Cover image for Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen : reflections at sixty and beyond
Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen : reflections at sixty and beyond
McMurtry, Larry.
Personal Author:
[Large print edition].
Publication Information:
Thorndike, Me. : Thorndike Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
288 pages (large print) ; 23 cm
General Note:
Originally published: New York : Simon & Schuster, c1999.
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3563.A319 Z475 1999B Adult Large Print - Floating collection Floating Collection - Large Print

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Nobody writes about Texas like Larry McMurtry. Now, in an unforgettable work of nonfiction as close to autobiography as we are likely to see, this inimitable writer presents a sly but revealing self-portrait that also frames the larger story of Texas itself. McMurtry examines the small-town way of life that big oil and big ranching have nearly destroyed. He writes with feeling about his own experiences as a writer, celebrity, parent, and heart patient, and lays bare the raw material that helped to shape his life's work.

Author Notes

Larry McMurtry, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, among other awards, is the author of twenty-four novels, two collections of essays, two memoirs, more than thirty screenplays, & an anthology of modern Western fiction. He lives in Archer City, Texas.

(Publisher Provided) Novelist Larry McMurtry was born June 3, 1936 in Wichita Falls, Texas. He received a B.A. from North Texas State University in 1958, an M.A. from Rice University in 1960, and attended Stanford University. He married Josephine Ballard in 1959, divorced in 1966, and had one son, folksinger James McMurtry.

Until the age of 22, McMurtry worked on his father's cattle ranch. When he was 25, he published his first novel, "Horseman, Pass By" (1961), which was turned into the Academy Award-winning movie Hud in 1962. "The Last Picture Show" (1966) was made into a screenplay with Peter Bogdanovich, and the 1971 movie was nominated for eight Oscars, including one for best screenplay adaptation. "Terms of Endearment" (1975) received little attention until the movie version won five Oscars, including Best Picture, in 1983.

McMurtry's novel "Lonesome Dove" (1985) won the Pulitzer Prize in 1986 and the Spur Award and was followed by two popular TV miniseries. The other titles in the Lonesome Dove Series are "Streets of Laredo" (1993), "Dead Man's Walk" (1995), and "Comanche Moon" (1997). The other books in his Last Picture Show Trilogy are "Texasville" (1987) and "Duane's Depressed" (1999).

McMurtry suffered a heart attack in 1991 and had quadruple-bypass surgery. Following that, he suffered from severe depression and it was during this time he wrote "Streets of Laredo," a dark sequel to "Lonesome Dove." His companion Diana Ossana, helping to pull him out of his depression, collaborated with him on "Pretty Boy Floyd" (1994) and "Zeke and Ned" (1997). He co-won the Best Screenplay Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Brokeback Mountain in 2006. He made The New York Times Best Seller List with his title's Custer and The Last Kind Words Saloon.

McMurtry is considered one of the country's leading antiquarian book dealers.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In a career that spans four decades and includes more than 20 books and a Pulitzer Prize, McMurtry has earned a place as one of our most gifted storytellers. Of course, the personal musings and recollections of great novelists are not necessarily interesting: in fact, they can sometimes prove as frightfully boring as watching a neighbor's home movies. Thankfully, McMurtry has a lot on his mind, and in this delightful and rambling but never boring "essay," he eloquently shares his musings. McMurtry describes his early life on the plains of west Texas, for his grandparents were true pioneers who arrived on land where the Commanches and Kiowas had reigned supreme just a few decades earlier. He recounts with passion and remarkable insight the struggles of his parents to keep their ranch afloat; his own decision to break with that life seems both sad and inevitable. In his ruminations on the craft of writing, McMurtry bemoans the decline of storytelling in our everyday lives and provides stimulating and provocative analyses on writers from Cervantes to Sontag. Although the subject matter is wide ranging, this brilliant memoir has two dominant themes: McMurtry's love for the printed word and his love (perhaps in spite of himself) for the West that nurtured and inspired him. --Jay Freeman

Publisher's Weekly Review

After reading an essay by Walter Benjamin in a Dairy Queen during his hometown's centennial celebration, McMurtry set out to ponder how Benjamin's conclusions about the death of the oral tradition apply to his own desolate patch of Texas cattle country. That essay, "The Storyteller," is the touchstone McMurtry returns to throughout this digressive, erudite and frequently glum assessment of his career and the importance of storytelling. "Real curiosity," he writes, "now gets little chance to developÄit's smothered with information before it can draw a natural breath." Taking a break from writing fiction to think "about place, about my life, about literature and my relation to it," the bestselling author (Comanche Moon, etc.) and purveyor of antiquarian books offers prickly appraisals of great writers. A devotee of European literature, McMurtry considers Virginia Woolf's diaries and Proust's 12-volume opus the White Nile and Blue Nile of language. As for critics, he spurns theorists for those he considers great readers (Susan Sontag, Edmund Wilson and V.S. Pritchett, among others). Surveying his own two dozen books, he feels much like his cattle ranching father at the end of his life, contemplating his "too meager acres" and concluding he could have done more. At the same time, McMurtry claims he has exhausted the themes that interest him and hints that he may be done with fiction for good. The most infectious element in this book-length essay is McMurtry's passion for reading, which was rooted in boyhood and blossomed into a lifelong quest to understand the European culture that spawned his own pioneer familyÄa quest that brings him full circle back to Benjamin. It all adds up to a thoughtful, elegant retrospective on Texas, his work and the meaning of reading by an author who has the range to write with intelligence about both Proust and the bathos of a Holiday Inn marquee. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

