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Literary Life: A Second Memoir

Review

Literary Life: A Second Memoir

Reading a good book is one of life’s pleasures. But
reading a good book about books makes that pleasure even more
enjoyable. LITERARY LIFE by Larry McMurtry is a book about
literature --- both reading it and writing it. It is the second of
a planned three-part memoir by the 73-year-old Texan, who won the
Pulitzer Prize for LONESOME DOVE and an Oscar for his screenplay
for Brokeback Mountain. McMurtry’s literary resume
includes 29 novels, three memoirs and more than 30 screenplays; in
the early 1990s he served as president of PEN, the literary and
human rights organization; and Booked-Up, his used bookstore in
Archer City, Texas, houses nearly 500,000 titles.

The first volume, BOOKS, covers McMurtry’s life as a used
book merchant. LITERARY LIFE focuses on his career as perhaps one
of the most well-known authors from Texas. The forthcoming third
installment will be about life in Hollywood and his experiences in
filmdom.

From HORSEMAN, PASS BY, McMurtry’s first novel written at
age 25 --- which was later made into the movie Hud --- to
THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT and LONESOME DOVE,
McMurtry’s impact in the world of literature and cinema
cannot be overlooked: “My novels attract good
filmmakers,” McMurty observes, because readers connect with
his characters. “My characters move them, which is also why
those same characters move them when they meet them on the
screen.”

McMurtry’s observations are not lengthy ruminations on
writing and life; instead, they are brief, pithy comments on the
books he has written, the people he has met, and the experiences of
nearly 50 years as a writer, including a period of time when a
mysterious ailment stalled his writing. Sadly, McMurtry offers
little information on that period in his life, but hopefully, the
third volume will tell readers more. For a man who still loves his
typewriter, LITERARY LIFE almost seems to be written in the style
of Twitter, where brevity is the preferred element of
communication.

Adding to the fun of the book is McMurtry’s shameless
name-dropping: he has a long list of well-known writers and
celebrities to mention. From eating chicken gizzards with Susan
Sontag to Katherine Graham, Robert DeNiro and Mike Nichols, there
are adventures with talented folks in the entertainment industry.
None of them are lengthy, but all are engaging.

There is an unintended benefit that comes from reading a memoir
such as LITERARY LIFE. This is a book you must read with a pencil
and paper at your side. McMurtry mentions movies I have not yet
seen but will soon be adding to my Netflix queue. He tells of his
favorite authors and their books, and I find myself searching for
their works at my library and on various websites. This is what
inevitably happens when sharing a conversation about books and
writing with a renowned author such as McMurtry. In the end, that
is the joy of LITERARY LIFE: a simple conversation about books from
a writer whose legacy is remarkable. If you love to read, you will
love this book.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on December 30, 2010

Literary Life: A Second Memoir
by Larry McMurtry

  • Publication Date: December 8, 2009
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1439159939
  • ISBN-13: 9781439159934