Larry McMurtry’s Last Book Sale

Archer City.  I was thinking I ought to go, but then I kept thinking it was a bad time: too much coming up that I had to prepare for.  But “The Last Book Sale” was happening and then it would be over, and I would regret having missed it.  Larry McMurtry’s auction of hundreds-of-thousands of books from three of his four buildings of books situated in the heart of tiny Archer City, Texas, was certainly going to be an event, and we felt like somebody from Half Price Books really had to be there, whether we bought any books or not.

It got down to the wire before I started moving things around, making arrangements to go.  I made sure that Joe Madden, the Flagship store’s longtime collectibles expert, was able to accompany me.  We had worked together since the early nineties and I knew he wouldn’t want to miss the auction, and I valued his book opinions and experience.  Turns out, we didn’t get a chance to draw on our book experience after all.

The two-day auction began at 10 a.m. on Friday, August 10, in Building No. 4 of the Booked Up conglomerate.  Joe and I had set out at 6:30 in the morning to drive up from Dallas in time to register as bidders.  We hoped to spend the hour before the bidding, and as much time during the bidding as possible, looking over the lots of books.  There were lots and lots of lots, most consisting of one shelf-column of books.  Well, it seems that the week-long preview period had ended the day before, so we would have no opportunity to scope out the good stuff; we would be going into the auction blind.  If we wanted to bid on any books, it would have to be the luck of the draw.  We figured that the auctioneer would at least note the subject category of each grouping that came up for bidding, but he had so many lots of books to sell that he plowed through, providing only the lot number.

Joe and I had gotten good seats in the overflowing space that had been carved out between bookshelves.  (The planners hadn’t anticipated that more than 150 people would register to bid, and most bidders had guests; there was also the constant presence of newsfolks with cameras and microphones.)  As the auctioneer launched into things and we fully grasped the idea that, if we were to bid it would be a shot in the dark, I leaned over to Joe and asked, “How shall we choose which lot to bid on?”  Joe asked, “How old are you?”  I replied and immediately understood that we would be making a bid on lot 58.  We got it, for $150.  I figured we could get two lots’ worth of books into my minivan, so I decided that we could bid on one additional lot, the one whose number corresponded with Joe’s age.  We got that one, too, for $250.  No idea what kinds of books HPB now owned, but we hoped for the best, and now we could say we’d been involved in a true book event!  At lunch-break time, we went over to check it out, and we’d done all right: mostly oversized books on ships and sailing, military gear and fancy cars.  We paid and loaded up and just absorbed the atmosphere for a while. 

Photo by Michael PaulsenWe ran into JT, whose blog celebrates “pretty books wherever they are.”  She successfully bid on some of the “Books on Books” books.  We talked to various dealers who had traveled in from out of state — Mississippi, Pennsylvania and beyond — to bid on books.  A few had attended just to get one specific book or another from the “McMurtry 100” — a selection of special titles McMurtry picked out to be auctioned individually. 

Mr. McMurtry was there, of course, and said a few words at the outset to thank everyone for coming to West Texas in August.  As he walked off, he said, “Buy some books.”  Half Price Books had bought large quantities of books from McMurtry several times, books that didn’t fit into his mix (or his space availability) but settled nicely into our inventory.  (In an interview long ago, McMurtry had referred to us as a “less judicious bookstore.” We took that as a compliment.)  We’d always found Larry McMurtry to be gracious, soft-spoken and friendly.  The auctioneer echoed our sentiments.

On our drive in, Joe had mentioned Larry McMurtry had married Ken Kesey’s widow, Faye.  She was there, too, staying around quite a bit longer than McMurtry himself, smiling upon the proceedings.  I stood behind her, wondering what it was like to have married two of the great men of American literature.  As an example of the kind of serendipity booklovers relish, I had just the day before bought a copy of Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, after hearing that one of our stores had recently bought an uncorrected proof of this classic about Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters, and I had never read the paperback copy I had back in the 70s.  When I got home from our Archer City journey, I began reading the book, prompted by Joe’s comment.  Right there on page nine was a reference to correspondence between Ken Kesey and his friend Larry McMurtry, and then, on page 27, Wolfe introduces “Kesey’s wife Faye…one of the prettiest, most beatific-looking women I ever saw.”

What will happen to Booked Up, shrunk from four buildings to Building No.1?  What will happen to Archer City, a town that previously contained about 500 books per citizen?  I think Archer City and Booked Up will remain a mecca for booklovers.  The Last Book Sale is a testament to the lure and lore of the ink-on-paper, real book.  A little town full of books drew a great many folks from far and wide.  Some came because it was Larry McMurtry and some came to stock bookstores, but most, I’m sure, came for both reasons.  We love being around books and honor this author who is also a fellow book gatherer.  Let’s hope Larry McMurtry was satisfied with the sale and let’s hope things continue, in some way, shape or form, in Archer City.

