sprawled across shelves throughout four buildings, these tomes comprised Booked Up, Inc., the used bookstore owned and operated by Mr. McMurtry since 1987.

A humorous Q&A on Booked Up’s website gives a glimpse into the operation:

Q. How are the books arranged?
A. Erratically/ Impressionistically/ Whimsically/ Open to Interpretation

Q. Do you have a list of these books?
A. No.

Q. Are the prices negotiable?
A. The price in the book is the price you pay.

Recently, however, Mr. McMurtry, now 76, decided it was time to downsize from four buildings to one.  Noting that the upkeep of the store would one day fall upon his heirs, he told the New York Times, “One store is manageable.  Four stores would be a burden.”

So on a characteristically scorching August weekend, Mr. McMurtry auctioned off 300,000 of his volumes.  Over 150 people from all corners of the country came to Archer City for the auction.  Like Larry McMurtry, many were fellow collectors and used bookstore owners.  Some made the pilgrimage just to witness the event.

The majority of the books were sold in lots of 100 to 200 volumes, with individual books hand-picked by Mr. McMurtry auctioned separately.  By all accounts the sale was a success, and in the ensuing days 300,000 books departed Archer City for new homes.  As for Booked Up, it’s alive and well, running a somewhat leaner operation with 150,000 volumes in one building.  And while the book-to-resident ratio of Archer City may have dropped, this metropolis of hardbacks and paperbacks is still a worthy destination for anyone on a trip across north Texas.

Sen. Cornyn serves on the Finance, Judiciary, Armed Services, and Budget Committees. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee's Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee. He served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court Justice, and Bexar County District Judge.

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