By Larry McMurtry

Debbie: I am a memoir and essay lover, so when I came across Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections on 60 and Beyond by Larry McMurtry, I thought I’d hit the jackpot: I love the Dairy Queen, I am over 60, I like to reflect.  

But as Gini so aptly pointed out to me in a text, It ain’t no Lonesome Dove. 

It ain’t. It really ain’t.  It also isn’t Terms of Endearment or The Last Picture Show or any other of his numerous books we all know and love.

McMurtry is a prolific writer and I’ve loved a lot of his work, but the pace of Walter Benjamin is so slow, I almost fell asleep while reading it. I can meander with the best of them and I love a reflective narrative, but McMurtry’s meandering did not keep my attention. Is it just me? 

Because this book has very high ratings. The book is described as a brilliant work of nonfiction. A Family portrait. A portrait of Texas and a vanishing lifestyle. Interesting possibilities, yes; reality, no.

“Using an essay by the German literary critic Walter Benjamin that he first read in Archer City’s Dairy Queen, McMurtry examines the small-town way of life that big oil and big ranching have nearly destroyed” relates the jacket cover.

Perhaps I love his novels but not his memoirs?  It seemed a little forced at times, like he had to do this. The book also contains a bit of literary criticism and maybe I just don’t like that highfalutin (that’s my nod to the author’s love of the west) jargon.

It’s not that I hate the book, but I feel indifferent. There certainly are some great sections, so if you love books about books, storytelling, cowboys, rural life, and the west, interwoven with literary criticism, written by a curmudgeon, then this is the book for you. 

Lest I leave you with a bad feeling about McMurtry, let me strongly suggest that you read Lonesome Dove. Even if you think you don’t like westerns, this one should be on everyone’s life list. It’s a novel, not a memoir and I think that is where I fall on this debate. I think I’ll stick to his fiction.

Gini: I began reading our November book with tremendous anticipation, thinking about the wonders of McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. I knew that Dairy Queen contained a variety of essays on memories, reading, and book scouting, however, I expected impact rather than, “Really?”. 

This book denigrates authors, bookstores, and even cowgirls, so I struggle for positivity. Sound points exist: “to herd a few desirable words into a sentence, and then corral them into small pastures called paragraphs, before spreading the spacious ranges of a novel.” 

I relate to this metaphor. Having herded hogs, I connect directly to the struggle of holding ideas together as wily critters scheme an escape.

Later the author states, “I am less interested in explication than I am in hearing about books and authors I haven’t read.” Then he instantly returns his two chosen ones: Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf, describing their writing as rivers of language as well as rivers of gossip. Having read both, I agree they are talented, but literature flows from many other splendid authors and it feels wrong to relegate all relevance to this duo. McMurtry also says that when he writes he senses a tension with reading. I find that diverse reading expands my writing potential as my mind reels with new ideas and unique word configurations along with the exasperation of poorly written passages that cause my toes to curl. Honestly…

On an encouraging note, excellent descriptions of southern Dairy Queens abound. Such eateries form a central meeting place for residents to gather and chat over a delectable beverage, lime Dr. Pepper (yikes!), in a comfortable setting. 

Walter Benjamin’s storytelling gathers steam from the crowd of oil personnel, coffee drinkers, and gossipers of local scandals with a few nomads’ tales tossed in, just as McMurtry’s observations do the same. 

When he revisits the topic of reading, he makes an important point on eschewing reading lists as they may narrow focus and defeat chances for open-mindedness. 

I concur since I know the value of book clubs where an expanse of genres motivates discussion. Even with this stamp of list disapproval, who pops up for an encore: Proust and Woolf.