Larry McMurtry, Walter Benjamin At The Dairy QueenPosted: July 16, 2012
I hate having to say the title of this book when I recommend it. But it is a good read. Larry McMurtry says he was drinking a lime Dr. Pepper (“easily obtainable by anyone willing to buy a lime and a Dr. Pepper”) and reading Walter Benjamin’s essay “The Storyteller,” and then he decided to write this book to work out his subsequent thoughts.
The subtitle is “Reflections At Sixty And Beyond.” It is sort of about the idea of storytelling and oral history, but mostly it seems to be McMurty’s meandering but fascinating musings and memories centered around this fact:
[I] am one of the few writers who can still claim to have had prolonged and intimate contact with first-generation American pioneers, men and women who came to a nearly absolute emptiness and began the filling of it themselves
Here is a good part:
In a tent (later a shack) not far south of our ranch house, in post oak scrub near the West Fork of the Trinity River, lived a woman who had (reportedly) been traded for a whole winter’s catch of skunk hides, the exchange occurring when she was about thirteen. The man who had her (by what right I don’t know) stopped to spend the night in the camp of a skunk trapper, who immediately took a fancy to the girl – such a fancy, indeed, that he offered his winter’s catch for her. The traveler took the hides and left the girl, who lived to bear the trapper many children; she stayed down near West Fork for the rest of her life. When, as an old woman, she would occasionally need to go to town for some reason, she simply walked out to the nearest dirt road and stood, in silence, until some passerby picked her up and took her where she was going. This passerby was often my father, though sometimes it was the school but I rode in. I rode to town with the old woman – once worth more than fifty skunk hides- many times but I never heard her speak a single word.
I saw McMurtry speak once at a screening of “Brokeback Mountain,” which he co-wrote. Someone asked him his writing process. He said that he wakes up in the morning and goes to the typewriter and writes three pages. As soon as he gets to the bottom of page three, even if he’s in the middle of a sentence, he stops. Usually, he said, he’s done by about 8am, and then he spends the day doing whatever – I remember him mentioning he might take a walk in the desert. He also said that found it very important to work every single day, and that the build-up of “momentum” was essential to finishing a book.
Anyway, this walk-in-the-desert lifestyle appealed to me. In another book (Film Flam) McMurtry says he only writes for two hours a day, and suggests that the idea of writers struggling really hard with their work may be a misguided one.