Larry McMurtry writes about trying to sell 300,000 books

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Last week, Larry McMurtry’s career as a book dealer took center stage. McMurtry is, of course, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Lonesome Dove” and dozens of other novels, including “The Last Picture Show,” “Texasville” and “Terms of Endearment.” He’s also familiar with Hollywood -- many of his books have been successfully adapted to film and in 2006, he won an Oscar for co-writing the screenplay of “Brokeback Mountain.” All that was set aside as McMurtry, who’s been selling collectible books for 55 years, put 300,000 of them up for sale.

In Friday’s New York Review of Books blog, McMurtry writes about the experience. First of all, it was hot. 116 degrees hot. But that wasn’t what he was thinking about. “I wanted to test the vigor, or lack of it, of the book trade as we have it,” he writes. “Dealers in old books are a subculture, one I’ve been part of for a very long time. Is that subculture still there? Are there still young people piling books in their garages, hoping to have a real shop some day? I didn’t know. Calling for the auction was a way to find out.”

In all, 200 bidders registered (at $50 each). They included major book retailers: Powell’s from Portland, Ore., and Between the Covers from New Jersey; major buyers included Midtown Scholar from Harrisburg, Pa., and the Full Nelson from Magnolia, Ark. There were 1,600 lots of about 200 books each, most of which sold. The fiction is what didn’t sell.


“Everyone who deals in fiction has plenty, and more is spilling onto the market from the sale of the Serendipity Books stock now being dispersed on the West Coast,” McMurtry writes. “Many people asked me if I was sad to see so many books go. I wasn’t—mainly I was irritated to discover that I still had 30,000 novels to sell.”

One notable work of fiction sold for $2,750 -- because like “50 Shades of Grey,” antiquarian erotica is hot. It was a typescript of 29 erotic short stories that were commissioned in the 1940s by an oilman who has remained anonymous. The authors include Lawrence Durrell, Henry Miller and Anais Nin.

McMurtry will continue to sell used, collectible and, although he doesn’t like the word, rare books at his store Booked Up. He put up more than 300,000 books for auction, but held onto an additional 150,000.


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