By Judy Wiley
ARCHER CITY, Tx. (Reuters) - Hipsters, booksellers and fans from across the country converged on the town where "The Last Picture Show" was filmed to buy a few books - or a truckload - at "The Last Book Sale," writer Larry McMurtry's once-in-a-lifetime auction.
McMurtry amassed 450,000 volumes in his used and rare book business called Booked Up, whose four buildings dominate the tiny municipality. At 76, the famed author said he decided to sell 300,000 volumes at a two-day auction that concludes on Saturday because they would be "a huge burden" for his heirs.
With the auction underway, McMurtry, who wrote "Terms of Endearment," "The Last Picture Show" and more than 20 other novels plus major screenplays such as "Brokeback Mountain" and many works of nonfiction, said he's finished writing fiction.
"I think I had about 20 good years," said the winner of a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1986 for "Lonesome Dove." "Writers don't get better as they get older, they get worse. Fifty is usually the stopping point."
As the crowd gathered for the start of the auction on Friday, Eric Papenfuse, who with his wife Catherine Lawrence owns Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said he planned to rent a tractor-trailer, if necessary, to get their load back home from this tiny outpost about 140 miles northwest of Dallas.
"It's all the talk in the world of antique books," said Papenfuse.
Among the items up for auction was "the McMurtry 101," books or works the author considered special for reasons of his own — not necessarily because they were any more rare or valuable than others.
McMurtry was disappointed to hear that one of them, "The Bounty Hunter," went for only $850. McMurtry said he paid $1,200 for it.
Another item on the list, a collection of erotica by various authors including Henry Miller and Anais Nin, drew the biggest price in early sales Friday, going for $2,750 to Tom Congalton, owner of Between the Covers Rare Books, Inc., in Gloucester City, New Jersey. Congalton said he'll be reselling that collection, which was put together by an Oklahoma oilman, along with everything else he buys. His purchases, he said, could number in the hundreds or the thousands, depending on how the auction goes.
Some of the more than 140 bidders came to add to their personal collections - or simply to be a part of history.
One heavily tattooed woman from Tyler, Texas, says she'll put her books in a booth she operates in Dallas selling oddities along with tattooed furniture and skateboard decks. Wayne and Joyce Waldrop of Houston bought "The Immigrant," written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky's daughter, for a personal collection. Suzanne Vilmain of Santa Fe, New Mexico, a bookmaker, said she's visited Booked Up before, and just wanted to witness the huge sale.
A few people were in town to buy books off the shelf, not at auction, at Booked Up #1, the shop McMurtry plans to keep open with the remaining 150,000 volumes.
After brief remarks at the beginning of the packed auction at Booked Up #4, the author headed to Booked Up #1 to relax in the air-conditioning as temperatures outdoors inched toward 100 degrees.
McMurtry, who suffered a heart attack in January, acknowledged it had been a tiring few days preparing for the massive auction.
While his novel writing days are over, working on screenplays and nonfiction is still a possibility, said McMurtry, who won Academy Awards for his screenplays for "Brokeback Mountain," "Terms of Endearment" and "The Last Picture Show," the last two based on his novels of the same name.
McMurtry grew up outside Archer City, now a town of about 1,900 people.
Although used book collectors and dealers make regular pilgrimages to Booked Up, the auction caused a stir in Archer City, where volunteer Theresa Henry served cookies and bottled water to the travelers at the city visitors' center.
"It's exciting to see company come to town," she said.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg)