Saturday, July 16, 2011

Booked Up

In 1978 or 1979 I found my way to Booked Up, a used book store in Georgetown. Somehow I became aware that the proprietor, a tall, lean fellow, was the novelist Larry McMurtry. During the years I went there,  the most conspicuous of the stock was priced an order of magnitude or two beyond what I could afford..  I did manage to spend between $100 and $200 there over about seven years. And I'm grateful to the proprietors for letting a scruffy fellow with a backpack browse their annex unwatched.

About the middle of the 1980s I found my way to Georgetown and Booked Up less often. Then one day in the 1990s I read that McMurtry had packed up his books and taken them to Archer City, Texas. I'd love to spend a few days browsing his holdings there, but I can't imagine an errand that would take me to Texas.

A couple of years ago McMurtry brought out Books: A Memoir, about his years in the book trade, not just in Washington or Archer City, but in Houston and California and points beyond. It is a slim book, of 109 short chapters, easy to pick up and browse at odd moments. It gives a picture of the antiquarian book business in the days before the internet, when Polaroids of shelves were the most advanced technology in use. I believe that anyone who likes bookstores would enjoy this book. Those who know Washington or Houston would probably enjoy it still more, though I must say that most of his acquaintance in Washington was of a social stratum I know not at all, and Houston I must take entirely on faith.

McMurtry writes that Booked Up was replaced by a a Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Perhaps so, though I think I remember that the short-lived garden store Smith and Hawken had the property about 2002.  I have no idea what's there now, but I doubt it would be a bookstore.


  1. Compared to you, I'm definitely a newcomer--I moved here in January 1995--but I fondly remember D.C.'s many weird little used bookstores: at least one old multi-level place in Georgetown with a barely-marked door, for example, or storefronts in neighborhoods like Woodley Park and Tenleytown, where the rent would be prohibitively expensive today. (Bethesda was dotted with a few such stores, too, including one in a hard-to-find basement...)

  2. Yes, one for another posting. I'm not sure I ever found my may to the basement bookstore in Bethesda.