Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Herding words

That I chose to herd words into novel-sized ranches was fortunate. Even if I had wanted to ranch, I didn't have the money it takes.
Larry McMurtry, Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen

Larry McMurtry's 1999 memoir Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen is something of a meditation on ranching, writing and scouting for books, as well as a tribute to his father. In addition to writing novels and other books, he buys and sells used books. Although he grew up on a Texas cattle ranch, ranching is one thing he never wanted to do, But he wrote books, like Lonesome Dove, about herding cattle, and in this memoir he repeatedly employs metaphors like the one quoted above to compare the cowboy life to his true loves. Here are some others:

"... I've now spent most of a working life herding words in the morning and secondhand books in the afternoon ..."

"Where literature was concerned I preferred from the first to go my own way, roving around on the great open range."

"I'm sure that I've had as much pleasure in the hundreds (or maybe the thousands) of bookshops I've been in, going along row by row and shelf by shelf looking for a title or an edition that I've never seen, as my father did culling and inspecting the many cattle herds he bought from."

"When I consider my twenty and more books I sometimes feel the same uneasy breeze that my father felt as he contemplated the too meager acres where his own life began and ended. My achievement may be not much different from his; it may consist mainly of the good name I bore and the gifted and responsible son I will pass it on to."

These few quotations actually summarize McMurtry's book rather well, but I still think I will have more to say about it later.

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