In the Sunday New York Times Book Review, I ran across this review of Larry McMurtry's latest book Books: A Memoir. I reviewed this book a couple weeks ago after having won an arc from Stephanie at So Many Books. I was really excited about it because I love this sort of thing -- a book about books and the people who love them. What could be better, right? Well, I was less than enthusiastic about the book and disappointed that I couldn't recommend it. I always hate doing negative reviews, and I really don't do very many. The main reason for this is that I don't usually finish a book if I don't like it after about the first 50 pages or so. With a to-be-read mountain the size of Mt. Everest, I can't afford to waste my precious reading time on books I don't enjoy. Plus, I always feel less than qualified to critique a book. But, I don't pretend to be a literary critic. I just give my honest opinion about the books I read.
When I read this review by James Campbell, a literary critic in the New York Times, I felt completely vindicated. Hey, maybe I do know what I'm talking about after all. It seems we both had the same problems with the book. Of course, he was a little more eloquent in his review. But, that's O.K. Below are a couple of quotes from the review that pretty much sum up my feelings.
“Books: A Memoir” reads like notes waiting to be assembled into a book. Many of its 109 chapters run to under a page, and McMurtry has a fondness for single-sentence paragraphs, a technique that carries a built-in resistance to amplitude.
“Books: A Memoir” has an engagingly conversational style in places, but after a time it comes to seem like mumbling: “As I may have mentioned in an earlier book, ‘Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen,’ the only books I can remember buying at Joe Petty’s bookshop, on my first pass at least, were by the Frenchman Romain Rolland. Why him? Didn’t he win the Nobel Prize? If so, why?” Does he mean: if he did win it, why? Or: if he didn’t win it, why? Hard to say (he did win it).
There is a good book in “Books,” struggling to get past all the “I’m not sures” and “I don’t knows” and the truisms (“choice is a mystery”) that McMurtry’s editors should have saved him from.
Has anyone else read this one? I'd love to know what you think.
By the way, the image is of McMurtry's bookstore in Archer City, Texas, which was used by Campbell in his review.