Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley

WIN_20150602_194426If you love books, then this is the book for you.

I’ve long held that there should be an official genre for novels about books–there are so many stories about bookshops, publishers, collectors, particular books and their power. They deserve a category.

Bibliophilliac Fiction maybe.

Christopher Morley’s first novel, Parnassus on Wheels,  should be at the top of anyone’s canonical list of bibliophilliac fiction.

It’s wonderful.

The story concerns Helen McGill, an unmarried woman who lives on a farm where she takes care of her older brother who has made a name for himself as an author of books about living on a farm.  Tired of her subservient role, Helen buys a peddlar’s wagon from a travelling bookseller.  She intends to take a sort of holiday for a month or so, travelling the countryside in the wagon, selling books to support her journey.

The wagon is now my retirement dream.  It opens up on both sides to display shelves of second-hand books transforming itself into a market stall.  When closed, there is a sleeping/living quarters between the bookshelves featuring a cookstove for heating and a comfortable bed.  The wagon comes with the requisite horse to pull it and a friendly dog who sleeps inside.

C.J. laughed out loud when I told him about it.  “Just what you’ve always wanted,” he said.  He’s right.  I could travel the back roads of New England, like Helen does, selling books at country markets in town squares.

The peddler, Roger Mifflin, goes with Helen for the first couple of days, to show her the ropes.  The two are great company, each bringing their own wit to a charming, entertaining table.  For example:

It is better to read a good book than to write a poor one.

The art of making bread is as transcendent a mystery as the art of making sonnets.

No creature on earth has a right to call himself a human being if he doesn’t know at least one good book.

Talkers never write.  They go on talking.

I named my dog after Boccaccio to remind me to read The Decameron some day.

-His prose is as good as Thoreau.  He approaches facts as daintily as a cat crossing a wet road.  -You should see him eat dinner.

Roger and Helen make for such wonderful company that I didn’t really notice the book just about lacks any dramatic tension.  There is the threat of Helen’s older brother who does try to stop her from buying the book wagon and from leaving the farm, but it’s not much of a threat.  We know from the start that Helen can take care of herself, and we soon figure out that she will probably end up with Roger Mifflin in the end.

I was very happy to discover via Wikipedia that Christopher Morley, whom I never heard of before this, wrote a sequel to Parnassus on Wheels called The Haunted Bookshop.   I would very much like to spend some more time with Helen and Roger.

And a haunted bookshop–what book lover could possibly resist?

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10 Comments

  1. Another book for people who love books: The Raw Shark Texts. It’s A-MA-ZING!

    1. I will look for The Raw Shark Texts. Books about books make for excellent summer reading.

  2. shoreacres says:

    I have a friend — a single woman, as a matter of fact — who bought and restored a vintage travel trailer, and named it Parnassus, after this book. I’m glad to be reminded of it. I always was going to read the book, and now I believe I’ll do so.

    Speaking of unusual book sellers — one of the greatest book dealers in Texas history, H.P.N. Gammel, immigrated from Denmark in the middle 1800s, walked from Galveston to Austin, set a board between two trees on a downtown street, and proceeded to sell books for a dime that he’d purchased for a nickel. When the state capitol burned, he and his wife collected water-soaked documents, dried them out, and eventually compiled a ten-volume set of all the laws of Texas.
    Pretty cool.

    1. That’s a great story. I hope it’s true. 😉 There’s a similar story about A.P. Giannini who founded what became The Bank of America.

  3. I read The Haunted Bookshop years ago and really enjoyed it (my copy is very old and falling apart–I bought it in that condition because I couldn’t resist a book about a bookshop. I would like to read this one. I love the idea of a mobile bookshop.

    The Literary Lollipop mentioned The Raw Shark Texts. I haven’t run into too many people who have read that one, but it certainly is a book worth checking out if you haven’t already. It’s one of those books that begs to be talked about.

    1. I’m on the look out for The Haunted Bookshop at this point. And, I’m saving my copy of Parnassus on Wheels for another read some day.

  4. Bellezza says:

    Oh, oh, oh! It’s now my retirement dream too, to have such a wagon. Thanks for that lovely image in your post about a book suggestion which totally appeals to me.

    (Also, so very glad that you’re joining in the JLC9!)

    1. I think you’d really enjoy the book. I love the idea, not sure it would work out in reality but it’s a great fantasy.

  5. Lovely, isn’t it – I hate camping outdoors, but maybe a caravan of books might make it bearable?

    1. I certainly works as a fantasy when you’re having a not-so-great day.

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