Archer City, Texas is so small that those passing through wouldn’t expect to find a single bookstore but there are five Booked Up locations scattered through the tiny business district of this west Texas community. Each of the bookstores overflows with books shelved from floor to ceiling. In Number One, valuable and rare volumes share the space with a large, well fed cat that helps provide comfortable ambiance. Number One is the single location with a clerk on duty. In stores Two through Five, it’s a system of trust. Each of those stores is unlocked daily and customers can browse to their heart’s content. When you’ve selected your purchases, return to Number One to pay.
Why does a small town offer so many book shops? Because Archer City is the home of Pulitzer Prize winning author Larry Mc Murtry and these are his stores. Reader as well as writer, Mc Murtry collected the books over many years. His first retail outlet in Washington DC closed just before he returned to his native Texas but when he moved home, the books came too. He soon opened Booked Up in his hometown and as the books were unpacked, the locations grew from one to five. And, although there are several other viable businesses operating in Archer City, Booked Up dominates the downtown district.
Archer City often gives visitors a strange sense of deja vous. If you watched The Last Picture Show or Texasville, Hollywood movies made from some of McMurtry’s novels, you’ve seen Archer City. Called Thalia in fiction, Archer City remains much as it first appeared in The Last Picture Show made in the late 1960’s. The picture show – or movie theater – remains but it is only a shell. The front walls and marquee are in place but the rest is long removed save for a stage where occasionally local talent performs.
It would seem that it is indeed true that to be a writer, one most love books. My own collection pales besides the number of books Larry McMurtry has collected. He also reserves the right to refuse to sell any books he just can’t bear to part with.! For the customer it’s probably just as well that he’s not always available. Although volumes ran the gamut from first run and antique tomes to copies of popular literature, prices are fair.
No lodging operates within Archer City and it’s not near much of anywhere but west Texas prairie. The nearest city of any size is Wichita Falls, Texas and it is a drive of several hours to Dallas/Fort Worth. Far from the beaten track, it’s almost impossible to visit Archer City except by choice.
It’s worth the long drive to see the amazing bookshops McMurtry has created and to see fictional Thalia come to life as Archer City. Whether or not you buy a book doesn’t matter. Seeing such a collection of books and devotion to the written word reassures book lovers that they are not alone and a future for books remains bright as long as there are folks like Larry Mc Murtry to ensure it.