News & Politics

RIP Larry McMurtry, Whose Georgetown Bookstore Was a DC Literary Center

The Lonesome Dove author saw himself as "essentially a bookseller."

The acclaimed novelist Larry McMurtry died Thursday at 84. His books were often adapted to screens big and small, including Lonesome DoveTerms of Endearment, and The Last Picture Show.

McMurtry is most often associated with Texas, but he lived in the Washington area for years, in Loudoun County and later in Georgetown. The latter address was necessary for him to tend to Booked Up, the bookshop he operated on 31st and M streets, Northwest, from the early ’70s onward. Around that time, as he wrote in a 2008 book called Books: A Memoir, “I began to view myself as essentially a bookseller…. Writing was my vocation, but I had written a lot, and it was no longer exactly a passion.” McMurtry wrote that he often sold books to journalists, but that:

In our 32 years in Georgetown, Booked Up sold only one real book to a member of Congress. Senator Charles Mathias of Maryland bought a very fine edition of Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire from us, and he read it. Otherwise, the only sale we made to a member of Congress was a $4 book on cartooning that we sold to Bob Eckhardt of Texas, who aspired to be a cartoonist. Gary Hart, pre– and post–Donna Rice, often browsed, but I don’t recall that he bought.

Booked Up closed in the mid-’90s after McMurtry moved his major book-dealing operations to his hometown of Archer City, Texas. (His DC headquarters “would soon be acquired by something more upscale: a Pottery Barn, as it turned out, and a fancy spa,” he wrote in 2008.) In 2012 he sold off about 300,000 books, about three quarters of his stock, in what the Atlantic described at the time as an attempt to “remove what might become a liability to his heirs, who are unfamiliar with the book trade.”

McMurtry wrote that the success of The Last Picture Show won him fleeting local fame as well as invitations to fancy functions at the DC home of the politician and diplomat David K.E. Bruce and Evangeline Bruce:

At Evangeline’s brunches, she liked to serve quail eggs (good) and honey-soaked bacon (bad). The one time I went to dinner at Evangeline’s house—David Bruce was “late” by then—the guests of honor were Roy Jenkins, a jovial-enough English pol, and Conrad Black, the tycoon recently convicted of fraud at a trial in Chicago. Lord Black is now, I believe, in jail—but, hey, what’s a salon without a rogue or two?

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.