Steve is Training Coordinator (aka the “Buy Guy”) at Half Price Books Corporate.

2012 Oscar Nominations & Frontrunners

And it’s official, the nominations are out for the 84th Academy Awards. This time last year, it was already down to a two horse race between The Social Network and The King’s Speech for Best Picture, and the best actor and actress awards were all but locked up by Colin Firth and Natalie Portman. This year, we have a few strong frontrunners, but the competition to take home an Oscar seems more challenging.

Could this be the year for George Clooney to nail down the Best Actor award for his performance in The Descendants? He was nominated two years ago in the leading category for Up In The Air and won a Supporting Actor Oscar for Syriana— and he has won the Golden Globe for The Descendants already. Clooney seems to be one of the Academy favorites these days, so if you had to make an early prediction, this might be a safe bet. I predict it will come down to him or The Artist’s Jean Dujardin.
Speaking of Academy favorites, is there any bigger favorite than Meryl Streep? This is now her 17th nomination, having won only twice for Sophie’s Choice in 1983 and Kramer vs. Kramer in 1980. Streep’s performance was spot on as Margaret Thatcher in Iron Lady, but there are two more to look out for in this category.

The first is Michelle Williams, who played the perfect Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn. She too has a few previous nominations for Blue Valentine and Brokeback Mountain. So she may get a few voters in the Academy thinking it is her time.

Glenn Close is in the same situation, having 5 previous nominations for the likes of Dangerous Liaisons and Fatal Attraction. Close gave a very daring performance portraying a man in Albert Nobbs. Two other actresses, Hillary Swank and Linda Hunt, have won oscars for portraying men in Boys Don’t Cry and The Year Of Living Dangerously.

And lastly, when you figure in Viola Davis in The Help, we are left with one tough category to pick. Streep has to be the odds-on favorite, but as much as the Academy likes nominating her, they also liking voting for someone else in the final ballot.

That brings us to the coveted Best Picture award. With the new nomination requirements, we have a different number of films nominated this year. The Artist (with its 1920s Hollywood glamor) and The Descendants (with its modern-day family drama) are certainly the two frontrunners at the moment. Both have already won Golden Globes for Best Picture in their respective categories. But I won’t discount The Help from the race quite yet either. Based on a bestselling novel, its humble story made audiences everywhere laugh out loud and then leave the theater touched. That combination spells success.  

If you haven’t seen some of the nominated films, get out there and go see them before Oscar night (Sunday, February 26) so you can judge for yourself. Just remember: no talking or texting during the feature presentation.

— Jim

HPB Events In Your Area: November 2011

Hi gang – November is here and a chill is in the air.  The high in Dallas tomorrow is 61 degrees – that’s cold for us, man! Looking to stay warm and do something fun with your family?  Come on down to Half Price Books!  Many of our stores are having fun events throughout November.  Here’s a roundup of some of the latest events.

Coliseum Shoppes Fort Wayne, IN

Help the Local Food Bank

Join Half Price Books in supporting the local Fort Wayne Emergency food bank. Bring your donation to the Coliseum Shoppes HPB in Fort Wayne during regular store hours. We welcome all donations of canned food, dried goods, paper towels, bathroom tissue, dishwashing liquid or laundry detergent. Drive runs Tuesday, November 1 through Saturday, December 31. 

 Cedar Rapids/Collins Road Square – Marion, Iowa  

Lights in a Black Forest Book Signing
Celebrate National Novel Writing Month at Half Price Books! Come to the Cedar Rapids HPB at 7 pm tonight and meet local author Adriana Hartelt-Boettcher of Mt. Vernon who will be reading excerpts from her novel Lights in a Black Forest. You may know her by her pseudonym Martena Warner. Learn more about writing novels during our Q&A time and get your own autographed copy of her book. 


Apple Valley Square – Apple Valley, MN

Children’s Storytime
Pack up your half-pint readers and come to HPB in Apple Valley for this special Children’s Storytime. Sit down and enjoy a good tale with us on Tuesday, November 15 at 11 a.m. Recommended for kids 12 years of age and younger.

Crystal, MN

Children’s Storytime
Pack up your half-pint readers and come to HPB in Crystal for this special Children’s Storytime. Sit down and enjoy a good tale with us at 2 p.m. on Sunday, November 20. Recommended for kids 12 years of age and younger. Juice and cookies will be provided.

