Larry McMurty's career was as big and undefinable as Texas, his native state and literary landscape.
McMurtry, who died Thursday at age 84, wrote novels, screenplays, essays, biographies, memoirs, literary criticism and history, his voice constant.
For bookish, would-be cosmopolitan Southern men like me, he was a trusted companion, giving advice on how to live with dying myths and relentless change.
For much of his career, McMurtry was slighted by the Eastern critical establishment. For a while, he wore a T-shirt mocking himself as a minor regional novelist.
But, along with Louisiana's Walker Percy, he was an essential writer for those of us Southerners who came of age in the 1960s. As with Percy, I kept reading McMurtry's work through different stages of my life.
I admired McMurtry's early novels "The Last Picture Show," "Moving On," "All of My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers" and "Terms of Endearment," but was more drawn by his nonfiction later in his career.
While McMurtry's fiction declined as he obsessively produced more and more work - later generations probably will look at his later novels more favorably - I owe a debt to his entertaining "Anything for Billy," which revived my interest in books at a time when my passion for reading flagged.
McMurtry's "In A Narrow Grave: Essays on Texas," "Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections on Sixty and Beyond," and "Roads: Driving America's Great Highways" would be career-defining accomplishments for most writers. I devoured his memoirs on literary life, the movies and book collecting, as well as his biographies of Crazy Horse and Custer.
Like Joan Didion and Lorrie Moore, McMurtry found a brilliant new career as a literary critic at the urging of Robert Silvers, the late editor of the New York Review of Books, who solicited reviews and reporting from them and other writers.
McMurtry claimed his greatest accomplishment was amassing a collection of rare books, and a valiant effort to make of literary community of Archer City Texas, his hometown and the model for Thalia in a series of novels beginning with "The Last Picture Show." McMurtry established a bookstore in Archer City with 400,000 volumes, which he culled in an auction a few years ago.
I always dreamed of driving to Archer City and seeing McMurtry standing beside a bookshelf in his store. I never imagined what we would say to each other, but that he would smile and wave, as if expecting me to arrive.
He wouldn't have to say anything. He spoke to me for years.