Thursday, August 14, 2008

L.M. on D.Q.

I recently visited Booked Up, Larry McMurtry's mammoth used-book store (four separate buildings) in the tiny town of Archer City, Texas. It was a wonderful experience that I'll be writing about at greater length for someone else soon.

McMurtry's newest work is called Books, and it details his long, busy life as a collector. (Michael Dirda wrote a good piece about it in the New York Review of Books.) I'll read it eventually, but it's gotten mixed notices. In the meantime, I bought a copy of Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections at Sixty and Beyond, an earlier memoir by McMurtry that received more praise and also includes thoughts on bibliophilia. Its first sentence is a doozy, and seems out of character for someone who could so tersely name his latest:
In the summer of 1980, in the Archer City Dairy Queen, while nursing a lime Dr Pepper (a delicacy strictly local, unheard of even in the next Dairy Queen down the road -- Olney’s, eighteen miles south -- but easily obtainable by anyone willing to buy a lime and a Dr Pepper), I opened a book called Illuminations and read Walter Benjamin’s essay “The Storyteller,” nominally a study of or reflection on the stories of Nikolay Leskov, but really (I came to feel, after several rereadings), an examination, and a profound one, of the growing obsolescence of what might be called practical memory and the consequent diminution of the power of oral narrative in our twentieth-century lives.
In the next paragraph, he describes Dairy Queens as “taverns without alcohol.” I’m looking forward to this book.


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