Maplewood, MN

Storytime and Crafts
Pack up your half-pint readers and come to HPB in Maplewood on Sunday, November 27 for Storytime and Crafts. Sit down and enjoy a good tale with us at 2 p.m. and stick around afterward for craft time. Readers and arts-and-crafts lovers of all ages are welcome. Storytime recommended for ages 12 and under.

 Northtown – Coon Rapids, MN

Thanksgiving Coloring Contest

Hey kids, pick up a coloring sheet and return it to our Northtown store by Wednesday, November 23, and be entered to win a $10 Half Price Books gift card.  (Northtown location only. Ages 12 and under. Please see bookseller for details.)

 “Share the Plenty” Food Drive

Help the Community Assistance Program of Anoka County this holiday season. Half Price Books is accepting food donations throughout the month of November at our Northtown location only. For every donation, we’ll enter your name in a drawing for a $20 HPB Gift Card. 

Roseville, MN

Clothing Drive

Help a local homeless shelter this holiday season. Half Price Books is accepting new and gently used clothing, including warm winter coats, throughout the month of November at our Roseville location only.

St. Paul, MN

Thanksgiving Drawing

Hey, little pilgrims, Half Price Books would like you to tell us what you’re thankful for. You’ll then be entered in a drawing for a chance to win a $10 HPB Gift Card! Entry forms are available at the St. Paul location only for children 12 and under.  

Fairfield Township – Hamilton, OH

Harry Potter Day on 11.11.11

We hereby proclaim Friday, November 11, 2011 as the unofficial Harry Potter Day at HPB in Hamilton, Ohio. Join us for a day of mischief and magic! Dress up as your favorite character from the J.K. Rowling series and receive 15% off your entire purchase in store. Discount valid 11.11.11 at this location only. Excludes gift cards. 

The Pointe at North Fayette – Pittsburgh, PA

Give Thanks and Help the Local Food Bank 

Join Half Price Books in supporting the local food bank. During the month of November when you shop at the Pointe at North Fayette HPB in Pittsburgh, you’ll have the chance to make a donation in our coin boxes. For each donation of 25 cents or more, you’ll receive a paper turkey feather where you can write down what you’re thankful for this year. When the week of Thanksgiving arrives, we hope our turkey is filled with feathers with notes of gratitude from the community. Collection drive ends Sunday, November 20.  

North Lamar – Austin, TX

Pen 2 Paper Open Reading
In partnership with the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, Half Price Books is hosting an Open Reading from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, November 12 to celebrate the conclusion of the 2nd annual Pen 2 Paper writing contest. Free admission and all are welcome to join us at North Lamar HPB in Austin. If you’re a writer with a disability or have an original work on the topic of disabilities, we invite you to come share at our Open Reading.

Lincoln Square – Arlington, TX

Cat Food & Supply Drive
Join HPB in supporting the Buddies Place Cat Rescue, a Texas-based nonprofit cat rescue organization. Bring a donation of pet supplies – dry and wet cat food, baby blankets, washable beds, small litter boxes and kitty litter – next time you shop at the Lincoln Square HPB in Arlington. Drive ends Saturday, November 12.

Storytime Sundays
Pack up your half-pint readers and come to Lincoln Square HPB in Arlington for Storytime Sundays. Sit down and enjoy a good tale with us at 2 p.m. every Sunday afternoon.  Recommended for kids ranging from infants to 6 years of age. Refreshments will be provided.

Renaissance Square Round Rock, TX

Betty Byron Book Signing
Come to the Renaissance Square HPB in Round Rock on Friday, November 18 at 5 p.m. Local author Betty Byron of Georgetown, Texas will be signing and selling copies of her book Within the Walls of Santo Tomas— historical fiction based on Japanese internment camps at Santo Tomas University in 1942.

Huebner Road – San Antonio

Storytime Sunday

Pack up your half-pint readers and come to the Huebner Road HPB on November 6 (and the first Sunday of every month) for Storytime Sunday at 2 p.m.  Join our staff for a reading of one of our favorite children’s books, geared toward booklovers ages 2-8.

If you don’t see something at your Half Price Books location, check its store page ( throughout the month.  You never know when something may pop up!


Banned Books Awareness Week 2011

From our Springhurst store in LouisvilleHi guys! Y’know, just when I think my family and I are your average, ordinary citizens, I find out that, actually, we’re way-out radicals!  The folks at Half Price Books told me this was Banned Books Awareness Week.  Who knew? Huck Finn, the Twilight Series, even The Bible have all been challenged or banned by some group at one time or another.

