These are the thoughts of a Texas transplant in West Michigan who makes his living as a newspaper reporter by evening, and a struggling novelist by day.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

a lot alike

i got through reading larry mcmurtry's "walter benjamin at the dairy queen" a some days ago. it was my second read of the book, first having read it more than five years ago.

i noted there were similarities between mcmurtry and myself then, but i paid them no mind. the book had little impact on me then. though, this second read put things into clearer perspective.

mcmurtry was born and raised in archer county texas. he spent a lot of time on horses before heading off to rice university and attaining a degree. he didn't return to his birthplace until 30 years later. and so the novel is a semi-autobiographical sketch, peppered with mcmurtry's views on certain authors and his views on reading books.

i, like mcmurtry, spent early years on a ranch; though, i didn't really ride a horse until my 2os. we had cattle but no horses. i was a poor excuse for a rancher, too. i tagged along with my dad and brother, uncles and held my own, but i was never any good at it.

i, too, left to get educated. i didn't go hundreds of miles, though. i went a mere 40 miles to kingsville. i struggled and struggled and struggled. i don't think i got the educational experience mcmurtry received, but i learned and i appreciated some authors, some more than others.

though, i went back to the ranch, i left and now live in michigan.

our fathers struggled to make a living. while mcmurtry's father worked at a ranch all his life, my had to get a job (for the king ranch) and ranched on the side. both depended on cattle prices and renting properties to keep the cattle.

i mcmurtry described his hometown as a town without books. growing up, we had no books in san diego. we had small school libraries, but no public libraries where we could go get books. it's been only in the past 10 years that the san diego library has been going and growing (in the careful hands of b.j.), and what a struggle that has been. ah, la politica, hermanos. to get books, we had to order through rif or some school programs. some times we did go to the library and that's where i checked out many books.

at home, though, what helped meout was an outdated set of the world encyclopedia. it was from the 1960s (and early '60s). i don't know where we got them or who gave them to us (i suspect dad got them from an employer at the king ranch). i went through them, over and over again. i'd pick up any volume and glance through it. it was a geek thing to do, but i learned a lot from them. i still remember the mammal section with color pictures of various animals, the bird section with many birds that i tried to match to birds i saw at the ranch, large sections on the world wars, snakes, fish and anything else you could imagine. later, my little sister linda put gum on some of the pages and they got stuck together. she used to do that. (she also used to swallow gum. ha ha)

there also was another set of books that were similar, but not as fun. the volume i liked on there was titled "atlas." each page had a map of a country, u.s. state or province. i went through that volume. to this day, i love going through atlases or maps. i get a perverse pleasure out of it.

those books were my earliest experiences with books. i don't know whatever happened to the encyclopedias or the other volumes. but some time during the 1990s, they disappeared. i guess being outdated, someone figured they should go. i wished i could have kept the atlas book.

at time went on, i read stuff like encyclopedia brown (see a pattern there?), stuff on ghosts, monsters and weird shit in the world, i progressed to reading alfred hitchcock presents the three investigators, which i started reading in seventh grade. two friend and i would go to tthe junior high library during lunch and read. i have fond memories of reading about the adventures of jupiter jones, bob andrews and pete crenshaw. i know, still a geek. recently while at an estate sale, we came across some hardcover copies of a few of the books and we bought them. they're important to me.

it was during this time that i saw the cover of stephen king's "pet sematary" at the kroger store in alice. it was on paperback. i bought it. loved it. and that started my love affair with king novels.

a major difference between mcmurtry and myself (besides being a published author) is our eye sight. he can go through books much quicker than i can. and while he can pick up any book anywhere and read it, i am limited to books that are available on cassette or cd. not all books i'd like to read are available. and sometimes i have to wait to read a book. luckily, our library in holland belongs to a coop that allows us to get books on audio.

because of this, i don't collect many books. it's rare i buy books. one, because we can't afford to buy them, but, two, i most likely am not going to read them on my own. so until we get the space and money to where i can buy and store books (two things i'd like to do in the future), i'll stick to my smallish collection. mcmurtry, though, well, he's got tens of thousands of books.

anyway, that's my two cents worth. read the book. it's good.