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Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.

Books: A Memoir

Books - Larry McMurtry

There were so many things I didn't like about this book, yet I still couldn't stop reading it.


I've not read any of McMurty's other books, although his bibliography is certainly impressive, but I have to believe they were not written in the same style as Books: A Memoir.  If they are, I'm missing something.


As I started this book I kept thinking who writes like this?  How did this make it through editing?  About 25% of the way through I realised this was written as though it's a straight transcription of a dictation:  imagine someone you know, probably an older someone, sitting in their chair, telling you stories about 'the old days'; the kind of stories where the teller gets sidetracked because he's reminded of another story.  That's the narrative style of this book.  There's no timeline to speak of, no narrative cohesion.  The book is 259 pages long and there are 109 chapters; a few chapters are no more than a paragraph and mostly just fleeting thoughts written down as they pass through.


I bought the book because I wanted memoirs of a bookseller and collector, but while I got some of that, I got a lot more "I" than I wanted.  There's a lot of matter-of-fact boasting about his accomplishments, his successes and a metric ton of name dropping.  If the names were rain, we'd need an ark.  Now, I don't actually mind a bit of name dropping sometimes, if I have the first clue who the people actually are.  But 90% of the names were other booksellers, traders, or scouts and were meaningless to me and a burden to keep track of.  He writes, in chapter 101:


I've chosen, for the most part, to keep this memoir personality-free.  Attempting to interest twenty-first-century readers in the personalities of (mainly) twentieth-century bookmen risks making this narrative more circumscribed than I want it to be.


Really?  All due respect to McMurtry, but isn't that something a writer should do?  Does he think so little of me as a twenty-first-century reader that he thinks I can't be interested in twentieth century bookmen?  Were they that boring?  Or can he just not be bothered because that would take the attention off himself?  I gotta be honest, it feels like door #3 is closest to the truth.  He must drop at least 100 names in this book and if any of them had any personality at all, it would have made this a much more interesting book.


In spite of all this, I never actually considered DNF'ing the book; I harbour a dream of someday being a book seller myself and as such, I hunger for first hand information about others' experience.  Sprinkled all too lightly throughout the 109 chapters were glimpses of just what I was looking for and I was eagerly forging my way through all the somewhat narcissistic horn blowing in order to mine these small gems.  I was left at the end with the vague sense of getting what I wanted, but man, he made me work for it.