Well, darned if I hadn’t read most of ‘em!  And my “wild” wife Jenni … she’s read To Kill a Mockingbird and Peyton Place plenty of times. Our youngest loves all the Harry Potter books, but there’re evidently some people out there that aren’t “just wild about Harry.” Yep, he’s on the list too! And The Joy of Sex was banned in 1972 when Half Price Books first opened their doors … thus creating the term “book lovers!”

Guess we just don’t buy into not having the freedom to read what’s out there if we want. We’ll never stop reading these so-called banned books … or shopping our favorite bookstore, Half Price Books. And if you can believe it, the latest radio ad was even banned from certain stations for being too controversial! 

So hurry in and be a way-out radical too! While you’re there, you might see some of these Banned Books Awareness Week displays the stores are putting up. Pretty creative! 

From our North Lamar store in Austin, Texas

From our Springhurst store in Louisville, Kentucky

From our South Lamar store in Austin, Texas

So, what’s your favorite banned book?

— Jim Swayze

What is 13,694 x 600? (BW Can Do Math Too!)

Now that all 13, 694 participants have turned in their Feed Your Brain Summer Reading logs (with at least 600 minutes each), BW was able to sit down to figure out the approximate total number of minutes read this summer by kids all across the country (see him concentrating?)

DRUMROLL PLEASE . . . . BW is thrilled to announce the GRAND TOTAL is:

OVER* 8,216,400 Minutes Read!!!

*(Because we know that many of you bookworms read well beyond the 600 minute minimum, but BW only has so many fingers to count on.)

Anyway– Wahoo, guys! That’s a LOT of brain food! Said Maxwell, age  9, one of our Top Readers from San Antonio, “Thank you, Half Price Books, for the summer reading program. I’ve read lots of books with the gift cards. I’ve read the whole Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Captain Underpants and Magic Treehouse series. Thank you for the support. I can always find good books I like at a good price at your stores. P.S. We have to read 10-20 books every 6 weeks at my school, and Half Price Books always has what I want.”

Here are some of our Top Readers, who logged the most minutes in their stores’ age groups:



Clockwise from top left: Lorelei, Store 051 (Greenfield, WI); Kyanna, Store 041 (Madison, WI); Megan, Store 051; Peyton, Store 041; Jordan & Talia, Store 063 (Pittsburgh); Lydia Jay, Store 063.

We also had one very special reader, Kiara, whose dad is stationed overseas (first in Afghanistan, then Italy). Kiara was another Top Reader from our Madison store, and she and her mom Karen read over 7,000 minutes this summer! Karen said that she & Kiara read an average of 10 books per day, some of those being chapter books (and since Kiara is only 4, that’s a pretty big deal).

Give them a round of applause! (and one for you too– be sure to keep feeding your brains all school year!) 

 — Kate (and BW)

National Booklover’s Day: We love “Recession Books”

Today is National Book Lover’s Day! We at HPB naturally love books and love that our customers love books! We don’t love the world’s economic woes, but in the spirit of keeping a sense of humor about it, we wanted to share these “Recession Books” prints, which are both funny and fitting:



From Standard Designs on Etsy Do you have any other “Cost-cutting” or “Recession” titles to add?

— Kristen D.

Kids, Reading, Bookworms, Summer & Rewards (Or, Top 5 Things Our Plano Store Loves)

Earlier this week, HPB heard that with the sad news of its closing, many Borders stores would be unable to honor completed reading logs for their “Double Dog Dare Challenge” Summer Reading Program. Luckily, our “Feed Your Brain” Summer Reading Program is wrapping up right now, so we decided to honor completed reading logs from both HPB and Borders customers.  

Ms. Watson with Crossroads Learning Center in Leonard, Texas was very glad to hear this. Every summer, Crossroads hosts its own Summer Reading Program linked with the Borders challenge, so they were most relieved to hear that they could still get credit for their reading minutes through HPB! Yesterday, 48 young bookworms from Crossroads traveled to the Plano, Texas HPB to turn in their completed Borders reading logs in exchange for a $5 HPB Back-to-School Bucks reward

BW, the Half Price Books bookworm, greeted the students on the bus and then directed them to Young Adult and Half Pint Books to shop for their rewards. Kyle Cotten, Assistant Store Manager (pictured below with BW), and Kara Griswold, Dallas North District Inventory Manager, helped the students find what they were looking for, including books about Star Wars and chapter books from Junie B. Jones and The Baby-Sitters Club. One pint-sized student was the last to leave because he was determined to find something “scary,” so HPB bookseller Tracie Miller helped him find Scary Stories by Alvin Swartz. Before the young bookworms loaded the bus to return to school, they posed for a picture with BW and yelled out, “WE LOVE HALF PRICE BOOKS!” (Thanks, kids! We love you too!)

