Wednesday, 5 January 2011

On The Road - With Books. . .

What a lovely little gem of a book. A sweet and funny middle-aged romance hitched to an exuberant ode to bookselling
Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley was first published in 1917; the edition I read is part of Melville House's Classic Novellas Series and was the perfect choice for my bus rides this week. The author's bio on the jacket flap was also fascinating. This was the first of Morley's books, but he wrote over 100 of them, including Kitty Foyle. He also founded the Baker Street Irregulars literary club and edited editions of Bartlett's Familar Quotations.
Helen McGill is a 39 year old woman who has baked too many loaves of bread in her time and devoted the last fifteen years to taking care of her ungrateful brother Andrew, himself a successful author of books containing reflections on man's relationship to nature. As such he's always leaving home for long periods of time to find literary inspiration, leaving Helen to do all the work on the farm.
When the devilish Roger Mifflin shows up with his Parnassus, a type of caravan that doubles as a travelling bookshop which he is hoping to sell to Andrew, Helen decides to buy it on a whim and have a few adventures herself. The two hit the road discussing the art of bookselling, the woes of creating an "anthology" of baked goods, and generally enjoying each other's company. Until an angry and disbelieving Andrew appears, determined to put a stop to the nonsense.
The tale is told from Helen's point of view and her gumption and growing excitement over the possibilities of her new life are inspiring and infectious. And you'll smile a lot at her self-reflections and Mifflin's philosophical and literary musings. My favourite is his idea for "Chloroform Classics" - books all written by authors over the age of forty. It's very much a reminder not to be too complacent about life; it's never too late to make a change. I have the sequel - The Haunted Bookshop - on my shelves, bought at a used bookstore many years ago. I'm eager to see what these two get up to next.

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