Friday, October 14, 2011

What I've been reading lately...Parnassus on wheels by Christopher Morley

"Lord!" he said, "when you sell a man a book you don't sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue-you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night-there's all heaven and earth in a book, a real book I mean.

And so it goes. If you love books, then this novel, or novella, is for you. Written in 1917, I'd never heard of it, until I read somebody talking about The haunted bookshop by Morely over at Book and Reader. Apparently Parnassus on wheels is sort of a prelude. The thread that described The haunted bookshop, someone wrote of it as having 'drowsy alcoves' and I was hooked! So I looked it up on Library Thing. (BTW, if you haven't come across these sites before they are fabulous for a bibliophile!). A couple of weeks ago I picked up a copy at my library, and realised I'd discovered a gem, and I am still yet to read The haunted bookshop! So that has me excited all over again.

The story is about spinster Helen McGill, aged 39 (not so old these days!), living with her famous author brother on a farm, where out of the blue travelling bookseller Roger Mifflin turns up and sells her Parnassus, a complicated wagon bookstore. Helen gives readers a lovely practical voice, and talks about how her brother is always off having adventures and writing his stories, and so she decided that she wanted an adventure too!

A kind of anger came over me to think that I'd been living on that farm for nearly fifteen years-yes, sir, ever since I was twenty-five-and hardly ever been away except for that trip to Boston once a year to go shopping with cousin Edie.
The feminist in me whooped for joy when Helen takes off, leaving her brother Andrew to fend for himself - well kind of, she still makes sure other women around the area help out - to give a go at selling books. What I also liked is that Helen McGill is such an unlikely heroine, described as a 'home-keeping soul'. An adventure she certainly has, I'm not going to give too much away as I really want to say, do yourself a favour and read it for yourself.

Parnassus on wheels is a charming book, and the tone reminded me of Dodie Smith's I capture the castle and a little of L M Montgomery's Anne of Green gables series. Read it as an ode to the bookshops of yesteryear, a dying breed. There's a powerful message in this book, that words and reading are important. Wonderful.

"The world is full of great writers about literature," he said, "but they're all selfish and aristocratic. Addison, Lamb, Hazlitt, Emerson, Lowell-take anyone you choose-they all conceive the love of books as a rare and perfect mystery for the few-a thing of the secluded study where they can sit alone at night with a candle, and a cigar, and a glass of port on the table and a spaniel on the hearth-rug. What I say is, who has ever gone out into the high roads and hedges to bring literature to the plain man? To bring it home to his business and bosom, as somebody says? The farther into the country you go, the fewer and worse books you find. I've spent several years joggling around with this citadel of crime, and by the bones of Ben Ezra I don't think I ever found a really good book (except the Bible) at a farmhouse yet, unless I put it there myself. The mandarins of culture-what do they do to teach the common folk to read? It's no good writing down lists of books for farmers and compiling five-foot shelves; you've got to go out and visit the people yourself-take the books to them, talk to the teachers and bully the editors of country newspapers and farm magazines and tell the children stories-and then little by little you begin to get good books circulating in the veins of the nation"

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