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Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen : Reflections on Sixty and Beyond Paperback – August 7, 2001

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Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen : Reflections on Sixty and Beyond + In a Narrow Grave : Essays on Texas + The Last Kind Words Saloon: A Novel
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Do you really want to listen to a cranky old man ramble on about his childhood, his heart surgery, his hobbies, his son, and the way things, in general, aren't what they used to be? It turns out you do. In Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, Larry McMurtry comes the old pardner, and the result is a powerful elegy for the lost spaces in American life. He takes as his starting point an afternoon he spent at the Dairy Queen in Archer City, Texas, reading the pensées of early 20th-century German philosopher Walter Benjamin. At the time Benjamin was writing, McMurtry's grandparents were settling dusty reaches of west Texas, and McMurtry crosscuts neatly between Benjamin's spent, smoky Europe and his own grandparents' America: "While my grandparents were dealing with almost absolute emptiness, both social and cultural, Europe was approaching an absolute (and perhaps intolerable) density." McMurtry demonstrates a confidence almost bordering on naiveté in the way he appropriates the great thinking of Europe and applies it to his own history. He apologizes neither to the highfalutin Europeans nor to the down-home Americans, but makes them lie down together any way he sees fit. This brio makes Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen a thrilling read.

McMurtry's book-length essay loops outward from Archer City to encompass a polemic against computers, a foray into the world of book collecting, a family biography, an account of his soul-loss after heart surgery, and finally an elegy for the cowboy. This last lament casts a shadow back over what we've read. Not just over this book, but over McMurtry's whole body of work. A man who's lived his whole life in print gives us a glimpse of what has fed him, and, strangely, it's loss. "Because of when and where I grew up, on the Great Plains just as the herding tradition was beginning to lose its vitality, I have been interested all my life in vanishing breeds." The master of storytelling is finally revealed as a master of melancholy. --Claire Dederer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

