If 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.
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?