Cross Border Raid to Booked Up

Every bibliophile wants to hunt at Larry McMurtry's Booked Up in Archer City, Texas. At least you should. It was my pleasure to organize such a trip for the toddling Bibliophiles of Oklahoma back in January.

If you've not heard of Booked Up, it is a world class book mine in an unlikely place. McMurtry has bought and sold books for decades. Sure, he's a Pulitzer Prize / Oscar-winning writer, but in interviews and his recent memoir Books, he's just another bibliophile bookseller. McMurtry's purpose relocating to his ancestral home was to establish an American book town (without a festival, which "is the last thing I want," according McMurtry). A fantastic interview spelling out his motivations and ideas on Nigel Beale's Biblio File is here.

For most book collectors, Archer City may as well be on the moon, but for we few book lovers shouting in the hinterlands, it is our Shangri La. We don't have a Strand, a Powell's, or a CODEX book fair. Having journeyed to Booked Up a few times before, I served as the bibliosherpa, along with Lynn Wienck of Chisholm Trail Bookstore, who is more familiar with the environs of the Red River country.

For the Bibliophiles of Oklahoma, this was our most well attended event, so we will certainly go again, perhaps in early autumn. North Texas can be merciless in the summer. For our trip, at the end of January, the weather was pleasant, though crisp. It looks chilly in the photos, right? All of our members found additions for their collections. Not too hard when a dozen ravenous bibliophiles descend on 400-500,000 quality books. Everyone also saw items that surprised them. For me, it was a very nice (bargain!) copy of The Great Gatsby for my Modern Library collection. The Mrs. was surprised how such a large number of books could be so well organized, well lit and clean. Her one complaint was that the 10' shelves were too tall for her. An example is below. This is where I spent more than half my day, the Books About Books section. Yes, nearly that entire run visible, all 10' high, are babs.

When it comes to surprises, you don't have to take my word for it. John C. Roberts, a member of the esteemed Caxton Club of Chicago, published a fantastic article in the January issue of the Caxtonian about his own southern sojourn from Chicago. Even this more established collector of modern firsts found surprises.

There are a few practical considerations weighing a trip to Booked Up:

  • You won't go there "passing through" to somewhere else. For many collectors, Archer City can be a destination. Really.
  • Virtually none of the inventory, which is hand selected by McMurtry for quality, is online. None.
  • Perhaps as many as 500,000 books, no junk. None.
  • Wear layers. There is little/no heating or air-conditioning in the four buildings, and north Texas can have erratic weather. The buildings are a little spread out.
  • According to the signs posted about, books are organized Erratically/ Impressionistically/ Whimsically/ Open to Interpretation. Moby Dick could be in American Fiction, Animals, Nautical, Fishing & Hunting, Travel, etc.
  • As of this writing, they still accept major credit cards and cash.
  • If you go with a group, bring water and synchronize watches. Cell service is spotty at best.

So, if you've needed an excuse to go, I can't give you one. I can say this, you won't be sorry.