When McMurtry (of Lonesome Dove fame) was coming up in Archer County, TX, books other than the Bible were as scarce as company. In this roundabout and finely written memoir, McMurtry approaches the topic of storytelling (using German literary critic Benjamin as a springboard) by telling his own. (LJ 10/1/99) (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter 1 In the summer of 1980, in the Archer City Dairy Queen, while nursing a lime Dr Pepper (a delicacy strictly local, unheard of even in the next Dairy Queen down the road -- Olney's, eighteen miles south -- but easily obtainable by anyone willing to buy a lime and a Dr Pepper), I opened a book called Illuminations and read Walter Benjamin's essay "The Storyteller," nominally a study of or reflection on the stories of Nikolay Leskov, but really (I came to feel, after several rereadings) an examination, and a profound one, of the growing obsolescence of what might be called practical memory and the consequent diminution of the power of oral narrative in our twentieth-century lives. The place where I first read the essay, Archer City's Dairy Queen, was apposite in more ways than one. Dairy Queens, simple drive-up eateries, taverns without alcohol, began to appear in the arid little towns of west Texas about the same time (the late sixties) that Walter Benjamin's work began to arrive in the English language -- in the case of Illuminations, beautifully introduced by Hannah Arendt. The aridity of the small west Texas towns was not all a matter of unforgiving skies, baking heat, and rainlessness, either; the drought in those towns was social, as well as climatic. The extent to which it was moral is a question we can table for the moment. What I remember clearly is that before the Dairy Queens appeared the people of the small towns had no place to meet and talk; and so they didn't meet or talk, which meant that much local lore or incident remained private and ceased to be exchanged, debated, and stored as local lore had been during the centuries that Benjamin describes. The Dairy Queens, by providing a comfortable setting that made possible hundreds of small, informal local forums, revived, for a time, the potential for storytelling of the sort Walter Benjamin favored. Whether what he favored actually occurred, as opposed to remaining potential, is a question I want to consider in this essay. On that morning in 1980, Benjamin's tremendous elegy to the storyteller as a figure of critical importance in the human community prompted me to look around the room, at that hour of the morning lightly peopled with scattered groups of coffee drinkers, to see whether I could. spot a loquacious villager who -- even at that late cultural hour -- might be telling a story. And if so, was anyone really listening? Certainly if there were places in west Texas where stories might sometimes be told, those places would be the local Dairy Queens: clean, well-lighted places open commonly from 6 A.M. until ten at night. These Dairy Queens combined the functions of tavern, café, and general store; they were simple local roadhouses where both rambling men and stay-at-homes could meet. To them would come men of all crafts and women of all dispositions. The oilmen would be there at six in the morning; the courthouse crowd would show up about ten; cowboys would stop for lunch or a midafternoon respite; roughnecks would jump out of their trucks or pickups to snatch a cheeseburger as their schedules allowed; and the women of the villages might appear at any time, often merely to sit and mingle for a few minutes; they might smoke, sip, touch themselves up, have a cup of coffee or a glass of iced tea, sample the gossip of the moment, and leave. Regular attendance was necessary if one hoped to hear the freshest gossip, which soon went stale. Most local scandals were flogged to death within a day or two; only the steamiest goings-on could hold the community's attention for as long as a week. And always, there were diners who were just passing through, few of whom aspired to stay in Archer City. They stopped at the Dairy Queen as they would at a gas station, to pee and take in fuel, mindful, gloomily, that it was still a good hundred miles even to Abilene, itself no isle of grace. Few of these nomads, if they had stories to tell, bothered to tell them to the locals -- and if they had wanted to tell a story or two, it is doubtful that anyone would have listened. People on their way to Abilene might as well be on their way to hell -- why talk to them? Folks in Archer City knew the way to hell well enough; they need seek no guidance from traveling men. All day the little groups in the Dairy Queen formed and re-formed, like drifting clouds. I stayed put, imbibed a few more lime Dr Peppers, and reread "The Storyteller," concluding that Walter Benjamin was undoubtedly right. Storytellers were nearly extinct, like whooping cranes, but the D.Q. was at least the right tide pool in which to observe the few that remained. "The Storyteller" had been published in a journal called Orient und Okzident in the year of my birth (1936, well before electricity had arrived in the rural parts of the county where I grew up; it arrived, dramatically, when I was five, courtesy, we all felt, of FDR). It was startling to sit in that Dairy Queen, reading the words of a cosmopolitan European, a man of Berlin, Moscow, Paris, and realize that what he was describing with a clear sad eye was more or less exactly what had happened in my own small dusty county in my lifetime. I was born, in the year of the essay, into a world of rural storytellers -- and what had become of them? Were any of the coffee drinkers sitting nearby doing any more than escaping the heat? Were they exchanging experiences, were they curious about life, or were they just hot? If the latter, they could hardly be blamed -- the temperature had soared to a Sudan-like 116 that day, forcing the cancellation of the long-awaited (a century awaited), first ever Archer County marathon, a much anticipated high spot of the county's centennial celebration, itself a fortnight-long event, or congeries of events, which I had come home to watch. The celebration was certainly appropriate, but the marathon was a different matter, one in which I personally had not been able to invest much belief. Though I had long made a living by imagining unlikely lives, it was nonetheless not easy to imagine the county's dairy farmers and roughnecks and cowboys, and their wives or women, lumbering along the county's roads for anything like twenty-six miles. The marathoners, if any, would undoubtedly be imports, pros or semipros whose connection to our one-hundred-year-old county would very likely be negligible. All the same, calling off the run on a day when it was going to be 116 seemed a wise, even a compassionate policy. At 116 Fahrenheit people are likely to drop dead while doing nothing more strenuous than picking their teeth. Copyright © 1999 by Larry McMurtry Excerpted from Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections at Sixty and Beyond by Larry McMurtry All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.