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From Lonesome Dove to Lonesome Book Lover

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The stars came out for a love of Larry McMurtry, just as 45 years ago McMurtry came out to Los Angeles, and kept coming back - for a love of books.

McMurtry won a Pulitzer Prize for Lonesome Dove, one of his 40-plus books. Many of them have become films -- The Last Picture Show and Terms of Endearment and Horseman, Pass By, which became Hud. He co-wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay to Brokeback Mountain.

A video tribute screened during the Los Angeles Public Library's literary awards dinner on Wednesday corralled the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Diane Lane and Jeff Bridges to laud McMurtry as a creative force, and a teller of truths as well as tales. His friend, the actress and photographer Diane Keaton, was there to hand McMurtry his award [along with a droll print of her photo of a pair of taxidermied co-joined sheep that she and McMurtry had come across on some shared adventure.

It was McMurtry himself who delivered the sorrowful note of the evening - which coincided with the day that Dutton's, a renowned Los Angeles independent bookstore, closed its doors.

When McMurtry came to LA in 1963, he said, the thing that made LA life possible for a bibliophile from Texas, and left him defending LA's reputation throughout the world for four decades, was LA's 115 second-hand bookstores.

Six were on Hollywood Boulevard, and they stayed open until midnight - a marvel for a Texan whose small town rolled up the sidewalks by 8.

He can still name 75 of them, but whenever he starts to, he can't get past the first three without tearing up. "Even thinking about them makes me cry.'' And as independent bookstores have vanished from LA like the cowboy from the West, it "makes me very sad to come here now.''

The crowd at the Library Foundation was well-dressed and well-heeled, and every eye was on McMurtry's damp eyes, as he stood onstage in his boots and jeans and a wide red tie that surely dated from the Carter administration.

He read - tried to read - part of a Philip Larkin poem called "Going, Going,'' but then he got to ''the stanza that always kills me'' and his voice faltered again:

And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
There'll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres.

McMurtry has been romancing the book since he was six years-old, and a relative heading off to World War II left him a box of 19 books. He has since collected and cherished 38,000 more. Now, he says, "I think that I will live to see the bookless library,'' populated only with rows and rows of computers.

"It seems to me the things they can't do are more important than the things they can - they can't bring us love, endow us with grace ... they can't exempt us from death.''

And computers may hasten other deaths: of his beloved books. ''I don't think they're going to be there much longer.''

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