During the Feed Your Brain program, kids 14 and under were encouraged to read at least 15 minutes a day during June and July.  If kids read at least 600 minutes during the summer, they can bring in their completed reading log to their local store through Sunday, August 7 to receive $5 Back-to-School Bucks. HPB stores will award one top reader per age group with a TOP READER prize, a $20 HPB gift card. Although Borders’ Double Dog Dare Challenge readers are not eligible for the Top Reader prize, they can receive the $5 Back-to-School Bucks, which expire August 31.

What do you do during the summer to keep kids reading? Any tips or tricks for keeping young readers excited about learning?

Happy Reading! — Emily

Happy 39th Birthday, HPB!

Today is HPB’s 39th Birthday! On July 27, 1972, we opened our first store in a converted laundromat in Dallas, Texas. Co-founders Ken Gjemre and Pat Anderson stocked the shelves with more than 2,000 books from their personal libraries. Half Price Books was created with the idea of offering a great product at a great price. And it worked! Today, Half Price Books is America’s favorite family-owned new and used bookstore chain with 113 stores in 16 states.

We received a few unexpected birthday gifts this year. First, we’re excited to announce that our Dallas/Fort Worth area shoppers voted us D Magazine‘s “Best Bookstore” in its upcoming August “Best Of Big D” issue. We won both the Editors’ Choice and the Readers’ Choice — no small feat, judging from the competition. Thank you to everyone who voted in Dallas-Fort Worth, but most of all THANK YOU to our customers nationwide! You’re the reason we’ve been able to do what we do for the last 39 years.

Our other unexpected birthday surprise was this ADORABLE video from one of our pint-sized customers we met recently in San Antonio. He attended our San Antonio Grand Opening and definitely wins our Enthusiasm Award. This guy’s invited to the party, for sure 🙂

Isn’t he great? If you can’t get enough of him, here’s a second edition, entitled “Reading is like time-travel, except pocket-sized.”

Thanks again to everyone for your love and loyalty these last 39 years. We’re looking forward to celebrating many more — including BIG PLANS for our 40th birthday next year!

How many of our 39 years have you been shopping at HPB? We’d love to know which location is your favorite!

— Emily (and the entire HPB family)

The Magic of Reading

Two big premieres are happening this week: The Great Opening of our new San Antonio store (hurray!), and the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (sob). To celebrate the two, yesterday we began our Great Opening festivities with “Share the Magic of Reading!” a Harry Potter-inspired reading event that benefitted SA Reads, a collaborative community initiative designed to make grade-level reading a reality for all students.

Yesterday was very eventful at our new Stone Ridge Market store! Shaun Stevens, FOX 29’s fantastic meteorologist, broadcasted live from 7-9 a.m. (his forecast: HOT. With a chance of EVEN HOTTER.) Shaun donned his Harry Potter-style spectacles made from black pipe cleaners, and he was joined by several very enthusiastic Harry Potter fans.

Fox van

Shaun Stevens

Adorable Rex with his Harry Potter glasses

Joseph I-Leach and his sock monkey Scout, who dressed as a wizard just for today. Joseph dressed as a Wizard dressing as a Muggle.

Scout the Sock Monkey.

Wizards of all ages were invited to grab their wands and follow their very own Magician’s Map to reading adventures throughout the store. For every magical minute spent reading, Half Price Books pledged to donate $1 to SA Reads. We’re happy to announce that we met and exceeded our Grand Magical Reading Total goal of 2,000 Minutes!

BW: left to right: Kaden Fulbright, Kaia Fulbright, BW, Allison Evans, Faith Fulbright

Costume Contest: 5 Hermiones & a Harry — Joseph I-Leach and Scout the Sock Monkey also participated, but are not pictured.

Costume Contest Winner: Kaylin Maxwell!

Check out the piece FOX 29 did on the event! »


For your own adventure, download this fun Magic Word Search.

Happy Reading (and watching, for all you Harry Potter midnight movie-goers!) — Emily  

How to Build a (New) Bookstore

We are opening our 113th store on Thursday, and may we just say how grateful we are to be opening stores and not closing them (a thousand thank yous to our customers). To celebrate, we put together this fun video demonstrating all that goes into building and opening a new bookstore– a rare sight these days.

Thanks, friends!

Kristen D.