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Walter Benjamin At The Dairy Queen

I recently finished reading Larry McMurtry's Walter Benjamin At The Dairy Queen. It's one of his rare non-fiction books, a loose mixture of literary essay, autobiography, and history. It's mostly about what it's like to be a congenital bookworm who was born in Texas and grew up in cowboy country. McMurtry's real life dilemma provides as much narrative tension as you would need for any good novel.

The title refers to McMurtry's reading Walter Benjamin's essay The Storyteller while in a Dairy Queen in Archer City, Texas. Benjamin's thesis is that as communities fragment, the storyteller gives way to the novelist, a more solitary figure. McMurtry notes that the Dairy Queen is the kind of gathering place where a storyteller might still thrive.

The storyteller hadn't completely vanished when McMurtry was a child. He recalls an old woman who had been traded for skunk hides when she was young. There is another story about a German immigrant who got up, milked his cows, and then shot himself. McMurtry ponders why he milked his cows first, and why the locals seemed more concerned with  the man's cows than this wife.

He didn't explicitly mention it, but the incident and it's aftermath demonstrate that there can be a bridge between the oral story and the novel.
The incident itself is a good story. But explorations of the man's motivation, and the reaction of the local cowboys is the stuff of novels.

The entire work is drenched with  McMurtry's love of books and literature. He is even more of a book lover than I am,. If books were intoxicating substances, i would be the guy that drinks too much on Saturday night. McMurtry would be Lindsay Lohan. He reads books, writes them, and sells them out of several book stores he own.

He especially loves Don Quixote. I knew this from his mention of it in Books: A Memoir, but he discusses it in more depth here. One of the reasons he is drawn to Don Quixote is that he identifies with a character who loves books so much. He compares a childhood relationship with a ranchhand to the relationship Sancho Panza had with Don Quixote.

Throughout the book, he does an admirable job of weaving together life in the recently settled America west with reflections on lterature and stories. Even though the it is short, there is much here that is worth rereading. It's worth owning, which is ironic since I was actually a good boy and checked it out of the library. After I return my copy to the library, I may give in to old bad habits and buy a copy.