After reading an essay by Walter Benjamin in a Dairy Queen during his hometown's centennial celebration, McMurtry set out to ponder how Benjamin's conclusions about the death of the oral tradition apply to his own desolate patch of Texas cattle country. That essay, "The Storyteller," is the touchstone McMurtry returns to throughout this digressive, erudite and frequently glum assessment of his career and the importance of storytelling. "Real curiosity," he writes, "now gets little chance to developAit's smothered with information before it can draw a natural breath." Taking a break from writing fiction to think "about place, about my life, about literature and my relation to it," the bestselling author (Comanche Moon, etc.) and purveyor of antiquarian books offers prickly appraisals of great writers. A devotee of European literature, McMurtry considers Virginia Woolf's diaries and Proust's 12-volume opus the White Nile and Blue Nile of language. As for critics, he spurns theorists for those he considers great readers (Susan Sontag, Edmund Wilson and V.S. Pritchett, among others). Surveying his own two dozen books, he feels much like his cattle ranching father at the end of his life, contemplating his "too meager acres" and concluding he could have done more. At the same time, McMurtry claims he has exhausted the themes that interest him and hints that he may be done with fiction for good. The most infectious element in this book-length essay is McMurtry's passion for reading, which was rooted in boyhood and blossomed into a lifelong quest to understand the European culture that spawned his own pioneer familyAa quest that brings him full circle back to Benjamin. It all adds up to a thoughtful, elegant retrospective on Texas, his work and the meaning of reading by an author who has the range to write with intelligence about both Proust and the bathos of a Holiday Inn marquee.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st Touchstone Ed edition (August 7, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684870193
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684870199
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #310,345 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Larry McMurtry is the author of twenty-nine novels, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lonesome Dove. His other works include two collections of essays, three memoirs, and more than thirty screenplays, including the coauthorship of Brokeback Mountain, for which he received an Academy Award. His most recent novel, When the Light Goes, is available from Simon & Schuster. He lives in Archer City, Texas.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey M. Lacio on October 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
For those that aren't familiar with Larry McMurtry's body of work, this book will seem to be a stand-alone effort. But, in reality, it is truly a sequel to his first book of essays - "In A Narrow Grave: Essays On Texas" (1968). If one hasn't read "Narrow Grave", it should probably be read first (or re-read if one hasn't recently). As far as storytellers go (the tie-in to "Walter Benjamin At The DQ"), McMurtry is certainly the last gifted storyteller concerning the Texas from the 1880's through this century. This new book is, I suspect, just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the experiences of his dozens of now-deceased family members that he could set down either as straight history or as material for a definitive character (perhaps the "biography" of Sam the Lion prior to "The Last Picture Show"). Regardless, the things learned about McMurtry's own life are both endearing and entertaining. After reading the books, one should visit both Archer County and Archer City to try and soak up some of the elements that are a part of Larry McMurtry (and, of course, having a lime Dr Pepper at the DQ shouldn't be missed; neither should a visit to the bookstores where he has rounded up his herds of books - it's quite an experience).
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 20, 1999
Format: Hardcover
McMurtry has proven himself and his talent time after time in a long career at the very top of his profession. His homey Americana themes are universal, his catchy, light-hearted prose is regionally charming and his lively plotting certainly has more depth than that of John Steinbeck (and I'm a big Steinbeck fan, by the way). McMurtry's latest, "Walter Benjamin At The Dairy Queen" (subtitled "Reflections at Sixty and Beyond") is the autobiography his legions of fans have been eagerly anticipating for decades. In the summer of 1980, McMurtry sat in a booth at the Dairy Queen on the southern outskirts of Archer City and studied "The Storyteller," Walter Benjamin's classic, in-depth essay on the nature of narrative. With Benjamin's ideas in mind, McMurtry began exploring his own narrative nature. How was it, McMurtry wondered, that a shy young man raised in a desolate, harsh place that had just recently been settled, "...a place where absolutely nothing of any cultural or historical importance had ever happened..." became an accomplished novelist? And a successful one at that? As documented in "Walter Benjamin At The Dairy Queen," McMurtry's search for answers to this and similar questions over the nearly 20 years since beginning his journey of self-discovery is truly remarkable. Spread generously among the provable academic facts, are some of the most revealing life details of this most private of word masters. For instance, even though he virtually grew up in the saddle, riding herd on a hard-working, dry land cattle ranch, McMurtry never considered himself a cowboy; and never wanted to. Instead, he yearned for nothing more strenuous or complicated than owning good books. In fact, McMurtry took up writing only because of his life-long love of reading.Read more ›
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Linda Gaines on December 12, 1999
Format: Hardcover
The New York Times called this a peculiar book but they must not read much Larry McMurtry. This was a wonderful series of essays explaining much of the writing that he has done during his lifetime. I copied many of the sentences Larry wrote about reading because they were my experiences also. I too grew up on a farm and my reading habit is directly connected to that life. My love of reading is my life, and many of my favorite books are ones by Larry McMurtry. He can describe people better than most other authors. I have a better understanding of how he does that now that I've read this book. The honesty that Larry uses in describing his own life is startling. I'm going to look up Walter Benjamin now, I'm intrigued with the storyteller quotation.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Robert Richmond on January 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Thirty years ago I read McMurtry's first book of essays, In a Narrow Grave. Now he has written the other bookend. Dairy Queen is a wonderful book. McMurtry lived at the right time--his life was at a watershed in history. He stands on the dry land between the nothingness of West Texas and the affluence of today. He has enough sense to connect the two with a good deal of nuance. Be careful, you'll get dust in your mouth reading about the dry, hot West Texas hard scrabble. McMurtry has announced that he is finished writing fiction; if this is his last book it will be a capstone. I read the book in one sitting and I marked it up as I read it. I liked it so much simply because McMurtry's journey is the journey of most humans. We can't wait to leave home--we make new lives away from home--and then, if we are lucky, we return home with forgiveness and understanding, knowing full well that we are very much a part of where we grew up. To be able to understand this and to be at peace with himself in the winter of his life--that's where McMurtry is and he has had the kindess to take the reader along for the ride.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Scheer on July 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
I've read much more of Larry McMurtry's fiction than his nonfiction, and sometimes I find myself enjoying his nonfiction a great deal more. His wry, humorous point of view, gift for quiet irony, and depth of thought come across so much more strongly in his own voice, compared to those of the characters in his novels. And while I am very fond of "Leaving Cheyenne," "Horseman, Pass By" and "The Last Picture Show," my favorite McMurtry novels, it is an equal pleasure to be in the presence of the man himself, as he reveals himself in the essays in this book.

Writing in his 62nd year, McMurtry lets himself free associate across a number of subjects; his life as a compulsive reader and book collector; the brief span of West Texas frontier history where three generations of McMurtrys lived, worked, and multiplied; the realities and myths of cowboys and ranching; his education at Rice in Houston; a short story writing course at Stanford with Frank O'Connor; his life as a novelist; the making of the movie "The Last Picture Show"; the passing of the urban secondhand bookstores; the emergence of Dairy Queens as social centers in small towns; the Archer City, Texas, centennial celebration; the demise of storytelling; the fragmentation of the American family; the importance of Proust and Virginia Woolf at a critical point in his life; the winning of the Pulitzer Prize for "Lonesome Dove"; and - most remarkably - his descent into a fierce depression following heart surgery in his 50s, from which he has not completely recovered at the time he was writing this book.

There is a deep melancholy in many McMurtry novels, played sometimes for laughs, as in "Texasville" (where characters hang out at the Dairy Queen).
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